izhilzha (izhilzha) wrote,

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Life on Mars fic: The Most Important Piece

Yuletide authors have been revealed! Here's the story I wrote for my recipient, dreamsofstars.

Fandom: Life on Mars (UK)
Title: The Most Important Piece
Type: Gen, Case-story
Rating: PG, maybe PG-13 for language
Spoilers: you should know the first half of series 1 to get the background; technically, this is set well into series 2.
Author's Notes: Thank you to my betas, ishie and irenak, for their sharp eyes and ears and their cheerleading, and to my Britpicker jhall1. Without their quick turnaround this would not have been done in time!


Sam Tyler was having a quietly brilliant day. Sunlight cutting through the chill in the air, paperwork from the last three cases solved moving steadily from the "unfinished" stack to the "finished" one, a companionable background of jokes going on in the rest of the room. Annie smiled at him as she passed his desk again, gathering up files to return to their homes in the collators' den.

A good day. Sam supposed it said something about his usual state of mind that he found it hard to enjoy. It'd gotten difficult to know whether his anxiety might be due to something actually out of place, or whether he was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. So he'd gotten extremely good at ignoring that nagging prod of doubt. There was normally no reason for it, especially on a glorious day like today.

Sam leaned forward to touch Annie's wrist as she returned for another batch of files. She smiled down at him. "Yes, sir?"

He smiled back. "You seen the guv this morning?"

"Not since last night." Her eyebrows quirked to match her smile.

A fair point. Everyone but Nelson had lost track of the number of drinks the DCI downed at the Railway Arms before the night ended. Sam sat back in his chair. Let the idea soothe him. "Suppose I'll have to go roll him out of bed, then, if necessary." Sam smirked; it would be lovely payback for all the times Gene had beat on his door in the dead of night.

Annie laughed. "Rather you than me, sir."

Resolutely, Sam returned to his paperwork. It felt damn good to put everything down in black and white, neatly in order. It didn't quite erase that unsettled feeling, but Hunt was occasionally late. Not often, but every man needed a bit of slack now and then. It wasn't as if they were dealing with a hostage situation or a murder spree.

"Post," Chris said through a mouthful of gum, dropping an envelope in front of Sam.

Sam glanced at it, and froze, every ounce of terrorist training screaming in his head. "Chris!"

"Yes, boss?" The DC returned to the desk, clearly unaware of what switched Sam's senses to alert status.

"Where did you pick this up?" Sam pointed at the letter.

Chris blinked, confused. "With th' other post. Downstairs."

Sam points at it. "A plain envelope, without address or postage. Name in block letters. You need to be careful with something like this; it was hand-delivered, could be a bomb, could be poison...."

" 's not big enough for a bomb, boss," Chris scoffed.

Sam eyed the letter again. It would be in 2006. "Maybe not, but it's still a risk." He inspected the envelope carefully, turning it over to look for sealed slits, for threads that might be a trigger. Finally he loosened the flap with his letter-opener and slid the contents onto the desk.

A piece of dark, thick paper had been folded around something, like a smaller envelope. Sam used two pencils to fold back the flaps, aware that several more detectives had gathered around.

In the center was a scorched and curling white rectangle, typed words almost invisible under soot.

Ray swore, reaching for the item. "That's the guv's warrant card!"

Sam was already on his feet. "Find him. Now."


Oh, bloody OW. Gene squeezed his eyes a little more tightly shut. Surely his head would explode any time now. Messy business for some street sweeper to clear up.

Street. Right. Must not 've made it home after the pub. Would explain the cold stone under his cheek, damn lumpy thing. Would explain the headache. Would explain a lot.

Would not explain why it was still pitch dark when he opened his eyes.

He blinked a few times, to be sure, and then cautiously sat up. Breathing carefully, broken by the occasional curse, he managed to push himself more or less upright without losing whatever might still be in his stomach. Fucking hangover. Gene put a hand to his splitting head, and found a matted crust dried into the hair above his right ear.

Not just a hangover, then. Possibly something much worse.

He listened. No sound at all, not even motors or footsteps or voices. Dark, heavy silence all around him.

