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Castle of Glass

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Jo wasn’t sure if she was going to cry, scream or be sick, if she was honest, probably all three. Her whole body was shaking, fuelled by fear, fury and frustration. Panic began to take hold as she scrambled away from Ryan and the gun. In her desperation she didn’t look where she was going, her foot caught on a bulging crack in the tarmac and she stumbled forward as she lost her footing and landed heavily on the damp ground, winded and cold. 

  

“I can’t stay to watch this” came a terrified cry. 

 

It took Jo a moment to realise the voice was hers. Right now, she wasn’t the cool and formidable DCI Davidson, she felt like a frightened little girl, unable to wake from the grips of a nightmare. 

 

Her hesitation and the warning shot Ryan fired off in response provided enough of a distraction for Kate to have time to draw her gun. Jo hadn’t even realised she was carrying a gun as she stood across from her in the car park. It made sense though, her policing brain suggested. Kate knew how dangerous Ryan was, so of course, she would have asked for the authorisation to carry a concealed weapon for her own protection. But nothing about this situation made sense, came the despairing thought. Kate shouldn’t be here, she should be safe and far away from all this mess. The nightmare took hold and Jo fought back the tears as her walls crumbled. Kate had trusted her and she’d betrayed her, the nightmare was her reality. She was the reason Kate Fleming might die tonight.

 

Now Ryan and Kate were in a standoff, guns drawn, each of them ready and threatening to shoot. 

How had she let this happen, was all she could think. Again. How had she let it happen again?  She’d let herself get too close, she’d started to build a relationship she knew she could never sustain. Any friend or ally she made, anyone she thought she could trust was in reality just another bargaining chip the OCG could use to hold over her. So to keep everyone safe, she remained cold and distant, she detached herself from all those who tried to get close. Usually, that got her by, even if it meant she was confined to a life of solitude. Lonely nights were worth not putting anyone else at risk.  

 

Still, her heart had once again taken charge of her head. From the moment DI Kate Fleming had walked into the MIT office, Jo felt drawn toward her. Kate was determined and dedicated, quietly confident and seemingly unfazed by working on one of the largest and most complex operations the force was dealing with. She’d quickly become a key part of the team, she continuously worked hard and gave her all to the case. Much like Jo, it seemed work was her life, Kate spent almost as much time in the office as she did. Anything was better than going home to an empty flat , something both women knew all too well. So, late nights working together on the case became a regular occurrence and Jo noticed Kate beginning to drop her guard. With her wry sense of humour and coy smiles, there was a sadness that slipped through the occasional kink in her amour of self-confidence. 

 

Nearly a year ago, she’d stolen Jo’s heart. Her pulse quickened and her insides fluttered, warm and fuzzy when she thought of Kate and the lingering glances they’d shared when no one else was looking. Jo could easily have lost herself in those sparkling blue-green eyes, glistening seascapes, bright and beautiful. The sharp features of her face, framed by flawless dark hair, cut short and always perfectly styled. It had been a long time since she'd felt butterflies like that and before she realised it, they were growing closer. Late nights in the office became drinks in a local bar, just the two of them talking about anything and everything. Jo had fallen hard, utterly mesmerised with every aspect of DI Kate Fleming. And for the occasional blissful moment, as she gazed into Kate’s brilliant emerald blue eyes, she allowed herself to forget. Forget about the coercion, the control and the daily torment of never knowing when the next order was going to come or what it was going to be. Jo could forget her traumatic past, for just a moment she could forget the life she’d been born into and the choices she’d been forced to make. 

 

But the moments were fleeting and they were never enough for a true escape. Reality always found a way of bringing her crashing back down. She had sunk so far into the murky depths of OCG control and manipulation that there wasn’t any daylight left. That darkness was all consuming. Then, her whole world had turned black when she received the message, the one order she dreaded more than any other, get rid of her. She thought she had done enough, she’d tried so hard to keep Kate out of it. Leading her away from looking into and questioning things that could put her in danger. She’d even started to push her away. 

 

As much as it pained her, she reverted back to being cold and distant, she was prepared to hurt Kate just so she could keep her safe. But it still wasn’t enough, get rid of her. Jo’s blood ran cold and that was when she knew she was in too deep. And what was worse, all she could say was that she was sorry. Sorry . The apology felt so empty, meaningless. She’d betrayed the one person who might have been able to help her, the one person she felt like she could trust. She’d given her promise of a resolution and instead lured her to the Lorry Park to die. Maybe it had been ignorant to think she was anything other than bent. A tool of the OCG, a puppet compelled to do their bidding. 

 

She should have run away from it all, as far and fast she could. Maybe then she would have had the chance to come out unscathed, but she didn’t have the energy left to manage an escape. One way or another, Jo had a lingering feeling that she was not going to make it out of this situation with her freedom. She’d never be done, there was no escaping the OCG. This would be her last job, one way or another. In an abandoned Lorry Park on the outskirts of the City, she’d resigned herself to that fate, after all the hurt she caused it was more than she deserved. And honestly, came the thought, she no longer cared. All instincts of self-preservation had long since been worn away, her entire life had been dictated and controlled by others. She didn’t care if she survived the night or if Ryan would claim her as his next victim. The thought of eternal blackness seemed almost comforting, at least in death, there was freedom. 

 

The wind howled, screaming into the dark night and Jo wanted to cry with it. Cowering behind the car, she instead pressed her hands over her ears and screwed her eyes shut. She couldn’t witness what was to come next, she didn’t have the strength to fight, all she could do was hide. The desperate shouts of Kate and Ryan still penetrated through her barriers. She had to choke back the sobs as they both begged the other to drop their gun. 

 

Jo began to shiver, the cool late-night drizzle had long since soaked through her jacket, leaving an icy chill that bled into her bones. It was all far too much, all she wanted was to crawl into a hole and never come out again. Then came the bangs, cracking through the wind as if they could split the air in two. Jo’s ears were ringing, and her heart was in her mouth. The sound reverberated around the run-down Lorry Park, shaking into her core. Jo cowered behind the car with her eyes still closed, she couldn’t bear to look, not wanting to witness the destruction she may have caused.  

 

She waited for a few drawn out seconds before she made a move, moments hanging heavy in the air, she scarcely dared to breathe. The wind calmed and the carpark fell into an uneasy silence, disturbed only by the quiet patter of the persistent November drizzle. 

Chapter Text

Jo crept slowly out from her sanctuary, her trembling legs were barely able to support hers and she had to steady herself on the side of the. She could feel the blood rushing in her ears and her heart pounded hard and fast. She scarcely dared to breathe, an all too familiar anxiety leaving a lingering tightness that crushed her chest.

 

Jo blinked hard then tentatively surveyed the scene. Two figures lay motionless on the cold ground and she froze, trapped in fear’s icy clutches. She tried to look at anything other than the two bodies that lay on the ground, but it was no use. She couldn’t stay here, all she wanted was to turn and run but she forced herself to keep looking. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she slowly started to take stock of the scene. She prayed that she would see some sign of life, anything that would go against her worst fears, things should not have ended this way. The first figure remained motionless, his eyes wide and empty, staring up at the sky, devoid of life. She choked back a sob as she looked across to the other figure. At first, there was nothing, only the howl of the wind and the distant sounds of the city. Jo’s stomach clenched into knots and the pressure in her chest tightened as the anguish took over. 

No, please no.  

She took a few timid steps closer, then she spotted it, the slightest rise and fall of a chest, accompanied by faint strangled gasps of breath. She knelt down next to Kate and her shaking hand met pale skin as she felt for a pulse. For a moment there was nothing, then she found a light flutter, weak and thready, but there. A small spark ignited in the darkness that threatened to consume her, a darkness she’d been ready to give in to. Now every light flutter she felt under her fingers was a glimmer of light and strength. For Kate, she’d try. If she could save Kate then maybe there was something to live for after all. 

The knot in Jo’s stomach loosened slightly, and she let out a shuddery gasp of relief. 

Then she saw the blood. 

 

The once striped jumper was now stained a deep crimson. Even in the dim light of the Lorry Park she could tell this was bad. There was so much blood, the sticky, metallic smell filled her nose and she had to force herself not to gag. Fighting every desire to panic and run, Jo forced herself to think. She needed to keep a clear head, now more than ever, Kate’s life depended on it. She needed to do something, she had to help her, she had to stop the bleeding. 

 

“Kate!”

She gently shook her shoulders. 

“Kate, can you hear me!”

No response.

 

The backup and surveillance must have been a bluff on Kate’s part, otherwise they would have long since been here. They were completely alone and Kate desperately needed help.  So, it came to her, to save the woman she’d lured here to die. The woman, who in those fleeting moments, was gradually becoming more than a work friend. 

 

A ragged sound echoed through Jo’s ears. 

Kate. 

The woman she loved. 

She was still breathing.  

Though only just.

 

Jo made her decision, no matter what happened now, she was going to do all she could to save Kate. Now she had another chance, she would not give in to cowardice. Whatever the OCG could torture her with, she knew now nothing could be worse than loosing Kate. She couldn’t let anyone else die.  

Jo fumbled for her phone, but her trembling hands struggled to process the command her brain was sending.  

“Come on!” she screamed into the wind, her words were filled with fear and anguish. 

Kate lay bleeding out in front of her and there was nothing she could do to help. 

“Come on!” 

Finally, she managed to pull the phone out of her jacket pocket. She punched the number in without thinking, as soon as the line connected on the other end words tumbling out of her mouth and Jo had to fight back tears. She finished with the exact address in the most authoritative, still a police officer, tone she could manage and added a final plea to come as quickly as possible. She then threw the phone on the ground with the line still open, though she didn’t say anymore, there wasn’t time for countless questions about why and the details of what happened and why it happened, that could wait. 

 

She shakily rechecked for a pulse, it took a few long seconds to find a rhythm, weak and thready but still there. 

“Just hang on Kate,” she pleaded 

Jo hastily shrugged off her soaking wet jacket, she knew it wouldn’t do much, but at least it was something. She pressed it hard against the wound in Kate’s stomach. Kate stirred slightly, a pained frown crept across her face and she groaned in protest as Jo continued to apply pressure. Jo’s heart leapt at the sound, it wasn’t much but at least Kate was still responding to pain. It meant there was still hope, still time. 

“Shh,” she whispered, with every ounce of calmness she could muster. “It's going to be okay, the ambulance is coming.”

 

Kate’s eyelids fluttered slightly, opening just a crack. Jo forced a smile in an attempt to try to give her Colleague some reassurance and hide her fear. Though it did little to comfort Kate, her eyes were glassy and filled with pain and her was skin unnaturally pale and clammy. 

 

“Kate! Stay with me Kate!” Jo begged, “you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be okay”.

 

Kate only managed a faint whimper in response. 

  

Distant sirens rang out and grew rapidly louder. They were coming. Jo’s brow furrowed slightly, it had only been a minute, maybe two, she knew the Ambulance response times in this part of the city weren’t that fast. Her heart dropped, sinking to the pit of her stomach. Someone knew they were here, but she had no idea if this ‘someone’ could be trusted. There was nothing she could do to protect Kate and with that thought Jo’s final barrier came crumbling down. She couldn’t hold any of it in anymore. Fear, frustration and anguish took hold, months of repressed feelings burst through the cracks and Jo gave in to a flood of tears and choking sobs that racked through her body. 

 

“I love you Kate,” she sobbed into the dark. 

Oh god, they were coming

They were coming and she couldn’t do anything.   

“I love you!”

 

In that moment, flashing blue lights and wailing sirens rounded the corner, tyres screeched and the smell of rubber eating concrete filled the air.  

Car doors slammed and heavy footsteps approached. Jo tried to shield Kate as best she could before she turned to look at the approaching figures. She was met with a wall of AFO’s, clad in black, their weapons raised and pointed at her. 

“I’m unarmed!” Jo cried, trying and failing to keep her voice steady. “But she’s hurt, I can’t show you my hands because I need to keep pressure on the wound.” 

Several silent seconds followed and Jo didn’t dare to move, paralysed by fear. After what felt like an eternity, one officer made a brief hand signal and the AFOs lowered their weapons in unison. 

Jo let out a choking sob of relief and she gasped for breath that she didn’t realise she’d been holding in.

 

“Who is hurt?” came a shout from behind the wall of black. 

 

“It’s Kate.” Jo replied shakily, scarcely able to get the words out between her tears. 

Adrenaline and fear were no longer enough to keep her going, Jo could feel her strength fading, her arms were growing weak and her hands were numb with cold.

 

Suddenly she found Steve Arnott kneeling next to her, “I got this, move over!” he commanded.

  

With no fight left to give, Jo crumpled backwards, falling to a heap in an icy puddle.

“I’ve called an ambulance,” she stammered through shaking sobs. “They should be here soon.” 

Moments blurred, Jo had no idea how long she lay curled up on the ground, shaking uncontrollably as her breaths came in strangled cries. 

 

“Joanne Davidson.” Ted Hastings stern voice echoed through her, sparking some kind of awareness. “I’m arresting you on conspiracy to commit murder. You do not...” 

Jo closed her eyes, she knew the rest. She put up no resistance as two Uniformed Officers hauled her to her feet, handcuffed her, and led her towards the car.

As the Police Car pulled away from the scene silent tears spilled down her face. 

Chapter Text

Steve’s phone buzzed, it was Kate with an address. A quick check of the map showed an industrial park on the outskirts of the city. Crap, crap, crap. Alarm bells began to ring in his head and their ever increasing blaring spurred him to action. He looked again at the location, even the area surrounding the Lorry Park was run down and desolate. There was no way this was some post work meet-up between friends. Steve was now certain that there were more sinister plans at play and Kate was walking into the middle of it. And thanks to Carmicheal pulling surveillance she was all alone. Fuck. Not Kate, he couldn’t let anything happen to Kate. They needed to go now, while there was still time, hopefully still time. 

 

Steve burst into Hastings’s office, not even bothering to knock. 

 

“Gaffer,” he exclaimed, “Kate sent an address.” 

 

“Let’s go son,” Ted nodded as he sprang up from his desk. 

He grabbed his phone and immediately began relaying orders to dispatch AFOs to Kate’s location. A sense of urgency hung heavy in the air, this was Kate, one of their own, and she was in danger. She could already be dead. Steve tried to shake the thought from his mind as he too got kitted out.

 

Suddenly Carmichael appeared in the office doorway, face filled with a condescending smile. 

“I think you should slow down,” she chastised. “It’s just reckless to spring into action when you have so little information.”

She fixed Hastings with an icy stare. 

Steve glared back at her, he couldn’t fathom how she was trying to stop them. It was her fault that Kate was in this situation in the first place!

 

“That’s one of my officers out there, I’ll breathe when she’s safe.” Hastings growled back at her, before barging through the door as if Carmichael wasn’t there at all. 

 

Steve quickly followed, still glaring at her with all the fury he could muster, there wasn’t time for her pen-pushing bureaucracy. They could deal with that later when Kate was safe. 

 

If they got her back safe.

 

The next minutes passed in a blur as the AC12 teams readied themselves for urgent deployment, they followed their routine in swift unison, just as they usually did. 

Carmichael’s petty insistence to wait continued to fall on deaf ears, the AC12 team having formed a silent agreement to ignore their irritating and arduous new boss. 

 

The atmosphere in the office felt strained and on edge, this time it wasn’t just a suspect they were going to arrest or a witness that needed protecting and moving to a safehouse. This was Kate, one of their own, his best friend, and Steve had no idea what they might find. 

 

She could be hurt.

 

She could already be dead.

 

Sirens wailed as the cars sped through the city. Faster, please. We need to get there. Every drawn out minute, every second, Steve’s heart hammered in his chest, his anxiety constantly building. Kate was out there alone, no partner, no support, no backup. 

 

She could already be dead.  

 

Countless scenarios whirled through his mind, each with equally terrifying outcomes. All the operational training in the world couldn’t prepare him for this or calm his wrung-out nerves. Kate was in danger. She could be hurt. Or worse. He was usually so clear and level headed but now it was taking all his strength to maintain a calm façade. Inside he was screaming, filled with fear and worry. It was the not knowing what he was going to find, his best friend had most likely walked into an OCG trap and she was on her fucking own. 

 

She could be in trouble.

 

She could be hurt.

 

She could already be dead.

 

With a sudden lurch, the car skidded to stop, the flashing blue lights illuminated against the crumbled graffitied walls of the Lorry Park. 

 

They’d arrived.

 

Steve jumped out of the car just after the AFOs, with no concern for his own safety. His mind was still racing and his heart felt like it was in his mouth. He felt as if he might burst and he couldn’t wait any longer.

Icy rain lashed down and Steve was soon soaked to the skin, though he didn’t care. He hopped from foot to foot anxiously while he waited for the AFOs to survey the scene, their muted voices were carried away by the wind.

More cars arrived, and yet still all Steve could do was watch and wait. 

 

“She’s hurt”, a voice cut through the chaos. 

 

Steve’s heart dropped. “Who’s hurt?” he asked, his anxiety building. In his heart he already knew the answer, though he wished it were different. 

 

“Kate,” came the strained reply.

 

Kate

 

Her name hung heavy in the air and all Steve could think of at that moment was that he had to go to her. He didn't care that the scene hadn’t been declared safe, or that there may still be weapons present. This was Kate and she was in trouble. Fuck, it was Kate, his best friend needed him and he was not going to stand and wait, what if she was really hurt, or worse... 

 

Steve rushed forward and barged past the team of AFO’s, not listening to any of the shouts of caution that echoed out behind him. 

 

“Oh, Kate,” he couldn’t help but gasp at the sight of his friend, as she lay barely conscious and severely wounded in some desolate Lorry Park. 

“I’ve got this, move over now,” he demanded as he knelt beside Kate and ushered a trembling Jo Davidson out of the way. 

 

“I called an ambulance,” Jo stuttered from behind him, “they should be here soon.” 

The voice was barely recognisable as that of the fierce and steely DCI Davidson AC12 had interviewed days before, she sounded so broken. 

 

Steve kept his eyes on Kate and whispered a silent prayer of thanks that help was already on the way, even if it had been called by the person who was the reason Kate was in this situation in the first place. He didn’t care what happened to Jo right now, there would be time to deal with her later. His only concern was Kate, he had to help Kate. 

He gingerly lifted Jo’s jacket from Kate’s stomach, both it and her jumper underneath were soaked with blood. Fuck. He quickly scrunched up his own jacket and pressed it back against the bullet hole, just visible in the flashing blue lights. Kate whimpered and writhed slightly at the further pain. 

“It’s gonna be alright mate,” Steve whispered, “you just stay with me, okay”. 

 

Through the far-off chatter of the city traffic an ambulance siren sounded, the persistent wails were growing louder, getting closer.  

 

Please hurry. Please save her.

 

“You hear that mate?” Steve declared, “help is coming, you’re gonna be okay.” 

 

Clouded, unfocused eyes met his, “n-no... b-bets just y-yet.” came Kate’s strained reply as her eyes threatened to close. 

 

No. Fuck, please no

 

“No, Kate!”

With his free hand Steve gently shook Kate’s shoulder. 

“Come on Kate, just stay with me.”

 

“Tired… Hurts…”

Kate's eyes fluttered closed.

 

Steve felt like he’d been smacked in the chest. No. He wasn’t going to let Kate die, he wasn’t going to let her give up. Not now. Not like this. 

“Shush,” Steve ordered, trying to hide his fear. 

Tears prickled at his eyes and he took a shaking gulp of breath to steady himself and fight back the sobs. 

“Don’t talk now, just stay with me, alright mate. Stay with me.”  

 

With one arm still holding his now blood-soaked jacket against Kate’s stomach, he took hold of her hand with the other, h e squeezed tight, their fingers interlocked.

“Don’t you dare give up on me,” he demanded. “I’m not going to let you go mate, you got that.” 

Tears streamed down his cheeks but Steve didn’t care, he didn’t care who saw him cry now. This was Kate, his best friend, one of the very few people who had always been there for him in recent years. Now was his turn to be there for her. 

“You hear me mate, just hang on okay, just stay with me. I think you owe me that much. You do not get to give up on me now okay. Please Kate, please.” 

Steve’s voice broke and he could no longer hold in the shaking sobs.

“Just hang on for me mate.” Steve pleaded through the tears. “Please, if you can hear me, just squeeze my hand.” 

 

He waited for what felt like forever and watched the erratic rise and fall of Kate's chest as she fought for each breath. 

She returned a faint squeeze, barely noticeable, but definitely there.

 

“That’s it mate,” Steve flustered. “Just keep squeezing, keep squeezing”. 

He wrapped his hand around Kate’s, her porcelain skin was slowly turning grey and he could feel her fading, dying right in front of him. There was nothing he could do but hope, to wish and will with every atom of his being that Kate would be alright. 

 

A hand was placed on his trembling shoulder.

“Sir, sir, you need to move”, came a voice from a paramedic standing behind him. The barked order made Steve jump but he just clung tighter onto Kate’s hand, worried that if he let go, she’d slip away and he just couldn’t let that happen.

From the corner of his eye he noticed a younger paramedic kneel down beside him, she barely looked old enough to be out of school, let alone dealing with vulnerable and seriously injured patients. 

“Sir,” she spoke gently and with a kind and calming tone. 

“We need to help your friend, just take a small step back so we can do that okay”. 

 

Her kind words cut through his fear and Steve nodded and scrambled a few steps backwards. 

The paramedics spoke in hushed tones as they attended to Kate, attaching wires and monitors, bandages and dressings. An oxygen mask over her face and IV lines in her arms.

It wasn’t long before Kate was being lifted onto a stretcher, then loaded into the back of an Ambulance.  



The sirens screamed as the Ambulance raced through the back streets of the City. 

Steve kept his eyes fixed on his friend, determined and unblinking, once again he had Kate’s hand clasped firmly in his. Lost in thought, he desperately tried to quash the worry that was eating away at him as he looked at the fragile form of his friend lying on the stretcher. He listened out for the slow, steady beeps of the heart rate monitor that indicated that despite everything Kate was still clinging to the threads of life. 

 

But only just.

 

Because no matter how hard he tried Steve couldn’t shake the heavy and foreboding feeling in his gut. Something bad was going to happen. The atmosphere in the ambulance, it felt too calm, too steady. 

It was then he saw the concern that flashed across the young Paramedic's eyes with every blip of the monitor. Steve felt the knot in his chest tighten, his many years of policing instincts were proving hard to ignore. 

Something bad was going to happen.

He noticed the way she sat, tense and ready to spring into action, her eyes set and unblinking, focused on the monitors as they intently searched for the smallest change.

It was as if she was waiting for something even worse to happen. 

 

Then it did. 

 

The steady beeps abruptly turned erratic, an alarm sounded, a screeching that reverberated through the ambulance, bouncing from the metal walls, Steve felt a fear like never before. The knot in his chest felt like it might burst. He froze.

Please no…

 

“She’s crashing” the paramedic yelled, leaping up from her seat. “Let go of her hand”, she ordered.

 

The harshness of her words tore Steve from his trance. There wasn’t the time for careful and kind words. 

He did as he was told, he sank into the passenger seat of the Ambulance, hands trembling, still in the grips of fear. 

 

A continuous tone echoed. 

Chapter Text

The door to the hospital crashed open.   

 

“Female, mid-thirties, GSW to the abdomen. GCS 10 on scene, dropped to 8 enroute. 

She crashed in the back of the Ambo but we got her back. 

She’s Tachy at 120 and BP is 70/40. Sats at 90% on O2, reps rate 20.”

 

Steve rushed in alongside the stretcher still reeling from the events of the journey. Kate’s heart had stopped and all he had been able to do was watch. He’d watched while his best friend died…

If it wasn’t for the quick actions of the paramedic, she probably wouldn’t be alive right now.

He once again had a tight hold of her hand, it was the only comfort he could offer and he didn’t want to let go, for fear that if he did he’d never see Kate again.

 

S he just had to be okay. 

A group of Doctors and Nurses rushed over and began to surround Kate, she was quickly transferred from the ambulance stretcher across to the hospital monitors. Everything happened with such a quiet urgency, it was almost eerie. Steve had to keep reminding himself that it was his best friend lying motionless amidst the organised chaos. The bright and persistent glare of the Emergency Department lights burnt at Steve’s eyes after so long in the dim lights of the Lorry Park. Everything was moving so fast, yet Steve was frozen to the spot, through fear or worry he wasn’t sure, people came at him from all sides and shouted words and phrases he didn’t understand. It was as if he was trapped in a horrendous nightmare, but this was no nightmare, this was reality. 

 

“Recheck ABCs.” 

 

“Cross-match for 4 units. FBC and Coagulation. U and Es  and Lactate.” 

 

A nurse gently placed a hand on Steve’s shoulder and still he didn’t look away. 

“They’re going to look after her, you need to give the Doctors some space now.” 

 

Steve gave Kate’s hand a final squeeze before he reluctantly allowed himself to be ushered out of the way. Just hang on mate . The tangle of green and blue scrubs obscured Kate from view.

 

“What’s her name?” He heard one of the Doctors say, it was the first thing he had understood amongst all the medical terminology. This is what it must be like, he thought, when Civis hear us speak,  just meaningless acronyms and numbers.

“Kate,” he stuttered. “Her name is Kate”. 

 

“Kate, can you hear me?”  

A tall woman with short blond hair leant over Kate. 

“Kate, my name’s Bernie, I’m one of the Trauma Doctors. I’m going to be looking after you. Can you open your eyes for me Kate?”

 

Steve couldn’t help but notice the concern in the Doctor’s voice, his Detective instinct was too strong and it only made the knot in his chest tighten further. 

 

“Kate?”

“Kate, open your eyes.”

Kate’s eyes opened ever so slightly but her gaze remained unfocused. 

“That’s it," the Doctor stated. "I need you to try and stay awake for me Kate.”

Without turning away from Kate she gave further directions. 

 

“We need to get another line in. Large bore access” 

 

“Set up a 12 lead.”

 

“Push fluids.” 

 

“Shit, she’s haemorrhaging.”

 

“Activate Major Haemorrhage protocol.” 

 

“TXA going in.” 

 

The voices overlapped into a frenzied stream and Steve could only stand and watch as the Medics fought to save his best friend.  Everything was happening so fast, he felt as if the world was spinning uncontrollably around him and he couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. 

 

“BP is dropping.”

 

There were more shouts of words he didn’t understand and Kate was soon engulfed by wire and tubes.

 

Please save her, please. 

 

Kate looked so fragile lying on the Hospital gurney, so pale and exposed. It was as if she could break completely from the slightest touch. Please be okay Steve begged silently. Please, Kate. Keep fighting, you can get through this 

 

Kate, you’re so strong mate. Just hang in there please. 

 

Amongst the chaos, a monitor screamed and Steve was torn from his thoughts. 

 

“Peri-arrest”

 

“She’s crashing!”

 

“V-Fib!”

 

“Start CPR.”

 

“We need a secure airway.”

 

“Prep for an RSI.”

 

“Fast bleep the theatre team. Emergency Laparotomy, we need to go now.”  

 

Just as quickly as they had rushed in, the team of nurses and Doctors rushed out, still surrounding Kate who continued to lay motionless on the stretcher. 

Steve was left standing alone in the trauma bay, not knowing what to do next. He still had Kate’s blood on his hands.

After a while, he began to sense that someone was standing behind him, a comforting hand was placed on his shoulder and he was guided to a waiting area.

 

Plastic seats lined one wall of the long hospital corridor, Steve sank numbly into a chair, feeling both nothing and everything all at once. 

His head was spinning, desperately trying to make sense of everything that had just happened, but he just couldn’t. It was as if he was stuck in a film, living out his worst nightmares.

He screwed his eyes shut and wished harder than he ever had before. He wished that Kate would be okay, he wished for an alternate reality where they were still together at AC12 and he wouldn’t be sitting waiting in a dreary hospital corridor. He wished that he could wipe away the events of the past couple of hours, he wished for anything other than the present reality. 

 

He opened his eyes and nothing had changed.

 

Minutes became hours, just waiting. 

 

The fluorescent lights flickered and hummed monotonously, their faded glow danced across the scuffed linoleum floor. The hard plastic of the chair dug into Steve’s back, but the dull ache was nothing compared to the fear that still gripped at his heart. He’d never felt so scared, so worried, so utterly powerless and unable to help. 

 

How had everything gone so wrong? How could this have happened? Why was his best friend fighting for her life? Was Kate going to die?

 

He had so many questions but no answers.  

All he knew was that he just couldn’t comprehend a world without Kate in it. Kate, intelligent, dedicated, and head-strong. Kate, who always wanted to do the right thing. God she could be infuriating sometimes too, after being introduced to memes by Josh, she had inundated him with them, pictures of dogs in waistcoats and three-piece suits accompanied by stupid jokes. Kate, who knew exactly how to wind him up, her eyes lighting up and a coy smile creeping across her face when he fell for another of her pranks. Kate, who always had his back, she had always been there when he needed her, without him ever having to ask. And tonight, when she needed him, he wasn’t there. 

 

The image of Kate lying unconscious and bleeding out was burnt into his mind, her ragged gasps for breath echoed in his ears. Memories of holding her icy cold hand in his, willing with every fibre of his being for her to hold on, played on constant repeat. If felt as if time had come to a standstill, he didn’t know if it had been hours, minutes or days since they’d whisked Kate away in a frenzy of monitors and medical jargon. Each moment was drawn out into eternity and all he could do was wait. Fuck this. He sprang up, no longer able to just sit and wait, and lashed out at the first thing he saw, a metal paper bin was sent clattering down the corridor.  

 

“Woah there fella,” came an exclamation from behind him. 

 

Ted.

 

Steve turned to the Gaffer who was holding two paper cups of a murky brown liquid that was pretending to be Coffee. 

“Machine quality," Ted grumbled, holding one of the cups out to Steve. "But it's hot and caffeinated. So if you are going to insist on waiting it will have to do.” 

“Thanks,” Steve muttered, taking the cup from Ted. 

He stared down at the murky brown liquid, not really sure what else he could say to the Gaffer. He wasn’t sure if he even had the words to explain how he was feeling right now. 

 

“She is a strong wee lassie, our Kate,” came Ted’s heartfelt reply. “She’s a fighter and too bloody stubborn to go out like this. She’s going to be okay, I’m sure of it…” 

Hastings trailed off and Steve couldn’t help but notice how his words lacked both belief and conviction.

 

Steve and Ted fell into a subdued and awkward silence, there wasn’t anything else left to say.

 

Ted gazed slowly up at the ceiling, pangs of guilt heavy in his chest. Again, one of his best officers had been critically injured, partly through his orders. If only he had followed Steve and agreed to bring Ryan in when they had the chance. Again he was sitting in some dingy hospital corridor anxiously waiting for news. 

Again life had shown just how cruel it could be. Kate was a good lass and a brilliant copper. She was trying to help, to do the right things and in some twisted turn of fate, she had paid the price.

He closed his eyes with a weary sigh and turned to the only thing he could do to help. He prayed. 

  

Steve drained the dregs of coffee from the cup, it tasted even worse cold, but forcing himself to drink the murky brown liquid had at least given him something to do as he paced up and down the dingy corridor. He dumped the cup into the bin and slumped back into the chair, ignoring the stabs of pain in his back. He was beyond exhausted but remained incapable of sleep. Ted was snoring quietly a few chairs down, the events of the last few hours having clearly taken their toll, his usual smart uniform was now dishevelled, his shirt untucked and tie hanging out of his trouser pocket.   

For a moment, he felt a slight envy towards the Gaffer, jealous of how he was sleeping through the agonising wait for news. Steve had no idea how he was supposed to be able to sleep when his colleague, his partner, his best friend, was fighting for her life in an operating theatre further down the corridor. 

 

“Mr Arnott?” Steve looked up to see the blonde Doctor who had earlier introduced herself as Bernie stood in front of him.

"Doctor." Steve greeted curtly.

“Dr. Wolfe, but call me Bernie please.” She held out her hand and Steve returned a limp shake. “I’m the Doctor in charge of Miss Flemings care.” 

“Can I?” she asked, motioning to the chair next to Steve. 

Steve replied with a nod of agreement.

 

“I understand you are Miss Fleming’s next of kin?”

“Kate,” Steve interrupted as he imagined how Kate would squirm at being referred to as ‘Miss Fleming’. 

"Apologies, I understand you are Kate’s next of kin?” Bernie rephrased her statement.  

“I…” Steve began. 

He hadn't known that Kate had changed her next of kin, or that she'd chosen him. Things must have been really bad with Mark for her to do that. He sighed wearily, why didn’t you tell me Kate? Why didn’t you tell me? The thought circled round his mind. Why didn’t you tell me? About Jo, about Mark and Josh, about how you felt, about anything? You're my best friend Kate, why didn’t you tell me? 

Deep down, Steve knew the answer. It was the same reason why he hadn’t told Kate about his back and the painkillers or Steph Corbett. 

 

Because sometimes it's easier to pretend that everything is fine than admit you are vulnerable or struggling. 

 

“I’m her friend,” he responded, unsure of how to sum up their relationship, Kate was like a sister to him but also so much more. 

“Is she… is she…?” he scarcely dared say the words for fear of what may come next. He took a deep, shaking breath to steady himself, before he finally asked, “Is she okay?”

Steve glanced at the Doctor’s face, but her expression remained neutral and gave nothing away. Her eyes, tired and kind, met his.

 

“We were able to stop the bleeding and get her stable,” Bernie paused, Steve felt an initial wash of relief but his heart sank as he realised there was still more to say. He didn’t need to be a detective to know that there was a but coming.

“But,” Bernie's expression turned solemn, and Steve felt like he couldn't breathe. 

 

Please let Kate be okay. 

 

“The bullet caused some significant internal injuries and Kate lost a lot of blood. As a result, she went into Cardiac Arrest on the table. We were able to get her back, but she was down for a long time.”

“What...What does that mean?” Steve stuttered, his brain still struggling to process the words he was hearing. 

“It means,” Bernie continued softly, “it means that Kate is stable at the moment but her condition is still critical. She’s not breathing on her own right now, so we’re having to help with that. We won’t really know whether there will be any lasting effects until she wakes up.”   

 

Steve's head sunk into his hands and he only just caught what Bernie said next.   

“If she wakes up.” 

“I..” his eyes filled with tears that he didn’t know he had left. 

 

If she wakes up. 

 

The words hung heavy in the air, they filled the stifling silence of the corridor, it was all too loud, too much.

 

If she wakes up. 

 

The thought spiralled around his head. 

He didn’t want to comprehend the possibility. There just couldn’t be an if. Kate had to wake up, she just had to. 

“Can I see her?” he asked with quiet trepidation. 

 

Bernie nodded. “She’s being transferred to the ICU right now so that we can monitor her closely. As soon as they’re ready I’ll come and get you.” 

Bernie stood up slowly and offered Steve a sad smile.   

“You should try and get some rest, it might be a few hours before you can see Kate. She’ll need you to be strong, so please, try and rest.” 

 

Steve was about to protest and claim that he wasn’t tired, but he could already feel his eyelids drooping. He gave in with a weary sigh and watched as Bernie disappeared down the corridor, then he leant back into the chair and drifted into a restless sleep. 

Chapter Text

Floating in the clouds, giving up the fight

A voice is calling out, I'm walking into the light

 

Distant shouts, 

Raised Voices,

Drop the gun! 

No you drop the gun! 

Getting louder.

Drop the gun!

Beep, beep, beep. 

Last chance, 

Drop the gun! 

Drop it! 

 

CRACK! 

BANG! 

Searing pain,

Burning through,

All I can feel. 

The fury of the sun.

 

Falling down,

Broken and beaten.

Blackness. 

Beep, beep, beep. 

So cold, 

Can’t breathe. 

It hurts, 

Everything hurts.

 

Jo.

Shouting,

Screaming.

Kate!

Can you hear me?

Eyes flicker,

She offers a weak smile. 

She’s scared, 

I can see it in her eyes.

She thinks I don’t notice.

It's going to be okay,

She soothes.

You’re going to be fine, 

She lies. 

You are going to be okay.

She promises.

The tears in her eyes suggest different. 

Please be okay,

She begs.

 

Still she tries.

She smiles. 

Help is coming. 

Just hang on.

She keeps telling me,

You’re going to be okay.

But I’m not so sure. 

 

Beep, beep, beep

Still so cold,

Ice in my bones.

The current takes me,

Carries me away.

Everything Hurts. 

Whispers fading.

A voice soft and caring,

I love you.

Tears fall.

I love you Kate.

I think I love her back.

But I don’t have the strength to reply. 

 

Beep, beep, beep 

 

Sirens, 

Blue lights,

Bright flashes,

A warning sign.

Shouting, 

She needs help!

Who? 

Who needs help? 

 

Beep, beep, beep. 

 

So cold,  

Everything hurts.

Life fading.

 

Then there’s a different face. 

Steve. 

It’s gonna be alright mate

He promises.

But the words are empty.

Still a detective.

 

I’m scared,

Of the shadows,

A world gone static.  

Trying to breathe,

But it hurts so much. 

Just stay with me, 

You’re going to be okay. 

No bets, 

I try to joke. 

No one laughs. 

Whispers of a warm farewell.

 

I’m really scared,

Think I’m dying.

Eyes heavy.

It hurts, 

Hurts so much. 

I just want it to stop,

Keep breathing,

I remind myself.

But do I want to? 

 

Beep, beep, beep.

 

Tears fall,

Hot and salty.

Don’t cry.

Don’t cry for me. 

Take your candle.

Stay with me mate. 

But it hurts, 

Everything hurts.

 

I’m so cold,

Body closing down. 

Eyes close, 

Voices fade. 

Giving up the fight.

NO! 

He takes my hand.

Shouting,

Through the tears. 

Stay with me, 

Stay with me Kate! 

Please stay with me!

I don’t know if I can.

Can’t breathe, 

Fading to darkness. 

 

Beep, beep, beep 

 

Overlapping voices, 

Strange noises. 

Waves of sound.

Can’t move, 

Bright lights flicker.

Can you hear me? 

Many faces,

Blur to static.

Tunnel vision,

Of the Great Beyond.

Open your eyes.

You need to stay awake.

Open your eyes!

 

Beep, beep, beep.

 

Still hurts, 

So much. 

Too much.

Walking into the light.

Eyes close.

Can’t breathe,

Can’t hold on. 

 

Rhythm slowing down,

Lines fade.

Flatline. 

Silent screams, 

She’s crashing!

So dark. 

So cold. 

Shadows taking over.

Darkness beckons,

Then nothing. 

Taken by the light.

 

Are you dying all your life?

Broken, beaten, tired of,

You wanted to love but don't know how,

Diagnosis: sudden life.

Can no one revive me now?

Feels like I'm walking into the light.

 

Beep, beep, beep. 

 

Kate didn’t know where she was, couldn’t remember what happened. She felt as if she was just swaying in the darkness and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t put the pieces together. Her head felt heavy, wrapped in a thick fog and she couldn’t find her way through.   

 

Beep, beep, beep. 

 

The images flashed across her mind, they flickered and whirred as if from an old film projector. The light faded and everything felt so strange and distant. 

 

Beep, beep, beep.

 

Her thoughts swirled, they caught in the wind and were blown away before she’d had the chance to make sense of them. Faint whispers called out, but she couldn’t understand. There was only confusion and she was so tired.

 

Beep, beep, beep. 

 

The only constant was the steady beeping and the sharp whiffs of disinfectant that pricked at her nose.  

Distorted voices shouted words and commands she couldn’t comprehend and blurred faces hung over her, obscured by the bright lights.

"I need you to try and stay awake for me Kate.”

People came at her from all sides, she was poked and prodded and she wanted to scream but she couldn’t find the strength. 

“We need to get another line in. Large bore access” 

Kate closed her eyes, she just wanted it all to stop. She couldn’t breathe and everything hurt. 

Somewhere in the groggy depths of her mind, she made a connection.  

 

Beep, beep, beep.

 

Kate groaned quietly, she knew where she was now. Hospital. She tried to open her eyes again, but her muscles didn’t want to obey. 

“Shit, she’s haemorrhaging.”

Her head felt heavy and she was so tired. She couldn’t think, everything felt jumbled, she wasn’t even sure she was actually awake.

 

Beep, beep, beep. 

 

She tried to remember what had happened, but everything felt so hazy. 

“Activate Major Haemorrhage protocol.”

She couldn’t move, couldn’t make her brain work, it was as if she was no longer in control of her body, trapped in the darkness. 

“BP is dropping.” 

Exhaustion took hold, god she was so tired. 

“Peri-arrest!”

She tried to fight it but it was no use. 

“She’s crashing!”

Darkness took hold and she slipped back into the grips of unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Jo Davidson found herself sitting in a holding cell in an unfamiliar police station and no matter how hard she tried she couldn't quite recall how she had gotten there. The dim light flickered overhead, it cast long and ominous shadows across the cell and she shakily huddled in a corner to get away from them. She was tired and confused and her head felt groggy with the persistent thump of a headache, the kind that only comes from excessive crying. Her eyes were puffy, bloodshot and raw, they still stung and the hours of tears had her vision blurry round the edges. She looked and felt like a mess, a pathetic and useless mess. 

 

DCI Davidson doesn’t cry , she tried to tell herself, yet the words just felt empty and she couldn’t quite believe the mantra. DCI Davidson is strong, level-headed and formidable at times.  

Only she wasn’t DCI Davidson anymore, DCI Davidson felt like just a distant memory. Now she was just Jo, she was just the same scared and shy child who had found her mum’s body all those years earlier. And scared little Jo was locked away with only her ever-darkening thoughts for company. But her thoughts were nothing compared to the voice in her head, his voice . It was a voice that she thought she had silenced, but within the last few days he had returned with a vengeance. He always came back. He came back to hurt her. He always hurt her. 

You’ll never be free from me, I’m always here, there’s no escape.

So, feeling lost, abandoned, and unloved, Jo cried alone. The voice, his voice , screamed through her thoughts. 

You’ll always be alone Joanne. How could anyone possibly love you? 

There was no one there to wipe away her tears. There never had been. 

You’re pathetic Joanne. Pathetic. Useless. 

 

A baggy grey jumper swamped her fragile form, it was stiff and itchy and she longed for the comfort of her favourite turtleneck. They had taken her clothes for forensic recovery, she vaguely remembered. They were stained with blood. 

Kate’s blood

All of a sudden the memories flooded back, they crashed into her like waves in a storm, battering her already frail mind. They tore her away from the shore and she fell back into the icy grips of panic. It clutched at her chest and crushed her lungs until she had no air left to breathe. 

 

Kate. 

 

The Lorry Park. 

 

How she had lured Kate there. 

 

Lured her there to be murdered. 

 

The Standoff, gunshots and bodies on the ground. 

 

Ryan dead and Kate barely breathing. 

 

Kate. 

 

Oh god, Kate!  

 

There had been so much blood. She looked down at her trembling hands, though scrubbed clean, she could still see Kate’s blood on them. 

It's all your fault, Joanne. You couldn’t save her. 

She hadn’t wanted this, Kate didn’t deserve this. 

How could you do this Joanne? 

Her heart pounded hard and fast and her breath came in short ragged gasps. 

You couldn’t save her. 

 

Her head was spinning, thoughts and emotions whirled round her mind in an uncontrolled frenzy. 

You failed Joanne. You didn’t listen, Joanne. You know what happens when you don’t listen.  

Battered and beaten by the ever crashing waves of panic, Jo couldn’t breathe, she was all alone and she couldn't breathe. She felt sick, weak and dizzy, she was sure she was going to die. 

You’re going to die, Joanne.  

The cell faded out of focus and she felt herself being dragged under the surface, she couldn’t stop it, couldn’t fight. The waves continued to crash down, pulling her under. She was trapped and alone, drowning in her panic, falling further into the depths. 

You’re going to die, Joanne.

 

Jo pulled her knees close to her chest and hugged them tight. She bowed her head and let her hair fall in matted tangles in front of her face. She tried to make herself as small as possible, it was the only way she knew how to hide from the fear and the pain. 

You can’t hide forever, Joanne. 

Silent sobs shook through her body as she rocked gently back and forth, desperately trying to calm her racing mind. But the thoughts kept coming. He kept screaming. 

You’re going to die, Joanne. 

Kate’s going to die and it’s all your fault. 

IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!

She shrunk into the floor, the cold tiles chilled her bones, though she scarcely felt it, ice had already penetrated her heart. 

So stupid Joanne... You thought you could escape, but there is no escape. So much hurt Joanne, and all on you…

IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!

 

Jo didn’t know how long she spent lying on the floor but after a while, the waves calmed, her thoughts slowed and panic gradually released its grip on her chest until she could just about breathe again. Jo took a few shaking breaths, she filled her lungs with air and focused on slowing her heart rate. Too exhausted to move, she stayed on that floor for a long time, it was where she belonged. Locked in the cell, Jo had no real measure of time but her whole body ached and her muscles were stiff and sore from lying curled up for so long. 

 

After a while, the cell came back into focus and Jo dragged herself into a sitting position and rested back against the bank. She shivered and pulled the sleeves of her jumper down over her hands. She hugged her knees, seeking warmth and comfort but finding none.

That was when the exhaustion took hold, the panic attack had drained her remaining energy reserves to beyond empty. She couldn’t fight any longer so she closed her eyes and gave in to sleep. 

But even as she slept there was no escape. 

We’re always here Joanne. 

They haunted her dreams, the things she had done. What they'd done to her and how they’d controlled her. 

There’s no escape, haven’t you figured that out but now? Silly little Joanne. 

It didn’t matter anymore, nothing mattered anymore. She didn’t matter anymore. 

You never mattered Joanne. You’re unimportant, worthless.

 

Her life had never been her own, no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t escape. She’d always been controlled by others, a puppet of corruption. 

We own you Joanne, you’re ours to control.  

Sinister forces pulled her strings and directed her every move. No where was safe and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t escape OCG control.

You can’t get away from us Joanne. We’re always here. Always watching. 

 

Her life was pitiful, filled only with pain and anguish. 

Your life belongs to us, Joanne.

Ryan had been sent to keep her in line. 

Remember what happens to a rat. 

Someone was always there, always watching her.  A voice on a burner phone, the messages from an unknown user that appeared on her computer screen. No matter how many locks she had on her door, she never felt safe. Nowhere was safe. 

I can always get to you, Joanne.  

 

She was nothing more than a puppet, a plaything to be used and discarded. She still bore the scars, from the times she’d tried to rebel. 

Your punishment for not listening, it hurts doesn’t it Joanne. This is what happens when you don’t do as we say. 

The reminders that she would never be in control. She was still haunted by the nightmares, the flashbacks to the beatings, the abuse. Of what would happen if she didn’t do as she was told. 

We control you, Joanne. There is no escape for us, Joanne. Do as we say and there won’t be a need to hurt you. 

