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A Life Worth Living

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Kate tries to get Jo out of the house as often as she can. She drags her to the pub with Steve, determined to turn their tentative friendship into something more solid, and plies them both with alcohol until she doesn’t have to jump-start the conversation and neither of them feels like a third wheel anymore. Jo realises that Steve isn’t just tolerating her, he actually enjoys her company, and Steve realises that Kate isn’t going to neglect their friendship because of Jo. When Kate comes back from the loo and overhears them discussing the attractive brunette at the bar, she knows they’ve finally bonded, but she’s surprised when Steve doesn’t make a move.

“Come on, mate, what are you waiting for? I can’t see any other potential suitors milling about,” Kate encourages him, and Steve laughs her off at first, but after another beer, he finally confesses that he’s been having trouble performing in certain departments.

Kate’s not entirely sure what to say, other than, “I’m sorry, mate,” but Jo gives Steve a hearty slap between the shoulder blades and proclaims, “You’ve got fingers and a tongue, Steve. Trust me, if you’re doing it right, that’s all she’ll ever need.”

Steve guffaws in surprise and Kate nearly chokes on her wine, but she nods her agreement.

“She’s not wrong,” she informs him, with a twinkle in her eye, “I know I wouldn’t go back.”

“All right, you two, I really don’t need to hear how fantastic your sex life is,” Steve tells them, but Jo’s comment seems to cheer him up a bit.

He still doesn’t go over to talk to the brunette, though, even when she picks up her phone, shakes her head in disbelief and reels off a furious text message, like someone’s stood her up. Kate realises, then, how much of a hit his confidence has taken, because she’s exactly his type.

“She’s knocking that drink back pretty quickly, mate. You should get in there while you still have the chance,” she urges him, but he just shakes his head. 

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Jo proclaims, after watching him glance towards the bar for the third time in as many minutes, and Kate looks on in amusement as she downs the rest of her wine and then strolls over to the woman herself.

“Bloody hell. What’s she playing at?” Steve hisses, keeping his eyes trained on the bottom of his beer glass, but he perks up a bit when Jo returns with the brunette in tow, winking at him. 

“Steve, this is Amy. I asked her to make up the numbers for that game of pool we were just about to play,” she says pointedly. “Amy, this is my girlfriend, Kate. So, what do you reckon - you two versus us two?” she suggests, and Steve’s face lights up in his customary cocky grin when Amy smiles at him, nodding.

“Sounds good to me,” she says. “Lead the way.”  

Kate spends the next fifteen minutes shamelessly ogling Jo’s ass as she bends over the pool table and feels compelled to congratulate her every time she pots the ball. First, it’s a high-five that evolves into a brief bout of hand-holding, then a peck on the lips, then a discreet pat on the ass that leaves Kate contemplating the merits of a quickie in the bathroom, but she knows Jo wouldn’t go for it because it’s not the most high-end of establishments.

Steve seems to have regained his confidence, and Kate and Jo roll their eyes at each other when he pulls that age-old move of showing Amy how to hold her cue while practically boning her from behind, but his mansplaining doesn’t seem to offend Amy’s feminist sensibilities, although Kate’s not entirely sure she has any judging from the way she’s simpering over Steve.

Kate knows Jo purposely fumbles her last shot to let Steve (and Amy) claim the glory, but it earns Steve a kiss on the cheek and a jubilant hug that’s definitely more than friendly. Steve and Amy disappear to the bar together and the next time Kate sees him, he’s helping Amy into her coat and giving them the thumbs-up sign on his way to the door, while Amy waves at them exuberantly.

“Now that’s what I call a result,” Jo proclaims, clinking her glass against Kate’s before she leans across the table to kiss her – with tongue, which is how Kate knows, despite the accuracy of her aim, Jo might be slightly more pissed than she thought.

“Any chance I can get in on that action?” someone yells from over Kate’s shoulder and Kate reluctantly pulls away, rolling her eyes.  

“Sorry, mate,” she retorts, shooting daggers at the man who’s leering at them from a few feet away, “She’s all mine.”

They leave then, and probably make their taxi driver’s night with their antics in the backseat until he’s forced to tell Jo – who’s in the process of climbing onto Kate’s lap - to sit down and put her seat belt on, which prompts them to dissolve into fits of half-hysterical laughter.

They’re still awake at 2am when Kate’s phone pings, and she picks it up off the bedside table, laughing when she sees the message from Steve.

“Tell Jo I’m hiring her as my new wing woman. 😺” 

Life isn’t all sunshine and roses, but Kate’s as content as she’s ever been, so she doesn’t understand why the nightmares are getting progressively worse.

At first, she’s haunted by faceless assailants in balaclavas - as soon as she guns one down, another one pops up again, like she’s playing one of Josh’s video games - but every time she peels their masks off to reveal their identity, it’s Jo, or Josh, or Ryan, or Dot, staring at her with an accusatory expression. Then Mark appears out of the shadows, screaming that it’s all her fault, and when she looks down, the floor’s turned into a river of blood that keeps inching higher, until it feels like she’s drowning in it. She doesn’t need a shrink to tell her what it means, but it happens so often now, it doesn’t bother her like it used to.

Then she dreams about being captured by the OCG, about being chained to the wall and forced to watch while they torture Jo - doing things to her that are too horrific to even contemplate - and she can’t do anything to stop them, even though Jo never stops begging for her help, even though Kate can feel her shoulders wrenching out of their sockets as she tries to break free from the chains and get to her in time. It shakes her up so much, she can’t bring herself to think about it, let alone talk about it, and she’s petrified of closing her eyes for days afterwards.

That’s the first time Jo sees her have a full-blown panic attack, the first time Kate has a complete meltdown in her arms, clinging on to her for dear life. Still, she’s learning that she doesn’t have to be strong in front of Jo all the time, because Jo gets it, and there are nights when she’s the one screaming out Kate’s name and then sobbing with relief when she realises Kate’s in bed next to her, not bleeding out in a car park somewhere.

In spite of everything they’ve been through - in spite of everything they’ve seen - their biggest fear seems to be losing each other.

Kate discovers that the hard way the night they have their first proper row. She’s had a bad day at work and isn’t exactly a ray of sunshine when she gets home, and Jo’s frustration with her lot in life seems to have reached boiling point, so she’s snappy and defensive. They’d usually cheer each other up or coax each other around, but they’re both in a foul mood, so a couple of offhand comments somehow turn into a blazing argument. Neither of them says anything unforgivable or hits below the belt, but Kate tells Jo maybe she should spend the night at her place, and feels sick to the stomach as soon as the door slams shut behind her.

Jo somehow takes that to mean that it’s over, in spite of Kate’s reassurances to the contrary when she goes round to grovel the next afternoon, and Jo’s so brittle and broken it takes over a week for Kate to repair the damage. First, she tries with words, then with her mouth, but for the first time, Jo isn’t able to get there and when Kate glances up from between her thighs, wondering why she isn’t responding as enthusiastically as she usually does, she’s horrified to see the tears streaming down her cheeks. Kate just holds her, tells her there’s no pressure, that they’ll try again when the time is right.

Jo tells her more about Farida - about how defective she made her feel when she couldn’t let go and lose herself in the moment; how Kate’s the only person she’s ever been able to do that with. Kate, in turn, admits that part of the reason why things turned so sour with Mark was because she went looking for the things he wasn’t able to give her elsewhere, in the hope that it would make her feel something - anything - only to realise the void was still there and it was even worse than before; how Jo’s the only person who’s ever managed to fill it.

They promise to lay it all on the table after that - the good, the bad and the ugly - and they haven’t argued since.

Kate gets home from her early shift at just after 3.30pm. She’s usually greeted by the sight of Jo concocting something in the kitchen or sitting at the dining table with her fingers flying over the keyboard of her laptop, but the only sign of life is the casserole dish sitting on her kitchen counter, looking like it’s waiting to be popped into the oven. She flicks on the heating and then checks her phone to see whether Jo’s sent her a message, but there’s nothing, and when she wanders through to the bedroom, shrugging her blazer off along the way, she understands why. Jo’s curled into a ball under the duvet, fast asleep. Kate’s face melts into a warm smile and she quickly sheds her suit trousers in favour of a pair of pyjamas bottoms, fully intending to jump into bed with her, but the wardrobe door squeaks when she opens it and Jo’s eyelids fly open.

“It’s just me,” Kate hastens to reassure her, and once Jo blinks her way through the grogginess, she looks mortified.

“Shit, I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” she proclaims, glancing guiltily at the alarm clock. “I’ve prepped dinner, I just need to put it in the oven. It’ll take a couple of hours but it’ll be ready by six.”

“I can do that - ” Kate starts to say, but Jo’s already up, and Kate doesn’t fail to notice the slight limp as she heads towards the kitchen.  

“I don’t want you to think I’m lazing around your flat when you’re up at five for work,” Jo informs her, and Kate frowns.

“I don’t think that,” she reassures her, following her through to the kitchen. “What happened to your leg?”

