hughes: (a-division)
Erin (La Cidiana) ([personal profile] hughes) wrote2015-09-18 04:21 am

Fanfiction: Starman | II: The Seeker | i

i.

I've looked under chairs
I've looked under tables
I've tried to find the key
to fifty million fables

---

Gene's knuckles pressed, cold and aching, against the stone wall beside him.

His line of sight stayed on the floor, on a splotch of dirty brown amongst the otherwise grey concrete. Easier on the eyes, that, than the mess before him, the mess behind him. Dead things, live things, trapped in crypts made of concrete, roughed up and mixed about like an old road gone muddy out your own front door. He'd known the stops, the signs, every curve in the tarmac -- until it'd caved out underfoot.

Bit like his team. Like his poncy DI.

"DCI Hunt!"

Gene raised his head. The Doctor raced toward him down the hall, bastard face lit up with a smile -- small one, not for his own sake, and fake as all the rest of him. "You've got my sonic, I'm afraid -- need it to find that lighter... but! No need to worry, should be able to get us out in time, should be..."

He trailed off the same way his footsteps did. His smile shrank down to what it really was -- nothing.

"Where's Sam?" he asked.

Gene's knuckles scraped the wall as he pulled them away. He walked past the Doctor, gait harder, faster with each step. Rookie move, to stop like that. To think like that, with lives at stake.

"Need to get to my team," Gene said. "Got one chance out of your mess -- won't waste it."

The Doctor didn't follow him.

"Where," he repeated, "is Sam?"

"Dead, I expect." There it was, out in the open. Steady. Real.

Gene strode on forward, like a good lad, like a cog that turned, creaking, because the whole machine might break down without it. He didn't stop as he got out the hall and into the big room, as he met Ray's wide eyes across the distance.

"Guv!" Ray called, Chris still held in his arms. Cartwright was laid out on the floor -- sodding hell, the Doctor would leave a bird like that. Ray looked to the vault door beside him. "Guv, we've got to--"

"Thirty seconds," said the bloody intercom. "29. 28..."

"We need to go back!" The Doctor's voice rang out, loud enough for Gene to turn his head. The Doctor stood with his hands clenched, shoulders shaking. His face looked a wall of terror, disbelief wrapped up in panic and dread. "All of this -- it's been a trap!"

"You don't say!" Gene broke into a run, knelt down next to Annie, tried to haul her up by the shoulder.

She coughed at his touch and lurched upward -- same as Gene had, when he'd come to.

"Where--" she asked.

"Don't mind that, love." Gene heaved her up on unsteady feet, then turned to face the door.

He realized, now, at the fifteen-second mark. How daft this all was -- how stupid. He really expected it to open. He really expected his DI had, this time as opposed to many, known what the bloody hell he was doing.

"13..." said the intercom.

"I need my sonic!" The Doctor ran up behind them. "I need it now, right now!"

"Ten seconds and you'll have it off my corpse!" Gene shouted.

"8..."

Annie stood straighter. "Guv, what's--"

Gene felt the Doctor yank on his coat pocket.

"5..."

"I can fix this," the Doctor babbled as he fumbled with his gadget, "I can--"

He froze mid-sentence.

The Doctor stumbled, wheezed. He pressed his hands to his head and fell to the floor, wide-eyed and gasping, as if drowning in air thick as mud, under the weight of it, the glut of it.

The intercom went silent. Something clicked.

Gene turned as the vault door creaked open.

"Guv!" Ray yelled, pace quick as he made his way to the exit. "Guv, it's open!"

"So get on through!" Gene shouted, voice almost sucked out by the breath he'd been holding. He steeled his legs and gripped Annie's shoulder as they marched past the doorway and into the stairwell.

Annie coughed and staggered a step away from him as she wiped blood from her ear with her palm. It smeared over her neck, plastered curls to her cheek.

"I'm fine, Guv, where's..." Annie's eyes drifted around the area. "Where's Sam?"

"Gone," the Doctor whispered to the floor. His nails scraped against the ground where he closed his hands into fists. "He's gone."

Gene turned and would have grabbed the bastard's collar if he'd not been minding Cartwright, would have yanked him off his feet and thrown him to the ground, would have kicked him in the face to a good and beaten pulp.

