Author's Note: I own nothing. I expect nothing. Rating is for Hunt's language. Apologies for the fluffy angst. As if there hasn't been enough written already, eh? R&R!
Cartwright looked like he felt, tired and dispirited, her chin leaning on one hand and bloodshot eyes lowered to the paperwork spread on her desk. Not that she didn't have every right to be under the weather. It was a quarter past two in the morning. The majority of the workforce had long since left for their homes and it was only by supreme effort that Hunt himself resisted the temptation to abandon the offices for a pint of something bracing. Hard enough that Carling had paused to comment on his unwanted overtime. Glad as he was for a man with good knuckles, it pricked Hunt, despite himself, that his detective sergeant nursed such a strong dislike for his new DI. It didn't help that Tyler set himself up willingly for abuse.
"Staying up with the kiddies, guv?" Carling had said, coat slung on his shoulder.
"Someone's got to keep 'em in line," Hunt replied. "No telling what in bloody hell they'll get up to otherwise."
Hunt's remark had not been entirely facetious. He could easily imagine Tyler fitting up that last bit of evidence standing between the Eaton gang and a group arrest and, with that reckless tenacity so natural to him, leaping on the chance in an instant with Cartwright at his heels. Hunt estimated a solid result to the duo's persistence around four hundred hours. A dangerous time to be courting rabble, especially in the Eaton's mold, and Hunt did not trust his DI to have the tactics necessary for self-defense, let alone defending Annie. One of them, or both of them, would come out worse for wear—perhaps not at all. Hunt was not prepared to face either consequence.
"Got you working like a proper dusky-back," he observed, leaning over Annie's desk. "Enjoying the privilege?"
Cartwright looked blearily up at him. "He's really onto something, guv," she said. "We'll probably not be here much longer."
"With you falling asleep at your desk? Be lucky if you're out noon tomorrow."
"Aren't you just a beacon o' optimism, then," said Annie mildly.
Hunt straightened, brow creased. "Think I'll spread the sunshine to your flights-of-fancy guru. It's long past my bedtime."
He was arrested by Annie's hand on his arm.
"Be gentle with him," she said. "He's had a hard time of it lately. His parents—"
Hunt felt the thunder in his brows intensify. "This is not and never will be a sodding home for the bloody mental."
Annie massaged her forehead. "I know that, I do, it's just—you know there's something wrong with him, somewhere inside. He's been hurt, guv. I don't know how, but he's messed up, just a little so's it's noticeable, and he needs me—needs us—to help him."
Hunt was silent for a moment. At last he said, musing and emotionless, "Little too close to him, aren't you? Not entirely wise, is it?"
Cartwright stiffened visibly. "You giving me advice?" she asked.
"I don't give advice," said Hunt. "I state facts." He glanced in the direction of his DI's desk, the man himself lost behind stacks of portfolios, papers, and books. "And I don't treat my officers with kid gloves. Ever."
Ignoring her final, murmured protest, Hunt strode towards the DI's work space. Crossing the room he was again impressed by how lonely it was, Tyler's desk light the only beacon in a sea of shadows. Circling 'round until he was able to see the detective inspector without the impediment of research materials, he crossed his arms on his chest and scowled.
"Well, Tyler," he said, "what do you say we call the Prime Minister and invite him to witness Tyler's best, meaning, slow-as-a-hairy-faced-ass?"
Annie covered her face with her hands.
To both their surprise, there was no reply.
Hunt's eyes widened at the scene before him. Tyler was slumped back in his chair, his head hanging back at an awkward, hard angle and his arms hanging limp and lifeless at his sides. His mouth—that smart mouth Hunt despised without reserve—was ever so slightly open but entirely motionless. There was no sound from him, no sign of even minimal activity.
"Sweet Mary," Hunt whispered. "It's happened."
"What? What's happened?" Annie was on her feet in an instant.
"Nothing to fret over, Cartwright," said the DCI brusquely. "Have a look if you want. Looks like you lost the race for Sleeping Beauty after all. Role's already been cast."
Annie moved swiftly to Hunt's side. It would perhaps be injudicious to say her eyes drank in the sight of the unconscious Tyler, but mixed with her surprise there was a definite element of softness and warmth. Quietly she approached the detective inspector, her hands hovering over him but somehow resisting an instinctive urge to touch him.
"Should we wake him?" she murmured.
"Well of course we should wake him!" exploded Hunt. "Imagine the faces of every man jack and his brother when they come in and see my second-in-command snoring fit to shake the bloomin' rafters!"
This was a full-fledged, Detective-Chief-Inspector-Hunt-Rant, the sort that chilled the hearts of criminals at its merest echo and was often the prelude to flying fists and enthusiastic knuckle-bashing. Few were capable of withstanding its sheer brute force. Tyler alone had ever managed to remain poised in the face of the DCI's wrath. It was that element of defiance in him that Hunt both respected and distrusted, valuing both as a virtue and, at times, a crippling vice. Nonetheless, at present Tyler was amazingly unaffected. He remained immobile, breathing softly, the slight but minimal furrow at his brow the only indication that he had recognized the disturbance at all. Even that might have been coincidence.
"Sleeps like a sinner in church," remarked Hunt, philosophically.
"Well he can't stay like this." Annie bent closer to Sam, daring at last to lay a hand on his shoulder. "He'll get an awful crick in his neck and he's bad enough as it is, what with those terrible migraines he's been gettin'."
Hunt watched Annie press Sam's arm, shaking him gently. His face darkened.
"Well you'll never wake him like that," he said. He shouldered her aside, leaning in until his face was scant inches from Sam's, so close he could feel the sleeping man's light exhalations. "DI Tyler, what in bloody blazes do you think you're doing!"
Sam murmured incoherently, the crease in his forehead deepening. Hunt watched in amazement as his second-in-command turned his face further to one side and sank more profoundly into dreamland, his wan lips slightly compressed. Grimacing, Hunt gripped the collar of Sam's jacket, preparing to forcibly haul the detective inspector to wakefulness. Annie stayed him with a hum of protest.
"Don't, guv, please," she said. "I've never seen him so peaceful. Look at him."
Hunt snorted. "What is it you have in mind, then? Leaving him like this?"
"I was thinking—" Annie hesitated. "I was thinking you might carry him, sir."
Shock superceded impatience in an instant. It wasn't that he couldn't; Sam was made of slight enough stuff to be a relatively easy burden; but it was the principle of the thing. Carrying Tyler would be breach of dignity, not to say of etiquette. If anyone should see him he would never live it down. Much as he appreciated Tyler in spite of their differences, he would never be willing to join him in the ranks of the faerie realm.
"It's only far as my car," Annie pleaded. "Please? I'll drive him home."
"And then what? Haul him over your shoulder like a sack of potatoes?" Hunt's temper flared. "I'd have to go with you. You'd never manage."
"Then you'll do it?"
Hunt didn't reply. He glanced down at Tyler, taking in the man's pale, tired countenance. Something in him softened.
"Just this once," he said.