She’d stopped feeling them at some point, numb and empty, save for her icy soul. That was how she was destined to remain, cold and distant. Alone. 

It’s all you deserve.

After almost 30 years of control, she didn’t know who she was anymore. Who the real ‘Jo’ was or if anything in her life had ever been real. There was only one thought keeping her grounded. Kate. All she had to hold on to was that Kate had been real. The way she felt about Kate had been real, more real than anything she’d felt before or could ever feel again. It was Kate, who had given her reason to live rather than just survive. 

 

Kate, incredible, confident, and headstrong. Kate, a shining light in the darkness, beautiful and brilliant. And because of her actions, the light had faded, and was in danger of going out for good. 

She didn’t know whether Kate’s feelings had been real or whether she had just been pretending.

She was just pretending. 

You don’t deserve love. 

Now there was just an endless emptiness. Her heart felt emptier than the dingy cell she found herself in. There was only one person who could fill that void and she had lured to her death. She didn’t even know if she was still alive. 

 

Please , Jo prayed, though to who she wasn’t exactly sure. She’d never been religious or believed in God but she didn’t have anything else left. Fate, the universe, karma? Please she begged, as she clasped her hands together in silent prayer, not really sure what she was doing. Please,  just let Kate be okay. If it’s my life or hers take mine, I’d give it willingly if it meant saving her. Please, if anyone is listening, if anyone can hear my cry, please save Kate Fleming. 

Chapter Text

“Steve?”

 

Steve felt a hand on his shoulder, gently shaking him awake. 

 

“Steve,” a soft voice broke through his restless slumber. 

 

He groaned quietly and tried to stretch out the stiffness that had settled into his muscles. If he was completely honest, his back was really hurting and the short and fitful sleep in such an uncomfortable position had done him no favours. 

 

“Yeah?”

Steve opened his eyes to see Bernie standing above him, she smiled softly, her kind eyes offering solace. 

 

“You can go and see Kate now. I’ll take you up to the ICU.” 

 

“Thanks,” he murmured hoarsely and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

Though he was still groggy with sleep, Steve stood up and followed Bernie through the Hospital corridors. His legs felt wobbly and he was so dazed and worn out that even though he tried, he couldn’t manage to pay attention to where he was going. The lights overhead flickered and hummed, all sense of time faded as their footsteps echoed through the maze of empty hallways. There was only one thing on his mind. Kate. His best friend. He needed to see her, to know she really was okay. He didn’t know what to expect, but anything had to be better than seeing her bleeding out in that desolate Lorry Park.

 

The Intensive Care Unit at Central City Hospital was a large brightly lit space, and in the harsh lights it felt bleak and sterile. With stark white walls, clinical, clean and eerily quiet, devoid of all personality. Steve couldn’t help but feel uneasy as Bernie led him to a bay at the end of the unit. Hospital was meant to be somewhere where people got better, so why did he feel so drained? It was as if the life was being sucked out of him. 

This was where the sickest, most vulnerable patients were looked after until they were either well enough to move to a general ward or... Or they died. 

And with a heavy heart, Steve realised,  his best friend was one of those patients.

 

“Just, before you go in,” Bernie said quietly, placing a comforting hand on Steve’s arm. “It can be quite upsetting to see someone you care about in intensive care, but understand all the machines, the monitors, it's all there to help her.” 

 

But Bernie’s gentle reassurances only seemed to make Steve feel more anxious.

 

Noticing the uncertainty beginning to creep across his face she continued, “Just talk to her, just like you normally would. She won’t be able to reply but she might be able to hear you. It can help sometimes, for patients to hear a familiar voice.” 

 

Steve took a deep breath to steady himself before he entered the bay, though nothing could have prepared him for what he found. In front of him, taking up most of the space was a large hospital bed and on it lay a fragile figure, face half-obscured by the bulky plastic of the ventilator. Her eyes were closed and her skin a deathly pale under the bright lights. She looked like a ghost, as if she wasn’t really there. She seemed to be only an illusion, imitating life, translucent and faded.

She was crowded by medical equipment and Steve couldn’t stop himself as his mouth fell open in dismay, he didn’t even know it was possible to be hooked up to that many machines and monitors. 

 

It couldn’t be Kate, lying in the hospital bed, kept alive by machines. It couldn’t be Kate, looking so weak and broken. Kate was dedicated, confident, and ballsy, a fire burning behind her eyes, so full of life. His best friend. It couldn’t be Kate. Except it was. It was Kate, lying in the hospital bed. So weak and broken, surrounded by wires, machines, and monitors. They hummed and whirred gently, working in unison to keep her alive. 

 

The heart rate monitor kept time with its steady, regular beats. Steve had to keep looking up at the screen, trying to remind himself Kate was still alive. That somewhere, underneath the wires, tubes, and monitors was the same strong and stubborn Kate, his best friend and she was still hanging on. He watched as her chest rose and fell, with every gentle rush of air from the ventilator that was breathing for her. 

 

She looked so small and frail, as if she would break from the slightest touch. 

 

Kate had died, twice. She’d been dead for nearly 10 minutes. She still looked dead.  

 

He couldn’t get that thought out of his head. It haunted him seeing his best friend in this state. Kate, he’d always thought of her as unbreakable, and that had been her downfall. If only they’d got there sooner, if the surveillance hadn’t been dropped, if they’d brought Ryan in sooner. Fuck , if Kate hadn’t blindly trusted Jo, she wouldn’t be fighting for her life, dependent on machines to stay alive. The what-ifs circled round Steve’s mind, threatening to overwhelm him completely. 

 

“Oh mate,” was all he could manage before he sank into yet another uncomfortable plastic chair. 

He gingerly took hold of Kate’s hand, not wanting to hurt her or disturb any of the wires or IV lines that snaked from her arms. For a while, he just sat and watched, feeling the warmth of her hand in his, he held onto the reminder that she was still fighting. 

There was so much he wanted to say, but he had no idea where to start. 

 

“Just hang on in there mate, you’re gonna be okay,” he whispered, scarcely able to get the words out.

“The Doctor, Bernie, said it could help to talk to you, that you might be able to hear me. Reckon you’d like her y’know, she seems like one of the good ones. Kind, but ballsy and good at what she does. I wouldn’t want to mess with her. Bit like you y’know.”

Steve sighed, a lump caught in his throat. 

“You had me so worried mate, I was scared, really fucking scared. I thought I was going to lose you. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you, y’know.  You’re my best friend Kate, I know things ain’t been easy this past year, with you leaving AC12 but bloody hell mate, I still care. I still care about you. I probably should have made more of an effort too, cos I’ve missed you mate. I know you had your reasons, but it ain’t been the same without you. Heck, I’ve even missed you leaving your dirty mugs in the sink, and everywhere else in the office for that matter. And that’s saying something y’know. I just don’t know how I’m supposed to face a world without you.”

He took a shaking breath and tried to steady himself against the sobs that threatened to overwhelm him. 

“So you keep fighting mate, y’hear me. Cause I know you’re strong. You’re stubborn and downright bloody minded too at times. So much that it drives me nuts, but that’s how I know you’re gonna get through this, alright. And I just need you to know, if you need me, I’m here. I know you don’t like to ask, but I’m here for you mate, whatever happens. You’ve got me mate. So, you’re gonna wake up and get better and then we’re going for a long overdue drink in the pub. I think you owe me that mate. You hear me, you’re gonna be okay.” 

 

Steve’s words gradually faded into the silence as tears rolled down his cheeks.

Chapter Text

Steve sighed wearily as he set a steaming mug of coffee down at his desk. After spending all night at the Hospital he was beyond exhausted and he hoped the caffeine would be enough to get him through the day. He sunk into his chair and powered up the computer, he closed his eyes for a few short moments while the machine hummed and whirred as it sprang into life. Despite feeling as if he hadn’t slept for a week, he welcomed the distraction of work. The events of the previous night were on a constant repeat, spiralling round his mind and no matter how hard he tried to force the thoughts out of his brain, they always returned with vengeance. He couldn’t stand the idea of sitting at home worrying, all alone with his concern, he feared it would consume him. At least here, in the office, he could try and keep his brain occupied.

 

He impatiently drummed his fingers on the desk while he waited for his computer to load, the welcome screen seemed to be taking forever today. He wanted to check CCTV footage of the area surrounding the Lorry Park and he was also waiting on the forensics report. He just needed to find some sense in the events of the last 24 hours, there had to be some reason behind it all, there just had to be. 

The desktop finally loaded and immediately an email alert pinged. Steve groaned when he checked the sender. Occupational Health. Again. Fuck . He immediately hit delete. He just didn’t have the strength to deal with that right now, there was too much else he had to focus on.  

 

“Sir?” 

A faint voice broke through his thoughts. 

“How is she?” Chloe asked quietly. 

She was hovering somewhat awkwardly by Steve’s desk and her face was lined with concern. She looked as tired as he felt and she was still wearing yesterday’s clothes, like Steve, she probably hadn’t made it home.

 

“Alive.” Steve responded curtly, it was all he had the strength to answer. The image of Kate lying broken in that desolate Lorry Park, bleeding out and barely breathing was forever ingrained in his mind. It was an image he would never be able to forget. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw her. He saw the light in her eyes fading while he begged for her to hold on, to stay with him. 

His prayers had been answered. Somehow, Kate was still alive.

“She’s alive,” he repeated, trying to find comfort in the fact. “Just.” 

And only just

 

“That’s good, I’m glad.” Chloe smiled wearily. 

 

Steve sighed. It hurt to think of his best friend lying in a Hospital bed, clinging to the threads of life, dependent on machines to breathe for her. 

 

“I told you she was a strong wee lassie,” came Ted’s voice from behind him. Steve watched as the Gaffer strode across the office, looking a lot more put together than he had been when he had last seen him in the Hospital. 

“She’ll get through this son.” 

 

Feeling completely drained, Steve looked up at his Gaffer, who had come to stand next to Chloe. 

 

“I hope so,” he replied. 

There wasn’t anything left to say. All he could do was hope, though he wasn’t sure if that would be enough.  

 

It was only as Steve met Chloe’s wide eyes, aghast with more than exhaustion, did he realise. He hadn’t changed since arriving at the hospital. His shirt and waistcoat were still stained with blood. Kate’s blood. How hadn't he noticed?

 

Suddenly Steve felt like he was suffocating. “I…” he stumbled, then jumped up from his chair. 

“I think I have a change of clothes in my locker.”

 

He felt as if the walls of the office were closing in, he needed to get out, he didn’t know where, but anywhere was better than here. His head spun with a dizzying fury and all he could see was the blood. Kate’s blood. He had to get out of these clothes. Now. He pushed past a stunned Chloe and concerned Ted and staggered through the office, trying to quash the panic that was rising in his chest. 

 

His whole body shook as he forced open his locker, hands were trembling so much he was barely able to get the key in the lock. 

 

“Are you alright in there son?” 

 

Ted. 

 

Steve didn’t need his concern right now. He didn’t need anyone's concern. He had spent the night in the Hospital, helplessly waiting while Kate fought for her life. He’d watched as she fought to stay conscious, he’d felt her strength fading. He’d held her hand as he begged her to hold on, he’d promised her that she would be okay. And then she had died. She actually died. And now she was only just hanging on. He’d sat by her side as she lay broken in the ICU. He was still covered in his best friend’s blood. Of course, he wasn’t fucking alright. Who would be? 

Kate was his best friend, his rock. She was his one constant in a world of uncertainty and chaos. And he’d left her alone. Guilt was slowly eating away at him. If only he’d gotten there earlier. If only he’d been there for Kate when she needed him. If only he had supported her instead of leaving her alone at MIT. Alone with Jo fucking Davidson and that bastard kid Ryan. 

 

He leant against the cool metal of the lockers and tried to regain control of his breathing. Deep breaths, in and out. Counting. Breathe in for 5, hold for 5, out for 5, hold for 5. Repeat. There he remained, quivering and forcing back the sobs until his heart rate had returned to a normal level.

 

Steve Arnott was tough, a Detective Inspector. In his many years on the force, he’d dealt with some of the worst of humanity and he had never batted an eye, he’d remained unfazed. Steve Arnott didn’t cry. Except he did. In the past few hours, he had cried enough tears to fill an ocean and still, the tears fell, hot and salty streams running down his cheeks. 

 

Thankfully he found his gym bag, containing both his workout gear and a set of clean casual clothes. Steve settled for the casual clothes and quickly changed into a jumper and jeans. His hands trembled as he balled up his shirt and waistcoat, he stuffed them into the very bottom of his gym bag, out of sight, out of mind…

 

Steve could feel all eyes on him as he walked back into the office, the pitying looks and worried expressions burnt into his back. He kept his head down and quickly made his way back to the relative safety of his desk. He didn’t want pity, he just wanted Kate to be okay. 

He turned back to his computer screen and focused his attention on collating the documents ready to interview Jo Davidson. He needed a distraction, anything that would disrupt the images flashing through his mind.

Chapter Text

Jo didn't realise she could fall further, that there was any way of things getting worse than they already were. She’d already been arrested on conspiracy to murder, had confessed to killing Ryan and her links to the OCG had been uncovered. But now sat in the glass box, across from Carmichael, Hastings and Steve Arnott, her pitiful excuse for a life was systematically being pulled apart. 

 

You never really had a life though, did you Joanne?

 

And still, when she thought she could sink no lower she found that there were deeper depths of despair, even darker secrets lurked in her past. Because, during her interview came the revelations about Tommy Hunter. Runs of homozygosity. Thinking he was her Uncle had been bad enough, but now… 

 

Now she knew who he really was.

Now she knew what she was.

Disgusting. 

 

You’re disgusting, Joanne. Unworthy of existence. Someone like you has no right to life.  

 

She wanted to clamp her hands over her ears and shut everything out.

She tried to explain, tried to tell them that she didn’t know, she didn’t know who he really was. 

“I didn’t know,” her response was meek, barely audible. “He was my Uncle, it's not true.”

 

Carmichael just tutted as pushed a piece of paper across the table.

And that was when Jo’s world shattered. It was true. Stated clearly in black and white, DNA evidence and there was no arguing with that. 

She felt broken, her already fragile identity had been destroyed. She couldn’t fight back the voices. They roared through her thoughts, screaming, loud and angry.

 

You’ve always been weak, Joanne. You’re Pathetic. Useless. 

 

Her face twisted with anguish and pain as she tried desperately to fight the tears. She was just a ghost, going through the motions of life without ever really living. 

 

Crying won’t help Joanne. Haven’t you worked that out, you stupid girl.  

 

She realised then that he’d been controlling her before she was even born. 

 

I own you, Joanne. You’re mine and always will be.

 

Everything had been built on a lie, she’d been deceived her whole life. She didn’t know what was real anymore, she didn’t know if there was anyone left who she could trust. 

 

You can’t trust anyone Joanne. I made you that way.  

 

She didn't realise that there were even darker corners of her mind. That the thoughts, the voices could get any louder. But they did. During the interview they did. 

 

Poor little Joanne, you didn’t know? You didn’t know what I did. It hurts doesn’t it, Joanne?

 

It was taking all she had to not crumble completely. She hid behind her steady responses, no comment. Those two words were all she could manage in the torment that raged within her.

 

 Inside her mind, the voices continued to scream. 

 

You’re worthless Joanne, just a puppet. Disgusting, you shouldn’t even be alive. No one ever wanted you, even your own mum killed herself to get away from you. She couldn’t face what you were. 

 

Her soul was shattered beyond repair, beaten down by the years of control and coercion. 

The panic roared, sending her spiralling. She felt like she couldn’t breathe, the waves crashed over her and threatened to drag her back under the surface. 

 

I can feel your fear, Joanne. You’re weak, Joanne. You can’t fight. You’re a disgrace. 

 

No. Jo thought, I can’t let them see that. She dug her nails into her skin and dragged them up and down her arm. She tore at her skin and welcomed the sharp pain that flared along her arms. She needed to feel something, anything, to ground herself. She pressed deeper and her skin stung as angry red welts rose to the surface. Good, she thought. She deserved the pain, at least she felt something.

No comment , Jo continued to give as her answer to Carmichael’s questions. She hugged her arms in close, still digging her nails in. She scratched deep enough to draw blood, and she kept going, nails tearing up and down her arm in a bloodied frenzy. 

 

You’re weak Joanne. You have no life. We’ve always controlled you. And it was easy Joanne, it was fun. To make you hurt, to cause you pain. I enjoyed it. 

 

Jo kept scratching, in that moment she wanted to tear off her skin. She wanted to claw away the disgust and despair she felt, the shame for who she was and what she had become. 

 

You’re broken, Joanne, I've broken you and there’s no way out. 

 

Within her torment, she barely noticed the interview ending and how a frustrated Carmichael stormed out of the room. She’d given them nothing, no leads, no names. She couldn’t. She couldn’t bring herself to try and explain. How could she?

The door of the glass box rattled shut and jolted Jo back to some awareness. Only Steve remained, quietly gathering up the documents, the evidence of her betrayal, the triggers of so many painful memories. 

 

You can’t hide from what you’ve done. You can’t hide from your lies or from who you are. They all know now. Even your precious Kate knows, and they despise you for it. You’ve ruined everything.  

 

“Jo,” Steve’s voice broke the silence. “Jo, you’re bleeding.” 

 

His words pulled her back into the present and the voices quietened. Jo looked down to see the grey jumper spattered with flecks of red, angry red gouges ran up her left arm, blood still seeping onto her porcelain skin. Small pieces of skin hung under her fingernails. 

She bowed her head in shame and folded into the chair, tugging the sleeve of her jumper back down her arm, though it was no use really, Steve had already seen the mess she’d made. She hated herself in this state, weak and broken, defeated. 

 

They despise you, Joanne. You're evil and you ruin everything. It's all your fault, Joanne. You've fucked it all up, silly little Joanne. 

 

Jo wanted to scream, to shout through her mind. She wanted to tell him all the things she’d never had the strength to say. 

 

Just shut up! Go away! Leave me alone, you’ve done enough already!

 

She just wanted quiet, she couldn’t take it anymore. He infiltrated every thought, always there. She just wanted to get away from him.

 

The voice just laughed, cruel and cold.

You’ll never escape me, Joanne. 

 

“I’ll get the first aid kit, just stay there,” Steve uttered, his voice was cold, professional, distant. 

For the first time in the interview, Jo looked up to meet Steve’s eyes, though his expression remained neutral, his eyes couldn’t hide the disappointment or the hatred that flared within them. But beyond the hate, there was also sorrow and pity. 

 

Jo wasn’t sure she wanted to be pitied. Or deserved to be.

“I…” Jo stammered. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” 

Empty words, but it was all she could manage. 

 

Steve had already turned to leave and as the door clicked closed Jo allowed herself one shaking, gut-wrenching sob before she forced her breathing to slow and fought to regain some composure. 

 

She wanted to say everything, tell her story, so much it hurt. But she didn’t know where to start, or how to explain anything. For now, she held onto her truths that little bit longer. 

She needed to know, she needed to know if Kate was okay, if she was safe. Who to trust. She trusted Kate, she’d tell Kate everything.

If she was still alive.

Chapter Text

Steve grabbed the first aid kit from the shelf in the break room, quietly seething. The frustration continued to bubble away and he felt like he may explode. He was so angry, so fucking angry. He was angry with himself, angry with Jo Davidson, angry with Kate. Fuck he was angry with the whole world. Exasperated, he slammed his fists into the counter and let out a silent scream. 

There was the sharp snap of cracking plastic and he realised that in his frustration he’d accidentally pulled the handle off the first aid box. Fuck.

He paused for a moment and allowed himself a few shaking breaths in an attempt to try and cool his rage.

He couldn’t believe that he felt sorry for her. Jo Davidson was the reason he’d spent the night anxiously waiting for news while still covered in his best friend's blood. Jo Davidson was the reason his best friend was currently fighting for her life in intensive care. Jo Davidson was the reason Kate had died. She’d lured Kate to that Lorry park. Lured her there to be murdered. And he felt sorry for her!

 

Steve sighed, he really didn’t know what to think anymore. Jo just seemed, well broken, her frosty façade crumbling, defeated and lonely. 

He thought of how her face had fallen, twisted in anguish when they’d told her about Tommy Hunter. The look in her eyes, pained and fearful, as she was forced to relive distressing memories of her past. It was then he realised that beyond her cold and distant façade, Jo Davidson was tormented by her past and his detective brain told him that behind her constant ‘no comment’ responses lay years of mental agony. 

He thought of how she had scratched her arms till they bled and sighed heavily, it must take serious despair to do that. What worried him more was that she didn’t seem to notice, she only stopped when he had pointed it out. 

Despite everything that had happened and all she had done, Steve found that his resentment towards the woman was slowly crumbling.

 

He returned to the glass box and gently closed the door behind him. Jo hadn’t moved, if anything she’d shrunken further in on herself.

“Here,” Steve said, placing the first aid kit down on the table. “I’ll clean your arm up.” 

 

Jo hissed partly through shock, partly through pain as Steve gingerly began to clean her arm with antiseptic and instinctively pulled her arm from his touch. 

 

“Bloody hell,” Steve couldn’t help but whisper, under the raw skin and angry scratches lay more scars, some faded to white, others still red and raised. 

 

Jo hugged her arms to her close to her chest as tears streamed from her dark eyes. She wished she could just disappear, shrink into nothingness. Anything was better than facing another day of such anguish. 

 

Steve looked at the broken woman sitting across from him. He began to wonder if maybe Kate had been right, she had insisted the entire time that Jo wasn’t bent, that there was more to the case. The more he thought about it, the more he actually looked at Jo, it was becoming clear that many of the things she’d been accused of, she had not done willingly. The scars on her arms and the despair in her eyes suggested that for a long time she’d been controlled and coerced into terrible things. 

 

Shit , Steve thought. His perceptions of Jo were slowly beginning to change, maybe she wasn’t the cold and calculating villain he had thought her to be. He wasn’t sure if he could forgive her yet, but he was starting to understand. Understand just how frail and vulnerable she really was and how deep the despair and trauma ran.

 

“Kate,” Jo trembled slightly as she mentioned her name. “Is she, is she okay?” she stuttered, she looked up at Steve, her eyes still glassy with tears. 

 

Steve met her eyes, no matter how much he wanted to hate her, he couldn’t. How could he hate somebody so broken? 

 

“She’s alive,” he responded. “I can’t really say anymore, but she’s alive.”

 

Jo felt relief wash over her, for the first time since she’d been escorted from the Lorry Park, the crushing weight of concern and fear she had felt for the woman she loved lifted. Kate was alive and Jo finally felt like she could breathe again. 

 

“Look,” Steve stated, trying to get Jo’s attention. “I know things seem pretty bad for you right now, you’ve admitted to killing someone and there is a good chance you’ll be charged for it. But if you need someone to trust, trust me. At least let me clean your arm for you, it might get infected otherwise.” 

 

Jo gazed at Steve with wide, sad eyes. Kate trusted him, maybe that was enough. She nodded slightly, seeming to accept his offer. 

 

“If you’re not bent, I can give you a chance to prove it,” Steve began, carefully wiping the worst of the blood from Jo’s arm. 

She didn’t shy away from him this time and sat quietly while Steve cleaned and bandaged the scratches. 

“These things, what we learnt about your family history, no one can be blamed for what they are born into, or the path it puts them on,” he said softly. “I’m giving you a chance to give your side of things, for you to tell your story, Jo. Could you do that?” 

 

“Okay,” came Jo’s feeble response. It was clear that she was grappling with inner demons fighting an invisible battle against the trauma hidden in her past.

 

“Why don’t you start with your mum,”  Steve suggested.”If that's okay?” 

 

“I…” Jo took a few shaky breaths to steady herself. “Mum, she was born into it, same as me, but she hated what her family stood for.” 

Jo’s jaw trembled as she fought against the tears and the sobs that threatened to overwhelm her. 

“Tommy, her brother Tommy,” she continued shakily. “What a piece of work he was. He controlled mum’s life. She was still a kid, just 15. Raped, she told me. Though I never knew any details. I didn’t want to know, I couldn’t ask about that. She was forced to go through with the pregnancy, Tommy sent her away, back to Glasgow under their mother’s maiden name. I didn’t know about any of this, I had no idea about the rest of the family. Not until Tommy came looking for me when I was 16. He’d heard I was doing well at school, that I had never been in trouble. Plus, no one knew me here. He wanted me for the Police, he said. To do his bidding. To be under his control.” 

Jo couldn’t hold in the tears any longer, they streamed down her pale cheeks.

“My mum couldn’t bear the thought of me being with Uncle Tommy, she knew she couldn’t protect me.” 

 

Steve looked at the woman in front of him, her faint whimpers broke through the silence. He couldn’t help but feel for her and her tragic circumstances.

“That’s why she took her own life,” he concluded. 

 

Jo nodded, sniffling through the tears. 

“They controlled me then, the more I did, the more they had over me. If I tried to rebel, I was punished. They… They liked to hurt me.” She instinctively began to fiddle with the bandage on her arm, tugging gently at the sterile fabric. 

“They could always get to me, no matter where I was, where I tried to hide. Nowhere was safe. If I didn’t follow their orders, I was punished. Sometimes I was punished just to remind me who was in control.” 

Jo trembled in the chair as she continued her account.

“I… I tried to get out, I just wanted it all to stop. I…” She forced back a sob, trying to grasp at some sense of calm. 

“I tried to do what my mum did, it was my only way out, I couldn’t take it any longer. I tried but they found me. Stopped me, said they still needed me alive, that they would be the ones who decided when I die. There was no escape. I didn’t want any of this, but I couldn’t escape it.” 

Jo hung her head and gave in to the sobs that racked through her frail body. Telling her story, even with the many details left out or glossed over made it seem so much more real. She couldn’t distance herself from the nightmare, her life was the nightmare. 

 

For a while, Steve just sat with the silence, unsure of how to respond to what Jo had just told him. 

He believed her, he really did. Every desperate word. You can’t fake that kind of anguish he thought. In just minutes, he had gone from hating Jo Davidson to not only feeling sorry for her but wanting to protect her. His anger had all but dissipated, Jo was abused and alone and he knew that she had never had a choice. Yes, she may have misled investigations and passed information to the OCG but really, how accountable could she be for those actions.

 

He decided that Jo needed protecting, partly from herself given what she’d just disclosed to him.

Chapter Text

Kate made it through the first 24 hours after the shooting, then 48. Three days had now passed and she was still hanging on, just about. She remained unconscious, still unable to breathe on her own. Despite the constant reassurances from the Doctors, Steve couldn’t help but worry. Bernie’s words continued to ring in his ears.

 

“If she wakes up.” 

 

Kate had to wake up, she just had to. Steve didn’t know what he would do without Kate. 

He didn’t want to imagine a world without her. He couldn't imagine a world without her. 

 

The constant anxiety ate away at him and robbed him of much needed rest. Permanent dark circles hung heavy under his eyes and they remained red rimmed and bloodshot. Every time his phone rang, his stomach lurched and his heart quickened. He was afraid that it would be the Hospital calling with bad news. 

Because it remained a possibility that she might not wake up. That he would have to say goodbye to his best friend. That he’d be left alone. That his last memories of Kate would be her lying in a hospital bed. The thought refused to leave him and it haunted his every moment. 

 

He thought back to how Mark had been distant and cruel when he had told him what had happened. He’d only rung for Josh really, Kate loved her son, even if her job meant she barely saw him. Whatever issues they may have had in their relationship Josh still deserved to know what was happening with his mum. But Mark had refused to tell him. He had refused to pass Josh the phone so at least Steve could talk to him. All he wanted, all he had asked for was that he could let Josh know that his mum loved him and that she hadn’t wanted to leave him.   

 

“Well it was going to happen at some point,” Mark retorted as he made it clear that he didn’t care. 

“We’d be better off without her anyway. Would do us all a favour.”

 

Steve was usually one to shy away from violence but all of a sudden he had wanted to punch him. He already knew Mark was somewhat of a prick from the way he had treated Kate over the years, from changing the locks so Kate was left to sleep in her car to continually restricting her access to her son.

But, really? How could he say that? Steve thought as anger raged inside him. That he actually wanted Kate to die. He knew things had happened, that Kate had made mistakes but she never, not for a single moment, stopped loving Josh. 

 

“If, if the worst happens… Josh should be able to say goodbye,” Steve had choked out. 

Tears filled his eyes and he found himself weeping down the phone to a man he barely knew but had come to despise with every fibre of his being. They were tears of fury, not sadness. 

 

“Josh doesn’t need his mum, she’s always been useless. Dying might be the best thing she could do for him.” Mark had sneered. 

 

“You know what, you’re a fucking prick.”

 

Kate had always tried. Yes, work made it difficult, but she’d always tried. She’d always loved Josh. Steve remembered how her eyes lit up every time she mentioned his name, her face breaking into a rare smile. 

She should still be able to see her son. She’d want Josh to know that she hadn’t just abandoned him. 

Steve forced himself to hang up the phone before he went to say something he’d later come to regret. He rested his head against the wall, he felt like his world was slowly falling apart, crumbling from beneath his feet. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could hold on.

 

Steve sighed wearily, leaning against the wall in the break room while he waited for the kettle to boil. An old memory surfaced from a conversation he’d had with Kate long ago, working through the night to close a case, many cups of crappy instant coffee the only thing keeping them awake. 

 

Kate leant against the wall, one hand rubbing her tired eyes.

“Steve, can I ask you summit?”

 

Steve turned from the counter.

“Course you can, mate.”

 

Kate paused for a beat, it had been a tough case, emotions were raw and once again they had been reminded of the fragility of human life

“If owt happens to me mate, can you promise me one thing?”

 

Steve’s brow furrowed, kettle hovering just above the mugs. 

“But nothings gonna happen to you.”

 

Kate shook her head slowly.

“You can never be sure, not in this job”. 

 

“Still, I reckon you’re bloody indestructible, mate.”

It could have been a trick of the light, or the exhaustion catching up with him but for a moment Steve caught the glint of a tear in Kate’s eyes. 

 

“Please mate, just promise me.”

 

He set the kettle down and turned to face his friend. 

“Okay, what am I getting myself into?”

 

Kate half-smiled, then her expression turned earnest.

“I’m serious now, if owt happens to me, will you look out for Josh? Make sure he knows his mum still loves him.”

 

Steve handed Kate her coffee, giving her arm a gentle squeeze. 

“Course, mate, Course I will. But nothings gonna happen to you. I won’t let it. Promise.” 

 

Steve let his head sink into his hands, a sob caught in the back of his throat, he hadn’t kept that promise. Despite his reassurances, his insistent belief that Kate would always be fine, that nothing could hurt her, something did happen. Something bad.

 

Steve tried to see Kate as often as he could, though visiting her in the ICU and seeing her so weak and vulnerable never got any easier. He hated the idea of her being alone in that soulless medical bay with only machines and monitors for company. On more than one occasion he’d been shaken awake by nurses after falling asleep in that uncomfortable plastic chair. 

 

God, he was exhausted.

 

The days began to blur into one. He wasn’t sure when he’d last made it back to his flat for more than a quick shower and change of clothes. 

 

At some point in the early afternoon, Chloe caught him at his desk staring blankly at his computer screen, on the brink of sleep. The young detective had been working tirelessly since starting at AC12, taking on more than she should. She diligently followed every lead and tracked down every name, every scrap of information, anything that could support the case. She did all she could to try and find sense in the chaos. 

 

“You alright sir?” 

There was concern in her eyes and she shifted uncomfortably on the spot as if she wanted to say more but couldn’t bring herself to. 

 

“Fine, thanks,” Steve mumbled in response, though it was clear that Chloe didn’t believe him. 

 

“If there’s anything else you want me to do Sir, just let me know?”

 

Steve nodded slightly, offering her a weak smile. Chloe was already doing so much, he didn’t want to add to her load. 

“Just keep doing what you’re doing.”  

 

He sighed wearily, he felt as if he was falling apart. 

 

Then of course, there was Jo Davidson. What she’d told him in the glass box still weighed heavy on his mind. Honestly, Steve wasn’t sure how she was still standing after everything she had been through. And there was more to it as well. He had a feeling what Jo had confided to him barely scratched the surface of the reality she'd been living. The secrets and trauma of her past she had tried so hard to keep buried. Where she found the strength to get up every day and do her job, he didn’t know. She’d been declared vulnerable and moved to the VPU at Brentiss Prison, 24hour CCTV cameras watched her cell. Steve wasn’t sure that was enough. The cameras might help to keep Jo safe from the other prisoners and staff, afterall the OCG did appear to have eyes everywhere, but what about keeping her safe from herself? 

 

He worried what Jo might do when alone. With her behaviour in the interview, how defeated and broken she seemed, and she’d already admitted to trying once before. The years of abuse had clearly taken their toll on her, and the few kind words he may be able to offer would do little to help. She seemed haunted. It was no wonder she found it so difficult to talk about her past. How had no one else noticed, he wondered. Though they were likely too wrapped up in the case and concern for Jo to consider Jo’s mental state. Steve didn’t blame them, well aside from Carmichael. She had always been a heartless bitch. But Ted was desperately clinging to his job, and Chloe was pretty much holding AC12 together single-handedly.

 

So, it fell to him to look out for Jo. Someone had to.

 

He couldn’t help but think back to her arms and the way she’d gouged at her skin, the agony he’d seen flash across her dark eyes. He was sure she knew more than she’d told him, perhaps she could be the linchpin that would break the whole case open. But she was scared. No, it was more than that, Jo was tormented by fear. Steve was sure that she knew all too well what happens when you turn on the OCG, what happens to a rat. 

 

Jo had started to trust him, but would it be enough? He was plagued by the niggling concern of whether he would be able to keep her alive long enough so that she would talk. 

 

There was only so much he could do to protect her. If the events of recent years were anything to go by, Jo was at serious risk.

Chapter Text

Nearly a week had passed, and not much had changed. Steve seemed to float between AC-12 and the Hospital, though he never really felt present in either place. He felt as if he was just a ghost going through the motions of life but not really living. At this point, he was scarcely even functioning. He didn’t know where his head was at right now, his thoughts remained distant and jumbled, and his rational mind was lost somewhere in a fog of fear and exhaustion. 

Progress with the investigation remained slow. Carmichael’s looming presence had created a frosty atmosphere in the office. She had gotten to them all with her quiet disapproval and the chilling smile that never met her eyes. The whole of AC12 were balancing on thin ice, just waiting for it to crack. Steve felt as if he’d already fallen into the frozen depths, he’d faded below the surface, lost and alone. 

 

The concerned glances of his Colleagues were hard to miss, but no one said anything. What was there to say really? None of them knew Kate as he did. Kate was his rock, her unwavering support and friendship had seen him through the most difficult times. When all seemed lost, Kate remained. Kate prevailed, a fire burning bright, a passage through the dark. Kate was determined and dedicated and Steve couldn’t imagine a world without her, yet he might have to. 

He still saw flickers of her everywhere. It had been over a year since Kate had left AC-12 but Steve saw her everywhere. Leaning against the counter in the break room, standing tall in the conference room, sitting at her desk, eyes focused and her face a picture of concentration. 

 

It was too much. There were too many memories in the office right now. He couldn’t stay here with his mind flooded with memories and guilt.  He needed to get out, he just wanted to get away from it all. He barged towards the lifts, the air felt heavy, it was closing in on him and he was suffocating. 

He angrily pressed the call button for the lift, it seemed to be taking even longer than normal today. 

“For fucks sake,” he muttered under his breath, slamming his hand on the wall in frustration.

 

“Sir,” came a timid voice from behind him. “I know it's not my place to say, but it might help to talk to someone.” 

Chloe’s heartfelt words rang in his ears as he left the office. Talk to someone , Steve scoffed to himself. He knew she meant well but it just wasn’t that simple. He sighed as the lift doors rolled open on the ground floor.

Talking wasn’t going to make anything better. 

But maybe he could try. 

There was only one person Steve felt that he could talk to. 

He just needed somewhere to vent, someone he could freely share the chaos in his mind with, without judgment. 

Even if that someone couldn’t reply at the moment. 

So, Steve talked to Kate. One of the few people who’d always listen to him. Listen without judging.

Even if Kate couldn’t reply, heck, he couldn’t be even sure she could even hear him, but he had no one else he could really trust. 

 

“God, mate, this whole case is a mess,” Steve mumbled as he sat down next to Kate’s sleeping figure. It had been five days and there was still no change. For a moment he just sat and listened to the steady beeping of the heart rate monitor and the mechanical hiss of the ventilator. They were the only indication that she was alive, still hanging on.

 

“Carmichael, or Pass-agg Pat,” he gave a weak smile at the nickname the AC12 had come up with for their soon-to-be boss, knowing Kate would appreciate it. 

“It’s like she’s got blinkers on, she doesn’t want to look wider, into further OCG connections or institutionalised corruption. She’s only focused on the Gail Vella inquiry but we both know that it is so much bigger than that. But Pass-Agg Pat doesn’t think so.”

“This force has detected no evidence of institutionalised corruption.” He imitated her exasperated tone almost perfectly.

“Sure you can imagine how the Gaffer is handling that, yeah not well. I think every time they’re in a room together it ends in an argument. The office has changed, it feels colder somehow, empty and exposed. As if the ice could break any moment and swallow us all.” 

 

Steve gazed around Kate’s bay, taking in the looming presence of the machines and monitors, the bare and sterile walls. The atmosphere in the Hospital wasn’t much better it was stifling. He felt as if life was being sucked out of him by bleakness. He sighed heavily, worn out and dejected.

“Turns out the Spain link was a decoy. The Spanish authorities just confirmed it. Thurwell has been dead a few weeks, he might have been involved at some point, but there was no way he was the one pulling the strings. He was nothing more than a bloody stooge.  

I don’t know where that leaves us now, every lead seems to amount to nothing.  Christ, you’re lying in Hospital and I’m still talking about work. Bit sad ain’t it. Though reckon you’d do the same, maybe we both ought to get a life eh?”

 

Steve took hold of Kate’s hand, her fingers lay limply in his, unmoving. A small part of him had hoped she’d squeeze back, that she’d somehow return his gesture, just to prove that she was still there, under the tubes and wires.  

“Normally it's you making the jokes, I miss that. I really fucking miss that. I don’t know how much longer I can take the silence. It’s awful. It’s bloody awful, so you need to come back, alright mate. You need to come back.” 

Steve wiped the tears from his cheeks. He was crying, again. It seemed that was all he did now. 

Once he’d started talking, it was like opening the flood gates, words spilled from his lips, he talked about all the things he should have done and should have said. All the while his best friend remained motionless in the bed beside him. 

He sighed quietly, desperately hoping Kate could hear him.

 

“And then there’s the stuff I found out about the Gaffer. What I told you mate. I don’t know what to do. I’ve not told anyone else yet, but I don’t know if I can trust him anymore. He’s hiding things, God only knows what. He’s been slated for retirement and knows his time is nearly up. Fuck, I’m worried he’s going to do something stupid, more stupid than infiltrating the OCG as H, and that was a monumental moment of idiocy. I’ve never seen him more worn out. Fuck, I really don’t know what to do. I can’t ask the Gaffer about any of this now. I’m carrying all this crap around and don’t know where to offload it.  

I don’t know who I can trust anymore, I don’t know if I can trust anyone. I get what you mean about anti-corruption, that you can have enough of it. You start to see deceit everywhere. And that leaves you on your own.”

 

He rested his head on the stretched white sheets, too exhausted to cry anymore, his tears all but dried up. 

“You’re all I’ve got mate. Please wake up. Fuck, I need you, mate.” 

A single strangled sob rocked through Steve’s body, causing a wave of pain to flair through his back. He winced, trapped by the pain. With his eyes screwed shut, all he could do was wait for it to pass. He stayed still, clinging to Kate’s hand, even in her unconscious state Kate was still giving him support. Eventually, the pain passed, it was just another thing he didn’t need right now. 

 

“Just hold on please, keep fighting.”

Steve considered for a moment, before continuing. 

“We need you, mate, I need you. Jo needs you. She told me things, she told me the truth, well, at least some of the truth. There’s still more she’s holding back. But you were right mate, you hear that, you were right, she’s not bent. She trusts you, Kate, she’ll talk to you. So, if you can’t wake up for me mate, wake up for Jo.” 

 

“She’s strong, just give her time,” came the voice of a Doctor from behind him. 

 

Bernie. 

 

Steve looked up to the Doctor, she was the reason Kate was alive at all, having taken charge of the fight to save Kate’s life as soon as they had arrived at the Hospital. He was sure that she must have many other patients, but she still came by regularly to check on Kate, he appreciated that.

She was looking over Kate’s obs chart and checking the monitors and machines.

Steve wondered if they were telling her anything new, he could make no sense of the lines of numbers and graphs shown on the various monitors surrounding Kate’s bed.

“How much time?” He dared to ask.

 

“I can’t answer that, I’m sorry,” Bernie replied softly.

“She’s made it this far and she’s still holding on. That is a good sign, believe me. She’s a fighter, I reckon. There aren’t many patients that can come through the kind of injuries she sustained. I’ve worked in war zones so I know bullet wounds pretty well and I know all too well the damage we can inflict on one another, but it still doesn’t make it any easier. Just makes you realise how fragile we are.” Bernie offered Steve a sad smile.

“Just keep doing what you are doing, sitting with her, talking to her. She can’t respond but there’s a good chance she can hear you.”

 

Bernie placed Kate’s notes back in the holder at the end of the bed before turning back to Steve.

“You know, there is a suggestion that with ICU and trauma cases, bad things tend to happen fast, good things slow. It might not seem like much, but Kate’s condition has not deteriorated or gotten any worse which, believe me, is a good sign. She’s stayed stable and even if it doesn’t look like it, she is still fighting. I know it's not easy to hear and that you want exact answers and timeframes but look at it like a marathon, not a sprint. She’ll wake up when she is ready.” Bernie concluded. 

 

“But when will that be?” Steve asked, though in his heart he knew his question couldn’t be answered. 

“We… I... Please, I need her now.” He cried out to no one in particular.

Chapter Text

Another day dawned and November slowly gave way to December, though Steve wasn’t feeling remotely festive. In fact, he couldn’t care less about the approaching holiday season. With everything that was going on, how could he? 

It was just another day of barely holding it together. The air had gotten a little colder and a dreary dampness had settled deep into the heart of the city. The winter days seemed to consist of persistent drizzle and the occasional gust of wind. 

Night was drawing in ever earlier and Christmas Songs were playing on an infuriating repeat, they blared from the radio and the speakers of every shop he walked past. 

Just last night Steve had been in Tescos when in a wave of fury he gave up trying to complete his shopping. He dumped the few items he’d collected on a shelf and stormed out of the shop. Everyone just seemed so overbearingly cheerful and he couldn’t cope with that right now, so he left the shop empty handed and ended up having to settle for yet another takeaway.

 

Steve was on his fourth cup of coffee of the morning, but it was doing little to fight the exhaustion that had settled into his bones. He sighed wearily and set the stained mug down on the table as he looked across to the evidence boards and the frustrated faces of his Colleagues. There were still so many pieces of the puzzle missing, it was no wonder they were struggling to make progress. 

He had barely taken a sip when he was interrupted by the door being thrown open behind him.

“Sir!” Amanda Yao burst into the room holding a tablet. “I thought you needed to see this straight away.” She swiped across the screen to reveal a message. 

“We’ve been monitoring communications being routed via Spain,” she explained. “And we have just intercepted this message.”

 

Steve glanced at the screen. JD definately high risk, he read. JD, it had to be Jo Davidson. Contact assets in BE. Brentiss Prison, that was where Jo was being held. 

Shit.

“We need to get eyes on Brentiss ASAP.” he declared, realising what the message meant. Jo was in danger. 

 

“Sir,” Chloe began, “it’s just come through, a production order has just been signed off by the Governor at Brentiss for Jo Davidson. She’s state nine to Hillside lane.”

The concern in Chloe’s voice was evident. 

“Jo Davidson is being transported to Hillside Lane for a post-charge interview,” she reiterated. 

 

Fuck.

 

Hastings burst in, imploring his team into action. “We need the location of the transport vehicle as a matter of extreme urgency. Get Air Opps and armed support. Now!”

 

And so it began, another prisoner transport intercept. Steve could only hope that things wouldn’t end as badly as the last time. 

Though not directly responsible for them, the deaths of Jonesy and James Lakewell remained on his conscience. 

 


 

“Stand back from the door!” 

 

A shout jolted Jo from her thoughts and she jumped up from the bank where she had been lying. Her thoughts had been of Kate and they were the only reason she’d made it through the past few days. Every time the fear and panic threatened to overwhelm her, she’d think of Kate. She’d think of gazing into the ocean of her sparkling eyes, the warmth of her touch, and the desire that burnt in her heart. The memories of their shared evenings in the bar soothed her racing mind, and helped her to fight and silence the voices. 

Kate kept her strong, kept her sane. Kate gave her reason to keep fighting, though she didn’t know for how much longer she could go on. Worn out and weary she felt the battle was all but lost.

 

Keys rattled and the lock clicked revealing two guards standing in the doorway of her cell. 

“Production order, post-charge interview. Hillside Lane.” 

 

Jo knew what was coming next, it had only been only a matter of time really. She wearily held her wrists out, hissing through gritting her teeth as the guard snapped on the handcuffs and clicked them a little too tight. 

 

“Not too tight?” 

The handcuffs clicked even tighter, they pinched her skin and her wrists were pulled into an unnatural position.

 

Jo blinked hard, breathing through her nose and biting down hard so that she wouldn’t cry out. She refused to give the guards the satisfaction of seeing her pain. 

 

One of the Guards pushed her forwards and without her hands to help her balance Jo stumbled and veered forwards, landing in a crumpled heap on the floor. 

Shocked and winded, Jo couldn’t help but cry out, her knees throbbed from the impact and she blinked hard as she fought against the tears. Just another mark to add to her already battered body

 

“God, you’re a clumsy bitch,” a voice sneered in her ear. A hand grabbed the collar of her jumper and dragged Jo back to her feet. 

 

She was led out of the Prison and into an unmarked white van, though she was flanked by guards the entire time she still felt so exposed and vulnerable. The OCG, they could get her anytime, anywhere, it wouldn’t even take much. She had barely eaten or slept for the last few days and Jo knew she was in no state to fight anymore. Her earlier fall had proved as much, she could already feel the bruises forming on her knees and hip. 

 

One of the guards shoved her into the seat and Jo stumbled awkwardly sideways, she shifted uncomfortably, with her arms handcuffed tightly behind her back it was impossible to find a comfortable position. 

Jo felt a gurgling hum rising through the floor and the seat she was awkwardly perched on. 

The engine rumbled and the van sprang to life, trundling slowly away from Brentiss Prison. 

 

Jo tried not to think about why she had been summoned for another interview, of who might be behind it or what more information they could want from her. She had already told Steve everything she could, everything she felt able to say. She tried not to think about it, yet her curious mind demanded answers. 