"What do you mean?" Annie's voice was small, her shoulders tense. "Guv, what's he mean?"

Gene grit his teeth. He looked toward the gaping maw of a room, televisions glowing from the middle like some kind of bug-eyed cinema. "Countdown didn't finish. He's still alive in there."

The Doctor shook his head as he stood. "No. We need to go. We need to go now."

Fire shot down Gene's arms -- the kind of matchstick flare that hit you with those criminals, the real animals, the ones that got you sick to your bones, like your skin didn't fit right, like you'd never feel hungry again.

He lunged, grabbed the Doctor by the front of his suit. He dragged him past the vault door's threshold and slammed his shoulders into the ground.

"Cartwright, get cuffs on this thing," Gene snarled. "I'll retrieve our--"

The intercom clicked. Gene raised his head.

"Authorization confirmed. Quarantine re-commenced. 3..."

Ray stumbled backward. "Bloody hell!"

"2..."

The Doctor's hand shot out from under Gene. He pointed his gadget at the hall and it made a short buzzing sound.

The vault door slammed closed.

"1."

A dull hiss sounded from behind the door. Annie stepped back.

"What's going on in there?" She blinked, eyes wet.

"Quarantine protocol," the Doctor hissed through his teeth. "Torchwood facilities always have one -- you'd have to, playing with things you can't control. Flood the facility with solidifying gas -- kills anything living in seconds, preserves the rest."

"Sam's in there," Annie breathed.

Gene's fists tightened on the Doctor's lapels. The hissing gave way to strange gurgling noises -- cracks. Spreading from the other side of the door to the walls, the ceiling.

Sam was in there.

Gene felt a hand grip his arm. His head snapped down.

"You've already lost one of your own," the Doctor said, too bloody steady, like now that the dam had broke he only needed to tread water. "If you don't let me help, you'll lose the rest."

Gene's hands shuddered. The metal stairwell creaked above him.

"Shit," he said.

He threw off the Doctor's lapels. The bastard scrambled up and righted himself, then marched to the far wall like something battle-hardened -- the kind of look some blokes got, walking down the street, and then you knew, they'd been to France, to Germany, they'd flown through burning skies. Soldier more than doctor, this one, though Gene had guessed that from the start.

The Doctor raised his gadget and pointed it at the wall. It made that same buzzing noise and a pair of sliding doors, previously blended in with the concrete, pulled open to reveal the metal cage of a freight lift.

Ray shot Gene a glance. Gene nodded, stiffly, and Ray jogged in with Chris' limp form still in tow. A second later, Annie did the same, hand splayed on the lift's wire-mesh wall as she pressed the other to her mouth.

Gene stepped in, then turned to face the Doctor as he jumped inside and pointed his gadget at the doors.

They slammed closed. The lift whirred, in time with the growing sound of cracks, pressure pushing down on the concrete around the facility's vault door.

They stood in silence. The lift creaked here and there. Its single light flickered.

"What is he?" Annie asked.

Gene raised his eyes to the Doctor. "A damn murderer," he said.

Annie bit her lip. "I meant Sam."

The Doctor tapped his gadget where it dangled against his thigh.

"He's a Time Lord," he said.

Gene grit his teeth. "The hell are you on about?"

"A time-traveller." Annie let out a breath, like she'd been holding it for years.

"An ancient species," the Doctor said, "of which there are only two members left in the universe."

"Oh, come off," Ray snorted, though he sounded small, like a boy hearing stories by the fire.

The Doctor stayed rigid. Gene watched him as something churned in his gut -- disgust mixed with fury, mixed with something else. Like when he'd found that ledger in Harry's office and realized he'd known all along, seen the signs, read the writing on the wall. When the impossible had slugged him square in the jaw because he hadn't moved to stop it.

"You're both from Hyde," Gene said, throat dry.

The Doctor stood, silent.

The lift shuddered to a halt. The doors creaked open to the building's derelict kitchen and the Doctor re-animated like sodding Frankenstein, paces quick as he walked out. Gene and Annie followed with Ray at the rear.

"You all need to keep your heads down," the Doctor uttered over his shoulder. "Stay away from the station, your homes -- anywhere Sam would know to look for you."

Annie stopped in her tracks. "You said he was dead."

"He is." The Doctor whirled on them, something fierce in the lines of his face. "That's why he'll try to kill you."

