Title: "Gently from the dark"

Characters: DCI George Gently, DS John Bacchus

Warnings: None, apart from general spoilers for the pilot

Rating: K

Setting: Circa series one

Disclaimer: Neither series nor characters belong to me; I borrow for fun, not profit (sadly).

Summary: Northumberland, 1964. A workaday salvation is better than none at all.

It's 6am and the sky is still dark when Gently enters the station. The night shift is almost over, and the constable on the desk returns his morning greeting wearily. The building is quiet, the shuffles and silence in the hall matching the grey light filtering from outside. Gently prefers the stillness, all told. More time to think.

He enters the CID office. In the dimness, there's a shape that shouldn't be there. The sound, the physicality, of someone breathing. Gently blinks.

Bacchus, asleep at his desk.

Gently turns, hangs his jacket by the door. Hits the switch that brings artificial light flaring bright and impersonal into the office. When he turns back, Bacchus is running his hands through his hair, blinking.

"I told you to go home," Gently says as he heads for his own desk.

"Sir," Bacchus says blankly. Then, "I did, sir."

Gently turns back and regards him. The side of Bacchus' face is swollen purple, his right eye bloodshot and almost shut. There'd been a run-in last night with the chief suspect in their current case, a spate of increasingly malicious armed burglaries. The suspect was at the moment enjoying the hospitality of the station, nursing a broken face of his own. He'd run, Bacchus had pursued, and Gently still didn't know exactly what had passed in the few minutes before he'd caught up to find the bloodied suspect and a newly arrived friend standing over his sergeant.

" 'Stay there' was implied," Gently says.

Bacchus looks away, fidgets with his collar. His knuckles are heavily abraded. "Rather be here, sir," he mutters.

Gently stares in his direction, but Bacchus is still avoiding his eye. Gently does not sigh. "Go and chase up the forensics report on the last burglary. I want to speak to the pawn shop owner again before we interview Dunn and Tait."

"Right away, guv." Bacchus gets up, grimacing, and gingerly picks up a file. He heads for the door.

Gently shakes his head. So much for solitude.

The sun is peering through fog as Bacchus drives them through grey streets. Gently watches the glimpses of ocean in the distance, the water dark and subdued on the low turn of the tide. "How does your wife feel about these odd hours of yours?" he asks.

Bacchus stares straight ahead. "Lisa's a copper's daughter."

Gently considers, then tilts his head.

Bacchus fixes Gently with a glare. "How did your wife feel about your hours?"

Gently watches a sliver of ocean under it disappears behind a grey-walled factory. Mildly, he answers, "She pretended it didn't matter. I pretended I believed her."

Bacchus's glare has already crumbled. "Sorry, guv." It's almost a whisper.

Gently stares through the window. This is the problem, he feels. He's seen all too many varieties of men in the Force in his time, good men and a great many bad. Some of the fallen ones are naturally corrupt. Some of them might have been good men, but have slipped through circumstance or the cloying influence of the culture of corruption that surrounds them. Some bear their sins easily. Some are wise enough or unfortunate enough to know better, and are ruined in and out by what they've done and continue to do.

Bacchus has potential. Too much potential.

Bacchus is using his phone when Gently returns after post-interview processing. He's standing, his back to the room, the cord twisted behind him.

"… I know," he's saying into the receiver, voice pitched low. "I said I'd sort it."

Gently crosses to his desk and sits, opening the file on the burglaries.

"Look, don't start again," Bacchus hisses. "Tell the bank— I had to give him that, he's my da… No. No, just – leave it to me. All right?"

Dunn had denied the burglaries and pretended forgetfulness as to what happened to his face, eyeing Bacchus warily. (He'd been arrested before; he knew how it worked. Usually. He doesn't know that Gently would have made sure that the truth didn't lead to more cell-located accidents, as much as was in his power. Or he might have done. There had been an iron bar by Dunn's boot when Gently had arrested him, rust gleaming like blood in the sheen of a dirty rain puddle.) Dunn would take the charge of resisting arrest and assault, and they'd get him on the burglaries on evidence. With a little pushing, Dunn would up the pawn shop owner as an accessory as well.