 

“What’s going on?” She asked nervously. 

“What’s this interview about, and who’s the requesting officer? 

She added further questions, still the Detective, always seeking information. 

“Are there any new developments in the case?” 

 

“Stop with the earache!” the guard yelled with a menacing sneer. 

 

Jo glanced anxiously around the van, she wasn’t sure what, but something felt off. 

She was shaken from side to side as the Van navigated the tangled city streets. With each corner it turned, Jo’s uneasiness grew.

 

They’re going to kill me, she realised. 

 

Your time has come Joanne. Time for you to die. 

 

She realised that she’d never make it to the Hill for the interview, if the interview even existed in the first place. She guessed it was going to happen at some point. She’d resigned herself to that fact as soon as she had been arrested. Jo hung her head, avoiding the menacing glare of the Prison Guard, she came to the conclusion that she didn’t care, there wasn’t anything in her life that made it worth living. She felt no fear, only indifference. I hope they make it quick, was her only thought. 

 

We have no use for you anymore Joanne, so it’s time for you to die. That’s how this works. 

That’s what happens to a rat. 

 

A new voice sneered through her thoughts.

 

You think your silly little Girlfriend shooting me would be enough? Would get rid of me? God, you are so pathetic. 

 

Time to die, Joanne. That’s what happens to a rat.

 

She heard the revving of an engine and indistinct shouting, but she didn’t really have the strength to wonder what was going on. The van sped up then lurched suddenly sideways and Jo was thrown from her seat. Brakes squealed and screamed as burning rubber ate into the tarmac, drowning out her cries.

 

Suddenly everything was spinning, the world shook and Jo tumbled across the floor, she was being thrown about like a rag doll. The van rolled over onto its side and Jo fell forwards heavily, skidding along the cool metal of the side of the van. It came to a screeching stop with a thud and sounds of crumpling metal. Jo’s head collided with something hard, and everything went black.

Chapter Text

It was the pain in her head that roused Jo from the darkness, the constant sharp throbbing dragged her back to a faint state of consciousness. Everything felt fuzzy and distant as she tried to force her eyes open to gain some sense of her surroundings, but she still felt so weak and groggy that her muscles struggled to obey even such a simple command. Thick fog filled her brain and somewhere in the depths, Jo realised she was in trouble, and that was really saying something since she had already been arrested, had admitted to murder, and the OCG probably had a hit out on her. She took a few shaking breaths and tried to steady herself. She needed to think, to stay calm, her life probably depended on it. Given the amount of pain she was in, she was likely badly injured, though she wasn’t sure if she had the strength to care, and even if she did, she probably still wouldn’t.

 

Maybe this is how it ends, she thought wearily. But god , everything hurts.

 

Her left eye was swollen shut, and searing pain burned through her body. She couldn’t work out why, or what had happened. All she could feel was pain and she felt so cold and alone, trapped in the dark. Fear began to creep into her mind and no matter how hard she tried to push it away it settled. Her heart pounded in her chest, blood rushed in her ears as her body continued to cling to life.  She forced her eyes open but only indistinct shapes danced hazily in front of her.

Can’t see, too blurry. 

 

She was lying crumpled against the side of the van, feeling battered and broken, afraid to move for fear of causing further damage or being left in more pain.  

Crashed. She suddenly remembered. The van crashed. God, everything hurts. 

She felt sick and there was a metallic taste in her mouth. Blood. 

Well, that’s not good. 

What was worse was that she wasn’t sure where it was coming from. All she knew was that there was a lot of it, too much to do anything about herself, even if she felt able to. That probably accounted for why she was feeling so dizzy and weak.

I need to get out of here. 

Jo choked back the tears, they would not do her any good right now. 

I don’t want to die in the back of a prison van.  

 

Jo forced herself into a sitting position, though she had to stop halfway as the world around her spun and lurched as if she was on a fairground ride. Further tears streamed down her face as her body screamed in protest and brutal waves of nausea crashed over her.  

Maybe I should have stayed lying down.

She clenched her teeth to avoid screaming or crying out, she didn’t know who might be nearby, who could be listening. The OCG could be lying in wait to finish her off, or more likely they’d just leave her to bleed out. There was no point in them getting their hands dirty if they didn’t need to. 

There’s little point in putting effort into killing someone who is already dying. 

 

Dying. 

Was that what was happening? 

 

God, everything felt so fuzzy. She wasn’t sure if she had the strength to move, just sitting up had left her in agony. Her chest felt tight, and with each breath it was becoming more difficult to draw enough oxygen into her lungs. She had foolishly hoped dying would have hurt less. 

I just want this to stop. 

Oh, how she wanted to let go, give in to the grips of the looming desolate blackness. Maybe it was what she deserved, her penance for living a lie. To sink into the nothingness, far away from the torment, the uncertainty and the anguish. Jo was all but ready to give up but then she noticed a faint shard of light that streamed into the van from a metre or two away. 

Maybe there is still a chance? Maybe I can still make it out.

Smoke began to fill her nose. 

Shit. That's really not good

The smoke stung her eyes and her vision blurred further. More tears rolled down her cheeks, she wasn’t sure if they were from pain or fear. 

I have to get out of here, I have to get out of here now. I don’t want to burn... 

Shakily Jo dragged herself towards where she thought the doors were. She could scarcely see and every movement sent waves of pain through her body. 

Just keep going. 

 

She crashed against what she presumed was the door with a weak thud. After allowing herself a moment to try and catch her breath, she fumbled against the cool, hard metal and tried to push the door open. It felt so heavy, she had to press all her weight against it just for it to move a few centimetres. She was using her last reserves of strength and with every shaking breath she took the looming darkness grew closer.

Just need to get out.

She could feel the blood, wet and sticky, streaming down the side of her head, it filled her eyes and her mouth and she wanted to be sick. Everything hurt and Jo wasn’t sure how she was still functioning at all. 

 

She heard the click of a lock and she fell forwards as the door finally opened. Weak and disoriented she tried to stand, grabbing hold of the van door for support.

Steve, need to find Steve. 

The world was spinning, the searing pain continued to rage through her head and it tore her further and further away from reality. 

Can’t see. Need to find Steve.  

 

Everything swam out of focus, her vision blurred, and dark spots danced in front of her eyes. 

I think I’m dying. Didn’t think it would hurt this much. 

 

Sounds muffled and her thoughts jumbled. 

Kate, hold on for Kate. 

Jo tried to hold on, she tried to keep going but her body was failing. Her legs crumpled, unable to take her weight, even with clinging onto the van door for support she no longer had the strength to stand. Darkness clouded her vision, her eyes felt heavy, and every shaking breath drained the little energy she had left.

I guess this is it…

 


 

A few metres away a Police car had skidded to a sudden halt. 

“Shit!” Steve shouted, as he took in the chaos that lay in front of him. 

Debris was scattered across the road, stretching out in a tangle of shattered plastic, chunks of rubber and splitters of metal. Just beyond the traffic lights an OCG Range Rover had been reduced to a scrunched-up heap of metal and was slowly being engulfed by flames. 

Another Ranger Rover had been surrounded by AFOs and its occupants were being escorted away in handcuffs. 

Further up the road, the prison transport van lay on its side, its metal exterior crumpled and dented. Faint wisps of smoke were rising up from under the bonnet. All seemed still but then out of the corner of his eye he spotted movement. He turned his head and squinted slightly to try and discern what was happening. He took a few tentative steps towards the van, a feeling of uneasiness growing, he couldn’t be sure who was inside and after what had happened last time, he knew nowhere was safe. 

Steve then watched as Jo’s battered form stumbled from the Van. Even from a distance, he could see the dark red that was trailing down one side of her face. 

Shit. Shit. Shit. 

“We need an ambulance,” he yelled into his radio, breaking into a sprint towards Jo’s trembling form.

 

Steve reached Jo just as she crumbled to the ground, her shaking legs no longer able to support her weight.

He caught her in his arms and lowered her gently to the ground. Up close, she looked even worse. Her skin had paled to a sickly grey colour and she continued to tremble slightly despite his strong hold. Her dark hair was matted and thick with blood, it ran down her face and neck, staining the collar of the prison jumper. 

 

“Feel sick,” Jo mumbled as her head lolled to one side. Her eyes were half-closed and he wasn’t sure if she could see him at all, or if she’d even realised he was there. 

 

“Jo, Jo look at me!” Steve yelled trying to get her attention, but Jo’s eyes remained clouded and unfocused, a trickle of clear liquid ran from her nose. 

 

“Head hurts,” she slurred, her breathing becoming increasingly shallow. “Tired…” 

 

“Just stay awake,” Steve shouted, trying to support Jo’s fragile form.

 

“Need to…t-tell the t-truth,” Jo cried faintly. 

 

“What truth Jo?” Steve questioned, his concern growing. She was confused, disorientated and very lethargic, coupled with the obvious head injury it was not a good sign.

 

“My f-family, everything. S-sorry.” Jo stumbled over the words, her voice was heavy with pain. 

 

“Tell K-Kate, b-beautiful Kate...” Jo was getting weaker, her speech had slurred almost to the point of incoherence. Uttering only a few words had left her gasping for breath. Steve heard as her chest rattled with a horrifying wet gurgle as she fought to continue. 

“I’m n-not… n-not b-bent…”

 

“You’re not what you were born into Jo, you’re not bent.” Steve tried to reassure the woman in his arms. “You’re not bent, Jo.” At this point, he knew he had to try anything to keep her conscious. 

 

“Fairbank, Tommy,” Jo gasped in pain. “it hurts,” she whimpered. “T-Tommy, Tommy s-said Fairbank was my father. He h-hurt me, made me obey. Scared. I was scared... Fairbank.”

Jo’s eye’s slowly closed and her breathing became ragged, convulsing through her fragile form.    

 

“Jo, you need to try and stay awake,” Steve begged, gently shaking her shoulders. He could feel her fading and struggling to stay conscious. 

“Come on, just stay awake!” Steve pleaded. 

 

Jo whimpered faintly in response before falling limp and still in Steve’s arms. 

 

Her confession had left Steve reeling.

Fairbank . Finally, they had a name. 

Fairbank.  

Everything seemed to stop and time froze the moment. 

He didn’t notice how Chloe had come to kneel next to him. He remained frozen as she cautiously leant over so that her ear was close to Jo’s mouth and as she intently watched her chest. He didn’t notice that nothing happened, that there was no rush of air or that her chest was not rising and falling as it should be. There was nothing at all. 

 

“Sir, she’s not breathing!”

 

Steve remained frozen, as if he couldn’t hear Chloe at all.

 

Chloe was shouting now, desperately trying to get his attention. 

 

“Steve, she’s not breathing!”

Chapter Text

No change. Those were the words currently haunting Steve.

Over a week had passed now and there was still no change in Kate’s condition. She’s stable , was the only update the Doctor’s seemed to give. But what the fuck does that mean?! Steve wanted to cry. Instead, he just sat and waited. He sat on that bloody uncomfortable plastic chair, clinging to Kate’s hand as if his life depended on it. He didn’t really have the strength left to do anything else. So much had happened in the last few days that Steve wasn’t sure how he was still going, Coffee and Adrenaline probably. The continuous cycle of worry, fear, and guilt was wearing him down and he’d never felt so exhausted, so broken, so disenchanted with it all.

 

After Jo’s revelation Fairbank had been re-arrested and interviewed again, but it hadn’t amounted to much. He seemingly couldn’t remember anything of use and had become increasingly confused and agitated until the interview had to be stopped. 

It had taken all of Steve’s self-control not to leap over the table and shake the truth out of him. He just wanted answers. No, he needed answers, and he’d reached the point where he would do anything to get them. That was when he realised that over the course of the investigation he’d lost himself, he’d strayed so far from the plucky DC that had joined AC12 all those years ago he wasn’t sure he could find a way back. 

 

At the moment, Steve seemed to exist in a limbo, stuck between hope and fear, powerless to make any change.

He just couldn’t see a way forward anymore or a reason behind it all. He had lost the determination and dedication that had got him into Police work in the first place. Now, he didn’t know what, if any, good he was doing. How could he see the good in his work when the only result seemed to be pain and destruction… 

 

The big break came when Amanda Yao traced the IP address of ‘Unknown User.’

Bloody blundering Buckles turned out to be the 4th Man. Buckles, who couldn’t organise a piss up in a Brewery. For all the work, all the years, everything he and all of AC12 had given it just seemed so anticlimactic. That was police work at times, but Steve couldn’t help feeling disillusioned.  

 

Then there was Jo Davidson. Her confession had given AC12 the breakthrough in the case they so desperately needed but she had paid a heavy price. Steve still saw flashes of how she’d fallen into his arms, her hair matted and thick with blood, her eyes hazy and unfocused until they’d closed completely. He still saw how scared she had been, he could still hear the gurgling and rasping as she’d tried to breathe as her chest was filling with blood. Her pained whimpers still rang in his ears, and he could still hear how she had cried out for Kate. Just more memories that would continue to haunt him. More reminders of how he’d failed. 

 

She had started to trust him and he’d let her down. He’d promised her that he would keep her safe, that she would be okay but she wasn’t. He had fucked up. Again.

 

The remaining events of that day were a blur and Steve could only remember snippets. The calm voices of the paramedics as they shouted orders over the chaos. With the same calm and quiet urgency he had seen a week before with his best friend, they had packaged Jo onto a stretcher and rushed off before Steve had really had the chance to process what had happened. Everything else just felt numb, as if it wasn’t really happening. 

He’d found himself in the car with Chloe driving as they followed the Ambulance to the hospital, not knowing what to expect. His mind was still reeling from Jo’s confession, and he struggled to get his thoughts in any kind of coherent order.

Somehow, Jo had survived the journey to Hospital, not really alive but with CPR keeping her heart beating.

 

Subdural haematoma and a punctured lung, the Doctors had said, amongst countless other injuries. It had been a list long enough to cause Steve’s head to spin. 

 

Emergency surgery had followed and Steve found himself, once again, sitting in a Hospital waiting room. The plastic chairs were as uncomfortable as ever and now Steve had another set of horrifying scenarios playing through his mind. Spinning on an endless repeat, constantly increasing with a dizzying fury that ultimately left him leant over the toilet as he gagged and heaved, his body rejecting the little food he’d managed to eat over the past couple of days.  

 

By a small miracle, Jo had made it through the surgery and she was now lying on the same ICU ward as Kate, with what the Doctors had described as a traumatic brain injury and little chance of survival. There was an irony there somewhere, Steve thought, he just didn’t have the energy to look for it. In truth, he didn’t know how Jo was still alive. He’d held her as she stopped breathing, and he’d been too shocked by her revelations to do anything about it. For the second time in just over a week he’d had to watch while someone technically died. If it hadn’t been for Chloe taking charge, pulling Jo from Steve’s arms and starting CPR, then she wouldn’t have stood a chance. Even now, the odds still weren’t good, and it was all his fault. 

 

Regret, dismay and frustration had been added to the emotions tearing through his mind. 

He failed to protect them. He failed to protect them both. Kate and Jo were fighting for their lives in Intensive Care and that was down to him. Guilt ravaged his battered soul, there was a weariness to Steve Arnott, the world around him was crumbling and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t seem to hold the pieces together. 

 

Steve found himself checking in on Jo every time he went to visit Kate. She had no one else, and after everything she’d told him, she at least deserved someone checking in with her. Even when unconscious, no one should have to lie in Hospital alone. 

He seemed to be spending more time in the Hospital now than anywhere else. Steve had grown used to the rhythmic beeps and hisses that rose from the machines in intensive care. To such an extent that he now found them almost soothing. The steady melody gave him a sense of calm, it meant everything was working as it should be, the machines were doing their job to keep their patients alive. And right now, alive was all he could hope for. Even if it was artificial, credited to the many machines and monitors, it was better than the alternative. 

 

Steve stood at the edge of Jo’s bay, just watching, unsure whether he dared go any closer.

Jo looked as if she would break from the slightest touch. There were thick bandages wrapped around her head and her fragile form was engulfed by wires and tubes. He realised just how small and frail she was. When they first met, she’d been cold and formidable, and despite her slight stature had held a strong commanding presence. Now, shrunken into the hospital bed, she’d seemed almost childlike in her vulnerability. Swamped by machines to the extent that she was barely visible beneath all the tubes and wires. Her skin was tinged grey and mottled bruising covered her face, battered and broken. Like Kate, Jo also wasn’t breathing on her own, reliant on another imposing ventilator. Her heart rate was dangerously low and there was still swelling on the brain. Yet somehow, despite everything she was still clinging to life, though for how much longer no one would tell him.

Chapter Text

Steve flopped into the chair by Kate’s bed, all but done in and utterly exhausted. It was as uncomfortable as ever, but he barely felt it anymore. He barely felt anything anymore. The last few days had worn him down completely and left him an empty shell. His soul scattered into the wind, his world broken into so many pieces he didn’t know where to begin putting it back together again.

 

He let out a weary sigh, fighting back the tears that stung at his eyes. He closed his eyes and focused on the steady beats of the heart rate monitor and allowed them to somewhat soothe his anxious mind. He just didn’t know what to do anymore and the only person he could talk to couldn’t reply. 

Fuck.  

He knew he couldn’t keep ignoring the emails from Occupational Health, especially as he was now facing an ultimatum - appointment or suspension. Everything in his life was falling apart, he didn’t know how much longer he could hold himself together.  

 

“I’ve fucked up mate. I’ve really fucked up.”  

Steve stifled a sob, he didn’t know what to do anymore. 

“My back. I know I told you that I was fully recovered but that wasn’t quite the truth. Shit, in reality it were a blatant lie really. I’ve been told there’s nerve damage. It’s bad mate. I don’t know if it's ever gonna get better. It just hurts all the time.  

 

So I started taking painkillers. At first it was only when it were really bad, but then it were really bad most days. And then at some point the normal dose stopped helping, so I’d take double. I’d be taking double just to get through the day. I don’t wanna say I’m addicted, but I think I am…”

Steve shuddered, and sank into a heavy silence for a moment. 

 

Addicted… Was that really him? 

 

Saying the words out loud made everything seem so much more real. And although Kate couldn’t reply, although he couldn’t even be sure she could hear him, just talking to someone lessened the burden. Afterall, the first stage in recovery was acceptance.

 

“Then the other week Occupational Health came for drug testing. I don’t know why, but we all had to give a sample. I’m loaded up on prescription painkillers and I have to give a sample for drugs testing. Something must’ve got flagged up ‘cos I kept getting emails but ignoring them. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I thought, like if I deleted them, it would all go away. Stupid really. Didn’t do any good. They just kept coming. 

I kept trying to put off the appointment, but they threatened suspension and I can’t lose the job, I need it, sure y’know what it's like. Even if things are shit right now, I can’t lose the job.

So I had the meeting, but the OH bloke was no use, gave some spiel about being there to help and not judging. Then he went and told me to take time off. 

Like, what the fuck does he know, he never gotten out from behind his cushy desk.

I’ve had to surrender my firearms licence. Everything is falling apart...”

 

Steve let his head sink into his hands. “I’m just fucking knackered mate,” he sobbed. 

 

“It all feels too much, y’know. I’m fucking exhausted by it all and I just don’t know what to do anymore. Everything is falling apart and I feel so helpless. God, I need you mate. I’d do anything to hear your bad jokes, anything for a catch-up over a pint and a curry.”  

 

 Steve closed his eyes and fell into a heavy silence, he didn’t have any tears left to cry.

 

At first, he didn’t notice as Kate’s finger twitched, the slightest movement at first, but then again. Her hand gently curled into his, offering the faintest squeeze of comfort. It took Steve a moment to register what was happening.

 

“Kate!” he exclaimed, suddenly fully alert. “Kate, can you hear me!” 

She squeezed again, Steve was sure this time. 

“Kate!” he gasped, jumping out of the chair and looking round the bay in search of someone to help. 

Kate let out a strangled cough, a sickly gurgling echoed round the bay and panic welled in Steve’s chest, he didn’t know how to help. The steady beeps of the heart rate monitor increased as she fought against the ventilator, as she fought to breathe on her own. 

 

“Hey!” Steve called out, “we need some help, I think she’s waking up.”

 

Kate’s hand slipped out of Steve’s grasp, and she made a sluggish motion towards the breathing tube.

 

“Kate!” he called out again. She was waking up, fighting against the machines that had been keeping her alive. Battered by panic and fear, Steve wasn’t sure if that was a good sign. 

The steady beeps of the heart rate monitor became more erratic. Each blip felt faster and panicked.  

Steve found a nurse by his side, gently taking hold of Kate's hands. 

 

“Talk to her,” the nurse instructed, “she needs to calm down.”

 

“Kate,” Steve tried to keep his voice steady, hiding the crippling anxiety that was eating away at him. “Kate, it's okay. Don’t fight it, okay mate. I’m here Kate and you’re being looked after, it’s okay.”

 

Gradually, the rapid beeps slowed back to a normal rate. Kate gripped tightly at Steve’s hand, her arm flopping limply back onto the bed.

 

“The Doctor’s on her way,” the Nurse said calmly. 

 

Bernie entered Kate’s bay, an immediate calming presence. 

“Kate,” she called out her patients name as she approached the bedside. “Kate, can you open your eyes for me?” 

 

No response. 

 

Kate made another sluggish grab for the breathing tube. 

 

“It’s okay Kate, you’re in Hospital in Intensive Care. There’s a tube in your throat that’s been helping you breathe. We need you to calm down before we can try and remove it.” 

 

Kate was still for a moment but then the heart rate monitor began to beep erratically again, an alarm screamed, a shrieking warning signal of what was to come. Kate’s body tensed and she began to seize, limbs jerky and flailing unnaturally. 

 

“Kate!” Steve cried out, frozen in shock. 

“Kate!” He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, frozen in place by fear. She was waking up, coming back to him, and now.... He couldn’t bear for anything else to happen to her. Please don’t let anything happen to her. 

 

“Steve, can you give us some space please,” Bernie ordered, not turning away from Kate. 

Steve remained rooted to the spot until a hand was placed on his shoulder and he found himself being ushered away from Kate and out of the ICU, despite wanting nothing more than to stay by her side.

 

Chapter Text

Kate felt like she was floating in the blackness, it completely surrounded her, thick and heavy. It was so dark but no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t open her eyes. There was just nothing. 

 

Slowly she gained some awareness. She didn’t know where she was and it was still so, so dark.  She could sense movement around her, a heavy sigh and a voice she was sure she recognised. But everything felt so hazy and distant, just echoes coming from far away. 

She wondered if she was dreaming, everything felt so strange, she felt nothing and everything all at once. Heavy and weightless, she was trapped in the nothingness. Her head felt heavy and her mind was clouded, she couldn’t think, her thoughts foggy and distant. Maybe she was dead, and this was some form of Purgatory. But surely being dead shouldn’t hurt so much. Because as her awareness grew, she realised she hurt. God, she hurt, she hurt everywhere. More pain than she’d ever felt before, it felt as if she’d been torn in two. 

 

“I need you mate.” 

 

That voice, the accent. She knew that voice. She was so sure, she knew that voice. But everything felt so heavy. The darkness tugged at her, trying to pull her back into the abyss from which she had risen. 

 

“I need you mate.”

 

There was a faint spark of a recollection. She knew that voice. It felt familiar and calming, promising safety and comfort. She was sure she knew the voice, but she couldn’t place it. God, she was so tired. 

She knew that voice, the thought swirled round and round in her head, breaking through the confusion. An image floated into her thoughts. Waistcoats, banter over a pint and a curry, and goofy dog memes. 

 

Steve. 

Her (sometimes) knobby friend. Her best mate.

 

“I’m just fucking knackered mate.”

 

Steve, her best mate. 

 

Steve. 

 

Recognition burnt through her mind and she fought against the grogginess. Fought with every fibre of her being against the blackness. Steve, she needed to get back to Steve. Steve needed her.

 

“I miss you mate.”

 

She tried to remember what happened, remember anything but the moments faded before she had the chance to understand. Thick fog clouded her thoughts. Where was she? What had happened? How long had she been stuck here? 

Gunshots, she remembered. There had been gunshots. Then… Then nothing. Just blackness. 

It was then she realised that she couldn’t breathe, there was something in her mouth, down her throat. She felt like she was choking. Panic swelled, rising in her chest as she tried to free herself from the tangle of wires and tubes. She was trapped. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t control her own body, her limbs felt weak and heavy, then she was spiralling, sinking back into the blackness.

 

 

Steve paced up and down the Hospital corridor, unable to calm his restless mind. Kate had been waking up, she’d squeezed his hand. He’d felt it, as if she knew he was there and was trying to reply. She was coming back to him. She was going to be okay, so why did she start fitting? 

The panic began to surge again and he could feel his thoughts spiralling, raging with destruction and despair. What if there was something else wrong? She had to be okay, he couldn’t lose her. Not now. Not after everything. He just couldn’t. 

 

“Mr. Arnott?” 

A voice broke through his turbulent thoughts. It was the same Nurse who had ushered him away from Kate. Steve froze and his heart leapt to his mouth as he turned to face the Nurse. 

He felt his eyes begin to fill with tears as he tried to read the Nurse’s expression. Again, it remained neutral. Steve took a deep breath and forced himself to ask the question he desperately didn’t want to ask.

“Is... Is she okay?”

 

“Yes.” The Nurse replied earnestly. “The combination of the drugs and her resisting ventilation resulted in a panic attack, which in turn triggered the seizure. It’s not an uncommon reaction for patients coming round from prolonged ventilation, but it can be quite distressing to see.”

 

Steve watched the Nurse intently, he knew there was more to say. 

 

“But we were able to stabilise her and the Doctor reckons she is going to be okay.” 

 

Steve let out a sob of relief, “can I go see her?” he stuttered. 

 

The Nurse nodded. “She’s still unconscious but is now breathing on her own. We’re hopeful she will wake up soon.”

 

Steve entered Kate’s bay to find her propped up slightly in the bed, her eyes were closed and her chest rose and fell with a gentle rhythm. The imposing ventilator had been replaced with an oxygen mask. Surrounded by a few less machines, she was finally beginning to look like Kate again.  

 

“You need to stop scaring me like that mate. There’s only so much I can take y’know,” Steve joked weakly as he lowered himself into his usual chair by Kate’s bed. It was still as uncomfortable as it had been the first time he’d sat in it. 

Ten days. Ten days sitting, watching and waiting. Ten days of hope, fear and worry. Ten days praying to a God he wasn’t sure he believed in that his best friend would be okay. Ten days and this was the first indication of progress.

 

“It’s a good sign,” came Bernie’s voice from behind him, he hadn’t noticed her come in. “Breathing on her own is good progress and I think she is through the worst. Kate will probably be weak and tired for a little while yet, but I’m hopeful she’ll make a good recovery. She’s definitely a fighter. But for now, just let her sleep, try getting some rest and come back later.”

 

Steve considered arguing, but his back had begun to twinge again and he was in desperate need of a shower. 

He rose slowly from the chair and was suddenly overcome with tiredness. His eyes were threatening to close, and he’d gone past the point of exhaustion, coming close to falling asleep where he stood. 

 

“Are you okay to get home?” Bernie asked, noticing how Steve swayed slightly as he stood up. 

 

Steve gave a curt nod in reply, “it’s not far.” 

 

“Okay…” Bernie reluctantly accepted his response. She knew from the nurses and seeing Steve herself that he had barely left Kate’s side for the last 10 days. When he wasn’t at work he was at the Hospital. She knew how events like these could consume a person, but the Medic in her also knew the importance of rest. She did not want to be receiving another patient today. 

“Just be careful.” 

 

Upon getting home, Steve managed a quick shower before, with his energy reserves utterly depleted, he fell into bed and into the grips of a restless sleep. There he stayed until morning, tossing and turning through the night, recent events playing on repeat, raging through his dreams. 

 


 

It was still pitch-black outside when Steve awoke to his mobile ringing. 

It was the Hospital calling and Steve sat bolt upright, suddenly wide awake despite the early hour. 

 

“Mr Arnott, just to let you know. Kate’s awake. She’s asked for you.”

 

Steve was out the door and driving to the Hospital within 10 minutes. He didn’t really feel refreshed, it would take more than a few hours of restless sleep to fix that, but he certainly felt more alive than he had done yesterday, and that was at least something. Not that it mattered. The only thought in his mind at the moment was Kate. 

 

Steve’s face broke into a wide smile as he entered Kate’s bay. He felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

 

“Hey mate,” she croaked, offering Steve a weak smile. 

 

She looked exhausted, as if she’d been awake and not unconscious for the past 10 days. There were dark circles under her eyes and she was still worryingly pale. Steve couldn’t help but notice how she trembled slightly, just from the effort of sitting up. Her eyelids fluttered slightly, as if they were threatening to close and though she tried to hide it, Steve could see the pain that flashed across her eyes with every breath. 

But she was awake and breathing. That was all that mattered, all steps in the right direction.

 

“Hey, yourself!” Steve responded, tears welling up in his eyes.

 

“Urgh, no crying,” Kate mumbled.    

 

Steve sat back down in his usual plastic chair with a choking laugh. “Sorry, can’t help it mate,” he replied, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “I’m just so happy to see you awake.”

 

“Soppy sod,” Kate murmured with a slight smirk. “It’s good to see you too mate.” 

“You’re staring. Have I got something on my face?” 

 

“No. It's just… Oh God, I thought I’d lost you.”

 

“Can’t get rid of me that easily.” 

 

“I can confirm that you are made of strong stuff, you’re a fighter Kate,” Bernie said, coming into Kate’s bay. 

 

“I don’t feel particularly strong right now,” Kate grumbled faintly. 

 

Steve sighed, only Kate could still put herself down after everything she had been through. 

 

“Okay, you’re going to have to let Kate get some rest now,” Bernie insisted as she began to complete Kate’s obs. 

 

Steve stood up slowly, his eyes not leaving Kate. “I’ll come see you again later. Stay safe.” 

 

“Mmh.” Kate mumbled quietly, her eyes already half closed. 

 

“I’m glad you’re awake. Really glad.” Steve cried. “I know you don’t want tears, but I can’t help it. I’m just so glad.”

 

Steve looked back over to his friend, but Kate was already asleep.

Chapter Text

Bernie had a feeling Kate Fleming was going to be a difficult patient. Not in the sense that she didn’t know how to make her better, that was almost the easy part. After all, she had made it through major abdominal surgery, three resuscitations and respiratory failure, with ten days dependent on full life support and a ventilator. To have made it through all that Kate had most certainly proved that she was not ready to give up on life yet. She was now breathing on her own and her care was slowly being stepped down.

 

But she was a difficult patient in the sense that she was frustratingly stubborn and terrible at listening to or following any of the advice that she or the nurses gave her. Three times already the nurses had had to stop her from trying to get herself out of bed. She’d regained consciousness less than 48 hours ago and had already torn out several IV lines and had inadvertently caused two crash calls in her attempts to get up. No, Kate Fleming definitely wasn’t going to make her job any easier. 

She sighed somewhat wearily. She’d been on double shifts the past couple of weeks and she longed for an evening curled up on the sofa with her wife, complete with a crappy film and a bottle, or two knowing Serena, of Shiraz. Still, there was still work to be done here and yet, she couldn’t help but smile in the face of everything. There was something about Kate's stubbornness and steely determination that reminded her of her time in the army. She was settled into her life in the city now, but there were still times she missed her old lifestyle. A lifestyle of action and excitement, working in fast-paced and high-stakes environments. It had been an adrenaline fuelled existence for sure. Now, she had found other sources of adrenaline, undertaking cutting-edge trauma surgery at work and at home she had a wife who still made her heart flutter just as much as it had the first time they met.

 

As difficult as the case may be, Bernie had already taken somewhat of a shine to Kate Fleming, she was a fighter, a defier of odds and Bernie couldn’t help but see a lot of herself in Kate. She too had made a terrible patient, Doctors always do. But there probably weren't many patients who could lie immobilised with an unstable spinal fracture and a pseudoaneurysm and still give orders on treatment to the doctors that were caring for them. It had worked too, her suggestion, well it had been more like an order, that they put their pettiness aside and actually work together, had been the right call. It must have been, or she probably wouldn’t be alive today. 

 


 

Kate grumbled as she shifted in the hospital bed, trying and failing to find a more comfortable position. She felt weak and slightly stiff, and if she was truly honest, she was still in a lot of pain. She wasn’t sure if it was the pain or the numerous different drugs still following through her veins, but she also felt rather sick and a little dizzy. The continuous beeping of the monitor and machines was really beginning to irritate her, and although she knew they meant well the Nurses gave her only 15 minutes or so of peace before she was once again being poked and prodded and having her vital signs checked. If they wanted to know she was still alive, they only had to ask. She hurt far too much to be anything other than alive. 

 

Even when she slept, there wasn’t really any peace, the ICU was too loud for the rest to be anything other than fitful at best. She was constantly exhausted, and her head still felt so foggy. No matter how hard she tried to piece together what had happened, she couldn’t make all the parts fit.

She had been shot, she remembered that much. She didn’t need to be reminded of that, the tugging pain and thick dressings covering her stomach did that. She’d been shot and had nearly bled out in a dark and damp lorry Park, though how she had ended up there in the first place, or what had happened after, she couldn’t remember. She only ever caught flashes of a memory, flashes of blue lights and concerned faces shouting words she didn’t understand. But even the flashes slipped away before she was able to make sense of them. She couldn’t even be sure what was real and what her delirious brain had made up before she had fallen into the darkness. The darkness that had lasted ten days. A darkness she never, ever wanted to go back to.  

 

Kate just wanted to get out of the Hospital and get back to her usual life as if none of this had ever happened. However, the Doctors had other ideas. 

“You’ll do yourself serious harm if you keep this up,” Bernie scolded her, as she tried to talk some sense into the stubborn woman lying in the bed in front of her. Determination was always beneficial to recovery, as long as it was kept in check.  Confusion was also common in coma patients, though for Kate, she wasn’t sure where the confusion ended and her stubborn, bloody-mindedness started.

 

“Just need to close the case,” Kate mumbled through clenched teeth, trying, and failing, to mask her pain. “I’m no use lying here. I just need to do something.”

 

“You, my friend, are going nowhere. Not while I’m still responsible for looking after you. Right now, you need to focus on your recovery,” Bernie calmly and quietly insisted. Kate responded with many groggy protests that she was well enough to leave hospital and go back to work, but Bernie did not relent, each time insisting, with all her medical authority, that Kate stay put.

 

Exasperated, Kate leant back against the pillows. She hated being so weak, so dependent on others. She couldn’t even go to the bathroom on her own. She could barely even sit up. Her legs seemed to turn to jelly every time she tried to stand up, if she even got that far, every movement sent crippling waves of pain across her stomach. It didn’t stop her from trying though.

She stared determinedly at Bernie and gave a slight nod of reluctant agreement. She’d try and stay put for now, not that she was happy about it.

 

“You’ll have plenty of time to be stubborn later. For now, you are going to tell someone straight away if you are in pain or feeling unwell in any way. You may have woken up, but you are not out of the woods yet. It’s my job to keep you alive and the last thing I need is your stubbornness making that any more difficult than it already has been.” Bernie continued to scold her.

 

Kate felt as if she were a disobedient pupil, chastised and told off every time she tried to even move. She found herself transported back to her school days, where she had constantly been in trouble for one reason or another. God, how she had hated school, with all the rules and regulations, sitting at a desk being talked at for 7 hours during the day. The expectation that she absorb and regurgitate the information on command when truthfully, she didn’t have a clue what most of the teachers were talking about. The only true break came during P.E sessions, where she could at least take her frustrations out on the football fields or hockey pitch. It was the only lesson she actually enjoyed and had even been somewhat good at.

She’d had to re-sit both her English and Maths GCSEs at College when she had made the decision to join the Police force. College had been marginally better than school, at least she was no longer treated like a child. But textbooks, essays and formulas were just not her thing. 

At school she had probably spent more time in detention than anywhere else, half the time she didn’t even know what she had done to end up there. Other times she knew exactly why she was there but did not remotely regret it. She had purposely picked fights with the biggest and most repulsive bullies, always ready to step up and defend those she cared about and fight for what was right. Though at some point she had come to realise that her fists weren’t always the best way to go about things. Oh, how the tables had turned, or not. Even into her thirties, she was still getting told off. By Doctors this time as opposed to teachers. At least she could be sure the Doctors were actually trying to help her.  

 

Kate sighed loudly, making her exasperation clear. “Mm, okay then,” she mumbled a reluctant response. 

 

Bernie sat down in the chair by Kate’s bed. “You’re going to have to tell me that again but mean it this time.”

 

Kate met Bernie’s gaze. Her expression was somber and suggested that she was not to be messed with, but her eyes were kind. 

“I…” Kate stuttered, tears welling up in her eyes. God, she didn’t want to cry, but pain, exhaustion and confusion had left her unusually emotional. She choked back a sob, “I just hate being so weak, I can’t do anything, I just feel so useless.” 

 

“You’re not useless at all. You’re injured. You’re healing. Recovery is going to take time. But I can tell already that you are a fighter. It’s okay to be weak. It’s okay to need help with things while you’re still recovering. It’s my job, remember. And right now, it’s your job to be a patient and nothing else."

 

“I’m scared. I don’t know how to deal with this, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. What if things never get better. I need my work, it’s all I know. What if I can’t get back to who I was. I can’t really remember what happened and that terrifies me.”

 

Bernie placed a comforting hand on top of Kate’s, She’d forgotten about the fear. The fear of not being in control of the outcome. The fear of losing the only job she had ever been good at.

 

“There’s only snippets and I hate not being able to understand. I need to understand, to figure this out.” Kate stuttered, voice broken and fretful.

 

“Always the Detective.”

 

“Always the Doctor.” 

 

“True.” Bernie offered Kate a comforting smile.

“I can’t promise that everything is going to be okay, but you’ve already beaten the odds and you are in the best place to help you get better.  The memories may come back, or they may not, I don’t know. It could be your brain's way of protecting you from what happened, but you survived Kate. Remember that, you survived.” 

 

Half an hour later Kate had finally fallen asleep. Glad that her patient was finally getting some much-needed rest, Bernie savoured the few moments of peace, thankfully finding 5 minutes to enjoy a large, strong Coffee. She was sure the quiet wouldn’t last long and besides, she also had other Patients to attend to.

Chapter Text

“I hear you’re not being very cooperative,” Steve teased entering Kate’s bay. After everything, he was desperately in need of some light-hearted banter, even if it was at Kate’s expense. He was still visiting as frequently as he could and every time Kate seemed more like Kate again and less, well, broken. She still looked exhausted and there were still a few too many monitors for him to feel comfortable, but there was colour in her cheeks, and she looked alive rather than half dead, as she had looked just days before. The days when he had been so scared that he would lose her forever.

 

Kate gave a frustrated sigh in response, “would you be if you were being poked and prodded every 15 minutes?” 

 

Despite Kate’s frustration Steve couldn’t help but smile slightly. His best friend was coming back to him, sarcasm, banter and all.

“The only thing you need to concentrate on right now is getting better,” he commented.

 

“Everyone seems to be telling me that,” Kate grumbled, clearly not impressed about hearing the same thing again, especially not from Steve. 

 

God, he'd missed her grumpiness, especially when told things she didn’t like. One time he'd made a joke about Notts Forest almost being relegated and Kate had been grumpy with him for a whole week.

“Mate, everyone is telling you that because it’s true.” 

 

Kate grunted faintly in agreement from behind the oxygen mask clamped over her face. It was really beginning to irritate her, but she could barely manage a few minutes without it before she was left gasping for breath, let alone able to hold a conversation. She closed her eyes for a moment, maybe they were right, but it didn’t mean she liked it any better. She just hated being so weak and not being able to do anything. She was fed up and frustrated and rather grouchy because of it.

Kate gave an exasperated sigh and looked at Steve. She actually looked at him, and she knew then that was something that wasn’t quite right. He seemed weary, troubled, and looked almost as exhausted as she felt. Despite the drug induced haze her detective brain still suggested he was hiding something. The nervous glances he cast around her bay, he was restless and on edge and it bothered her.

There was only one thing for it. 

“Steve,” Kate began, unable to hide the worry in her voice. “What is it you’re not telling me?”

She fixed him with her strongest state.

 

Steve sighed, he couldn’t keep it from Kate much longer and even if he tried, he was sure she’d weasel it out of him.

“It’s Jo Davidson,” he stated, watching his friend carefully. 

 

It took Kate a moment to process what Steve was saying, her head still felt so foggy. At first nothing, then all of a sudden, her world crashed around her ears. Memories flooded back. Jo. Jo had been there. Jo had been in the Lorry Park. Jo had tried to help her, Jo had saved her, called an Ambulance, tried to stop the bleeding. Jo’s face swam in front of her eyes, she’d been so scared, “just hang on Kate, you’re going to be okay.” She had said something else, but Kate couldn’t remember, the memory fading as quickly as it had appeared. She took a shaking breath and the beeping of the heart rate monitor increased noticeably. 

No, not Jo. Please not Jo.

 

“There was an incident a few days ago,” Steve explained. “Well, it was last week now. I’ve not really been keeping track of the days.”

He looked down at the floor, tearing his eyes from Kate’s intense gaze.

“AC12 intercepted communications that suggested Jo was in danger. It turned out that there were a number of Prison Guards in league with the OCG. Intelligence suggested she was going to be moved from Brentiss and killed.”

 

“No…” a pained expression broke across Kate’s face and her breathing quickened. “Please no.” 

 

“We were able to successfully intercept the transport, the guards and several members of the OCG were arrested,” Steve continued, cautious of Kate’s ever increasing heart rate, she may have been getting better but she was still weak. 

“During the intercept, the Van overturned and Jo…” He faltered, knowing the impact his next words would be likely to have. “Jo was injured. Badly.” 

Steve took hold of Kate’s hand, her heart rate having risen to concerning levels. She was lost in panic and he had to get her back quickly before something bad happened. “Kate, Kate, look at me,” he ordered. “You need to calm down mate, just breathe, please Kate, just breathe.” 

 

Tears streamed down Kate’s cheeks as she took a few shaky breaths. Please let Jo be okay. How did this happen? How could she have gotten hurt?

 

“That’s it, just breathe,” Steve encouraged, gently squeezing her hand. “You’re doing really well,” he added as her heart rate finally began to slow. 

Not taking his eyes off Kate, Steve continued. “She’s been brought here, they suspect a bleed on the brain. She’s in a coma.” 

 

No...

 

Kate froze for a few moments, her face overcome with an expression of shock and horror before a glint of steely determination appeared in her eyes. 

“I need to see her,” Kate demanded, with a look that suggested she wouldn’t take no for an answer. 

 

“Just wait,” Steve urged. “You’re still a patient in ICU yourself.”

 

“I need to see her,” Kate demanded again, becoming more distressed as she tried to sit up.

 

“Kate, you shouldn’t be going anywhere. You’ve only just come out of a coma yourself!”

 

“No, you don’t understand,” Kate cried. “I need to tell her, I need to tell her!”

 

Steve had never seen his friend in such a state, he wasn’t sure whether it was the shock, the pain or the drugs she was on or a combination of all three, but she was becoming increasingly distressed. The heart rate monitor again raising alarm, as she tried to pull herself up from the bed.

“Kate, just wait please. You’ll hurt yourself!” Steve begged, but his protests fell on deaf ears. 

“Kate!” Steve desperately tried to calm his friend. 

 

Kate continued to ignore him, pulling the oxygen mask off her face, hissing in pain as she tried to sit up. 

 

“Doesn’t matter, I just need to-” her face contorted with pain, but she still tried to get up. 

 

“You died, Kate!” Steve cried. “You actually died last week! Three times!” 

 

“I need to…” Kate stuttered between pained gasps. 

 

“Please Kate, you have to take this seriously, I can’t watch that happen again…”

 

“I need to tell her.”

 

“Tell her what,” Steve fumed. Kate could be stubborn, but right now she was being plain stupid. “I know you two were close, but what is so important that you’d risk your own recovery.” 

All of the pent up fear and frustration bubbled over and Steve didn’t know how to cope.

“You died, and even when the Doctor’s got you back they didn't know if you would wake up. You couldn’t breathe on your own and you were hooked up to so many machines I could barely see you. You’re my best friend and I've never been so scared, I still am. I'm scared that if you don’t start taking things seriously, you'll get hurt again!”

Steve didn’t even realise he was shouting until he met Kate’s shocked expression. 

 

“I need to tell her,” Kate howled. “I need to tell her! I need to tell her that I love her!” 

 

 Oh. Steve stopped.

 

Suddenly everything made sense. How Kate had consistently defended Jo. The evening drinks, meeting outside of work. The slight flutter in her voice every time she talked about her. Jo’s desperation to know that Kate was okay. Just how worried she had been. It was more than just friendship.

 

Chapter Text

Steve finally managed to persuade Kate to wait another day before going to see Jo, just so she would be at least a little stronger, after everything she had been through, he couldn't help but worry. And it was a worry that wasn’t going to go away anytime soon, the recent events had served as a cruel reminder of how fragile life could be and just how breakable people truly are. A 9mm chunk of metal had so very nearly cost his best friend her life. 

 

Kate, on the other hand, had chosen to ignore just how close she had come to death, internalising and boxing away her feelings just as she always did. In many ways she was the complete opposite of Steve, she never let it show, while Steve, well, he was barely holding himself together for all the cracks. 

 

“Are you sure about this?” Steve asked, the worry rising in his chest again, though he already knew the answer.

There was no way Kate was not going to see Jo, his threats of handcuffing her to the bed and the Doctor’s insistence that she stay so as to not cause further injury had been duly ignored. Kate was still as stubborn and strong-willed as ever. That hadn’t changed. 

Yet Steve could help but feel very protective of his best mate. Kate didn’t really have anyone else. Aside from the Gaffer stopping by occasionally, she’d had no other visitors. And the conversation with Mark had been, well, it still made him angry to think about it. You never really notice how alone some people are, he thought.

 

“Yes.” Came the answer, certain and insistent. “I need to see her.”

Kate looked up at Steve, her expression sincere. 

“I could hear you, it’s hard to explain, but I knew you were there, and it helped. I reckon I owe her that much.” 

 

Steve sighed and somewhat reluctantly moved the wheelchair closer to Kate’s bed. The short trip only over to Jo’s bay would only take a few seconds but there was no way he was going to let Kate attempt it on her own. He was not risking that. 

 

“I feel like a tit,” Kate grumbled as Steve helped her into a wheelchair, conscious of the various wires and IV lines that still snaked from her form. 

“Is this all really necessary?”

 

“You’re still an ICU patient,” Steve reminded her as he hooked the oxygen tank to the back of the chair. “So yes, it is.”

Steve looked earnestly at his best friend. “Mate, just listen for a sec alright,” he began. 