That same chill spread in Gene's chest, that cold, dry tightness.

"What the hell do you mean?"

The building groaned around them. The Doctor turned away and strode toward the door. "I need to hide the TARDIS -- now. All of you, get away, get out of town, and at all costs stay away from him."

"Doctor!" Annie called as he disappeared out the entrance.

"I'll be back for all of you," the Doctor called back at them. "Stay out of harm's way, and I promise -- I'll keep you safe. I'll make this right."

Gene ran for the door. He yanked it open just in time to hear the horrible rusty noise from earlier, the creak and scrape of the blue box fading to nothing.

---

Chris looked like a corpse, in that hospital bed.

Or worse, like one of those bodies the Mangler had hung from the ceiling. Tubes down his mouth, wheezing, beeping. Sad thing, forgotten by death, left to rot with the living.

Gene took a drag on his cigarette. He pressed a thumb to his brow and rubbed slowly, back and forth, as he leaned harder against the wall.

Annie reached to open the window near her stool, silent, like she hadn't the heart to spout nancy nonsense about the ills of a little smoke. Nearby, Ray slumped forward in a chair, arms dangling off his sides. Dawn hadn't yet peeked over the rooftops outside, but Gene didn't doubt it would soon, way his eyelids were dragging, knees were hurting. He'd already been tired last night, before all this. Tired of things going to shit the minute he turned his back, tired of second-guessing something that should have been fact. Tired of DI Sam Tyler and his buggery, mainly, and wasn't that the kicker? Now he'd never be tired again.

"Wish I'd a better prognosis."

Gene glanced up. Dr. Herman looked back, portly bloke, patchy beard. Gene had always vaguely disliked him, for the same reasons he found him vaguely useful. "Reckon he has concussion, but seems odd, with that little bruising -- heart rate shouldn't be this low. How bad was the hit to his head?"

"Bad." Gene rubbed his palm over his eye.

"Couldn't have been worse than some of the spats you've staggered in from." Dr. Herman chuckled -- because they were all of them bastards, weren't they? Doctors. "Best we can do is keep an eye out. Monitor his status."

Gene didn't answer.

"Has he any family?"

"Mum," Ray mumbled from his chair. "'Round Salford."

"You needn't worry about telling 'em," Gene cut in. "CID will take care of it."

"Oh." Dr. Herman mouthed, brow raised, interest perked. "That sort of police business."

Gene stood from the wall and reached into his pocket.

"Keep it simple," he said, low, on a growl. He pressed a couple of bills into Dr. Herman's hand. "Or you'll get something else from my fist."

Dr. Herman smirked. "Not to worry. All friends here, eh?" He looked down, flipped through the cash, jotted a note on his clipboard. "I'll list him as an 'Alex Hargraves'."

"You do that," Gene said.

Herman nodded, then paced out of the room. The double-doors swung behind him as a chilly draft blew in from the open window.

Ray lowered his head. "We all know why he's not wakin' up'. Why he's not goin' to."

Annie fidgeted with the rustling curtain. "We can't know anything for certain."

"Of course you wouldn't." Ray balled his fists. "You weren't there. You didn't see what Chris said -- what he did."

Gene had. When they'd dragged the Doctor down below, like proper coppers, like the team they were, until they weren't. Until Chris had said, mildly, "What's this door, then?" and then they'd seen it, the bodies, the utter fucking horror of it, worse than Nosferatu night at the cinema, worse than anything Gene had seen before.

And he'd seen a lot.

"Sorry, lads," Chris had laughed, high, like a man held at gunpoint, as everything went black. "Sorry."

Gene's stomach churned. On the bed, Chris' chest rose and fell in little jerks, like he was just a piece of the ugly machine that breathed into him. Maybe he'd been that way since yesterday. Maybe he always would be, from now on.

The curtain fabric crumpled in Annie's fingers. "Chris came after us too."

"'Us,'" Ray spat. "Meaning you and your precious Boss."

"Sam didn't know," Annie snapped with sudden anger. "Whatever the Doctor was talking about, Sam didn't know a thing before today -- not one."

