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A Life Worth Living

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Steve’s still not sure how he feels about Jo Davidson. At first, she made his blood boil, because she was clearly going out of her way to make him look - and feel - like a total tit. She played him at his own game and momentarily gained the advantage, humiliated him in front of his - and her - colleagues and looked annoyingly smug while she was doing it. Every time they encountered each other at a crime scene, she pulled rank, like she was trying to force him to scurry off with his tail between his legs like some kind of rookie, so yeah, he wasn’t her biggest fan. She may have been tiny in stature, but she had a formidable presence and when she stared him down without flinching, he got the impression she’d dealt with people a hell of a lot more intimidating than he was.

When they brought Jo in for her initial Reg 15 interview, she’d lied through her teeth. That in itself would be enough to piss him off, but then she’d intentionally misdirected their investigation and planted evidence to frame Farida Jatri, sacrificed an innocent colleague to take the heat off herself, and led him down the garden path in the process. She was convincing enough for him to release her without charge, for him to go after the wrong person and think he’d got the right one - for a while, anyway. Farida tried to warn them, told them Jo was capable of anything, that they shouldn’t believe a word that came out of her mouth, but he did, even though he’s spent most of his career untangling the web of lies weaved by bent coppers. And then, when Farida wasn’t enough of a diversion anymore, Jo threw Buckells under the bus, too. She was clearly well-practised in the art of deceit and she made for a formidable mark because she wasn’t just cold, calculating and manipulative, she was bloody clever, too.

But Kate wasn’t having any of it – she refused to feed him intel on Jo, bit his head off every time he suggested she was bent, questioned his decision to put her under surveillance, and defended her to the hilt. When Kate tipped Jo off about the Reg 15 and played a part in him leaving Hillside Lane with egg all over his face, he was fuming. It hurt, almost as much as it hurt when Kate told him she was leaving AC-12. He thought, after everything they’d been through together, they’d always have each other’s backs, and the fact that Kate was siding with some woman she barely knew over him was hard to swallow. If he’s honest, it made him resent Jo Davidson even more.

He told himself that Kate’s instincts were rarely wrong, that she could spot a rotten apple from a mile off - after all, that’s what saved him from a life behind bars when Dot was trying to frame him, just like Jo tried to frame Farida and Buckells - but the evidence against Jo was irrefutable. When they brought Kate in and told her Jo was Tommy Hunter’s niece, he thought she’d finally see sense – how could she not, with everything they knew about Tommy and his background? – but she still had her reservations. That’s when he realised, Kate wasn’t just defending Jo out of some misguided sense of loyalty to her new gaffer, there had to be something else going on. He wasn’t sure what, until he got that call from Kate and raced to the scene of Ryan Pilkington’s death. Even though Kate made it clear she wanted Jo on full security detail, he still expected her to be fuming - furious that Jo had pulled the wool over her eyes for so long, livid that Jo’s lies had resulted in an attempt on her life - and yeah, maybe there was a part of him that was half-hoping for an apology, a part of him that expected her to say, “Sorry, mate. You were right all along.”

He thought Kate would be standing there waiting for them to arrive, ready to give her statement, eager to give Jo her just deserts, but instead he found Kate crouched down beside her, stroking her back, murmuring words of reassurance as he approached them. He’d led Jo away for questioning and Kate kept glancing over at them, face furrowed with concern. That’s when he realised Kate’s feelings for Jo obviously went far beyond the professional. Of course, at that point, he had no idea Jo had just tried to take her own life in an attempt to save Kate’s and when he found out, it blew all of the theories he had about Jo Davidson out of the water. Seeing her crumpled on the floor looking painfully fragile – so far removed from the put-together DSU he was accustomed to – made him realise that maybe he’d been reading her wrong all along.

