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A Life Worth Living

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When Jo sees Kate heading towards her and realises their paths are about to cross, it takes everything she has not to turn around, duck into the nearest room, or disappear through the closest door. She wants to let Kate stride straight past her to safety, to share a brief nod of acknowledgement and delay the inevitable for a little while longer. Instead, with leaden legs, she moves to intercept the other woman, and when Kate slows to a standstill on the periphery of her personal space, the corridor they’re standing in suddenly feels too narrow, like the walls are closing in on her.

“Kate,” she says warmly, cheerfully, hating the fact that her voice doesn’t even falter when Kate’s piercing blue eyes study her face with a quizzical expression, “I want to address the personal issues we discussed. I think it’s best to do that outside of a work setting.”

Jo hopes her smile doesn’t look as strained as it feels.

“Yeah. Yeah, we need to talk,” Kate quickly agrees. Too quickly for Jo’s liking. It’s clear Kate’s eager to resolve their differences and bridge the gulf between them. If only she knew why Jo had put it there in the first place.

Jo nods mechanically in response. “I’ll let you know the details later.” Once Ryan’s confirmed how and where he wants to kill you, she silently adds, and although she’s no stranger to pangs of self-loathing, this time, they leave her feeling nauseous.

“Thanks, Jo.”

Kate sounds genuinely hopeful at the prospect of reconciling; like she’s willing to forgive and forget Jo’s recent behaviour; like she still believes whatever it is they had is worth saving. If only she knew the truth - that she's effectively thanking Jo for signing her death warrant. 

Jo manages to walk away from Kate with her usual purposeful stride, but as soon as she rounds the nearest corner, she stumbles blindly into the bathroom and collapses into an empty toilet cubicle, locking the door behind her with trembling hands. She sucks in several steadying breaths, trying to will back the tide of tears; the deluge of panic, but when she thinks about what she’s just done, she can’t control her hitching sobs anymore.

She sinks forlornly to the floor, her face contorting in a physical manifestation of the pain she never lets anyone else see, and tries to make sure her breakdown isn’t audible enough for anyone else to hear. She mastered the art of crying silent tears a long time ago; even though she wants to wail in anguish; scream with frustration; pound her fists against the toilet door.

In a few short hours, she’s going to have to engineer the demise of the woman who’s shown her nothing but loyalty and support since she got here. Kate; an honest copper who’s just trying to do her job and get justice for Gail Vella, while Jo’s busy placing obstacles in her path to prevent her from uncovering the truth. Kate, who - unlike Jo - has a son, friends, family; people who will actually miss her when she’s gone. Kate - the woman who held her hand and left her feeling completely dismantled, who drew her into a hug and had no idea how much it meant, who smiled at her with a warmth that momentarily chased away the malevolent spectres that haunt Jo wherever she goes. Kate’s friendship - however misguided - made Jo feel slightly less alone in the world, and Jo feels sick to the stomach at the prospect of working with Ryan to “get rid” of her. Especially given that Kate cared enough to warn her about Ryan in the first place.

Kate is decent, honourable, the polar opposite of the men who have infested and infected every aspect of Jo’s life. Jo’s had to abandon her morals and suppress her conscience on more occasions than she’d care to count and the things that Tommy and Patrick have forced her to do churn over and over in her mind - but this is by far the worse demand the OCG has ever made of her. This is unthinkable. How can she lure the first person she’s ever truly allowed herself to care about, someone who she respects and admires, to her death?

But there’s no way out. If she doesn’t kill Kate, she’ll be dead herself by morning. Ryan made that clear when he accosted her outside of her flat and held a gun to her head. It doesn’t matter how well-connected or useful she is, a rat’s a rat. And if she tells Kate the truth, the OCG will kill them both.

Jo’s spent so long fighting for her life, weathering the psychological torture and the physical intimidation, trying to cling to some semblance of normality in between, but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what she’s fighting for. The fear is constant now – she has to second-guess everything she says, justify actions that make no sense, tell lie after despicable lie, just to stay alive. Her stomach twists into a painful knot as soon as her eyes open every morning, and she often feels repulsed by the words coming out of her own mouth. She has to take orders from people she despises with every fibre of her being, hurt the people who get close to her, and what for? So she can carry on living a miserable excuse for a life, feeling pathetically grateful if she manages to go a week without being forced to do something that makes her hate herself just that little bit more? 

What she did to Farida was bad enough, and the guilt of knowing that her ex-girlfriend is confined to a prison cell with a broken arm, when her only crime was being naïve enough to develop feelings for Jo in the first place, already keeps her awake at night. If she does this to Kate, Jo knows she’ll never be able to sleep again.

Jo angrily wipes away her tears, because she knows better than anyone that self-pity doesn’t get you anywhere. She realises then, with a grim kind of clarity, that if it comes down to choosing between Kate and herself, Kate’s the one who deserves to live. Jo spends most days wondering if she even deserves to be on this planet at all. She doesn’t know how she musters the audacity to breathe the same air as her talented team; the team she only supervises because someone upstairs made a few calls; the team she’s being forced to covertly work against.

It’s only her contempt for the cowardly actions of her mother - the woman who left her behind to suffer through all of this alone - that keeps her going. Jo tells herself that she’s not like her Mum; she’s not weak; she’s not a victim. She does what’s necessary to survive, but she’s not going to give the OCG the satisfaction of controlling every aspect of her life and consuming all of her thoughts, even though it feels like the last vestiges of who she used to be, who she wants to be, are in danger of being eclipsed completely.

They said Kate would be her last job, but they’ve said that before. Even if, against all the odds, they actually mean it this time, Jo knows she’ll never be free of the guilt; of the pain. She’s fighting a losing battle and it’s never felt more futile.