“I attempted Couch to 5K without the interval training. I think I’ve pulled my calf muscle,” Jo confesses sheepishly. “Must be out of practice.”

“Must be if it knackered you out that much,” Kate teases, but then she sees Jo’s hand subtly settle against her stomach and she gets the impression her pulled muscle isn’t the only thing causing her discomfort.

“OK, sit down,” she commands, “You’ve already done all of the hard work, I think I can manage to stick a bloody dish in the oven.”

Kate turns the oven on and then fumbles around underneath her kitchen sink where all the things she doesn’t use anymore but can’t quite bring herself to throw away reside, smiling triumphantly when she emerges with Josh’s old hot water bottle. She rinses it out a few times, fills it with boiling water and then casts aside the frayed cover in favour of a clean tea towel.

She makes them both a cup of tea and then sinks onto the sofa, gesturing for Jo to put her legs on her lap.

“OK, where’s the damage?” she asks, and Jo points to her right calf, letting out a soft sigh when Kate rolls up her trouser leg and starts gently kneading the muscle.

“At least it’s not your groin,” Kate points out with a mischievous grin, and Jo regards her ruefully.

“I hate to break it to you, but you’re not getting anywhere near my groin for the next few days.”

Kate laughs, continuing to massage Jo’s calf until the tightness starts to dissipate.

“I’ll let you decide where you want to put this, then.”

She hands over the hot water bottle and Jo takes it from her gratefully, laying it over her stomach.

“How’s your day been?” she asks, and Kate sighs.

“Same old, same old. Nothing juicy’s come in for weeks now. Steve reckons a couple of the new recruits from AC-3 are at it like rabbits, though.”

Jo hesitates, looking like she’s deliberating over whether to tell her something or not.

“That recruiter called and offered me a role as a business manager at a law firm. It’s a fixed-term contract covering for a woman who’s gone off sick, but I think I might take it. Just to get me out of the house. It’s only three months so it’s not like I’d be signing my life away.”

It sounds like she’s trying to convince herself as well as Kate, so Kate offers her a reassuring smile, closing the gap between them to give her a congratulatory kiss.

“That’s great. Temping might not be a bad idea for now. At least it’ll give you an opportunity to try out different roles in different sectors and see what sticks.”

“Yeah, well, I need to try something. Your Mum almost persuaded me to take up knitting last week,” Jo confesses, and Kate regards her in amusement. 

“Just be grateful she hasn’t bought you the Richard and Judy Book Club bundle yet.”

The oven clicks and Jo moves to get up, but Kate beats her to it. She sticks the casserole in the oven, sets the timer, and then returns with a blanket in tow, handing it to Jo, who promptly burrows into it.

“I told you to put the heating on if you got cold,” Kate reminds her, torn between amusement and exasperation.

“I will when you let me contribute to the bills,” Jo retorts stubbornly.

Jo seems to have all but abandoned her apartment in favour of Kate’s ever since a late-night conversation where she quietly confessed, “I like it here,” and Kate responded with, “I like having you here,” but she still hasn’t quite grasped the concept of mi casa es su casa.

“Jo, you buy all of the groceries, you cook for me every night, the whole team’s jealous of my lunches, and I get to have Nespresso every morning instead of Gold Blend. Trust me, I’m more than happy with my end of the bargain and you pay enough for your place as it is.”

Kate flops down against the cushions, tugging Jo down with her.

“What if I – ” Jo trails off.

“What if you what?” Kate murmurs, closing her eyes as she snuggles into the crook of Jo’s shoulder, breathing in an alluring blend of shampoo and fabric softener.

“Did you mean what you said? About me moving in with you?” Jo asks her, and Kate props herself up on her elbow, giving Jo her undivided attention.

“You mean you haven’t already?” she teases her gently. “Come on, Jo, you only go back to your place to pick up your mail and grab a few clothes. I know selling up is a big step but there’s no point paying for an apartment that you’re not even using, especially when it’s costing you a bomb. We’re going to struggle to cram everything in here but we can both make some cutbacks and stick the rest in storage for now.”

Kate can see the wheels turning as Jo mulls it over. She knows what she’s asking her to give up, and it isn’t just her apartment, it’s her safety net, too.

“Look, if you do decide to sell, the money’s all yours, OK? I can manage the mortgage for this place on my own and I’m happy for you to just pay towards the bills. At least then you know that if things ever do go tits up, you’ll have the deposit for another place and we won’t be fighting over the flat.”

“I thought asking someone to move in with you was meant to be romantic?” Jo points out drolly, but she’s smiling, “Because it sounds like you’re asking me to be your lodger.”

“Well, I’d offer to put your name on the deeds, but it’s only been six months, so I thought that might scare you off,” Kate retorts with a wry smile.

Jo doesn’t respond at first, but she scoots a little closer, threading her fingers through Kate’s.

“OK,” she says eventually.

“OK?” Kate echoes, barely able to contain her grin, “To which part?”

“To officially moving in with you. Preferably without everything going tits u – ” Jo starts to say, but Kate cuts her off with a fervent kiss that she hopes goes some way to demonstrating how happy she is about it. She doesn’t come up for air until she’s convinced that Jo’s sufficiently warmed up and Jo looks at her longingly, like she’s lusting after something she can’t have.

“You know how horny I get on my period. Don’t make it worse,” she protests, and Kate’s eyes start to twinkle as she suddenly remembers that the contents of Jo’s bottom drawer are now residing in her bedside table. 

“Don’t move,” she informs her, and when she comes back, she slides back under the blanket with something quite literally up her sleeve.

“Kate, what are you – ” Jo looks a little flustered when Kate casts aside the hot water bottle, edges up her jumper and starts peppering kisses over her stomach. She gradually inches higher, conducting a leisurely exploration with her mouth, and waits until Jo’s squirming underneath her before she starts circling her nipple with her tongue through the fabric of her bra. Jo’s head falls back against the cushions and she lets out a frustrated sigh, but her fingers thread through Kate’s hair regardless and Kate takes it as an invitation to remove her bra, sucking a nipple into her mouth until Jo’s arching into her, chasing her mouth every time it retreats. Then Kate twists the base of the bullet vibrator to its highest setting and Jo barely has the opportunity to register the sound before Kate rests it between the apex of her legs without any prior warning. Judging from the string of expletives that ensue, the barrier created by Jo’s underwear and trousers isn’t doing too much to dull the sensation.

“Is that helping?” Kate asks innocently, momentarily pulling the vibrator away, and Jo’s eyelids flutter open for just about long enough to glare at her, but then she pulls Kate in for a desperate kiss and Kate forgets about everything else. She watches waves of pleasure dance over Jo’s features as she holds the vibrator against her clit, alternating the amount of pressure she applies as she slowly slides it back and forth. Kate’s aching to use her fingers instead, aching to be inside of her, but it doesn’t do anything to quell the throbbing between her own thighs when Jo’s mouth falls open and her brow furrows with concentration. Jo grips her wrist, holding her hand in place, and Kate ignores the tingling in her fingers, letting Jo ride it out until she’s clutching at her convulsively, pulling her close and gasping into her ear. Kate’s seen Jo come hundreds of times, but it still feels like she’s staring at a timeless work of art, and it still gives her a heady rush that makes her heart race and her blood pressure skyrocket.

They finally manage to prise themselves away from each other when the casserole starts to boil over and the smell of burnt gravy gets too overpowering to ignore. There’s a plume of smoke when Jo opens the oven, and something tells Kate it’s going to be a job for Mr Muscle, but the casserole itself is salvageable and Kate hums her approval when she tastes her first forkful.

“When do you start work?” she asks Jo.

“A week on Monday.”

“I’ve got some rest days coming up. Why don’t we book a few nights away somewhere? Or we could pop up to see my parents for a few days if you fancy a change of scenery before you start?” Kate suggests. “They’ve got some nice parks and walks around there.”

Jo doesn’t respond immediately, so Kate quickly adds, “No pressure. It was just a thought.”

“No – I… it’d be nice to see your parents,” Jo says softly, and Kate studies her expression intently.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah – I mean, if you’re sure they won’t mind?”

“Oh, trust me, they won’t mind,” Kate assures her with a knowing smile, reaching for her mobile and putting it on speakerphone before she speed-dials her Mum’s number.

“Hello, love! What’s the occasion?” her Mum exclaims, but then her tone rapidly changes to one of concern, “Is everything OK?”

“Everything’s fine, Mum. We were just wondering if you and Dad are doing anything next week? We were thinking about popping up for a few days if you’re free.” 

As predicted, her Mum immediately starts squawking exuberantly and Jo laughs when Kate has to resort to holding the phone at arm’s length to keep their eardrums from shattering when she yells, “ROGER! You’ll never guess what?”

