Title: And If I Swallow Anything Evil
Author: rebelxxwaltz
Rating: T, essentially for violence and language.
Summary: An escaped convict seeks revenge, and dredges up painful memories from Gene's past. Gene chooses an unlikely partner in pursuit of this hated figure, and with WDC Annie Cartwright in tow he gets a bit more than he bargained for.
Word Count: About 9,000 *cackles maniacally*
Pairing(s): Gene/Annie. Although in this case it's mainly friendship... with a bit of spice thrown in. :D
Setting: Set during series 2, at some point after 2x2 but before the events of 2x6.
Notes: Entry for Ficathon 2013 at the Lifein1973 LJ comm! This was for basaltgrrl's prompt, "Gene/Annie, Annie notices that Gene's taken some kind of injury which he's successfully hiding from the rest of the team, she corners him and forces him to let her see it." In spite of this deliciously porn-ready prompt I basically ended up with angsty action/drama, sprinkled with whump and awkward sexual tension. Title and some content inspiration from The Who's Behind Blue Eyes (when did I start liking The Who so much, anyway? Not that I'm complaining). More notes at the bottom, if you're into that sort of thing.
Thanks: To my tasting panel of Littleotter73, Aisforinterval, and Bratflorida who, in a triple blind study, said they would purchase parts of this fic again at a local supermarket.

xxxxx

And If I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
And If I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat

xxxxx

Villains are so bloody predictable these days, Gene thought to himself as he staggered down the dark and rain-drenched back alley. Shame really, he mused, leaning against the weathered masonry and prodding his torso to check for cracked ribs. No creativity. It seemed the knuckledusters and blackjacks had been mainly for show, as beneath the nascent bruises all his bones felt intact. He winced at the sharply burning ache as he pushed away from the wall. Either the weapons were for show, or his attackers had known exactly how to use them to create the absolute maximum level of superficial injury.

They hadn't gone for his face; their collective time in prison had clearly taught them volumes concerning how to hide whatever damage they chose to inflict. The ringleader hadn't been able to resist one swift jab to Gene's jaw, even so. The blunt force of it had caught him by surprise, coming as it was from a vicious scrote who was known to favor sharp and menacing blades. Oh yes, he knew who he was dealing with. His attacker's psychotic grin was something straight out of Gene's nightmares, if he ever admitted to having any. The smug countenance with its characteristic twitch was all too familiar and caused a ball of cold fear and sizzling rage to form in the pit of Gene's stomach. Cocky little tosser couldn't resist the opportunity to rub it in. Always that way with the small blokes, like they've got something to prove. Out of habit, Gene swept his tongue around, testing for loose teeth. In recent months it had usually been Tyler's overly clever mouth that got them into the most trouble, but it appeared the Gene Genie hadn't entirely lost his touch.

Tyler… he could hear the little sod now, rambling on about how stupid it was to investigate a tip-off at a warehouse down by the docks with no backup, without even taking a radio or telling the desk where he'd gone. It had seemed credible enough, no threats or invocations to 'come alone' or other factors warning of a trap. Mentally pushing his DI's picky-pedantic voice to the back of his mind, Gene vowed that nobody- especially not Sam- would ever know about this. He had hidden worse injuries back in his school days, when his father had been similarly skilled in laying his fists where it really counted. This was nothing. He was Gene Hunt, after all- and he would still nick the bastards in the end. One bastard in particular, who deserved Gene's boot (or loafer, as it were) in his ribs above all others.

Breathing heavily, Gene smothered a groan as he attempted to prop his large form against the wall and get a clearer view into the next lane. His left shoulder was throbbing, prickling with numb shards of extreme pain. Rolling his neck and shaking off a wave of nausea from his accumulated injuries, Gene continued along his circuitous and evasive route back to the Cortina. Sure, uninventive thugs like these were incredibly fucking boring. He rubbed at his wrists, still bleeding and itching from the harshly digging bite of rough rope. Boring, but always, always just stupid enough to leave their captives a woefully obvious escape route. Gene was lucky enough to know this, which made him luckier than most. He sighed and made the supreme effort to move his exhausted legs, lamenting the unsalvageable state of his second-favorite shirt and wishing like hell for the planet's largest Scotch. On further review, maybe predictability among the criminal classes wasn't such a bad thing after all.

xxxxx

If there was one thing that Annie would say about herself with absolute conviction, it was that she was observant.

Perhaps she wasn't as smart as Sam, or as brave as the Guv. She didn't have Ray's confidence, however misplaced, or the effortless patience that Chris sometimes showed with the old ladies and other innocent time-wasters that frequented the station… but she noticed things. Perhaps she had spent so long as a woman in the force being ignored or shooed into the corner of the room that she had cultivated the skill as a mechanism for self-defense, a way to prove all her chauvinist colleagues wrong where it came to the usefulness of female police officers.

Annie's observant nature had earned her at least some degree of professional respect, and landed her in a significant amount of personal turmoil. She certainly watched Sam more than could possibly be considered healthy. Even if it was truly out of concern for his well being, she was sure that all the quirks and idiosyncrasies that she had picked up on and filed away in her brain were colored by romantic idealism to some degree. Still; until the day when he decided to stop raving about time travel and talking about 'home' like he'd wandered over to the wrong side of the rainbow-colored railway tracks those insights would stay safely stored away, locked in the hope chest of her imagination with all her other wildest dreams and fantasies.

