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A Life Worth Living

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Jo’s dreamt about waking up like this - wrapped in Kate’s warmth, limbs entwined - for so long. Even though she cringes with embarrassment when she thinks about how she ended up here, she wants to savour it for what little time she can before, like everything else she’s ever dared to want, it disappears. It won’t be long until Kate wakes up and the inevitable awkwardness sets in. Jo could probably suffer through the polite conversation and furtive glances if they’d spent last night having mind-blowing sex, but given that she expended most of the afternoon and half of the evening sobbing into Kate’s shoulder and clinging to her like a limpet, she doubts either of them is going to want to schedule a repeat performance.

She glances at the dusty alarm clock on the bedside table and then blinks to make sure she isn’t seeing things. Maybe it’s run out of batteries, because it can’t be 6.47am. Jo can’t remember the last time she slept through the night, let alone half of the evening, but judging from the sunlight streaming through the small gap in the curtains, it’s definitely daytime.

Jo’s suddenly uncomfortably aware of her hand resting against Kate’s chest. The heel of her palm is virtually grazing the top of Kate’s boob so she hastily removes it, mortified that it gravitated there in the first place. She knows that should be her cue to get up, to pull away first and save face, but Kate’s arms are still wrapped loosely around her and if Jo’s honest with herself, she’s in no hurry to extricate herself from their embrace. Slowly, tentatively, she relocates her hand to Kate’s firm stomach, fingertips grazing over the fabric of her pyjama top. She holds her breath, wondering if it’s a step too far, but Kate’s stomach continues rising and falling steadily beneath her hand, so Jo dares to shift her head slightly, sneaking a glance at her face. Kate’s magnetic blue eyes are closed, so Jo takes the time to study her other attributes - the model cheekbones; the prominent cupid’s bow that has always made her lips look ridiculously inviting. They’re parted slightly now and Jo doesn’t know why she’s torturing herself like this, letting herself want something she knows she’ll never be able to have. She’s always been fascinated by the way Kate’s emotions play out on her forehead – every frown, raised eyebrow, scowl and worry line. Now, though, her brow is smooth and if it wasn’t for the chronic case of bedhead, she’d be a regular sleeping beauty.

At some point, Jo realises her quick glance has turned into a lingering stare and if Kate wakes up and catches her doing this, it’ll be almost as humiliating as last night.

It’s that thought that finally propels her to move, and she moves fast, knowing that the jostling of the bed is likely to rouse Kate from her slumber.

After a brief pitstop in the bathroom, she heads down to the kitchen, flicking on the kettle. She can see that Kate’s been busy cleaning, and her lips quirk upwards, because she never had her pegged for a domestic goddess. She moves to the window, taking a second to soak in the stunning views. It’s one of those rare days that gets everyone flocking to the beach or brushing off the barbeque – blinding sunshine, blue skies, no imminent threat of rain. For a moment, she imagines what it would be like, if this was her life. Waking up in a cosy little cottage, nestled in the arms of the woman she loves, surrounded by nothing but nature, feeling like they’re the only people in the world. Except she doesn’t deserve the fantasy, let alone the reality. 

Jo always suspected her attraction to Kate was one-sided, even though that never stopped her from clinging to the hope that it wasn’t, but if the revelations she made in that interview room weren’t enough to send Kate running for the hills, yesterday’s meltdown probably did the trick. Jo's never let herself crash and burn like that, at least not in front of someone else, but once she started crying, the tears wouldn’t stop. People always say that the truth sets you free, but telling AC-12 about her past was like reliving it all over again, just framed in a new context, because now she knows why her Mum kept so many secrets and couldn’t carry on; why the sound of Tommy knocking on her bedroom door always made her stomach plummet to the floor; why her skin crawled every time he touched her. As it turns out, the truth can be even worse than the unspeakable horrors already living in your head.

Kate won’t be able to look her in the eyes now, not now she knows she’s barely hanging on by a thread, not after she’s seen how much baggage she’s carrying. Kate already had her on 24-hour suicide watch, and that was before she had to mop up a river of tears and snot, murmur the kind of reassurances you would usually reserve for a frightened child, and rock her in her arms like a baby. And the worst thing is, Jo let it happen. She let her dignity fall by the wayside because a part of her was crying out for comfort; aching for Kate’s touch; desperate to seek sanctuary in her arms. And now Kate knows just how much of a mess she really is.