He knelt down in front of the wheelchair and made sure to catch Kate’s eye. He really needed her to listen, to understand what he wanted to say. He chose his words carefully, knowing he'd be revealing things about himself that he hadn’t told anyone else.

“You’re forgetting I’ve been where you are. Playing things down, too proud to ask for help. I don’t want things to get that bad for you okay. You’re hurt, you could’ve died, you can’t keep pretending like this is nothing.  Seriously, you need to slow down. Heal. It takes time. I'm here for you mate, you know that don't you. So just be careful, alright. I can’t lose you. Healing takes time and you’ve got to let it. Heck, years later and things still aren’t right with me…” Steve trailed off, worried he had said too much.

 

“The painkillers,” Kate stated. “I heard you. While I was, y’know.” She gestured over to the bed.

"Think that is what got me to wake up. I remember recognising your voice and just knowing I had to get back to you. You said you needed me… It's hard to explain. I didn't really know what was going on, but I knew you were there."

 

“Oh,” the words caught in Steve’s throat. It had taken him struggling for Kate to wake up. She’d done that for him. 

 

“I’m sorry mate,” came Kate’s heartfelt reply. “You could have told me.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve sighed. “Suppose we both ought to talk more, y’know about stuff.” 

 

Kate really needed to talk more about things.

 

“Mmh,” Kate mumbled in agreement, eyes flitting away from Steve’s gaze. She was always the one who was more uncomfortable in situations like these.

 

“Christ, we’re a pair ain't we!” Steve exclaimed, trying to add some light back into the conversation.

 

“Yeah, I guess so.”

 

“Promise, from now on. Remember, you’ve got me, mate. If you ever need to talk, you can talk to me.” 

 

“Mmh-kay,” Kate mumbled her agreement. “Though, only if you do the same.”

 

“Deal.” Steve nudged Kate’s shoulder playfully. 

 


 

Steve gently pushed the wheelchair into Jo’s bay. 

“I’ll give you a moment,” he whispered, stepping back from the chair.

 

Kate gazed at the fragile figure lying in the bed and instantly her eyes welled up with tears. 

Jo looked so small, so frail, so broken, a shadow of the woman Kate had come to love. The hospital gown seemed to swallow her whole, swamping her tiny frame. Jo was several years her senior, yet at the moment she seemed almost childlike. Her head was wrapped in thick bandages, and she was barely recognizable under the tubes and wires. 

 

Kate shuddered thinking about what Jo must have gone through.

 

Had she looked like that too? She couldn’t help but wonder. It was strange, to think of herself like that, hooked up to so many monitors and machines. Her memories were still so foggy and if she was honest, she wasn’t sure if she wanted them to come back. 

 

“Bloody hell Jo, you had to go and one up me, didn’t you?” she whispered, bottom lip trembling as she fought back the tears. “Pretty sure a brain injury tops a GSW.” Kate trailed off, wiping a solitary tear from her cheek. 

The gentle hiss of the ventilator broke through the silence. A few days ago, the same machines had been breathing for her. The slow and steady beeps, marking her heart rate, the only indication of life.

 

“Oh Jo, how on earth did we find ourselves in this mess? What I wouldn’t do to be sat with you in the bar sharing some wine right now.”

 

Kate reached forward and ever so gently took hold of Jo’s hand. It was then she saw the scars that traced across her arms, screaming out against her pale skin. The reason Jo always wore long sleeves. Her heart ached, heavy and filled with sorrow as she thought of Jo hiding all that pain. She thought of how they’d both worn masks, talking without ever really saying anything. Boxing away and compartmentalising feelings, coping in the only ways that they could. 

 

“I heard you, you know,” Kate whispered. “In the lorry park, I heard what you said, it didn’t leave me. I thought I must have been imagining things, delirious from blood loss, but then you said it again. Everything gets pretty muddled after that, but I heard what you said, even if I couldn’t say anything back. So, I guess I say it now. I just need you to know. Please, if you can hear me. I love you. I love you Jo, I love you in a way I never thought I could love another person. You made me feel again and I know I didn’t tell you, but you made me feel. Because of you I felt that life had a point again, I had a reason for being and I owe that to you.” 

 

Silence returned and Kate stayed. Her hand intertwined with Jo’s

It has to change, she decided. We have to change. Kate rubbed faint circles in Jo's palm. 

"When you wake up, it’s going to change. You’ll be safe and we’ll talk. We’ll talk about everything and maybe we can both stop hiding. Maybe, we can both be happy."

Chapter Text

Josh gazed nervously up at the tall office building where the Central Police crest hung proudly above the entrance. Trying to channel the anxiety, he clutched his rucksack straps tightly, so tight that his knuckles began to turn white. The lump in his throat just seemed to grow bigger, the lump that had been there ever since he had seen that text on his dad’s phone the night before.

The message that was not meant for his eyes, but as the words flashed up on the screen, he couldn’t help but look and that glance changed everything. Those two short sentences filled him with an instant sense of dread. 

Please let me see Josh or at least speak to him. I’ve spent the past 2 weeks fighting for my life and all I want to do is tell him I love him.

The message was so unlike his mum’s usual jokes and banter (mostly about the football), it had worried him instantly. Fighting for my life. The words were burnt into his mind, he couldn’t unsee them if he tried. His head was spinning and a panic that he’d never felt before clutched at his chest. Fighting for my life, it could only mean one thing. Josh knew his mum’s job could be dangerous, but he’d never thought…

 

Josh had barely slept and had not been able to focus on anything at school. The voices of his mates and the teachers were drowned out by the message revolving constantly around his brain. Fighting for my life. He’d been so wrong, so wrong about everything. He didn’t know, he didn’t know because no one had bothered to tell him. She was his mum, and something bad, something really bad had happened and no one had told him. 

Somewhere between the fear and worry there was anger too. His dad hadn’t told him, instead he’d just let him think she didn’t care. When in reality, it was as far from the truth as possible. So Josh had done something he’d never done before, he bunked off the last lesson at school and travelled across the city to the only place he thought he might get some answers. He just hoped he had remembered right, hoped that he still worked here. That his mum’s friend could tell him something.

That gnawing feeling of anxiety and fear in the pit of his stomach continued to grow, his chest felt so tight he had to force himself to take deep breaths.

He was fourteen years old but all he wanted to do was hug his mum. His school tie hung loosely around his neck, the ever-growing lump in his throat had made it impossible for him to do up his top button, and frankly, following the school uniform code was the least of his worries. Fighting for my life. Josh took a deep breath and pushed open the glass doors. 

 


 

It had been a long day and Steve had long since reached the point where he couldn't bear hearing Carmichael’s clipped and condescending tone any longer. He just wanted to get home and try and get a decent night’s sleep, something that he had not managed in a very long time. The rest of the paperwork could wait till tomorrow, it wasn’t going anywhere and he just needed to get out of the office. 

 

Between the ever-present exhaustion and frustration, he was still worried. The investigation into the OCG was making progress, Kate was slowly getting better, and he was no longer getting daily emails from Occupational Health. Yet, the worry refused to go away. Amongst many things he was worried about how upset Kate had been when he’d told her about Jo. She could be so stubborn sometimes that he worried that she’d risk injuring herself to be with Jo. 

He’d never heard Kate react in such a way before. Even in the rare moments when things had been good with Mark, she was never like she was with Jo. 

And the more he thought about it, he also realised it was clear Jo felt the same way about Kate. How Kate had been her only concern as her life was torn apart during the interview with Carmichael and Hastings. 

Kate was his best friend, all he wanted was for her to be happy. Fucking hell, she deserved to be happy after all the shit she’d been through. If Jo Davidson made her happy then he’d do what he could to help them both. 

Providing Jo survived… 

 

Lost in thought, he almost walked into the young teenager hovering nervously in the reception as he walked out of the lift.  

 

“Sorry,” came a muffled apology.

 

Steve frowned slightly, looking at the boy standing in front of him, still in school. His face was familiar but he couldn’t work out from where. It took a moment for Steve to place how he knew the boy, and then it clicked. Kate’s phone, her lock screen, two faces grinning into the camera, happy and carefree.

“Josh!” 

 

“Are you Steve?” the boy questioned, apprehension creeping across his face. “You look different with a beard. It’s just, I weren’t sure this were the right place...”

 

Steve half smiled, he hadn’t seen Kate’s son for several years and he was far from the shy little boy he remembered. Josh was almost as tall as he was now and definitely not a kid anymore. Dark hair fell messily over his forehead, he had Kate’s chiselled cheekbones and blue-green eyes. Currently, they mirrored his own, reflecting worry, fear and concern. 

 

“I…” Josh stumbled over the words while fiddling nervously with the strap of his rucksack. He couldn’t meet Steve’s eyes, he was too worried about what they might tell him. He looked down to his shoes, his feet scuffing at the floor.

 

“Me mum.” He started, trying to hide the panic that was beginning to rise in his chest.

“I saw a message on me Dad’s phone. Said she wanted to see me, she said she’d been…”   

Josh took a deep breath, it all felt like too much and he was struggling to get the words out.

“... said she’d been fighting for her life.” He paused struggling against the tears that were welling up in his eyes

“Do you know what’s going on?” he implored. “I didn’t know! I didn’t know anything!”

Josh choked back a sob, all the fear and worry, threatening to bubble over.

“Dad told me she was too busy with work, that she didn’t care! Two weeks and I didn’t hear anything from her. He just said she didn’t care! But that ain’t true is it?” 

Josh realised he was rambling, words spilling out of his mouth. He was fed up with being treated like a kid and his parents keeping things from him. He was 14 and had had enough of secrets and half-truths. 

 

Steve looked at the boy, well teenager, in front of him. Josh’s raised voice had caught some unwelcome stares from Colleagues and visitors gathered in the reception.

“I think we best go sit down,” he suggested, beckoning to the sofas in the waiting area.

 

“No! I want to know what’s going on? I’m not going anywhere till you tell me what’s going on. Where’s me mum!”

Josh seemed to have inherited Kate’s stubborn streak, he’d turned to shouting to try and hide his distress. His mouth was a fine line, demanding and determined. Though his eyes told a different story, they were filled with tears. 

 

“Okay,” Steve replied gently. “First, of course your mum cares about you. Just remember that, alright.”  

 

“What happened? Why is she in the hospital? Is she okay?” Josh replied with a stream of questions.

 

“There...” Steve paused. Josh might not be a kid anymore, but he was still reluctant to tell him just how bad things had been. He sighed wearily, recalling the initial conversation he’d had with Mark. The whole reason for that phone call in the first place was because he thought Josh had a right to know what was happening with Kate.

 

“It’s to do with the case we’ve been working on. Kate, your mum, wanted to help but then something happened. I can’t mention details because of the investigation, but it resulted in your mum getting shot. She was quite badly hurt and lost a lot of blood.”

Images of the lorry park flashed back through Steve’s mind. He pushed them aside, not wanting Josh to sense his pain.

“It was pretty bad for a while, but she’s awake now and the Doctors reckon she’s gonna be okay. She’s a fighter y’know. Your mum is a proper fighter”

 

Josh just stared at the floor, the tears he’d been fighting back now falling freely. His mum was in hospital, his mum had been fucking shot and no one had told him. Steve’s words rang round his head and something struck him, so hard he was sure he felt his heart drop.

 

“What do you mean, she’s awake now?” He asked, already fearing what the answer may be.

 

Steve wasn’t sure how much Kate would want Josh to know but he’d kind of dug himself a hole in that respect. If he was anything like his mum, he wasn’t going to stop asking until he had all the answers and information he wanted. Anyway, as much as she may not want to admit it, Kate was going to need people, and Josh obviously cared about her. 

“When she first got to the hospital, your mum was in a pretty bad way. She was badly injured and in a coma. I called your dad early on, to tell him what had happened. I know things ain’t been easy but I reckoned you still had the right to know. Especially since things, well, they were looking bad. She... On the night that it happened…” 

Shit . Steve stumbled over his words as he recounted the event of that night, events that he so desperately wanted to forget. He hadn’t intended to tell Josh about this, he’d wanted to spare him the worst but in his exhausted state, the words just tumbled out.

He took a deep breath, there was no chance of backtracking now…

“She, well technically she died. For 10 minutes, her heart stopped. They got her back but because of that and how serious her injuries were, the Doctor’s weren’t sure she was going to wake up. I called your dad because I thought you should be able to say goodbye, if it came to it…”

 

“She died…” Josh whispered, his voice barely audible. He felt as if the ground had been pulled from under his feet, he was falling, sinking into the abyss and everything was wrong. His mum could have died, and he wouldn’t have known. His mind was spinning, desperately trying to process everything Steve was telling him.

Then there was the guilt, that heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He’d been so angry, felt abandoned, all while… 

All while the worst thing possible was happening and no one had told him.

Why didn’t he know? Why did everyone still have to treat him like a little kid, keep things from him. 

“I didn’t know… I was so angry at her, I thought she’d just forgotten. Was too busy with work.” 

 

“I’m sorry,” Steve sighed. “But the important thing is that she’s doing okay now, she’s getting better. Slowly, but she’s getting better. I was just going to see her, I can give you a lift if you’d like.”

 

Josh nodded, his jaw clenched and trembling slightly, he was doing all he could not to burst into tears.

Chapter Text

“So, DI Fleming,” Carmichael clipped, leaning over Kate’s bed, notebook in hand. 

 

Kate groaned and forced her eyes open, after a morning of being poked, prodded and wheeled to and from various tests and investigations, she had finally been left in peace to try and get some rest. She had spent the night in a fever-induced delirium so was now was fucking exhausted and just wanted to sleep. 

 

Kate grumbled as she tried to shift into a more comfortable position, it was just her luck to be finally moved from ICU, only to nearly end up straight back there due to an infection at the surgery site. Apparently, she had caused quite the commotion during the night with her fever hitting 40°c and her heart rate rising to a dangerously high level. By that point, she’d been so out of it that she had no idea what was going on, but according to Bernie, she had narrowly avoided another stay in intensive care, or worse. Thankfully, IV antibiotics were keeping the infection at bay for now and aside from a dull headache and a funny taste in her mouth Kate was feeling considerably better than she had been the previous evening.

 

The slight tapping of a pen only seemed to exacerbate Kate’s headache, bloody Carmichael. The room swam slowly into focus, and she was greeted with Carmichael’s condescending stare. Kate groaned quietly, her temperature had almost returned to normal so she couldn’t even be hallucinating. There might have been worse things to hallucinate, but Patricia fucking Carmichael wasn’t far off the top of that list.

 

She was the last person Kate wanted to see right now. Her face was twisted into an unnatural smile, a smile that didn’t match the ice in her eyes. She reminded her of the Cyborgs in the video games Josh liked to play, the robots that looked like people but were not quite human, it was always the eyes and the voice that gave them away. Mark would never allow him to play these games, muttering something about rotting young people's brains, so of course Kate did. Heck, she’d do anything for Josh. She knew she was a terrible mum, but she was trying, she was really trying.

 

Josh. Her heart was filled with a sudden ache and all she wanted was to hug her son. She had messaged again and had now left a total of 4 increasingly desperate voicemails, but she still hadn’t had an answer from Mark. She’d expected no less, but it still hurt. It hurt so much more than any of her physical injuries, bullet wounds and the long surgery scar that stretched from her lower chest, snaking neatly round her belly button and ending just above her pelvic bone, infection and all.

 

She couldn’t bear the thought that she could have died, well, technically she did, without telling Josh that she loved him. 

 

In the first hours after she’d woken up in the ICU, she’d made a silent promise, come what may, she was going to try harder, be a better mum to Josh. It was Josh that kept her going, Josh that helped her fight her way out of the darkness for a second time in recent weeks. This time she was resolute, come what may she was not going to let her idiot ex get in the way of seeing her son. 

 

Carmichael tutted loudly, tearing Kate from her thoughts. 

 

“DI Fleming, can you tell me about the events that occurred on the 23rd of November? She inquired coolly. “What can you remember?”

 

Kate slowly pushed herself up into a sitting position so that she could meet Carmichael’s icy stare. Internally she was seething, but she tried not to let her frustration show. God, Steve was right, she really was bloody irritating. A sharp wave of pain burnt across her side, she’d tugged at her stiches as she sat up and fuck it hurt. Through clenched teeth she hid her discomfort, she would not give Carmichael the satisfaction of seeing her even more vulnerable than she already was.

 

“Sorry Ma'am,” she answered flatly, “I can’t remember much.” 

 

“Is that so,” Carmichael clipped and presented Kate with a condescending smirk. She fixed Kate with a stare that implied she didn’t believe her in the slightest.

 

Kate was quickly reaching the point where she wanted to hit something, how can one person say three words and be so infuriating she thought. 

 

“Yes, it is.” Kate repeated. 

 

She took a sharp intake of breath and pulled her mouth into a fine line to avoid saying something she might regret. Or not. She probably wouldn’t regret it but still she wanted to at least try and remain professional. There was no point in making the current situation any more difficult or frustrating than it already was.

 

“Well," Carmichael practically cooed, clearly eager for answers that would tie that case up in a neat little bow, ribbons and all. “There seem to be some discrepancies in the account given by DCI Davidson and the forensic evidence gathered at the scene. Can you explain why that might be?” 

 

“Look,” Kate sighed, her frustration building. “I don’t know about any discrepancies. I don’t know much about anything at the moment.” 

 

 She was not in the mood to be answering Carmichael’s questions right now. 

 

She was still in pain, worried about Jo, worried about Steve and all while she was still trying to make sense of everything that had happened. Her mind still felt groggy, and she was struggling to get her thoughts in order.

 

Mark was making another point of ignoring her many calls and texts when all she wanted was to see Josh. She had a right to see her son, even in this state. If anything, it made her want to see him more. She’d nearly died, and she just wanted to give her kid a hug and tell him she loved him. She needed Josh to know that. That she would never willingly leave or abandon him. Whatever, Mark may say.

 

“I really can’t remember much.” she grumbled.

 

“Hmm,” Carmichael tutted. “Seeing as Jo Davidson is currently unable to answer questions, I was hoping you would shed some light on the situation. I don’t like it when there are discrepancies.”

 

“Well, I'm sorry,” Kate snapped, no longer able to hold in her frustration and no longer caring about being even remotely polite.

 

“All I can remember is Pilkington pulling a gun on me, then I’m lying on the ground cold and bleeding. Next thing I know I’m waking up here 10 days later. I’m sorry if I can’t give you a satisfactory account Ma’am, but that's all I got.” Kate glared at Carmichael, with all the fury and detest she could muster. 

 

“Look, just in case you didn’t know, I’d been shot, I don’t know if you’ve ever been shot, but it fucking hurts, kinda makes it hard to think straight or remember everything right. On top of that I had lost a lot of blood and the Doctor said I technically died that night, so excuse me if my memory is a little hazy.” 

 

Kate couldn’t help but feel a rush of satisfaction as Carmichael awkwardly shifted position. She even noticed a hint of what could have been sympathy trace across her otherwise steely expression. 

 

She’d told the truth, she couldn’t really remember what happened. Only snippets. The only thing she’d really left out was what Jo had said, she wasn’t ready to share that with Pass-agg Pat yet. 

 

 “I see,” Carmichael mumbled. “If that’s all you remember…”

 

“It is. That’s all I can remember.” Kate grumbled, shooting daggers at Carmichael, though they seemed to bounce straight off her icy façade. God, she was getting really fed up now.

 

“By all accounts I shouldn’t be alive,” she added, in the hope that Carmichael would finally get the message that Kate had no more to say to her.

 

“I should probably be in the morgue with Pilkington, but I’m somehow still here and if it’s not too much of an inconvenience for you, I’d rather not keep being reminded of the night I nearly died.” 

 

“Well, if that’s all you have to say.” Carmichael trailed off, looking increasingly uncomfortable. 

 

“It is,” Kate reiterated, trying to match Carmichael’s icy stare, though she had a feeling the pain that shot across her face when she shifted position a little too quickly may have given her away. 

 

“Then I wish you a speedy recovery.” 

 

Carmichael gave a final condescending tut, before turning on her heel and finally leaving Kate in peace. 

 

Yeah right, Kate thought. She sank back onto the pillows, wincing against the pain that shot across her stomach. She didn’t even bother to try and hide it this time, getting shot hurt, she decided. Like really fucking hurt , and she did not appreciate just how long it was taking her to recover.

 

Bloody Carmichael, she grumbled to herself, staring up at the Hospital ceiling. Pass-agg Pat, as Steve had accurately dubbed her, always managed to put her in a rotten mood. She really couldn’t be dealing with her unnerving calmness and probing questions right now. Questions she couldn’t answer, no matter so hard she tried. Everything still felt so foggy, as if her head had been stuffed with Cotton Wool and even simple tasks felt ridiculously difficult. 

Chapter Text

Once Carmichael had left Kate tried to rest but her mind wouldn’t still. She felt frustrated and utterly fed-up. She couldn’t stand being stuck in Hospital, not really able to do anything. Usually, she’d ease her frustrations with a long run or a good session in the gym and neither was currently an option. She had finally been stepped down from the ICU to the Trauma ward, though she still felt weak and uncomfortable, and the current infection was not helping matters. At least she could be thankful that she was now not being poked and prodded quite so often, it was still too much for her liking, but at least she had the chance to rest between the now hourly obs checks. Not that she could really rest, there was too much whirring through her mind, her thoughts felt heavy and foggy. What she really wanted was to go home, the air in the hospital was thick with disinfectant, it surrounded her like an invisible cage. A constant reminder that she was weak and broken. 

“I just want to go home, I promise I’ll take it easy,” Kate had pleaded with the Doctor, but Bernie had simply shot her a determined glare to rival her own and launched into an explanation about infection risks, cardiac output and clotting factors, providing a detailed list of reasons as to why, in no uncertain terms, she was not going anywhere yet. Especially after nearly dying again last night.

Kate was sure she was exaggerating slightly for the last part but seeing as her fever had been so high that she had no memory of last night she couldn’t be sure. In itself that sort of proved Bernie's point. 

Kate gave a disgruntled huff, she’d never been a fan of Hospitals, and now was even less of one.

“After everything, Miss Fleming, I am not having you die on me now. Not again.” Bernie sternly declared. Her use of Miss Fleming and not Kate was a clear indication that she was serious.

Had it been three or four times now? Kate wondered, though she wasn’t really keeping count and it was not a score she wanted to be reminded of.  

“I’ve worked so hard to keep you alive and I’d rather it stayed that way.”

Kate sighed and resigned any further argument, grumbling a few profanities while Bernie checked on her infected scar. 

“I heard that you know,” Bernie scolded. 

“I’m sure you’ve heard worse,” Kate snapped back, her frustration seeping through the cracks. 

Kate was pretty sure the Doctor was as stubborn as she was, well almost. The ex-army medic had a commanding presence that Kate, despite all the arguing, did respect and she even found it quite endearing now she was lucid enough to manage a longer conversation. Had the circumstances been different, they could even have been good friends. 

 

Resigned to staying in hospital for a considerable while longer, Kate felt irritated and on edge. She wasn’t even sure why she felt so angry. Sure, she was angry with Carmichael for asking so many questions, questions that she couldn’t answer.

But it was more than that.

She was angry with herself, angry at how weak and broken she was. Useless. She felt useless.

She was angry with the world, angry with fate and the cruel twists and turns of life. But beyond the anger lay even darker thoughts, hiding in a small corner of her mind, but growing louder. The whispers that maybe it would have been better if she had died. 

Kate tried to push them away, but she wasn’t sure she had the strength. That was the irony of her life, every time she tried, and she tried so hard, to fix the mistakes, to make up the wrongs. Every time she dared to believe that this time, things might actually be okay, the world seemed to crumble beneath her feet. 

Everyone thought her to be so strong, when in reality she was barely hanging on, clinging to the edge and it was a long way down.  

Kate had fought so hard to stay alive, but for what? The niggling thought refused to leave her. All she had was an ex-husband who hated her and son she was not allowed to speak to. A son who thought she didn’t care and maybe he was better off believing that. It had taken nearly dying to realise how she felt about Jo and Kate couldn’t shake the fear that Jo may never hear her say it. A job she wasn’t sure she’d be able to make it back to and a best friend who was nearly as broken as she was. Despite all the promises to talk more and actually share their feelings Kate wasn’t sure she could do it. She’d always found comfort in her mask, the walls she hid behind. If she let that slip, would anyone be willing to accept what they found inside?

 

Beneath the fairly obvious frustration, Bernie could see the sadness in Kate’s eyes. Beneath the mask of grouchy stubbornness there was the haunting emptiness of a broken soul.  

“There’s no way you are going home yet, but if you agree to a wheelchair, I can ask one of the porters to take you up to see Jo.” she suggested warmly. She had a sneakily feeling that was exactly what her patient needed right now, to sit with someone she loved would ease any frustration, would help her feel safe. “Just sit and talk with her, it’ll help.”

Kate’s eyes lit up and she even managed a weak smile at the mention of Jo’s name. Jo, just thinking of her made her heart flutter slightly, the darkness faded, not gone completely, but faded. Kate looked up at the Doctor to meet her kind eyes. The eyes that told her all Bernie wanted to do was help. “Yeah, I’d like that, I’d really like that,” she answered quietly. “Thank you.”

 

It felt strange being wheeled through the hospital back to the ICU. It had been a place that she was glad to leave behind, but she wanted, no she needed, to see Jo.

Jay, the Nurse assigned to take her to see Jo, had chatted quietly while they waited for the lift and then wheeled down the seemingly endless hospital corridors. As it turned out, they were also a massive Forest Fan and they’d both had a grumble about the previous day's defeat to Norwich. It felt good to talk, well moan, about something so normal Kate decided and the faintest smile crossed her lips. Though as she looked around the ICU again, the beeping of the monitors and faint hisses and whirs of machines, Kate’s resolve crumbled. She had to clench her jaw together to avoid crying out. 

Jay still noticed though, and quickly knelt down next to Kate.

“Is everything okay?” They offered Kate a comforting smile. “Are you in pain?”

Kate shook her head. “No, it’s just being back here,” she took a shaking breath. “It’s hard.”

“The ICU can be quite overwhelming for anyone, but if you’ve recently been a patient here yourself, it can bring back things.”

“Yeah,” Kate agreed quietly. “I think I’m starting to remember things I’d rather forget.”

“We can turn back, if it’s too much,” Jay offered.

“No,” Kate shook her head definitively. “I need to do this.”

“Okay,” Jay answered. “Why do you try focusing on the person you are going to see, think of them rather than what’s going on around you.” 

Kate paused for a moment, then thought of Jo. 

Not of Jo lying in the hospital bed, but of Jo sitting across from her in Frederico's. Of those deep brown eyes, chestnut waves and the Scottish lilt that made her heart flutter. 

It helped. The sounds quietened and she felt her chest lighten. 

“It helps, thanks.”

 

“Here we are,” Jay flicked the brakes on the wheelchair and stepped out of the bay to give Kate and Jo some privacy.

 

Kate reached out and gently laced her fingers with Jo’s. She rubbed faint circles across the underside of Jo’s palms, savouring the rhythmic motion and how it calmed her cluttered mind. Kate felt the frustration slowly begin to fade, even though she was unable to respond Jo gave Kate a sense of calm and safety. Despite the bruising, bandages and machines, it was still the most relaxed she had ever seen the older woman and beneath it all there were still the deep brown eyes and shy smiles that she had fallen in love with.

Jo looked peaceful, almost, and Kate found a strange kind of comfort in watching the gentle rise and fall of Jo’s chest.

Though the many wires and tubes that snaked from her fragile form acted as a stark reminder of just what she had been through.

 

The stillness of the ICU was almost serene, and just for a short while Kate could tune out from the chaos of the world. Between the whirring and beeping of machines, there was a kind of quiet she had not experienced before.

“Just keep fighting boss,” she whispered, finally breaking through the silence.

“I don’t care how long it takes, I promise I’ll wait for you. And then we’re going to talk, we’re properly going to talk. I’m going to tell you everything I should have told you before all this happened, all the things I left unsaid, I’ll say them, over and over. I’ll shout it from the rooftops if I have to, just so I know you can hear me. Because that’s how much you mean to me Jo, that’s how much I love you. And more.”

Kate took a shaking breath and brushed a solitary tear from her cheek. She was no longer afraid to say the words, because for maybe the first time in her life she actually believed them. She believed in the promise and the hope that they held.

“I love you Jo. I’m going to say it over and over until I’m sure you’ve heard me. You helped me so much Jo, you’re beautiful, brave and determined. There’s all these feelings that I don’t know how to put into words. But you know what being in Hospital does? It gives you time to think. And I’ve thought mostly about you, Jo. About how I feel about you. About what I should have said to you about how I feel. Because I love you, Jo. I love you more than I have words for.”

 

Kate leaned in closer and ever so gently placed a kiss of Jo’s cheek. Between the bandages wrapped around her head, the now yellowing bruising and the ventilator placed over her mouth there was little unbroken skin left on her face.

Chapter Text

The short car journey to the hospital passed in a heavy silence. Josh was too worried to say anything, and Steve was unsure of how to relieve the anxious teenager in the front passenger seat. He had so little experience with kids and all the worry and concern Josh was currently feeling mirrored his own.

How could he tell Josh that everything was going to be okay when he wasn’t sure himself yet? 

 

Josh hugged his rucksack to his chest trying to push all the horrible images of his mum being shot out of his mind. 

It wasn’t working.

He was beginning to wish that he didn’t play as many first-person shooter games, he didn’t know what to expect and that left his imagination running wild, coming up with more and more horrifying scenarios. He didn’t want to admit it, but he was scared, really scared. 

Then there was the guilt. It sat heavy in his heart, everything he had thought about his mum, that she’d forgotten or didn’t care about him turned out to be wrong. While he was sat in his room resenting her, thinking terrible things and how much he hated her, she was in hospital fighting for her life. 

 

“Josh we’re here mate,” Steve’s voice pulled Josh from his thoughts. The images faded, but didn’t go completely, still playing on repeat in the background. “You wanna get out?”

 

Josh nodded, stepping from the car, rucksack still clutched to his chest, it was the only thing stopping him from crumbling completely.

“Wait!” Josh mumbled as he followed Steve through the hospital reception. He rummaged in the top pocket of his rucksack and pulled out a very crumpled £5 note. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do.

The selection of flowers in the hospital shop was poor at best, a mis-match of dropping and dried out bunches of flowers. Earlier visitors had likely already bought out the most vibrant and alive looking ones or more likely, they had come prepared beforehand.

 

“Try the red and white ones at the back,” Steve said from behind Josh. “Forest colours, reckon your mum would like that.

 

Josh offered Steve a faint smile, “thanks,” he mumbled picking up the only slightly wilted bunch. £4.99, he had just enough.

 

Flowers bought, Josh fell back into an uneasy silence as he followed Steve towards the lift. The doors closed behind them with a faint rumble. His stomach was tying itself in knots.

 


 

Kate was reluctant to admit it, but the short visit to see Jo had worn her out, it wasn’t as if she had even done anything. She’d been sitting down the entire time yet somehow, she still felt utterly exhausted.

She had needed it though, to see Jo. The conversation with Carmichael had left her so frustrated and on edge. She had grown restless and her vital signs showed as much, the nurses bluntly informing her that she needed to calm down before…

 

She silently thanked Bernie who, once again, had been right. Just a few minutes sat with Jo and Kate had felt instantly calmer, that was the effect Jo had on her, she was one of the very few people she could be herself around, she knew that now. How had she not seen it sooner.

She hadn’t seen it because she’d never considered it a possibility. She hadn’t seen it because she didn’t know how to explain what she had felt. How even the slightest touch between the two of them felt electric, how those lingering glances lit a fire inside her heart. A fire that burnt through the dark of past mistakes.

Jo Davidson, with chestnut brown hair that sat neatly on her shoulders, the soft Scottish that made her heart flutter and those brilliant but pained eyes.

The way Jo smiled after she made a stupid joke, lighting up her whole face, letting her mask slip for just a moment.

Kate hadn’t seen that it was love because she’d never felt such love before. The love that shone like a beacon through the dark and for Kate, Jo was that beacon.

 

All she needed now was for her beacon to wake up.

 

Kate closed her eyes as the exhaustion finally began to overwhelm her and fell asleep to thoughts of Jo and memories of sharing bottles of wine and talking until the early hours.

 

  Only a short while later Kate was woken by the sound of footsteps.

“Hiya mate,” Steve greeted Kate with a grin, some of the worry faded as she returned a faint smile. He was glad she’d finally been moved from intensive care to a normal ward. No longer hooked up to quite so many tubes and wires, she was actually beginning to look like Kate again. 

“There’s someone here who wants to see you.” 

Steve stepped to the side and a surly teenager wandered in behind him, awkwardly holding a bunch of drooping flowers. 

 

Josh didn’t know where to look. His eyes darted from the figure in the hospital bed to the floor and back. He’d always known his mum as strong, seemingly indestructible and that nothing phased her. He’d never seen his mum look so weak before, so broken and he wasn’t sure what to make of it. He knew her face well enough to tell when she was in pain and right now it told her that despite the wide smile she was in pain.

 

“Josh!”

 Kate’s eyes filled with tears and an elated smile broke across her face. So pleased to finally see her son.

 

“Hi,” Josh stuttered, taking a few steps towards Kate’s bed. “It’s good to see you.” 

 

Kate reached out and pulled Josh into a tight hug. A tugging pain shot through her side and she couldn’t help but wince, letting out a faint yelp of pain.

 

“Mum, you okay?” Josh froze almost instantly concerned and looked at Kate with eyes much older than his 14 years.

 

“I’m fine,” Kate lied. 

Bloody infection. 

“It’s just a twinge. 

 

“You sure? I can get a Doctor or something if you want me to.”

 

“No love, it's fine. Just moved too suddenly.” Kate tried to reassure her worried son. 

 It didn’t work. 

 

The worry in Josh’s eyes faded but was still there. 

“Sure, you’re okay?”

 

Kate smiled through the pain, “Yeah, it still hurts but I'm okay now you’re here.” And that was the truth.

 “Sorry I’ve been such a shit mum,” Kate apologised quietly, fighting back a sob.

“If... When I get out of here, I promise I’m going to be better, try harder. My baby boy, I love you so much, please know that.” The tears streamed freely down Kate’s face. Tears of love and relief, she didn’t care or try to hide it. Josh was here, that was all that mattered. “You keep me going. You kept me going, through all this…”

 

Josh sat down on the bed next to Kate. 

“You’ve not been a shit mum. Please don’t think that.”

 

“Thanks,” Kate mumbled quietly. “Don’t know if your dad would agree.”

 

“Well fuck him!” Josh growled, clenching his fists in frustration.

He looked down and caught a glance of his watch. It was late and the numbers on the display told him he should have long since been at home. Shit, he thought.

“Dad’s gonna be really annoyed if he finds out I’m here.” Josh sighed. Annoyed was likely an understatement, but for being able to see his mum, he would willingly face the consequences.

“He has no idea that I know what happened. I saw your message on his phone. He didn’t even tell me you were in the hospital. He didn’t tell me anything!” Josh was near shouting again, that anger he’d felt ever since seeing the message still bubbling away beneath the surface.

“So, I went to your work and spoke to Steve. He told me what happened.”

 

Kate was instantly impressed with her son’s determination to find out, he had certainly inherited some of her stubbornness and he might well make a good detective one day.

 

“You could’ve died, and he wouldn’t have told me. Steve said he phoned Dad. He phoned him when…”  

Josh felt his voice breaking, the anger he had been feeling now fading to anguish.

“Steve phoned him when you were really hurt. And he didn’t tell me. How could he do that? What if something had happened, what then!” Josh fumed, all the anger quickly returned when he thought about just how much his dad hadn’t told him.

“You were in a coma. You actually died! What if you hadn’t woken up? Was I supposed to think you’d just left? Abandoned me. How could Dad do that? I know things aren’t right between you two, but you're still me mum. I’ve got a right to know. And I didn’t know. I’m not a kid anymore. I don’t need protection, not like that.” 

Josh was becoming increasingly agitated. Tears streamed down his cheeks. His mum had been shot, almost died and nobody had told him. 

 

Kate reached out and held Josh close, tousling his hair just as she used to do when he was little.

“He was only trying to protect you, love. Your dad loves you, he really does. He was doing what he thought best…” Kate trailed off as she realised just how much the mess between her and Mark had affected Josh.  

“I’ve been such a shit mum recently, and I’m really sorry about that.”

 

Josh looked up at his mum, brow furrowed in confusion. how could she still think that? 

“You’re not a shit mum. Don’t think that. Please don’t think that. Don’t ever think that,” he insisted. “I miss you so much and when you get out of here it would be nice to do more things together.” 

 

“I’d like that.” Kate replied with a smile

Chapter Text

Josh closed the door as quietly as he could behind him. He was back late, really late and there was no way his dad wouldn’t notice, though he still tried to sneak in. 

As predicted, Mark was waiting in the kitchen.

“Where have you been?” He demanded before Josh even had the chance to put his rucksack down. He didn’t quite shout, but there was an unmistakable snarl of anger in his tone.

 

“I…” Josh contemplated saying he’d been at a mate’s but decided against it. He didn’t want to have to lie about going to see his mum. He shouldn’t have to lie about seeing his mum. 

“I went to see mum,” Josh stated, trying to keep his voice level. He hadn’t really had the time or space to process everything yet. Seeing his mum in a hospital bed, being told by a relative stranger that his mum had nearly died and realising just how much his dad had lied to him, it had brought up so many feelings and emotions, some of which Josh didn’t even know how to describe. 

 

“You what!” Mark practically spat the words out, there was no hiding the anger now.

 

“I went to see mum,” Josh repeated, trying to remain calm.

After not really sleeping the night before and having what could only be described as an emotionally draining day, he was somewhere between wanting to scream or cry. Maybe both, his head and his heart were still caught up in a tangle of emotions and if he was truly honest, he wasn’t sure how to make sense of it all. 

“I saw her text on your phone last night,” he explained.

“I went to see Steve after school today, and he told me everything. He told me everything that happened. Everything.” Josh was slowly beginning to lose his cool, all the worry, guilt and anger he’d dealt with in the past 24 hours threatened to bubble over. But now, looking his dad in the eye and seeing nothing but disgust, it was mostly anger.

“And you knew!” Josh raged. “You knew exactly what had happened and you didn't tell me!”

 

“How dare you!” Mark shouted, his anger coming out full force. “She doesn’t care about you. I don’t want you anywhere near that useless bitch! She couldn’t even die when she was supposed to!”

 

“She does care!” Josh yelled back. He wasn’t just going to stand here and listen to his dad shout at him. Not after what he’d done. Not after keeping so much from him. 

“She cares a lot more than you do! You just can’t take that she was always more successful than you, that she actually goes out there and helps people.” 

 

Mark scoffed. “All your mum cared about was her job and it was her own stupid fault that she got shot. I just wish the other guy had had a better aim, then we wouldn’t be needing to have this conversation.”

 

Josh didn’t know how to reply to that. He’d predicted his dad would be angry, but he would never have thought he’d go as far as to say…

 

“It would have been better if she’d died, would have saved us both a lot of trouble,” Mark stated bluntly. There was a callousness in his tone that sent shivers down Josh’s spine. For a moment he managed to remain calm, but then there was something in him that snapped.

 

“What the actual fuck!” Josh screamed. He knew things weren’t great between his parents - they never had been, but for his dad to actively wish his mum dead, well, that was new. “How can you fucking say that!”

 

Joshua Flem-” Mark began but Josh wasn’t ready to hear whatever justification he might have for saying something like that. 

 

“Don’t you fucking dare!” he screamed, lungs burning with a ferocity he hadn’t felt before. “Don’t you fucking dare say things like that!”

 

“You will not use that kind of language in my house!” Mark bellowed, so loud the walls shook.

 

“FINE!” Josh yelled back as loud as he could. He stormed out of the house and slammed the door as forcefully as he could behind him. 

 

Josh stomped through the streets paying no attention to where he was going, right now he just wanted to get as far away from his dad as he could.

With the worry and the fear fading, he now felt the full-on rage that he’d spent the past day holding in and trying to suppress. 

It was beginning to rain, but he didn’t care.

The burning fury was keeping him warm for the moment and the rain mixed with the tears already streaming down his face.

Everything just felt wrong.

 

The December night was cold, and Josh was soon soaked to the skin, having stormed out of the house in nothing more than his school blazer. The cold quickly extinguished most of the anger, Josh still felt it gnawing in the pit of his stomach, but it was no longer enough to keep him warm.

He was cold and tired and didn’t know where to go. Come to think of it, he wasn’t even sure where he was, blind fury had led him to this point, but he needed more than that now.

He squinted through the rain trying to distinguish his surroundings. He was really beginning to shiver now, but he was not going home, of that he was certain. He didn’t want to be in the same building as his dad right now, let alone look at or speak to him. He couldn’t face another argument. 

Glass fronted office buildings towered above him, so the new business sector, which meant City central hospital was 5, Maybe 10 minutes away. That’s where he would go, he’d go back to his mum. Calmed by the thought and clutching his rucksack with a tight but comforting grip, Josh turned and disappeared into the night. 

 


 

Josh snuck quietly on to the hospital ward, thankful that he had at least paid some attention when he’d followed Steve from the lift earlier in the day. The lights were dimmed, but not off completely so he quickly found his mum’s bed. 

In the soft half-light Josh couldn’t help but notice how ill his mum looked. Since he was last here, she’d gained an oxygen mask and several wires now snaked from under the hospital gown to a machine that gave out slow steady beeps. Her skin seemed to have taken on a grey tinge, coated with a sickly sheen.

He didn’t say anything as he sank into the chair next to the bed, he didn’t need to. Just being here was enough. He rested his head gently against the edge of the bed.

 

“Josh?” A faint voice croaked, muffled by the oxygen mask.

Kate squinted through the dim light, her fever had returned with a vengeance, bloody infection, and she couldn’t be sure whether or not she was hallucinating her son sitting in the chair by her bed. 

 

“Hi, again,” Josh whispered offering her a lopsided smile.

 

Not hallucinating then.

Kate looked up at her son, he was soaking wet and water droplets running down from his hair, dripping with the faintest patter on the floor.

 

“It’s raining out,” Josh stated, catching his mum’s concerned look. It made his heart ache, that even as ill as she currently was, and there was no denying it - the concern he felt earlier had been justified, she was still worrying about him.

His dad had no idea what he was talking about. Of course she fucking cared.

 

“Where’s your coat?” Kate rasped, her voice weak, but the motherly concern becoming more evident.

 

“At home. I had an argument with dad and left the house pretty quickly after that. Didn’t think to pick up me coat,” Josh offered up a brief explanation, not wanting to worry his mum any further.

 

“Oh, Josh,” Kate sighed, taking hold of his hand. He felt so cold against her feverish skin. 

“There’s a spare blanket,” she whispered, gesturing to the end of the bed. She would have reached out to grab it, but she wasn’t wholly confident in her ability to move that much given how she was currently feeling. 

 

“Thanks,” Josh mumbled softly, replacing his sodden blazer with the blue hospital blanket. He found it was surprisingly warm and as the chill faded from his bones, he began to realise just how tired he was.

His mum was still holding his hand, but he didn’t mind, he found it comforting in fact. He rested his head back on the edge of the bed and soon fell asleep.

 

Kate remained awake a little longer, her gaze fixed warmly on her son.

If this is how it ends she thought, then that wouldn’t be so bad.

Kate tried to savour the moment for a little longer, but exhaustion soon tugged her back into unconsciousness. 

 

Bernie had long since gotten used to night shifts, they were just part and parcel of working in a hospital. Especially as one of the most senior trauma surgeons, she knew that her skills could be needed any time of the day or night. Trauma calls didn’t tend to keep to office hours.

She set a steaming mug of tea down and was just about to catch up on the mountain of paperwork, that if she was honest, she’d been neglecting for a little too long, when, out of the corner of her eye she spotted a figure sat by Kate’s bed. 

During Kate’s time on ICU, she’d often found Steve slumped over and snoring quietly in the plastic chair, a kind hearted nurse having given him a blanket rather than insisting he leave.

But this figure wasn’t quite tall enough to be Steve and night-time visitors were less of an occurrence on the main trauma ward.

Bernie glanced at her watch, Kate was due an obs check anyway, so the tea and paperwork would have to wait.

Bernie couldn’t help but feel a little concerned for her patient. Despite intensive antibiotic therapy, her fever had gone back up and her blood pressure was still worryingly low. All signs of a potential sepsis. Recover was proving to be set back after set back for the younger woman and she knew that was the last thing Kate wanted.

 

Kate’s eyes flickered wearily open as she heard footsteps approach. 

Between Bernie’s somewhat confused look and the fact that she was still holding Josh’s hand she groggily realised she might have some explaining to do.

“My son, Josh,” she rasped from underneath the oxygen mask, fuck her chest felt tight. 

“He had a fight with his dad, just turned up here.” She explained as best she could with the little energy she currently had. “Please don’t make him leave.” 

 

Bernie smiled warmly at the sleeping teenager. Protocol dictated that he should leave, but she wasn’t the best at following the rules and she had a feeling neither was Kate.

“He shouldn’t really be here, but as long as he is quiet and doesn’t disturb the other patients I won’t say any more.”

Bernie proceeded with the obs checks, quietly recording the results in Kate’s chart.

 

Kate couldn’t help but notice the concern that flashed across Bernie’s face. Even in her weakened state, she was still a detective and identifying and reading minute expressions had become second nature to her.

“Not good?” Kate questioned wearily. 

 

“Not what I’d like to see,” Bernie stated bluntly.

 

“So not good then,” Kate confirmed weakly. And if she was honest, she knew as much already. She’d begun to feel progressively worse throughout the evening and now she was starting to feel really ill. Everything hurt and her head felt kind of woozy, like when you stand up too quickly after a few too many glasses of wine. Except she hadn’t had any wine and was pretty sure if she tried to stand up, she’d end up crashing to the floor.

This is almost worse than getting shot. Almost.

 

“No, not good.” Bernie confirmed. “I’d prefer to transfer you back to ICU, so we can monitor you more closely.”

 

Kate shook her head, gesturing to the still sleeping Josh.

“Don’t wanna wake or worry him,” she insisted.

 

Bernie sighed, it seemed so typical of Kate, putting others ahead of herself.

“Okay,” she warily agreed. “But I’ll be checking on you every 15 minutes, no arguments.”

 

Kate gave a slight nod of agreement, all she really wanted was to go back to sleep.

 

“Now try and get some rest.”

Chapter Text

It was an erratic beeping that tore Josh from what had been a restful sleep. There were a few initial moments of confusion as he blinked against the bright lights and white walls of the hospital ward.

He wasn’t in his room and that beeping wasn’t his phone alarm telling him he really needed to get up now or else he’d be late for school.