"Right." Ray chuckled as his mouth split wide. "And you believed him, did you? Just like a bird, then, stupid tart, puttin' fanny before friends--"

Annie stood up, snap, like a mousetrap. Her blue eyes blazed, her hands clenched into fists at her sides. She could have hit him, and not a little slap either. Gene knew what good people looked like, when they were ready to hit. He'd thought about it too much tonight, on that street.

"Cartwright," Gene said.

She looked at him and there were tears, angry and red. She swallowed.

"He was one of us," she said.

Annie lowered her head. She grabbed her purse from the floor and turned around. She walked out the double-doors, flats clicking on the tile like metal, like armor.

"I was right from the start, though, weren't I?" Ray shouted after her. Gene heard him stand up. "Rotten to the core, he was, not a proper copper, proper bloke, not even a proper human being--"

Gene turned around, grabbed him, slammed him back into the chair. He grabbed Ray's shoulder with aching knuckles as he pressed a finger into the breast of his coat.

"The only reason you're here," Gene uttered, "is because Sam Tyler isn't."

Ray went silent, stupid. His mouth gaped open. Gene stood up and tried not to shake, tried to push back the wave of pure hollow nothing that threatened to swallow him whole. Something was gone, something nasty and loud, self-righteous and stupid, something bloody important, something that was theirs. It was gone and it wouldn't come back.

Gene turned. He walked out the doors and down the hall.

---

Gene passed out on the waiting room settee as soon as he hit it. He'd thought it'd be hard, getting some kip on a night like this, but it turned out the only easy thing he'd done all day. He wasn't a stupid neurotic little twit, not like Tyler -- he knew the value of rest, of waking up with your brain working better than a jar of marbles. Right now, that was bloody far from the case.

No dreams -- settee was too damn stiff for that. Gene tossed and turned and was happy for it.

He felt a hand shake his shoulder after some stretch of time.

"Police," he mumbled. "Official business."

"I know, Guv," Annie said.

Gene cracked an eye open. She stood over him, a silhouette against the cheerful daylight streaming in through the window.

Gene grunted as he propped himself up on one elbow. "Time is it?"

"Quarter past ten." Annie sat down in the neighboring seat and pulled a thermos from her purse. She popped off the cup-top. "I've got tea and biscuits."

Gene scowled at her. "Trainin' for the Olympics event of being me mum?"

Annie shrugged. "Thought you'd be hungry."

She wasn't wrong. Gene sat up and rubbed a bastard big crick in his neck as he watched Annie pour tea into the cup. She'd changed clothes, washed the blood out of her hair.

"Fine time to stop home," Gene muttered. "Women."

Annie shook her head. "Went to my sister's." She paused, tapped the side of the thermos. "I... wanted to tell her to leave for holiday, next few days. She'll be in London."

She offered the cup to Gene, but he didn't take it.

Gene narrowed his eyes. "You believe that rubbish, then. What that bastard said."

Annie looked back, steady. "Have you rung your wife, Guv?"

Gene didn't answer for a moment. Then he leaned forward and took the cup.

"No need," he said. "She isn't home."

He could see Annie working it out, from the corner of his eye. She wasn't the stupid sort of bird. He drank his tea.

"Oh," she mouthed. Her face softened. "Oh, Guv, I'm..."

Gene winced like he'd tasted something foul. "Bloody Nora," he hissed as he reached into his jacket. He pulled out his flask, uncapped it, poured a measure of whiskey into the thermos cup. He only realized upon downing it that Annie was gazing at him with nothing less than ridiculous, revolting pity.

Sam had gotten that same stupid look, down in the morgue the other week -- sad circumstance of giving people the bloody facts. Not that it wasn't Gene's own fault, talking about that, about Stu, but he'd never done it before. Never had a problem with people thinking him the scum of the Earth, never felt like giving reasons. And Gene knew -- he knew like a kick to the gut that he would've done it again. If Sam had sat in Annie's spot, peddling tea like a nancy maid, Gene would've told him about that night, about Stu, about Percy Lane. When the alarms had sounded and a stupid boy had got frightened, when he'd left his brother out there in the cold.

They'd left Sam down there in the cold.

"I should have said something, Guv," Annie said. "I should have said something ages ago."

Gene raised his head. "What's that?"

"About Sam." Annie bit her lip, wrapped her hands round the thermos. "It's not his fault. He didn't know better, but I did. I put us all in danger, keeping it to myself."