Not as cold as he would expect, either. He patted himself down. Fully dressed, including his shoes. Still wearing his coat as well. Gene's hand groped for his flask, and found that pocket stuffed with a stiff wad of paper. He flung it to the floor. Only one of his backups was left, the tiny one in the lining. Cruel bastards, whoever had dumped him here. He took a mouthful and tucked the flask away.

In the last pocket, there was a lighter. Not his; a square-edged, silky bit of metal that lit on the first strike.

It took a few minutes to explore the room, after his eyes adjusted to the achingly bright flame. Blackened stone walls, dirty stone floor, bits of rotten lumber strewn about. Half an old apple crate, falling apart. An old camping lantern. Gene picked it up, expecting light, empty metal.

It sloshed, full of kerosene. It wasn't dirty at all, shining polished in the flame's flicker.

Gene stared at this sinister good fortune for an entire minute, then got out his flask and took a much bigger drink.


Sam slouched in the Cortina, fingers tapping nervously on the wheel. They'd found it not a block from the Railway Arms. There'd been no key in it; Sam was using the spare from Gene's desk. It looked like Gene had never made it to the car.

Sam rubbed his eyes. His DCI certainly wasn't at home; the quickly suppressed shock that crossed Mrs. Hunt's face when he asked told Sam that while Gene probably spent nights away without warning, the coppers never came to her about it. It wasn't until they came that she worried.

Maybe for nothing. Maybe Gene was in lockup for drunk and disorderly, down in Salford. Except, of course, he wasn't. That was the first thing Sam had checked.

In the passenger seat, Annie was on the radio. "Nothing. Have Chris and Ray had any luck?" She was as worried as he was; more, from the wide-eyed look she'd given him after they spoke to Gene's wife.

Phyllis' voice crackled over the line. "Not a thing. It's like he dropped off the earth, Chris said. Not here, not at the Arms, not seen anywhere about."

Sam started the car, then sat there, letting it idle. That warrant card: it was such a precise choice of warning. Or taunt. He would have to check with forensics again as soon as they got back.

Annie touched his sleeve. "What is it?"

"I don't know." He looked away. Rubbed a hand through his short hair. "It's so... individual. So targeted. Who hates Gene Hunt enough to plan something like this?"

Annie wrinkled her nose at him. "Plenty, I expect. That's not what's bothering me."

He looked at her.

She bit her lip. "The letter was addressed to you, Sam."

"Yeah." There was that, too. He gunned the engine down the street.


The lantern lit the entire room, which was taller than he'd first thought. There were two bricked-up archways in one wall.

"Oi! Can anyone hear me!" Gene pounded the rough bricks with both palms. "Police! In here, you deaf and dumb mongrel pups!" He pounded a few more times and kicked the wall for good measure.

Right. No help coming, and no getting out that way. Gene wondered how far underground he might be. He'd heard plenty of stories about disused tunnels under the city. Even been in a few himself, though this was more a basement than one of the rocky old sewers.

This wouldn't do. The light wouldn't last forever, and there must be another way out. Someone had brought him down here, after all. "Oh-kay!" Gene pushed himself off the wall and paced down the room, looking for chinks in the stone, marks or latches or fresh scratches. Or fresh air.

There, in a shadowed alcove. A doorway. Gene smacked the frame as if it were the shoulder of an old friend, and went back to pick up the lantern. He kicked aside chunks of wood as he headed for the next room, or corridor, or whatever the thing might turn out to be. The great unknown, Tyler would snippily say if he were here. Tyler didn't like the unknown.

He, Gene Hunt, thrived on it.

The unknown turned out to be another dark, stone room, smaller than the first, with no stairs, full of silence and dust. And another doorway.

He kept going, until the next corridor (which turned right, and then right again) ran into a tiny room and a dead end. Gene stood in the middle of the small space, looking around and up and down. Then he started swearing, methodically and creatively and loudly, before he picked up the lantern and began retracing his steps.


"No prints at all?" Sam reached for the plastic bag containing Gene's charred warrant card, and the one with the flattened piece of dark paper. Not that prints would help find someone quickly. Sam desperately missed his favorite fingerprint tech, who could work miracles in under ten minutes for an extra espresso. "What about trace evidence?"