The grogginess soon cleared and the events of the last night crashed back, arguing with his dad, running out into the night and through the pouring rain. Of him running to the one person he needed the most, his mum.

 

But there was more. Josh couldn’t place the feeling, but he knew that something was really, really wrong.

“Mum!” he called out, sitting up suddenly wide awake and on full alert. 

 

Something was wrong with his mum.

 

Even with the oxygen mask over her face, he could tell she was breathing far too quickly, and the beeps of the monitor were growing ever more panicked. Her skin was pale and clammy, and she looked really, really sick.

“Mum!” Josh called out again, fear creeping into his heart. Her hand felt limp in his and she gave no reply. “Mum! Say something, please!”

 

Nothing happened.

 

Then the monitors screamed. 

 

Josh leapt out of the chair and was just about to call out for help when he was suddenly surrounded by a team of people wearing a mix of green and blue scrubs.

 

“Josh,” an older looking blonde woman with kind eyes called his name. “Can you step back a moment so we can help your mum?”

 

Only then did he realise that he was still holding his mum’s hand. He didn’t want to let go.

 

“Josh,” The blonde woman spoke again. She turned to look at him, her face was lined with concern, though her eyes were kind. “Josh, I know you’re scared right now, and you just want to be with your mum, but we need the space so we can help her.”

 

Josh nodded and slowly let his mum’s hand fall limply on the bed. His eyes quickly filled with tears, and he took a large step back as shouts of numbers and words he didn’t understand filled his ears. 

 

“She’s tachy at 140.”

 

“BP is 82 over 54.”

 

“Resp rate 30.”

 

“Shit.”

 

“Red flag sepsis.” 

 

Suddenly Josh felt very, very scared. He’d been talking to his mum just yesterday. She’d been hurt, but she was okay.

She was okay.

 

It was one of those times Bernie hated having been right.

She should have seen it coming. With Kate’s stubbornness and playing down any symptoms in her eagerness to get out of hospital. Those thoughts would have to wait for now.

“Kate,” she called out, trying to get a response from her patient.  

 

Nothing.

 

“Kate,” Bernie called out again, louder and a little firmer this time. “Kate, can you hear me?

 

Kate’s eyes flickered slowly open, but her stare was empty, and she didn’t really seem to acknowledge Bernie’s presence. She tried to speak but her response was more of an incoherent mumble.

Bernie continued, hoping even if Kate couldn’t respond, she still understood what was going on. “I’m going to check your wound,” she said softly, gently peeling away the dressing that was covering Kate’s stomach. 

 

Shit.

 

“Kate, we need to take you back into surgery to try and clear out this infection.”

 

Kate looked blankly at Bernie for a moment, whimpering quietly. Her eyes were glassy and glazed over and it was as if she wasn’t seeing the Doctor at all. The whimpers of pain and the fact that Kate put up no argument made Bernie very worried indeed.  

 

“Blood pressure is still dropping,” a nurse called out. “60 over 32, she’s in shock.”

 

Kate wasn’t sure what Bernie had said to her but from the look in her eyes, she knew instantly that she was in trouble. Everything felt so hazy and distant. The light was fading fast, dark spots were already floating across her vision and everything hurt.

For the second time in just a few short weeks, Kate Fleming was convinced she was going to die.

But there was something keeping her here. There was a reason she had to hold on. A reason she had to keep fighting. Her mind felt so foggy, and she didn’t know why.

 

Josh.

 

Kate suddenly gripped Bernie’s hand with considerable force, especially given her weakened state. “J- Josh,” she stuttered between ragged breaths, there was a fear in her eyes now. “L-look after… L-look after J-Josh.” 

 

“We’re going to get you better, then you can look after Josh yourself,” Bernie stated calmly, trying to reassure her patient but Kate’s hand simply fell limply back onto the bed. She couldn’t hold on any longer, her strength was fading fast, line by fading line.

 

“J-Josh…” Kate stammered. Then everything went black.

 

The line turned flat.

 

“She’s crashing!” one of the nurses shouted. 

 

It was then that Bernie remembered Kate’s son was still standing behind her, rooted to the spot in fear. The young teenager, who in reality was still a child. And no child should have to see their mum going through what was happening with Kate.

But there wasn’t any time for kind words or reassurance. She had to help Kate, now. 

“Get the Crash cart, start compressions,” she ordered. “We need to secure an airway.” 

 

Josh felt as if he’d been frozen to the spot, a silent scream caught in his mouth. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to watch but he couldn’t look away.

Everything seemed to happen so fast, everyone had their job to do, and they did it, with a quiet and calm urgency.

One of the nurses had leant over his mum and started pumping her chest. CPR , Josh remembered from a first aid course he’d done last year. Her heart wasn’t working and she’d stopped breathing. Things were as bad as they could get. If someone needs CPR, they are technically dead . The words or the instructor rang in his ears and with a choking sob he realised, his mum was dying or already dead... 

He could only watch as more tubes and monitors were pulled from a red cart and a bigger, scary looking mask replaced the one already clamped over his mum’s face.

 

Whispers were exchanged, and all Josh could make out were numbers and words that he didn’t understand. Josh wanted to scream but no sound came out. All he could think was how could they be so quiet, so calm when his mum was literally dying right in front of him.

Everything felt so wrong.

 

the crowd around his mum spoke in more whispers and hushed voices and although Josh didn't understand what they were saying he could feel the concern in their voices. Calmly frantic, that was how they’d rushed off, the Doctors and the nurses in their green and blue scrubs. They disappeared through a set of double doors at the end of the ward. Josh had tried to follow but the doors had clattered shut behind him. STAFF ONLY. He was left standing in the hospital corridor trying to process what happened.

 

He was alone, scared and the only thing he wanted was a hug from his mum, and to be told everything would be okay.

 

At some point, someone had guided him into a waiting area, because he wasn’t in the corridor anymore but sitting on a worn-out sofa in a small room. He grabbed a pillow and clutched it close to his chest trying to find some comfort, he just needed something to hold on to.

There was a cup of tea on the table and Josh didn’t know how it had gotten there. Was he supposed to drink it, he wondered? He didn’t feel like drinking anything right now. He didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing right now. Everything felt so disjointed and numb. His mind was trying to feel and think too many things at the same time and had simply shut down, trapping him in a bubble of distant nothingness.

Time seemed to just standstill, the grains of sand slowed to a trickle and the moments dragged on for eternity.

 

Waiting. 

 

All Josh could do was wait.

 

What felt like days later, there was a gentle knock on the door and the Doctor from earlier came into the room. She sat down next to him and looked at Josh with kind but now tired eyes. There were more lines of worry and concern mapped across her face.

 

She started to speak and introduced herself as Bernie, but then the sounds became muffled.

Josh was hearing the words the Doctor was telling him, but they didn’t seem to reach his brain. They got lost somewhere in between and he couldn’t tear himself out of protective numbness.

He just didn’t understand. His mum had been fine. She’d been talking, joking almost, with him yesterday, and then again at night, she’d even told him off for not having a coat.

It was like his mind was refusing to process what had happened, whether out of stubbornness, denial or protection, he wasn’t sure.

 

This can’t be happening , Josh tried to tell himself. She couldn’t be really ill again. She couldn’t. 

 

Josh tried to convince himself that he was waiting to wake up to his mum smiling at him, finding that the past few hours had all been some horrible dream.

It didn’t work.

It wasn’t a dream.

 

She was going to die. 

His mum was going to die. 

She might already be dead.

 

The thought came out of nowhere, and Josh felt as if the ground beneath his feet had been torn away.

He couldn’t stay here, trapped between the claustrophobic walls, where everything was wrong.

His mum was going to die, and Josh felt like he couldn’t breathe.

 

So, he ran, h e ran as fast as he could.

Cries of, “Josh wait!” came from behind him as he tore open the door and took off down the corridor. 

But he kept running, through more doors and down a staircase, feet barely touching the ground.

“Josh come back!” echoed along through the stairway, but he kept running.

He ran out across the car park, and through the streets, everything merging into a concrete blur. Josh ran until his legs were burning and his lungs screamed for the oxygen they’d been denied.

And still, he kept running. He ran until once again he felt nothing at all.

Only then did he stop.

Chapter Text

Steve sighed as he looked up from his computer screen, he shut his eyes for a moment and massaged his temples. He had spent all morning staring at the screen trying to finish a report and now his eyes stung and his head ached. He had hoped a promotion to DI would have meant less paperwork and reports, but it seemed that it was all he was doing at the moment, and he was fed up. In classic Pass-agg Pat fashion, Carmichael insisted on approving everything, and it had to all be absolutely perfect. Steve sighed, he’d already had several reports back with the spelling and grammar errors highlighted in red and orders to correct the mistakes scribbled in the margins. It was like being back at school and he hated it.

He looked around the office, there was a weariness to AC12, everyone was overworked and exhausted. His gaze then settled on the Gaffer, he too looked worn out and weary. It felt as if everything was going wrong, the reasons that had brought him to AC12 in the first place all but faded. He'd barely spoken to Ted at all the past couple of weeks, there just wasn’t anything left to say. With Carmichael taking over, the stress of trying to fit the final pieces of the investigation together, the things he was still hiding and of course Kate and Jo, he just hadn’t had the time or the energy.

 

Ted caught Steve’s gaze and nodded curtly, making his way over to his desk.

“How’s our Kate doing?” he asked earnestly.

 

Our Kate.  

There was a tiny part of Steve that wanted to blame Hastings for what had happened. He’d put her in so much danger all for what? His own bruised pride? That twisted bitterness that she’d left AC12 for MIT. It had been the right choice for her, but the Gaffer had seen it as a personal betrayal.

 

“Okay, I think.” Steve mused quietly, it was an honest response. “It’s Kate, so she’s playing things down and acting like it doesn’t bother her even when it does.”

 

“She’s a strong wee lassie is our Kate. She’ll get through this, I’m sure of it.” Hastings said earnestly.

 

Steve couldn’t really stay mad at Hastings, even after everything. The man looked exhausted, skin sagging and eyes dull. It was almost a pitiful sight to see the once commanding force of AC12 in such a state.

“I took Josh to see her yesterday. I think she liked that.” Steve smiled, remembering just how much Kate’s face had lit up when she saw Josh. 

 

It was then that Chloe burst into the office, unusually flustered and worried.

“Sir…” she looked at Steve with wide and worried eyes and quickly skipped the rest of the formalities. 

“Steve, there’s a kid in reception all panicked and shouting about Kate and something having happened.”

 

“Shit,” Steve muttered under his breath, springing up from his chair and sprinting towards the lift. He ignored the twinges in his back and tried to push away all the terrible thoughts that were creeping into his mind. 

 

Something bad had happened…

 




Josh paced up and down in a small corner of the Central police building reception, still trying to process everything that had happened. In his panic, he’d run blindly from the hospital, and this is where his feet had carried him.

He couldn’t concentrate on anything, his thoughts were all over the place, racing so fast and they kept coming back to that sound. The monitors screaming and how concerned the Doctor had looked. His mum had stopped breathing and he had stood and watched. 

There was a small part of him that realised he should probably be in school, but he didn’t really care about that now. He didn’t even know what time it was. He had no idea just how many hours had gone by since he’d been woken into a reality he wished wasn’t happening.

His mum had been okay, they’d been talking, joking even and now…

 

“Josh?” Steve appeared behind him, voice heavy with concern and Josh stopped in his tracks. “Josh, are you alright mate?”

 

A simple question, that was all it took. Josh turned around slowly to look at Steve. He jolted out of the numb daze and all the emotions flooded back, everything he had spent the past few hours unconsciously suppressing hit him full force. It took everything he had to stay standing, all he wanted was to curl up into a ball and cry. He took a step backwards and burst into tears, and he couldn’t stop, the tears kept coming, tangled with heart wrenching sobs. It was too much, going from feeling nothing to everything all at once.

 

“Josh…”

Steve was well aware that all eyes were on him. It was lunch time and he was standing in reception trying to console a sobbing teenager, not a usual occurrence in the building by anyone’s standards.

“Josh,” Steve said quietly. “I wanna help you but I can’t do that if you don’t talk to me.”

 

Josh looked at Steve, tears still streaming down his face, but he didn’t reply. He wanted to, it was just he didn’t know how to, his brain currently incapable of forming words. 

 

“How’s about I take you up to the office so we can talk,” Steve suggested. With its tall glass windows, wide staircases and balconies looking down from the many floors, the reception area offered little privacy, and he had a feeling Josh wouldn’t feel comfortable until they were somewhere more private.

“I can get Chloe to do us a brew then an’ all.”

 

All Josh could do was nod slightly, words still felt like too much. With now silent sobs he followed Steve to the lifts and up to AC12.



“Here y’are mate,” Steve said, placing a large mug of tea and a mars bar down on the desk next to Josh. Far from the healthiest of choices, but Steve had a feeling Josh could probably do with the sugar.

 

“Thanks,” Josh mumbled, cradling the mug of tea in his hands. The warmth of the mug and having something to hold helped to ground him somewhat.

 

Steve pulled up another chair and sat a few metres away from Josh. Enough to give the kid some space but still close enough that any conversation they had wouldn’t be heard by the whole office. 

“Do you wanna tell me what happened?”

 

“I… I went back to see mum”, Josh choked out between quiet sobs. “Something happened…” Josh trailed off, hiding his face in his mug of tea. 

 

“What do you mean, something happened?” Steve asked, already fearing the worst.

 

Fresh tears flooded down Josh’s cheeks. “I don’t know,” he admitted weakly. “She was okay, we were talking. She was okay. Then I woke up and there were all these alarms, and she couldn’t breathe... I think she was dying…” Josh choked out between panicked cries. “Then… then the Doctors came and took her away…” Josh could feel his chest getting tighter, his breaths came in short gasps.

“T- then I don’t know! I- I got so s-scared so I ran…. I r-ran all the way h-here.” Josh felt like he couldn’t breathe, panic and fear were crushing him, they clutched at his chest, and squeezed all the air from his lungs.

“She was okay, mum was okay… But n-now I don’t know… W-what if… w-what if she’s dead?” He sobbed loudly. It all felt like too much.

He couldn’t breathe. He felt as if everything was crashing down on top of him, he was so scared and he couldn’t breathe.

 

“Josh,” Steve stated, knowing he had to help Josh calm down. He had become all too familiar with panic attacks in the recent months.

“I know you’re scared and worried right now, but I need you to try and calm down. Alright mate” 

 

Josh showed no sign of really acknowledging Steve.

“Josh I’m gonna count to five an’ you’re just gonna breathe in with me, alright.” It was something simple, but Steve knew it worked, well it had worked for him.

“Just breathe in for five, that’s it!” Josh was following him now. “Hold for five, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and then out for five. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. You’re doing really well mate.” 

 

Josh slowly felt his breathing return to normal, he was still scared, but the pressure in his chest loosened. “Thanks Steve,” he mumbled.

 

“S’alright mate, can happen to the best of us.” Steve stated simply. Because that was one thing he’d learnt in recent weeks, no matter how tough you think you are, when that kind of panic hits, you can’t control it. 

 

“Thanks,” Josh managed to offer Steve a weak smile. 

 

“How's about,” Steve suggested, “you finish your tea, an’ get that Mars bar down you then we go back to the Hospital together.”

 

Josh nodded weakly, cautiously unwrapping the chocolate bar. He still felt far too anxious to eat anything really, but mars bars were his favourite, so he figured he’d at least try.

 

“They’re your mum’s favourite too,” Steve said, as he noticed Josh nibbling at the mars bar.

 

“We always used to get them after the footie,” Josh mumbled, mouth full of chocolate.

 

Steve smiled slightly at the image of Kate and her son decked out in Forest colours, munching on mars bars. He sat back and gave the teenager a few moments of quiet. He was worried, really worried, but for Josh’s sake, he tried not to let it show. 

                                        

An hour later they were both back at the hospital. After a quick inquiry at reception and a few painful minutes of waiting, Steve and Josh silently made their way towards the ICU. Neither knew what to say, Steve in part knew what to expect, but he had no idea how he could prepare Josh for that. Though in his heart he knew the kid had to see his mum. No matter how bad things were right now, Josh needed to see his mum.

 

The familiar face of a friendly nurse greeted them as they entered the ward and led them towards Kate’s Bay.

The ventilator was back, that was what Steve saw first. The imposing plastic tube and the steady hissing sound. Kate wasn’t breathing on her own. Again. He couldn’t help but feel a horrific sense of dejavu. He hated how well acquainted with the ICU ward he was becoming. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fucking fair. Kate had been getting better. She was going to be okay. How did everything go so wrong so quickly?

 

There were so many machines, monitors and wires, that was Josh’s first thought. They beeped and hissed in a chilling rhythm. It couldn’t be his mum lying in the hospital bed under all that, with a huge, horrible looking tube coming out of her mouth. Just yesterday they’d been joking about and making promises to spend more time together.

What if he now never got that chance? 

It couldn’t be his mum, fighting for her life, wires and machines keeping her alive.

Only it was. It was his mum. 

Every part of him wanted to turn and run, he wanted to close his eyes and pretend this wasn’t real. But he couldn’t, he couldn’t run anymore because this was very real and however scared he was right now he knew that his mum needed him.

Josh took a deep breath and took a few tentative steps closer. Everything about this situation felt wrong. The ward was warm. Too warm almost, but with the white walls and clinical smell, Josh still felt cold.

He stood limply by the overly large hospital bed, he’d never seen his mum look so small and he didn’t know what to do.

 

“Why don’t you sit down mate?” Steve suggested quietly, guiding Josh towards a chair.

 

Josh nodded faintly but remained silent, his eyes glassy and filling with tears.

 

“Talk to her,” Steve added. “I know it’s hard to believe, but she might be able to hear you. She needs to hear you”

Steve recalled the conversation he’d had with Kate, I heard you, when I was y’know… He hoped desperately that she could still hear them and that hearing Josh’s voice and that knowing he was here would help keep her fighting.

 

“Hi mum,” Josh started, his voice barely above a whisper and still raw from crying. “It’s Josh, I’m sitting next to you. Steve said I should talk to you but I don’t really know what to say. I guess, I just want you to know I’m here and I really want you to be okay. Please mum, I love you and I don’t want anything to happen to you… Please…”

 

Bernie entered the bay quietly, she placed the clipboard she was holding back in the case at the end of Kate’s bed and offered Steve a comforting smile.

“I know it can look scary,” Bernie turned to Josh, “but all the machines are there to help her. We’re giving her body as much support as possible to try and help her fight the infection. If you have any questions, or if there is anything else just ask and I’ll do my best to answer.”

Josh looked up at the Doctor with wide, teary eyes. 

 

“Is she going to die?” Josh blurted out, half choking on the words he had been so desperate to ask despite dreading what the answer may be. 

 

Bernie met Josh’s gaze with those tired but kind eyes. “I don’t know,” she answered truthfully.

“Your mum’s really sick right now so yes, there is a chance that she could die. I can’t promise you that she is going to be okay, and I’m sorry about that. But what I can promise you is that we’re doing all we can to help her, and in the short time I’ve known your mum, I know she’s a fighter. She’s stronger than she seems and I’m sure, even now, she’s fighting as hard as she can to get better for you.”

 

Josh nodded solemnly, he was glad of the Doctor’s honesty, but it didn’t make the words any easier to hear.

 

Steve stepped quietly out of the bay to give Josh some time alone with his mum. His head was spinning and he was still reeling from the turn of events. Kate had been okay. She’d been getting, all be it slowly, better. And now she wasn’t, now she really wasn’t okay. She was back in one of those soulless ICU bays, machines keeping her alive. How much more, he thought. How much more can she take? 

 

A few bays down the ward, he sat down wearily in another uncomfortable plastic chair, he’d really come to resent the hospital chairs in recent weeks. It wasn’t just that they were uncomfortable, he could just about deal with that. It was more to do with all that they symbolised, all of the pain, guilt and worry.

Steve sighed heavily. He didn’t know what to say to the woman lying comatose in front of him. He still felt that it was his fault she was here, after everything Jo had been through she’d trusted him. He had promised Jo that he would protect her, that he would keep her safe but he’d failed. Because of him, Jo had nearly died. 

 

“Hi Jo,” he said faintly. “I know you’re probably expecting Kate but…” he didn’t want to continue.

He felt his bottom lip beginning to quiver and the tears that he’d been fighting so hard not to let fall now streamed freely down his cheeks.

“I’m so sorry,” he cried quietly. “I’m so sorry for everything.”  

 

Steve let his head sink into his hands.

“Why does life have to be so fucking cruel.” 

Chapter Text

Steve hadn’t slept, though it had become pretty much the norm these days. And it wasn’t because of the pain in his back. 

The world just felt wrong, so very wrong. He sighed wearily and pushed the duvet off. His heart ached and his mind was clouded. Everything just felt wrong because again he was in a position where he might lose his best friend. 

 

Last night he had dropped an exhausted but still very worried Josh off at Mark’s and driven home. Only when the door of his flat shut behind him did he allow himself to cry. He sank onto the sofa and let the tears that he had been holding in all day finally fall. He screamed and he shouted, cursing at how unfair it all was, at how Kate deserved so much better.

At some point he must have fallen asleep because when Steve woke his flat was dark

 

The muscles in his back screamed in protest as he stretched out, stiff and uncomfortable after a few hours asleep on the sofa. I’m getting too old for this, he grumbled to himself as he fumbled across the coffee table, trying to find his phone, his eyes seemed unwilling to adjust to the early morning gloom. 

He finally found it, discarded next to old takeaway containers and a half-drunk mug of tea. At first, he just stared blankly at the object in his hand, he couldn’t focus and it took several attempts to unlock it. His vision was blurred and his eyes were stinging, though whether it was from lack of sleep or crying he wasn’t sure. Finally, the screen lit up to show countless messages from Chloe. 

Shit.  

In everything that had happened since going back to the hospital, all the worry, all the fear, he’d forgotten that he had essentially walked out of work in the middle of the day. 

He sat and just stared at the screen until the words blurred, not knowing how to reply. 

He didn’t really have the energy to face AC12, but life had to continue. Somehow, life had to continue. 

He selected Chloe’s number and breathed a sigh of relief when after several rings the voicemail clicked. He couldn’t really face speaking to anyone right now. 

 

Hi Chloe, erm… sorry for just walking out like that, and not answering your calls. I didn’t mean to leave you in the lurch or ignore you, I guess I got distracted, had other things on my mind. That's on me, not you. It’s just, well, something happened…

 

Steve could feel the tears welling up again and he took a deep breath to steady himself.

Everything has gone wrong again.

 

…and it’s a fucking mess and I’m still trying to figure it all out. I’ll be in tomorrow, or I guess it’s today now. 

Erm… Well, maybe see you soon… Sorry.

 

He ended the call and sank back onto the sofa. 

 

A few hours later Steve gave up on trying to sleep. He tossed and turned but whatever he did sleep wouldn’t come. All he felt now was frustrated. 

He dragged himself toward the kitchen and proceeded to cook the strongest coffee he could stomach in the hope that it would give him some energy. 

He just couldn’t imagine Kate not being in his life. 

The worst was not being able to do anything to help. Because that was what he did, he helped. That had been his reason for joining the force, so he could help. And he hadn’t been able to help his best friend. All he could do was wait and hope. Beg and plead with fate, life, or whatever it was that seemed to be in control. 

Coffee in hand, he clambered into the car and made his way to work.

 

He’d only just got out of the lift when Chloe cautiously approached him. 

 

“Sir, is everything alright?” Chloe asked. 

 

“No,” Steve replied. “Not really.”

 

“Can I help with anything?” Chloe asked tentatively.

“Or if you just want to talk?”

 

Steve just sighed. 

 

“Just with that kid yesterday and the way you left I was worried.”

 

“Josh,” Steve corrected her. “That kid is called Josh, he’s Kate’s son.”

 

“Oh…” Chloe shifted uncomfortably on the spot. “And Kate, is she okay?”

 

“No,” Steve answered bluntly. “She’s really not okay.”

He screwed his eyes shut for a moment, trying really hard not to cry.

“Something happened yesterday and she’s back in the ICU. She’s really sick and I’m so scared I’m gonna lose her.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Chloe replied earnestly. “I know just saying that,  it’s not going to help, but I’m really sorry.”

 

“Thanks,” Steve mumbled. Chloe was right, it didn’t really help but it was good to know that people at least still cared. He sighed, dragging his hands down his face.

“It’s just, she’s been through so much already and I don’t know how much more she can take.” 

 

Chloe offered him a comforting smile. 

 

“Only Kate knows that, but from what I’ve heard she’s pretty damm strong so I reckon, even if it might not look like it, she’s still fighting.” 

“Cheers,” Steve smiled slightly. “And really, thanks for picking up all the slack around here, I know I’ve not been doing my share…”

 

Chloe cut him off. 

“Sir, there’s no need to thank me. It’s my job, it’s what I signed up for and quite frankly, you’ve got more important things to be sorting.”

 

“It shouldn’t mean I can’t do my share.”

 

“Sir,” Chloe looked straight at Steve. “With respect, Kate’s your best friend and you clearly care alot about her. That's enough to throw anyone off their game. And then there’s all the stuff that has happened with Jo Davidson, I know it hasn’t been easy. 

You might feel like you’re slacking but all you’re doing is showing how much you care and that’s a quality you don’t want to lose.”

 

Steve wasn’t sure how to respond. He hadn’t thought of things like that before.

 

“Thanks, I guess,” he took a step back and glanced around the office. “But I’m here now and we’ve still got a case to solve.”

 


 

Josh had barely slept all weekend. It was now Monday morning and he trudged slowly towards school. 

He was exhausted yet every time he closed his eyes all he saw was his mum lying in the hospital bed. Looking so pale, broken and fragile that she was practically unrecognisable. 

She just had to be okay, she just had to be. There wasn’t any other scenario he would be willing to accept but the severity of the situation still hung over him like a heavy stormcloud, threatening rain and thunder. 

 

He was almost at the school gates before he stopped and turned to walk in the opposite direction. He just couldn't face a day of lessons and having to pretend to his peers and his teachers that everything was okay, because it wasn’t. It really fucking wasn’t. 

He wandered the streets aimlessly, lost in thought. He closed his eyes and wished with all his heart that the events of the past few days were just a horrific nightmare. But he couldn’t escape, he couldn’t wish this situation away. 

 

Eventually, he found himself in a park overlooking the city, tall glass buildings glistened in the distance. Josh sat down on a bank and stuffed his blazer and tie into his rucksack, he just couldn’t face lessons today and the last thing he needed was someone calling the school. 

He stayed sat on the bank until he began to shiver, the sky was grey and the December air carried a biting chill. He stood up, stretching out, there was only one place he wanted to be. He slung his rucksack on his back and headed towards the hospital. 

 

As Josh made his way up to the intensive care ward Josh couldn’t help but felt uncomfortable and anxious, just everything about the whole situation felt so wrong.

 

“Hi mum,” he greeted the pale, motionless figure. 

He sat back in the chair and took in all the machines surrounding his mum’s bed. He could feel his head spinning, it was still overwhelming to think about all the things his mum needed to stay alive. 

“You can hold her hand if you want,” a nurse suggested.

 

Josh hadn’t seen them come in.

 

“It’s Josh right?” they asked gently. 

 

Josh nodded. 

 

“I’m Jay, I’ve been assigned to look after your mum while she’s here. And I looked after her for a little while before that too.”

 

“Umm, okay,” Josh said, somewhat warily, he was still feeling quite overwhelmed and he wasn’t really in the mood for talking to anyone. 

 

“Like I said,” Jay smiled reassuringly. “You can hold her hand if you want, just be careful of the tubes.”

 

Josh reached towards the bed but hesitated, he was so scared of hurting his mum.

 

It was as if the nurse could tell exactly what Josh was thinking. They knelt down so they were on eye level with Josh. 

“I know this is scary, but I promise you won’t hurt her. Just talk to her as you normally would.” 

Jay paused, looking at Kate and then back to Josh.

“Would it help if I explained what all the machines are doing, it might be less intimidating that way?”

 

Josh nodded slightly, science was one of his favourite subjects at school, he’d always been inquisitive and had wanted to understand how things worked. There was part of him that did want to know, though he wasn’t sure how it would make it any easier.

 

“Okay,” Jay stated and pointed towards the breathing tube. “This tube in her mouth is part of the ventilator. Your mum can’t breathe on her own right now so the tube is connected to the machine here which is breathing for her. The plastic strap keeps it in place and makes it more comfortable for your mum. 

The tube in her nose is a feeding tube, it goes down into her stomach and is providing her with water and nutrition, and she has a drain in her side to collect any fluid that has built up because of the infection.”

 

Josh watched with wide eyes as the nurse pointed out all the machines, tubes and wires his mum was hooked up to. And they weren't done yet.  

 

“The leads on her chest are part of the heart rate monitor, they make sure everything is beating away as it should and if anything happens it’ll set off an alarm and we’ll be able to help her straight away. The clip on her finger monitors how much oxygen is in her blood.  And the IV lines in her arms are providing her with antibiotics, fluids and other medications.” Jay explained carefully. 

“Also, her kidneys aren’t working very well at the moment, so we’re giving her some help with that.” They pointed to another machine, large and imposing with thick tubes and a screen displaying graphs and numbers Josh didn’t understand. 

 

Josh stared at the machine for a while and found himself stuck somewhere between fascination and horror. Mostly horror.

 

“That’s - that’s a lot,” he eventually stuttered. 

 

“It is,” Jay agreed quietly, “but it’s all there to help her. Do you have any questions?”

 

Josh gulped, still trying to process everything the Nurse had just shown him.

“Does it hurt?”

 

“No,” Jay shook their head gently. “She’s deeply asleep and we’re also giving her some quite strong pain relief medication.”

 

“That’s good,” Josh said quietly. 

There was still one thing he needed to ask.

“But what’s actually wrong with her? I know she got shot, but she was getting better.”

 

“Your mum developed an infection which turned septic and she then went into something called shock. It’s why she got so ill, so quickly.  Sepsis is a reaction to an infection where the immune system starts to damage the body’s tissues and organs and when that happens they can start to not work properly, that’s why she is so sick at the moment.”

 

“She can get better right?” Josh asked tentatively. “It’s just.. the blonde Doctor said that… that there’s a chance she might die.”

 

Jay smiled sadly at Josh.

“The Doctor was right, but there’s also a chance your mum will get better, she needs a lot of help right now and we’re doing all we can for her.”

 

“I just want her to be okay,” Josh sniffed, eyes blurry and tears streaming down his cheeks. He hadn’t even noticed he was crying.

 

“I know you do,” Jay replied gently, offering Josh a tissue. 

 

“So what can I do?” Josh asked as he wiped his eyes.

 

“Why don’t you talk to her for a while?” 

 

Josh looked back towards Jay. “Are you sure she can hear me?” 

Steve had said as much the day before but Josh just couldn’t understand how his mum would be able to hear him as she was now.

 

“I can’t be completely sure,” Jay answered honestly. “But I’ve looked after a lot of coma patients and they’ve often said that they had some awareness of what was going on around them, despite being deeply unconscious. And your mum knows your voice, so she might even be listening out for you.”

 

“Mmh, Kay,” Josh nodded slightly. 

 

Jay stood up slowly and took a step back.

“I’ll give you some time with your mum, but I won’t be far if you need me.”

 

“Thanks.” 

Josh turned back to his mum. 

“Hi mum. It’s me again. And before you start, yes I know I should be in school. But it’s the last week of term so it’s not like we’re gonna be doing anything new. Okay, yes I’ve got a pile of homework to do but I just couldn’t face it today. Hope you won’t mind too much. Or if you do, I don’t mind y’know, but you’re going to have to wake up if you wanna tell me off. 

I don’t even know what else I’m supposed to say. I guess I just miss you and I just really need you to be okay.” 

 

Josh looked around the bay and tried not to think of all the medical equipment his mum needed to stay alive. He focused on the steady beeps, hums and whirs of the machines and the steady rhythm they created. Steady was good, steady was normal.

It wasn't much, but it was something. It was hope and Josh clung to those stead beeps as hard as her could.

Chapter Text

Steve returned to the Hospital in the early evening, he couldn’t face his empty flat and another ready meal. Once in the ICU, he quietly greeted a tired looking Josh who was perched in that uncomfortable chair by Kate’s bedside. Josh looked how Steve felt, his shirt was crumpled and his rucksack lay discarded in a corner. The dark circles under Josh’s eyes rivalled his own and his cheeks were stained with tears. It was Monday but Steve had a sneaking feeling Josh must have spent the entire day sitting with Kate in the Hospital, rather than being in school. He got it though, if he was in Josh’s shoes, school would also have been the last thing on his mind.

Josh offered him a weak smile before turning back to Kate, not wanting to even look away from his mum for fear that something might happen.

There wasn’t really anything to say, it all hurt too much, so they stayed silent. 

 

“Steve,” Bernie greeted him softly as she entered Kate’s bay. 

 

“Oh… um, yeah…” Steve still jumped slightly as Bernie came to stand behind him. The ward felt eerily quiet today, the all too familiar whirs and beeps of the life support machines faded into the background and left only a heavy stillness, the only reassurance being that the steady beeping meant that Kate was still holding on.

 

“Can we have a quick chat?” Bernie asked gently. 

 

Steve stood up and followed the Doctor to a small office at the end of the ward, all the while his stomach was churning, his hands were clammy and his chest tight and heavy. The day’s worry that had been quietly bubbling away was now threatening to boil over and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. 

Bernie pushed the door shut behind her and Steve shifted restlessly on the spot as she turned to face him, he tried to read the Doctor’s face but nothing was showing. 

 

“Steve, I wanted to give you an update,” Bernie began. “As the next of kin for Kate, I just wanted to make you aware of the situation.” 

 

Steve felt his heart plummet, he knew the gravity in Bernie’s tone all too well, only he was normally on the other side of the conversation. 

 

It wasn’t good news. 

 

“We are doing everything we can to help Kate, but right now she is very ill.” Bernie continued. 

“Her injuries from the shooting have left her very weak and so that makes it much harder for her to fight the infection. At the moment she is at risk of multiple organ failure and there is a chance that she could…”

 

“That she could die.” Steve finished quietly. The words felt so heavy, causing a deep ache in his heart. It was the first time he’d voiced his fears out loud, and it made everything seem so much more real. 

After everything, he didn’t know how to process what was happening. How could this be happening? This was something that happened to other people, just stories heard in passing, not something that happened to his best friend.

 

“Yes,” Bernie stated solemnly. “I’m so sorry, but right now it’s a case of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Sepsis is serious and right now Kate’s body has been overcome with an infection, she’s trying to fight it but isn’t strong enough on her own which is why the machines are there to help her. She’s just about holding on right now, but honestly, if the antibiotics don’t take effect, I don't know how much longer she can be sustained like this. There might have to be a time when you need to make a really difficult decision.” 

 

Steve didn’t know what to say. How could he reply to that? That he might need to make a decision about... 

He couldn’t think like that, he just couldn’t. 

 

“Kate…” he whispered. “She’s my best friend, I love her as if she were me own sister, I don’t know what I’d do without her. I can’t lose her, I just can’t.” The words came out in a strangled sob. 

 

“I hope it won’t come to that,” Bernie smiled sadly.

“And I want to reassure you that we’re doing all we can to help her but I don’t want you to be caught off guard if it comes to it. It might be worth considering what Kate would want.” Bernie replied gently and with a practised solemnity. 

She looked down at the papers on her desk and sighed quietly, these conversations were never easy, but they became even harder when she’d spent time getting to know the patients and the people who cared about them.

 

Steve watched the Doctor as she shuffled through a file on her desk, his mind was working on overdrive trying to process everything she had just said. This couldn’t be happening. Suddenly the room started to spin and Steve felt like he was going to be sick. It was too much. 

“I need to get some air,” he stuttered and scrambled towards the door. He could feel the blood rushing in his ears and his heart pounding in his chest.

He didn’t know how this happened or how everything had gone so wrong.

 

Icy rain drummed rhythmically on the paved ground as Steve flopped onto the bank, not caring that it was soaking wet. He barely even noticed the chilling bite of the near frozen metal. He tried to focus on his breathing, on what he could see, on what he could hear. Anything to drown out the dreaded despair. 

 

“Steve?” Josh’s quiet voice broke through the rain.

 

Steve met the teenager’s fearful eyes. He too was soaked and shivering slightly. It really wasn’t the weather to be sitting outside. 

“Let’s go inside,” Steve stated, pushing himself up from the bank. His back grumbled in protest, stiff and tight from the cold and uncomfortable sitting position. “We could both do with getting out of the rain and something to help us warm up.”

 

Josh nodded gently and followed Steve back inside the hospital.

 

Steve set two paper cups of hot chocolate down on the small table in the corner of the hospital cafe. 

The chair scraped against the floor as he pulled it out to sit down and Steve winced at the harsh metallic sound, he was still feeling overwhelmed following the conversation with Bernie and the world just seemed to hurt. 

 

“What’s going on? What did the Doctor say? Is my mum going to be okay?” Josh offloaded a flurry of questions and his words merged together in an anxious jumble. 

 

“It’s just that…” Steve hesitated. Josh needed to know, but Steve had no idea how to tell him. He took a deep breath to steady himself. 

“Kate, your mum, well she’s still really sick. The machines, they’re the only thing keeping her alive right now. And…” Steve had to fight back tears.  

“and… the Doctor, Bernie said that she might not make it.”

 

Josh stared at Steve with wide eyes. He felt as if his ears were ringing and he didn’t want to process what Steve had just said.

“She can’t die, she just can’t…” he whispered

 

“I’m sorry.” Steve sighed. It was all he could think of to say.

 

The pair fell into a solemn silence. 

 

“Y’know,” Steve said quietly, unable to bear the heavy silence any longer. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened for your mum. She’s said so a few times, but she’s said it more with what she ain’t said too, if that makes sense. The way her face lights up when she talks about you, she really cares I can promise you that. Kate, your mum’s a pretty private person, so I only really know bits about what's been going on at home, but she’s never stopped caring about or loving you.”

 

“I just really miss her,” Josh sighed. “I just don’t know what to do or think anymore.”

“It’s not fair. Why did this have to happen?”

 

“I wish I knew mate,” Steve replied sadly. 

 

Not fair. That’s what it was, Steve thought. Not fucking fair. 

 


 

After dropping Josh at home with the agreement that he would go to school the next day Steve returned to the Hospital. He had a report to finish and really could’ve done with heading back to the office but he just couldn’t face it right now. After the conversation with Chloe this morning, he’d tried to focus on the case but no matter how hard he tried his thoughts kept wandering back to Kate. And he knew from the concerned looks that ted and Chloe were sharing, it hadn’t gone unnoticed. 

 

Entering the ICU he stopped at a bay a few along from where Kate was fighting for her life. 

 

“Hi Jo,” he mumbled quietly. 

“Do you mind if I sit with you for a bit?”

 

Of course, Jo gave no answer. 

 

“God, everything is a fucking mess,” he sighed exasperatedly.

“Do you ever wonder why life just seems to go so wrong sometimes? And I guess I can’t really talk, I’m not the one lying in a hospital bed. But that poor kid might lose his mum and I might lose my best friend and honestly, it makes me so fucking angry. Why does all the shit happen to good people? Kay, Kate ain’t perfect but her heart has always been in the right place and I know you’ve seen that.

You’ve gotta help me out a bit here Jo, y’hear me. If you can hear me, just wake up alright. Please wake up. I think Kate needs you and fuck it would be nice to see something good happen for once. You deserve it, I know I were angry at first, but I get it now, it weren’t your fault, none of it. But we got them, thanks to what you said, we got them all and it’s finally over.”

 

With his soul shattered, Steve cried quietly as the rhythmic beeps, hisses and whirs of intensive care faded into the background.

 

"Please wake up."

Chapter Text

The chocolate brown Labrador bounded into the overgrown garden, eagerly seeking new friends to play with. He skidded to a sudden halt, eyes wide and alert as he looked around. Upon spotting her he decided the sleeping cat would be a great new play friend. He gently nudged the cat, as if to say, come on let’s play . The tabby replied with a low growl and swept an angry paw through the air causing the labrador to jump back, tail between his legs. 

The small dark tabby hissed loudly as she arched her back, she did not appreciate the inquisitive Labrador interrupting her afternoon nap. 

The Labrador stopped mid-bound, turning his head to the side in confusion. The little cat looked friendly, but it seemed she didn’t want to play. 

The cat hissed again, sweeping the air again with her front paw, claws drawn, trying to send a message to the seemingly stupid lump of a dog. Will you leave me alone, you great big oaf. 

The dog whimpered slightly in return, he was used to getting plenty of attention and always finding someone to play with. 

Moments later, Kate appeared from behind the tangled hedge. “C’mere you daft thing!” She called out to the dog, who quickly bounded back to his owner’s side.

 

Hearing the commotion coming from outside, a petite woman with chestnut brown hair came out of the cottage, a battered cardboard removal box still tucked under one arm.

 

“Think he’s bitten off more than he can chew there,” Kate joked, greeting the stranger with a warm smile. “Steve y’soppy sod!” she gushed, affectionately rubbing the dog's head.

 

The cat hissed a few more times. 

“Sammi! There’s no need to be so mean!” the brunette addressed the feisty cat. “Sorry!” she apologised. “She can be a bit feisty around other animals, and people for that matter, that she doesn’t know.” 

 

The dog had taken to cowering behind Kate’s legs. “S’alright” she said with a smile. “Steve likes to think he’s all tough, but he’s a soppy lump at heart and he wouldn’t hurt a fly. You gotta love him for it though.” The Labrador gave a short bark of agreement, playfully nudging Kate’s legs. 

“I’m Kate by the way,” she said, holding her hand out to the brunette. “I live down the road at number 12.”

 

“Jo,” the older woman replied with a smile. “I’m guessing you’ve already worked out that I’ve just moved in.” she pointed to the sold sign standing in front of her Cottage, putting the box down on the stone step so she could accept Kate’s hand.

 

“Yeah,” Kate grinned back. “I’m no detective, but I figured as much. Nice to have some new neighbours, this house had been sat empty for ages.”

 

 The small Tabby wound its way around Jo’s legs purring loudly as if to say, see I can be nice... 

 

“Mum!” a voice shouted from behind Kate and a young boy came running up to her, playfully rubbing Steve in the head. 

Kate wrapped a loving arm around the young boy, still smiling at Jo.

“And this, this is my son Josh.” 

Josh smiled shyly at Jo before turning back to Steve. “Come on boy, let’s go find your ball.” He ran off across the field with the brown Labrador lolloping behind him. 

“My two boys,” Kate said, still smiling. “I should probably see to it that they don’t cause too much trouble, but if you fancy poppin’ round for a brew later, you’re more than welcome.”

 

“Thanks,” Jo smiled shyly. “I’ve not yet found the box with the kettle in so I might take you up on that.”

 

 

Only a few hours later, Jo took Kate up on her offer. She knocked hesitantly at the deep blue front door and it wasn't long before Kate was placing two steaming mugs of tea down on the kitchen table. She then turned back around to rummage in the cupboards.

“Sorry, all I’ve got to offer is some choccy digestives,” she said as she sat down at the chair across from Jo and placed the packet down on the table between them.

 

“Don’t worry, chocolate digestives are fine,” Jo replied with a warm smile. “A tea was enough, I forgot how tiring moving can be.”

 

“You come from far?” Kate asked.

 

“Only from the city,” Jo answered. “I fancied a change and fell in love with this little place the moment I saw it!”

 

A wide grin spread across Kate’s face, “Yeah, this little village has a way of working its way into your heart. I thought I’d always be a city kid, but then I moved out here when Josh were little, things ended badly with his dad, and we needed a change. Ain’t looked back since.”

 

“Sorry to hear that,” Jo replied earnestly.

 

“It were a long time ago,” Kate responded with a sad smile, but there was an unmistakable hint of a cry caught at the back of her throat.

 

“Doesn’t always mean it hurts less,” Jo responded, her dark eyes suddenly clouded with an all too familiar pain.

As if he could sense the change Steve bounded into the kitchen, affectionately nudging at Kate’s leg before scrambling underneath the table to rest his head on Jo’s lap. He always seemed to know where and when comfort was needed the most.

“Hello again,” Jo gushed, gently ruffling Steve’s ears. “At least I’ve got one friend here,” she joked.

 

“Make that two!” Kate grinned. “You’re more than welcome to join us for a walk anytime and both me and Steve would love the company.”

Although she had known her for only a few hours, Kate found the shy brunette so easy to talk to. There was something about her soft Scottish lilt and warm chestnut waves that made her heart flutter. She wasn’t quite sure what the feeling was. She just hoped that she had found someone to share her sanctuary with.

 


 

The Saturday morning dawned crisp and clear.

Jo had happily accepted Kate’s offer to join her and Steve for a day’s hike around the local peaks. With Josh staying with a friend all weekend for football training Kate was grateful for the company and the chance to get to know the shy Scot a little better. She was a little nervous and had checked and rechecked her rucksack and hiking gear multiple times already that morning. She wasn’t sure why, but just thinking of Jo made all manner of feelings bubble up inside of her, and she just wanted the day to go right.

 

Steve, on the other hand, was as boisterous as ever. The Labrador could barely wait to get out the door, he jumped around the kitchen excitedly. He’d already spotted Kate’s walking boots and rucksack by the door so knew they’d be going for a long hike, and he loved long hikes. There were always other dogs to play with, fun things to chase and so many interesting smells.

“All right, mate!” Kate sighed, tipping her half-drunk tea into the sink and shoving a piece of toast in her mouth, it seemed Steve was not going to wait any longer.

She grabbed the sandwiches and a bottle of water from the fridge and laced up her boots while munching the final mouthful of toast. “If I get indigestion later, I’m gonna blame you, you impatient lump!” she joked, clipping Steve’s harness in place.

Steve just looked at her with his large brown eyes and pawed expectantly at the door.

 

Steve bounded towards Jo, greeting her excitedly with a nudge to the legs that almost knocked the petite brunette off balance.

She stumbled for a second but steadied herself against the wall while a slightly flustered Kate caught up with the boisterous Labrador.

 

“Sorry!” Kate rushed, “he saw me boots by the door and has been bouncing round the house all morning. I only managed half my breakfast before being dragged out the door!”

 

“Oh Steve!” Jo ruffled the dog’s ears, “it’s a good job you’re such a cutie.”

 

“And he knows it!” Kate added with a smile.

 

The trio set off towards the woods, taking the track around the back of the cottages and out into the fields. The landscape quickly opened up to an expanse of rolling green hills, the grass glistening with morning dew drops. The trail wound its way up the hillside leading into the woodland that was glowing in all its Autumn glory. The trees were a wash with deep reds and burnt oranges, and streaks of golden light broke through the leaves.

“I love the colours this time of year,” Jo said softly.

 

“Yeah,” Kate agreed. “It might sound silly but growing up in the city we didn’t get any of this and now, even after years of living here, it still feels magical.”