It was easy once she'd gotten the hang of it, noticing things about the other members of CID. She might take a special interest in Sam, but he wasn't her only subject. Annie had been the first to realize when Ray finally got himself a girlfriend, after one too many beer o'clock excuses about darts tournaments on the other side of town or needing to help his frail mum carry her shopping. The timing never seemed to add up, and Ray's suddenly meticulous grooming and application of new aftershave were suspicious in and of themselves. Unable to resist, Annie had tailed the shifty-acting DS after work one day and met him with a raised eyebrow as he exited Archer's Flower Shop with a bouquet of roses that were most certainly not destined for old Mrs. Carling's mantlepiece. Ray had bought Annie's drinks for a solid week in exchange for her promise of silence.

And then of course there was Gene Hunt. The larger-than-life DCI always seemed to be in the spotlight, filling up the room with his un-ignorable presence, demanding everybody's full attention with more than just his resounding voice and authoritative stance. Annie watched him too, more closely and with greater pleasure than she would be likely to admit even to herself. Another one of Annie's finer qualities was that she happened to be capable of keeping a secret, and the fact that she found the Guv sexy as all get-out was a piece of information she had successfully kept to herself for a very long time. Surely, there was no harm in looking…

The time spent studying her commanding officer had yielded some interesting results. Even while she had still been in uniform, Annie had developed a knack for knowing when Gene Hunt was having problems with the missus. Perhaps it had seemed all the more obvious back then. She could recall several instances of coming off the overnight shift at 5 AM only to pass him in the darkened corridor; hair tousled, carrying a mug of tea, still wearing his shirt and tie from the previous day and absently rubbing at the bristles on his unshaven chin. On these occasions it was rather clear to Annie that the beaten leather settee in Gene's office was being used as more than just a surrogate filing cabinet.

These days, Detective Constable Cartwright privately kept a running tally of how many consecutive weeks it had been since the Guv first claimed Mrs. Hunt to be 'visiting her sister in Hull.' It was close on fourteen weeks now by her calculations, with that same vague explanation cropping up at varying intervals. There were no more nights spent sleeping at the station as far as she had been able to tell, and Gene's clothes were almost too well cared for, bearing the tell-tale creases and faint detergent aroma of a thorough professional cleaning. These factors combined with a distinct lack of 'you just ask my missus' themed comments had led Annie to the tentative conclusion that their DCI was now a bachelor. Not that this was a subject she had any intention of broaching- she was quite happy with her head perched between her shoulders and firmly attached to her neck as nature intended, thank you very much.

As Annie checked the final box on the report she was finishing, the doors to CID swung open to admit the man himself. Annie had been first in; even habitual early bird Sam hadn't arrived yet, and the incident room was practically deserted. Gene hardly seemed to notice his surroundings as he stalked between the desks with tightly wound posture and a firmly fixed scowl. Annie ignored the way the shafts of early morning light filtering in through the windows cast a golden sheen to the Guv's hair, instead focusing on the violent intensity with which he slammed the door to his office. It rattled in its frame, causing the blinds encasing Gene's sanctuary to vibrate alarmingly. At least an 8.5 on the anger scale, then- any higher and they'd be calling the glazier in. Annie sighed, wondering what had caused the chief inspector's black mood and preparing for what would likely be a very long day…

xxxxx

The Scotch in the bottom drawer of Gene's desk had helped clear his head. He'd been to his empty house and patched himself up to a limited extent, but the station was where he needed to be. His mind was caught in a loop, continuously reliving the previous 12 hours, images spiraling and tumbling over each other until minutes morphed into years and he was two decades back with the starched collar of a brand new police constable's uniform scratching his neck below the neatly cropped hairline. He'd been an idealist back then; work hard and get ahead, catch the 'bad' people and clean up the streets.

PC Hunt's illusions on that score were shattered with speed and devastating precision, first by his discovery that the seemingly admirable (if a bit pickled) Harry Outhwaite was in the pocket of the criminal fraternity, and little more than a month later by the far harder to swallow revelation that his own younger brother was in the pay of the very same gangsters.

Gene exhaled slowly, pouring yet another large Scotch. Even after all these years he could still feel himself choking on that particularly bitter pill; Stuart hadn't had an easy time of it in National Service, returning from Malaya with a bum leg and a haunted look in his eye. Gene had tried to pass off the younger Hunt's antisocial behavior as wounded pride and a bit of simple trouble adjusting to civilian life. The truth of it was, however, that Gene had turned a blind eye while Stu got involved with the wrong crowd, too wrapped up in his own life and budding career to care that his brother was headed for the edge of a very slippery slope. He'd noticed Stuart was using some tablets, but thought nothing of it- the Army had handed basic amphetamines out like candy during his own days at the West Berlin Garrison, something to keep the detachments awake and alert on long overnight patrols or shifts of monotonous guard duty. They seemed to help Stuart's confidence at first, and took the edge off the pain without any drowsy side effects.

It seemed like a significantly larger problem on that fateful morning where Gene woke to find his brother beaten half to death on his front stoop, clutching a bloody piece of paper which simply contained an address and a time at which Gene's presence was expected. That was the first time he had laid eyes on Freddie 'Switchblade' Finlay, and it was also the first time- of many increasingly shameful instances to follow- that Gene ever accepted a bribe.

He'd done it to protect his brother, his old mum, and the girl he had taken to the pictures the previous Friday and decided he wanted to marry. Gene wasn't like Outhwaite. He didn't have a choice, wasn't doing it to feather his own nest. He kept telling himself that for a long time. The problem was that as the months and years passed by it just kept getting easier. Even as he watched his brother fall further into the grip of the criminal underworld and the intoxicants of varying legality supplied to him by Finlay and his disreputable colleagues Gene blamed Stuart for not being strong enough, called him a worthless speed freak, kept pushing him away until any shred of a bond left between them withered away into nothing. And who was he protecting then, with a constant ball of dread in the pit of his stomach and a pocket full of unimaginably dirty money?