Kate managed to persuade Jo to talk when he couldn’t and Steve wasn’t made of stone. How could he not feel for Jo after everything she’d been through? Her face was etched with horrors that he instinctively knew went a lot deeper than what her words were describing and, when she’d turned to him and said, “I’m sorry” with her chin trembling and her eyes awash with tears, he knew, without a shred of doubt, that she meant it. That she wasn’t lying this time. Jo had been a stooge for the OCG for 25 years but the second she knew Kate was in danger, she’d said enough is enough, and Steve’s not blind to what that means.

He knows Jo’s a lesbian and truth be told, there have been plenty of times where he’s wondered the same about Kate, too. He assumed she was gay as soon as he met her but then he found out about Mark and Josh and kicked himself for being one of those knobheads that makes assumptions about someone based solely on their physical appearance, even if the way Kate swaggered around the bullpen put him to shame sometimes. But he’s never seen Kate pick up a guy on a night out, never heard her express an interest in any of the blokes around the office, never seen her get flustered in the face of male attention. And Steve knows he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, of course he does, and he’s not arrogant enough to assume that Kate’s lack of interest in him means she must be batting for the other team, but in all those nights they’ve crashed at each other’s flats, all those times where they’ve both had too many beers or needed to take the edge off, nothing’s ever happened - even when they were both single, even when he took Kate home after Mark changed the locks and she sobbed on his shoulder and spent the night swanning around in his dressing gown. He’s not going to pretend that the thought’s never crossed his mind, because there were a couple of times when it did, at least at first… until he realised Kate doesn’t have any of the feminine wiles he looks for in a romantic partner, but she has all of the qualities he could ever want in a best mate.

If Jo’s transition from unflappable SIO to vulnerable witness shocked the hell out of him, he can’t imagine what it must have done to Kate, but he could see just from looking at her that, in spite of it all, she still cared. And it’s a long time since he’s seen Kate care like that, let down the walls that the job’s forced her to put up, take off the mask that she’s always worn - even with him, sometimes. So he arranged for them to be put in a safehouse together, overlooked the risk and ignored his reservations, in the hopes that they might be able to figure out whatever the hell was going on between them. Except now the risk feels a lot more real and he’s wondering if he’s made a huge mistake, wondering if he should have told Kate to steer well clear of the chaos that seems to follow Jo Davidson wherever she goes.

He doesn’t take the direct route to their location and makes sure he isn’t followed along the way, disabling the location services on his phone before he turns it off completely. He spends an hour trying to find his way around the Tesco in Preston city centre and, after taking part in his own version of supermarket sweep, he uses the pretence of returning his trolley to scan the car park for any signs of surveillance. He checks the underside of his unmarked vehicle for tracking devices before he gets back in it and he circles the block a few times for good measure before he pulls up outside of their B’n’B. Seconds later, Kate and Jo both appear in the doorway to greet him.

After everything they’ve been through today, he’s expecting them to look a little worse for wear, but even though their clothes are rumpled and they both look knackered, the Kate he’s looking at now is far removed from the one that left the station. The grin she’s sending in his direction is wide and genuine, and there’s a sparkle in her eyes he hasn’t seen for a while. She’s even got the beginnings of a golden tan, like she’s been sat outside sunning herself. Jo’s smile looks a little more hesitant, bordering on apprehensive, but it’s sincere. He’s still getting accustomed to the many faces of Jo Davidson and this is a new one - not the ballsy DSU who went toe-to-toe with him or the tearful witness who looked to him for reassurance - but something soft and real.

He’s not expecting Kate to practically rugby tackle him in the driveway and he tries not to wince when she engulfs him in a bear hug, inadvertently tweaking his back in the process. He’s forced to drop the suitcase he’s holding so he can hug her back and he chuckles against her shoulder, relieved that she seems to be in good spirits and, most importantly, in one piece.

“All right, mate? Miss me?” he jokes, and he doesn’t fail to notice the way Jo’s smile seems to falter a little over Kate’s shoulder as she watches their reunion.

“Nah, I’m just bloody starving,” Kate retorts. She pats him on the chest and then promptly pulls away, making a beeline for the boot of the car to start unloading the raft of shopping bags, and he watches as Jo’s eyes follow her affectionately.