 

“That’s not silly at all.” Jo insisted, “it’s beautiful, that’s what I always think. Autumn reminds us that change can be beautiful.”

 

After stopping in a small clearing to share sandwiches and a flask of tea Jo had brought with her the trio continued their journey, the woodland giving way to a rockier landscape as the trail led out onto the moors.

They followed the path along the ridge overlooking the village, though the walk became more scramble at some points. Steve was constantly bounding far in front of the two women before then turning, his head titled slightly to the side as he implored them to keep up.

“Oh, you daft dog! We don’t all have four legs like you do mate!” Kate had joked.

 

Dusk was beginning to settle as the trio and a now somewhat exhausted Labrador were finally making their way back into the Village.

They stopped in front of the pub, warm golden light spilled from the windows, staining the pavement a deep shade of orange.  

“Fancy joining me for a drink?” Kate asked. “They do pretty good food too and all I’ve got at home to offer is frozen pizza.” She had enjoyed every moment so far with Jo and she didn’t want the day to end.

 

Jo hesitated for a brief moment, but the warm glow coming from the windows of the pub and Kate’s kind smile were too much to resist. “Yeah, go on then”

The pub was warm and comforting, a fire cracked and sparked in one corner, its warmth making both Kate and Jo’s cheeks flush red.

Steve excitedly greeted the man behind the bar and wagged his tail even harder when he saw him reaching for the jar of dog biscuits.

He held it up to show Kate and she nodded in agreement, commanding Steve to sit and wait patiently for the treat. Steve did so but he was clearly itching to leap up and demand more attention, he’d become well acquainted with both the pub and its friendly owner in recent years and he was always excited to see Freddie. Freddie always gave good cuddles and he always had treats.

“Think we might have worn him out for once after today’s hike!” Kate smiled warmly at Freddie, who was now happily giving Steve belly rubs.

Kate and Jo shrugged off their coats and stomped the mud off their boots before wandering across the pub and nestling into a table in the far corner. After a quick drink of water Steve lolloped towards them, he wriggled his way under the table and promptly fell asleep.

The conversation flowed easily between the two women, only being interrupted briefly when the food order arrived.

 

“Fancy another?” Kate gestured to the now empty wine glasses.

 

“Go on then,” Jo smiled back at Kate.

 

“So, Kate,” Freddie said with a sly smile as Kate placed their drinks order at the bar. “You gonna tell me about your hot date?”

 

“We’re just friends,” Kate laughed back, knowing how well the pub landlord liked to gossip.

 

“Hmm,” Freddie replied with raised eyebrows and a knowing grin. He handed Kate the wine bottle and a couple of glasses, looking over to the corner where Jo was sat. “In my experience, that is not how just friends look at each other.”

 

Freddie’s words were still spiralling around Kate’s mind when she set the wine and glasses down on the table. She caught how Jo’s eyes flickered golden in the warm half-light and the shy smile that broke across her face. Her heart began to flutter, and she felt a rush of warmth flood through her. She sat down, nestled into the corner with Jo, close but not quite touching, Kate finally realised what that feeling could be. Love.

The evening wore on and the time came for the women to part, night had drawn in and there was a biting chill to the air.

 

“Brrrr,” Jo grumbled, pulling her coat tighter.

A sleepy Steve nudged the back of Kate’s legs, causing her to take a step closer to Jo.

Jo reached out and wrapped her arms around Kate. “Thank you for today,” she whispered. “It was just lovely.”

They held the embrace for just moments, it was warm and comforting and felt so right. Kate's heart fluttered and her cheeks flushed, for those few seconds, it was just Kate and Jo, the world around them seemed to still and Kate was sure. This was how it felt, this was love.

The ache Kate felt in her heart as they parted only made her more certain.

Love.

She was in love with Jo.   

 


 

The leaves slowly fell and Kate and Jo continued to grow closer.

November brought rain, wind and storms.

It was cold and grey, but Kate had never felt more alive.

November brought cosy shared evenings in front of the TV or sometimes just talking.

Talking freely and openly without judgement.

Kate sharing some of the antics the kids at school got up to and the even more dramatic things that went on between the staff.

Jo rattling off story ideas and plot twists with jokes of, "my publisher might kill me if they knew I were telling you all this."

Nothing had ever felt so easy. Nothing had ever felt so right.

Yet still, she didn’t say it. The feeling that now had a name, the feeling that burnt through every fibre of her being. Love.  

Because if she said it out loud, she risked everything and she didn’t know if her heart could take that.

 

“Gosh that was so good,” Kate smiled, mopping up the last of the curry with a chunk of naan bread.

 

Jo shrugged nonchalantly from across the table. “I just threw some things together, it’s nothing special.”

 

“Well to me it was,” Kate smiled. “A jar of ready-made sauce and some chicken is as good as it gets in my house. Providing I don’t burn the rice.”

 

“You’ve managed to burn rice!” Jo made an expression of mock horror.

 

“Josh always says my cooking comes with a touch of charcoal flavour!” Kate joked, though the tickle in her throat quickly turned her laughter into a full-blown coughing fit.

 

“You’re still suffering with that cold!” Jo’s eyes grew wide with concern.

 

Kate nodded grimly, if she was honest, she felt terrible, but she didn’t want Jo to worry.

“I’ve been teaching for 10 years and still haven’t built up an immunity to all the germs the kids seem to carry in,” she joked trying to lighten the mood.

 

Jo saw through her in an instant. “I know you think it’s just a cold, but it might be worth getting checked out at the Doctors.”

 

“M’fine,” Kate protested. “There’s all sorts of stuff going round this time of year and working with kids in a stuffy classroom all day I’m bound to pick something up.”

 

Jo narrowed her eyes slightly, concern etched into her usually soft features.

“Still, from the way you’re coughing, it sounds like it’s getting to your chest and that’s never good.”

 

Kate tried to protest further but was waylaid by another coughing fit.

 

Jo placed a glass of water down next to her and proceeded to rub her back gently until the hacking coughs had subsided.

“It’s alright,” she soothed. “It’s horrible being ill but you’re not going do yourself any good if you ignore it.”

 

“M’kay,” Kate grumbled in reluctant acceptance. “I’ll make an appointment for first thing tomorrow.”

 

Jo had been right, of course. It wasn’t just a cold. Chest infection. The Doctor diagnosed after a quick listen to Kate’s chest. A course of antibiotics, plenty of fluids and most importantly, rest.

But Kate was Kate, all stubbornness and determination and putting everyone else in front of herself, plus she had too much to do to take any time away from school. So, it was no wonder that a week later she found herself back in the Doctor’s Surgery if anything feeling worse than she had on the previous visit.

 

Bernie removed the blood-pressure cuff from Kate’s arm and rolled back under her desk. 

“Your blood pressure is on the low side and there’s a slight crackle in your chest. I’m thinking pneumonia, but I’d like you to get a blood test to be sure.”

“Have you been resting like I told you to last week?” 

 

Kate just looked at the floor. She had intended on phoning in ill, but it was the last couple of weeks of term before Christmas, and there was the pantomime to sort out, plus the class Christmas party, the carol service and she still had reports and marking coming out of her ears.

“I…”

 

“I’ll take that as a no,” Bernie said bluntly. She’d known the young teacher for too long. Kate was a brilliant teacher and clearly cared very much about her job and the kids, but she had never been one for following advice or orders, even when they came from a medical professional.

“I know how much your job and the kids mean to you, but you’re going to make yourself really ill one day if you don’t listen to your body and rest and give yourself time to recover. This is the third time in the last few years that you’ve come in with chest infections that I’m sure started out as the standard winter cold, but when you don’t rest and keep putting yourself under such stress, it’s no wonder you end up quite unwell.”

She shot Kate a look from above her glasses that indicated she was deadly serious.

 

“Sorry,” Kate mumbled, suddenly feeling very much like a disobedient pupil. 

 

“I’m going to prescribe a new course of antibiotics,” Bernie stated, handing Kate a green slip of paper. “They should take effect pretty quickly, but if you feel no better within 48 hours, or you start to feel worse at all, don’t come back here, go straight to A&E. If this is pneumonia, it can get very serious, very quickly.”

 

“Thanks,” Kate mumbled, diligently taking the slip from the Doctor.

 

“You’re too stubborn, for your own good sometimes.” Bernie sighed. “Is there anyone who can check in on you occasionally?”

 

“Well, there’s Jo,” Kate said with a slight wheeze. “She lives a few doors down and I guess we’ve gotten quite friendly…”

 

“Ahh,” Bernie smiled. “The illusive mystery writer.” She fixed Kate with a look that suggested she knew exactly what she meant with quite friendly.

 

Kate got up to leave, coughing heavily, the crackle in her chest clearly audible in the small room.

 

“I mean it, Kate,” Bernie rolled back out from her desk and towards Kate, placing a gentle hand on Kate’s arm to stop her from leaving. “I worry about you.”

Her face was lined with concern, but her eyes were kind.

“Just try and rest, please. I know you want to be there for Josh and the kids at school, but you’ll do no one any good if you end up in hospital, or worse…”

 

A few days later and Kate was still feeling awful. She felt so weak that she’d been forced to take time off from work and in the past couple of days she hadn’t even made it out of bed.  

She rolled wearily onto her side, coughing weakly. Lying on her back left her unable to breathe. Tangled in her duvet, she was shivering despite the burning fever. Everything hurt. Why did everything hurt? Her head felt so foggy.

What had Bernie told her? She couldn’t remember…

 

“Mum!” Josh was shouting, but everything sounded so muffled. “Mum, say something please!”

 

Kate wanted to answer, but she couldn’t form the words. She couldn’t breathe. Her chest hurt so much, she gasped for air, but no oxygen reached her lungs.

 

Everything hurt.

 

“I need you mate. You’ve got to keep fighting.”

 

Kate's brow furrowed. That wasn’t right. She could hear Steve’s voice. But that can’t be. Steve? Why was Steve talking to her, why was Steve talking at all…

 

Everything was being drowned out by an erratic beeping.

 

Kate felt as if she was falling. Spiralling into the darkness.

 

Down…

 

Jo.

 

Where was Jo?

 

Down…

 

She was going to die, and she never told her.

 

I love you, Jo. I’m sorry, I should have told you.

 

I love you…

 

Down…

 

Sounds overlapped and voices jumbled. Kate’s head was spinning as the darkness dragged her down.

 

“K-know y-you weren’t p-pr… pre-tending. L-love y-you.”

 

Down…

 

“I miss you…”

 

Down…

 

“Keep fighting mate, y’hear me.”

 

Down…

 

“P… p-please w-wake u-up,”

 

Down…

 

“Please mum, I love you and I don’t want anything to happen to you…”

 

Down…

 

The beeping grew louder, a continuous toned screamed, then everything went black.

 

Chapter Text

Josh sat down quietly by Kate’s bed, he had taken to just sitting with the silence and hoping that his mum would know he was there. He didn’t really know what else to do. He’d tried to talk, but the one-sided conversations just felt so pointless. And even if he did talk, there wasn’t much he had to say. All he could do was talk about his day at school, and that, well, it school just seemed so mundane. There wasn’t anything worth sharing anyway, he went through his lessons in a half daze, physically present but his thoughts were elsewhere.

Still, he had kept the promise he made to Steve and stayed at school for the whole day but as soon as the final bell rang he rushed off to the Hospital, hoping to see a change but fearing the worst. Every time he entered the stark clinical atmosphere of the ICU he felt as if the life was being drained from him. For somewhere where people were meant to get better, it just felt so cold, and that was despite the heating always being on full power.  

So he just sat in that uncomfortable chair, scowling at his homework, geography essays, maths worksheets and poetry analysis were the last thing on his mind. He was just worn out, exhausted by it all, even coming up to Christmas the teachers weren’t letting off, if anything the workload was just piling up and Josh wasn’t sure how much longer he could cope. 

 

He just needed his mum to be okay. More than anything. 

 

He still hadn’t forgiven his dad. The atmosphere in the house felt strained, cold and distant. 

 

Somehow he was holding it together, but only just. He felt as if he was just waiting to fall apart.

 

The life support machines beeped, whirred and hissed around him as he sat in that chair, that horribly uncomfortable chair. He wasn’t sure whether it was that it was physically uncomfortable or it was everything that it symbolised that made it so uncomfortable. 

 

Why wouldn't she wake up?

Why wasn’t she getting better?

How much longer could she stay like this? 

How much longer could she keep fighting? 

 

Josh had so many questions but so few answers. And it all felt so hard.  All he could do was sit and try to talk. But the one-sided conversations never felt right.

 

Though Josh barely knew his mum’s best friend, Steve was the only one who understood what he was going through. Steve understood h ow it felt in the quiet moments, when everything else stops and the fear and worry became overwhelming. Steve knew what it was like to cry so much that you eventually had no tears left. He too was trapped by the uncertainty and the stuckness of it all, the hoping for the best, but fearing the worst and how it all made you feel like you are being torn two. 

There wasn’t anyone else Josh could talk to who knew what it was really like to see someone you cared for so sick, so weak, possibly dying… 

 

He rummaged in his rucksack and pulled out his biology textbook and notepad. He figured he might as well use this time to try and get on top of the ever mounting pile of homework. 

After working for over an hour the words began to blur and Josh leant back into the chair. He couldn’t think straight anymore, his concentration was gone and he was utterly exhausted. 

 

When Steve returned to the hospital he found Josh sleeping in the chair by the bed, school notebook still open on his lap. 

He looked at his best friend lying in the hospital bed, surrounded by machines to keep her alive. 

“You’re going to be okay mate,” he whispered quietly. It was a statement directed more to himself than Kate, but it was all he could do, all he could say. He just hoped that Kate could hear him. That she would feel comforted to know there were people there for her, watching out for her.

 

Josh stirred as he woke and blinked heavily against the bright lights, as he did so the discarded papers on his lap tumbled to the floor. 

“Sh… sorry,” he mumbled upon seeing Steve, scrambling from the chair to pick up the homework sheets.

 

Steve offered Josh a comforting smile. “No need to apologise.” He bent down and helped Josh to pick up the rest of the sheets.

 

“I’m getting so behind and the last thing I want is an after-school detention for not doing me homework,” Josh sighed. 

 

“Do the school not know what’s going on?” Steve asked earnestly, he’d come to really care for Josh in the past few days and wanted to help him however he could.

 

Josh shook his head. “No, I’ve not told anyone really. It’s kinda hard to talk about it.”

 

“I know it's hard,” Steve sighed, “but if you ever do, I'm here for you mate.” 

 

“Thanks,” Josh mumbled, looking down at his lap. He didn’t want Stee to see the tears that were welling up in his eyes. 

 

Steve’s heart ached when he noticed just how forlorn Josh looked. 

“How about I grab us both a cup of tea, and we can chat if you want to.” he suggested.

 

Josh looked up at Steve and smiled sadly, “yeah, okay.”

 

The hospital cafe was quiet and only a few of the tables were occupied, some by tired staff and others by visitors speaking in hushed whispers. The atmosphere felt subdued and solemn as Steve navigated his way to where Josh was sitting in the corner, he had his head in his hands and he looked absolutely exhausted.

 

Steve gently set the two cups down on the small table.  

“Here you go,” Steve pushed one cup towards Josh. He’d drunk so much tea the past few weeks but it was at least more drinkable than the Coffee he’d had from the vending machine on that first fateful night when Kate had been brought to the hospital.

 

“It’s just… I don’t know how to handle this. I just… I wish there were some kind of instructions for dealing with this.” Josh sighed quietly.

 

“I don’t think that’s how things work,” Steve replied gently. 

 

“I just feel kind of stuck,” Josh sniffed, tears welling up in his eyes. “It’s the not knowing what’s gonna happen and the not being able to do anything about it. There’s so much uncertainty and I don’t know what to do about it. I can't seem to stop crying, I just feel so all over the place.” 

 

“I get it,” Steve said quietly. “It’s a hard situation this, nothing about it really makes sense. I reckon you just keep what you’re doing at the moment. Coming to see your mum and talking to her when you can.”

 

“It doesn’t feel like enough though!” Josh snapped back, the worry and exhaustion quickly turning to frustration. “I really don’t know what to do about this. Just having to sit in that chair while mum just lies there and I hate it!”  

 

“It might not feel like it, but it is enough.”

 

“I just want mum to be okay,” Josh cried. 

 

“I know you do,” Steve replied. “I do too and I really hope she is going to be.” 

He set his empty cup down and looked across at Josh.

“And I’m sure your mum is fighting really hard to get back to you, the Doctors and Nurses are doing all they can for her and all we can do right now is be there for her. I know it doesn’t feel like much, but it counts for something right? Just to know that she has people in her corner, people that care, people that want her to get better.”

 

“Mmh,” Josh nodded slowly. “I just wish this weren’t all so hard.”

 

“I know,” Steve sighed. “So do I.”




An hour later and after Josh had headed home Steve sat back down in the all too familiar chair by Kate’s bed. 

“Hi mate,” he greeted her quietly, emotions were still raw after his conversation with Josh. 

“They reduced Jo’s today, reckon you’d want to know that. She’s breathing on her own now which is a really good sign. Hopefully she’ll wake up soon, it might take a day or so but she should wake up. She’s fighting to get back to us, well to you I reckon. So there’s hope, even when you think there might be none, even when things look so bleak, there’s always hope. All Jo has been through and she’s still here, still fighting. And she got through it. They reckon she’s gonna be okay, the Doctor says. It might take a little bit of time, but she’s gonna wake up and she’s gonna be alright.

Would be good if you could do the same, y’know, if you could wake up, because Josh needs you and I reckon Jo is gonna need you too. 

She really cares about you, just as you do about her. After everything that happened, everything she had been through, all she cared about was if you were alright. I don’t want Jo to wake up after all that and then I have to tell her bad news.

Josh and Jo, y’know. Wake up for them. Please mate. Just keep fighting, keep hanging on. You said you heard me the last time, so I hope you can hear me now. 

Maybe it’s selfish of us, but we need you, mate. We’re here for you, all of us and we love you so much. So please keep fighting, I know you’re strong enough. Don’t give up, okay.”

 

Steve smiled sadly at Kate’s sleeping form. He wondered what was happening in his best friend’s head. Whether she really could hear him and whether she understood what was going on.

She was so still and quiet, so unlike the Kate he knew and loved and part of him was scared too, scared that Kate wouldn’t wake up or that if she did she wouldn’t be the same.

Chapter Text

Jo tried to move, but her body didn’t want to work. She didn’t know where she was and everything felt so jumbled and fuzzy. Her senses were being overloaded with input and she couldn't think.  

She was trapped. 

She couldn’t move. 

Her head hurt. 

Bleeding. 

Her head really hurt. 

She couldn’t breathe. 

Jo was pretty sure she was dying. 

This was it… 

They’d finally gotten to her. The OCG. Fairbank. Osbourne. Buckles. She hadn’t done enough. Or she has lost her usefulness. She hadn’t done enough. Everything hurt. She was dying. 

That’s what happens to a rat. 

Smoke filled her nose. Burning. She could smell burning. She could hear the trickling drips of petrol leaking from the engine. She had to get out.

 

Everything began to feel foggy and the pain dulled. The end was coming. She was going to die.

She was scared and alone and she was going to die. She was always alone. 

No one loves you, Joanne. You’re worthless. We control you. We own you. You do our bidding or face the consequences.

She was so cold. Her eyes were heavy and Jo couldn’t keep them open any longer. She tried to hold on, she tried to keep going but her body was failing. Darkness clouded her vision, her eyes felt heavy, and every shaking breath drained the little energy she had left.

Jo fell into the blackness. 

 

Nothing.

She felt nothing.

Only dark.

 

Then slowly the darkness faded and she was warm and happy. 

 

She didn’t believe in a god or that there was a heaven, but she knew she was somewhere, somewhere different, far from the crumpled and burning wreck of the prison transport van. She was somewhere that wasn’t her tortured reality. And it felt nice. A strange sense of calm and comfort washed over her, she felt at peace. 

 

Carefully Jo opened her eyes. 

 

The bright light dazed her for a moment but as her eyes adjusted she found that the scene had changed to a bright spring day at the beach. The North Sea stretched out in gentle waves all the way to the horizon and the sky was a brilliant blue. Seagulls called out in an excited chatter as they circled in the sky above.

The sand danced and swirled in the soft sea breeze, flowing across the beach in a white golden haze. 

She knew where she was now. 

Jo turned to find that mum was sitting next to her, wisps of brown hair blowing across her face. She smiled and her mum smiled back. 

 

Warmth filled her bones as she fell into the memory, a rare happy memory, of the time before Tommy came. A memory so distant she had almost forgotten it existed, untarnished by the fear and pain that had become her life. Just Jo and her mum, they hadn’t had much but they’d had each other.

They had spent what felt like hours jumping and splashing in the waves, they’d laughed and screamed, both daring each other to go further in. The sun was shining but the water was still freezing.  Now they were wrapped up in scruffy towels and old blankets sharing a portion of chips. Jo shivered but her heart was warm. She was happy, young and care-free. She rested her head on her mum’s shoulder and Jo smiled, she truly smiled.  This was how she wanted to stay. Warm, happy, and safe, with her mum, in the time before everything went wrong. 

If this was heaven, then she could go on like this forever.

Her mum turned and looked Jo directly in the eyes, a sad smile broke across her face.

“You need to keep fighting Jojo. You have a chance now. You can be free. Free to be the person you really are.” 

 

“Miss Davidson?” Another voice broke through the gentle rushing waves. 

 

The memory began to fizzle out, edges blurred. The beach was fading and her mum along with it. 

 

“Miss Davidson, can you open your eyes?”

 

No!” Jo cried. “Please stay, I want to stay here with you!”

 

Her mum looked Jo in the eyes and shook her head sadly.  “Sweetheart, it’s not your time yet. You can’t stay here.” She placed an arm around Jo’s shoulder and pulled her in close. “It’s time for you to wake up Jojo, you can be free. Free from the nightmare. Free to be who you really are.” 

 

Jo’s head was spinning, images and lights flashed in front of her eyes and the scene around her was disappearing fast. A darkness was creeping in from the horizon, spreading across the beach, coming ever closer.

 

“Miss Davidson - Jo. Jo, can you hear me?”

 

“I don’t want to go!” Jo begged, her voice horse and eyes teary. She could feel the tears rolling down her cheeks, they felt so real..

 

“Keep fighting Jojo,” her mum whispered. “I love you.”

 

“Please let me stay,” Jo’s desperation grew, but she was being pulled away. Far away from the beach and her mum. Aways from the safety and comfort of the memory. She didn’t know what was waiting for her and she was scared, so scared. 

 

“Please let me stay…”

 

“Be free my precious Jo. Free to live the life you deserve.”

 

Jo stole a final glance at her mum as dark spots began to dance across her vision.

Then everything turned black.

 

Slowly Jo groggily became aware of a steady beeping. It drowned out the voices in her head, steady and mechanical, it was so loud. God that is annoying was her first thought. Everything felt so hazy and her head hurt, there was a thumping pain just above her temple. 

She remembered a beach. Soft sand and gentle waves. Her mum. She’d been with her mum.

 

“Miss Davidson,” came a voice. 

 

Jo grumbled. Too loud she wanted to say, but she couldn’t make her mouth form the words. 

 

“Miss Davidson - Jo. Jo, can you hear me?”

 

Her head hurt. The ache was dull and heavy and every sound sent waves of pain shooting across her temple. 

 

Too loud. Just let me sleep.

 

“Jo, can you open your eyes for me?” 

 

“Mmh,” Jo responded weakly, she just wanted to be left alone so she could fall back into the blackness she’d woken from. 

 

Please, just be quiet. 

 

There was a mask over her face, gently pushing air into her lungs. 

 

“Jo, open your eyes.” 

The voice was more demanding this time. 

 

Urgh, fine then. Maybe then you’ll stop being so loud. 

Jo reluctantly obeyed the strange voice and opened her eyes, though only a crack. Bright white light streamed in, so intense Jo felt like her eyes were burning. She blinked several times, willing her eyes to adjust to the sudden influx of light. I think I preferred the darkness . The world slowly began to swim into focus. 

 

“That’s good, well done Jo.”

 

Do you have to be so patronising? 

 

A strange face appeared above her, a woman, maybe a little older than her, with short blonde hair tucked neatly behind her ears. The woman smiled, her eyes were kind and caring. 

 

“My name’s Bernie, I’m one of the doctors who has been looking after you. Do you know where you are?”

 

Pretty obvious isn’t it? 

 

Jo groaned,  “h-hos… h- pital,” she stuttered faintly through the mask.

 

“Yes, you’re in the Intensive Care ward at City Central Hospital.”

 

So I’m not dead. 

 

She sighed wearily, she wasn't sure how she felt about the fact that she was still alive. She wanted to go back to the beach, she wanted to be back with her mum, to where she felt happy and safe. Where she wasn’t in any pain, because right now, everything hurt and Jo wasn’t sure she could face the hurt any longer. 

 

“Can you remember what happened?” Bernie asked gently. 

 

“Mmh,” Jo still felt so groggy and had to fight to order her thoughts.

“C… cr-cra… a… sh,” she eventually stuttered. “V… v-van cr… cra… s… sh…shed.”

 

Fuzzy memories flashed through her mind, but they felt so far away. A panicked gasp caught in Jo’s throat. She knew she was in hospital but she had no idea how long she had been here, and that scared her. 

 

“H… h-how l… l-lon… ng?”

 

“You’ve been with us for two weeks, you were seriously hurt when you first got here so we kept you asleep to let your brain and body heal.”

 

Two weeks. She had been asleep for two weeks. Jo wasn’t sure how to process that information. She shut her eyes as more disjointed memories assaulted her mind.

 

The Lorry Park. Ryan. Gunshots. Kate. Bleeding. Begging for help. So much blood.

 

I love you Kate.

 

Alone in a cell. The interview. Scratching her arms till they bled. The revelations about Tommy Hunter. Steve. She’d told him something, but she couldn’t remember what. The van. Crashing. Then nothing.

 

Jo’s head was spinning and she felt sick. She was desperately trying to put the pieces of her memories back together but her brain was refusing to cooperate. Her head hurt and she was so tired. 

 

Kate .

 

Her brain stuck on the image of Kate, lying on the cold ground, bleeding. And it was her fault. She’d tried to save her, she had really tried, but there had been so much blood.  

 

“K… K-Kate,” Jo stammered, everything felt so jumbled and confused. She was scared and in pain, panic began to rise and her chest tightened. She had to know, she had to know what had happened.

Everything hurt. Why did it have to hurt?

 

“Jo, you need to try and calm down.” Bernie spoke softly but sternly. “Can you take some deep breaths?”

 

I’ll do that when you’ve told me about Kate , Jo thought.

 

“Jo, take some deep breaths, you need to calm down.”

 

Do you not think I’m trying to do that?? How was she supposed to concentrate on her breathing when all she could think of was Kate?

 

“Just follow me,” the voice soothed. “Breathe in,” she felt a pressure against her hand, tightening and releasing in a steady rhythm. 

 

Jo focused on the gentle guidance, Bernie spoke with a calming authority and slowly Jo began to relax.

 

“That’s it Jo, you’re doing really well.”

 

Jo felt the panic fade and the room stopped spinning, but she was still so tired. Her thoughts turned back to Kate, but she was struggling to find the right words. 

“K… K-Kate,” she said again. Clearer this time. 

“W… w-where’s Kate?”

 

There was a flash of something that Jo couldn’t quite distinguish across Bernie’s eyes. 

 

Jo could feel herself slipping back into unconsciousness, she was so, so tired. But she needed to know. 

“K… K-Kate?” she asked again, pleading this time.

“W… w-where’s K-Kate?”

 

“Jo, you need to concentrate on getting better first, then you can see Kate,” Bernie replied gently. 

 

She’s here. Jo thought. Kate is here. Jo felt her heart flutter. 

Somehow she already knew that. Front the fog emerged a memory. She’d heard her, felt her sitting beside her. Kate had been to see her, she was sure of it. 

 

“I love you more than I have words for.”

 

Remember wasn’t quite the right word. But Jo was sure that she had heard Kate talking to her, that she had felt her holding her hand. 

 

“You helped me so much Jo, you’re beautiful, brave and determined.”

 

Kate had helped her too, Kate had been her light in the darkness, her reason to keep going through the OCG coercion and control. She needed to see Kate, to help her but she was too tired. 

 

“Jo, you need to rest. Your body has been through a lot and needs time to recover.”

 

“Just keep fighting boss.”

 

“Mmh..”  Jo mumbled, she wanted to argue but she was so exhausted it wasn’t long before she slipped back into the grips of sleep.

Chapter Text

"Hi mate." Steve nodded to his sleeping friend as he took his usual place by Kate’s bed. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, there was a hint of a smile spread across his face.

"I've got some good news, like really good news. Jo's woken up and she’s doing good. She’s a little bit confused but knows who she is and where she is. That's good, really good.” 

Steve paused for a moment. After everything that had happened, it felt strange to hear good news. 

 

If Jo could wake up then surely that meant Kate could too.

 

But joy and hope felt like strangers in Steve’s day to day, and if he was going to be truly honest, it had been like that even before the current mess started. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt happy.

He still wasn’t sure if he could dare to hope, because what if he did, what if he dared to hope and he still lost everything? He didn’t think he could cope with such pain.

Steve smiled weakly and gently took hold of Kate’s hand.  

 

“I’m still here mate, sorry I went all quiet there. Guess all this is hitting me harder than I thought. I just gotta keep going though, I haven't really got another option. And I promise I’m trying, mate. I just wish I weren’t all so hard."

Steve sighed quietly as Kate gave no response, no sign that she had understood what he’d just said. She remained still and silent, giving no indication that she knew he was there at all.

" I’m gonna go to see Jo in a bit when she’s feeling a bit stronger. I reckon she’s going to need someone to look out for her, and I'm happy to do that, if that’s okay with you. I know you really care about her, so I’ll do it for you okay. Though just as long until you are well enough to take over, yeah. That’s gotta be some motivation for you. Jo has woken up and she’s going to be okay. If you can hear me, hang on to that. She’s already asked about you and now I’ve gotta go and tell her that you got sick again. I really don’t want to do that mate." 

A stray tear rolled down his cheek, he’d cried so much recently, he didn’t even notice anymore. His smile faded and with it so did most of his hope. Head in his hands, he screwed his eyes shut. He wanted to scream, just to let some of the worry and frustration out. The begging and pleading all felt so pointless. Nothing happened. It was the waiting that was the hardest, the waiting and not being able to do anything. He’d do anything to get Kate to wake up.

“Please, if you’re in there mate, if you can hear me, sense me or whatever. Just give me something. Anything. Because I can’t keep waiting like this, god it’s killing me. Josh is struggling too. You’ve got so many reasons to wake up, mate. I just wish you knew how much we all care about you, how much we want- how much we need you to okay.” 

Why won’t you wake up? I know you can do it, mate. Please, please wake up. 

Steve left Kate with his thoughts and then took the short walk, just a few bays down the ward. After waking up earlier that morning, Jo was now strong enough for visitors.  

 

He stopped outside for a moment, the last time he had seen Jo she’d been unconscious, still reliant on machines to breathe for her. Now she was awake he wasn’t sure how to interact with her or if she would want to see him at all. With a deep breath to steady himself, he stepped awkwardly into the ICU bay. There was still a part of him that couldn’t help but feel nervous. So much had happened between them in such a short space of time and he still wasn’t sure what to make of Jo Davidson. Suspect? Villain? Victim? Friend? He’d seen her as all of them in recent weeks. Friend? Steve held the thought in his mind. Jo was going to need a friend, or at the very least someone who could be there for her. Friend. 

A pang of guilt settled in his chest as he remembered all Jo had been through since being taken into custody.

He thought of how distressed she had been in the interview as Carmichael had systematically torn her life apart, he’d watched as her frosty facade had crumbled, exposing the broken soul that hid underneath, defeated and lonely. It had been the moment when his view of Jo had changed, he’d realised that she had been forced and controlled much of her life, actions never her own. 

Afterwards, she had trusted him with some of her darkest thoughts and experiences and all he had done was make a silent promise to look out for her. His mind switched to the van crashing, how he’d pushed her for a name despite devastating injuries, and how she’d stopped breathing in his arms. All Jo had been through since being taken into custody. The distress, the pain, the anguish. That was all on him. He’d promised to protect her and he’d failed. 

 

“Hi,” Steve tentatively greeted the woman in the hospital bed. “I’m glad you’re awake.”

Jo was lying propped up by cushions and she watched him closely as he hovered by the curtain. Most of the bruising around her head and face had faded but she still looked scarily pale and weak, childlike in her vulnerability. He met Jo’s gaze and for a moment there was the faintest flicker of the formidable DCI that he had first met just a few weeks ago. 

 

“Y… y-you c-can c… c-come i… i–in,” Jo stuttered. Her voice was weak and hoarse and she spoke with a noticeable stutter, her frail form visibly trembling with the effort of getting the words out. 

 

“How are you feeling?” Steve asked, it was a bit of a stupid question but he didn’t really know what else to say. 

 

She looked so small, so broken.

 

Jo shrugged, “o… o… ok-kay I g-guess…” 

She watched Steve closely as he took a few steps closer. Her memories were still jumbled and confused but there was a small part of her that felt she could trust Steve. He was here after all and she hadn’t expected anyone to come and visit, she didn’t really think anyone would care. 

 

“H… h… h-how’s K… Kate?” Jo asked, looking Steve directly in the eyes with as much determination as her weakened body could manage. The Doctors and Nurses wouldn’t tell her anything but maybe Steve would.

 

Steve bit his lip and tried to look away from Jo’s intense stare. Of course she would ask the one question he didn’t want to answer.

“Alive.” he finally settled for. “She’s alive.”

 

Jo looked up to meet his eyes, trying to read his expression but her mind still felt so foggy. Though the faintest whispers of her detective instinct told her that Steve was holding something back.

“B… b-but?” She knew that something wasn’t quite right, his smile felt too forced, his eyes too tired. Something wasn’t right with Kate.

“G-go s… s-see h-her.” 

Jo wanted to scream. She knew what she wanted to say, but she couldn’t get the words out. Everything still felt so jumbled and she felt as if her body was betraying her. Nothing was working as it should and it left her feeling useless and stupid. The messages her brain was sending just seemed to get lost along the way and it left her frustrated and confused. 

 

“I don’t know if you’re well enough for that yet,” Steve admitted sheepishly. 

 

Jo knew then that something wasn’t right. No, something was really wrong.

“W-what… w… w-wrong?” Her words came out more panicked than she’d intended, she could feel that tightness again, clutching at her chest, making it hard for her to breathe.

There was something Steve wasn’t telling her. Her brain might have been a little jumbled, but she wasn’t stupid. Kate. Something was wrong with Kate.

She knew the expression on Steve’s face, he was trying to work out how to deliver bad news. 

Something bad had happened to Kate.

“W-what… w… w-wrong?”  Jo asked again. “N-not s… s-stu…pid. C-can… t-tell me.”

 

Steve sighed. Jo might be weak but she was persistent. He had a feeling she wouldn’t stop asking until he told her the truth.  

“Kate, she got sick again. She’s here, in the ICU.”

 

Jo froze, a terrified gasp caught in her throat. Kate was here, in the same ward. She had to see her.

She couldn’t contain it any longer. Panic flared in her chest, rising to a level that Jo feared might crush her. She had to see Kate. She had to know what was happening with her. She had to tell her she was sorry, so sorry. For everything. With shaking arms she pushed herself into a sitting position and swung her legs over the bed, ignoring the waves of dizziness and sharp rushes of pain that surged through her body.  She scrambled clumsily to her feet, still half tangled in IV tubes and wires from the monitors. 

There was a short moment when Jo thought she would be okay, then as she tried to take a step her legs gave way and she crumbled towards the floor. 

 

Steve reacted in a fraction of a second, he rushed over to Jo and caught her just before her head collided with the floor. 

"Shit, Jo! Are you alright?"

Steve could feel Jo trembling as he carefully untangled her from the jumble of wires, tubes and bed sheets. She looked up at him with wide eyes and multiple emotions crossed her face all at once. Distress, fear, worry and anguish mixed together and Jo let out a strangled sob as she tried to wriggle away from him. He felt her take a sharp intake of breath and then various alarms started screaming. 

 

“Miss Davidson!” A shocked nurse rushed up to Jo. “What are you doing, you shouldn’t be out of bed!”

 

Bernie rushed in shortly afterwards, face lined with concern.

 

“Jo!” she gasped. “What are you doing? You’re not strong enough, you could really hurt yourself.”

 

Like that matters, Jo grumbled in her thoughts. 

Though she couldn’t help but wince as she tried to move and without the support of the oxygen mask she was struggling to catch her breath.

“S-sor-ry,” she stuttered quietly.

 

“It’s okay,” Bernie soothed as she knelt down next to Jo. “I know you want to see Kate but you’re not strong enough for that yet.”

 

“B-b… b-but,” Jo tried to protest, but Bernie stood firm.

 

“Jo, we need to get you back into bed. I know you really care about Kate, she cares about you too but you’re just not strong enough right now. Your body still needs time to rest and heal, then we can think about going to see Kate”

 

Jo nodded and reluctantly allowed herself to be helped up off the floor and positioned back on the bed. Bernie and the nurse gently untangled her from the jumble of wires and tubes before placing the oxygen mask back over her face.

Chapter Text

It was still early as Steve made his way to the ICU, he wanted to check in with Jo and see Kate before work. Though the route was now familiar, the hospital corridors still seemed to go on forever. The empty hallway mirrored how he felt and as his footsteps echoed along the scuffed floors Steve decided he hated hospitals. He hated the too bright lights and how they reflected off the white, sterile walls. He hated how the air was so heavy with disinfectant that with every breath he felt like he was choking. Everything about the place drained him and there was something in the atmosphere that made him feel uneasy. But most of all he hated the uncomfortable plastic chairs and everything they represented. He hated that he couldn't do anything for Kate but sit by her bed and talk to her, it wasn’t enough and the one-sided conversations just felt so empty. 

 

He hated that he couldn't tell Josh that his mum is going to be okay because he didn’t know if she would be.

 

He didn’t know if his best friend was going to live or die and it was slowly killing him. 

 

In his years as a copper, he had seen some of the worst of humanity. Bodies chopped up in freezers, colleagues - good people with their throats slit, vulnerable people exploited. He had lost count of the times he had been exposed to just how cruel people can be to one another. And he had dealt with it all, he’d simply taken a deep breath and locked those horrifying images away in a deep corner of his mind. 

But this time it's different. This time the destruction and horror are too close to him and he can’t escape them. His best friend is lying in intensive care, trapped somewhere between life and death, fighting a battle he's not sure she can win. Images of Kate bleeding out in the dark and dingy Lorry Park still haunt him and the fear that he may lose his best friend won’t go away. 

Moving between the office and the hospital, scarcely stopping and only occasionally making it home for a shower and a decent meal, Steve’s life seemed to consist of little else at the moment. It was hard to focus on anything else. He still couldn't work out how things had gone so wrong. 

 

Across the city, Josh was sitting in his maths lesson, though it was the last place he wanted to be. Double maths was never a good way to start the day and it was made even harder by the fact that he was utterly exhausted and no matter how hard he tried, the worry about his mum wouldn’t go away. He felt so stuck and overwhelmed by it all, drowning, desperately trying to keep his head above water, but the pain, concern and fear kept dragging him back down. Josh shrunk into himself, trying to be invisible. He kept his head on the desk while the teacher went through the answers to yesterday's homework. The homework that he hadn’t done. 

3 months into his GCSE courses and he was already falling behind, the workload was just too much. If his mind had really been present in the lesson he probably could have managed, but with everything going on in his head right now the last thing he wanted to focus on was long division. And it wasn’t just in Maths he was struggling, he knew he also owed English, Geography and Biology homework and was falling behind with his French vocab as well. 

He just couldn’t concentrate at the moment and no matter how hard he tried the worst-case scenarios kept playing through his mind. His mum getting sicker and not recovering, staying trapped somewhere between life and death. His mum waking up and not remembering who he was. His mum dying, funerals and being stuck with his dad. Just everything going wrong. 

 

A loud knock on the classroom door jolted Josh from his daydream. The teacher opened the door and Mrs Jones, the head of year 10, entered. She was dressed as always in a smart and perfectly tailored suit, heels and wearing her trademark thick-framed glasses.

“Can I have a word with Josh Fleming please?” She asked, eyes scanning across the classroom.

His Maths teacher nodded and beckoned for Josh to come to the front of the class. 

 

Josh gulped nervously and bowed his head as he cautiously made his way to the front of the class. He could sense everyone looking at him and he caught the occasional murmur of what have you done or you’re in trouble now from his classmates. Josh chewed his lip, his feelings of anxiety growing. It was never a good thing to be pulled from the middle of the lesson by the Head of Year.

 

“Hi Josh, can you come with me? I want to have a quick chat with you.”

 

It wasn’t really a  question and all Josh could do was nod slightly as Mrs Jones led him out of the classroom.

He apprehensively followed her along the empty hallway, clenching and unclenching his fists trying to squash the panic that was rising in his chest. The school corridors were always eerily quiet while lessons were going on and all that he could hear was the click-clack of the head of year's heels as they echoed along the walls and scuffed floors and merged with his racing thoughts. 

 

“Take a seat, Josh,” Mrs Jones pointed to a small table and chairs in the corner of her office. 

 

Josh sat down slowly and then proceeded to stare at his feet, his heart was racing and he could hear the blood rushing in his ears. He had an idea what Mrs Jones wanted to talk about and it wasn’t good. So much had happened in the past couple of weeks, school and homework had been the last thing on his mind and evidently, it hadn’t gone unnoticed.

 

“How are things going?” Mrs Jones asked gently as she proceeded to take a seat across the table from Josh.

 

Josh shrugged, he wasn’t really in the mood for talking, especially not with a teacher and he was feeling so panicked that he feared even if he did talk, nothing he said would make sense.

 

“Josh?” Mrs Jones asked again, a little sterner this time. 

 

“Fine, I guess,” Josh mumbled. He just wanted to get out of this office, out of the school and away from everything. He didn’t know how to get through the day, all he wanted was to get back to the Hospital to see his mum. Nothing felt right and no matter how scary it was seeing his mum hooked up to all those monitors and machines, it was the only place he felt safe.

 

“I’m not sure I believe that,” Mrs Jones stated softly. 

 

Josh looked up to meet the teacher’s concerned gaze and that was all it took, the fragile threads that had been holding him together broke. His defences crumbled and he couldn’t hold it all in any longer. His eyes started watering and he had to fight against the tears. 

 

Mrs Jones offered him a reassuring smile. “I know you’re a good kid Josh but in the past couple of weeks your attendance has been noticeably going down, you’ve missed quite a few lessons and you’ve had several lates and unauthorised absences.” 

 

Josh bit his lip and gazed anxiously around the room while Mrs Jones continued.

 

“Also several teachers have noticed how you’ve started falling behind on your classwork and you’ve missed several homework hand-ins.”

 

“Umm…” Josh picked at the fabric of the chair trying to think of anything other than his mum. 

 

“Josh, this isn’t a telling off,” Mrs Jones insisted gently. “This is more of an informal chat to see if there is anything we as a school can do to support you. I know most of the pupils see me as this cold and scary figure, just here to shout or tell them off, but I promise you, I do care. If there is anything I can help you with or anything you think the school might need to be made aware of, please let me know.” 

 

Josh looked up at Miss Jones still trying really hard not to cry.  He didn’t know how he was supposed to start explaining everything. There was something about the teacher’s calm and gentle tone that made him feel at ease. Whatever the other students said about her being cold and scary, she genuinely seemed to care. 

“Erm..” he stuttered quietly. “It’s me mum…” Josh trailed off. Saying everything out loud made it all seem so much more real.

 

“What about your mum?” Mrs Jones asked earnestly.  “From looking at your file there’s only your dad’s details on there.”

 

Anger flashed and Josh clenched his fists in frustration. “Course there is,” he scoffed.

 

“What do you mean by that?”

 

Josh shrugged. He didn’t know how to start explaining things about his dad, things were bad enough without the added complications of whatever had gone on between his parents. 

“Just, me dad, he’s being such a prick about it all, it’s just making everything worse.” 

 

“What’s getting worse Josh?”

 

“Just, the whole situation…with mum…with what happened.”

 

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

 

Josh chewed his lip for a moment, but then gave a slight nod, he couldn’t keep it all in any longer, and there was something about Mrs Jones’ calm tone that helped him feel at ease. He took

 

“Me mum, ermm… she got hurt, she’s… she’s in Hospital.” 

 

Miss Jones offered him a comforting smile, “I’m sorry to hear that Josh.”

 

“She’s really sick and they don’t know if she is going to get better.”

 

“Do you have anyone to talk to?” Mrs Jones asked. “What about at home?”

 

“Not at home. Dad hates that I’m going to see mum but I won’t let him stop me.”

 

“Is that why you’ve been going during school time?” Mrs Jones asked, her tone was one of concern rather than anger. 

 

“I guess.” Josh replied quietly. “It’s just that I’m really scared I’m going to lose her. I got it all wrong, I thought she didn’t care about me but she does, it was just dad that wouldn’t let her see me. I only found out she was in hospital because I saw a message on his phone. And now she might die and I’ll never get a chance to fix things!”

 

“I’m sure your mum knows you care about her. And I’m also sure she’s in the best place possible right now and the Doctors will do all they can to help her get better.”

 

“But what if she doesn’t!” Josh cried.

He was really starting to panick, all the emotions he’d been trying to keep in spilling over. In starting to talk, he’d opened the gates and now he couldn’t stop. 

“She just lies there looking so weak and broken. She can’t breathe on her own and there are so many machines and wires and tubes and it hurts so much every time I see her like that. The Doctors and Nurses keep saying that they’re all there to help her and I get that but all I can think about is what if these are my last memories of her. What if all I get to remember is machines and hospitals. I can’t stand it. I don’t know what to do anymore!”

 

Mrs Jones stood up, walked round the table and knelt down next to Josh.

“It might not feel like it right now, but you will remember. There are happy times with your mum and you will be able to remember those,” Mrs Jones said softly. 

 

“I’m just so scared she’s going to die and I can’t do anything about it.”

 

“I know it’s hard to think of it like this, but remember it’s still only a possibility that she might die, you can’t know for certain. Even if the worst does happen then yes, it will be horrible, and when you lose someone you love it feels like your world falls apart and nothing will ever be okay again, but I promise you Josh, it will be. You’ll probably be hurting for a long time but the school will be here to support you. The hurt won’t go away but it will get easier to live with, and you’ll never forget her. Part of her lives on in you, so no matter what happens, you remember that.”

Mrs Jones spoke softly, her tone caring and empathetic. There was an open sincerity in her words, as if she spoke with a shared experience and understanding.  