Things got better for awhile, after Stuart's first disappearance. He'd turned up in a hospital in the shittiest part of London two weeks after a screaming match between the brothers Hunt had escalated into a fistfight, leaving Stuart with a bloody nose and his stash of tablets flushed down the toilet. At that time Gene had been scared into action, overwhelmed by guilt and imbued with a new sense of responsibility toward his younger sibling. He'd invited Stuart to live in the spare room at the small house he'd bought upon his elevation to CID, in spite of the increasingly careworn Mrs. Hunt's quiet disapproval. For a short time, the brothers were brothers again, reliving their happier memories and even sharing plans for the future.

That was the worst part, really, to have cultivated such a sense of hope only to have it snatched cruelly away. Gene remembered their mother's funeral like it was yesterday. Stuart had been inconsolable, breaking his sober streak with all the alcohol he could get his hands on as his blown senses reached out to fill the hole drilled into him by the diamond sharp pain of loss. He'd disappeared from the house that afternoon, stumbling in the door pale and wasted in the middle of the night. Gene had never seen Stuart so out of it; vacant, unreachable, clouded blue eyes rolling back in his head like he was trying to claw his way into another dimension. Gene shook Stuart's shoulders, threw water in his face, tried everything he could think of to make him normal again. Eventually the younger man passed out completely, draped across the sofa with shallow breaths rattling his lungs. Gene watched Stuart all night, making sure his chest continued to rise and fall as he wondered what new form of poison his brother had become familiar with in the dirty back alleyways of London.

As the sun broke through the gap in the curtains the following morning, Gene Hunt drifted to sleep in his favorite armchair, lulled by the sound of his brother's steady breathing. By the time he woke again, Stuart was gone. Three days later one of Gene's snouts confirmed that Stuart had been briefly seen in the company of Freddie Finlay before hopping the afternoon train to London. The next time Gene saw his brother, he was dead.

And what was Gene left with to take the place of the sorrow, regret, and heart-rending guilt that he would not allow himself the weakness or the luxury of feeling? Vengeance, retribution, and the opportunity to use the privileges afforded him by his already tarnished badge to apportion blame onto those who truly deserved it- namely 'Switchblade' Finlay and his gang. After all, Gene would have the rest of his life to punish himself for not being able to save his brother. Maybe the first step toward redemption was to right the wrongs the he had so foolishly condoned.

Months of late nights followed, along with gallons of whisky, enough binned suppers to feed a small African nation, plus a dozen close encounters with blades and bullets and whatever else Finlay could throw at Gene now that all previous bets were most assuredly off. In an ironic twist Gene's diligence in the pursuit of such a notorious criminal earned him his promotion to Detective Sergeant, and the knife of self-loathing embedded itself that much deeper into his gut.

Then, suddenly, it all seemed to be over. One of Finlay's supposedly loyal lieutenants, an ambitious and mean-spirited little shark called Stephen Warren, gave Gene everything he needed to stitch Finlay up airtight… all Gene had to do, of course, was help smooth the way for Warren to quietly slip into the resultant power vacuum. And it really had been that easy, even factoring in the awkwardness of having to deflect Warren's suggestion of a more 'intimate' partnership.

After the fact Gene was left feeling unsatisfied. Finlay was behind bars, but it hadn't done much to quell Gene's rage or make him feel like he had done anywhere near right by Stuart's memory. That was when he started getting violent with suspects, siphoning off his relentless anger and sometimes hoping that the bastards would hit back just so that he could feel something. So it went on as Gene threw himself even further into his work with an oft-professed determination to rid the streets of scum and, with a bit of help from Harry Woolf, rocketed through the ranks to become one of the youngest DCIs in the (admittedly very short) history of the amalgamated Manchester and Salford Police.

He'd carried on in much the same vein until Tyler had blown into town and forced him to think about what it had felt like the first time he had taken a backhander all those years ago, reminded him why he had become a police officer in the first place and how he'd allowed his ideals to become twisted through the bitter lens of his experiences. There was something about Sam that made Gene think maybe they could win against the bastards who had the city in their unscrupulous grip, that they could unravel the web of corruption and get back to properly upholding the law.

Now, though, Gene had to wonder. Warren had hardly been locked up for six months and, judging by the ache in Gene's ribs and the shooting pain he was still feeling in his shoulder, he already had an even more dangerous and psychotic criminal kingpin on his hands. Speaking of which, how in the name of Francis Lee's sweaty match day undershorts had Freddie Finlay managed to get out of prison already? He should have been down for 25 years at least.

That was when he noticed the divisional bulletin sitting, being ignored as per usual, in his inbox. Gene snatched at the paper, recognizing Finlay's name along with the two others on the roster. The memo from RCS detailed their escape from prison three days ago, an opportunistic breakout facilitated by the ongoing repair of an exterior fence. Gene rolled his eyes, the memory of the springing of Dickie Fingers still fresh in his mind. What was the sodding point of putting the criminals away if the prison system couldn't even manage to keep them in? Unlocking his other bottom desk drawer- the one where he kept his personal files, not the one where he kept the Scotch- his fingers swiftly landed on a folder he hadn't touched or even thought about for several years. He flipped through the pages contemplatively before adding the latest dispatch to the top of the file.

Gene turned his mind back to the current dilemma at hand. He needed to nick Finlay, that much was clear, but he obviously couldn't go it alone this time. Rising from behind the desk, the DCI walked over to the nearest window facing the main office as the rest of the team filtered in to start the work day. He wasn't about to involve Tyler- the nosy git would ask too many questions and jump all over Gene's case if he discovered how easily Finlay had lured him out. He needed someone who could be discreet; as clever as Tyler, as self-assured as Ray Carling, but with enough tact to keep a secret when it really mattered. He snorted. Might as well call bloody Superman.

