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A Life Worth Living

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Kate’s never been one for putting her feet up or pottering around to pass the time. The mundane stuff - reading a book, binge-watching TV shows, home renovation - just doesn’t appeal to her, not when she could be out there pursuing leads and righting wrongs. Even as a kid, she couldn’t stand being cooped up inside the house. She was always off on an adventure, bombing around the local estate on her bike, building dens or kicking a footie around with the lads. It’s part of the reason why she volunteered for undercover operations and trained as an AFO. She didn’t want to be the copper stuck reviewing hours of CCTV footage in a dingy little room or sitting in a car all night on a stakeout, she wanted to be in the thick of it, because when you’re caught up in the action and doing everything in your power not to blow your cover or point a gun at the wrong person, you don’t have time to think about anything else.

Even on her days off, she’s always needed something to distract her, something to consume her thoughts and subdue her restless energy, because if she slowed down, it gave her too much time to think, and then she started agonising over her fractured relationship with Josh, how she’d wasted the best years of her life in a loveless marriage; how her work – the one thing in life that gave her a sense of purpose – was starting to feel futile. She left AC-12 for all of the reasons she shared with Steve, but also because she was approaching forty and had no idea who she was without it. She’d spent too long using work to fill the void and it just wasn’t enough anymore, because she could feel the fight starting to seep out of her and the suffocating weight of loneliness every time she came home to her empty flat. When she moved to MIT and met Jo, she realised how long she’d been going through the motions. Jo threw kindling on a fire that was in danger of extinguishing, stoked a passion she thought she’d lost for good, made something within her burn bright again.

And, as it turns out, Kate is capable of sitting around the house for days on end without feeling like she wants to crawl out of her own skin, as long as Jo’s there to keep her entertained.

They start their third day at the B’n’B taking full advantage of the spacious walk-in shower and Kate spares a fleeting thought for the utility bill they must be racking up as she heads downstairs on shaky legs to make a start on breakfast, still feeling the occasional throb between her thighs. She checks the burner phone and then sticks Smooth Radio on the TV for a bit of background noise while Jo dries her hair. She’s bopping away to ‘What a Feeling’ and thinking about how much better life would be if every day started with multiple orgasms when Jo comes downstairs. She’s wearing her hair in that half-up, half-down style that frames her face and softens her features, complete with figure-hugging black jeans and a light grey jumper that flatters her complexion and her physique. Kate barely ends up recovering in time to pour the orange juice into the glass and not all over the kitchen counter.

She moves to turn the TV off, remembering their earlier conversation about music dredging up bad memories, but Jo stops her, telling her she doesn’t want to spoil her fun and she’ll mute any songs that hit too close to home.

They chat away over breakfast, even though Kate’s stomach coils into a little ball of anxiety every time the ads finish and a new song starts, but it’s worth it, because she gets to watch Jo slowly rediscover her love of music again. It starts with the occasional toe-tap as she waits for the kettle to boil, and when Kate comes downstairs with an armful of bed sheets ready to load into the washing machine, she hears Jo absent-mindedly singing a few lyrics to ‘Radio Ga Ga.’ Kate doesn’t want to make her feel self-conscious, so she doesn’t say anything, she just quietly delights in watching Jo’s hips subtly swaying to the beat as she wipes down the kitchen counters.

They watch the lunchtime news and when they mutter “twat” and “knob” in perfect unison after catching the tail-end of one of Boris’ speeches, they quickly discover that neither of them is as politically neutral as the job expects them to be and they’re both staunch lefties. When Kate jokes that her Dad would disown her if she voted Tory, Jo asks about her family, and it’s hard not to feel guilty when she tells Jo the truth - that her parents dote on her; that they’ve supported her every step of the way, even when she broke their hearts by divorcing Mark. She can’t bring herself to tell Jo that she doesn’t visit them nearly as often as she should, though, purely because her Mum worries sick about her - personally and professionally - and she can’t cope with her constant questions, even though she knows they’re coming from a place of concern. She realises, then, that it’s a nice problem to have, and silently vows to take Jo home with her one day so her Mum can fuss over someone who actually deserves it.