Chris shrugged unhappily. "Nothing they can find. Anythin' on the card burned or got contaminated. Nothin' on the paper. 'M sorry, boss."

Sam looked at the dark blue paper again. There were lines on it. The outline of a room, a blueprint, maybe, pared down until the outside edges nearly vanished. Sam turned the paper, holding his breath; if only they could get lucky, if only there were something to identify the project.... Nothing but a small square in one corner where the lettering had been wiped out with thick stripes of India ink. He put the paper down. "All right. Tell them to keep working. Maybe they can get us some of the lettering that was in the corner, here."

"Okay, boss." Chris looked skeptical, but wandered out in the right direction.


The room he'd woken in was the largest of those he could reach, and taking twenty paces each way at least gave his feet the illusion of freedom. Gene kicked at a scrap of lumber, and it spun away, falling into dry-rotted shards. He could burn those, if he wanted. Smoke himself like bacon. Better cold than dead. At least they'd left him his coat.

Coat. Lighter. Lantern. There was some missing piece teasing him, the answer to why he hadn't been knocked a little harder on the head and left in the canal instead of a dungeon. Maybe he was to be kept out of the way for a while? Didn't quite add up. This was further out of the way than most of the bastards who'd dare would know about. Even smugglers wouldn't use a sealed area like this.

Coat. Lighter. Lantern. Flask, but if that'd been on purpose, it was more a last mercy than a clue.

Coat. Lighter. Lantern...


Gene turned, scanning the floor in the flickering glow. He'd kicked them, it would serve him right if they'd gone into water or scattered and torn. On his knees, he found the wad, still folded together like a tiny fat book. A dark color. Blue, maybe, with pale lines on them. He unfolded the papers. Several sheets, none the same size, all neatly trimmed. Gene laid them out in a row near the lantern.

Blueprints, maybe. Each bit trimmed to the outline of one room or passage. Maybe he'd picked them up in here, before he was fully conscious, or when they'd first brought him down? He scanned each one, turning it over, straightening the creases.

"Here's something." There was writing on the back of one. A few scrawled ink words. He turned the writing towards the light.

Mr. Hunt,
I wish you an unhappy death, with all my heart.

It wasn't signed. But the handwriting, it might've been familiar. If he had more light.

Gene turned the piece of paper over. The dimensions and exits, including the blocked ones, could easily describe this room. If it was, the other pieces might be.... Yes. Some were so closely trimmed, it was impossible to be certain where the doorways were. Harder still, to be certain which rooms fit together. His head ached, low rolling thuds like a church bell. "Where are you when I need you, Tyler?" he muttered. "If I put this in front of you, you'd think you'd died and gone straight to heaven. Then you could do this damn girly patchwork, and I could get back to banging on the walls for a way out."


All of A Division was here, in silence. Ray sat morosely at his desk, and Chris had lost his gum sometime in the intervening few hours. Annie curled into herself, arms wrapped around her as if to keep off the cold.

"Do we have any new leads?" Sam asked, again. Head shakes and uncomfortable shifting were the only answers he got. "All right." He leaned against the edge of the desk and looked at them all. "We can't get more manpower until we have something to go on. We know the guv was taken between the pub and his car, probably a bit past eleven o'clock last night. Find someone who saw him during that time. A witness, a snitch, the druggie on the street corner. Do whatever you need to do, and I'll back you."

"Yes, boss." Chris was on his feet and out the door, and the rest followed suit.

Sam beckoned to Ray. "DS Carling, a moment?"

Ray planted his feet apart and glared at Sam. "I've witnesses to question, boss."

"I know." Sam breathed out a sigh. "You've known Gene a long time. You know who his enemies are. Write down anyone that might be capable of this kind of stunt. Annie and I will be running those down."

Ray stroked his mustache. "The crazy ones, you mean?"

"Crazy. Angry. Lots of money. Anyone who may have taunted the police before." Sam picked up his phone. "I'm going to start by making sure Tony Crane is still in the psychiatric hospital."