They make tentative arrangements to travel up on Tuesday morning and Kate impulsively requests a couple of days’ leave to supplement the six days on, four days off rota she’s currently working. To her surprise, Carmichael approves her request without batting an eyelid, but what surprises Kate even more is how eager she is to get away from it all again. She’s still getting the job done and closing more cases than the knobs from AC-3 and AC-5, but she’s also taken to calling Jo every time she’s en route to question a witness and sneaking away for a few unnecessary bathroom breaks, to the point where Steve levels her with a smug grin and informs her, “You ought to see a doctor about that, mate.” She used to live for the job and now she lives for the moment she gets to clock off and she knows, then, that as much as she tries to convince herself that AC-12 is her home away from home, and as much as it felt that way in the past, it isn’t the place for her anymore. She’s not even sure policing is the right career for her anymore, but after seeing what Jo’s been through in her quest to move on, that’s a terrifying prospect.

She doesn’t tell Jo how she’s feeling - at least - not in so many words, but one night when they’re lying in bed together, having one of those post-sex conversations that tend to veer towards the deep and meaningful, she asks Jo what she thinks her life would have looked like if Tommy never came along. She isn’t surprised when Jo paints a picture of a cottage in a country village with a dog and a wood burner - “I’d want the best of both worlds, though, so it’d have to be on the outskirts of town, not in the middle of nowhere, because there’s no way I’d travel more than fifteen minutes to the shops” - and while it wouldn’t have appealed to Kate in the past, getting out of the city and away from whatever fractured remnants of the OCG remain doesn’t sound like such a terrible idea anymore.

A couple of days before they’re due to head up to Nottingham, Kate lifts the suitcase off the top shelf of Jo’s walk-in wardrobe so she can start packing. When an expensive-looking leather jacket falls down with it, she moves to fold it up and put it back again, but then she hesitates, noticing that it’s been slashed open across the back.

“Close encounter with barbed wire?” she asks, holding the jacket up to survey the damage, and Jo’s mouth sets in a grim line.

“No, with Farida,” she says quietly.

“She cut up your clothes?” Kate demands in a mixture of anger and disbelief, and Jo ducks her head in acknowledgement.

“I didn’t make things easy for her,” she confesses, “I always kept her at a distance; fobbed her off every time she asked me something I didn’t want to answer.”

“I don’t care what you did, Jo, there’s no excuse for this,” Kate tells her resolutely, and then she weighs what Jo has already told her about Farida with the evidence in front of her, and a horrible thought occurs to her. “Did it ever get physical? Because I swear to God, if she laid a finger on you - ”

“She never hit me,” Jo assures her, but Kate knows Farida still inflicted plenty of damage, “She just made me feel like I’d never be capable of having a functional relationship.”

“Well, I think we’re doing pretty well,” Kate tells her with a gentle smile, and Jo smiles back.

“I think we are too.” She reaches out to take the jacket from Kate’s hands. “It was my favourite jacket, too,” she notes wistfully, “I was going to see if I could get it repaired but I should have thrown it, really. Too many bad memories.”

“Well, Jatri better hope our paths don’t cross again because if they do, I’ll be flushing her head down the bog,” Kate declares, and Jo seems to appreciate the sentiment, because Kate suddenly finds herself on the receiving end of an impassioned kiss. 

When they arrive in Nottingham, Kate’s Mum greets Jo more enthusiastically than she greets Kate, but not quite as enthusiastically as Bella does. When she hears the sound of excited yapping, Kate stops in her tracks, because she never considered whether Jo would be comfortable with having a dog in the house, but when a beige ball of fluff comes bounding out of the door and barrelling towards them, jumping up at Jo’s knees, Jo sets aside her suitcase and a fancy looking gift bag and kneels down in the middle of the garden path, gladly accepting the onslaught of slobbery kisses. Kate never had her pegged for a ‘talk to the animals’ type, but when Jo starts chatting animatedly to Bella like she’s fully expecting her to answer back, Kate can’t help but smile.  

“Come on, Bella, give it a rest,” Kate protests, helping Jo to her feet before she’s wrestled to the floor, but she can’t resist giving the cockapoo an affectionate scratch behind the ears.

Jo gushes over her Mum’s garden and then hands her a bottle of expensive-looking wine and equally expensive-looking chocolates, which her Mum accepts gratefully, glancing at Kate as if to say, “this is how you’re meant to treat your mother.”

“They’re from both of us,” Jo hastens to add.

They’re not.

Jo and her Dad greet each other warmly, but then they do some kind of awkward dance in the doorway where it looks like they’re not quite sure whether to hug or not, so her Dad settles for taking Jo’s suitcase upstairs instead.

Kate can’t remember the last time she spent the night in her parents’ house, but she remembers how proud her Dad was when he unveiled the attic conversion – a double bedroom with an en-suite bathroom – and she’s relieved that they’ll have some privacy while they’re here, although her attempts to take advantage of it as soon as they’re left alone to unpack are greeted with a scandalised expression. Jo bats her wandering hands away, but then she glances at the door, grabbing the lapels of Kate’s jacket and tugging her into a quick, but heart-stopping kiss.

“That’s your lot,” Jo informs her unceremoniously, and Kate does her best not to pout.

She nips down to the kitchen while Jo’s unpacking and takes the opportunity to pull her Mum to one side.

“Do me a favour, Mum?” she says quietly, “Don’t ask Jo about anything work-related unless she brings it up herself. It’s a bit of a sore subject at the moment and the last thing she needs is the Spanish Inquisition. I’ve brought her here to cheer her up and take her mind off things.”

“OK, love,” her Mum agrees, patting her on the cheek, “We can definitely do that.”


“You’re looking well,” her Mum observes, regarding Kate with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Yeah, I think I’ve packed on a few pounds since Jo started cooking for me,” Kate notes wryly, “She’s worse than you for feeding me up.” 

“Well, you look better for it. Not so gaunt around the eyes now.”

Kate hears the sound of Jo’s laughter ringing out, so she squeezes her Mum’s shoulder and goes to investigate, cringing when she sees Jo looking at the mural of photographs that take up an entire wall in the hallway.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” Jo proclaims, pointing to a picture of four-year-old Kate in a pastel pink tutu, regarding the camera with a face like thunder.

“Yeah, Mum tried to push me towards more girly pursuits, until she realised I had about as much grace as Dumbo. That was more my speed,” Kate says, pointing to a picture where she’s front and centre amongst a group of rambunctious-looking boys, holding a football.

“You were captain of the boys’ football team?” Jo asks her, eyes dancing with amusement as she notices the armband.

“I went to a pretty progressive primary school.”

They spend the rest of the afternoon chatting in the living room. Jo listens attentively and laughs in all the right places, and there’s a bit of back-and-forth banter with her Mum, but Kate can see that she’s still not completely comfortable, so she reaches for her hand, and when her parents are arguing good-naturedly amongst themselves, she leans a little closer and reminds Jo what she promised her in the car – that if it all gets too much, they can head out for a walk or retreat upstairs, but Jo shakes her head, offering her a reassuring smile.

Kate glares at Bella when she takes up residence on Jo’s lap and Jo promptly drops her hand in favour of stroking the dog. Bella soon realises it’s not exactly a prime position to be in, though, because Jo keeps leaping up to help her Mum at every possible opportunity, until her Mum resorts to chasing her out of the kitchen by whacking her on the ass with a tea towel. Kate hears an exclamation of surprise and a squawk of laughter but, after that, Jo visibly starts to relax.

The conversation flows more easily over dinner, and Kate’s Mum glows with pleasure at their praise. Then she emerges with a homemade chocolate fudge cake and Kate tries not to react when Jo takes her first bite and makes a noise not dissimilar to the one she makes when Kate hits a particularly sensitive spot. Kate can’t resist squeezing her thigh under the table, but she quickly has to switch to patting her on the back when Jo nearly inhales her next bite of cake.

Jo insists on washing up, despite her Mum’s protests, so Kate moves to dry the dishes, sticking her tongue out at her Dad when he proclaims, “Well, there’s a first time for everything.”

“I wish you’d just buy a bloody dishwasher,” Kate retorts, closing the kitchen door behind her and wrapping her arms around Jo’s waist while she’s waiting for the sink to fill up. Jo doesn’t make any attempt to extricate herself, so Kate lets her lips graze over her shoulder, and then her neck, until Jo turns around and kisses the last remnants of chocolate fudge cake off her mouth.

They’ve reclaimed a more respectable distance when her Mum brings through a pile of placemats and puts them back in the drawer, but she still regards them suspiciously.

“What are you two smiling about?” she demands good-naturedly, and Kate’s grin gets a little wider when she glances at Jo.

“Nothing, Mum. Just glad to be here.” 

They settle down in front of the TV after dinner and Jo looks hesitant when Kate opens her arms, like she thinks the sight of them curled up together on the couch is somehow going to offend her parents, but she snuggles into her regardless and looks touched when her parents do the same on the other couch. Kate doesn’t even realise that she’s fallen asleep, until she’s jolted awake by a blinding flash of light, blinking in confusion. Then she sees her Mum stood there with her mobile phone pointed at the pair of them, and realises that she’s taking a picture.

“For Christ’s sake, Mum,” she grumbles.

“Sorry, love, I don’t know how to turn this bloody flash off. And you looked so peaceful, too,” she says regretfully. “It’s a lovely photo, though.”