They run into their next-door neighbour for the first time when they head out to the car, and from the way he’s grinning at them both as he waters his garden, Kate suspects he’s heard a lot more than he should have. Still, he’s friendly enough and tells them to enjoy their day, even though Kate lies about where they’re going as a precaution.

Kate watches him pick up a pair of secateurs in her rear-view mirror and confesses that she’s glad her flat doesn’t have a garden because she can’t think of anything more tedious than spending her weekend mowing the lawn and wrestling with weeds only for them to grow back again a week later, but then Jo tells her she’s always dreamt about having a big garden like the one they had at the safehouse and Kate thinks maybe her salary could stretch to hiring a gardener.

They stop at a set of traffic lights and see a harried Mum trying to haul two screaming toddlers up the street, looking like she’s rapidly losing the will to live.

“She’s got her work cut out for her,” Jo observes sympathetically, wincing when the caterwauling increases by a few decibels.   

“Not a fan of kids?” Kate asks her with an amused smile, and Jo shudders.

“God, no. Never wanted them.” Then she seems to realise what she’s just said and her eyes widen. “I’m sure Josh is lovely, though.”

“Yeah, he’s ditched the wailing in favour of grunting. I still get the temper tantrums, though.”

Kate makes sure the burner phone is nestled securely in her back pocket and then they spend the afternoon walking around the local nature reserve, hand-in-hand. After discovering that birdwatching is every bit as boring as it sounds, Kate tells Jo that she’s the only bird for her and narrowly avoids being shoved into the pond.

There’s still no word from Steve.  

‘The Chase’ is playing in the background as they make a start on dinner - with Kate doing the prep and Jo doing the cooking - and Kate grins when Jo unveils her formidable general knowledge and a competitive edge that would have stood MIT in much better stead if she’d agreed to join them for the pub quiz down at their local. When Kate jokes that they should have been calling Jo The Governess instead of ma’am, she gets a carrot baton thrown at her forehead.

Kate checks whether it’s OK to put the radio back on while they clean up, and to her relief, Jo still seems to be enjoying the trip down memory lane. It’s just background noise at first, but then the opening guitar riffs of ‘Black Velvet’ sound through the speakers and they both exclaim, “I love this song,” so Kate reaches for the remote and cranks up the volume.

It usually takes a copious amount of alcohol before Kate’s willing to get up close and personal with someone on the dance floor and even then, as soon as the DJ starts playing something low-tempo, she makes a hasty retreat and heads straight for the bar, but Jo’s eyes are closed and she has this sexy little smile on her face, so Kate sidles over to her and wraps an arm around her waist, scooting closer until Jo’s ass is nestled flush against her hips. She tries not to groan when Jo grinds against her in response, and they start to slowly sway together. Unlike Kate, Jo’s gifted with natural rhythm, and Kate’s suddenly feeling the sultry beat of the music in places she never expected to. Her hands run over Jo’s jumper, glancing over her hips, her stomach, her boobs, until they eventually slip underneath the soft fabric, seeking bare skin. Jo arches into the contact at first, but then she turns around, so they’re face-to-face instead of front-to-back.

They kiss then, slow and seductive - like the song - and Jo edges a thigh between her legs and continues the rhythmic rotation of her hips, caressing the nape of Kate’s neck with one hand and holding the small of her back with the other, urging her closer. And it turns out you don’t need a drop of alcohol in your system to re-enact some of the more salacious scenes from ‘Dirty Dancing’ at six o’clock in the evening, and even though Kate wishes she’d necked a couple of glasses of wine so her hips were capable of rolling with the same languid fluidity as Jo’s, she’s too turned on to feel self-conscious. It turns out that slow dancing is more of an aphrodisiac than she ever gave it credit for, if you’re doing it with the right person.

It’s a good job they don’t have an audience, though, because their hands end up somewhere you definitely don’t see on ‘Strictly’.

Jo edges her over to the curtains, pulling them shut, and it doesn’t take long before they’re ripping each other’s clothes off, throwing the cushions off the sofa, and bumping and grinding horizontally, instead of vertically. Kate always thought that dry-humping was something you did behind the bike sheds when you were fourteen, except they’re naked and wet and there’s nothing remotely amateur about the way Jo’s arching into her and sliding against her. Kate instinctively bends her knees towards the ceiling to give her better access, gasping as Jo’s weight shifts against her. The friction and full-body contact are clearly working for both of them and Kate’s never experienced anything like it - being so attuned to someone else’s reactions even when she’s fighting a losing battle with controlling her own. Jo’s forearms are resting either side of her head and their lips hover less than an inch apart between their feverish kisses, gasps of pleasure mingling with soft sighs.