"Hell-bound fucking bastards!" Gene slumped back against the wall in that tiny dead-end room, clutching his smashed fingers. On the piecemeal map there might have once been an exit here, and a gap in the wall to match. But tugging and prying had only loosened a weighty block of stone with his hand beneath it. He bent and unbent the fingers. Not broken, just bloodied.

He headed back to the main room. Back to the chopped-up map of blueprints, little innocent-looking liars. Gene was uncomfortably aware of the lantern's easy swing in his hand; the kerosene would only last a little longer. He'd end up trying to do this in the dark. "Goddamn you, whoever you are. May you die as slowly as an Egyptian mummy rots. Damn you, too, Tyler. A bloody fantastic DI, you are. Bet you haven't even noticed I'm missing."

He was careful not to touch the papers with sticky fingers. Every room and passage he'd walked through was here, neatly laid out in their convoluted maze. And two more, two left over, with no way he could see to attach them to the rest of the plan. No door or window remained unaccounted for. Gene's forefinger traced a dotted line square at the turn of that long corridor for the hundredth time. There was another like it on one of the extra rooms.

The rooms themselves, the pieces of paper they'd been traced on, were so different in size and shape and orientation, he might never have seen this. Perhaps his murderer didn't expect him to. But it fit neatly on top of the passage piece, proclaiming a way out in one corner that was difficult to check and which he'd given only a passing glance.

Certainly a way up, and hopefully a way out. Gene took one last, long look at the maps, then folded them into his pocket.


"Stephen Warren," Ray said, his hand coming down heavily onto the desktop.

Sam looked up from the list he was checking. "I thought of that. He's still in gaol. Heavy security, too."

"But he had a lot of people." Ray crossed his arms, clearly recalling the overwhelming aftermath they'd dealt with in the wake of Warren's arrest. "We could never have nicked them all, and some were loyal. I'm off to chase down a few."

"I'll come." Sam reached for his jacket, then paused as he spotted the evidence bag, still on his desk. "Ray--Warren owned a lot of property in the city, yeah?"

"Too much," Ray said darkly. "That's something else we never quite got to the bottom of."

"Can we get a list? If one of them is unoccupied, boarded up...." Sam shrugged into his jacket. "I'll do that. You go see if you can get us some confirmation from other sources."

"You won't have to wait." Ray's promise was almost a snarl.


Gene inched his feet higher on the opposite wall, then used both hands and his shoulders to scoot up further. It wasn't just a headache, now; every muscle he had (and some he'd swear he didn't) burned with effort. This probably would be easier if he were a skinny loon, like Tyler or Chris. Gene caught his clearly delirious brain swearing off beer if he could only manage this one task, and pulled himself sharply back on task. Slide, slide, scoot.

Almost there. Gene pushed harder, bracing his shoulders tightly against the wall, then lifted one hand to poke at the ceiling. It was all the same level, but this close, even in the slanted light from the lantern below, there were obvious lines scoring it. At his prod, part of the ceiling bounced upward. Not only not stone, but a lightweight piece of wood.

Gene braced himself again, freed both hands, and thrust upward, hard. The hidden panel shot away, then began to fall again. He couldn't let it, couldn't see that effort go to waste; Gene punched upwards again, lost his carefully won balance, and crashed to the floor in an ungracious heap, too breathless to swear. By some luck he had not knocked over the lantern. His hand might be properly broken, now, but it was worth it. As long as he could keep going.

"Right." He pulled his coat within reach, and tipped back the last swallow of scotch the tiny flask contained. Then he heaved himself to his feet, rolled the coat into a ball, and tossed it up through the dark opening.

The lantern was a different matter. He'd no way to climb with it, and no chance of it not breaking if he threw it as he'd thrown the coat. Gene rubbed his hands on his trousers, cleaning them for another attempt. "Sorry," he said to the lantern. "You've been a great help and all, but I can't possibly take you with me. Stay here and light the way like a good lass, eh?"

He eyed the opening, the angle he'd need to pull himself through it (ignoring the already strained pull of his muscles), leaned his shoulders against the wall, braced one foot opposite, pulled the other one up to join it, and began working his way towards freedom.