Peering through the blinds, Gene's eyes landed on a lovely dark head, and he found himself avidly observing DC Cartwright as she bent with diligence over a rapidly shrinking pile of paperwork. "Well shag me sideways," he muttered to himself. Perhaps Superwoman might do nicely in a pinch…

xxxxx

Annie had lost count of how many times that day she had glanced at Gene Hunt out of the corner of her eye. It had indeed been a long day as predicted, but Annie had never expected to spend it practically glued at the hip with her DCI. He'd come stomping out of his office half an hour after he'd slammed in, barking instructions regarding all their current cases until Annie was the only one left who hadn't been shouted down or shunted out. Gene had fixed her with a calculating gaze as Sam and Ray sulked through the double doors in acrimonious company, off to continue following up leads on a tricky murder case.

He had placed a thin and oddly dusty file in front of her, throwing himself into the chair beside her desk. He had never done that before; in fact he usually gave Sam a thunderously dirty look on the odd occasions when he would seat himself there as they worked together or discussed a case. Annie had reached for the file, looking at the Guv expectantly. He nodded, indicating that she should examine the contents. Annie swiftly perused the few sheets of paper, feeling keyed up and nervous under such close and direct scrutiny. Her eyebrows knit in confusion as she discerned the meaning of the reports. "A jailbreak?"

"Three nasty pieces of work on the lam, broke out of Her Majesty's supposedly high-security Shithole about seventy-two hours ago." Annie could feel the warmth of his body as he leaned across the desk, jabbing at the file with his index finger. "I will not have scum like this riding roughshod over the streets of my city."

Momentarily stunned, both by Gene's proximity and the force of his conviction, Annie had shaken her head and forced herself to meet his eyes. "But Guv… what's it got to do with us? I mean… shouldn't RCS be handling this?"

Gene had pouted, leaning back and crossing his arms over his chest. "They might technically hold the jurisdiction, but Finlay has it out for me. I'm the one who put him in jail to begin with, and he'll be looking to get revenge. If you think I'm about to trust Litton and his bunch of shirt-lifting pansies to clean up this mess you've got another thing coming, sweetheart."

"And," she had started off slowly, not quite sure how to phrase the question without sounding either cowardly or insubordinate, "You want my help?"

Surprisingly, her query had been met with a smirk. "Hope you wore your ruby slippers today, constable, because you aren't in bleedin' Kansas anymore." He stood then, reaching for the back of his vacated chair and picking up Annie's neatly draped jacket. He tossed it to her, craning his neck toward the door and presumably indicating that she should follow. "You worked hard for that detective's shield, yeah? Time you had a chance to use it properly. Now grab your girly handbag and let's hurry up about it, bastards to nick and all."

That had been seven hours ago, and they had been chasing down leads and poking their noses into some highly unsavory locations across the city ever since. Now they were sat outside a ramshackle block of flats in a pool car, parked inconspicuously between a slightly battered van and a blue Mini. Glancing at him yet again, it struck Annie how… wrong the Guv looked behind the wheel of the poky little hatchback. He had grudgingly admitted that the Cortina was too recognizable, and if they were going to get an eyeball on Finlay they would need to blend in. And so, she realized with a sudden thrill of both pride and terror, here she was. Little Annie Cartwright, on stakeout with big bad Gene Hunt.

Throughout the day the Guv had been unusually reticent, at times blatantly ignoring Annie's questions about Finlay. It played havoc with her confidence and was frustrating, the way he seemed so determined to keep things to himself, especially when she knew her queries were relevant. Her awareness of him, heightened at the best of times, was leading her to believe that there was something important that Gene wasn't telling her. She wondered briefly if he had brought her along instead of Sam because he thought she wasn't smart enough to figure that out, but apart from his evasiveness he had treated her respectfully and sought her opinions and seemed to regard her work with a sort of urgent encouragement that left her feeling- again- rather confused.

The fading daylight cast soft shadows across the far side of Gene's face as he turned toward her briefly, the glow of sunset picking out the warmer green tones in his eyes. "Slippery bunch of rats, aren't they? Let's hope little Alfie wasn't yanking our chains." One of Gene's more forthcoming informants had indicated that an old associate of Finlay's owned the dilapidated building and had given his former employer free reign to use it as a hideout.

Gene shifted in his seat, and Annie couldn't help but notice a brief flinch of pain as he rolled his shoulders in search of a more comfortable position. She had seen several such telltale signs of injury cross his features throughout the day, along with stunted movements that lacked the devil-may-care assuredness with which he ordinarily carried himself. She thought perhaps he was simply exhausted, but it appeared to be something more than that.

Annie tilted her head quizzically. "Guv… you alright?"

"What are you on about, woman? I'm fine," he sniffed.

"It's just… you look like you're in pain."

"What I am is stiff as a flippin' board from racing all over town in this godawful excuse for an automobile. Nothing a few quick nips of single malt won't fix." He leaned across, leather-clad left hand reaching toward the glove box directly in front of her where he'd presumably stashed a spare flask. The arm of his coat and the sleeve below it rode up, and that was when Annie noticed the raw red marks on his wrist. She reacted automatically, latching onto his forearm and tugging it toward her. A choked noise escaped his throat as his body lurched closer, jaw clenching as she used her other small hand to push back the cuff of his shirt.

"Jesus, Gene, what happened to you?"

He refused to look at her, struggling weakly against her gentle grip. "I told you, 's nothing."

Annie examined the rough and uneven welts, carefully brushing her fingertips over the uninjured skin just above Gene's glove. She regarded him with concern. "If you leave it like this it'll get infected. I could-"

"Would you just leave it, Annie?"

