Annie moved nearly as fast as Sam fell, her feet carrying her forward the same moment she saw Sam’s legs collapse beneath him, his body dropping as easily as though some invisible hand had flicked the switch of his very life.
Her hands were upon him before he hit the ground, too late to slow him down but slow he did, eased carefully down to mud-printed linoleum by a heavy, bracing arm behind his shoulders, DCI Hunt’s hand knotted into a handful of leather. The Guv had been closer to Sam when he had hung up the phone and may have caught the distant look of horror he had cast around CID before his widened eyes had rolled back into his head. They had caught him together, and now knelt over his unconscious body, hands still pressed to his lean shape like children tagging home after an especially grueling round of hide and seek. Annie tightened her slender fingers around his sleeve before her training in the women’s department kicked in; she let her grip drift down the line of his arm, seeking the pulse of Sam’s fine-boned wrist.
She counted the beats of his heart, but had to start over when the sight of the Guv’s fingers pressed over Sam’s carotid artery made something in her stomach flip unpleasantly.
‘His heart’s still beating,’ she commented unnecessarily. ‘But it’s slower than it should be, can’t be more than sixty beats per minute.’ Annie let her fingers slip away from Sam’s clammy skin with a confused frown. ‘Can’t imagine what would cause that…’
‘Right.’ Hunt’s heavy flank knocked Annie’s hip as he shifted alongside Sam’s body, too fixated upon his own movement to notice her irritated glare – or rather, choosing not to notice as he scooped his other arm under Sam’s thighs and lurched to his feet, huffing unsteadily beneath Sam’s dead weight cradled in his arms. ‘Blimey, not so skinny after all, are you, Gladys?’ he murmured as he shuffled towards his office. Momentarily awestruck, Annie gawked after him before giving her head a shake and jumping to her feet.
‘Where’re you taking him?’
‘My office,’ Hunt snapped back, not slowing or bothering to look backward. ‘He can kip in there ‘til this passes.’
‘No,’ she protested, and Annie could feel the stares of the other CID men on her, knew she was out of line once again but damned if she was going to let Gene Hunt abscond away to his office with Sam’s unconscious body in his arms like some lion dragging a gazelle into his cave for his supper, or…
Annie shook her head, collected herself. ‘He’s not well, Guv,’ she reasoned, forcing most of the stammer out of her voice, ‘and he might need a doctor. We should get him somewhere quiet, out of the way of all…’ She trailed off, let a wave of her hand indicate the stalled investigation in CID; even Simon Lamb was starting to watch their exchange through blinking, bloodshot eyes.
The Guv stalled to a stop and lumbered about to face her, eyes flicking about to catch the slack-jawed interest of his men. One of them coughed. Hunt thinned his lips and casually adjusted his hold on Sam, causing his head to roll limply into the joint of his DCI’s shoulder and neck. ‘Lead on then, Dr. Kildare,’ he muttered.
Biting nervously at her lower lip, Annie spun on her heel and strode towards the door, holding it open scarcely long enough to allow Hunt to pass through before making a beeline for the locker room. Neutral ground, her mind provided, eyes already surveying the cluttered, slightly rank space. Nose wrinkling slightly, she wove her way towards the old settee at the back, kicking aside discarded gym bags and food wrappers to clear a path for the Guv – she didn’t look back, but could sense his presence at her shoulder like a palpable shadow, a weight pushing her steadily onward.
The settee was about as clean as the room and probably twice as pungent but she quickly swept away the stray litter and tugged up the blanket bunched between the cushions. Laid out flat, it mostly covered the musty upholstery – she quirked a fond smile, knowing that Sam would complain all the same to find himself on the manky old thing, but at least she’d tried.
‘Alright,’ Annie declared, ‘let’s get him down and…’
She trailed off as she looked over at Hunt, breath catching in her throat. The Guv wasn’t looking at her at all, was too absorbed in Sam to notice her dawning shock at the intense worry etched into his face. The raw, unguarded emotion was unfamiliar and strange, keenly focused with a devotion that seemed to have adjusted his hold on Sam’s body. He was cradling his DI even closer to his chest, and Annie’s eyes widened at the hand that had shifted to the nape of his sideways-bending neck, at the pad of his thumb rubbing small subtle circles into his skin.
A single nicotine-stained thumb brushing a tiny patch of unhealthily pale skin, and Annie swallowed hard to realize she couldn’t remember the last time she had witnessed something so uncomfortably intimate.
She grimaced, glanced away, back again. ‘Guv.’
Hunt startled visibly, his quick upward glance wary with guilt as he stumbled past Annie to the settee. He had to drop to one knee to lower Sam’s limp body to the cushions, the whole operation slow, careful, hesitant to let go but he finally did with a passing glance of his hand over Sam’s jacket, smoothing the leather neatly over his trim torso before lurching to his feet.
‘Run along, then, Cartwright,’ Gene said dismissively, digging distractedly for his cigarettes. ‘He’s no more inclined to notice you now than he ever was.’
Annie flinched, crossing her arms defensively and frowning down at Sam’s body laid before them. Fragility came naturally to him at the best of times and that impression of boyish vulnerability was all the more obvious with his defiance stripped away by unconsciousness. The sight of him like this tugged hard at the protective urge she invariably felt in his presence: she wanted nothing more than to watch over him, to smooth the lines from his brow with her lips.