"Keeping what to yourself?" Gene's brow lifted. "That he thought he'd jumped ship from Tomorrowland?"

Annie's head snapped up. She gaped. "You knew?"

Gene dropped the empty cup on the waiting room table. He sat back in his chair, scratched at a piece of blood that had crusted up near his ear.

"Mostly. Tony Crane started it. Blathering in the lift tonight settled it -- and yes, Cartwright," Gene growled as he raised his eyes to hers, "you could have dropped the anvil before we were standing right bloody under it."

Annie set the thermos down. She smoothed out her skirt with a shaky hand. "I know. I'm sorry. I was trying to keep him safe."

Gene let out a laugh. "Good job of that."

It was cruel, and it should have been. They both deserved it.

And now the next bit, the hard bit. Gene found himself reaching for his flask again with stony fingers. Everything up until now was the product of stupidity, pure human error. Horrible but utterly average, the kind of thing you woke up carrying, heavy as a horse, but a bit easier every day. You learned to live with it, eat with it, sleep with it. That was life.

But the things they'd seen, that they'd heard -- you didn't. You didn't see a police box disappear and shrug it off as bad business, didn't forget that your possessed DC had murdered a girl by next Christmas. Didn't go six stories underground on the street you'd grown up on, didn't see the stuff of science fiction and think, "That's grand -- is it lunchtime?"

Those things changed you. They turned you. Gene had seen it in Annie, in Ray, these past hours. Talking to doctors and nurses like they were only half there, like there was a kind of glass pane between them. Walking with a little march in their step, equal parts furious and deadly quiet. It frightened Gene, because he knew in his bones -- he was like that now too.

Like Sam.

Probably best that Lily had gone out to the country. They had even less in common now.

Gene leaned forward and drank from his flask, then shook it a bit to gauge the contents. It was nearly empty.

"Tell me, Cartwright," he muttered. "What were you lovebirds really chatting about, all those halcyon days?"

Before, Annie might have got flustered. Now, she just shook her head. "Not much more than you know. I suppose Sam complained, mainly--"

"I am aghast with shock," Gene said.

"--about how different it was, how different he was. He talked about... I don't know. Things I thought were made up, before last night -- phones without wires, computers on desks -- an intro-net?"

Gene frowned. "That a football penalty?"

"He thought Vic Tyler was his father." Annie looked down. "That was the worst bit. Thought that he was his son -- that little boy -- from thirty-three years in the future."

Gene took this in for a second, not because it was hard to swallow, but because it was easy. "That's why he lost his sodding mind, that case."

Annie nodded. "He thinks... he thought he was in a coma, that we were all a big dream of his." She folded her hands over each other. Her voice got quieter still. "He was obsessed with 'waking up.' I... had to talk him off the edge of the station roof, when he first got here."

Gene stiffened. It was the first nugget of information that had ram-rocketed through his learned expertise on Tyleresque nuttery. "You didn't think to mention this?"

"Didn't think I should." Annie dug her fingers into her knees. "We didn't know him then, Guv. If I'd reported, Discipline would've ordered him out the door and you would've let them."

"And maybe I should have!" Gene stood, livid. "Did you think a dose of your girly 'psychology' would make him better? Did you actually think you could fix him?"

For a second, Annie sat, stricken, the way people did when Gene threw a rock and a sharp edge cut through skin.

"I didn't--" she tried.

"You did," Gene snarled, pointing at her. "You took it upon yourself like Sainted Bloody Mary and now look at the state of things."

Annie's face hardened. She stood up to meet him, adamant, resolute.

"And what if I hadn't? How many criminals would have gotten away? How many innocent people would have been hurt?" She stopped, breathed hard. "How many favors would you be doing for Warren, Guv?"

Gene's expression didn't change. He knew sure of that. He'd worked hard at that.

He lowered his hand, clenched it into a fist. Nearby, a few waiting patients peered at the scene, over their magazines and morning papers.

Gene's head snapped toward them. "Oi! Is this a tourist attraction?"

All eyes collectively darted back down.

Gene turned back to Annie and gauged her. She was shaking but she hadn't budged.

At length, he shoved his hands in his coat pockets. He jerked his head and walked out of the waiting room into the empty hall nearby.

Annie followed. Gene looked back at her.

"What about the Doctor?" he asked in a low voice.