Their eyes lock intently and Kate’s not sure whether it’s some kind of unspoken agreement or a silent challenge, but she feels the strength of the connection coursing through her. Jo’s hips start moving less fluidly and more frantically, until they fall over the edge together for the first time, fingers entwining on the way down. Jo collapses on top of her and Kate hopes that one day she’ll actually believe the words of veneration that come spilling out of her mouth.

Kate stopped listening to the music a long time ago, oblivious to everything but Jo, but when ‘Sexual Healing’ starts blasting through the TV as her fingertips trail lazily over Jo’s impossibly soft skin, their eyes meet in amusement and then they both dissolve into fits of uproarious laughter. In that moment, in spite of everything, Kate’s the happiest she’s ever been.

In the evening, they abandon the film they’re watching in favour of talking for hours, until Kate’s voice becomes hoarse from overuse. They trade light-hearted anecdotes about some of the weird and not-so-wonderful people they’ve encountered on the job and the sticky situations they’ve found themselves in, and Kate can see Jo’s genuine passion for policing shining through. Then Jo seems to realise she’s talking about a career that she’s never going to be able to go back to and Kate can see her good spirits starting to falter, so she opens a bottle of wine in the hopes of salvaging them. It disappears a bit too quickly and they end up decrying the fact that female coppers have to work twice as hard for a fraction of the acknowledgement, which somehow descends into them trying to out-do each other with exaggerated impressions of Ian Buckells. Jo’s attempt to do a Brummie accent is so tragically bad that Kate nearly falls off the sofa laughing, but when she remarks that MIT would be better off if Buckells stayed behind bars, Jo quickly sobers up, expression racked with guilt.

They have their first experience of trying to drunkenly put on a duvet cover together, and Kate briefly wonders why they bothered washing it in the first place because when they collapse onto the newly-made bed and Jo kisses her with the kind of uninhibited passion that goes hand in hand with being slightly tipsy, Kate gets the feeling it’s not going to stay clean for long.

Jo heads to the bathroom to get ready for bed and Kate takes the opportunity to check the burner phone again. She’s tempted to text Steve and ask him if there are any developments, but she knows he would have been in touch if there were, so she reluctantly returns the phone to the bedside table. Then she heads downstairs, because even though she knows all of the doors and windows are locked, she still feels compelled to check them again.

“Are you going to be long down there?” Jo calls from the top of the stairs, and Kate pokes her head around the kitchen door, regarding her with amusement.

“I didn’t realise you were waiting for me,” she teases, even though the prospect leaves her alight with anticipation. “I’m just sticking these glasses in the dishwasher. Give me a second to turn it on and then I’ll be up.”

“I’d rather you were turning me on instead,” Jo informs her unabashedly, and Kate laughs out loud, deciding that maybe the dishwasher can wait until the morning.

“OK, OK, I’m coming,” she concedes. She doesn’t even think about the double entendre until she sees the look on Jo’s face that clearly says, yes, you will be.

Kate sprints up the stairs so fast it probably looks like she’s pursuing a suspect.

“You’re insatiable,” she informs Jo, but she doesn’t offer up any resistance when she’s pinned against the nearest wall and Jo’s weight settles against her.

“Only because you’re irresistible,” Jo counters, and Kate’s answering grin gets lost in a breathless kiss, even as she silently acknowledges that they’ve somehow become one of those obnoxiously loved-up couples that she used to roll her eyes at contemptuously.

After Kate split up with Mark, she went on a few dates, but they never ended well. The guys were nice enough to look at, but when you’ve spent the best part of a decade second-guessing people and studying their tone and mannerisms - always looking for the negatives instead of the positives - it’s hard to switch off. It took her less than an hour to pick up on the habits that were destined to drive her crazy, or to figure out she was being sold a crock of shit, and she couldn’t even bring herself to sleep with them for an ego boost, let alone commit to a second date.