 

As the room quietened, Josh realised he was sobbing. Like the proper ugly crying, eyes red and puffy and tears streaming like rivers down his cheeks. 

 

“She’s so sick and I’ve never seen her like that before. She’s in a coma and needs all these machines to stay alive and I go and I talk to her but she can’t reply. I don’t even know if she can really hear me.” 

Josh squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to stop the tears from falling. 

 

Mrs Jones reached over to her desk and passed Josh a box of tissues. 

“And that must be so scary for you, but all the Doctors and nurses at the Hospital know what they are doing and they are doing all they can to look after her and make sure she gets better. People wake up from comas all the time, don’t lose hope Josh, that’s important."

 

Josh took a shaking breath. 

 

“I just can’t see any right now though.”

 

“I know,” Mrs Jones sighed, “but you can’t spend all your time thinking about the worst, I don’t really know your mum but I don’t think she would want that. And thinking like that isn’t going to help you either. I know it might feel really hard or might be the last thing on your mind, but you can’t be there for your mum if you don’t look after yourself.

 

“I suppose,” Josh sniffed.

 

“I’m serious Josh.”

 

“Kay,” Josh mumbled. “It’s just that I can’t stop worrying and no matter how hard I try to think about other things it's always there.”

 

“The fact that you are worrying so much just shows that you care.” 

 

“But caring is not enough. Caring ain’t gonna make mum better.”

 

“I know Josh, but it's not your job to make your mum better, that’s for all the Doctors, Nurses and other experts at the Hospital. 

Keep caring, keep going to visit your mum, and keep talking to her if that helps. It might not feel like much, but you’re doing a lot. Not all kids your age would spend their time after school in the hospital.”

 

“I just don’t know what to do, nothing feels enough.”

 

“How about we make a deal?” Mrs Jones suggested. “I’ll speak with your teachers, I’ll only tell them as much as you want me to, but I’ll ask them to go easy on the homework for the rest of this term and over the holidays, that should give you more time to go and see your mum. But in return you are going to come in on time, go to all of your lessons and complete the work set as best you can.”

 

“Yeah, okay” Josh agreed quietly. “That sounds alright.”

 

“Good. And how about I check in with you every few days. It doesn’t have to be for very long but I want you to know that you don’t have to deal with this alone. I’m here to talk if you need it. Anytime.”

 

“Thanks, Miss.” 

 

“You’re welcome, Josh,” Mrs Jones smiled.

 

The bell had just rung by the time Josh got back to the classroom. He slipped past the stream of students to collect his rucksack and within seconds he was heading back out the door again, thankful that he had a break before his next lesson. 

 

A few hours later as Josh was walking to the Hospital the conversation with Mrs Jones was playing on his mind. She kind of looked like his mum, if his mum had been the kind of person to wear smart suits and heels, though somehow he couldn’t imagine Mrs Jones chanting at the Footie on a weekend. He decided that it was good to have someone to talk to, someone from outside of everything. Steve was great and he could understand how worried Josh was but they were both so scared of losing Kate and that wasn’t always helpful. 

 

The ICU always felt eerily quiet compared to the bustle of the rest of the hospital. There wasn’t any Christmas music playing, it remained a silent, sterile bubble, so far apart from the festive cheer of the outside world and if he was honest Josh preferred that. 

 

He was just so tired of it all. 

 

He and Steve seemed to have fallen into a routine. He’d come after school and sit with his mum until Steve finished work. Then they’d both sit with her for a while, sometimes chatting about the footie or the latest series - it turned out that Steve was also a massive Game of Thrones Fan. Sometimes they just sat quietly, hoping Kate knew they were there.

Chapter Text

“Okay Jo,” Jay, the nurse who had been looking after her, began. “We’re going to get you sitting up and then we can try and transfer across to the chair. Is that okay”

 

Jo nodded, she didn’t care that she was still feeling weak and dizzy. Or that she had a splitting headache. All she wanted was to go and see Kate.

 

“Aside from your attempt to get up yesterday, you’ve been lying down for quite a while, so we’re going to go really slow, is that okay.” Jay gave Jo a reassuring smile. “We don't want a repeat of you ending up on the floor, or for you to hurt yourself in any way.”

 

 “O… o-okay.” Jo stuttered. She was still really struggling with her speech, she knew what she wanted to say, but she just couldn’t get the words out clearly. It was as if the muscles she used to speak had forgotten how to work.

 

“I’m going to raise the bed so you’re sitting upright, then we’re going to stay like that for a little bit to give your blood pressure a chance to stabilise. If you feel okay with that we can then and get you positioned for a transfer,” Jay explained carefully. 

 

Jo felt weak and wobbly and wasn’t overly confident in her ability to get any words out so she just nodded. All she could think of was seeing Kate, no matter how difficult she was finding things, she needed to see Kate. 

 

“How does that feel?” Jay asked once Jo was sitting up. 

 

Jo screwed her eyes shut as a wave of dizziness crashed over her.

 

“Do you want me to lower you back down,” Jay asked, slightly concerned.

 

“N… n-no,” Jo shook her head. That was a mistake. The world continued to spin and Jo thought she might be sick. 

 

“Jo, can you open your eyes for me?” The concern in Jay’s voice increased. The young nurse had noticed how their already frail patient had paled further and was trembling slightly.

 

Jo cracked her eyes open and immediately regretted it. The bright light burnt at her eyes and it felt as if her head was being split in half. 

“H… h-head… a… a-ache… F… f-feel s… ssi… ck…”

 

Jay reacted in an instant, holding out a kidney dish and Jo retched and heaved violently. 

 

“It’s okay, Jo, it’s okay,” Jay reassured. 

 

But Jo didn’t feel okay. Tears streamed down her face as the bile burnt at her throat. She wasn’t even able to sit up, how useless was that. She felt so weak and stupid. 

 

“You need to give yourself time,” Jay soothed. “You’ve done well to get sitting up, your body has been through a lot and you need time to rest and heal, but you’ve fought so hard to be here and to be awake, that's not weak or useless at all.”  

 

Jo pushed the kidney dish away with a weak grumble. Am I supposed to be happy about sitting up? And I can barely even do that. I’m useless. Broken.   

 

“I know it must be so hard to accept, but recovery from an injury like yours is going to take time. I’ve only known you for a few weeks, but you’ve clearly shown you are a fighter. You’ve come through injuries many others wouldn’t survive. And just because something feels broken, doesn’t mean it will stay like that forever.” Jay offered Jo a reassuring smile. 

 

Jo sniffed as further tears spilled down her face. It was as if the young nurse could read her thoughts. She just couldn’t believe that people would care for her in such a way, Kate, Steve and now the Doctors and Nurses in the hospital. They all cared for her, all wanted to do their best to help her and Jo just didn’t know how to accept it. 

“I…” Jo stopped. Her head really hurt and she felt really weird. “F… f-feel…”

Suddenly her eyes rolled back in her head as her body went rigid before beginning to jerk violently. 

 

Jay sprung into action, lowering the bed and pressing the emergency call button. 

“It’s okay, Jo, I’m getting help for you now.”

 

Jo continued to seize, and Jay grew increasingly concerned for their patient. 

 

Bernie rushed into Jo’s bay and Jay quickly explained what happened.

“I trialled her with sitting up, her blood pressure stayed stable but she was sick and then started fitting. Now her BP is high at 142/96, and pulse rapid at 112.” 

 

Bernie took charge, checking Jo’s vital signs again and giving Jay orders to draw up medication.

 

“It’s okay Jo, we’re going to look after you.” Jay continued to gently reassure their patient until finally Jo stilled, her body becoming limp and breathing noisy. 

Her eyes fluttered and she murmured quietly as she moved into the post-ictal state of the seizure.

 

“Jo, can you open your eyes?” Bernie asked gently.

 

“K… K-Ka… K-Kate?” Jo mumbled, still only half conscious. She opened her eyes slowly but her gaze remained unfocused and confused. 

“K… K-Ka… n…n-no. Wh… wh-where? W… w-what?” Jo stumbled over her words, evidently still drowsy and disoriented.

 

“Hi Jo, it’s Jay here. I’m one of the nurses that have been looking after you.” Jay spoke softly, trying to comfort their patient. “The Doctor, Bernie, is here too. You had a seizure and are still in intensive care at City Central Hospital.”

 

“S… s-sor s… s-sorry…” Jo murmured. “R… r-re… r… r-remem… ber n-n-ow…”

 

Jay smiled warmly at Jo. “There’s no need to apologise, it's normal to feel quite confused and out of place after a seizure.” 

 

“How are you feeling now?” Bernie asked. A glance at the monitors told her that Jo’s vital signs were beginning to stabilise.

 

“T…t-tired.” Jo replied quietly.

 

“That’s okay, you can sleep if you need to.”

 

Jo’s brow furrowed for a moment as she tried to order the thoughts in her head. She had been doing something before she’d felt all weird. 

Kate. 

Amongst the confusion, her mind kept coming back to Kate.

“S… s-sit u… u-up?” She asked, still uncertain. “G… g-go s… s-see K… K-Kate?”

 

“Yes, that’s what we were doing before you started to feel unwell,” Jay confirmed with a gentle smile. They knew Jo needed a lot of reassurance right now. 

 

“K… K-kate?” Jo asked again, more insistent this time. 

 

“Oh Jo,” Jay sighed quietly. “You’ll get to see Kate soon, we just need to make sure you are well enough to do so first.

 

Jay’s heart ached at their patient's desperation to see her friend, though they had a feeling that Kate might be more than that. It was clear that Kate meant a lot to Jo, but she was just about stable at the moment and nowhere near well enough to manage a visit. 

They thought back to when Jo had first been brought into intensive care, following emergency surgery to treat a subdural haematoma and a punctured lung. She’d also had a tear in her liver that needed close monitoring, several broken ribs and extensive bruising and blood loss. Her injuries were so severe, there had been little hope for even surviving at that point and even if she did, there had been talk of significant brain damage and lifelong disability. But despite all the odds, Jo’s condition had stabilised and continued to improve until she was able to be weaned off life support and now her chances of near, or even complete recovery were looking good. 

Jo had come through so much and although Jay didn’t like to use the word, they thought it was nothing short of a miracle that Jo had survived. She was clearly a fighter and Jay was determined to help her in any way they could. 

 

Once Jo had finally given in to her body’s plea for sleep, Bernie and Jay gave her some time to rest, seizures often left patients exhausted and given her already weakened state Jo most certainly needed time to recover.   

 

“Seizures can be pretty common with brain injuries but we are going to have to watch her more carefully.” Bernie suggested. “I’m going to order an MRI and an EEG, but I think we could be looking at TBI related epilepsy."

 

“I’ll book those in right away,” Jay replied. “But I’m also worried about Jo’s mental state.” Jay thought back to how forlorn and distant Jo had seemed as they had tried her with sitting up. 

 

“I think we have two patients that care about each other a lot, and that desire to be there for and with each other could be both a hindrance and a help to their recoveries,” Bernie stated.

 

“Yeah,” Jay agreed. “I watched Jo visibly pale and she still insisted on staying sat up. I think she was hoping she’d be able to see Kate.”

 

“She’s already tried to get out of bed once, and gave us all quite the shock when she did that!” Bernie added. 

“Though given that it was only a few hours after waking up I don’t see how she managed that, but it does show just how determined Jo is. We’re going to have to keep a careful eye on Miss Davison from now on. I think seeing Kate is going to be really beneficial for her mental health, but we need to make sure she is physically ready for that first.”

 

“Got it,” Jay replied. “And if I can do anything else to help, just let me know. Jo and Kate, they’re both good people and I want to do all I can to help them get better.”

 

“So do I,” Bernie agreed. “It’s the cases like these, well, they are still why I do this job.” 

 

Chapter Text

It was Josh’s final day at school before the Christmas holidays. He sat in a corner of the canteen only half listening to the chatter of his friends as they compared present wish lists and the Christmas jumpers they were wearing. Dan definitely won on novelty value, his jumper lit up and played an awful variation of Frosty the Snowman. His lessons this morning had consisted of playing games and watching films but couldn’t really get into the Christmas spirit. It just felt wrong. For Josh, smiles and laughter were a long forgotten concept.

At least the end of term meant that it was a half day and he was able to go home at lunchtime. Well, not home but at least he would be done with school. He sighed wearily, just one more lesson to get through.

 

Josh followed the rest of his friends towards the classroom as Mrs Jones approached him. She too had joined the other staff in dressing down for the non-uniform day and her usual smart suit had been replaced by a gaudy Christmas jumper and jeans. It didn’t quite match up to Dan’s but with multi-coloured pompoms and tassels covering a glittery Christmas Tree it came close. 

“Hi Josh, how are you doing?” She asked gently. 

 

Josh shrugged.

 

“No Christmas jumper,” Mrs Jones stated, noticing Josh’s Forest hoodie. 

 

“Wasn’t really feeling it,” Josh mumbled looking down at the floor. Even in casual clothes, Mrs Jones’ gaze was still intense. He had stood out all morning, wearing a football hoodie while the rest of his peers all wore Christmas Jumpers in varying ugliness. He didn’t care though, his mum had bought him this hoodie for his last birthday and wearing it helped him to feel closer to her somehow.

 

“That’s okay,” Mrs Jones reassured, “I know you have other things on your mind at the moment.” 

 

“I wish I didn’t,” Josh grumbled quietly.

 

“I know, Josh, but you can’t change what has happened, no matter how much you want to.”

 

“Yeah, I know that, but it still all feels so hard.”

 

“Remember what I said the other day, you feeling like this, it shows how much you care and that means something.”

 

“Doesn’t make it any easier though,” Josh sighed.

 

“I don’t think a situation like this is ever going to be easy,” Mrs Jones offered a kind smile. “But you are handling it as well as you can. I’ve noticed your attendance has been better in the last couple of days, you’ve been in all your lessons and haven’t had any lates. That’s good Josh.”

 

Josh shrugged. “Just trying to do as you asked.

 

“And I respect that Josh, I really do. I imagine school is the last place you want to be right now, so you trying is important.” 

 

“How are you doing with it all?” Mrs Jones asked again. “Really.”

 

“As okay as I can be,” Josh replied quietly. He wasn’t really okay, how could he be? But at least he didn’t have to think about school for the next two weeks. 

“Glad I’m going to have a break from school stuff I guess.”

 

“Do you have any plans?”

 

“Just going to see mum. I dunno what else.”

 

“And how are you finding it, going to see your mum? Remember you need to take some time for yourself too. As I said before, you can’t be there for your mum if you aren’t looking after yourself.”

 

Josh shrugged again, he didn’t know how to begin to explain how hard it was and all the confusion and frustration he felt every time he visited the hospital.

“Like, I wanna go see her but I hate just having to sit there, not being able to do anything. I wanna do more, but I don’t know if there is anything else I can do.”

 

“What kind of things would you normally do with your mum, if she wasn’t ill?”

 

“The footie is kinda our thing I guess. We both have Seasons tickets for Forset.” Josh’s heart ached as he thought of the last time he’d been to a game with his mum.  An early Saturday kick-off that ended with a 2-0 win over Wycombe. He’d been meeting with his mates in the evening so had said a hasty goodbye. Now he wished he had done things differently. 

 

Mrs Jones smiled. “Ahh that sounds good. Is there any way you could bring the footie to your mum? It might help you both to do something familiar.” 

 

“Umm…” 

 

“What about the radio commentary?” Mrs Jones suggested. “That way you could listen to the next game together.”

 

Josh paused for a moment, it actually wasn’t a bad idea and anything was better than the empty silences. “Yeah, I could do that. Thanks Miss!”

 

Ms Jones smiled again, “you’re welcome Josh. Now you better get to your lesson, don’t want to end the term with a late mark after you’ve done so well the past few days.”

 

Josh smiled slightly in return. “Thanks again Miss, and I hope you have a good Christmas.”

 

 

Just over an hour later, Josh jumped out of his seat as soon as the final bell rang. He hastily shoved his books into his rucksack and was walking out of the school gates within minutes. Around him came the excited chatter of the other pupils, all looking forward to two weeks off school and celebrating the festive season with their friends and families. Josh just felt hollow. He wasn’t in the mood for celebrating at all. How could he? His mum was critically ill, and could still die. That possibility hadn’t escaped him, in fact, it was all he could think about. He was on edge all the time, just waiting for the worst to happen.

At home he was constantly arguing with his dad. He'd reached the point where he found it hard to be in the same room as him, with his constant comments and cruel remarks. It was wearing him down.

There was a weariness to Josh Fleming, he was carrying a weight that no 14 year old should have to bear.

In truth, he was exhausted. He’d barely slept in the past couple of weeks and even when he did manage to get some sleep he’d been plagued by nightmares.

Everything felt so overwhelmingly raw, almost too real. It felt like his brain was playing catch-up. Still trying to process everything that had happened. Almost two weeks ago, his world had just stopped and now he was stuck in some kind of limbo, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. And on top of that he’d still had to function at school and home, trying to pretend that everything was normal. He was glad to have two weeks off, just as a chance to make sense of it all, though he wasn’t sure he would ever be able to.

 

Coloured lights flickered and sparkled as he made his way through the city centre. He hated having to walk past all the Christmas lights and decorations, it was all so overbearingly cheerful. Josh had never noticed before just how garish it all seemed, how in your face it all was. The Hospital was decorated too, a large glittering tree stood in the reception area, it wasn’t a real one but it wasn’t one of the cheap fake ones either, if he had been in the mood to appreciate it he easily could have. 

Josh wandered the now familiar route up to the intensive care ward, an eclectic mix of tinsel and paper decorations lined the hospital corridors. 

Stepping into the stark and clinical cleanliness might as well have been stepping into a different world.  The patients here were too sick, and so extremely vulnerable that anything from the outside world could potentially be deadly to them. And his mum was one of those patients.

He took his usual place in that uncomfortable chair. 

“Hi mum,” Josh greeted quietly as he entered Kate’s bay. He glanced up at the monitors, he still couldn’t really understand what the readings meant but he knew enough to know they were steady. Every day he hoped to see a change, an improvement – any sign that his mum was coming back to him. But nothing happened.

“Today is Friday, 18 th December. School broke up for Christmas today so I’ve now got two weeks off. I might come and see you more often, if that’s alright.”

His mum didn’t answer.

“Dad thinks I shouldn’t be spending so much time here. Well, he says I shouldn’t be coming to see you at all. But I can’t not. You’re me mum and I care. Anyways, anything is better than being at home with him. He’s still saying such horrible things and it makes me so angry and I just want to be away from all that.”

“I talked to Mrs Jones the other day, and again today. She's been quite nice actually. Like, everyone at school is dead scared of her because she seems so strict, and like, when she shouts the whole school can hear. Dan said she made the walls shake once when she shouted but I think he were exaggerating. Other than Steve, she’s the only person I’ve really talked to. Me mates don’t really get it, how could they? I thought I were gonna get proper told off but she were just nice, said I can always talk to her if I need to. I think she actually cares. She said she were gonna talk to my teachers, because it's been really hard to concentrate in school and I’m trying, I’m really trying but it all seems so pointless when you’re just lying here and I can’t stop being scared that somethings gonna happen to you.”

Josh stopped and took a shaky breath. Crying, yet again. He needed to try and stay positive, his mum didn’t need to hear how scared he was and that wasn’t being strong but it was just hard. Really hard. The horrible crushing feeling returned and clutched at his chest and he felt like he couldn't breathe. 

“I… I’ll be back in a moment, mum,” he stuttered through half sobs.

 

Josh turned to leave the bay, he just needed a break. In his panicked state, he didn’t see the Doctor and crashed straight into her. 

 

“Josh?” 

 

“S… s… sorry,” Josh mumbled an apology trying to hold back the tears.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

All Josh could do was shake his head. Of course he wasn't alright.

 

“Why don’t you come and have a seat?”

Bernie guided Josh to a quiet space at the end of the ward.

“Can I get you anything?”

 

Josh shrugged and looked down at the floor. Tears once again streaming down his cheeks.

 

Bernie sat down next to Josh and held out a box of tissues.

 

Josh blinked heavily and tried to brush away the tears. “Why is this so hard?”

 

“I wish I had an answer for that.”

 

“I just keep getting so upset. All I do is cry and that’s no good for mum but I just can’t stop.”

 

“It’s a perfectly natural reaction to what you’re experiencing,” Bernie reassured Josh quietly. “You’re doing really well Josh, just you coming to see your mum and talking to her helps more than you may realise. I know you’ve already heard this, I think Jay had a chat with you the other day.”

 

Josh nodded, “the nurse explained what all the machines were doing. Like in a way that I could understand. It made it a bit less scary, I think”

 

“That's good,” Bernie replied.

 

“But, it's still hard to sit here and talk.”

 

“I know it feels hard, but it’s not just about talking to her, even in coming to see your mum you are helping her.” Bernie offered Josh a kind smile. “Even if she can’t hear you, she will recognise your voice and in a way will know you are here. That’s going to be a big comfort for her. There are many kids your age that might find coming to the ICU too hard or scary.”

 

“Like, it is scary,” Josh added quietly, “but she’s me mum. I can’t not come and see her”

 

"It’s nice that you think like that Josh. Your mum is lucky to have you."

 

"Thanks," Josh shrugged. He is still finding things difficult and he still felt guilty about how he had gotten things so wrong. how he'd listened to his dad and thought that his mum didn't care. How awful he had been to her in recent months. Always distant and barely even replying to her messages. 

 

“And anytime you want a chat Josh, just let us know. We’re here to support you too.”

 

“Cheers,” Josh replied quietly. The crushing feeling in his chest had faded slightly. “I’m gonna go back to mum now if that’s okay.

 

“Course it is,” Bernie smiled. "And remember, you just being here when your mum, maybe needs you the most, that's more than enough.”

Chapter Text

It had been three days since Jo had woken up and she was still struggling with everything. Even the simplest tasks felt ridiculously difficult. She felt weak and shaky, and her head constantly hurt. Tired and confused, she kept losing track of what day it was. Jo looked at the calendar on the table by her bed. Everything seemed to merge into one in the ICU and there was no clear distinction between the days. She blinked hard a few times, trying to make the letters come into focus. Friday. Today was Friday. Friday the 18th December. It was a week until Christmas day, not that she really cared. Being stuck in hospital wouldn’t even be the worst Christmas she had had. 

 

She tried to wriggle into a more comfortable position, but the world lurched and spun and her body protested at even the slightest movement. Jo groaned quietly, had been lying down for so long, and her blood pressure was so unstable that even sitting up for too long made her feel dizzy. 

With everything else stripped away, Jo was scared. She could hear and sense everything that was going on around her, the sounds felt too sharp and the lights too bright. She was constantly fighting back against the panic that gripped at her chest. All she wanted to do was get up and run away from everything but she wasn’t even capable of that. Everyone kept going on about her progress and how well she was doing but all she felt was useless. 

 

She’d had another seizure that morning, again it had come on almost without warning. It was terrifying and confusing to lose control of your body in such a way.  

She couldn’t communicate properly. All her words came out in a stuttered jumble and no matter how many times she was reassured that it was normal, or to be expected, it didn’t help her feel any better. 

 

The hardest part was all the time alone. The time alone with her confused and ever darkening thoughts. 

Her memories still felt so jumbled, she couldn’t put the events into place properly and she only ever caught flashes. T he Lorry park. The crack of the guns. Kate lying on the floor. Desperate confessions of love. 

Fragments and the faintest whispers, that was all she had. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t properly remember.

But even with her memories muddled, every time she closed her eyes, all she saw was Kate bleeding out on the damp concrete of the lorry park. Blood mixing with rainwater, pooling together in the dingy half-light. It felt as if she was trapped in a living nightmare. 

 

And his voice was beginning to haunt her thoughts again. Pulling her back into the darkness. 

 

The only thing she could remember was how she felt about Kate. How the few touches they shared had been electric. How Kate had been a shining light of hope in her otherwise bleak and broken life. And now Kate could die because of her. 

 

But knowing Kate was nearby helped, even if she wasn't able to see her yet. It was her one comfort in the chaos and confusion. Yet in thinking of Kate, she was reminded of how she failed. How she had hurt her.

 

It’s all your fault, Joanne.

Always there. Taunting her.

Kate’s going to die and it’s all your fault.

 

“I…” Jo stuttered, desperately trying to drown out the voice. He was only in her head but that didn’t make it feel any less real. “I tried to help her. I didn’t want any of this to happen,” she thought. She scrubbed at her eyes, trying to wipe away the tears, but they kept falling. He was right. She was the reason that Kate was still fighting for her life. If she hadn’t lured her to the Lorry Park, if she hadn’t been the reason Kate had gotten shot…

Jo wasn’t the one to have pulled the trigger, but she might as well have been. 

Kate was the one good thing in her life and she’d betrayed her. She’d brought her into danger and was the reason she had gotten hurt. She wished the bullet had found her instead. Then it would have been all over and everyone would have been better off. Jo only brought the bad things. She was broken, useless and poisoned everything she touched. She didn’t deserve to be alive. She wished she wasn’t. The van crash should have killed her. Why hadn’t it killed her? If she had just died there and then it could all have stopped. The torment, the anguish. The pain. He was sneering at her again. The voice she would never be rid of. Not now that she knew… She knew who he really was to her. What he had done. It just got worse. And there would never be an escape. She’d fallen so far and was trapped so deep in the darkness.

 

She wanted to give up. It if hadn’t been for Kate she might have already. The chance of seeing Kate was the only thing keeping her going. Even if all she could do was tell her how sorry she was. 

 

She’d been promised escape, freedom. The chance to be whoever she wanted. Only she didn’t know who that was. 

 

And the darkness she had been running from her whole life, it still lingered. It lay patiently in wait, crawled slowly into every part of her mind. Lying awake in the early hours of the morning, Jo realised there was no escape, not really. Steve had assured her that the OCG had been systematically dismantled, there were no more voices on burner phones or anonymous messages on her laptop dictating her every move. She wasn’t a puppet, strings being pulled by dark forces intent on destruction. But in many ways she still was. Only this time, the darkness in her own mind was the puppet master and she was being controlled from within. Maybe on the outside she was free, but her thoughts, hopes and dreams were tainted. And the whispers, the whispers that she had been able to drown out as she fought for survival and rebelled against the control and coercion, the whispers, well now they roared. 

 

Another voice whispered through her thoughts. A different voice. More familiar. Softer, kinder. 

Kate.

“I love you, Jo.”

She sounded so far away.

She was sure she had heard it. Heard Kate saying those words, but perhaps it was just her injured brain playing cruel tricks. It wouldn’t be the first time that her own mind had turned against her.



“How are you doing, Miss Davidson?” The friendly face of a nurse appeared in her bay. 

“I’m just going to check your obs.”

 

“J… J… J-Jo. C… c-c… c-call, m… m-me J… J-Jo.” 

Jo grunted in frustration, she couldn’t even manage the simplest of phrases without stuttering over every word.

 

“Take your time Jo. It’s okay.” The nurse smiled at her. 

 

Jo half smiled back but it was quickly replaced with confusion. They looked familiar but Jo couldn’t remember their name. She was sure she’d been told it multiple times but the information wouldn’t stay in her brain.

Words were feeling difficult so Jo pointed towards the name tag, but the text was too small for her to read. 

 

“Ahh, sorry. I’m Jay. I’ve been looking after you since you’ve been here.”

 

“K… k-keep f… for… f-forget… t-ting.” 

 

Jay just smiled. “Don’t worry, you’ve got more important things to concentrate on than remembering my name.” 

 

Jo grumbled again. She felt so broken and useless, unable to even remember the name of the nurse who had been looking after her. Everything felt foggy and her head hurt. She reached up and tried to massage her temples, but her movements remained sluggish and uncoordinated. 

 

“Is everything okay Jo?”

 

“H… h-head… a… a-ache.” 

 

“Would you like me to dim the lights in here?” 

 

Jo nodded. “P… p-please.”

 

“Any better?” Jay asked quietly.

 

“Mmh,” Jo nodded slightly. Without the harsh lighting, the thumping faded to more of a dull ache.

 

“Can I sit for a moment?” Jay motioned to the chair by Jo’s bed. Though Jo was struggling to communicate, they could sense their patient’s pain. Physically Jo was doing remarkably well, even if she refused to acknowledge it. But beneath her obvious difficulties lay a deeper pain. They had noticed the scars that marred her arms and the torment that flashed across her dark eyes when she thought no one was watching. Both signs that Jo had been fighting inner demons for quite some time.

They wanted to help Jo, they just weren’t sure if she was ready to accept it yet.

 

Jo looked cautiously at Jay for a moment before nodding.

 

“Thanks,” Jay smiled.

They turned slightly towards Jo, making sure she could see them clearly but still respecting her personal space.

“I know things feel really difficult right now, but I just want to let you know that it’s okay to be struggling or to be feeling overwhelmed. Just to reassure you that everyone here wants to help you. I can't even begin to imagine all the things you have been through.”

 

Jo opened her mouth as if to reply but quickly fell silent when she realised even if she did know what to say she wouldn’t be able to get the words out.. 

 

Jay continued.“I can see you are scared and worried and still feeling overwhelmed and confused with a lot of things. That’s okay, being in hospital can be scary and disorientating. And recovery can be a slow and frustrating process but I’m confident you’ll get there. It’s my job to help you Jo and if there is anything you need, if you ever want someone to sit and chat to, or just someone to sit with then that’s what I’m here for. Or if you need things explaining, then please just ask. We all want to help you Jo, even if you find it hard to believe that.” 

 

Th… th-tha… n… n-nks,” Jo let her head fall back against the pillows and closed her eyes. She could feel the tears welling up but she didn’t know why she was crying, her emotions were just another thing that remained jumbled and confused. Jay was right, of course they were. She was terrified and overwhelmed and she didn’t know how to deal with everything that had happened to her in recent weeks. 

 

“You’re stronger than you believe Jo. And it might not seem like it at the moment but things will get better. Just give it time. Even the deepest scars fade over time.” Jay offered Jo a smile that was deep and heartfelt. 

“I’ll be back soon for your next obs check, but if you need me before then, just press the call button.” 



A few hours later Jay managed to catch Steve as he was coming into the ward.

 

“Steve, have you got a moment?”

They knew he wanted to get to Kate and maybe later Jo, but they needed someone to share their concerns with. Aside from Kate, Steve had been Jo’s only visitor. He was the only person outside of her medical team that seemed to care.

 

“I know you’ve got a lot going on at the moment, but we’re worried about Jo.  She doesn’t show it but I think she is really struggling and she doesn’t seem to have anyone else.”

 

“I am too,” Steve agreed quietly. “I was concerned about her before she ended up here. Some of the things she’s been through…” He trailed off unsure of how much to share.

He was glad that both Kate and Jo had Jay looking after them. They were clearly very good at their job and he could tell they cared deeply about their patients.

 

“I think she blames herself, for everything that happened. For what happened with Kate. I want to help her but w hat can I do though, really?”

 

“Just be there. I know you’ve heard it so many times recently and it must be hard to see how it can help but it really does. Jo needs people she can trust. She’s scared and confused and she needs reassurance that she isn’t alone and that there are people here to help her. She needs to know that she is safe.” 

 

“I hope I can be one of them. Hopefully Kate will too, if… when she wakes up.”

 

“They care a lot about each other don’t they?” 

 

“Yeah, they really do.” Steve replied. 

 

“I thought so. Seeing Kate seems to be the only thing Jo is certain of. It’s a good motivation for her but I’m worried she’s pushing herself too hard, too soon.”

 

“God this is complicated.” Steve sighed. Complicated didn’t even begin to cover it really.

“Kate is me best mate and I let things get between us. It was petty and stupid and I’m proper kicking myself for it now. And Jo, I got her so wrong. I realised too late that Kate had been right about her all along, that she wasn’t the person everyone made her out to be. She’s so vulnerable and I promised to protect but I failed there too. I wish I could go back and do it all differently”

 

Jay offered Steve a comforting smile. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but not always the most helpful. Just concentrate on what you can do, here and now.”

 

“Yeah”.

 

“You’re doing more than most would. Visiting when you can, spending time, talking. Just being here, believe me, it all helps.” 

 

“Thanks,” Steve smiled wearily. 

 

Visiting, talking. Sometimes just sitting. It didn’t feel like enough but it would have to do. 

Chapter Text

It was Saturday morning and Josh sat quietly just watching his mum, he watched as her chest rose and fell. The gentle whirs and hums of the machines keeping her alive blurred into the background, he could never get used to the sound but he’d spent so much time in the hospital now he hardly noticed it anymore. 

It had now been over a week since his mum had been rushed back into ICU, a week of sleepless nights, worry and arguments with his dad. His one solace was that things had gotten slightly easier at school since he’d spoken with Mrs Jones, he still found it hard to concentrate but just having someone who knew what was going on helped. 

 

School had just broken up for Christmas but he had no interest in presents or celebrating at all really. All he wanted was for his mum to be okay. He felt as if his world had come crashing down around him in recent weeks. Okay, maybe he hadn’t been that close to him in recent years, she was so busy with work and ever since his dad had kicked her out there had been periods where they’d fallen out of contact. But after everything, Josh now knew that it wasn’t all his mum’s fault. She had never given up trying, or caring about him. And he couldn’t help but feel so guilty. He should have tried harder too, made more of an effort to stay in touch, and replied to all the messages she sent, just, he should have done more.

If… if the worst was to happen without him having the chance to properly make up for the missed years he wasn’t sure he would be able to forgive himself, and regardless of what happened he’d never forgive his dad. He had said such horrible things over the past few weeks and Josh was sure he meant every word. He couldn’t move past that, how someone could be so hateful, and use such hurtful words. 

 

“Hi mum.” Josh began quietly. “I know I’ve not spoken to you in a while but I’ve not really known what to say.”

He sighed quietly and screwed his eyes shut for a moment to stop the tears. This was really hard. All he did was go to school then come to the hospital and sit with his mum for as long as he could. Often opting to walk home instead of getting the bus, anything to avoid spending time at home. 

“I’ve been coming every day though. You’ve been here for just over a week now. And before you ask, I've not been coming until after school. I’ve not been skipping out on lessons or anything and I’ve been trying my best to keep on top of all the homework too but it’s hard y’know. There’s too much else going on."

"It’s the Christmas holidays now so I guess I can come to visit more often. Forest are kicking off soon and I thought maybe I can get the game up on the radio and we can listen together, I checked with the Doctor and she reckoned it might be a good idea. She said it could be good to keep doing things that are familiar, talking about and listening to what you know. If you can hear us, that is… I know it’s not quite the same as going to the match but at least it’s something. It’s an away game anyway and South East London is a bit of a trek, so radio it is...”

 

Josh got his phone out of his pocket and opened the radio app he’d downloaded. 

“It were Mrs Jones' idea really. I don’t think she knows owt about football bit she suggested we do something together that we normally would. And this was as close as I could get.” 

He scrolled through the settings, trying to find a volume that was loud enough to be heard over the beeps and whirs of the machines but not one that would disturb the other patients.

“We beat Sheffield Wednesday the other day. 2-0, our first win in a few games and it were a good one.”

Josh smiled. Football had always been the thing he shared with his mum. Some of his earliest memories were of sitting on her shoulders watching the game. Wearing a too big hat and scarf in Forest colours. Joining in with cheering and laughing along with the crowd, even if he was too young to fully follow what was going on.

 

Just under two hours later, the game had just finished with a 1-1 draw against Millwall. The sounds of the football commentary faded and the ward fell quiet again.

 

“Not a bad result I guess,” Josh said as he reached over and closed the radio app. He flicked through his notifications quickly and then shoved his phone into his back pocket.

In the minutes afterwards, he watched his mum closely, desperately wanting to see something. Some kind of sign that she could hear him, acknowledge him. That she was still there. He knew that his mum might be able to hear and comprehend things, yet nothing happened. The monitors and machines remained steady, no change. His mum continued to lie motionless.

 

Josh turned away feeling somewhat deflated. Maybe it had been foolish to hope, but hope was all he had. 

He yawned and rubbed his eyes, suddenly feeling utterly exhausted. His nights had been consumed by internet searches. He wanted to understand and be prepared but all the information he found only made him more scared. 

He remembered reading that being in coma twice within a short space of time meant his mum had a higher risk of lasting brain damage. The longer she stayed comatose the longer it would take her to recover. If she would ever be able to. There was so much between being well and the position she was in now. Words and definitions from his online research flashed through his thoughts… Vegative or minimally conscious states… Brain damage… Memory loss… Personality changes… There was so much that could go wrong and it terrified him. As much as he tried not to, he couldn’t help but think about the what-ifs and worst-case scenarios.

 

Josh clung to the fact that she was still holding on. Surely, that had to be a good thing. His mum could be so stubborn at times. He just hoped she could be stubborn for when it really mattered.

 

He yawned again, the ward was beginning to feel stifling and far too warm.

“I’m gonna go now mum, but I’ll be back soon okay.”



When he arrived home Josh kicked his shoes off and slung his coat over the hook in the hall. He just wanted an afternoon of lying on his bed watching Netflix to try and drown out all that was happening. He was heading up the stairs when his dad came out of the kitchen.

“You shouldn’t be spending so much time at the hospital. It ain’t right.”

 

Josh turned around and glared at his dad.

“I want to and nothing you can say is going to stop me."

 

Mark scoffed. "You’re just as bloody stubborn as she is."

 

“And?” Josh replied. “That's a good thing!” 

 

“No it isn’t. Your mum got herself in this mess, I don’t want you getting dragged into it too.”

 

“Well I am part of it and nothing you say is gonna change that.”

 

Mark scoffed again, “it’s not like you can do anything when you visit her anyway. What’s the point, it’s like talking to a vegetable.

 

“We listened to the footie actually!” Josh yelled back. “The Doctor said it would help to hear familiar things.”

 

“Why are you intent on helping her all of a sudden? She never cared for you.”

 

“Yes she did, you just never let her show it!”

 

“You’re better off without her!”

 

“No I’m not!”

 

“Yes you are. She’s not even conscious and you’re spending all this time at the hospital with her. It ain’t right.” 

 

“I’m there because I care, because I want to help. And even if I can’t, I want to be. Why can’t you get that?”

 

“She’s pretty much dead already, it’d be better just to forget about her so you can move on with your life.”

 

Josh thumped his hand heavily against the bannister. “Just stop, alright! I can’t listen to this anymore!” He was shaking and on the verge of tears.

 

“She’s getting you so upset. See it’s no good for you.”

 

“No, you’re the one getting me upset. Saying such horrible things. Whatever happened, how can you wish her dead?” It was taking all he had to retain some composure. 

 

“Because you’re better off without her and I wish her dead because that seems the only way to finally put a stop to all this nonsense.” 

 

Josh turned away, breathing heavily, a deep anger flowing through his veins, “I’m not listening to any more of this!” he shouted, voice shaking. He stomped up the stairs, slammed the bedroom door and turned his music up. 

 

Then sank onto the floor and sobbed. Everything poured out at once, the anger, the frustration, the fear. He could hear his dad shouting on the other side but he just ignored him and turned the music up. Josh curled up as tightly as he could, how had everything gone so wrong? He felt as if he was drowning under the weight of it all. 

 

He cried until he had nothing left and when the tears finally dried he stretched out slowly. His eyes stung and his head felt heavy. He didn’t know what to do anymore.

He focused on the music thumping from the speakers, getting lost in the lyrics.

“Take the ones you love. And hold them close because there is little time. And don't let it break your heart, I know it feels hopeless sometimes. But they’re never really gone, so long as there is a memory in your mind...”

 

Fresh tears rolled down his cheeks. He didn’t want his mum to become just a memory, there was so much left for them to do. He had to hold on to the hope, it was all he had left. And no matter what his dad said, he wasn’t going to leave his mum, not now, not when she needed him.

 

As the tears cleared for a second time he remembered reading an article last night that writing a letter could help. It could give him a way of getting out all the things he didn’t know how to say. Josh sighed wearily. He’d reached a point where anything was worth a try. He c limbed onto his bed and pulled out his notebook and pencil case from his discarded rucksack.

He stayed just sitting for a while, pen hovering above the paper, unsure of where to start. He chewed his lip, the only way to find the words was to start writing...

 

Dear mum…

I'm going to start off simple by saying that I miss you. I really miss you, and I know you’re here, or in the hospital, but it’s kinda different. I miss you being awake and so alive.

I hope me writing a letter to you is okay. I don’t know if you’re ever going to read this. Hopefully, you’ll be able to soon, but no one seems to be able to tell me with any certainty what’s gonna happen. I really don’t like that, the not knowing. All I can think about is the worst case and I really don’t want that to happen. I just can’t lose you. Not when we just promised to make things better, to try again.

I’m just trying to put everything down, it’s not always easy to get it ordered clearly in me head and there’s so much to say and sitting by you in the hospital bed, sometimes it's hard to find the right words. I’m hoping writing to you instead might help with that. 

I guess I’m going to be honest and say it’s really hard seeing you so sick and hooked up to all those machines and monitors. No matter how many times I see them or it's explained to me why you need them it's still scary. They are doing a really good job, the Doctors and the Nurses. They’ve always been really nice when I visit and take time to explain things to me and aren’t treating me like some stupid little kid. I appreciate that. 

But something like this, I never expected to have to deal with it, I don’t think anyone does and it can be really overwhelming at times. 

I’m just holding onto the hope that under all that, the mum I know is still in there and is still fighting. The mum that hollers and cheers at the footie. Who tells the worst jokes and sends ridiculous memes to everyone because she thinks they are funny. The mum who can’t really cook but still tries even though we always end up getting a pizza or a curry when the smoke alarm goes off for like the ‘millionth’ time. The mum I wish I had spent more time with in recent years. Because now I know how much you care. 

Still hear you calling out my name in the hospital, just before… 

That was when I knew, how much you cared. Before, when I came after arguing with dad, you were really sick and all you cared about was that I was soaked and might get cold. I wish I’d seen it then. I keep thinking if I’d told the Doctor then maybe you wouldn't be still so sick now. 

I wish I’d done a lot of things differently. I wish I hadn’t listened to dad so much, or at least not just straight up believed all the bad things he was saying. Because I know now, I know how much you care and even if you don’t think it you are a brilliant mum. All the stuff just got in the way and I really hope we get the chance to change things. To try again and for it to be different this time. Maybe I can even come and stay with you again if thats okay? Just weekends at first, or during the week, whatever works. I’ve been doing a lot of research and while you’re getting better you might need some help with things and I’d be happy to do that. I know how stubborn you can be, dad says I get my stubborn streak from you. But we all need a bit of help sometimes. I would have proper struggled to get through these past couple of weeks if it weren’t for Steve and then Mrs Jones at school. Talking helps, y’know. Even if it’s hard. And it’s been so hard. I’m okay though, or as okay as I can be. So please don’t worry about me. I don’t want to be too negative so I’m gonna finish by saying that I love you and I really hope you get better. 

 

Josh 

 

Josh carefully pulled the page from his notebook and rummaged in his desk drawer to find an envelope. He didn’t want his dad finding the letter, so he placed it behind a science worksheet in the front pocket of his notebook, somewhere it would be safe until he could give it to his mum.

 

He rubbed his eyes and picked up his cuddly lion from the end of his bed. He hadn’t needed Lenny to sleep in years but right now he needed comfort. The cuddly Lion's mane was worn and tattered, and his fur was almost bear in patches from being dragged around everywhere with him when he was still younger. Josh held Lenny close to his chest, he didn’t know what was going to happen, and that kind of uncertainty was hard. But there was one thing he was certain of. He was going to spend more time with his mum. Whatever it took.

He still had that gnawing anxiety in the pit of his stomach. He worried that she would get really sick again or worse… Recent events had taught him just how quickly things could change, and just how fragile life can be.

 

His phone buzzed against the table. The screen flashed up with a message from Dan.

 

Fancy a trip to the Xmas Markets on Monday? 

 

Josh hesitated for a moment. He wasn’t really in the mood but also he was up for anything that got him out of the house and away from everything that was going on.

 

Come on mate, it’ll be fun. Rest of the gang are coming too. 

 

He needed some kind of normality, his world might have stopped but for everyone else, it kept moving.

 

Alright. But not for too long.

 

Dan’s reply came almost instantly.

 

Awesome! Meet in the square @12

 

Chapter Text

Another day had passed and Jo was feeling slightly stronger. A glance at the calendar told her it was…20th December. It didn’t take her as long to focus and process the information this time. A Sunday. Slowly she was starting to feel more present and less, well, foggy. 

Her blood pressure had finally stabilised, though only just. She had spent the past few days being wheeled between scans and tests and could vaguely recall the doctor saying something about possible TBI related epilepsy. Though everything just felt like background noise and she couldn’t really concentrate on what had been going on. She wasn’t sure if she cared.  

 

For the past hour, she had been sat up in the chair by her bed, with Jay regularly coming by to let her know how well she was doing.

Jo smiled back but grumbled internally. It didn’t feel like an achievement, sitting in a chair was something she would usually do without thinking. She wasn’t sure how it could be considered as ‘ doing well.’ But it was progress that meant that she got to see Kate. And that was all she cared about. She felt a little dizzy but at least she hadn’t had another seizure. 

All she really cared about was seeing Kate. However jumbled her brain was, she always came back to Kate and telling her how sorry she was. She didn’t care about afterwards and what would happen to her. 

 

She dozed intermittently, the ward was too bright and loud for a proper rest. As she tried to sleep, flashbacks haunted her thoughts.

She could hear the sound of screeching tyres and crumpling metal. The smell of burning rubber and smoke filled her nose. She couldn’t breathe. Her heart was pounding as the panic swelled in her chest. She could feel the blood, wet and sticky, streaming down the side of her head, it filled her eyes and her mouth and she wanted to be sick. 

 

You’re going to die Joanne. 

Kate’s going to die.

It’s all your fault. 

 

Jo couldn’t breathe. She was trapped and didn’t know where she was. 

 

You couldn’t save her. You can’t save yourself either. 

 

Jo wanted to scream but no sound came out. She couldn’t move, all alone and she was going to die. 

 

You’re weak, Joanne. Pathetic. Useless.

 

An erratic beeping pierced through the darkness. She was so scared. Trapped by panic and fear. 

 

She was going to die…

Silly little Joanne, you thought you could get away, but I always come back.

 

Another voice broke through. Softer, kinder. 

“Jo, can you hear me?”

 

She couldn’t focus, everything was spinning and she was being pulled back into the darkness

 

“It’s okay Jo, you’re safe.”

 

She couldn’t breathe. Her chest felt so tight.

 

“Jo, I promise you’re safe. You’re in hospital and you’re safe.”

 

Jo tried to reply but all that came out was a strangled cry.

 

“Try and take some deep breaths.”

 

Hot salty tears rolled down her cheeks. Tears that felt so real, she wasn’t sure if it was through panic, fear or confusion that she was crying.