The building was half a building--set into an embankment, probably some kind of warehouse or bunker, years ago. All gray stone, thickset and massive, doorways thoroughly bricked up. Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. If this was another dead end... "Are you sure this is what we're looking for?"

Annie moved half a step closer to him; whether for his comfort or for hers, he wasn't sure. She had a roll of blueprints in hand, and the central room on the sheet certainly looked like the one he'd been poring over all day: longer than it was wide, same dimensions, three entrances clearly marked, as well as a couple of doors off another wall, under that embankment. "It's the only building we've connected to Warren that matches what you were sent."

"Right." Sam stepped into the knot of detectives. Ray was restive, fierce. Chris looked deeply anxious. As if Sam needed encouragement to stoke the feeling that they were walking right into whatever Warren had planned. He squelched the flutter of panic with words. "We need to go over the entire area. Look for anything that could be used to enter the building, anything that's been recently blocked up--the plaster could still be wet. And anything that could be a trap, disturbed earth, tripwires, anything. That letter was addressed to me, and we have to assume that Warren has something more in mind than sending us on a manhunt for the guv. Be careful."

They dispersed by some internal agreement, spreading out across the front of the building, walking with caution, checking the ground before moving forward. Sam swallowed a wry smile; if only he could get this level of discipline out of them at every crime scene.

"Sam." Annie tapped his shoulder. "What's that?"

Above the doorways was a long strip of darkness. It didn't look big enough for most men to squeeze through, and it would surely have been bricked up if anyone thought it was. "Ventilation, maybe?" That would be an awkward climb on a ladder. There was a ledge of sorts in front of it: he could reach that from the embankment. "Well spotted. I'll have a look as soon as we've cleared the ground."

She nodded, and went to join the search.


Gene heaved himself through the opening, feet scrabbling against the wall below for extra leverage. He rolled onto the floor, and lay there, blinking, allowing his eyes to adjust to the faint glow coming up through the hole. Poor abandoned lantern. After a minute, he got stiffly to his feet and looked about.

Not much light got through. Enough to see that the floor was mostly clear. Gene found his coat and put it on. Then he peered back through the hole to check the orientation of the passage, and turned in the direction that the blueprints had shown this room's exit. His undamaged left hand found the lighter, but something caught his attention.

Sound. An occasional rumble. Passing cars. With enough frequency to mean that, yes, he must still be in the city. "Can't stop the Gene Genie. Here I come, you bastards. Get ready."

Below him, the lantern dimmed, flickered, and went out.

Gene stood in the dark a long moment, keeping his direction in his head, then flicked the lighter on and walked steadily across the narrow room and through the gaping doorway opposite.


"Boss!" Chris' voice was edged with panic.

Sam headed toward the central entrance. This was Chris' third false alarm; he'd taken the idea that he might trigger a bomb by not being careful enough a bit too seriously. A couple of good-natured jokes at his expense came from the other detectives. They hadn't found anything yet, except that the bricks were newer than they had first appeared.

"What is it, Chris?" Sam crouched next to him. Chris pointed at the lowest row of bricks, where a small bit of metal protruded from the mortar. Sam bent closer, careful not to breathe (although if motion could set it off, they should all be splattered across the road by now). "Good eye, DC Skelton. That's a radio detonator."

Chris scrambled backward on all fours, as if he could get out of range that way.

Sam hauled him to his feet. "Go tell the rest to look out for the same thing, and send DS Carling over here."

Chris nodded and fled.

Sam eyed the detonator, the three doorways, the opening up top. If he were booby-trapping this place, he wouldn't set it up to rely on human efforts, subject to human error. It would be plain tripwires, or pressure sensitive detonators held down by the bricks, so any attempt to open the building would result in messy death.

"Boss?" Ray stopped next to him, and followed his gaze to the bit of metal.

"Radio detonator," Sam told him. "We can probably open this place up without setting it off, but if this is part of Warren's plan, someone's watching, ready to do it for us."