Annie let out a breath. "Sam didn't know anything. Didn't know about the Doctor until we did, never mentioned 'Time Lords' or... or anything about--" she swallowed, "--aliens."

Gene took a moment to absorb how ridiculous his life had become. Even in death, Sam Tyler was a singular source of untold misery.

Gene crossed his arms over this chest. "He knew something, by the time I saw him."

Annie frowned. "How do you mean?"

"Babbling. Nonsense. 'Only I can save you.'" Gene shrugged. "Usual Tyler tripe, 'cept the other times he wasn't ready to off himself."

Gene chose to ignore Annie's silence. He rubbed his eye.

"Is... is that what it was like, then--"

"It was shit, was what it was," Gene snapped back, low. The waiting room wouldn't hear him. "Bastard didn't have the common decency to spell out a sodding thing, cacking riddles, the whole lot of it -- from 'the Doctor' Jekyll and DI Hyde--"

"What happened?" Annie pressed, annoyingly gentle. "What exactly did he tell you?"

"Hell if I know." Gene shoved his hand into his jacket pocket and reached for a cigarette. "Said to tell you 'sorry', for one -- supposing for all the times he failed to satisfy in the sack."

He took out his lighter and flicked it. The flame shook as he cupped it to his mouth.

"Is he really dead, Guv?" Annie whispered.

Gene inhaled smoke, breathed it out.

"He said that whatever came out of that room wouldn't be him anymore." Gene pocketed the lighter. It clinked against his flask. "Whatever the hell that means. All I know is a man doesn't act the way he did 'less he knows he's at the gallows."

Annie considered this for a moment. Her brow knotted. "He said... something odd last night. When he told me about -- about how he'd gone to the future, with the Doctor."

"What, the bit about going to the future with the Doctor?"

Annie shook her head. "'Futures' and 'pasts' -- that's normal sort of talk from him. But this time, he said something like... 'I don't think I'm me' -- something about people treating him like -- like he was a..."

She trailed off, then pressed a hand over her eyes. Firm but delicate, way Lily used to when she didn't want a row.

"I don't know," she said.

Gene blew out more smoke. "That makes two of us."

The doors down the hall slammed open. Gene turned to see Ray marching down it, radio in hand.

"Guv, you'd better listen--"

"Calling all units," Phyllis' voice streamed from the speaker, "bomb threat called in on A-Division HQ. Repeat, this is not a drill..."

Annie met Gene's eyes, then ran to grab her bag.

---

The Cortina's tires squealed to a halt in front of the plod waving them down. Gene would've admired the officer not shirking away from a speeding vehicle on any other day, stiff upper lip of the Queen's finest and all that.

Any other day.

"Oi!" Gene shouted out the window. "DCI Hunt, here!"

"Sorry, Guv -- keepin' to the blast perimeter." The plod leaned down toward the window, sympathetic -- young lad, PC Ramsey was his name. "Orders."

Gene wrenched his car into reverse. He screeched back a scant few feet before zig-zagging the stick back to park.

Annie and Ray didn't waste any time piling out. "Who's in charge?" Annie called over the roof of the car as she slammed the door.

"WPC Hobbs has been running the emergency frequency -- she'd know better, marm." Outside the confines of the Cortina, the wailing sirens of several patrol cars nearly drowned Ramsey's words. "Everyone's on high alert--"

"And high volume!" Gene barked back. He shouldered past Ramsey and toward the mass of police tape and stanchions lining the pavement opposite the station. "We trying to go deaf before we explode?"

His voice must have been loud enough to carry over the din, because he caught Phyllis' head turn from where she stood at the back end of a police van. She shouted something into the radio, then waved a hand at a patrol car.

"Oi! Can't hear a bloody thing, you clods!"

The nearest siren honked, then went quiet. Phyllis grit her teeth as she marched toward them. "Where in Satan's back end have the lot of you been?"

"Busy," Gene grunted. His eyes scanned the plods running round the tape, the idiot onlookers crowding nearby, the pudgy old inspectors wandering in a daze after years in a cushy office.

Phyllis grit her teeth. "Busy. Busy!"

Gene heard Annie and Ray stop behind him. Ray fumed. "If you knew half the bollocks we've--"

Gene raised a hand to shut him up. "What the hell's happened here, then?"