Of course Kate doesn’t want to fuck her - at best she’s pitiable, like those poor kids they pull in off the streets whose backgrounds are so bleak it feels like a moral obligation to let them off with a caution; the ones whose social services files are five inches thick and too horrific to read. At worst she’s a liar, a manipulator and a criminal – everything Kate has spent her whole career fighting against. Everything she hates.

Jo remembers how it felt when she discovered the truth about Farida – that behind closed doors, her good-natured girlfriend was a paranoid, possessive, needy nutjob who cut up her clothes and hurled baseless accusations at her day in and day out. At the time, Jo felt like maybe she deserved it, even though none of Farida’s allegations were actually true, because she knew that somebody, somewhere should be telling her she was a liar and a cheater; that she was impossible to love.

Still, it didn’t make it any easier when she realised she’d been way off base – that someone who she thought was decent girlfriend material was, in reality, far from it. Maybe that’s how Kate feels about her now; now that she’s seen the soiled goods beneath the shiny wrapper. And that’s assuming she ever thought the wrapper was shiny in the first place.

“Morning.”

Kate’s voice sounds from behind her and Jo’s startled out of her self-pitying reverie. She squeezes her eye shut for a second, feeling her heart clamouring against her chest, because there’s no escaping that awkward conversation now.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you jump.”

Kate’s tone is warm and sleepy and she doesn’t sound fazed by yesterday’s events at all.

“Morning,” Jo just about manages to squeak out, busying herself with making them both a cup of tea so she doesn’t have to look at Kate. Not yet.

“How did you sleep?”

Jo’s not sure she can do this; have a casual conversation with Kate while she’s still reeling from waking up in the same bed as her.  

“Like a log, once I finally drifted off,” she admits, ensuring there’s enough distance between them for her to form a full sentence.

“Me too. Must be the country air,” Kate concludes, and when Jo finally dares to sneak a glance at her, Kate’s giving her a wry little smile that makes her heart skip a beat. Then she reminds herself that it’s just wishful thinking.

“Or emotional exhaustion,” she counters dryly, managing a small smile of her own. “Thanks for staying with me last night,” she adds quietly, because she wants to get it over with, acknowledge it before Kate does. She should be apologising for making such a spectacle of herself, but if she’s learned anything from the past 48 hours, it’s that Kate’s sick of hearing her say sorry. Gratitude will have to do, but it’s not nearly enough.

“Honestly, Jo, I needed the company. You did me a favour,” Kate assures her, and there she goes again, saying what she thinks Jo wants to hear, instead of the truth.

Jo wants to call her out on it, but she knows Kate doesn’t deserve her wrath. She just wishes they could go back to how they were, before Kate knew the truth and started treating her like she has “Fragile: Handle with Care” stamped on her forehead.

“How are you holding up?” Kate asks, as if to illustrate her point, and Jo wonders if it’s always going to be like this between them now. How did you sleep, how do you feel, are you planning to top yourself today?

“Better than I was yesterday,” Jo admits, with a self-deprecating laugh, but Kate looks disappointed by her non-committal response. “I usually cope a lot better than this,” she hastens to add, because she needs Kate to know she’s not a complete basket case. “But the last few days…finding out about Tommy...”

Jo regrets saying anything, because now Kate’s standing right next to her, and a warm hand is resting lightly against her shoulder. She knows Kate’s only trying to comfort her, but it just makes it harder, to have her this close and not be able to bridge what little distance there is between them.

“You don’t have to explain yourself, Jo. After everything you’ve been through, I’d be worried if you weren’t...”

“A complete train wreck?” Jo supplies helpfully, and seeing that Kate’s about to object, she hastily adds, “Don’t worry, I saw the posters. I know it’s ‘OK not to be OK.’”

Kate laughs, then, but she finally seems to get the message.

“Thanks for the tea. Do you want to use the bathroom before I jump in the shower?” she asks, but Jo shakes her head.

“No, it’s fine. Go ahead.”

She watches Kate disappear around the door frame and then breathes a sigh of relief, because that wasn’t nearly as excruciating as she was anticipating.