Problem was, it seemed Gene Hunt wanted the same thing. And she could feel that knowledge, crazy though it was, twisting her concern into something hawkish.
‘Don’t see him paying much attention to you either, Guv,’ she retorted tightly.
Hunt’s startling green eyes flicked sideways at her with a piercing look, confirming her own suspicions that this stilted conversation had already veered away from Sam’s present condition towards something best left untouched. For a breathless pause they measured each other, staring eye-to-eye before, by some mutual sense of encroaching awkwardness, they broke off, both looking back down at Sam’s slender shape laid before them like a prize.
‘I should’ve guessed,’ Annie muttered, much of the scorn aimed squarely on herself because she honestly hadn’t put it together sooner than now. Gene Hunt was a physically demonstrative man, no question about that, but with Sam there was such tension: a lingering hesitation to touch and an even deeper reluctance to withdraw. Whatever he was to Hunt, Sam wasn’t like the others.
‘Whatever you think you’ve guessed, you’d do well not to spread it about if you know what’s good for you.’
The threat was unmistakable, but it was the fear in Hunt’s voice that caught her attention, that showed her advantage loud and clear. ‘Of course, Guv,’ she assured quietly. ‘Nothing worth telling anyway.’
Annie shrugged off the short growl. ‘Nothing’s gonna come of it,’ she explained simply. ‘He’ll never know.’
‘Never said that.’ Hunt was still on the defensive, but the tenor of it had shifted drastically away from denial towards something more like hope.
‘Are you two together?’ The question was blunt, ugly.
‘Are you?’ Hunt bit back savagely. Fair enough, but her neck grew hot beneath her collar all the same.
‘Well, unless you’re gonna tell him yourself…’ Annie poured all the disbelief she could into her words, making the impossibility real enough to soothe her rattled nerves. ‘Because Sam would never… he’s not interested in that sort of…’
‘What, like he’s interested in you? Give over, sweetheart,’ Hunt sneered. ‘How long have you been making eyes at our lad here, and has he so much as bought you a drink, much less made a move to get in your knickers?’
Annie could feel her angry flush intensifying, knew she must look ridiculous with bright spots of indignant colour rising in her cheeks, but it didn’t stop the words from snapping ruthlessly off her tongue. ‘And you’re not exactly the youngest blond in the typing pool.’
She watched with steadily mounting horror as the harsh retort hit home, saw a devastating sliver of pained insecurity dull the fire in the Guv’s eyes before the anger rapidly set in. Jaw set, fists clenching at his sides, he looked ready to strike her down if only she weren’t a woman. For once, Annie was grateful for the difference.
She only hoped that difference would be the thing Sam wanted in the end, because the more Hunt glared at her with all that passion tightly coiled in his stance, the more she could recognize exactly what he had to offer. And if that intensity, that power was something Sam craved, she couldn’t imagine how he might refuse.
Hell, given the chance, she wasn’t sure she could refuse.
Mind made up, Annie twisted away and clipped towards the phone on the wall, a small malicious thing inside her pleased at Hunt’s confused bark after her.
‘What d’you think you’re doing?’
‘Calling for a doctor.’ She glanced back over her shoulder, finger hovering over the dial. ‘Shouldn’t you be getting back to CID? Guv?’
‘I…’ He scowled, narrowed eyes reading her so intently she swore she could feel his gaze ravaging beneath her breastbone like a predator. ‘I should wait here, keep an eye…’
The glance he threw towards Sam was so heartfelt that Annie almost felt sorry for him. Instead, she hardened her resolve around a tight smile.
‘No need, I’ve got it covered. That’s what plonks are for,’ she added, cheerfully spiteful. ‘Go on, I’ll be right here for him if he wakes up.’
Hunt’s scowl deepened, proof that her words had hit exactly where she had aimed. ‘Soon as that doctor’s checked him out, I want you back in CID, you got that?’ he growled. ‘You may be a plonk, but you’re a detective first, Miss Marple, and Lamb’s wife and kiddy can’t afford to spare your fancy psychology-knickers for any of this girly mollycoddling, got it?’
Chastened, and oddly flattered, Annie nodded once. ‘Got it.’
‘Good.’ Hunt huffed out a low breath, his gaze still tracking over the full length of Sam’s prone body as though to memorize every detail before looking back to Annie, green eyes hardened but no less intense. ‘This isn’t over, y’know.’
Stunned by the implicit challenge in his voice, Annie could only nod, a vague sound of agreement murmured in her throat to send him on his way. She remained frozen on the spot, absently noting the way his shirt clung to his heavy back, the impossible length of his legs, and released a shaky sigh once the door had swung safely shut behind him.
Shuddering away the worst of the adrenaline charging her veins, Annie turned back to the phone, an eye lingering on the battlefield of Sam’s body as her fingers slipped the dial number to number. He slept on, oblivious as ever while she smoothly completed her call and returned to his side, thoughtful eyes attempting to read the ambiguous invitation of his ever-so-slightly parted lips.
A shiver coursed over Annie’s skin as her fingers closed once again around the pulse of Sam’s cool wrist, her thoughts still hot with the memory of her Guv’s proprietary words, the dare in his eyes.
Her fingers tightened, fierce as her private smile. There might be more than one way to win this war.