His vehemence was less of a surprise than his use of her given name. The combination of irritation and pleading that Annie could see in his expression made her realize how close their faces were; the car was small to begin with, and her worry over his injuries seemingly carried with it a certain disregard in terms of personal space. For a moment they continued to stare at each other, her hand still clasped just below his elbow. The trance was broken when they both caught sight of sudden movement at the other end of the lane.

"Buggering fuck, there he is!"

Mysterious injuries notwithstanding, Gene was out of the car like a shot as soon as he spotted Finlay. Annie faltered, torn between the urge to run after him and the equally pressing duty to radio the desk and tell them to send armed backup. Fumbling with the settings on the radio and finally depressing the button to summon Phyllis, Annie followed the Guv with her eyes as he hurried incautiously up the lane, barely even trying to conceal himself. Gene Hunt was a bull in the china shop at the best of times, but she had never known him to be this reckless. Did he even have a weapon with him?

A sense of dread filled her, alongside a pang of guilt at her lack of faith in Gene. But what was she supposed to do, just sit back and watch him go off half-cocked with no reasonable explanation? Instinct took over and Annie wrenched open the glove box, cursing softly with a sense of horrified relief when she spotted the small handgun nestled behind the untouched flask and on top of the more typical maps and manuals. Annie steeled herself and checked the gun, glad that Sam had taken the time to give her at least some basic firearms training after the incident at the post office robbery where she had all but threatened to shoot their DCI due to his indifference. Concealing the gun as well as she could inside her light jacket Annie exited the vehicle and spotted Gene's tall frame disappearing around a bend in the lane, ruefully hoping that the Guv wouldn't end up in her firing line this time, either.

xxxxx

Well, damn.

Damn, bollocks, pissing sodding shit.

It occurred to Gene as the razor sharp knife scraped against the stubble at the edge of his jaw that he should have planned this a bit better instead of just charging in. What had he been thinking? He swallowed, causing his adam's apple to push against the blade. Oh right, he'd been thinking 'I'll get you, you SON OF A BITCH.'

Now here he was, hardly any better off than he had been when he was tied up in that warehouse not twenty-four hours ago. Finlay's henchmen could be right around the corner, and what did Gene have? No weapon, a slew of untreated injuries, and a rookie partner who was probably still back at the car panicking… in a skirt. No, he hadn't thought this through properly at all.

"Blimey, inspector. I thought I'd have more trouble than this chasing you down after that disappearing act last night. Makin' it this easy takes away all my fun!"

Finlay was small but strong, and he'd managed to catch Gene off his guard. One well-placed twist of his throbbing arm and the flip of a trademark switchblade as it whizzed past his ear were all it had taken to put Gene at a total disadvantage, pulled into a darkened alley with no apparent means of escape. He had a feeling he was going to pay dearly for his carelessness, and found himself hoping that Cartwright had taken the initiative to call for backup- at the very least someone could clean up the mess after his throat had been slit.

The hardened voice next to Gene's shoulder was apparently thinking along similar lines. "I was hoping to kill you slowly, Hunt, so you could suffer the way I have these past ten years. Can't pass up an opportunity like this, though. One quick swipe of the blade and I'm off to the Costa del Sol." Gene winced as the edge of the knife slid across his jugular. "Any last words?"

Gene refused to show fear, even as he inhaled a shaky breath. "Go fuck yourself."

"Right eloquent, that. I'll make sure the morning papers have it nice and accurate." He yanked Gene backwards and slightly to the side, allowing his knife-arm better leverage. "See you in hell."

Mind racing, Gene tried to think of something he might do that would get him free instead of just driving the blade home faster. Could this really be it, how he died? His eyes fluttered shut, out of options, out of time. It was certainly no blaze of glory, but perhaps it was what he deserved in the end…

"Police! Drop your weapon!"

His captor froze, grasp wavering briefly in apparent surprise. At the mouth of the alley stood WDC Cartwright like an avenging angel- one who had clearly studied the firearms chapter of the policing manual, with a textbook pistol grip and fashionably leather-booted feet planted shoulder width apart just as the diagrams suggested. If she was nervous at all she was doing a damn fine job of bluffing it out, breathing even and pretty pink mouth set in a hard line as she took a slow step forward.

"Who's this then, Emma bloody Peel? I can still slice him open before you get a shot off, love, and that's a promise."

Annie's hand was steady, her voice just barely quavering. "Backup's already been called and there's no way out. Let him go."

Chuckling, Finlay squeezed Gene's arm a bit tighter. "My, my, Gene. You got a few more like this one at the station? Bet your missus loves that. Unless she buggered off just like that scumbag brother of yours."

Gene jerked wildly, gritting his teeth as he felt the knife piercing the surface of his skin. "Don't you fucking dare talk about Stuart!"

The next few seconds felt like a blurry eternity. Apparently Annie sensed a critical point in Gene's distress, aiming her gun toward the rubbish bins far along the side of the building behind them and firing off a warning shot. The loud 'bang' startled Finlay just enough for Gene to grab the other man's knife arm and pull, ramming his wrist against the brickwork and causing the weapon to drop onto the damp pavement. Strengthened by molten anger, Gene flipped his attacker over onto his back, kicking him squarely in the ribs as Annie approached with her gun still pointed at the fugitive's prone form.

A reddish-black fog overtook Gene as he hovered over Finlay, fixated on the familiar twitch of the gangster's eyelid that had haunted his dreams for years. He reached down and grabbed the smaller man by the lapels, wanting nothing more than to smash the last breath out of him and extinguish the origin point of so many failures and unanswered wrongs in Gene's own life. His fist connected with Finlay's jaw, knocking him back to the pavement. It felt good, striking his once idle hands against the flesh of that hated face. It felt like justice, and he wanted to do it again. And again. And again

Through the haze he became aware of a pair of arms closing around his torso, pulling backwards, shortening the reach of his tightly clenched fists. A voice was imploring from beyond the thick barrier of his rage. "Guv, stop. You can't- no. No, Gene, you'll kill him!"