Jo’s starting to get the impression that the way to Kate’s heart is through her stomach, if the delighted look on her face when she sees the cooked breakfast awaiting her is anything to go by. At least now Kate can see she’s still capable of functioning – of multi-tasking, even.

“Jo, this looks amazing, but you didn’t have to – ”

“Just shut up and eat it,” Jo commands, because she’s not about to accept Kate’s gratitude. Not when she owes her everything.

“Yes, boss.”

It should hurt, because she knows that dynamic is gone for good, but Kate’s eyes are crinkling at the corners when she says it and it’s probably the most easy-going thing to come out of her mouth since they got here, so she’ll take it.  

Kate pulls back a chair, poised to sit down at the kitchen table, but Jo hesitates, glancing towards the door.

“I wiped down the patio set in the back garden. It’s a bit wonky, and it’s still a bit nippy out there, but if you fancy eating outside and making the most of the sunshine, we could…”

She’s babbling, but Kate picks up her plate, no encouragement necessary.

“Sounds good to me.”

They head outside and Jo didn’t realise how small the patio set was, until their plates are virtually touching from opposite ends of the plastic table. It’s like they’re back at the pub again, in their own little bubble, and when Kate leans back in her rickety chair and takes in the views with a contented sigh, for a moment, it almost feels like they’re on holiday. Jo tries not to notice the fact that Kate doesn’t seem to be wearing a bra underneath her oversized T-shirt, or how her nipples are reacting to the chill in the morning air.

“I could get used to this,” Kate proclaims, tucking into her breakfast, and Jo knows she means the peace and quiet, the sunshine and the scenery, but it doesn’t stop her heart from twisting in response.

“So could I,” she admits, but she’s talking about something else entirely.

“This tastes as good as it looks, by the way. I’ve not had a fry up for months.” Kate levels Jo with a warm smile. “I didn’t know you could cook.”

There was a time when Jo might have responded, “I’m a woman of many talents, Kate,” but it doesn’t feel appropriate. Not now.

She settles for spearing a sausage instead, and suddenly realises how hungry she is.

They lapse into silence while they demolish their food, but for the first time since they got here, it doesn’t feel uncomfortable.

When Jo looks up from her plate, Kate’s watching her with an inscrutable expression on her face.

“What?” Jo asks, eyebrows knitting together.

“Nothing,” Kate reassures her, “It’s just good to see you eating something, that’s all.”

And just like that, Jo feels like she’s back to being monitored like she’s on day release from the psych ward.

“I’m just gonna check if Steve’s been in touch,” Kate informs her, and Jo watches as she pulls the burner phone out of the back pocket of her jeans, making quick work of disassembling it so she can add the SIM card and battery.

Kate’s hands have always been a distraction – her long elegant fingers, neatly clipped nails, the gold signet ring on her middle finger that, like her hooped earrings and her short haircut, are enough to send anyone’s gaydar into overdrive. But, Jo tells herself for probably the thousandth time, Kate’s not gay.  

Her cheeks flush when she realises Kate’s following the direction of her gaze and she hastily picks up their plates, heading towards the kitchen.

“I’ll wash up, Jo,” she hears Kate call after her, “Come and sit back down.”

Jo takes a minute to regain her equilibrium, leaning against the kitchen counter, and then she ventures back outside. When she sees the sombre expression on Kate’s face, she knows it isn’t good news.

“What?” she demands, trying to stop the panic from infiltrating her tone.

Kate’s clearly having some kind of internal debate about how much to tell her, and Jo can’t help but feel hurt by her apparent reticence.

“Look, I know you’re not obliged to share details of the investigation with me, Kate - not anymore - but – ”

“None of them are talking,” Kate interjects, heaving an aggrieved sigh. “Steve wants to send Brian around with some mugshots to see if you recognise any of them; if you know anything they can use during questioning – preferably something to play them off against each other.” Kate must see the conflicted expression on her face, because she hastens to add, “Only if you feel up to it, though. If you don’t, I’ll tell him to forget it.”

The glimpse of an alternate reality was nice while it lasted, but Jo knows there’s no running away from her past; it’ll always be there, biting at her heels, ready to eclipse whatever fleeting moment of happiness she allows herself to feel.