“And still as charming as ever,” he observes sarcastically.

He can tell Jo still feels uneasy around him, so he forces some warmth into his smile as he gives her a nod of acknowledgement.

“Jo.” He stands aside to let her out of the doorway and they both head towards the car. “Today’s been a tough one, huh?”

“I’ve had better,” she admits, but then she shoots a wry smile in Kate’s direction. “But at least I wasn’t the one doing the driving.”  

“Honestly, Steve, it was like trying to do a circuit around Silverstone in a Morris Minor. I’ve never been so stressed in my life,” Kate informs him, heading back towards the house with an armload of bags.

Steve laughs, moving to pick up the other suitcase, but then his whole body goes rigid and he promptly drops it again, gripping the rim of the boot until his knuckles turn white. Kate’s still in the house, but Jo’s stood right next to him, and he can see the genuine concern on her face as he grits his teeth and waits for the spasms to subside. 

“Are you OK? Is it your back?” she asks him, and he’s surprised when a small hand comes to rest hesitantly against his shoulder.

“I’ll be fine. Just need to stretch my legs after that drive, that’s all,” he assures her, but he can see she doesn’t believe him.

He moves to pick up the case again, but Jo beats him to it.

“It’s OK, I’ve got it.”

“You sure?” he asks her reluctantly, hating to show weakness, especially in front of a woman who used to relish making him feel small. But Jo doesn’t look like she’s taking any pleasure in his pain.

“Yeah, no problem.”

The suitcase is heavy, and Steve can see Jo’s trying not to show the strain as she hefts it out of the boot.

“I tipped half the contents of your bathroom cabinet in there with your clothes, that’s why it weighs so much,” he informs her, “I thought you’d rather have your own toiletries than risk me choosing them for you.”

“Cheers, Steve. I didn’t realise I was this high maintenance, though,” Jo says ruefully, and his lips quirk slightly in response.

“You look good, Jo,” he tells her, making sure it sounds like a casual observation rather than an unwanted compliment, “A hell of a lot better than when I last saw you, anyway. Getting away from it all’s obviously done you some good.”

Jo’s cheeks flush and she glances back towards the house. Towards Kate. “Yeah, it has,” she agrees softly. She hesitates, looking like she’s not sure whether to leave him unattended, so he inclines his head towards the door.

“Go on. I’ll be fine.”

“What happened to chivalry, mate?” Kate demands when she re-emerges from the porch and sees Jo carrying a suitcase that’s almost as big as her.

Steve grimaces, because he doesn’t want Kate to know how much he’s suffering, doesn’t want to give her something else to worry about. He expects Jo to drop him in it, to open a can of worms he really doesn’t want to get into right now, so he’s surprised when she says,

“You know me, Kate. I’m all about sisters doing it for themselves.”

Kate’s grin suddenly gets a lot wider.

“So that’s why Steve wasn’t allowed in your bottom drawer, then?” she teases mischievously.

“Kate!” Jo protests, but then she mutters something inaudible under her breath and Kate walks away looking every bit as flustered as Jo does.

If they’re trying to hide their feelings for each other, they’re doing a piss poor job of it, and if the reddish-purple bruise on Kate’s neck and the state of her hair is any indication, their relationship has progressed a lot further than Steve expected it to, given the circumstances. He isn’t surprised, although he probably should be, because Kate isn’t the reckless type. She’s always been a hell of a lot better at following the letter of the law than he has. He knows it must be serious, for Kate to jeopardise her career like this, and he can’t really judge her, not after what happened with Lindsay, but she gave him so much shit for it at the time and now she’s in danger of falling into the same trap as he did. For now, though, he decides to just enjoy watching them try to conceal the blindingly obvious. At least it’ll give him time to get a better read on Jo; figure out whether she’s worth the risk that Kate’s taking with her.

He helps Kate with unloading the rest of the groceries - relieved when his back withstands the strain of carrying the shopping bags - and then he glances up and down the street before peeling back the lining of the boot, pulling out the locked gun box.