"Can't risk that," Ray agreed, frowning. "Can't risk the men, when we can't even be sure Gene's in there."

The possibility hung in the air between them. Sam weighed his options; the obvious one could backfire badly. Ray was not the most stealthy man he had. But he was the most motivated. "Ray, take someone good and quiet--Rodgers, maybe, or Cartwright, and canvass the street. Find the radio man." He looked at Ray. "We'll keep trying to figure out a way in without making it obvious."

Ray narrowed his eyes, calculating whether this assignment was worth it, no doubt, and came to Sam's conclusion. "Don't blow us all up."

Sam nodded.


The last room was dark and still and wide. Although.... Gene let his solitary flame flicker out.

Light. Dim, faint, but absolutely daylight, it sifted down from across and above. Gene headed for it. Halfway across the room it vanished, and he paused, mouth suddenly dry. No, not vanished. He'd walked into a shadow. Gene squinted up at the loft or balcony that ran along the wall above him.

He should get up there. After inspecting the more accessible areas, anyway. Gene flicked the lighter and headed to the wall. Three entrances, blocked up completely. Hell. And what was this? He crouched, and pulled back his hand just before touching the wad of explosive pasted into the wall of bricks.

So that's why his enemy had allowed him the map. If he didn't die in the dungeon, he could blow himself up trying to get out here. "Think you're too clever by half, don't you?"

He prowled along the wall, and stumbled into a stone staircase curving up to the balcony. Gene hesitated before setting foot on it. It could be wired as well, or sabotaged in some way. Not that it mattered. Either he'd die or he'd live. No point in putting off either one. He took the steps at a steady climb.

On the railless balcony, he found the light coming through panes of glass, sunken into the thick stone wall. If he were a bit smaller, he could break the glass and squeeze through.

So close to the rest of the world. Now that he'd stopped, he could hear male voices. One voice snapped what sounded like orders. A man-sized shadow crouched on the other side of the glass. "I told you, back away!" the shadow shouted, clearly trying to make a point.

It certainly made a point for Gene. He put his hands on the glass, leaned forward, and shouted with all his voice. "OI! TYLER!"


Sam almost fell off the ledge at the shout from behind thick grimy glass. He slid closer, cupped his hands on the window and tried to look through. "Guv?"

A fist pounded the glass in response.

Sam felt all the breath rush out of him in relief, and he just sat there, until the fist impatiently slammed into the glass again. "Back away, I'm breaking the glass!" Sam waited, to see if there would be a response. Nothing, but no fist either, so Sam dug one hand into the upper edge of the opening and swung a chunk of sharp rock against the widest pane. Thud. Thud. Crack. Spiderwebs ran out along the entire thing. Another swing, and the center crumbled in sharp bits. Sam rapped on the closest side, knocking out more glass, and the other side fell to a sweeping, coat-sleeved arm.

"Gene!" Sam brushed glass away and knelt in a less precarious position.

"About bloody time!" Gene's face peered at him palely from the dark, something staining his hair and one side of his face. "Tell those morons to stay away from the doors, there's enough explosive in here to bring the whole building down."

Sam almost laughed. "I know, we know. There's a radio detonator out here, but we can't get at it to disarm it. Can you do it from inside?"

Gene stared at him. "You want me to go back underneath this platform thing to cut wires? Sign my death certificate and be done with it, Tyler. One wrong move and the entire thing comes down on my head."

Or one wrong move by the radio man, assuming there was one, if he decided that Sam was up to something here. "No. We need to get you out as soon as we can. Can you--" he broke off, measuring the opening with his eyes. It looked like it would be a tight squeeze for him, never mind Gene. "Is there any way you could get through here, if we broke out some more glass?"

Something crossed Gene's face that Sam hadn't seen often: silent resignation.

"Yes," Gene said firmly. "'S plenty large enough." He disappeared back into the dark, and then his hands shoved his coat through the opening. "Here."

Sam tossed it down to Annie and motioned her to join the rest of the crew across the road. "Ready?" He swept away more shards of glass.


Gene did the same on the lip inside. For a moment he looked at Sam, searching for any hint, any hesitation to tell him that Sam expected that radio detonator to come into play. He must, if this was a better option than breaking down the brick wall. But Sam calmly knelt there, holding out a hand.