“No, of course, I’ll do it,” she forces herself to say. “I’m not sure how much help I’ll be, but…” She can see there’s more to the story, in the way Kate won’t quite meet her eyes. “What aren’t you telling me, Kate?”  

“They’ve pulled Patrick Fairbank in for questioning, too.” Now Kate’s picking at a loose piece of plastic on the patio table, and she looks angry.

“And?” Jo presses her, folding her arms defensively.

“And he claims not to have any recollection of you or your Mum.” Kate finally meets her eyes, and now her expression is sympathetic. “I’m sorry, Jo.”

“Well, that’s highly fucking convenient.” The words are out of Jo's mouth before she has a chance to filter them, because she can already feel the rage starting to prickle beneath her skin.

“Steve reckons he’s telling the truth,” Kate advises her, regretfully. “He’s been diagnosed with dementia and his doctor said it’s progressing rapidly. Even if he could assist with our enquiries, his testimony wouldn’t be admissible.”

“But they searched his cell? Checked for a laptop? Half the prison officers are probably bent, too, they could have hidden the evidence - ” Jo knows she’s clutching at straws when Kate ducks her head, like she’s poised to tell her something she doesn’t want to hear.

“I’m sorry, Jo, but the evidence suggests Fairbank wasn’t the one sending you those messages.”

“Then who the hell was?” Jo demands, even though she knows she’s asking a rhetorical question. She thought she’d stepped away from the edge and now it feels like she’s right back there again, dangling over the precipice.

“I don’t know. But I know AC-12 are doing everything they can to find out.” Kate stands up, but Jo sidesteps around her, striding to the bottom of the garden. She can’t seem to get enough air, and she doesn’t want Kate to hear her hyperventilating.

Kate gives her some space for a moment, and then she comes to stand beside her, shoulder-to-shoulder.

“So, it’s his word against mine?” Jo asks, and she hates how small, how defeated, her voice sounds.

“It won’t affect their decision to give you immunity, Jo, if that’s what you’re worried about?” Kate reassures her.

“I’m worried that I’ve been taking instructions from some faceless stranger with God knows what agenda, doing their bidding without even questioning their identity or their motives or the part I was playing in the bigger picture, and they almost made me…they almost made me…” Jo trails off, because she doesn’t have to say it. Thinking it is bad enough.

“But you didn’t do it, Jo.” Suddenly Kate’s grasping her face with both hands, forcing her to initiate eye contact. “You couldn’t go through with it, because you’re not like them. You never were.”

“And what good has it done me? Patrick Fairbank gets to forget about all of the horrible things he’s done, all of the damage he’s caused, and I’m stuck here remembering every sodding detail,” Jo spits out, and she knows she sounds like a petulant child when she demands, “How is that fair?”  

“It’s not,” Kate says simply, but Jo can see she’s angry at the injustice of it all, too. “I’m sorry, Jo. If you want to talk about it…”

“What, so you can feel even sorrier for me?” Jo retorts, even as she’s blinking back tears, “Pussyfoot around me more than you already are?”  

“Jo…” Kate reaches out, but Jo knows if Kate hugs her right now, she’s going to fall apart, and she can’t let that happen - not again - so she steps back, even though every part of her is aching to move closer.

“What can I do?” Kate asks, and it’s the desperation in her tone, the way her voice catches on the last syllable, that finally carves a path through Jo’s anger.

“Nothing,” she says softly, doing her damnedest to get her spiralling emotions under control. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be taking any of this out on you. I’m angry at myself, not at you,” she confesses, and it’s the understatement of the century, “I mean, I know I’m genetically predisposed to lack a few brain cells, but I’ve got to hand it to them - whoever they are - they played me like a fucking fiddle.”

“Jo, I’ve said it before, and I’m going to keep saying it until you believe it. None of this is your fault. These people have been pulling the wool over our eyes for years. They know how to play the system; how to manipulate it to their advantage. They have friends in high places. For all we know, they could be some of the highest-ranking officers on the force. So you’re not the only one they’re outsmarting. They’re making mugs out of all of us. And it pisses me off too.”

Kate has a gift with words; the ability to say the right thing at the right time, with such conviction that Jo almost dares to believe that it’s true. Almost.

“It’s never going to end, is it?” she asks, despair vying with hopelessness.

Kate regards her solemnly.