When he sets it on the kitchen counter with the key, Kate’s expression lights up in pure relief, and he hates that she’s reached a point where she needs to carry a weapon to make her feel safe, to give her some sense of control.

“Ballistics came back on Pilkington. The IOPC’s satisfied it was a lawful shooting so Carmichael approved the renewal of your firearms license. After today, she didn’t really have a choice,” he points out, expression grave. “There’s a new burner phone and charger in there and your warrant card in case of emergencies. There are some fake plates under the lining of the boot too, if you need them.”

“Cheers, Steve.” Kate’s gratitude is written all over her face. “I might actually be able to sleep at night now."

“Yeah, well let’s just hope you don’t have to use it, mate.”

Kate nods her agreement, and when she casts an anxious look at Jo, who’s staring at the gun box with trepidation, like it’s some kind of harbinger of doom - it looks like her good mood is set to evaporate.

“Come on, let me give you a hand unpacking this lot,” he proclaims, hoping the change of subject will distract them both.

The kitchen isn’t big enough for the three of them and Jo nearly collides with Kate a couple of times en route to the cupboards. Steve can see that they’re deliberately trying to avoid eye contact but he doesn’t miss the knowing smirk on Kate’s face when they brush past each other. Then Kate reaches around Jo to put some muesli in the cupboard, standing on tip-toes and resting a hand against Jo’s hip for balance, and Jo disappears behind the pantry door for a while, like she’s trying to regain her composure.

He figures he’s done a decent enough job of picking up provisions judging from Kate’s enthusiastic response and exclamations of “nice one, Steve!” every time she emerges from a carrier bag. He watches her tap Jo on the arm with a family-sized bar of Galaxy, sporting a triumphant smile, and Jo’s eyes crinkle at the corners.

His gut’s telling him that Jo’s feelings for Kate are genuine, that she’s not using Kate to further her own agenda, but he knows better than anyone that you can’t take witnesses who appear to be lonely, vulnerable and well-intentioned at face value, because then they might record you in the midst of a hot and heavy make-out session to get a better deal for themselves and discredit your entire investigation. 

“I hope you didn’t pay for this lot out of your own pocket?” Kate asks him, and he shrugs.

“I’ll claim back what I can, but I think it’s safe to say the pints are on you for the foreseeable future. I wasn’t sure what you like food-wise, Jo, so I tried to pick up a bit of everything,” he informs her, and she gives him a grateful smile.

“Thanks, Steve. It all looks great. Have you already eaten?” she asks him, but he shakes his head.

“I’ve booked the Premier Inn up the road so I’ll grab something there. I’m over at Hutton HQ first thing to interview the six suspects they brought in, so I’ll keep you posted once we know if any of them are going to talk. We’re just waiting on Brian’s post-mortem results. He was in a bad way when they found him.”

Jo’s hand stills against the fridge door and he can see her trying to control her visceral reaction to his words, but then she forces a smile.

“Let me rustle us something up, then. It’s the least I can do after you’ve gone to all this trouble,” she offers.

He’s about to decline, because he’s pretty sure the two of them would prefer to be alone with that bar of chocolate, but Kate intervenes before he has the chance.

“Trust me, mate, you don’t want to say no. She puts us to shame in the cooking department.”

“Well, I hope you’ve been teaching this one a thing or two, then,” Steve jokes, tilting his head towards Kate, and Jo’s lips curl into a mischievous smile when she says,

“I think she’s mastered the basics.”

Steve gets the feeling she isn’t just talking about cooking.

“Oi!” Kate protests, feigning indignance. “After I went all out and made you my carbonara too.”

“You cooked for her?” Steve asks Kate incredulously, because in the decade he’s known Kate, she’s survived on takeaways, ready meals and the occasional piece of fruit.

“I had three pans on the go at the same time,” she informs him proudly.

“It wasn’t half bad, either,” Jo concedes, and Steve sees the affection in her gaze when she shoots Kate a warm smile.