...and that was how Gene Hunt found himself lying in a half-upright heap in the dirty alley, sore knuckles throbbing raw inside his leather gloves and Annie Cartwright crumpled beside him with her arms wrapped tight around his midsection. She was gasping for breath, maybe even crying, as her trembling hands continued to grip the material of his coat.

"Shit," he choked out.

Finlay was several feet away, writhing in slow pain on the uneven ground. There was a fairly large amount of blood, which Gene hoped was pouring mainly from a thoroughly broken nose. He knew he'd gotten a few kicks in as well, and damned if Gene didn't think the bastard had deserved every last one. Still, as he heard approaching sirens in the near distance, he couldn't fault Annie for stopping him. It seemed she was his savior twice over today- rescuing him both from Finlay's switchblade and from himself.

Extricating his body from the heap of limbs, Gene offered Annie his right hand, the one not attached to his injured shoulder, to help her up alongside him. He tugged a bit too forcefully and she swayed forward, tumbling into his chest. For a moment he felt the tingle of her breath against the side of his jaw before she carefully righted herself, hands sliding away from his torso.

"Looks like we nicked him, Guv."

Gene peered into her clear blue eyes incredulously. "Nicked him? Sodding Christ Cartwright, you saved my neck!"

Once again proving that she was made of tougher stuff than most, Annie gave him a watery smile. "Guess my new warrant card got a proper outing then, eh?"

"Fucking 'ell," he mumbled to himself. Only then did he notice she was shaking all over. She's probably in shock, you git. "C'mere." Gene scrambled out of his heavy coat, draping it around Annie and rubbing her arms in a warmth-giving gesture. He led her toward the mouth of the alley, one arm wrapped supportively around her shoulders, pausing only to kick Finlay's knife a few feet further away from his softly groaning form.

Moments later they were being swarmed; RCS and uniform support showed up to raid Finlay's hideout, and soon all the escapees were locked up in an armored police van on their way back to Strangeways with a nice long supplemental charge sheet waiting to be tacked onto their original sentences. The CID boys joined the party in good time, staring in awe at the neat line of blood on Gene's neck and fussing over Annie as though she'd just married into the Royal Family.

Gene grumpily evaded the WPC who was on the scene for medical checks, instead retrieving his flask from its hiding place in the glove box. Cartwright crossed her arms over her chest and frowned at him disapprovingly. He gave a similarly non-verbal reply, answering her with a small shake of the head and a meaningful glance toward Tyler and the others. The last thing he needed was for that lot to start poking and prodding at him; there was follow up work left to do, and when it came to Freddie Finlay he wasn't about to trust the paperwork to anyone but himself. Annie shot him a pointed look as he walked back to the group, but kept her silence.

"I'll finish up here and head back to the station. Tyler, buy my hero a bastard gigantic Scotch and then make sure she gets home safe. That's an order." Sam looked at him strangely, though he didn't protest when Gene handed him the keys to the pool car.

The same could not be said for Annie. "But, Guv-"

"You've had enough excitement for one day, Cartwright. Probably end up with a commendation and all- one of several dozen documents that will no doubt be requiring my oh so highly sought-after signature. Now run along and get some kip before you keel over. Go on." He gestured forward, giving her a gentle push and nodding at his bemused DI.

And off she went, Tyler guiding her by the elbow, looking back at him once more before she slid into the passenger seat. Lord he was proud of her, and her concern for his well being made Gene feel surprisingly good. But between Annie and Sam they would have him in a full body cast and under enthusiastic psychoanalysis faster than Litton's last blind date escaping out the pub's service entrance, when all he wanted was a stiff drink or five and a hot bath if he could muster up the energy to draw one.

It had nothing to do with Annie getting too close, knowing too much, or seeming poised to tear down his defenses without even trying. Neither was it due to the fact that he wanted to bury his past and everything that went with it in the bottom of a bottle and sleep until the deep-set ache that had clawed its way into his guts and his heart and every little corner of his body went away. Not in the bloody slightest. Gene straightened his spine, took another pull from his flask, and started barking orders.

xxxxx

It was late, but adrenaline had left Annie feeling all wired up and it seemed like the sleep-giving relief of the crash was still some way off. Sam had been sweet and solicitous, dutifully buying her a drink and asking her to recount the events of the day in a quiet corner of the pub down the street from her flat- she hadn't wanted to brave the boisterous crowd likely to be awaiting them at the Railway Arms. Certain details had somehow been left out of Annie's version of the tale; the angry red welts on the Guv's wrists, the reckless abandon with which he had battered Finlay after they'd disarmed him, and the highly personal verbal exchange between the DCI and the fugitive… Annie simply couldn't bring herself to reveal these realities to Sam.

And that was what had brought her here, really. She shifted, adjusting the strap of her handbag and hefting the mass of camel-colored wool draped across her arm as she reached up to knock at Gene Hunt's door. She couldn't stop thinking about Finlay's taunts and Gene's reaction, and she knew that the glimpse of Gene's anguish she had witnessed must be a far more closely guarded secret than any physical wounds he might be concealing. Not that she expected him to share anything- that seemed about as likely as the two of them settling in to bake a cake or braid each other's hair. The fact was, however, that Gene needed patching up and she was certain he hadn't let anyone near him for the purpose. The psychology student in Annie was also willing to admit that she needed to have a part in healing him, after the day they'd had. Apparently these acts of bravery were just the smallest bit addictive, once she'd gotten started…

She knocked three times and waited. Clearly he was home; there were dim lights glowing within and the Cortina was parked haphazardly at the curb out front. Annie wondered how long Gene had stayed at the station. It was nearly midnight now, most certainly not an appropriate time of day to pay a social call. Annie almost smiled, reassuring herself that 'propriety' and 'Gene Hunt' were words not often used together. Of course that was to say nothing of words such as 'cooperation,' 'hospitality,' or 'manners.'