She hands Kate her phone, and Kate’s ire fades a little when she sees the photo of her and Jo fast asleep, heads resting together and hands entwined, with Bella snoozing at the side of them. Jo peers over her shoulder, and Kate watches a whole host of emotions play across her face.

“Will you send me a copy?” she asks eventually, and her Mum smiles.

“Course I will, love.”

Then her Dad opens the drinks cabinet and unveils his collection of Scotch whisky, enticing Jo into trying a couple of brands she’s never heard of before, and he looks impressed when Jo turns down his offer to mix them with coke or lemonade.

“Never met a woman who drinks it neat before,” her Dad proclaims, and he regards Jo like he’s half-expecting her to start spluttering when she clinks his glass and knocks back a couple of drams, but she doesn’t even flinch at the afterburn. 

After that, Jo starts to look a little rosy-cheeked and isn’t so reticent anymore.

Her Dad pulls out his deck of cards, and when Jo confesses that she has no idea how to play Rummy, he patiently explains the rules to her, and she trounces all of them on her first attempt, laying down four queens and the six, seven and eight of diamonds.

Her Dad writes it off as beginner’s luck.

“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Jo tells him, gesturing for him to deal again, and Kate snorts into her glass of Baileys because it looks like her Dad might have finally met his match. When Kate casts aside the two of hearts, Jo gleefully picks it up and lays down a straight suit, discarding the nine of clubs in the process.

“I was waiting for that!” her Dad exclaims indignantly, and Jo gives him a cocky grin.

“I know.”

“Oh, bloody hell, she’s ruthless, this one. I’d hate to see her poker face,” her Dad proclaims, and Kate laughs, until she sees Jo’s smile falter slightly.

Jo looks preoccupied for a moment, but when her Mum has to resort to forcibly dragging Bella away from the cheese and biscuits she’s laid out on the coffee table, her expression brightens again, and Kate doesn’t fail to notice her breaking off a small lump of cheddar and ‘accidentally’ dropping it on the floor a few moments later.

After another round of drinks, her Dad decides to call it a night and her Mum disappears into the kitchen to wash their glasses.

Kate glances at Jo, who’s trying to stifle a yawn.

“Ready for bed?” she asks softly, and Jo nods, giving her a sleepy smile.  

“We’re going to head upstairs now, Mum,” Kate informs her, giving Joyce a quick peck on the cheek when she emerges from the kitchen. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

“Night, Joyce,” Jo says warmly, “And thanks again for dinner, it was lovely.”

“It was my pleasure, love,” Joyce tells her, and Jo hesitates for a moment before mimicking Kate, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek before they head for the stairs.

“Back in your bed, Bella. Now,” Kate commands when Bella jumps up and tries to follow them, but her resolve weakens a little when Jo bends down to affectionately ruffle her fur, kissing the top of her head.

When Kate emerges from the shower fifteen minutes later, she isn’t remotely surprised to find Jo sitting on the bedroom floor with her arms wrapped around Bella, face buried in her fur.

“She was scratching on our door,” she hastens to explain, and Kate rolls her eyes.

“Well, if you think I’m letting her anywhere near that bed, you can forget it.”

She rummages around in her suitcase for a clean set of underwear and then takes her pyjamas out of the top drawer, stopping in her tracks when she sees Jo discreetly swiping at her eyes.

“Hey…” Kate’s still only wearing a towel, but she sinks to the carpet next to her. Bella refuses to budge from her position on Jo’s lap, so Kate settles for resting a hand on her shoulder instead.

“Jo, if this is too much, we can – ”

“No, it not that,” Jo hastens to reassure her. “It’s just… your parents have been so good to me, Kate, but I can’t help feeling like if they knew the truth about me - the real truth, not the watered-down version - they wouldn’t want me in your life, let alone theirs. Not that I’d blame them,” she admits quietly.

“There was a time when you thought the same about me, and look at where we are now,” Kate reminds her gently, ducking out of the way when Bella tries to lick some droplets of water off her face, “Your past doesn’t define you, Jo, and you can tell them as much or as little as you want. They know the real you - the woman I fell in love with - and that’s all that matters.”

Jo’s troubled expression softens a little at that and so Kate presses a kiss against her forehead, moving to get dressed, but when she stands up, Bella latches onto the corner of her towel and after completely ignoring Kate’s furious commands to drop it during the ensuing tug-of-war, manages to yank it clean off, leaving her standing there completely naked. At first, Kate’s not impressed, but when she sees Jo’s shoulders shaking with laughter, she can’t help but join in. Then Jo’s eyes rake appreciatively over her body and Kate thinks she might not be so committed to treating her parents’ house like a church after all.

“Out,” she says to Bella, frogmarching her towards the door and evicting her onto the landing. Kate makes sure she makes it down the first flight of stairs unassisted, and then she closes the door firmly behind her.

“We’ll have to be quiet,” Jo needlessly points out, hands ghosting over Kate’s hips as she leans in to kiss her, and it’s tender and tantalising at the same time.

“Not a problem,” Kate declares, with a conviction she’s not entirely sure she can live up to. “For me, anyway,” she adds mischievously.

Jo looks at her like she’s just thrown down the gauntlet. She bridges the small gap between them to kiss Kate again, and when she slides her tongue into Kate’s mouth at the same time as she slides a thigh between her legs, Kate can’t help but let out a muted moan in response. Jo pulls back, regarding her smugly, and there’s still a hint of challenge in her eyes.

“Oh, so it’s like that, is it?” Kate asks, reaching for the hemline of Jo’s top and lifting it over her head while Jo hastily shrugs out of her bra. She trails her fingertips over Jo’s chest and then pointedly thumbs her nipples until Jo’s biting back a strangled moan of her own.

They stay standing up to avoid the bed making any incriminating noises, and at first, it’s all soft touches and searing kisses, until Jo’s hand works its way south. Kate follows suit, and soon they’re matching each other stroke for stroke, eyes locked, foreheads touching and lips hovering inches apart, swallowing each other’s quiet gasps. Their rhythm starts to falter as the desire to give vies with the need to take, but Kate squeezes her eyes shut and forces herself to mirror Jo’s movements until she knows Jo’s just as close as she is. They come within seconds of each other, but it’s Jo who can’t help crying out, and Kate cuts her off with a breathless kiss, lips curling into a triumphant smile.

Then Jo drops to her knees and, even though Kate’s breathing quickly reverts to ragged stutters, she purses her lips, determined not to make a sound. She looks down at Jo with a cocky smile, making it clear that even though her efforts are appreciated, they’re not going to elicit a vocal response, but Jo just smirks. Kate grips the bedpost when she feels the pressure building, and a few gasps start to escape, but then Jo starts rhythmically sucking on her clit, swirling her tongue over it at the same time and Kate finally gives up the fight, to the point where Jo has to clamp a hand over her mouth and Bella starts barking at the commotion from downstairs.

If, by some miracle, her parents didn’t hear her screaming orgasm, Kate’s pretty sure the sound of their half-hysterical laughter is going to carry to the floor below.

Kate cringes when they walk into the kitchen the next morning, but her Mum greets them with her usual enthusiasm, fussing over them until they’re seated at the table with a full continental breakfast.

“Where’s Dad?” Kate asks.

“He’s just nipped to Boots to buy some earplugs,” her Mum informs them, somehow managing to keep a straight face as she sets a plate of toast down in front of Kate. “We can see how happy you make each other, love, but we didn’t expect to hear it too.”

“Oh my God,” Jo whispers, looking like she wants to crawl into a hole and die, but then her Mum starts laughing.

“I’m only joking. He’s gone to the shop to get the paper. Luckily for you, he sleeps like the dead.”

They head out to the park with Bella in tow, and apparently, her parents haven’t done a very good job of training her to walk to heel, either, because it looks more like Bella’s walking Jo than vice versa. Jo’s power walk quickly turns into a jog and Kate laughs as she’s dragged around the trails at a breakneck pace, arm out in front of her like she’s holding a divining rod instead of a lead. They’re only able to stop and appreciate the autumnal colours when Bella decides to grind to a standstill to sniff something.

“Let her off the lead,” Kate tells Jo, “It’s an enclosed space and she’s friendly enough. She’ll be fine.”

And she is, at least at first. They walk around the park arm-in-arm, laughing as Bella bounds into a pile of leaves and chases a squirrel up a tree. They encounter a handful of other dogs along the way and Jo looks like she’s in her element as she watches them chase each other around the park, snuggling into Kate’s shoulder. Kate gets a bit twitchy when a heavy-set Rottweiler comes running over to them with a frisbee in its mouth, but Jo doesn’t even flinch. She throws the frisbee back and forth a couple of times until the dog’s owner calls it back and Kate tries not to notice how slimy her hand feels afterwards. She has to make a sheepish apology to the owner of a (thankfully docile) Labrador when Bella steals his tennis ball from right under his nose and shamelessly runs off with it. Kate manages to get it back after a 100-metre sprint and another game of tug of war, and then it’s her hand that’s covered in drool.

“I’m a copper with a dog that’s a common thief,” she mutters, and Jo laughs. Then they round the corner and Kate’s just about to comment on how they should have brought some bread to feed the ducks, when she sees Bella making a beeline for the pond.