“I wish I knew the answer to that, but all we can do is take one day at a time. So, let’s get this ID parade over with and then maybe, for a few days, we can leave all this shit behind, yeah?”

“One day at a time,” Jo echoes, swallowing around the sudden lump in her throat. “That’s been my motto for the past twenty-five years, Kate.”  

Kate’s fingers entwine with hers and it’s like Jo’s standing in that corridor at the beginning of the case all over again, wondering how a simple touch could ignite a spark of longing so intense she felt compelled to drop Kate’s hand like a hot brick because she was worried other people would be able to see it too. She doesn’t let go this time, though, she just concentrates on the sensation of Kate’s thumb running back and forth across her knuckles, anchoring her in the moment.

“Patrick Fairbank doesn’t know his ass from his elbow and he’s going to rot in prison for the rest of his life,” Kate tells her gently. “He might not be able to remember all of the bad things he’s done, but he’s not going to remember the good stuff, either. And I, for one, am glad he can’t remember you, because you don’t belong in that bastard’s sick and twisted brain, Jo. You never did.”

Jo doesn’t want to cry, not again, but those words mean more to her than Kate could ever know. She purses her lips to stop her chin from trembling, blinks rapidly to try and offset the bitter sting of tears, and finally manages to look Kate in the eye.

“Thank you,” she says, around her rapidly constricting throat, squeezing Kate’s hand. “I’m going to grab a shower, if you’re sure you don’t mind washing up?”

Kate looks like she wants to say something else, but then she nods. “No, of course not.”

Jo locks the bathroom door, flicks on the shower and waits until the water is pounding over her before she collapses against the cold tiles, sobbing brokenly. At least this time, Kate won’t be able to hear her.


“I come bearing gifts,” Brian, their Witness Protection Officer, announces, as he strolls through the living room and drops some bags for life onto the kitchen counter. “The wine you wanted,” he tells Kate, unveiling a six-pack of sauvignon blanc.

Jo rolls her eyes, because it looks like Kate has won herself another fan without even trying.

“I’d love to know how you’re going to account for that on your expenses form,” Kate says dryly, but she looks perversely pleased, “Thanks, mate, you’re a legend.”   

“Can we open a bottle now?” Jo asks, and she’s only half-joking, because she’s probably going to need it to get through the next couple of hours.

Kate shoots her an indulgent look as she snoops through the bags, raising her eyebrows at Brian when she emerges with a couple of shoeboxes.

“I know you had to leave at short notice and your boots didn’t look like they were made for walking, so I pulled your sizes from your personnel files. You’re not going to get far around here without a decent pair of walking shoes.”

“Careful, Brian, you’re starting to sound like our Fairy Godmother,” Jo warns him, and she feels a fleeting spark of warmth when Kate laughs out loud.

“How are you two bearing up?” Brian asks, eyes darting between them. “The first night’s usually the toughest.”

Jo feels her cheeks flush, and she turns to flick on the kettle, deciding to let Kate answer that one.

“Not too bad, mate, all things considered. I’m just glad we’ve got each other for company.”

Jo sneaks a glance at Kate, who’s smiling at her warmly, and it suddenly feels like the butterflies in her stomach aren’t solely related to Brian’s arrival.

“I appreciate there’s not a whole lot to do out here, but it’s the safest place you could be right now.”

“I’m sure we can make our own entertainment,” Kate informs him jovially, and Jo nearly chokes on her own spit.

“Tea or coffee, Brian?” she asks, and she tries not to notice the way Kate’s fingertips brush against hers when she moves to the fridge, wordlessly handing her the milk.

“Coffee, no sugar. Cheers, Jo.” He waits until she lays a mug down in front of him and then asks, “Are you ready to take a look at those booking forms now?”

“Sure.”

Jo tries to sound confident, like it’s no big deal, like she’s not just about to look at photos of people who were poised to gun her down like she was a target at the shooting range. She imagines what it would feel like, to have bullets from ten different guns ripping through her body; how long the pain would last before they hit a vital organ and put her out of her misery. She can feel Kate hovering over her shoulder when she takes a seat at the kitchen table and she folds her fingers together so neither of them can see how much her hands are shaking.