“Spag bol OK?” Jo asks them both, and Steve nods his agreement.

“Sounds good to me.”

“Why don’t you two go and catch up and I’ll make a start on it now?” she suggests, and he gets the impression that she’s starting to feel the weight of his scrutiny.

“I’m not going to leave you in here slaving over a hot stove, Jo,” Kate protests. “Let me help and then we can talk shop later.”

“Honestly, Kate, it’s fine.”

“Jo…” Kate’s standing behind her now, hovering, and wearing an expression that makes it clear she’s not about to back down.

“OK, chop a pepper and some onions for me while I brown off this mince,” Jo capitulates, and Kate obligingly moves to the fridge.

Steve tries his best not to laugh, because the word “whipped” springs to mind. Then he clears his throat and delves into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. 

“Before you get your hands dirty, mate, I thought you might want this.”

He retrieves a passport-sized photo, reaching across the kitchen counter to hand it to Kate. It’s a shot of her and Josh in a photo booth and the camera’s clearly caught them unprepared, because it looks like Kate’s trying to persuade Josh to hug her, but he’s ended up in what looks more like a headlock instead, and they’re both clearly in fits of laughter. It’s one of those natural, unguarded moments that captures the bond between them, although Josh is older now than he looks in the picture so Steve suspects it’s a memento from happier times.

Kate’s throat starts bobbing up and down and he hopes he’s made the right decision because she suddenly looks like the contestants on I’m a Celeb when they receive a letter from home.

“I saw it on your noticeboard and figured it’s small enough for you to carry around,” he reasons, and Kate nods, looking like she wants to speak, but can’t. She just stares at the photo for a moment, rocking back and forth on her feet, and Steve respectfully averts his gaze because he’s not sure if she’s going to be able to claw back her composure.

He sneaks a glance at Jo instead, but she doesn’t even notice because her eyes are fixed on Kate, brimming with empathy. He’s not sure if she’s even consciously aware of what she’s doing when she steps closer, leaning over Kate’s shoulder to look at the photo with her, resting a comforting hand against the small of her back. He expects Kate to pull away, because she has to know how incriminating their proximity looks, but she doesn’t.

“It’s a brilliant photo,” Jo tells Kate warmly, with a genuine smile. “He looks just like you.” 

“Well, better me than Mark,” Kate quips, and Jo must suddenly realise how close they’re standing because she moves to the opposite side of the kitchen counter, opening a packet of mince.

“Thanks, Steve,” Kate says, and she clearly means it. Steve’s relieved when her voice doesn’t crack.

“I’ve tried to speak to Josh myself, let him know how you’re getting on, but Mark just keeps telling me he’ll pass on the message,” Steve informs Kate regretfully.

“Knob,” Kate spits out.

“You’re well shot of him, mate. I don’t know what you saw in him in the first place.”

“Yeah, well that makes two of us,” Kate agrees, and he doesn’t miss the look she shares with Jo.

Steve can feel his back starting to tense up after bending back and forth between the kitchen cupboards and he knows he’s not going to make it through dinner without some assistance.

“Which way’s the loo, mate?” he asks Kate, and she tilts her head towards the corridor outside of the kitchen.

“Upstairs. First door on the right.”

He’s not sure he can face the prospect of negotiating the stairs so as soon as he’s out of sight, he reaches into his pocket, hastily fumbling with a packet of co-codamol.

“Steve, I just realised I didn’t offer you a dri – ”

Jo rounds the corner seconds after he does and her eyes widen when she sees the four painkillers in his hand and realises he’s about to dry-swallow them.

“Shit, Steve,” she hisses, and he’s grateful she’s keeping her voice down, “Is the pain that bad? Have you seen anyone about it?”

“I’ve got it under control,” he tells her firmly, but she regards him dubiously.

“Then why are you taking twice the recommended dose and skulking away to do it?” she retorts, and he wants to tell her it’s none of her bloody business, but there’s something in her expression that makes him sigh instead.