"Yeah. Listen. Listen. No. Just – see to the bairn, all right? Later. Yeah. I told you about ringing me." Bacchus replaces the receiver, cutting off the voice on the other end. He leans on the desk, puts a hand to his face, straightens, flattens his hair, turns around. His gaze falls on Gently, his expression shifting to startled and then guilty.

Gently eyes him implacably and returns his gaze to the paperwork. "You've arrested Dunn before," he remarks.

Bacchus sits. Aligns the edges of the files on his desk. It's a habit of his, one he never seems to realise. "Couple of times, back when I was in uniform," he says. "Went to school with him and all. Right toerag he was then, too."

"You didn't mention that earlier."

"Should I have?" Bacchus catches his expression. "Sorry, sir. Didn't think it was relevant."

"You're fortunate he's forgetful."

Bacchus blinks and has the grace to avoid his gaze, at least. He's learning.

Gently turns over the page listing goods sold in the last month at the pawn shop, slots it in behind the paperwork for the first burglary. "What do you say to one more visit to our friend at the pawn shop?"

Bacchus looks up, grins. Gently smiles in return.

He never expected to end his career in a place like this. Never expected to work in a place like this at all. His career has always been smooth, controlled. Something of a charmed life, his. Respectable background. Exemplary war record. Courtship so natural it could have been written in the stars. Transition into the police force, the way laid open by old connections in high places. Meteoric progression through the ranks. His grand duty, the driving force. His personal crusade. Clean up the Met. Make a lot of enemies in the process. Never mattered to him.

Then Isabella was taken. And suddenly nothing mattered anymore.

When the fog cleared, he looked around him and found colleagues who hated him and superiors who publicly praised him and privately feared him. A police force mired in a dank corruption so pervasive his one-man campaign had made barely a dent. A police force that took its wide-eyed young and taught them to be thugs and bullies.

One man couldn't change an entire culture. He'd spent the best years of his life and made countless enemies on a quest that would take a generational shift to achieve. A quest that had cost Isabella her life.

Meanwhile, in stations across the country, bad old men teach bad old ways to the best and brightest, the ones with potential to become something new. Potential to fall to the same dismal sins. Potential to stagnate, lost in nothing and nowhere, surrounded but not led and with no one who cares enough to be disappointed.

Stations and men that matter not a whit, by any account.

The Chief here isn't a bad man. He isn't a good man, either. He's merely competent, exactly as competent as befits a man of his rank and station. He's supremely cautious of Gently; quite willing to accept the successes he brings, but wary of having a man of his acclaim and reputation as subordinate when they both know he could be elsewhere doing more.

He loathes Bacchus. Gently has observed the way Bacchus twitches when in the same room as the man, though the Chief barely acknowledges him if he can help it. He can't stand Bacchus' nervous, defiant restlessness. Doesn't like the prattle or the enthusiasm or the arrogance or the ambition, the hunger for approval. Hates that Bacchus is working-class from his bootstraps to his too-long hair, insecure and unmistakable through the affectations of suit and shoes and car.

The thing he wants most dearly now is for Bacchus to be gone. The thing Bacchus wants most dearly is to be gone.

And the Met, now… Sergeant John Bacchus would go far. Gently knows one or two men who would ensure that, once he was in their hands.

Damned potential.

Gently smokes a cigarette and watches as the sergeant leads the pawn shop owner in handcuffs across the parking area into the station. There's a fine drizzle, and sky hangs low and grey.

Bacchus sees him and straightens a little. He speaks to the pawn shop owner, nods at Gently, and leads his man into the station.

Gentle smiles, extinguishes his cigarette, and heads to join him.

– fin –