She tries to take the same approach with Jo, tries to engage the analytical part of her brain and identify the issues before they start, but she can’t see past the fact that - in spite of the situation they’re in – it feels like she’s finally discovered the meaning of life. On paper, Jo’s the polar opposite of the stable, sorted, straight-down-the-middle bloke Kate thought she was looking for, and Steve’s right, what they’re doing is a recipe for disaster, but now she understands why people ignore all of the red flags and throw caution to the wind. Now she understands what being in love really feels like and settling for second best isn’t an option anymore.

She revels in the fact that when Jo looks at her now, it’s all twinkling eyes and easy smiles. The guardedness has gone, and so has the prickly defensiveness that left Kate wary of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. She still puts her foot in it sometimes, like when she mentions her conflicted feelings about the gaffer - how she’s not sure if they’ll ever be able to re-build the trust they once had because he’s not the person she thought he was - and Jo stares at the floor and tells her maybe she should consider giving him another chance, because his misdemeanours pale in comparison to hers. She still catches Jo lost in thought, still sees something sad and dark ghost over her expression every now and again, but a gentle touch or light-hearted comment is usually enough to drag her away from the brink of despair.

On day four, they progress to singing together at full volume, complete with some horrific attempts at harmonising that leave them struggling to contain their laughter, and even though Kate knows there’s no way in hell Jo would willingly do this in public, she still thinks it’s a shame they never managed to drag her to a karaoke bar, because she would pay good money to see Chris’ reaction to Jo belting out The Proclaimer’s ‘500 Miles’ in a Scottish brogue that’s even more pronounced than usual.

They suffer a temporary setback when ‘Where’s Your Mama Gone?’ starts blasting out of the TV and Kate curses under her breath and hits the mute button so fast the remote skids across the kitchen counter. When she turns back around, Jo’s shoulders are shaking, but Kate’s horror quickly dissipates when she realises it’s from laughter, not tears. “Your face,” Jo explains, reaching out to gently caress her cheek, and Kate finally dares to crack a smile.

It’s raining, so they end up flicking through the back catalogue of films available on All4, and Kate tries not to laugh when Jo asks her if she would mind sitting through a “lesbian film” that she’s wanted to see for ages, as if they haven’t spent a significant proportion of the last few days with their faces buried between each other’s thighs. Kate tells her it’s fine, although fifteen minutes in and she’s beginning to regret her decision because, although the lead characters are both ridiculously attractive, they’re part of the Orthodox Jewish community and the storyline centres more on their sexual repression than their sexual awakening, and any hope she had of picking up some pointers along the way seems bleak.

One of the leads is married to a man and Kate finds Jo rolling her eyes every time her husband appears on screen more entertaining than the film itself, especially when it’s accompanied by exclamations of, “for fuck’s sake,” “nobody cares, Dobby or Dovid or whatever your name is” and “go away, you boring bastard.” When the first sex scene turns out to be between the wife and her husband, Kate thinks Jo’s actually going to implode from frustration, and she can barely contain her amusement.

She compulsively checks the burner phone and manages to stay awake purely because she assumes after an hour-long build-up, the pay-off is going to be explosive, but even she isn’t expecting the long-awaited sex scene to be as searingly hot as it is. When she casts another furtive glance at Jo, who seems to have gone suspiciously quiet, she can see the flush spreading across her cheeks and her neck. Her lips are slightly parted, her breathing’s a little shallower, and Kate’s torn between watching what’s unfolding on screen and watching Jo’s reaction to it.

“Worth the wait?” she asks, voice low and suggestive, and she’s not sure whether to be offended or amused when Jo tells her to shush.

If Kate’s honest, she didn’t expect to get this turned on by the sight of two women together - or at least, two other women - but there’s no denying that this is definitely doing it for her, at least until one of the actresses spits in the other one’s mouth. Twice.

Jo must see her expression shift from arousal to dismay because she bursts out laughing.

“I hate to break it to you, but it’s a lesbian rite of passage. I’ve just been easing you in gently,” Jo informs her, and she’s deadpan at first, but then her eyes crinkle at the corners and Kate can’t hide her relief when she realises she’s joking.