“BELLA, NO!” they both shout in perfect unison, but Bella doesn’t even pause for thought, she just dives gracefully into the freezing cold water and starts paddling around like she hasn’t got a care in the world, causing the ducks to scatter in the process.

Kate’s forced to stand on the edge of the pond, alternating between making threats and promises in an attempt to cajole Bella out of the water, while Jo desperately tries to control her laughter. A guy walking past with a Shitzu hands them a couple of treats to see if they work, but Bella’s not interested, so he just shoots them a sympathetic smile and carries on. Kate thinks she’s going to have to resort to swimming out to get her, probably contracting hypothermia and God knows what else in the process, but then Jo finds an abandoned tennis ball and tosses it in the opposite direction to the pond, yelling, “Bella, fetch,” and by some miracle, it works and Bella comes hurtling out of the water, soaking them both in the process. They sprint after her and Kate has to practically resort to rugby-tackling her to get her back on the lead. Then she collapses on the floor, laughing helplessly when Bella actually has the nerve to start slathering her face with kisses.    

“Get off me, you little shit. You stink,” she protests, but when she sees the pure joy on Jo’s face, she can’t bring herself to mind too much.

“You can’t let her in the house like that,” her Mum tells them when they get back, “You’ll have to give her a bath.”

“You’re the one that didn’t bother training her, Mum. You give her a bath,” Kate retorts, but then her Mum gives her that look that used to put the fear of God into her when she was kid, so she hefts Bella into a fireman’s lift and carries her up the stairs, as if her clothes weren’t already soiled enough. She makes a point of washing Bella in the main bathroom, not their en-suite, so they don’t have to contend with the smell of wet dog for the rest of the day. It doesn’t take long for them to dissolve into fits of laughter because Bella’s covered in soap suds and keeps trying to jump out of the bath, Jo nearly ends up in the bath with her when her socks slip on the tiles, and they’re both soaked. Kate eventually resorts to holding Bella by the collar while Jo lathers her up and rinses her off, and then they sit on the floor with Bella pinned between them, towel drying her off. 

Jo catches her eye and then reaches out to wipe a few soap suds off the end of her nose.

“I love you,” she says, eyes dancing, and Kate grins. 

“I love you, too.”

When Kate wakes up on the last day of their visit, the prospect of going back to work has never felt less appealing and she groans, promptly closing her eyes again.

“I never thought I’d say this, but I wish we could stay for longer,” she admits, when Jo emerges from the bathroom.

“Me too.” Jo gives her ankle an affectionate squeeze en route to the wardrobe. “Why don’t you stay in bed for a bit? I’m going to give your Mum a hand with breakfast.”

“OK,” Kate murmurs, smiling when Jo leans in to give her a quick peck on the lips. She’s chuffed that Jo feels confident enough to interact with her Mum without her being there as a buffer, although she’s not surprised given the amount of text messages they’ve exchanged over the past few months.

She doesn’t have much difficulty dozing off again, but then her Mum comes bursting through the bedroom door, urgently shouting her name.

“Jesus Christ, Mum, what?” Kate demands, and for a moment, it feels like she’s a teenager again, being dragged out of bed to get ready for school.

“It’s Jo,” her Mum tells her, looking flustered, “She’s just gone running off.”

“What happened?” Kate asks, leaping out of bed and yanking on her jeans and trainers. She wants to be angry, but her Mum looks so worried, Kate knows whatever she said to put her foot in it clearly wasn’t intentional.

“The silly girl just tried to give me a thank you card with a wad of cash in it. Said we’d gone to a lot of trouble and she wanted to pay her way,” her Mum tells her in disbelief, and Kate buries her head in her hands, sighing. “So I told her to put her money away, that she’s family now, and family don’t pay for the privilege of spending time together, and the next thing I know…” her Mum gestures helplessly towards the front garden. “I never meant to upset her, Kate.”

“I know. It’s OK,” Kate reassures her. “She’s just – she’s never had anyone, Mum, not since she was a kid, only her sick fuck of an uncle and he…” she trails off, knowing it’s not her place to share Jo’s history, but she can tell from her Mum’s horrified expression that she gets the drift. “Which way did she go?”

“Towards the park,” her Mum says, gesturing down the street.

Kate sprints down the stairs and makes a beeline for the door, stopping in her tracks when her Mum calls her name again, handing her Jo’s coat.

“She didn’t take it with her,” she explains, and Kate gives her a quick kiss on the cheek before she legs it up the road.

She finds Jo sitting on a bench in the park, arms wrapped around herself, staring into the distance.

“Hey,” she says softly, draping the coat around Jo’s shoulders and sitting down next to her, close enough for their thighs to touch.

“I didn’t mean to offend her, Kate,” Jo whispers, and Kate reaches for her hand, squeezing it reassuringly. 

“You didn’t. She’s just worried about you, that’s all.”

Jo scoffs. “Yeah, well, I’m not surprised. I made a complete twat out of myself.”

“Don’t be daft. I’m pretty sure Mum likes you more than she likes me at this point,” Kate observes wryly, giving her a gentle nudge.

Jo just shakes her head, so Kate inches an arm around her shoulders, rubbing her back through the fabric of her coat.

“I know Tommy taught you that relationships were transactional, but love doesn’t come with conditions, Jo. You don’t have to buy - or earn - people’s affection, OK? Not with me, and not with my parents.”

Jo’s chin starts to wobble, but she hides her face against Kate’s chest before the tears start to fall and Kate cradles her head, pressing a kiss against her hairline.

“I bet Mum’s face was a picture when she opened that card,” she ventures after a few minutes of silence, trying to lighten the mood, and Jo manages a small smile.  

“What the hell is this for? Last time I checked, I wasn’t running a bloody B&B!”” Jo mimics, trying, and failing, to imitate her Mum’s accent.

Kate can’t help but laugh and she inwardly breathes a sigh of relief when Jo joins in.

“Speaking of breakfast…” Kate hazards, “Are you ready to head back?”

Jo hesitates for a moment, but then she nods, clearly deciding to bite the bullet. They walk back to the house hand-in-hand, and Kate waves at the old biddy who lives across the road from her parents when she regards them with an outraged expression.

“All right, Sheila? Need a hand putting that bin out?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” Sheila snaps, promptly disappearing back indoors again, and Kate pulls a face.

“Suit yourself,” she mutters.

Jo hangs back when they reach the doorstep, like she’s dreading the prospect of going inside, and so Kate leans in to give her a reassuring kiss, partly to make her feel better, and partly because she can see Sheila’s curtains twitching.

“Come on. It’ll be fine,” Kate tells her, and Jo barely has a chance to step over the threshold before her Mum rushes through the hallway to greet them.

“Jo, love – ”

“Don’t make a fuss, Mum,” Kate starts to say, but it’s too late, because her Mum wastes no time in engulfing Jo in a bone-crushing hug. Jo freezes up at first, but then to Kate’s surprise, she relaxes into the embrace, wrapping her arms around her Mum’s waist and squeezing her eyes shut.

“Now, you listen to me,” her Mum murmurs into Jo’s hair, “You’re one of us now, and that means we’re going to spoil you rotten, just like we spoil Kate and Josh rotten, and I promise you, we don’t expect anything in return. Spending time with you is reward enough, because you’re a lovely girl, Jo. I just wish your Mum was here to tell you that herself.”

Kate winces, not sure how Jo’s going to react to that sentiment, but she doesn’t expect her to burst into tears, not in front of her Mum. Her Mum’s face softens with empathy when Jo starts sobbing brokenly against her shoulder and Kate looks on helplessly, torn between gathering Jo into her arms or letting her Mum carry on comforting her. In the end, she opts for wrapping her arms around both of them, and they stay like that until Jo manages to claw back her composure.

“What the bloody hell’s going on here?” her Dad asks when he comes downstairs a few minutes later, face furrowed with concern, and Kate laughs through her tears.

“Nothing for you to concern yourself with,” her Mum informs him good-naturedly. “Go and put some plates in the oven for me, would you?”

She pulls back, then, patting Jo’s cheek.

“All right, love?”

Jo nods, ducking her head in embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Joyce.”

“You’ve nothing to be sorry for,” her Mum informs her firmly. “Now come on through to the kitchen and we’ll get you both some breakfast.”

Kate waits for her Mum to leave the room before she wraps Jo in another hug, one that’s slightly less reminiscent of a boa constrictor, and Jo sinks into her embrace like it’s her sanctuary.

“Looks like you’re stuck with us now,” Kate murmurs into her hair, and when Jo pulls back to kiss her, hand resting against the nape of her neck, she’s smiling.

Jo’s brief stint as a business manager doesn’t go well. It’s not that she isn’t good at the job, it’s more that her management style doesn’t seem to go over well with the rest of the staff, to the point where she hears one of them calling her “Little Hitler” when she walks into the kitchen one day. As a DSU, if things weren’t getting done quickly enough, she’d call someone into her office and give them a bollocking. If mistakes were made, she made sure they didn’t happen again. If someone challenged her authority, they had to have a damn good reason for doing it and if she was frustrated, she didn’t feel compelled to censor herself. But that approach doesn’t seem to work well in the corporate world.