At first, she thinks it’s going to be OK, because she doesn’t recognise any of the faces Brian’s showing her. She says “no, sorry” six times, but then - suddenly, shockingly - it’s a yes. It’s a yes and she’s physically recoiling away from the page and the bile’s rising in her throat and she can’t speak. She hasn’t seen him for years, not since that night, but those cold, dead eyes are burned into the darkest recesses of her brain, even though she’s spent the last twenty-five years trying to forget them.

“Jo …”

Jo’s only vaguely aware of the fact that Kate’s sitting next to her now, and her hand is resting somewhere between Jo's knee and her thigh, gripping her juddering leg under the kitchen table.

“It’s OK, Jo, take your time.”

Jo squeezes her eyes shut and concentrates on steadying her breathing.

“He was a friend of Tommy’s. Bobby Johnson. I haven’t seen him, not for years, but he used to come by the house a lot back then. He was a paedophile,” she notes, matter-of-factly, even as she feels Kate’s hand ball into a fist against her leg. “He was always watching me, making inappropriate comments about my body; my school uniform, brushing up against me whenever he had the chance. He wouldn’t have tried anything, not while Tommy was around, but I used to… I used to barricade myself in my bedroom whenever he was there, shove whatever I could find up against the door.”

Jo doesn’t add that it never felt like enough.

“They used to take people down to the cellar. I never saw anything. I only heard…”

She trails off then, remembering how she’d crank up the volume on her headphones, hoping it would drown out the sounds of grown men pleading for mercy with a gag in their mouths, reduced to communicating in garbled noises and stifled screams instead of words.

“What did you hear, Jo?” Brian asks her gently, and he’s scribbling in his notebook.

“People being beaten; tortured. Tommy always said, “we’re just taming the rats, Joanne” and I’d turn up my music as loud as it would go, so I wouldn’t have to listen. I wanted to call the police, to get them some help, and there were times where I sat there with the phone in my hand ready to do it, but how could I? I’d seen Patrick and some other officers come over and I knew…I knew the police couldn’t help me. So I’d just lie there and cry, picturing all of the awful things they were doing to them but I… I did nothing to help.”

Jo glances at Kate, expecting to see judgement or disgust, but there’s only empathy.

“You’re doing really well, Jo,” Kate reassures her, and Jo realises, then, that she’s gripping Kate’s wrist under the table.

“I didn’t think they were actually killing anybody, not at first. But then one night I heard some gunshots. Three of them. My first instinct was to run, to get as far away as possible, so I made a beeline for the front door. But when I came downstairs, Bobby was there, covered in blood. I was hysterical by that point, so he…he punched me in the face, knocked me to the floor. Tommy was still downstairs, cleaning up, so he didn’t know what was happening.”

Jo hears Kate suck in a sharp breath, but she can’t look at her. Not right now. She wanted to stay disassociated, to relay the story like it happened to someone else, but she can’t. Not anymore.  

“Then he…” her voice finally breaks, and she hides her head in her hands. Falling apart in front of Kate was bad enough, but now Brian’s staring at her pityingly too.

“Then he what, Jo?” he pressures her regardless, and Jo’s surprised when Kate - who’s never usually reluctant to go in for the kill - practically bites his head off in response.

“For God’s sake, Brian, give her a minute, will you?”

Jo takes a deep breath, wiping away the tears before they can start to fall. Kate’s hand is still on her leg, thumb moving back and forth across her thigh, and she tries to draw what little strength she can from it.  

“He shoved me against the wall, put a hand over my mouth, took the opportunity to cop a feel while he had the chance and told me if I didn’t keep my mouth shut, they’d be carving me up and disposing of my body too,” she chokes out, face contorting with the contempt she was too terrified to feel at the time. “But I didn’t see who the victim was and I have no idea where they took him, so I can’t tell you anything else. I’m sorry. All I know is that they were out of the house for a couple of hours.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Kate reassures her, but she looks shell-shocked. Angry.

“Can you give us an approximate time period for when this incident occurred, Jo?”

“It was 11th April 1996,” she tells Brian, without any hesitation. “A few months after Tommy became my legal guardian.”  

“And you were how old?”

“Sixteen.”

Brian’s sombre expression darkens even further at that particular piece of information.

“Bobby was in Tommy’s circle of trust, even back then,” she informs him, “He must be a big fish by now.”