“Don’t worry,” Jo assures her, wrinkling her nose. “I got spat on enough when I was on the beat, I’m not looking for anyone to do it again.”

“Good, because if you did that to me, I think I’d have to charge you with assault.”

“I thought you said I could do anything I want to you?” Jo counters, raising her eyebrows suggestively.

“Yeah, well, I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that,” Kate retorts, earning a snort from Jo. “And while we’re on the subject, you can forget about putting your feet anywhere near my mouth, too.”

Which of course prompts Jo to grin mischievously and shove a sock-clad foot in her face.

“What, like that?”

Kate retaliates by grabbing Jo’s ankle and running her fingertips lightly over the bottom of her foot until Jo’s squealing and writhing against the sofa cushions.

“Tickling’s off-limits too!” she cries, and even though she’s convulsing with laughter, Kate still stops, eyes crinkling with affection as she leans in for a kiss instead.  

They manage to re-focus on the film for all of two minutes before the hand that was resting companionably against her knee starts trailing up and down her thigh, gradually inching higher, and then they head upstairs in favour of making their own entertainment. And even though it’s only been about 14 hours since Kate was gasping and moaning Jo’s name alongside a host of colourful profanities, it’s like they’re burning off a lifetime’s worth of sexual tension all over again. Kate thinks she might be in danger of becoming a nymphomaniac, until Jo snuggles up to her and suggests that they have an afternoon nap like a pair of OAPs. Not for the first time, Kate spares a thought for Steve and how hard he must be working right now and decides she’ll dock the last couple of weeks from her annual leave so she can curl into Jo guilt-free.

The breakdown comes when Kate’s least expecting it. She’s dancing around the kitchen to ‘Proud Mary,’ hamming it up every now and again to make Jo laugh (or, more often than not, roll her eyes), and when she grabs Jo’s hand and encourages her to join in, to Kate’s surprise, she does. One minute they’re twirling each other around and dancing like they’re at a 90s rave, and Jo’s laughing like she did at the waterfall, carefree and uninhibited, and the next her hand’s flying to her mouth and she’s stumbling towards the kitchen counter, clearly struggling to hold back her tears. Kate quickly moves to turn the music off, silently berating herself for pushing too hard. She knows it’s probably the first time Jo’s done this with anyone but her Mum and Jo’s face is consumed with remorse, like she suddenly feels guilty for daring to have a good time. Kate strokes her cheek and pulls her into a hug, tells her Samantha would want her to be happy, and Jo makes an anguished little noise that cuts right through her. She doesn’t cry, though, she just pulls back slightly so their foreheads are touching, offers Kate a wobbly smile and proclaims, “You make me happy.” Kate buries her face in Jo’s hair, pressing a kiss against the top of her head, and hopes Jo doesn’t hear her sniff.  

That night, Kate wakes up to the sound of Jo whimpering something incomprehensible. She reaches out to switch on the bedside lamp, and her heart sinks when she sees Jo’s features flickering with agitation as she thrashes between the sheets. She makes out the words, “Mum” and “leave her alone,” but Jo’s voice is unrecognisable - plaintive and hopeless - like she already knows her pleas are going to fall on deaf ears. Kate knows you’re not supposed to wake someone up from a nightmare, but the compulsion to release Jo from whatever hell she’s currently trapped in is overwhelming.

Kate calls her name, sharply, and Jo jerks awake with a sound that’s somewhere between a scream and a sob, scooting back against the headboard like a cornered animal. Kate’s heart overrides her head and she reaches out to her too soon, before Jo’s fully cognisant of her surroundings, before she’s alert enough to realise that the threat isn’t real. When Jo shrinks away from her touch and throws her arms over her head, like she’s trying to shield herself from a brutal beating, Kate forces herself to do the opposite of what she wants to do and hastily backs away, heart drumming against her chest.

“It’s just me, Jo. Everything’s OK. It was just a bad dream. You’re OK,” she soothes, but the words sound hollow, because she knows this was Jo’s reality once upon a time. “Tommy’s gone. He can’t hurt you anymore. It was just a dream,” she reiterates, and the knot in her stomach doesn’t unfurl until Jo lowers her arms and blinks at her, the wild look in her eyes slowly dissipating.