When she asks one of the girls in the admin team to book a meeting room and she “forgets” to do it, leaving Jo frantically trying to find an alternative location for the partners to hold their forecasting meeting, all she does is tell her to make sure it never happens again, and she promptly bursts into tears. Jo suggests better and faster ways of doing things, and instead of being grateful for her input, she’s met with resistance. When she reviews her emails and lets out the occasional, “for fuck’s sake,” the HR Manager emails her a copy of the Profanity Policy and refers her to the section about appropriate language in the workplace, so she takes a photo of her computer screen and sends it to Kate with the caption, “Who the fuck has a Profanity Policy?” receiving a row of laughing-face emojis in response.

When she attempts to institute morning briefings to set out the objectives for the day and assign tasks, it’s clear no-one wants to be there. She quickly realises that she’s better off putting all of her requests in an email, because people outside of the police force apparently don’t respond well to verbal instruction. Kate seems to find her nightly rants - and the fact that her entire team is petrified of her - highly entertaining, but it makes Jo wonder if she’s cut out for civilian life. Her anxieties ease a little when the managing partner asks to meet with her a couple of weeks before her departure date and offers her a full-time contract, saying she’s too good for them to let her go, but she politely turns him down, because she knows this isn’t her calling.

When the vacancy at the College of Policing comes up, Jo gives it a longing look but then scrolls straight past it, because even though they’re looking for former police officers to develop and deliver a training programme for new recruits, she knows that as soon as they find out why she’s no longer serving, she’ll have a red flag against her name.

Then she gets a text from Kate with a link to the job advert saying, “Saw this and thought of you. 😊 You’d be perfect for it, Jo.”

Jo texts back and says, “What, as a cautionary tale?”

Her response is a grumpy face emoji and an “I’m serious,” so Jo actually dares to download the job description and person specification, but it just makes her want it even more, and after mastering the art of apathy over the past few months, the prospect of trying and failing when it really matters terrifies her. It never occurred to her that she could still be involved in shaping the future of policing without having to interact with criminals; that she could work with trainees, share the benefit of her personal and procedural experience, and stop them from making the same mistakes that she did. At least then it wouldn’t feel like she’s wasted the past twenty years of her life.

“I mean, look at their Board of Directors, Jo, most of them don’t have a clue what it’s like to work on the front line. You do,” Kate tells her, “And those kids deserve a training programme that prepares them for the realities of policing – the stuff they should have told us when we signed up, but never did. We get into this line of work thinking that we’re going to change the world – that we’re going to be locking up the bad guys and making the streets a safer place, but we both know that’s not how it works most of the time.”

“I don’t think I’d keep the job for very long if I scared off half the recruits on their first day,” Jo points out wryly, “If I tell them their first couple of years are going to be spent hauling pissheads and druggies off the floor, cautioning prostitutes and arresting the same petty criminals over and over again, they might run for the hills.” 

“But don’t they deserve to know that?” Kate asks, and she sounds angry now. “You can memorise PACE until you’re blue in the face, but no-one ever told us how frustrating it can be when you hit a brick wall; how you can work your ass off to charge someone only to watch the whole case get thrown out of court on a technicality, or because some barrister decides to invent a story that the jury thinks is juicier than the truth. No-one ever told us that 90% of the time, the bad guys get to cut a deal that makes us look like laughing stocks.”

Kate sinks onto the sofa, heaving a weary sigh, and Jo sits down next to her, laying a hand on her shoulder.

“Kate, what’s going on?”

“I don’t enjoy it like I used to,” Kate blurts out, and Jo’s heart clenches when she sees the tears of frustration pooling in her eyes. “Ever since Osborne got put behind bars, the thrill of the chase just isn’t there anymore. The wins don’t mean as much and it feels like I’m just going through the motions, because how are you supposed to carry on when you know the people who are meant to uphold the law are just as morally bankrupt as the people who are breaking it? The system’s broken, Jo, but someone like you - someone who’s seen it from both sides - you could change that.” 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jo asks, brow furrowing with concern.

“Because you’ve got enough on your plate without worrying about me having a bloody mid-life crisis.” Kate drops her head to Jo’s shoulder, squeezing her hand. “If you want it, Jo, you should go for it.”

“But it’s in Nottingham,” Jo points out, and Kate shrugs.

“We’ll make it work. And if it means making a fresh start, I don’t think that would be a bad thing for either of us. I can always put in a transfer request.”

So Jo applies, and even though it feels like a shot in the dark, she somehow gets an interview. She knows she should feel relieved, but the excitement quickly gets obliterated by self-doubt. Kate drills her on potential questions and she doesn’t go easy on her, to the point where Jo’s reminded how good of an interrogator Kate is - but it doesn’t help to ease her nerves, even when Kate tells her that most of her answers are faultless and gives her advice on how to improve the ones that aren’t. In the end, Kate solves the problem by taking her hand and leading her to the bedroom, worshipping every inch of her body until she can’t think straight - “it worked last time,” she reminds Jo, with an impish grin. By the time Kate’s finished breathing words of veneration into her ear, her hair, her neck, Jo feels like she could take on the world and she’s so exhausted, she actually manages to sleep through the night.

The interview goes well, well enough for Jo to feel like she left nothing on the table, and she’s honest about her motivations and intentions in applying for the role. One of the panel members asks her why she left policing when it’s something she’s clearly still passionate about, so she tells them all those years of working for CID and MIT took their toll and she was ready to step back from the front line, but she doesn’t have to resort to lying.

Kate’s working earlies, so she’s there when Jo gets back; there to hold her hand when the phone rings just before 5pm; there to spin her around in dizzying circles when they offer her the job, and her smile’s every bit as bright as Jo’s.

“I booked us a table at Amethyst for seven,” Kate tells her, “I thought we might have a reason to celebrate.”

It’s Jo’s favourite restaurant and bloody hard to get into so, for once, Jo decides to enjoy the moment instead of protesting about Kate making too much of a fuss.

“We’d better get our skates on then.”

They shower together, which eats into the time they have to get ready, and Jo’s left with forty-five minutes to do her make-up, style her hair and pick out an outfit. Kate gets ready in Josh’s room to give her some space, and when they meet in the living room, Jo’s initially too taken aback by the sight of Kate in a three-piece fawn suit with a bold checked pattern - complete with a low-cut waistcoat that shows a tantalising glimpse of cleavage - to realise that Kate’s jaw has practically hit the floor.

“Jesus Christ, Jo, you look amazing,” Kate says, taking in her white basque and flared black trousers, and Jo swallows audibly when she sees the unrestrained desire in her eyes, not entirely convinced they’re going to make it out of the door.

“So do you. You look a hell of a lot better in a waistcoat than Steve, anyway,” she teases, and Kate laughs.  

“Can you finish doing me up?” Jo asks, and she tries not to shiver when Kate’s fingers brush over her shoulders to fasten the clasps she couldn’t reach. Kate’s hands graze the length of her bare arms and when she starts kissing her way along the column of Jo’s neck, Jo knows she’s going to have to pull away if they’re going to make it to the restaurant in time.

“Later,” she promises, hoping her decision to forego a bra isn’t going to come back to haunt her, because her nipples are already straining against the starch fabric of her top.

Dinner’s amazing, and the buzz of getting a job she actually wants, coupled with the undercurrent of arousal she feels every time their eyes lock across the table, leaves Jo feeling a lot tipsier than she should after one glass of champagne. Their conversation flows effortlessly and after they finish their starter, Kate reaches for her hand, playing with her fingers across the table. Jo squeezes her legs together, wondering if Kate can see the effect she’s having on her, but she doesn’t let go until the main course arrives.

“That lipstick looks good on you,” Kate tells her quietly, as she reaches across the table to let Jo try a bite of her Moroccan chicken. Jo hums her approval, both at the taste of the food and the view of Kate’s cleavage as she leans forward, and Kate’s eyes never leave her face as she licks the fork clean a little more thoroughly than she has to. Jo’s breath hitches slightly when it disappears back into Kate’s mouth again a couple of moments later and by the time they’ve shared a chocolate brownie and Kate’s picked up the bill, Jo’s practically vibrating in her chair.

As soon as they’re back in the car, Jo cranks up the heating and takes off her coat, spreading it over her lap, and Kate’s eyes widen when she realises what she’s doing underneath it.