"Exactly what it looks like." Phyllis waved an arm at the people rushing to-and-fro around them. "Call came in roundabouts an hour ago -- lunatic said he'd blow the station sky-high 'less we met demands."

Gene grit his teeth. "And we're draggin' everyone out so the bastard can waltz right in?"

Phyllis shook her head. "That's the scary bit. Call came through the station switchboard -- he's in the building, Guv."

Gene slowly raised his eyes to the station. It stood firm and familiar, robust in its rain-stained exterior, its ugly grey walls. Looking at it, you could almost forget the world had gone upside down.

"What demands?" Annie's voice cut through.

Phyllis' face darkened. She stepped closer and lowered her voice. "First, you answer me why the hell John Smith disappeared from my cells last night."

Tyler, Gene wanted to say, with the utmost fury he could squash into the word. Instead, he looked back at her flatly. "Think the bastard prefers 'Doctor'."

"Exactly," Phyllis hissed. "Bomber called himself 'the Doctor' over the phone. Higher-ups don't know, 'aven't put two and two together, but--"

"What!" Ray cried.

"Th-that's not right." Annie stammered as she shook her head. "Whatever the Doctor is, I don't think he's a--"

"Oh, he's a right murderer," Gene spat. He felt the weight on his belt where his pistol sat. "Ask Tyler."

Annie went quiet. Phyllis rolled her eyes.

"Least he was 'round this mornin' to see things go pear-shaped. Right, so--"

Gene barely heard himself. "What?"

"DI Tyler." Phyllis waved Gene off, annoyed. "Orderin' everyone about, per usual. Sure he'll stride on back and say we did his 'doughnut' wrong -- someone ought to do his doughnut, see how he--"

Gene stepped forward. He pointed at the ground. Voices buzzed, indiscernible, around him.

"DI Tyler. Is here?"

Phyllis twisted her mouth. "Well, was. Idiot went in with the crew to check for stragglers."

"Guv," Annie said, soft.

"Been a while, actually," Phyllis said.

Gene remembered a day, years ago, when he'd strode up to a run-down carcass of a building. He'd knocked on the door and he'd curled his lip at the woman who'd opened it, skin and bones, ratty hair, teeth crooked and rotten from one habit too many.

"Stuart Hunt, where is he," he'd said, one part copper and the rest just bloody tired.

The woman had looked back with big yellow eyes, and when she'd shook her head and said, "He looked like you," something had gone still in him, like a domino before the fall, like a landslide, like everything and nothing at all.

This wasn't like that. He doubted -- had chosen -- that nothing would ever be.

But it was close.

"Right," Gene said. He turned and headed toward his car.

A moment later, Annie's pitter-patter footsteps followed. "Guv--"

"I want you back at the hospital," Gene said, "with Chris."

Her footsteps stopped. "Where are you going?"

Gene yanked open the door to the passenger's side and pulled open the glovebox. He tugged out his box of revolver ammo, started counting bullets, cursed and stuffed a handful into his coat pocket.

"Guv," Annie repeated, slow, "where are you going?"

"In." Gene closed the glovebox, slammed the door.

Annie stood in front of him, hand shaking on her purse strap.

"Something's wrong," she said.

"Was it the sirens what tipped you off?" Gene shouldered past her. He eyed the plods around them and wondered how best he could march past the lot of them, which decrepit old codger with a grudge he should try most to avoid -- and felt Annie grab his sleeve.

Gene froze. He turned. She looked back at him, jaw clenched.

"We don't know, Guv."

Gene looked back at her a full second. He yanked away and stepped toward her, pointed his finger at her pale little face.

"You. Hospital. That clear, WDC?"

He held her gaze long enough, let the dark vowels of his voice sink in deep enough. She swallowed and looked away.

"Good girl," Gene said.

He turned away from her and fixed his eyes on the back entrance, where he supposed there'd be some coverage but not enough to stop a mousey plod from letting him past when he demanded it.

He passed by Ray and tapped his shoulder. "Come on."

It was only when Gene didn't hear Ray's clops behind him that he realized he wasn't following. Gene turned and found his DC stock-still, worrying a stretch of sideburns with his palm.

"Sure 'bout that, Guv?"