“Shit, Kate. I’m sorry. It took me a second to realise where I was.”

Her voice is steady, but her whole body’s shaking, and Kate hates that out of all the conflicting emotions on Jo’s face, embarrassment still wins out.

“Jo…” Kate moves closer, reaching out to her again, but Jo kicks back the covers, standing up. Kate doesn’t miss the way she has to rest a hand against the dressing table to steady herself.

“Trust me, you don’t want to hug me right now. I’m drenched in sweat.” The smile Jo attempts to send in her direction looks forced. Warped. “I’ll be fine. I’m just going to grab a quick shower.”

Kate lets her go, but she can’t shake the nagging sensation that Jo’s anything but fine. She waits for ten agonising minutes, but when she edges open the bathroom door and sees Jo slumped against the shower wall with her face buried against the tiles, she can’t turn around and walk away.

“I get them, too,” she confesses, loud enough for Jo to hear her over the sound of the pounding water. She watches Jo’s back jerk with surprise and then stiffen, but she doesn’t order her out of the room. Kate takes it as a good sign.

“Some of the stuff you see on the job… it never really goes away. You try to hold it together, try to take it all in your stride, but when you’re watching people die right in front of you, they always find a way to haunt you in the end,” Kate observes bitterly, remembering her own breakdown in the bathroom a few days ago. “You’re not the only one who wakes up screaming sometimes, Jo,” she confesses, and Jo finally turns around to look at her, finally lets Kate see how much that nightmare affected her.

When Jo’s face crumples, Kate doesn’t even bother taking off her pyjamas, she just steps straight into the shower, gathering her into her arms. Jo collapses against her and Kate gently kisses away her tears, stroking her fingers through Jo’s damp hair until she finally stops shaking. She makes sure they’re angled so Jo’s the one who feels the benefit of the hot spray, even though it leaves her struggling not to shiver in her soaked pyjamas.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks softly, but Jo shakes her head in an adamant ‘no.’

“I know how real they feel,” Kate murmurs, “How the stuff that keeps you awake at night worms its way into your dreams and makes it feel like you’re reliving it all over again. But it’s not real, Jo. Not anymore.”

Jo nods, clinging to her a little tighter. “I know. I just... I keep thinking I’ve turned a corner, but every time I do…” she trails off, and Kate gives her an empathetic squeeze.

“It’s not going to happen overnight. All we can do is make sure the good memories outweigh the bad ones, yeah?”

“I just don’t want to keep dragging you down with me,” Jo mumbles against her shoulder, and Kate pulls back to regard her incredulously.

 “Jo…” She cups Jo’s face in her hands, chasing away droplets of water with her thumbs, “You’re not dragging me down, OK? You make me happy, too,” Kate informs her, echoing Jo’s earlier words, “More than you know. And I’m in this for the long haul - for better or worse.”

Jo manages a small smile, then. “Bit soon to be quoting wedding vows at me, isn’t it?”

“I thought lesbians were meant to move fast,” Kate counters, chancing an impish grin.

Jo laughs, then, and it’s music to Kate’s ears.

“Are you finished in here?” Kate asks her softly, and Jo nods, so Kate reaches up to shut off the shower, quickly shrugging out of her pyjamas so they can dry off together. She wraps a fluffy towel around Jo’s shoulders, and Jo’s eyes are soft and warm as she leans in to kiss her lightly on the lips.

“Go and get some sleep in the spare room,” Jo urges. “I’m going to potter around for a bit. Put the sheets on to wash again.”

“Then I’m going to potter around with you,” Kate informs her resolutely, and when Jo opens her mouth to protest, she hastily adds, “And you can tell me to ‘fuck off’ again if you like, but it’s not going to happen.”

There’s a flash of something in Jo’s eyes - regret, relief - but then she nods. When they move to the bedroom to get dressed, Kate slips into her hideous novelty pyjamas, partly because there are no available alternatives, but mostly to make Jo smile.

When Jo falls asleep nestled against her shoulder half an hour later, the tension in the lines around her mouth has softened and the furrow between her eyebrows has disappeared. Kate closes her eyes and prays that the peacefulness lasts.

It doesn’t.