“Fucking hell, Jo,” she mutters, and Jo almost considers stopping when she realises Kate’s incapable of keeping her attention on the road, but the next thing she knows, they’re pulling into a layby on a quiet country road, surrounded by a copse of trees, and Kate’s locking the doors and pulling her into the back seat, hand immediately picking up where Jo’s left off. Kate kisses her like she can’t get enough of her and when she pulls back, lips swollen and stained with Jo’s lipstick, Jo can’t be bothered with negotiating the buttons on her waistcoat so she just rips it open. Kate’s indignant exclamation dies on her lips when Jo does what she’s wanted to do all night and licks a pathway between the valley of Kate’s breasts, sucking a nipple into her mouth. She might not be quite as flexible as she used to be, but it doesn’t take them long to find a good angle, and they both moan when Kate plunges two fingers inside of her without any preamble. The novelty of being railed in the back of Kate’s service vehicle makes every touch, every thrust, feel even more delectable than usual, and Jo really hopes their secluded surroundings don’t turn out to be a dogging hotspot, because they’re putting on quite the show. Her orgasm hits her with the force of a freight train and she’s only vaguely aware of Kate bucking frantically against her thigh, until she hears her cry out too, and then they collapse on top of each other, giggling like a pair of teenagers.  

That night, when they’re back in their pyjamas and Jo’s tucked up in bed, ordering another week’s worth of online groceries, Kate suddenly shuts the lid of her laptop, putting it on the bedside table.

“Kate, I was just in the middle of – ” she starts to say, but she trails off when Kate places a gift-wrapped box on her lap.

“I got something for you,” she informs her needlessly, and Jo regards her in surprise.

“Kate, you just bought me dinner, you didn’t need to – ”

“Just open it!” Kate exclaims impatiently, but she’s smiling indulgently.

Jo’s fingers start shaking as she edges open the box, and her eyes immediately well with tears when she sees the neatly folded leather jacket inside. She just stares at it for a moment, too shocked to speak, and then she carefully removes it, eyes roving over the intricate stitching, the platinum studs on the collar and lapels, and the zipped pockets and cuffs. It’s stunning - even nicer than her old one - but she knows that if she opens her mouth to say so, she’s going to burst into tears, because it’s the most thoughtful thing anyone’s ever done for her.

“Do you like it?” Kate asks her anxiously. “I know it’s not exactly the same as your old one but it’s the closest match I could find. I think there are a couple of extra pockets, but that’s not a bad thing, right?”

“It’s gorgeous,” Jo finally manages to get out, because she can’t bear the thought of Kate thinking otherwise. “But Kate, it’s too much,” she whispers, even as her fingers are running reverently over the distressed leather.

Kate opts to ignore that remark.

“Try it on,” she urges, and Jo feels like she’s floating on air when she gets to her feet. Kate gently takes the jacket from her, helping her into it, taking the opportunity to kiss the sensitive spot behind her earlobe as she lifts her hair out from under the collar. It fits perfectly, and Kate smiles with relief, grabbing her hand and pulling her towards the full-length mirror.

“What do you think?” she asks, slipping her arms around Jo’s waist and resting her chin against her shoulder, “And be honest, Jo, because if you don’t like it - ” 

“I love it,” Jo hastens to reassure her, “But if I’d known, I would have got something for you, too. I – ”

“Jo, I told you, it’s not about that,” Kate tells her firmly, “I would have given it to you regardless of whether you got the job or not. I just wanted to make you happy, that’s all.”

“You do,” Jo tells her fiercely, and then she turns around, pulling Kate into a grateful hug, “More than you could ever know.”

“Then why are you crying?” Kate teases her gently, and for the first time in her life, Jo realises that she’s crying happy tears.

“Thank you,” she whispers, and she hopes Kate knows it’s for so much more than the jacket.


Jo knows that falling in love with someone and buying a house with them is meant to be a rite of passage, something millions of people do every day, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling like she’s living in a fairy tale sometimes. It’s been twelve months since they moved to a three-bedroom cottage in the Nottinghamshire countryside and eight months since they finished renovating it. It’s not as remote as the safehouse and they caused quite a stir when they first arrived, but the neighbours soon warmed to them and there’s a sense of community spirit here that they never had in the city. Jo’s last apartment was fashioned after a double-page spread in Architectural Digest, because she thought that’s what a home was supposed to look like, but she’s poured her heart and soul into every room of this cottage; built it with Kate from the ground up. It was a hard slog at times, but all of the evenings they lost to painting, decorating and bickering over flatpack furniture were worth it. When she looks back on all of the moments that are seared into her memory - the conversations, the laughter, the feeling of finally being understood and connecting with someone on every conceivable level – she knows she’d do it on repeat for the rest of her life.

They spent countless weekends in B&Q - she even let Kate drag her to Ikea - and they chose everything together, from colour schemes, to furniture, to flooring, and now everywhere she looks, Jo remembers all those nights they spent huddled over her laptop, planning a future she almost didn’t have. There’s the sofa they snuggle up on every night, the dining table where they eat breakfast together every morning, the spacious corner bathtub they chose in deference to their time at the B&B and the new mattress they’ve been putting through its paces. She’s still yet to persuade Kate to try her hand at gardening, but they’ve spent hours sitting out on the porch swing and patio set, watching the sunset over the rolling hills and looking at the stars. They’ve had sex in every room of the house and christened every piece of furniture, taken an urgent trip to a walk-in centre when Kate sat on a rusty nail and had to get a tetanus shot, and sent the rug in front of the log burner to the dry cleaners a few times. Their mantelpiece and walls are lined with photos - most of them taken by Joyce, who seems to have a knack for capturing them during unguarded moments. The décor is a mish-mash of both their tastes, and it definitely isn’t a show home, but it’s cosy, in a way her apartment never was, and Jo finally appreciates the meaning of the word “home,” just like she’s finally started looking forward to birthdays and Christmases instead of dreading them with every fibre of her being.

It took a while for her to believe that Kate wanted this too, that she wasn’t doing it out of some misguided desire to make her happy, even though Kate was the one who suggested the move, even though she was the one who came bounding into the bedroom like an over-excited kid when she saw the cottage on Zoopla. It was love at first sight for Jo, but she forced herself to temper her enthusiasm, because she didn’t want to put any more distance between Kate and Josh - figuratively or literally - and she was willing to sit in rush hour traffic for a few hours every day if it meant coming home to Kate. A gruelling commute seemed like a small price to pay, especially given that she was relishing her new job and actually looked forward to going into work every morning.

Then Kate went for an interview without telling her, landed a place on a school-centred initial teacher training programme at a comprehensive in Nottingham city centre, and now she’s teaching PE and heading up the inclusion unit, which she claims isn’t that different to a Friday night on call, and she always seems to be the staff member they summon to break up fights. Jo was worried that she was making a mistake at first, that she was going to regret walking away from the career that defined her, but Kate loves going to work in sweatpants and running around with a whistle - “they just call me Miss now, instead of ma’am, and I get to kick a ball around all day” - and she seems to have a natural aptitude for keeping other people’s teenagers in check and making sure they stay on the straight and narrow. The kids love her, and the Head gives her free rein to lead assemblies and workshops educating them about knife crime, drugs and gangs. Jo gets the impression that she’s trying to prevent some of the kids from falling through the cracks and becoming the next Ryan Pilkington, but contending with all of that teenage angst seems to have given her a better understanding of Josh, too, and their relationship is stronger than it’s ever been. Jo sleeps a lot better knowing that Kate isn’t out there putting her life on the line or dealing with the ass-end of humanity and if Kate’s late home, she knows it’s because a football tournament has overrun, not because she’s being held at gunpoint.

Mark hit the roof when Kate told him about the move, but Josh seems to enjoy the independence of getting the train up to Nottingham a few times a month and it only costs just over £10 for a return ticket. Steve’s been signed off work while he undergoes intensive physiotherapy and he and Amy come over to visit every few weeks, and they can’t seem to get rid of Joyce and Roger, who are only a few miles up the road. Two of Jo’s colleagues regularly come round for dinner, too – a lesbian couple called Mel and Tracey who make for quite the comedy double act. Mel used to be a DCI and Tracey heads up the College’s comms team. Jo still remembers the first night they invited her out for a meal after work; how she’d called Kate and hesitantly asked if it was OK for her to jettison their evening together at such short notice. Farida would have been fuming and Jo never would have heard the end of it, but Kate was thrilled and offered to come and pick her up so she could have a few drinks. “Stay out as late as you want, it doesn’t matter what time it is,” she’d said. When Kate pulled up outside of the restaurant at 11pm and asked her if she’d had a nice time, looking so hopeful that the answer was going to be “yes” (and it was), Jo had kissed her so thoroughly, Mel and Tracey ended up banging on the bonnet and wolf-whistling at them, much to Kate’s amusement.

When Stan starts barking at the door, Jo knows that the postman must be making his way up the garden path, so she grabs a squeaky toy to try and distract him. Stan (or “Stan the man” as Kate likes to call him) - a rescue pup with some residual anger management issues - tried to take the poor man’s fingers off last time he stuck his hand through the letterbox, so Jo’s on damage control duty today.

“It’s a good job you’re cute,” Jo tells him, not for the first time, as she gives him an affectionate belly rub. They still haven’t quite worked out Stan’s lineage, but with his bright button eyes, slightly curly fur that looks tatty no matter how many times Jo brushes it, and a face that entices unsuspecting strangers to stroke him, Stan looks a lot more adorable than he actually is. At home, he’s a delight, showering them with affection and curling up in their laps every night, but he’s still a work in progress when it comes to interacting with other people, even though Kate’s been putting in a lot of work with him. Jo secretly finds Stan’s hatred of men quite entertaining, except when he’s chasing Steve up the stairs or trying to bite Roger’s ankles off. He inexplicably seems to love Josh, though, and sleeps on the foot of his bed every time he stays over.