“Look, the job’s all I have, OK?” he tells her frankly. “I can’t go off sick.”

“And you can’t suffer in silence, either,” she tells him empathetically. “If you leave it untreated, it’s just going to get worse and you’ll get to the point where you can’t carry on, whether you want to or not.” 

“I know,” he tells her, because deep down, he does. “Look, I’ll sort it, OK? Just don’t mention it to Kate. She’s got enough on her plate already,” he concludes pointedly, “Unless you want someone else running point on all of this?”

He can see the conflicted expression on Jo’s face, but he’s not expecting the desperation in her tone when she says, “Please don’t ask me to lie to her, Steve – to keep things from her. I promised I wouldn’t anymore.”

And that’s when he knows, beyond all reasonable doubt, that Jo Davidson’s the real deal, even if it doesn’t bode well for him at this present moment in time.

“You should talk to her,” she encourages him. “If you’re struggling, she’d want to know. You mean a lot to her, Steve.”

He eyes her discerningly. “I get the impression that you do, too.”

He’s expecting some kind of contrived response - denial, or confusion - but although Jo looks a little shocked by his candour, he’s surprised when her face softens into a shy, hopeful smile.

“Look, Steve, I know we’ve had our ups and downs but I hope you know it was never personal, even though it must’ve felt that way at the time,” Jo tells him solemnly. “I was just trying to hold it all together; keep the OCG off my back, but I know I gave you the run-around and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“The charges against Jatri and Buckells are being dropped. They’re due to be released in a couple of days,” he informs her. “At least they were only stuck inside for a few weeks, but it could’ve been for a hell of a lot longer if you’d let them take the fall for you.”

“I know.” Jo’s eyes are downcast, but he can see the remorse etched across her features, so he decides to cut her a break.

“Look, Jo, you did the right thing in the end,” he reminds her. “Even though it could have ended badly for you. That’s what counts. Kate’s the one you lied to for months and if she’s willing to forgive and forget, then so am I.”

Jo flinches a little at that, but then she nods, offering him a tremulous smile. “Thank you.”

“She went to bat for you, you know?” he tells her. “Right from the start. Refused to believe that you were bent.”

“I’m not bent,” Jo tells him resolutely, even though he can see how much his revelation’s affected her. “And if I have to spend the rest of my life proving it, then that’s what I’ll do.”

“What are you two gossiping about?” Kate demands, sticking her head around the doorframe and, even though her tone is light-hearted, she looks worried, like she’s half-expecting them to be at loggerheads with each other.

“I’ll give you some space to talk,” Jo tells him quietly, and then she murmurs something to Kate, heading back towards the kitchen.

Kate feels awful. Steve’s been popping pills like sweets and she had no idea he was in such a bad place - didn’t even know his back was still bothering him. They might not be working together anymore, but she didn’t think the distance had affected their friendship to that extent. Steve tried to persuade her to get a takeaway a couple of times when she’d dropped by AC-12 to assist with their investigation, but she’d always turned him down because she thought he’d use the opportunity to try to wheedle more information out of her about Jo. It never crossed her mind that maybe he just wanted to talk, because most of their bloody conversations revolve around work, not personal stuff. She’d started going for drinks with Jo after work, and it never occurred to her that she was leaving Steve to drown his sorrows on his own but, looking at him now, it’s clear that he’s in dire need of some support. He looks close to tears and if he didn’t know Jo was in the next room, he probably would have broken down by now.

“I’m sorry, mate,” she tells him sincerely. “I wish I’d known. Just promise me you’ll get in touch with occupational health and get some help, OK? And when all of this is over, we’re going to head down the pub at least once a week. Until you get a better offer, anyway,” she adds, and all of a sudden, Steve’s sombre expression turns into a shit-eating grin.

“It looks like you already have,” he observes, nodding towards the kitchen, and Kate’s eyes widen a little when she realises her attempts to shield him from the truth have failed miserably. Even still, she tries to save face by drawing her eyebrows together in a puzzled frown, doing her best to look confused.  