Gene came to the door after her second set of knocks. He simply glared at her for a long moment, which she had more or less expected. His shirt was untucked, sleeves rolled to the elbow. There was a tumbler of whisky in his hand, and his feet were bare beneath his trousers. She wondered how many drinks he'd had. The tips of his hair looked damp, as though he had recently been in the bath, but he clearly hadn't got round to shaving yet. She fidgeted on the front step, looking back at him calmly, waiting.

"Thought I told Tyler to take you home. Someday I'll teach that little git a lesson about insubordination."

"Sam did take me home. I simply chose not to stay there."

"That so?" Gene leaned against the doorframe, fixing her with a shrewd glance. "Well if my unruly DI can manage to follow orders for once, why can't you?"

Annie raised an eyebrow. "I don't recall being given any orders, sir."

He nearly smiled, she would swear on it. "I'll have to choose my words more carefully next time, won't I?" Moving aside, he gestured with his free hand. "Best come in before the neighbors get the wrong idea."

Retrieving his coat from her arm, Gene hung it on a hook by the door and motioned for her to do the same with her jacket. She followed him through to the sitting room, which was warmly lit and moderately tidy. Nonetheless, she was surprised to see him scrambling to gather an empty takeaway container and two errant beer bottles. "Errrr, sorry. Place is a bit of a tip. Wasn't expecting any company, since the missus is away in-"

"-Hull?" She bit her lip as soon as the word left her mouth, wishing she hadn't said anything.

Gene's demeanor darkened accordingly. "Aye. Well if you know so much about my life, constable, I'll just leave you to it." He bundled up his refuse and left the room, presumably headed for the kitchen or the nearest rubbish bin. For a moment Annie wondered if he would even come back, or if she would be left waiting awkwardly on the sofa until she saw fit to let herself out. Her fears were unfounded, as he reappeared a few moments later with a bottle of single malt and an additional tumbler.

Twisting her hands in her lap, she looked at Gene sidelong. "Sorry, Guv."

He waved her apology off. "Forget it. She's been gone four months- it's about time one of you brain donors cottoned on."

Catching his hand in mid-air, Annie leaned in to inspect the injured wrist. It was the first time she was certain that both of his arms had received the same treatment. The wounds looked a bit cleaner, confirming her suspicion that Gene had been in the bath, but they were still raw enough that they should probably be disinfected and wrapped. Wordlessly, Annie retrieved the small first aid kit from her handbag. "Did Finlay do this to you?"

Surprisingly compliant, Gene flinched as she applied the antiseptic. "Bastard. Called in a phony anonymous tip-off and I fell for it like a ton of bricks." Reluctantly, he volunteered his other wrist. "Don't you bloody dare tell Tyler."

Annie nodded, grinning, as she wrapped a strip of gauze around his opposite wrist and secured it with tape. His knuckles were a bit red, but his driving gloves had protected his hands to a significant extent. Peering over the open collar of his shirt, Annie located the thin line remaining where the knife had pierced Gene's neck. She rummaged for a fresh swab and looked askance at him. He pouted at her for a moment before tilting his head to the side and leaning it it against the back of the couch, exposing the full length of his neck.

She shouldn't have been thinking it, but lord he was sexy just then. Reclined- in part for her benefit- with one long leg propped on the coffee table, disheveled hair shining dark gold in the dim light. His shirt was not familiar to her and looked a bit threadbare, faded sea-green, probably an old one he wore around the house or at weekends. Annie swallowed, resisting the urge to clear her throat nervously. Gene made a small noise as she dabbed at the long, straight cut. It was clean and hadn't bled all that much, but the blade had been sharp and thus the wound was deeper than it initially looked.

"What Finlay said," she ventured. "I… didn't know you had a brother."

Gene stiffened, and Annie was almost certain she'd managed to say the wrong thing yet again. It took him a long time to answer, as if he didn't exactly know how. "I used to," he gingerly fingered the bandage after she applied it to his neck. "Not anymore. He's dead."

"Oh! God, I'm sorry." Annie fiddled with the first aid supplies, putting all the used swabs and wrappers in a small plastic bag.

Exhaling slowly, the Guv levered his leg off the coffee table and leaned forward to pour them both a measure of Scotch. "Do us both a favor and stop apologizing for things that aren't your fault." She accepted the drink, taking a small sip that burned pleasantly in her throat. "It were a long time ago. Stu worked for Finlay back in the day, 'til the drugs became a full-time gig. I… he ran away, and I couldn't find him in time."

"I see…"

She wasn't sure what else to say. Platitudes like 'that's too bad,' or 'it must have been very difficult for you' seemed pointless and trite, and he'd already made it clear he didn't want any apologies. Rubbing at his left shoulder, Gene cringed. Annie was nearly glad, since it gave her something useful to talk about. "Does your shoulder need to be wrapped? I've got a roll of bandage."

Grunting, Gene stood beside her. "It's a bit out of joint, but I can't get the leverage to pop it back in. Maybe you can help, it hurts like hell."

Annie stood beside him as he shook his arm to loosen it up. "A partial dislocation?" She'd read about such things in the basic medical texts at the station. If she could push the arm up and in while Gene applied pressure in the opposite direction, they should be able to force the shoulder back into alignment. "Okay."