She might not be able to atone for the sins she’s already committed, but maybe she can die knowing that she made the right choice for once in her life. For Kate.

When she gets to her feet, it’s with quiet resignation; steely determination.

Maybe there’s a way out of this after all. Maybe her mother had the right idea all along.

Kate’s phone vibrates against her desk and she picks it up, casting a furtive glance around the office when she sees Steve’s name in her notifications. It’s late, and everyone seems to have gone home for the night, so she opens up his message, brow furrowing as she scans the contents.

“Carmichael’s pulled the surveillance on RP & JD. Be careful, mate.”

“Thanks for the heads up. Keep me posted if you can,” she hastily types back, and her first thought is for Jo’s safety. Something’s going on with the acting superintendent, that much is obvious. Jo used to welcome her suggestions and readily take them on board; they used to work together with that kind of symbiotic rapport she’d only ever shared with Steve, but now Jo’s questioning all of her decisions, stalling her progress, acting like Kate has done something wrong. She just doesn’t know what.

There was a time when Jo welcomed her company during late nights at the office or over a friendly drink, and Kate could ask, “got a minute, boss?” and know the answer was always going to be “yes,” but now Jo keeps rebuffing all of Kate’s attempts to rekindle their friendship. Kate knows she should just suck it up and move on, but she can’t stop wondering if she crossed a line somewhere, if maybe Jo felt like they were getting too close, blurring the boundaries of professionalism. After the rumours about Farida Jatri, maybe Jo thought the amount of time they were spending together would fuel office gossip, but Kate didn’t think Jo would let stuff like that bother her. After all, it’s not like they were…

Kate clears her throat, willing her thoughts not to go down that road.

Still, at least now it looks like Jo’s ready to talk about it, offering to meet Kate outside of work to resolve their “personal issues.” And, Kate ruefully acknowledges, this has become personal. She’s dealt with her fair share of prickly colleagues before, but the distance Jo has suddenly – and inexplicably – driven between them; and the fact that she now looks annoyed every time Kate knocks on her office door...well, it hurts. She knows Steve and the gaffer have their own theories about the motivations behind Jo’s behaviour, but Kate can’t quite bring herself to believe them. The picture they’re trying to paint of Jo just doesn’t resemble the woman she knows, the woman she…likes.

Speaking of which…

Kate tries to hide her surprise when Jo appears in the doorway of the team’s open-plan office. Kate takes one look at her boss’ bloodshot, red-rimmed eyes, and immediately knows that she’s been crying, even though Jo’s clearly worked hard to hide her tear-stained cheeks with an extra layer of concealer. Kate’s first instinct is to spring to her feet and ask her what’s wrong, but lately, Jo seems hellbent on mistaking her concern for prying, so Kate decides to bide her time in the hope that Jo might share what’s troubling her.

“Kate,” Jo greets her, but she looks distracted, like her mind’s already elsewhere.

“Boss. You ready for that chat now? We could grab some food and head back to my place, if you still want to talk in private?” Kate ventures hopefully, but she’s not surprised to see the hesitation on Jo’s face.

“Actually Kate, would you mind if we postponed?” Jo asks her wearily. “It’s been a long day and I could use some time to recharge.”

“Yeah, of course.” Kate doesn’t want to give in so easily, but there’s no denying that Jo looks exhausted. “If you’re sure?”

Jo ducks her head, shifting back and forth on her feet.

“Was there something else, boss?” Kate prompts, hoping her encouraging tone will inspire Jo to confide in her.

“Look, Kate, I know I’ve been…distant… lately and I just wanted to say…I mean, I don’t want you to think…” Jo falters, and she still won’t meet Kate’s steady gaze. “I’ve been dealing with some personal issues and I’m sorry if it’s affected our professional relationship,” she eventually concludes, looking genuinely remorseful.

“Anything I can help with, boss?” Kate asks gently, because it’s clear now that Jo isn’t going to volunteer the information willingly.

“No.” Kate watches as Jo struggles to muster a smile to hide the abruptness of her response. “I just wanted you to know - I’m glad you joined my team, Kate. I’m glad we had the opportunity to work together.”

Jo’s finally looking at her now, and her eyes are sad, but sincere.

“Had?” Kate raises her eyebrows. “You’re not planning on sending me packing, boss, are you?” she teases, but she’s only half-joking after Jo’s unexpected transfer request.

“No, of course not,” Jo hastens to reassure her. “You’re fantastic at what you do, Kate. I’m - we’re lucky to have you.”

The words sound painfully earnest, but there’s still something off about them, like Jo’s trying to push down some kind of underlying anguish that she doesn’t want Kate to see. But Kate’s done beating around the bush.

“Jo, why do I always get the feeling there’s something you’re not telling me?” she asks, but she’s careful to remove any hint of accusation from her tone. She stands up, crossing the distance between them to lay a reassuring hand on Jo’s arm. “Because whatever it is…”

“I’ve got to go,” Jo blurts out, and she glances at Kate’s hand with a wistfulness Kate doesn’t fully understand. “Goodnight, Kate.”

Kate’s caught completely off guard when Jo initiates an impromptu hug, and she barely has time to react before the other woman abruptly pulls away again.

“Shall we try that again, boss?” she jokes, awkwardly opening her arms, but Jo backs away.

“I’m sorry, Kate, I – ” Jo falters again. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Jo, wait!” she protests. But Jo’s already gone.

Kate waits until her heart returns to its normal rhythm, and then promptly follows her. If AC-12 isn’t watching Jo’s back, then she’s sure as hell going to.