“What do you mean?” she counters, but it sounds feeble, even to her own ears.

“Come on, mate, give me some credit. You two can’t keep your hands off each other,” Steve informs her, and she already knows her face is betraying her because she can feel her cheeks burning.

She considers trying to maintain the pretence, because admitting that she’s sleeping with a witness puts them both in a compromising position and Steve can’t do anything about it without hard evidence, but it’s Steve, and she trusts him not to go running back to the gaffer and Carmichael; knows that he’ll lie for her if it comes to it.

“When did you know?” she asks him, inwardly bracing herself for his reaction now that she’s confirmed his suspicions, but she’s relieved to see that he’s still smiling, like he’s happy for her, rather than horrified. 

“As soon as I walked through the door, mate. I mean, that thing on your neck doesn’t help,” he says, laughing as he gestures to the love bite, which seems to have turned darker just to spite her. “At least one of us is getting some action,” he concludes drolly.

“It’s not all been fun and games, Steve. I know you’ve been working your arse off and I don’t want you to think we’re taking the piss,” Kate says, brow furrowing, because if the situations were reversed, she’s not sure she’d be quite so understanding.

“Honestly, mate, it’s just nice to see you with a smile on your face again, in spite of the circumstances. You were looking a bit dead behind the eyes for a while.”

Kate regards him indignantly. “Cheers Steve. You work wonders for a woman’s self-esteem.”

“I’m serious, mate,” he says quietly. “I mean, something must have been going on, for you to just up and leave us like that.”

She realises, then, how much her decision to transfer out of AC-12 must have hurt Steve. She never really spelt out her reasons for leaving, not properly, because she knew he’d try and persuade her to change her mind, explain away her concerns, tell her she was taking the job too personally. So she just told him she’d made her decision, made it clear it wasn’t up for negotiation and left him to read between the lines. Part of the reason why she stopped spending so much time with him was because she didn’t want to walk away feeling like she’d made the wrong decision, but that wasn’t fair to Steve.

“It didn’t have anything to do with you, if that’s what you think,” she informs him. “You’re the reason I stuck around for as long as I did. I just got a bit jaded by it all, you know?” she confesses, even though it doesn’t come close to explaining the existential crisis she experienced last year. “It felt like we were running around in circles all the time, chasing our tails. For every bent copper we nicked, there were ten more. Most of our marks ended up dead and the ones we did manage to charge got whisked away to start a cushy new life in witness protection. We both know there are just as many bent screws as there are bent coppers, so even the ones who end up in prison carry on benefitting from a life of crime.”

“I know,” Steve sympathises, “And it’s shit, mate, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re bloody good at what you do.”

“But we never got any closer to finding the answers, Steve, it was just lies upon lies. And then it turns out that even the gaffer isn’t the pillar of integrity we thought he was. I mean, you saw the interview transcripts. Dodgy money trails, handshakes under the table, and don’t get me started on the porn, mate, because it’ll put me off my dinner.”

Steve bursts out laughing. “Come on, mate. The gaffer’s wife left him high and dry. He’s only human.”

“Yeah, well it’s the workplace equivalent of walking in on your grandparents having sex,” Kate retorts, but now she’s laughing, too. “Anyway, that’s why I left, mate, but I didn’t tell you the whole story because I didn’t think you’d understand.”

“Of course I understand!” Steve exclaims, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the same way most of the time. But we know this goes all the way to the top and I can’t walk away until we get the bastards. I can’t throw away my life’s work.”

“And I understand that, too,” she assures him. “It just isn’t for me anymore. I need to feel like I’m making a difference, you know? Like I’m doing some good in the world, not drowning in a sea of corruption and trying to stay afloat. And all those undercover ops, mate, they took their toll. I just needed to be myself for a while.”

“And this thing with Jo, that’s you being yourself?” he asks her, and she doesn’t even have to stop and think about it, she just nods.