There was some awkward fumbling as they got into position, and Annie's face heated up when Gene helped place her hands and told her exactly what he needed her to do. He gave a count of three and she wrenched his arm up and in, feeling the pop of the joint as Gene pressed down. He gasped painfully at the sensation, doubling over with his opposite hand clutched over the bicep. "Christ on a fucking stick!"

Helping Gene back onto the sofa, Annie flopped beside him and lay a hand on his bicep. "Do you need some painkillers? Is there ice in the freezer? It did work, didn't it?"

The Guv flexed his neck back and forth, giving her an exasperated look. "Blimey Cartwright, keep your hair on! Just… untwist your knickers and pour us a drink."

They sat for a long moment, drinking silently, each lost in their thoughts. Gene appeared relaxed, tension draining away as he stared at the ceiling. Annie had tucked her feet beneath her, propping one arm along the back of the sofa and peering into the amber liquid cradled in her other hand. "You know," she began, voice sounding terribly loud after the long moment of contemplative silence. "I had a brother, too."

He turned his head just enough to look her in the eye, silently inviting her to continue.

A fleeting smile crossed Annie's face as she traveled back many years to memories she hadn't revisited in what seemed like forever. "Jimmy. He was the baby, six years younger than me. Was a real surprise when he came along- I already had two older sisters after all." Gene regarded her with silent interest as she continued the tale. It reminded her of that day at the Gazette offices, where she had shared her fondest memory with both him and Sam in the dimly lit supply closet. Only, this recollection was far less enjoyable to recount.

"One day after school, mum had asked me to keep an eye on Jimmy. We were playing out in front of the house. There was a small garden, and I used to jump rope on the pavement." Annie took a long swallow of Scotch. It was still hard to think about that day, even after all this time. "Jimmy was playing with his football, not bothering anyone, you know? A friend stopped by, Jane Rockwell from three houses down. We were talking. I only took my eye off my brother for a moment, but somehow he'd managed to kick his ball into the road. It was a quiet neighborhood, not a lot of traffic, but that day…" She choked on her words as she tried to finish the story.

"Shit, Annie." Gene set his drink down and slid an arm around her shoulders.

Consoled by his actions, Annie continued after a few moments. "A van turned into the street. I don't know if it was speeding or if that's just what I remember, but it seemed to be moving so fast. By the time I turned around it was too late. The driver tried to swerve but Jimmy was right in the middle of the road. God, he was only 5 years old!"

Turning her face into Gene's shoulder, she let a few tears fall. He pulled her into a slightly awkward embrace, likely mindful that his far shoulder was still in a fair amount of pain. His breathing was even, steady as she nestled against him, and Annie wasn't sure how many minutes passed by before he spoke.

"It wasn't your fault."

"I was supposed to be watching him."

"Bad things happen in life, sweetheart. We can't always be the hero."

"You mean like with your brother? That wasn't your fault, either."

She looked up at his face, at the same moment he looked down. "Maybe," he gruffed.

Tension stretched, and Gene slowly reached a thumb up to wipe the tears from her cheek. They were both exhausted and a little drunk, not to mention emotionally drained. The simple touches were like a form of therapy. He shifted a bit, leaning back to stretch the length of his body along the sofa and pulling her so that she was tucked up beside him. Her face nuzzled into the crook of his neck, one hand resting with its fingers splayed on top of his collarbone. The embrace was cozy and unassuming, warm, full of his familiar scent mixed with fresh soap and the simple solidity of his presence. Judging from the way his arms slipped around her, lips brushing gently against her forehead, they both needed the comfort in equal measure.

Sleepily, she mumbled against his shirt collar. "I came over here to patch you up, not to cry all over you."

His torso twisted slightly, hand resting at the small of her back. She could feel the low rumble of his voice through several points of contact. "Don't underestimate yourself. Do you know how long it's been since I was this close to a woman?"

Annie snorted, smiling into Gene's neck. He seemed to take this as a form of encouragement.

"Nice tits, by the way."

She slapped his chest in a parody of indignation. "Guv!"

"Oi! Don't worry, petal. I'll still respect you in the morning, so long as you return the favor."

"I can certainly agree to that."

xxxxx
xxxxx

In my headcanon for this story it continues in a few hours when these two wake up all tangled together, but that's because I have a filthy mind. Therefore, the ending is left open to the reader's interpretation! *smirks mildly*

A few further notes:

1. I probably did about three hours worth of research to obtain the seemingly unimportant details in the paragraph about Gene and Stuart's respective experiences in National Service. I'm not sure how these sorts of assignments work, but if both brothers did their service with the Manchester Regiment of the British Army it would have been entirely possible for them to have such varying types of duty within a few years of each other; the 1st and 2nd Battalions were indeed stationed in West Berlin after the war, providing detachments for guard duty at the infamous Spandau Prison. In late 1951 the Regiment was shipped off to Malaya during the 'emergency' there, and remained for several years.

2. Similarly, the information regarding amphetamine use by the British Army is roundly accurate. Approximately 72 million tablets were issued to British forces during World War II in order to combat battle fatigue. Basic amphetamines were available over the counter until 1956, and there was no ban on their possession in the UK until 1964. Since it is mentioned in the series that Stuart used speed, this seemed like it would have been a likely way for him to have had his first encounters with it, and perhaps it would have led him onto more dangerous substances as hinted at in this story.

3. Anyone who has seen the recent photographs of Philip Glenister and Liz White from the set of From There To Here may have noticed that I was unreasonably inspired by the snaps of Phil's character giving Liz his jacket after the bomb blast. Now really, can you blame me? :D