Gene put away an urge to tell Tyler to join the others, to get himself out of this. "Ready." He crawled into the narrow passage. A close fit, too close. He worked one hand out ahead of himself, twisted, got a knee on the edge of the opening, squirmed-- Sam had his wrist, now, avoiding the bloodied hand, pulling steadily.

He wasn't going to make it. It wasn't big enough. Gene blew out all the breath he could and pushed forward again.

Voices shouted from somewhere: the police radio on Tyler's belt. "There's two of 'em! Backup to the third house from the corner!" That was Ray.

Sam went from his knees to a crouch, his two-handed grip gaining a frantic strength.

Gene twisted, and pulled, and then the entire world fell from under him in thunder and fire and a punch that knocked all the breath from his body.


Sam had about a half-second's warning before the explosives detonated. The ledge bent under him, and then his stomach flipped over in freefall. He lost Gene in the tumble, and wrapped his arms around his head as he rolled down a slope of sliding rock and dust.

He spun to a stop on level ground, and something heavy thudded onto him. Gene. Sam tried to catch his breath, and carefully pushed Gene aside. Bright new blood decorated the guv's face and shirt, and he was struggling to suck in air. "Guv. You all right?" Gene managed a long gasp at last, opened his eyes, and stared. Sam turned and stopped breathing, himself: The entire front of the building had gone, crumbled into a heap of stone and brick. The top of the embankment, the ceiling of the building, swayed.

Sam staggered to his feet, and tried to pull Gene up as well. "Come on, move!" Gene paid no attention, still fighting to breathe. Then Ray was there, pulling Gene up on the other side, tugging them both across the street. Sam stumbled along, trying to keep Gene upright. Behind them, the rest of the building crashed down with a roar, spouting a cloud of dust that rose like a pillar of smoke into the late afternoon sky.

Gene swayed, his arm still across Sam's shoulders. He stared at the dust cloud, breathing raggedly. "I want to know," he rasped out. "Who put us--" Cough. "In that."

"Mental bastard," Ray agreed fervently.

Sam looked at him. "DS Carling, you did catch the men who triggered the detonator?"

Ray grinned, deeply smug. "Part of Warren's network, right enough. We're going to get the rest of them on this."

Gene stared at Ray, then back at the still-falling masonry. "That bloody poof Stephen Warren did this?"

"He definitely arranged it," Sam said. The adrenaline had started wearing off, and he could feel every bruise beginning to ache already. "Made sure I could find you, with a little work. Made sure you'd be in the right place for maximum effect."

"I am going to kill him," Gene said, thoughtfully. "Pull his rotten intestines out with a wire hanger and strangle him with them." He made a wrenching gesture with one hand.

"Please, guv, let me help." Sam grinned at him. Gene snorted, then winced and put a hand to his head.

There was old blood in his hair as well as new. Sam glanced over, to see if he could spot Annie, but she was already there. After a quick glance over Sam, she turned to Gene. "DCI Hunt, you should be in hospital."

He brushed off her hands. "Get off, Cartwright." He stepped away and nearly fell. Sam hauled him upright again, and almost fell himself.

"You too, DI Tyler." Annie frowned at him. "I expect you've both got concussions. You've blood all down the back of your neck, Sam."

Sam gingerly reached behind his head and encountered a warm, sticky dampness.

"We can't both go," Gene decreed. "I need somebody with sense running interrogations, so we don't lose these lily-livered rodents again!"

There were moments when what Gene asked for was the last thing Sam expected. "We can hold them for now. I'm sure this won't take long."

Gene thought this over, then nodded and limped to the car, bloody but mostly unbowed. "Not as long as it took you to find me, Tyler."

Then there were times when Gene was everything Sam expected him to be. "I'll try to beat heads in a little more quickly next time, guv."

"See that you do." That was almost a swagger.

Sam smiled to himself. It hadn't been an uneventful day after all, but everything was, once again, right with this world.


Tags: life on mars, my fics, writing, yuletide 09

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