“Obviously, I wish we’d met under different circumstances, but I’ve never felt like this about anyone before,” she admits quietly.

Steve raises his eyebrows.

“I hate to say it, mate, but from the outside looking in, it’s a recipe for disaster – you could lose your career, she could lose her immunity, and it could undermine the credibility of her testimony, too.”

“Yeah, well I’m sick of always being the one to hold myself to a higher standard, Steve,” she snaps. “If professional conduct has gone out of the window for everyone else, the gaffer included, then why the hell should I deny myself a shot at happiness? We’re not doing anything wrong. No-one’s being taken advantage of here.” 

“I know,” he assures her. “I’m not judging you, mate, and I’m not going to tell you what to do, but you know what happened with Lindsay, and we didn’t even get past second base.”

“Yeah, well Jo isn’t Lindsay, Steve, and this isn’t just some meaningless “fumble.” I care about her, OK? A lot,” she adds for emphasis.

“Well, for what it’s worth, I think she feels the same way about you. She’s been mooning over you all night,” Steve informs her.

Kate can’t help but grin at that. “You’ll like her once you get to know her, Steve,” she assures him, “The real her, I mean. I know she’s made some mistakes, but she’s a good person underneath it all and if you knew what she’s been through - and it’s a lot more than she let on during her interview - you’d understand why.”

“I trust your judgement, mate. And I do like her - or at least, what I’ve seen of her tonight,” he informs her, and Kate can’t hide her relief. “And as long as you’re not in the same room as each other, I’m sure no-one will figure out that you’re shagging like rabbits,” he concludes, and she punches him lightly on the arm.

She knows she’s lucky to have him, though. She doesn’t have many close friends - doesn’t trust anyone enough - but she knows she can always count on Steve for unconditional support.

“Thanks for understanding,” she tells him warmly, and he nods.


“Come here.” She clambers across the sofa and pulls him into a hug, making sure it isn’t as bone-crushing as usual. “You’ll get through this, mate,” she tells him, patting him companionably on the back. “You’ll be OK.”

He hugs her a little tighter then, and she gives him a reassuring squeeze, until she sees Jo hovering in the doorway, looking like someone’s kicked her in the teeth.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she says, and Kate can tell she’s forcing the brightness into her tone. “Dinner’s ready, if you are.”

Kate squeezes Steve’s shoulder and then promptly gets to her feet, following Jo into the kitchen.

“Hey,” she says gently, reaching for her hand, and when Jo turns to regard her in surprise, Kate leans forward, kissing her softly on the lips, in full view of Steve. Jo barely gets the chance to respond before Kate pulls away again, but she looks stunned.

“He knew all along,” Kate explains, giving her a reassuring smile.

Jo glances between her and Steve, and Kate can see the wheels turning as she processes that particular piece of information.  

“Well, in that case…”

Kate’s eyes crinkle with amusement when Jo closes the distance between them again, reclaiming the missed opportunity. She lets the kiss linger for a little longer this time, until Steve clears his throat behind them.

“Bloody hell,” he protests, “If I’d known I was going to have to put up with this, I would have pleaded ignorance for a while longer.”

They all laugh, then, settling down at the table for dinner. Steve’s clearly making an effort, complimenting Jo’s cooking and engaging her in conversation, and although Jo seems a little timid at first, she soon relaxes into the conversation, joining in with their banter, cracking a few well-timed jokes that make Steve laugh out loud. Jo looks happy, and Kate’s heart swells as their eyes lock from across the table, hoping her smile conveys what she can’t say out loud right now, because Steve would never let her live it down. She can see Steve warming to Jo more and more and at one point he glances across the table at Kate with a conciliatory look that seems to say, “OK, mate, you picked a good one.” Considering Jo was anxiously pacing up and down the living room before Steve arrived, to the point where Kate had to pull her into a hug and tell her to relax, seeing them put aside their differences and find some common ground means everything to her. And if her eyes occasionally flit towards the gun box that’s still sitting on the kitchen counter, neither of them seems to notice.