Once she’s satisfied that the postman’s at a safe distance, Jo opens the porch door and frowns when she sees a fancy-looking, gold-sealed envelope on the doormat. She picks it up and realises that it’s addressed to both of them, so she opens it, and promptly starts laughing.

“Kate!” she hollers upstairs, “It looks like Carmichael finally got the bottle to propose to her girlfriend. And they’re getting married in a bloody castle.”

Kate comes running downstairs, plucking the invitation to the wedding reception out of her hand. “Well, it’s nice of her to invite us,” she eventually concedes, briefly scanning the contents.

“Yeah, but we’re not going to go, right?” Jo asks, but she can see from Kate’s conflicted expression that she’s wavering, so she sighs. “Fine, but you can choose their gift because I don’t have a clue what to buy her.”

When Carmichael turned up at Kate’s leaving do last year, Jo wasn’t exactly thrilled, because it wasn’t easy to forget the conversation they had in that conference room. Still, she knew Carmichael had gone out on a limb for her, so when Patricia came over to ask how she was, Jo tried to be civil and thanked her for letting her stay with Kate after she was shot. She was intending to leave it at that and excuse herself to talk to Steve, but then she saw how uncomfortable Carmichael was in a room full of people whose feelings towards her were lukewarm at best, so she stayed standing next to her, and they’d ended up talking on and off for an hour until Kate came to her rescue.

Then Farida showed up - just as Ted Hastings was in the middle of telling them that they were making the right decision and if he had his time over again, he would have put his relationship before work, too. Farida took one look at Jo wearing her new leather jacket with her arm around Kate’s waist and promptly blew a gasket. Kate intercepted her before her hand could connect with Jo’s face and was ready to drag her out of the pub by her hair, threatening to break her arm all over again, but it was Carmichael who stepped in, hissing, “PS Jatri, may I remind you that you are a serving police officer who has pledged to uphold certain standards of behaviour, so unless you want me to arrest you for affray and fast track you to a misconduct hearing, I suggest you leave. Now.” Farida had scurried away in floods of tears and Jo had given Carmichael a grateful smile.

It’s that gratitude that leaves Jo and Kate tottering up a ridiculously long driveway in high heels, leaning on each other for support and wearing complementary dresses they bought after a hasty shopping spree and a quick fumble in the changing rooms last weekend. They just stand there gaping at the venue in all of its medieval splendour for a moment, soaking in the gorgeous grounds and the atmospheric lighting, and Jo realises just how far she’s come from that grotty council house in Glasgow.

“So this is how the other half lives,” Kate murmurs as they head towards the wing where the reception’s being held, hand-in-hand. “What do you reckon the evening entertainment’s going to be? A harpist?”

Jo laughs out loud.

“Katherine Jenkins?” she counters, and Kate actually snorts, which probably isn’t the most dignified sound to be making as they enter the reception room, which is as lavishly decorated as the rest of the venue, and Jo knows they must have hired a wedding planner to pull this off.  

“Something tells me we’re not going to be queuing for a buffet,” Jo murmurs as she regards the elaborate place settings. She glances over the sea of faces in front of them, and already knows she’s going to have to repeat herself for most of the night because she never mastered the art of received pronunciation.  

Jo spots Carmichael sitting at the head table, and her expression softens a little when she sees how stunning she looks in an off-the-shoulder, figure-hugging white wedding gown, but it’s the beaming smile on her face that renders her almost unrecognisable. Then Carmichael clocks them both, and Jo tries not to panic when she jumps to her feet and comes rushing over to them.

“Kate, Jo, I’m so glad you came,” she gushes, and Jo tries not to laugh at Kate’s stupefied expression when Carmichael - who’s clearly been day drinking - greets them both with an air kiss and then pulls Kate into a one-armed hug, which Kate hesitantly returns.

They get their congratulations out of the way, and then Kate regards Carmichael with a warm smile.  

“You look lovely, ma’am,” she tells her sincerely, and Carmichael actually blushes.

“So do you two,” she tells them, gratefully accepting the present that Jo hands to her.

“I never thought I’d see you in a dress, Kate,” Carmichael teases, and Kate laughs.

“Enjoy it while it lasts, ma’am, because it won’t be happening again in a hurry.”  

“I’m not your boss anymore,” Carmichael reminds her, eyes twinkling. “You can call me Patty.”

Kate glances surreptitiously at Jo, silently mouthing “Patty?”, and Jo does her damnedest not to laugh.

“Come and meet Sarah,” Carmichael urges them, and Kate looks like she’s being led away by the Child Catcher when Carmichael takes her hand, towing her over to the head table.

They share another amused glance when Carmichael introduces them to her wife, because Steve’s assertion that she “wasn’t bad looking” was definitely an understatement. Sarah looks like a supermodel, glossy black hair contrasting with bright blue eyes and a classically beautiful face, and she’s wearing one of the sharpest suits Jo’s ever seen. It’s the same shade of off-white as Carmichael’s wedding dress, and Jo can see why Carmichael took five years to work up the nerve to propose to her. They make a lovely couple, though, and when Carmichael shows them to their seats, Jo feels a little more at ease.  

They make polite conversation with the people around them and smile their way through the toasts, but Jo’s attention never strays too far away from Kate. She knows exactly what Kate’s thinking when Giles-the-barrister starts talking about his holiday home in Tahiti and Kate knows exactly what she’s thinking when Harriet-the-housewife says that it’s just wonderful that people like Patty and Sarah can get married now. Then Harriet turns to them and asks them how long they’ve been together and if they’re planning to tie the knot soon and Jo freezes, bracing herself for the inevitable “no,” because she always assumed that Kate wouldn’t want to get married again, not after what happened with Mark, and it’s a possibility she’s never even entertained because things like that just don’t happen to her.

“Well, I know I want to spend the rest of my life with her,” Kate says softly, reaching for her hand, and Jo barely registers Harriet’s rather patronising, “how sweet,” because the way Kate’s looking at her makes her heart soar.

When the wait staff start serving afternoon tea and platters of hors d'oeuvres, Kate gingerly picks a few up and tries to work out what they are, so Jo taste-tests them for her, telling her what to avoid. They keep themselves entertained with shared looks, small smiles and discreet touches under the table, although every time Jo’s hand settles against Kate’s bare leg, Kate levels her with an expression that seems to say “wait until I get you home.” Kate’s lilac dress makes her eyes pop even more than usual, and every time they turn to talk to each other, Jo loses herself in them. She thinks about kissing the lipstick off of Kate’s mouth; contemplates how - after all this time - that hint of cleavage can still be such a huge distraction, and wonders if it would be rude to leave early.  

Kate nudges her leg, nodding towards the small stage area, and Jo’s shocked to see a DJ setting up. They share a surprised look, remembering their earlier conversation.

“He’s got his work cut out for him with this lot,” Jo whispers, and Kate nods, laughing.

As it turns out, she’s misread the room, and the Classic FM crowd apparently like Whitney Houston as much as the next person. The dance floor quickly fills up and Jo’s suddenly glad they stayed, because the sight of Carmichael’s nieces trying to teach her the dance to ‘Saturday Night’ after one wine too many is going down as one of her favourite memories of all time, but it’s quickly trumped when Sarah pulls Carmichael to the floor, legs spreadeagled, and has her banging out the rhythm to ‘Oops Upside Your Head.’ Then Carmichael sees them both pissing themselves laughing at her, and her eyes narrow.  

“Get over here,” she commands, gesturing to the dance floor, and they both shake their heads.

“That’s an order, Fleming,” she yells, “And you promised you’d never disobey a direct order again.”

Kate laughs helplessly, but then she takes Jo’s hand, leading her to the back of the line so she doesn’t have to suffer the indignity of straddling a complete stranger, but then Kate’s scooting between her legs and shimmying against her, weight pressing low against her stomach, and Jo’s suddenly glad that her dress is lined. The next thing she knows, she’s doing the Conga around the castle, grasping Kate’s hips as they weave their way through the grounds, and she’s so giddy with laughter by the time they’ve finished, she can barely stand upright.  

Kate pulls her into a dark alcove before they make it back to the reception room, and Jo doesn’t mind being pressed against the wall anymore, because now she associates it with Kate, not with Bobby, and the hands trailing over her body and slipping underneath her dress are more than welcome. They kiss for what feels like an eternity, feeling the music from the reception room pulsating through them, and Jo thinks life is as good as it’s ever going to get, until Kate pulls back and says,

“I would, you know, if you wanted to?”

“What?” Jo asks, still reeling from their kiss and trying to reclaim her breath as she tries to follow Kate’s train of thought.

Kate regards her with a tender smile, reaching for her hand.

“Marry you,” she says softly.

And Jo realises, then, that her happily ever after might still have a few more chapters to come.