“And AC-12 are going to do their best to reel him in. We appreciate your cooperation,” Brian tells her, even though she knows she hasn’t given him anything substantial enough to warrant additional charges, not without corroborating evidence. “I’m going to show you the next picture now, if that’s OK?”

“You can take a break if you need to,” Kate interjects, regarding her with a concerned expression, but Jo shakes her head.

“No, it’s fine. I want to get this over and done with.”

Jo braces herself for another onslaught of painful memories when Brian turns the page, but her shoulders sag with relief when she doesn’t recognise the men in the next three photos. Then she considers what that means - that anyone she walks past could be one of the OCG’s henchmen - and the relief rapidly turns to alarm.

She barely manages to say goodbye to Brian when he gathers up his paperwork and heads for the door. She can hear him talking quietly with Kate, but she has no desire to listen in on them discussing her fragile mental state, so she doesn’t make any effort to eavesdrop.

She zones out for a minute, going to that place where - like that old Pink Floyd song she used to listen to - she’s comfortably numb. Then Kate’s standing directly in front of her, holding out a glass of wine.

“I’m not usually an advocate for day drinking, but I think we can make an exception given the circumstances.”  

Jo takes it from her, downing it like a shot. If she wasn’t so drained, she’d laugh at Kate’s horrified expression.

“Do you want to get out of here for a bit, Jo? Go for a walk? I could pack us a picnic,” Kate offers, “And a bottle of wine. Or two, if you’re planning to get through it that fast,” she adds, and this time, Jo manages a small smile.

She wants to say, “yes, Kate, because a walk and a picnic will solve all of my problems,” but she knows Kate’s only trying to take her mind off things, and frankly, she needs the distraction.

“Are you asking me out on a date, DI Fleming?” she enquires instead, careful to keep her tone light, so Kate knows she’s only joking. It doesn’t stop Kate from blushing to the roots of her hair, though.

“Well, it seems like the polite thing to do, now that we’ve slept together,” Kate retorts, and now Jo’s the one who’s blushing. But she likes this. She likes that Kate isn’t treating her like a china doll, especially after what she’s just heard. Better still, she’s not mentioning it at all.

Against her better judgement, Jo finds herself nodding.


They have to use a bath towel in lieu of a picnic blanket and a bag for life instead of a picnic basket, but now they’re sitting by the lake they drove past yesterday, basking in the sunshine. Being miles away from civilisation obviously has its perks, because there’s no one else in sight. The walk here was scenic enough, all grassy verges, wildflowers, and frolicking farm animals, but the lake - surrounded by dense woodland and towering conifers – looks like a screensaver brought to life.

“I know there’s something to be said for having the curry mile on your doorstep, but we really are slumming it in the city, aren’t we?” Kate asks, and Jo’s snort of amusement turns into a cough when Kate rolls up the sleeves of her T-shirt and folds up the cuffs of her jeans to expose more of her skin to the sunshine, revealing defined biceps and shapely calves.

Jo reaches for the wine, taking a fortifying sip, and drags her eyes away, suddenly acutely aware of how close they’re sitting.

“It’s stunning,” she agrees, watching a squirrel scuttle up a nearby tree.

She can feel Kate looking at her, and she knows her temporary reprieve isn’t going to last for much longer.

“Look, Jo, I’m just going to bite the bullet and ask – are you OK? I know the news about Fairbank was hard enough to deal with, without dredging up your past, too. We don’t have to talk about it, not if you don’t want to, but I just have to say…I’m so sorry that happened to you, Jo. It kills me to think about anyone hurting you like that.”

Why does everything that comes out of Kate’s mouth make her want to cry?

“I…” Jo falters, because she knows she can’t keep saying she’s fine. Kate’s not an idiot. “I haven’t been OK for a long time,” she eventually admits. “I’m not sure what OK even looks like anymore. I’ve spent so long just trying to survive, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, I don’t even remember what it feels like to live. I mean this…” she gestures around them, “This feels like a dream, Kate, like someone’s going to pop out from behind one of those trees with an AK47 and remind me that I don’t deserve to have nice things.”

“That’s not true. After everything you’ve been through, you deserve a fresh start. You deserve to be happy.” Kate’s eyes look like they’re glistening in the sunlight, but then her lips curve into a smile, “And if this was a dream, Brian would have bought chocolate to go with the wine,” she eventually concludes, bumping Jo’s shoulder companionably.