"No, on me way to the joke festival." Gene grit his teeth. "Ray, no one but us has a horror nights' idea what they're--"

"The Doctor told us not to go near 'im." Ray pursed his lips, fixed his eyes on the ground. "The Boss, I mean. 'Course, could be the Doctor's the bomber, but supposin' not..."

Bomber. Gene's jaw clenched. He remembered, with sudden glass clarity, Ray's jaunty gait as he approached the explosive-rigged car naught but a couple of months ago.

Gene let out a breath. He turned back toward the station.

"Right. You'll stay here and help Phyllis wrangle this mess."

Gene hated the relief that rippled across Ray's face. "What about you--"

"You have your orders, Carling."

Gene marched toward the maintenance entrance. Part of him wanted to yell at his DC, call him a coward and a jessie and a bloody disgrace.

The rest of him thought, Damn the man, he has an ounce of sense after all.

---

Station could be quiet sometimes. Late at night when the skeleton crew kicked in, with nothing left but the odd clattering of a typewriter, the scratch of pencil on paper. No men 'round except for the ones who cared to get things done -- good time for Gene to sink his knuckles into some bastard downstairs, or failing that, catch some kip on his settee.

He could sleep in the quiet of his station, worn and dirty and safe. He couldn't sleep in this.

Every scuff his shoes made against the ground sounded like nails down a board. He kept his fingers tight on his Colt, his footfalls hard and steady in the silence. He should have felt good and brave, it being so bright outside, direct rays of morning light burning through the hallway windows and casting white-hot bands on the ground. Should have felt good and brave, being DCI Hunt, except DCI Hunt knew what had sent Ray running like a pissing dog, what had compelled Cartwright to sink her fingers into his arm the way she'd never dared before.

Instinct. Pure and simple, old as the day. An animal knew when it had eyes on it, when a predator prowled in the dark. When men were apes and lived in trees, they looked down and knew -- it wasn't safe, down below.

There lived things with claws, and teeth.

Gene remembered Sam's face, pale and haggard. Trapped up in his own tree, his own hunter closing in.

"Whatever comes out of this room, it won't be me anymore."

"Sodding hell does that mean." Gene's elbow slammed the stairwell door open. No one there. "Sodding hell."

He could have lied, could have told himself this was new and strange, trying to sift anger and grief out of each other like grains of sand from a jar of rocks. But he remembered that day, the old woman at the door. And while Gene Hunt called himself many things, a liar wasn't one of them.

Gene heard a noise up above. He froze and listened harder. A cough, unfamiliar one. He grit his teeth and climbed the stairs to the next level, then the next. CID's floor. He didn't have time to feel the dread of it.

Gene shoved the door open and nearly slipped when he did, shoe sliding in a puddle on the tile. He grasped the door frame with one hand and steadied his footing in the split second it took him to realize there was red on the ground -- all over the ground.

"Shit," Gene muttered, because what else could he do. What the hell else could a DCI do when he saw bloodstains lining his own fucking hall, bodies of officers crumpled against the walls like broken dolls. He didn't budge for a second, got by the balls by the same terror as in the Mangler's body room, but this time worse, a thousand times worse. This was home.

That same cough, on the near side of choking. Gene jerked his head to the side and saw one of the bodies raise its arm, then drop it again.

Gene ran over, slid to a stop. "Oi!" he shouted at the man on the ground -- PC Nichols, one of the seasoned plods. Gene grabbed him by the shoulder, wishing, suddenly, he'd brought along Cartwright and her nursey skill set after all.

Nichols' hand snapped up and clasped Gene's arm in a horrible vice. His eyes bugged out as he gasped for air.

"Guv," he rasped, "Guv, he killed us, he killed us, Guv--"

"Steady," Gene said. He heard a chair scrape against the ground inside the bullpen. His own grip tightened. "C'mon, then, let's get you--"

Nichols yanked Gene's shoulder toward him as he coughed out spittle and blood. "Still in there -- said he wanted -- Guv, he wanted--"

The door creaked behind them. Something whirred.

A beam of light shot through Nichol's head. It dropped limp against his shoulder.

Gene turned. It was almost normal, how Sam stood in the bullpen doorway, how he tossed a poncy gadget up in the air and caught it, once, twice, again.

Sam smiled brightly. He narrowed his eyes.

"Hiya, Guv."


---

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