Jo laughs, and it feels like she’s falling in love all over again.    

“Have you ever talked to anyone?” Kate asks her, “About any of this?”

“Come on, Kate, what do you think?” Jo retorts, but then she sighs, shaking her head. “The school tried to arrange counselling for me after Mum died but the woman spent ten minutes with me and said she’d have to refer me to someone else because I was a ‘very complex and challenging case.’” Jo lets out a humourless laugh. “And that was before Tommy became my legal guardian.”

“Shit Jo, I’m sorry.”

Kate’s jaw clenches, like she’s angry on her behalf, and Jo decides they’ve spent enough time talking about her problems.

“What about you?” she asks softly, “Are you OK? I know leaving Josh must be hard, especially in these circumstances.”

Kate looks surprised for a moment, but then she nods. “Our relationship isn’t great at the best of times,” she confesses, “And I’m worried this might be the final nail in the coffin. If Mark had just let me say goodbye; explain what was happening…”

Jo wants to say, this is all my fault and I’m so sorry for putting you in this position. Instead, she settles for, “He’s old enough to understand, Kate. You’re a good Mum. He’s lucky to have you.”

“Nah,” Kate shakes her head, shoulders slumping, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’m more like the deadbeat Dad who shows up with a present to try and make up for the fact that I’m never around. Sorry I had to cancel our plans last week, Josh, but here’s that PlayStation game you were banging on about. Now you can spend the rest of the weekend ignoring me and playing on that instead.” She lets out a rueful laugh. “I tried the whole multiplayer thing with him once. I was terrible at it. Two left thumbs. He humoured me for ten minutes and then he said, “I hope your aim’s a lot better than this at work, Mum.””  Kate trails off then, with a haunted look in her eyes, and Jo knows what she’s thinking about; that the guilt isn’t just related to Josh.

“Ryan would have killed us both, Kate,” Jo assures her, and Kate looks surprised that she was able to follow her train of thought. “You offered him a way out and he chose not to take it.”

Jo still remembers the bone-chilling look Ryan gave her after she told him she was planning to transfer him out of MIT, how she had to grip a pen to stop her hands from shaking, even though she met his murderous gaze without flinching. She can still feel his eyes following her everywhere and she knows he was documenting her every move - every conversation she had with Kate, every decision that didn’t go in the OCG’s favour. She tried to assert her authority in whatever way she could – forcing him to make her cups of tea, giving him all the grunt work, sending him on shitty errands, but she was never under any illusion about who was really in control. She can still feel the sinking feeling of dread every time she was forced to get into a car with him, the coldness of the gun he pressed against the back of her head, the terror of being accosted on her own doorstep. She’d led awake at night after that, because now she knew exactly how Gail Vella felt just before she was murdered – the short, sharp shock, the dizzying adrenaline rush, the fear. The fact that Jo was being forced to protect the people who killed her, when Gail's only crime was following the wrong lead, was galling.

Kate still doesn’t look convinced. Jo watches as she reaches for the wine bottle, taking a lengthy swig, apparently not caring that Jo’s lips were on the rim only five minutes earlier.

“They’d been brainwashing him for years. Nothing you said to him would have made any difference. You did what you had to do and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it because he was…” Jo's jaw clenches reflexively, “He was a nasty piece of work.”

She regards Kate intently, until she finally nods her head in agreement.

“I know.”

“And as for Josh…he knows you’re out there catching the bad guys,” Jo reminds her, “He must be proud of you. If he knew what you’ve done for me…”

Kate reaches for her hand, and Jo feels the electricity surging between them; almost dares to believe that Kate feels it too, because her tongue snakes out to moisten her lips and her palm feels slightly clammy.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now, Jo,” Kate informs her earnestly. “I mean that.”

She must see something on Jo’s face, something that’s a little too raw, a little too vulnerable, because she sinks back onto the towel, closing her eyes, but she doesn’t let go of Jo's hand.

Jo hesitates for a moment, and then lies down next to her, finally starting to feel the warmth of the sun.

She’s in a scene straight out of a postcard, holding Kate Fleming’s hand, and it’s not a dream, but it still feels like it is.