 

“I know you’re scared but just focus on my voice.”

 

Jo whimpered faintly and tried to concentrate on the voice.

 

“You’re safe Jo, it’s okay. No one can hurt you here.”

 

Kind and soft, she let it guide her out of the dark.

 

“That’s it Jo, you’re doing really well.” 

 

Jo felt her breathing slow and the crushing fear in her chest began to fade.

 

“Well done Jo, just keep breathing with me.”

 

Her head felt foggy but the voice gave her simple commands she could follow and the calm tones offered reassurance. 

 

“Can you open your eyes for me?”

 

Jo slowly cracked her eyes open and was met by bright light and a concerned but kind face.

The beeping slowed to a more regular rhythm and the panic faded. 

 

“Hi Jo.” A friendly face and a warm smile greeted her.

 

“S… s-sorry.” Jo stuttered an apology. Tears stung at her eyes. 

 

“There’s no need to apologise, Jo.”

 

Her mind felt heavy and foggy, but as the confusion slowly lifted there was one name, one face that she saw clearly.

 

Kate.

 

“K… K-Kate?”

 

“Do you want a moment to rest first?” Jay asked gently.

 

“N…n-no. G… g-go s… s- g… g-go s-see K… K-Kate.” 

 

“Are you sure Jo, it’s okay if you’re not ready yet. I can come back later and we can go and see Kate then.”

 

Jo shook her head. She needed to see Kate more than ever. Kate was her only certainty amongst the fear and confusion. 

 

Jay checked Jo’s vital signs, “okay, we can go and see” they agreed, seeing that her obs had returned to relatively stable levels. 

“Right, we’re going to try the transfer again.” Jay gave Jo a reassuring smile. “If you start feeling unwell let me know straight away.”

 

Jo nodded slightly, she still felt a little dizzy but it was manageable.  

She had woken up a few days ago and the Doctors had finally decided she was strong enough to travel a few beds down the ward. She wasn’t going to lose this opportunity over feeling a little dizzy. 

 

Jay supported Jo to sit at the edge of the bed and then helped her across to the wheelchair. Her legs were weak and shaky and without Jay’s support, Jo was sure she would have ended up in a heap on the floor. Again. It was frustrating to say the least but standing was just too risky for her at the moment, let alone walking. 

She gave Jay a weak smile as a thank you for their unwavering patience.

 

“Okay, let’s get you comfy.” Jay placed a laptop over Jo’s lap and adjusted her IV lines and wires so she could settle into the chair more comfortably. So far so good. 

They clipped the portable oxygen tank in place and checked the clear plastic tubing to make sure there were no kinks before swapping the nasal cannula. 

"Does that feel okay?"

 

Jo took a few shaky breaths and then nodded. 

 

Kate's words swayed through her mind. "When you wake up, it’s going to change. You’ll be safe and we’ll talk. We’ll talk about everything and maybe we can both stop hiding. Maybe, we can both be happy."

 

Jay slowly pushed Jo along the ward to Kate’s bay. She looked around cautiously, all the sights, sounds and smells were overwhelming and she felt so edge and disorientated, her brain was running into overdrive, thoughts roaring and senses burning. 

It was all too much and she screwed her eyes shut. The chaos is her brain stilled slightly but she still felt sick and shaky and she took several deep breaths to try and steady herself. It didn’t help. 

“You’re doing really well Jo,” Jay gently reassured her. 

 

“Th… t-thanks…” 

 

“Do you want to stop?” Jay asked. “Or go back.” 

With her eyes still closed, Jo shook her head. She had made it this far, she couldn’t turn back now. She owed Kate that much.

Jo slowly opened her eyes but kept her gaze steadily trained on the floor, everything else still felt far too overwhelming. It was taking all she had not to collapse into a useless lump, her muscles were weak and no longer used to holding her body in position for an extended period of time. 

 

She needed to do this but her body was protesting even the slightest movement. She had a thumping headache and even when she sat still the dizziness wouldn’t go away. The Doctor had reassured her multiple times that this was all normal, an expected part of recovery from a TBI but it didn’t stop her from feeling awful. She was the weakest she had ever been, defenceless and vulnerable. 

If she was truly honest, she didn’t really care. The niggling thought that things would have been better for everyone if she hadn’t woken up wouldn’t go away. She was still convinced that she didn’t matter, but Kate mattered. Kate had to know the truth.

 

“Okay Jo, we’re here” Jay spoke softly. “I’m going to take a step back so you can have a moment alone with Kate. But I won’t be far if you need me.”

 

“T… th… th-thanks.”

Jo turned and looked at the pale form lying in the hospital bed and immediately tears stung at her eyes. Kate looked so vulnerable, so broken. A deep ache settled in Jo’s chest. 

She angrily wiped her cheeks, this shouldn’t be happening. 

Kate should be alive and well, she was the one who should be in the Hospital bed or… 

Yet Kate was worse off still. She wasn’t even breathing on her own, dependent on tubes and machines to ensure her body was still getting the oxygen it so desperately needed. Jo’s hand instinctively reached up to her neck, her throat was still sore and her voice weak and croaky from the weeks she had spent dependent on her own breathing tube and ventilator. 

She knew she should be grateful for every breath she was able to take, yet how could she, when the woman she loved still needed machines to breathe for her. It wasn’t fair. Why Kate? 

 

Questions and pleas were useless. Because there was one thing that Jo knew only too well. Life is fucking cruel. 

 

“H-hi,” Jo stuttered quietly. She was still struggling to get her words out and no one could tell her if her speech difficulties were temporary or permanent. Knowing what you want to say but not being able to control how the words came out was frustrating and left Jo feeling stupid and overwhelmed every time she tried to have even a short conversation.

 

Jo gently took hold of Kate’s hand, looping their fingers together, careful not to disturb any of the wires and tubes that snaked from Kate’s arms or the cannula that was still in her own hand. Even though Kate couldn’t respond, there was still something in her touch that felt electric. Jo just hoped that Kate could feel it too, that she knew she was here beside her, holding her hand.  

 

Remember, wasn’t the right word, but Jo knew Kate had come to see her, she’d felt it somehow, the touch of their hands, the comforting warmth. Feeling safe and loved. 

 

She hoped Kate could feel it too. 

 

“I- I d… d-don’t r-really k… k-know w… w-what to s… s-say,” Jo fumbled to find the words. She’d had everything mapped out so clearly in her head, but she couldn’t seem to get the right words out, but for Kate, she was willing to try.

“J… j-just n-need y… y-you t-to k… know,” Jo took a deep breath to try and calm her shaking nerves.

“K… k-know y-you w… w-weren’t p-pr… pre-tending. L… l-love y… y-you.”

Jo could feel tears forming, they rolled down her cheeks and this time she didn't bother to wipe them away.

“W… w-want y… y-you t-to k… k-know. I… l…l-love y-you.” 

 

Jo’s lips quivered and further tears streamed down her cheeks. All she could think of was how it was all her fault. It was her fault that Kate had gotten hurt and that she had ended up in hospital. It was her fault Kate had almost died. 

Kate was the best thing that had ever happened to her, and she had ruined it all.

“P… p-please w-wake u… u-up.” 

 

As she held Kate’s hand, their fingers still locked together, she made a silent promise. as soon as Kate woke up, and she was going to wake up because she just couldn’t comprehend the alternative, she would tell her that she loved her. She’d really tell her and she wouldn’t shy away from any of the difficult conversations. 

Jo rested her head on the bed and began to cry quietly. She stayed there, the silence heavy with feelings laid bare.

Chapter Text

Jo stayed sitting with Kate and though the tears continued to fall, just being in Kate’s presence helped her to feel calm and safe. She stayed silent for a while, caught in her thoughts.

 

All of a sudden noise from behind her made her jump.

 

“Hi mate,” Steve stepped quietly into Kate’s bay.

“Oh,” he startled for a moment upon seeing Jo. 

 

Jo turned towards Steve. “H… h-hi…” 

The panic flared in her chest again, logically she knew Steve wasn’t a threat, she might even consider him a friend but it was logical thought that she was struggling with right now. Everything was so jumbled and confused. She held Kate's hand that bit tighter, trying to find her strength. 

 

In his surprise of seeing Jo with Kate it took him a moment for Steve to notice Jo’s stifled sobs.

“Jo?” Steve asked gently. “Is everything okay?” 

 

“Mmh, I… o… o…. K… k-kay,” Jo sniffed quietly, wiping her eyes. 

 

“You sure?” Steve… “Look I know you might not want to, but if you do, if you want to talk, I’m here, okay.” 

 

Jo looked up at Steve with tear-filled eyes and nodded slightly, “th… th-thanks.” 

“J… J-just w…w-want K… K-Kate t… t-to b-be o… k… k-kay,” she stammered.

 

“I know,” Steve sighed. “I know you do.” 

 

The voice that haunted her nightmares echoed in her ears. 

It’s all your fault, Joanne. You couldn’t save her…

 

“A… a-all m… m-my f… f-fault,” Jo cried quietly. “I… t… t-tried t… t-to h… h-help.”

 

Steve knelt down next to Jo, trying to catch her gaze., “I know you did Jo. You called the ambulance and you tried to stop the bleeding. I know you did all you could for Kate. It's not your fault Jo. It might be hard for you to believe, but trust me, none of this is your fault.” 

 

Jo sighed quietly, Steve’s words were honest and heartfelt but she just couldn’t believe them. How could it not be her fault? 

 

“Y’know,” Steve mused quietly, “if it's anyone’s fault, it’s mine. I should have protected you, and Kate too. She asked for my help and I weren’t there. I promised you that everything would be okay and then you got hurt.”

 

Jo shook her head, “n… n-not y… y-your f… f-fault.”

 

“Well then,” Steve responded. “If it ain’t my fault, it’s not yours either.”

 

Jo just shrugged as if she was acknowledging what Steve was saying but couldn’t bring herself to believe it. 

 

“Jo, it's not your fault,” Steve repeated. He could see how much Jo was struggling and he really felt for her. Though against all odds she had woken up and on the surface she was recovering well, he feared she was still battling inner demons, with the hardest fight still to come. 

Someone had to care, and after everything that had happened, Steve did feel responsible. It was clear that Jo needed someone in her corner, and well, why couldn’t it be him? 

 

“mmm,” Jo responded wistfully. 

 

“Maybe, we shouldn’t be trying to find someone at fault. I don’t think that’s gonna help anyone.”

 

“Y… y-yeah, I g… g- g-guess…”

 

“You really care for Kate, I can see that. She cares for you too, really. 

The best thing you can do for Kate right now is to get better, and concentrate on recovering. You have got a chance now, to live the life you really deserve. Just think, after everything you’re still here, that’s gotta mean something. So you keep fighting, y’hear me.” 

 

“J… j- j-us… t-t d-doesn’t f… f-feel r… r-right,” Jo muttered. “W… w-with… ou… ou-t K… K-Kate.”

 

“I miss her too,” Steve sighed. And he did, he really did. He missed his best friend more than he had words for.

 

“You hear that mate?” Steve turned to Kate. “You got people that miss you. People that care about you, people that need you to wake up.”

 

The machines continued to hiss and whir and Kate remained still and silent. 

 

“P… p-please w… w-wake u-up,” Jo added quietly.

 

The pair fell silent as exhaustion began to catch up with Jo. The emotional turmoil of the last couple of hours weighed heavy on her soul. She swayed slightly and her head lolled forward. She was tired and groggy, the emotional conversation seemed to have taken it out of her. She closed her eyes and was quickly dragged into the grips of sleep. Her and Kate’s hands were still locked together.

 

Steve paused for a moment and really looked at Jo. It was only then that he noticed how frail she still looked, as if she might break from the slightest touch. Even with her stuttered speech and obvious difficulties Jo could still put on a strong face. It came from years of practice, years of having to seem cool and collected when inside you’re falling apart. Always wearing a mask, walls built up high so no one saw the broken soul hidden beneath. But Steve had seen that broken soul. He’d watched Jo shatter as her life had been systematically torn apart. He’d heard the rawness of Jo’s anguish and the depths of her despair. He had seen how she had clung to life, against all odds. Only a few days ago she had been lying in the same position as Kate, dependent on machines to stay alive. That stays with a person, and he had a feeling Jo had a long recovery ahead of her.

 

He left Jo to sleep for a moment and gently took hold of Kate’s other hand. 

“We really need you mate. Please wake up,” he whispered quietly, trying not to cry. Everything really did feel so unfair and he didn’t know what to do to make it right. He wasn’t sure there was anything he could do other than be there. Be there for Jo and hope. Hope, with every fibre of his being that Kate would make it through. 

 

A few minutes later, Steve left Jo in the care of Jay, who reassured him that they would get her safely back to her own bay and into bed. 

 

He turned back to Kate and gave his best friend’s hand a gentle squeeze. 

“You just keep fighting, alright. I know, or at least I hope you’re in there somewhere.” 

His vision blurred for a moment and he groaned quietly, exhaustion was also catching up with him. He reached a point where he couldn’t even remember the last time he’d had a decent night’s sleep.  

“I gotta go now, or I’ll end up falling asleep here again and don't know how much more me back can take. But I promise I'll come and see you soon, mate.” 

Steve stood up, stretching out his aching muscles as he did so. He winced slightly as the persistent twinge in his back turned into a shooting sharp pain. 

He had been so overwhelmed by his worry and fear for Kate and with everything that happened with Jo, he’d scarcely had the headspace to acknowledge the pain in his back. The painkillers dulled the worst of the pain but Steve knew it was getting worse and it had not been helped by exhaustion and the frequent falling asleep in uncomfortable positions that had become the norm for him. It was just another thing he felt unable to deal with, another crack in the surface of a shell so close to breaking. 

 

“Steve,” Bernie called out to him just as he was leaving the ward, pulling him from his thoughts. 

“I’m glad I caught you, I wanted to give you an update about Kate.” 

 

Steve’s heart sank and he grabbed onto the wall next to him to steady himself. His last conversation with Bernie still weighed heavily on his mind.

 

There might have to be a time when you need to make a really difficult decision.

 

Please no… 

 

It might be worth considering what Kate would want…

 

Steve felt like the walls were closing in on him. Kate wanted to live. She wanted to keep fighting, she wanted to get better for Jo and Josh. she wanted them not to give up on her, even if there was only the smallest chance. Didn’t she?? Or had he become so fixated on his need for Kate to get better, to get his best friend back that he’d stopped thinking about Kate? She couldn’t stay like this forever. It was no life and certainly not a life Kate would want.

Steve's head was spinning and he couldn’t take it any longer. He had to get out of his thoughts. He took a deep breath and looked towards Bernie, “Is everything okay?" he asked cautiously. 

 

“Yeah, yes it is,” Bernie reassured him with a warm smile. “Do you have time for a quick chat?”

 

Steve nodded, trying not to show how shaky he was feeling. After everything that had happened, he was still scared to hope.  

 

Bernie guided Steve into her office and gestured for him to take a seat. 

 

Steve glanced around nervously, his feeling of uneasiness growing.

His thoughts were still racing.

He didn’t know what was happening.

What if it was bad news?

What if he had to make the one decision he never wanted to make? 

How could he tell Josh?

What about Jo?

How could he tell Jo when what she needed most right now was Kate...

 

“Here,” Bernie handed Steve a mug of tea. “Milk, two sugars, You look like you could do with a bit of a boost.”

 

Steve took hold of the mug, a comforting warmth creeping into his bones. He didn’t realise how much he needed one. 

“Cheers.” He nodded his thanks to the Doctor. 

 

“Thanks for taking the time to chat,” she smiled. “As next of kin I wanted to give you a bit of an update about Kate’s condition.”

 

“Okay,” Steve set the tea down and clenched his hands into fists trying to stop them from shaking. The last update had him running from the office in a state of panic…

 

Noticing Steve’s increasing anxiety, Bernie smiled back at him. “There’s no need to worry, it’s good news.” 

 

“Umm… okay….” That only made Steve feel more worried, he reached out and clutched the mug tightly, purely for something to cling on to.

 

“So as you know, Kate has been in a medically induced coma since contracting sepsis last week. That means we’ve been giving her medication to keep her asleep so her body has a better chance of fighting the infection and is also able to rest and heal.”

 

Steve nodded slightly. It still hurt being reminded of how sick Kate was.

 

“And the good news is that Kate’s been holding her own for the past couple of days. The most recent tests have shown that her infection markers are going down, she’s finally responding to the antibiotics and her body is fighting the infection and that's a really big positive.  In the last day or so she’s started to resist the ventilation.”

Bernie paused for a moment as she noticed the look of fear that spread across Steve’s face. “That might sound worrying, but it’s a good sign, it means she’s trying to breathe for herself. So the next step is that  we’re going to try reducing her sedation and see how she reacts to that.”

 

“What does that mean?”

 

“It means,” Bernie smiled again. “It means that hopefully, she may wake up soon. It could take another day or two as the drugs work their way out of her system but we are hopeful that once that happens she should start coming around.” 

“That’s, that’s good,” Steve sighed as relief washed over him. 

 

“Yes, yes it is,” Bernie reassured him. 

 

“So…” Steve still didn’t want to ask the question. His mind was spinning and all of a sudden he was struck by the horrifying thought. Kate might not wake up the same. She had been, and still was, so sick that she could have lifelong complications. He pushed the thought away and took a deep breath to try and steady his nerves. 

“Is she going to be okay?”

 

“We’re cautiously hopeful,” Bernie concluded. “We’ll know more when she wakes up, but Kate has shown she’s clearly a fighter, and I’m sure she’ll keep fighting, whatever comes next.”

 

“Thanks, that’s… that’s good.” Steve stumbled over his words slightly, still trying to take it all in. “I think….”

 

“It is, I promise it is,” Bernie reassured him with a wide smile. 

 

Leaving the office, Steve felt like a weight had been lifted off his chest. As he left the hospital, the December night was frosty and clear. Between the city lights a small spattering of stars spread across the sky. For the first time in a long time, Steve finally felt like things were going to be okay.

Chapter Text

Steve returned to the Hospital early the next morning feeling more rested than he had in a long time. Upon getting home last night he had fallen into bed and managed 4 maybe 5 hours of unbroken sleep. It wouldn’t be enough for a lot of people, but it was the most he'd gotten in over a month. And from the way the lingering weariness he had carried with him for weeks had lifted he knew he'd needed it. What it was like to be able to think clearly again.

He looked over at Kate, still attached to all the monitors, with their steady beeps keeping time with the hiss and whirs of the ventilator, they showed no change. Steve knew that it was too soon to see anything, at least on the surface but he found faith in the fight that was happening beneath all the wires and monitors. In his heart, he knew he’d been right not to give up on her and he hoped he would soon see his best mate’s goofy smile again.

"You’ve got this mate, I know you do," he murmured quietly. There was a renewed conviction in his words, for the first time in a while he felt he could believe them. 

 

“Morning Steve,” Bernie smiled warmly at him as she came into Kate’s bay. 

“We’re going to trial Kate off the ventilator, we’re hopeful that she is strong enough to breathe on her own and maintain her oxygen saturation.”

 

Steve nodded. He knew it was a positive step but he couldn’t help but feel uneasy. After everything that had happened recently, he had become all too aware of just how quickly things can go wrong. 

 

What if it didn’t work? 

 

What if she couldn't breathe?

 

What if her heart stopped? Again...

 

What if she...

 

Steve watched as the doctor and a couple of nurses carefully removed Kate’s breathing tube. The monitors immediately flashed alarm and for a few terrifying moments all Steve could do was watch as Kate lay there still, not moving, not breathing. His chest tightened and he gripped the arms of the chair so tight his knuckles turned white. “Come on mate, you’ve got this,” he whispered.

 

Breathe Kate, please breathe…

 

Steve felt stuck and as if time had frozen around him. The medical team spoke in hushed tones but all he could focus on was Kate.

 

“Sats down to 82…”

 

“We might need to re-intubate…”

 

“Just wait…”

 

“Sats at 76…”

 

“She’s becoming hypoxic…”

 

Breathe mate, please breathe…

 

Nothing. 

 

The monitors continued to scream. 

 

Then Kate’s chest began to rise and fall.

 

“Sats climbing…”

 

“She’s stabilising…”

 

The monitors steadied, their rhythm becoming regular once again.

 

“Sats at 96…”

 

Steve snapped out of his daze, he heard one of the nurses quietly reassuring the still sleeping Kate.

 

“Knew you could do it mate,” he breathed in a sigh of relief. 

 

He glanced across to Bernie who echoed his smile.

“She’s breathing on her own, that’s the first big step. We’re going to monitor her closely to see if she can maintain her oxygen saturation but this is excellent news.” 

“Thanks,” was all Steve could reply. He wanted to savour this moment, feeling like he could breathe again and knowing that his best friend was coming back to them all.

 

“She still has a long recovery ahead of her.”

 

“I know, but going from… having to think about maybe losing her forever to knowing she’s going to wake up, that she’s breathing on her own, I’ve got to concentrate on the positives.”

The panic and dread that had sat heavy in his heart were now replaced by a warmer slightly fuzzy feeling, hope. 

 

Bernie smiled. “That’s a good way to think about it.” I’ll give you a bit of time with Kate, I can’t say when but she should wake up soon.”

“Thanks,” Steve replied, “thanks for everything.”

 

Steve turned back to his best friend, “I’m so proud of you mate. I’ve gotta go in a moment but I’ll be back later.” 

 

Steve checked the time, he still had half an hour before he needed to be back at AC12. He decided to check in on Jo quickly, he had to share the good news with someone and after their conversation yesterday he had a feeling that she could really do with hearing some. 

 

“Morning Jo,” he greeted her quietly. “Good to see you.”

 

It took Jo a few moments to focus her gaze on Steve and he couldn’t miss the moment of panic that flashed across her eyes. An indicator of how vulnerable and exposed she still felt.

 

“H… h-hi,” she stuttered back in response, she tried to smile but it didn’t quite meet her eyes. 

 

Steve could barely contain his smile, “I’ve got some good news.”

 

Jo gave him a quizzical look, almost as if she couldn’t comprehend that there could be any good news. 

 

“It’s Kate, last night the Doctor gave me an update and she’s doing well. She’s breathing on her own and the Doctors think she will wake up soon.”

 

The smile that spread across Jo’s face was the most genuine Steve had ever seen from her, this time it reached her dark and usually tormented eyes. 

“T… t-that’s g… g-good,” relief washed across Jo’s face. 

 

“It is,” Steve replied, his relief mirroring Jo’s. “It really is. I just wanted to let you know, reckoned you’d want to know the good news as soon as possible.”

 

“T… t-th… a-anks…”

 

Steve offered Jo a comforting smile. “I guess, this just goes to show, even when you don’t think they can, things can get better.”

 

“Mmmh”, Jo nodded.

 

“Hold on to hope Jo,” Steve smiled. “You deserve it.” 

 


 

It was early evening and Josh had just got back from the Christmas Markets. He was feeling tired but also glad that he had gotten out of the house for the day. He had a good day with his friends and at times he felt almost normal. Not quite forgetting what was going on but for a few hours it wasn’t all he could think about. He had even laughed, especially with his mate Dan being his usual idiotic self. He realised just how much he’d missed time with his mates, joking around and just being free to be teenagers, it made a refreshing change to hospital visits and arguments with his dad. 

In the past few weeks, he’d dealt with so much, carrying the weight of it all and fighting against an all-consuming worry, just to have some sense of normality, even if only for a few short hours made all the difference in the world. 

 

He carefully unpacked his purchases from his rucksack and the mug from his Hot Chocolate. It depicted a snowy scene with Nottingham Christmas Markets 2020 written along the bottom, though it never really snowed in Nottingham. A small wooden tree with a starry pattern followed. He hoped he could bring it for his mum and she’d be allowed to have it out by her bed. 

He’d also bought his mum a present from the same stall. A photo frame made of thick wood engraved with a message.

 

After leaving the others he popped into Boots and printed out a selfie they had taken at the New Years' day game, a close 3-2 win over Blackburn. Almost a year ago though it felt more like a lifetime. Both grinning stupidly into the Camera, unaware of the horrors that the year would bring.

 

His phone buzzed with a call and when Josh saw Steve’s number flash up on the display his heart skipped a beat and panic flared in his chest.

 

“Hiya mate,” Steve greeted Josh.

 

“Hi…” Josh trailed off, unsure of what to say. It was hard to work out emotions through the phone.

 

Please, no…

 

“The Doctor has just had a chat with me, an update about your mum. Thought you should know.”

 

“Umm… okay…” Josh was starting to feel increasingly nervous. He sat down on his bed, his hands shaking so much he was struggling to hold the phone.

 

Please let mum be okay…

 

“It’s good news,” Steve stated. This time it was obvious he was smiling. 

 

Josh breathed a sigh of relief.

 

“She’s doing well, your mum, she’s getting better. She’s breathing on her own. They think she might wake up tomorrow.” 

 

“That’s good.”

 

“It really is.”

 

“I’m gonna go see her tomorrow, got some bits from the Christmas markets, like decorations an’ stuff that I thought would look nice on the table by her bed.”

 

“That’s really nice of you, just make sure you check with the Doctor first.”

 

“Yeah, I will.” Tears of relief rolled down Josh’s cheeks as he ended the call.

 

That night he slept well for the first time in almost a month and the hope that had almost faded burnt again like fire. 

Chapter Text

The next morning Josh sat watching his mum carefully. He watched for any sign that she was waking up and that she was aware of what was going on around her. 

The first thing he noticed was that the imposing breathing tube had been replaced with an oxygen mask. Even just a simple change and she looked so much more like his mum. The ICU bay was quieter now too, without the mechanical hums and whirs of the ventilator, it made a refreshing change. Josh felt like he could breathe again, it was such a relief. It suddenly felt so much easier to look at his mum, to talk to her, to see her as his mum and not just a patient in intensive care.

He knew she still had a long way to go before she could be considered ‘better', if that was even a possibility, but he was at least thankful for the small steps. Considering how bad things had been, the small steps seemed huge.   

 

“Hi mum,” Josh spoke quietly, “it’s Tuesday 22nd December today. Sorry I didn’t come yesterday. I went out with me mates. I haven’t hung out outside of school in ages, I guess I just weren’t in the mood. We went round the Christmas markets together an’ it were nice, I enjoyed myself. I guess I did need some time away from it all.” 

Josh paused for a moment as he thought back to the previous day.

“We all got hot chocolates and Bratwurst. Dave got a ‘riesen’,” he stumbled awkwardly over the pronunciation of the german word. “Like, it were proper giant. He was so impressed only he then went and dropped it after like just one bite.  The way he just looked down and just said, me Bratwurst…” Josh had to fight to suppress a laugh. He wished he had a recording that he could play his mum, he knew she would have found the account really funny. “In that moment, I almost felt normal. I think I laughed for the first time since all this.” 

Josh smiled slightly to himself. 

“Oh, and I got you a couple of decorations, I checked with the Doctor and she said I can put them on the table.” 

Josh carefully lifted the two ornaments from his rucksack, explaining each one as he placed it on the table. 

“There’s a small wooden tree with stars carved into it and a Santa on skis with his arms out like he's gonna fall, thought you might find that one funny.”

 

He looked back up at Kate and that was when he saw it. His mum’s eyes gave the faintest flutter. At first, he thought it was just his exhausted brain playing cruel tricks on him, but then he saw it again. He watched as his mum’s eyes fluttered and opened ever so slightly. She blinked a few times before opening her eyes fully. 

 

“Mum?” Josh called out tentatively. 

“Mum, it’s Josh!” he called out again as he stood up and tried to position himself so his mum could see him. 

 

She was waking up!

 

Josh look again at his mum to find that her eyes were half open though her gaze was panicked and confused as she tried to look around the room. 

 

She was waking up!

 

“Mum, can you hear me?” Josh called out again, his heart filled with both hope and fear.

“Mum??”



Kate could sense that there were people around her and the air was filled with strange smells and noises. She opened her eyes slowly and tried to look around. Everything was so bright and the light hurt her eyes, she couldn’t see properly. It was all so blurry and she couldn’t make the images come into focus. 

 

There was someone talking to her but she couldn’t work out what they were saying. 

 

She blinked hard and tried to make her eyes focus. Everything felt so fuzzy. She wanted to cry out, shout for everything and everyone to stop but she couldn’t. Nothing was working as it was supposed to. She was scared, she felt trapped, and she couldn’t control what was happening. She felt completely helpless. 

Panic began to flare in her chest. Danger, danger! Warning signs flashed through her mind. She needed to get somewhere safe. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something terrible had happened. She couldn’t move, there were wires and tubes tying her down.

 

There were more voices now. But they were all overlapping and she couldn’t make out any of the words. 

 

A face appeared in front of her that looked so familiar.

 

“Mum!”

 

She couldn’t focus.

 

“Mum, can you hear me!”

 

Everything hurt.

 

Josh.

 

Josh was here. Her son.

 

She wanted to call out to him but she couldn’t.

 

There was something over her face.

It was hard and stiff and uncomfortable, p ushing cool air into her lungs.

She didn’t like it.

 

She couldn’t make her voice work. 

 

She was really scared.

 

Another face appeared. Blonde hair and kind eyes. 

 

Calling out her name. 

 

“Kate?”

 

She thrashed out with her arms, trying to defend herself. 

 

She was scared and didn’t understand what was happening.

 

The blonde was shining a light in her eyes. It hurt. 

“Kate?” She called out again.

 

Kate blinked hard again and her eyes focused a little more. She was staring up at the ceiling, white tiles and bright lights.

 

“Hi Kate, it’s Bernie.”

 

Bernie… the name sounded familiar.

So did the face. Blonde hair and kind eyes. 

 

Slowly she began to remember.

 

Bernie.

The ex-military Doctor. 

 

“Kate, you’re in ICU. I know you are scared and confused right now but please don’t worry.”

 

Kate tried to speak, but she found she couldn’t. All she managed was a garbled cough. Her voice wouldn’t work.

 

“You're safe Kate," the Doctor reassured her gently. "Don’t try to speak right now. Your throat will still be sore from the ventilator. Blink once if you can understand me.” 

 

Kate thought hard for a moment, trying to process everything that she was hearing. Her head felt so heavy and she was so tired, but she blinked once. 

 

“That's good Kate, just try to relax,” Bernie soothed.

Bernie turned to Josh. “Come and stand over here. Make sure your mum can see you. Just talk to her. Can you try and help her stay calm?” 

 

Josh gave Bernie a fearful look but he swallowed his uncertainty and took a step closer to the bed.

 

“Stand here,” Bernie gestured, beckoning Josh to come and stand next to her.

 

Josh took a few tentative steps closer.

“Mum?” He asked nervously. 

 

She looked so scared.

 

“Mum, it's Josh.” 

 

Kate’s eyes widened slightly in recognition and beneath the oxygen mask, she managed a slight smile. 

 

“Keep talking to her,” Bernie suggested. 

 

“Hi mum,” Josh suddenly felt very awkward. “I don’t know if you remember but I were telling you about going to the Christmas Markets with me mates yesterday. Dan dropped his Bratwurst and made us all laugh.” 

 

Kate reached out weakly, finding Josh’s hand and giving it a gentle squeeze.

 

Josh’s eyes filled with tears.

“It’s so good you’re awake.” A wave of relief crashed over him and the tears rolled down his cheeks.

 

He’d lost count of the number of times he’d cried recently, but he didn’t care. This time they were happy tears. Cautiously happy, but happy all the same. 

 

His mum gave his hand another gentle squeeze. 

 

“I love you mum, I love you so much.”

 

Kate smiled weakly back at Josh.

 

Seeing his mum smile only made him cry harder.

 

“Just keep fighting, yeah. Keep getting better.” 

 

“You’re doing really well Kate,” Bernie added in. “It’s good to see you awake. Rest if you need to and I’ll be back to check on you soon.”

 


 

Steve was just packing his shopping away when his phone rang. It was Josh. Kate, he thought and his heart began to race. 

 

“Hiya mate,” he answered quietly.

 

“Hi,” Josh answered back. His voice was wobbly and he sounded as if he had been crying.

 

For a moment Steve’s heart sank. Despite knowing Kate’s condition was improving that nagging fear never went away. 

 

“Is everything okay?”

 

“Yeah, yeah it is,” Josh cried down the phone. “It’s better than okay, it’s good, mum has just woken up.”

 

Steve breathed an audible sigh of relief. He had to support himself on the kitchen counter so he would stay standing.

“Hey, that's great, that's really great.”

 

Steve was already climbing into the car as he ended the call. There was only one thing on his mind, he had to go see Kate.

 

Chapter Text

Steve was pulling into the hospital car park before he had even fully registered what had happened or how he’d gotten there. He found a space and paused for a moment, just to gather his thoughts. His mind was racing as he tried to process what was happening. 

 

Kate.

Josh had called him.

Voice all wobbly as if he’d been crying.

But it was good news.

Kate had woken up. 

 

He had to see her, he just to be sure this was real and not a dream. 

Yes, his last conversation with Bernie had suggested that Kate was getting better. 

But he’d been here before, full of hope and then it had all gone wrong. 

 

There might have to be a time when you need to make a really difficult decision…

It might be worth considering what Kate would want…

 

Steve’s heart still ached as he thought of the gravity in those words. He didn’t need to be a detective to work out what Bernie had meant. 

He could’ve been in the position where he would have had to make a decision about when to let his best friend die. About what she would want for her funeral… 

 

It hadn’t come to that Steve reminded himself, but he was still all too aware of just how close he had come to losing his best friend forever.

 

He screwed his eyes shut, he couldn’t afford to think like that right now. He had to focus on the positive.  Kate was awake and alive and she had a chance, that was all that mattered. 

 

“Hi mate,” Steve greeted Josh quietly as he came into Kate’s bay. All he wanted to do was rush over and pull his best mate into a massive hug, let her know how proud he was of her, how she had done it again, defied the odds, cheated death. But he knew that would be too much for her right now. She might be awake but she was still very weak and very fragile.

 

“She’s sleeping again,” Josh answered back. “But the Doctor said that’s normal and it feels different now, I just know she’s gonna be okay. I’m not so scared anymore.” 

 

Kate stirred slightly, she blinked wearily and opened her eyes as she registered the new visitor. Josh beckoned Steve a little closer. 

 

“Hi,” Steve smiled.

 

Kate smiled slowly back at him. “St… Steve,” she clarified weakly.

 

“Yeah, that’s me, mate.” Steve grinned. “Just wanted to say hi.”

 

“Hi…” Kate echoed sluggishly, her eyes already falling closed again. 

 

Steve knew Kate was going to need time, she was still seriously ill and he knew from previous experience that she would likely be very tired, confused and easily overwhelmed for a while to come. But just seeing her awake and recognising him, it was more than enough for now. He found strength in the knowledge that his best friend was getting slowly on her way to getting better and after everything, even the smallest improvements were worth celebrating. 

The world felt that bit less cold and harsh, and though the fear and worry remained, their presence had dulled and they were no longer all-consuming. 

 

“I’ll come back later,” Steve said giving Kate’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Just rest all you need to for now.”

 

Josh stood up and that was when Steve noticed the tears rolling down his cheeks. “I’m just so happy that she’s awake,” he half cried. “There were times when I really thought…” he trailed off as Steve shook his head gently.

 

“Not here,” Steve motioned to the now sleeping Kate. She needs the rest and let’s just let her focus on the positives for now.

 

“Yeah, okay,” Josh sniffed.

 

“Tell you what,” Steve suggested. “How about we go get a decent coffee or hot chocolate somewhere? Not the hospital cafe but somewhere a bit more special. This deserves a celebration.”

 

Josh nodded his head in agreement. 

 

In the end, they settled for a cafe a short walk from the hospital. Up a narrow cobbled street. A Wooden sign hung above the door. Dotty’s Chocolate House. 

 

“I’ve heard about this place,” Josh said as they walked through the door. “They’re meant to do the best hot chocolates in the city.”

 

The lady from behind the counter smiled warmly back at them. “I’m not sure about the best but we certainly do try.”

 

“That’s good to hear,” Steve smiled back. 

 

They both ordered a deluxe hot chocolate, Josh’s complete with cream and marshmallows before settling down at a small table in a cosy corner of the cafe. The furniture was mismatched and well-worn but still comfortable. Christmas decorations hung from the ceiling and the overall atmosphere was one of joy and warmth. The contrast to the hospital couldn’t have been starker. 

 

After finishing their drinks Josh showed Steve the present he’d bought for his mum, he had it ready in his rucksack to give to her when the time was right. And now he could go home and wrap it so she’d have something to open on Christmas day. 

 

“I got some photos printed from what I had on me phone,” Josh explained. 

 

Steve smiled when he saw the frame and the photo Josh had chosen. Both of them decked out in Nottingham Forest hats and scarves grinning wildly into the camera. A selfie that captured Kate’s relationship with her son at its finest. Happy, loving, and sharing in their passion for football. 

“That’s brilliant Josh. Your mum is gonna love it.” 

 

“I just wanted something to remind her that I care about her.” Josh replied. “She can put it up by her bed so I’m always with her. Sounds proper cheesy I know…”

 

“No it doesn’t,” Steve insisted. “It’s perfect. She’s really gonna love it. You picked a great picture of you both.”

 

“Yeah, I hope so.”

 

“She really will.”

 

“It’s just weird to think,” Josh said quietly. “Like we took that photo not quite a year ago, and now looking back we seem so innocent. So obliviously happy, with no idea what was gonna happen this year and all the awful things to come. I guess I just never expected anything like this to happen. I knew mum’s job could be dangerous at times, that sometimes she had to stay away to keep me safe, but I never thought that it could mean she would almost die. It just makes me wish I’d done things differently, that I’d made more time. That I hadn’t blindly believed me dad when he said she doesn’t care.”

 

“Y’know Josh,” Steve fixed Josh with an earnest gaze. “I’m a copper same as your mum and I never expected this either. I don’t think anyone ever does. Life has a funny way of catching you off guard like that. But we got through it and more importantly, your mum did too. She might have a long way to go yet, but she’s got the both of us and I know she’s gonna keep fighting. And if you take anything from this, it’s that your mum cares about you, more than anything.”

 

“Yeah,” Josh agreed quietly. “I know that now, and I’m just so thankful for having the chance to do things right this time.”   

 

They continued to sit and soak in the atmosphere for a while, chatting quietly about nothing in particular, just sharing their relief that things were starting to get better.

 


 

Kate was sleeping again when Steve returned later that evening. His heart sank slightly but he knew she needed the rest. Her battle with sepsis had clearly taken its toll and as he looked at his friend under the dimmed lights he realised just how unwell she still looked. With dark circles under her eyes and pale and drawn-out skin so seemed so fragile and he couldn’t help but notice how much weight she had lost. Kate would have a long recovery ahead of her, right now she seemed so broken but he found hope in the fact that she had not been beaten. 

He smiled warmly at Kate, deciding to let her rest and turned to check in on Jo instead. He didn’t know if anyone had told her yet and he knew she would want to know that Kate was awake, even if she might have to wait to see her. 

 

“Hi Jo,” he greeted the brunette with a smile. 

 

Jo smiled back weakly. “H… h-hi…” 

She too seemed very tired. 

 

“I just wanted to let you know, Kate woke up earlier today, properly woke up. She’s sleeping again now, but she’s awake and she recognised both me and Josh. It’s a really good sign.”

 

Jo blinked wearily at him a few times as she tried to make sense of what Steve was telling her. Her brain had been feeling particularly foggy today and she was struggling to process and understand information.

 

“K… K-Kate a… a-a… w… w-wake?” She reframed what she understood as a question hoping that Steve would give her the clarification she needed, she had to be sure. 

 

“Yes, Kate’s awake,” Steve repeated, though it was the smile that spread across his face that told Jo all she needed to know.

 

She grinned back at him as best she could, eyes twinkling with joy, and filling with tears. 

 

“H… h-hap… p-py t… t-tears.” Jo wiped at her cheeks.

 

“Yeah,” Steve nodded. “Happy tears. 

 

Jo got to see Kate the next day, she was still reliant on a wheelchair and the assistance of the nurses to get around. It was frustrating but for the sake of being able to see Kate, it was worth it. Just knowing that Kate was awake had helped her heart to feel lighter and maybe she could find the hope she so desperately needed to get through everything that was still to come.

 

“H… h-hi,” Jo suddenly found herself blushing like a lovestruck teenager. 

 

“Hi,” Kate smiled weakly in return. 

 

“It’s g… g-good to s… s-see y-you,” Jo gushed as her eyes filled with tears.  

It was such a feeling of relief to see Kate awake, breathing on her own, colour slowly returning to her cheeks and no longer reliant on machines to stay alive. 

 

Only a short visit, knew from her own experiences how overwhelming it can be.

 

“C… c-can we j… j-just s-sit?” Jo asked. “St… s-still h-hard f… f-for me t… t-to t-talk.”

Kate smiled weakly in response, she wasn’t ready for lengthy conversations yet either. “That’s fine, it’s just good to see you.”

 

Jo smiled, beaming almost from ear to ear. Her smile was honest and true smile, one of her first real smiles in a very long time

“G… g-good t… to s… s-see y-you t… t–too.”

Chapter Text

Christmas day dawned bright and cold. A thin layer of frost covered the city, icy crystals glistening with every shade of the rainbow. Whispy clouds slowly moved across the sky.  

Steve had arranged to meet Josh in the hospital reception, that way they could go up and see Kate together. 

Josh was carrying a gift bag and wearing a Santa hat and had finally dug out his Christmas jumper, green with an image of Buddy from the film elf on the front. It had always been his favourite as a kid. He was feeling much more in the festive spirit now he knew his mum was getting better.

“Happy Christmas,” he greeted Steve. 

 

“Happy Christmas, mate” Steve replied back with a smile. 

 

“You head on up to your mum,” Steve told Josh. “I just need to do something first."

 




“Happy Christmas mum!” Josh stepped into Kate’s bay smiling widely. 

She had been dozing quietly but stirred as soon as she sensed Josh arrive. Over the past couple of days, she had become more aware but was still very weak and sleeping a lot. Even though she tried not to let it show, her battle with sepsis had clearly taken its toll on her. 

Josh remembered how Bernie had explained that the drugs that she had been on would take a while to work their way out of her system and it would take her body a long time to recover from the battering the sepsis had given it. Her senses and whole body had been severely affected by the time she’d been unconscious and even more so given the fact that this was the second time she’d been in a coma within the last month. 

Josh knew it would take time and even if it could be frustrating at times, just having his mum awake and recovering was the best Christmas present he could have asked for, considering there had been the chance that she might not have made it to Christmas day at all.

 

Kate blinked a few times and then smiled wearily up at her visitor. 

“H-hi” she greeted Josh horsely. She was propped up by cushions into a half-sitting position which meant she could see him better and follow what was happening in her bay. Still looked very ill but just in being awake and lucid she seemed so much more like the mum that he knew and loved.

 

“Happy Christmas.” Josh gave Kate a cautious hug, she was still hooked up to various monitors and IV lines and he didn’t want to accidentally tug at anything.

 

“S-stay like this f-for a b-bit?” Kate asked. Being able to give her son a hug even if in a weak and uncoordinated way, was the best feeling ever.  

 

“Okay,” Josh smiled back. Hugging her made him realise just how frail his mum still was. He took a deep breath, thankful to be able to take a moment to hide the tears that welled up in his eyes. He didn’t want to let her see him cry. Emotionally, he still felt so all over the place. He was so scared of hurting her or that she would get sick again. That anxiety wouldn’t go away, but for today at least, he tried to push those thoughts to the back of his mind. Today was about celebrating.

 

They were disturbed by a sound from outside of Kate’s bay, that sounded like stifled giggling. Josh looked up as Steve poked his head around the curtain.

“Room for a couple more?” he asked.

 

“C-course,” Kate nodded. 

 

Steve pushed Jo into the bay, they were both sporting comedy elf hats complete with bells and pointy ears.

 

Kate’s face lit up when she spotted who was accompanying Steve, “Jo!” 

 

“You have something on your h-head,” she smiled. “Looks cute.”

Then she turned to Steve with a wry smile. “And y-you look  like a tit.”

 

“Cheers mate,” Steve laughed. “It’s good to see you mate.”

 

Josh held his hands up, “just to be clear, I had no part in this.”

 

Kate laughed weakly, “it’s all Steve. Always is.”

 

“A… a-anything m… m-make you sm… sm–smile.” Jo grinned.

 

“Just s-seeing you is e-enough to make me s-smile.” Kate replied

 

“S… s-so I d… d-don’t l-look l… l-like a t… t-tit then?” Jo questioned playfully.

 

“Nah,” Kate grinned. “It’s o-only Steve that d-does.”

 

“Oi!” Steve laughed. “It’s a good job you’re me best mate.”

 

“C-course,” Kate joined with the laughter. “Wouldn’t h-have it any o-other way.”

 

“It’s so nice t-to see y-you all,” Kate smiled weakly. “B-best Christmas I c-could wish for.”

 

Steve helped Jo position the wheelchair alongside Kate’s bed. 

Josh perched on one corner at the end of the bed and he settled into the chair on the other side. It didn’t feel quite so uncomfortable anymore. 

 

“I brought this,” Josh said, pulling his iPad out of his rucksack. “I figured we could watch a film or something.”

It was a simple activity they could all do together and Kate and Jo could rest as needed.

 

“I’d l-like t-that.” Kate smiled. She wasn’t up to long discussions and she had a feeling Jo wouldn’t be either. 

 

Josh opened up Netflix, swiping through the Christmas films that were on offer. They collectively decided on Elf. “H-hey, it m-matches your j-jumper,” Kate pointed out.

 

“So it does,” Josh smiled back. “That wasn’t intentional but I guess it is quite fitting.” 

“W-was your f-favourite f-film when you w-were l-little,” Kate said warmly.

 

“Yeah,” Josh replied, glad his mum had remembered. It meant she really was coming back to him. 

 

“N… n-never s… s-seen i-it,” Jo stuttered, looking slightly forlorn, with all her years under OCG control she was beginning to realise just how much she had missed out on. 

 

“Guess we made a good choice then!” Steve chimed in cheerfully, offering Jo a warm smile. 

 

The film began to play and Kate looked around warmly at her visitors. Steve and Jo in their ridiculous hats and Josh, her baby boy so grown up. She was still having a hard time processing everything that had happened to her but just being able to spend time together with the people that matter most to her, it meant everything. 

 

Steve stood up and stretched out as the end credits of the film began to play. “I forget just how funny it was!” 

 

“Y… y-you p… p-picked a g… g-good f… f-film,” Jo agreed. Cheeks flushed from laughing and slightly out of breath. There was the faintest twinkle in her eyes but she was slumped forward slightly, clearly tired and worn out. 

 

“Do you want me to take you back round to your bed?” Steve offered. 

 

Jo just nodded. 

Both Kate and Josh had dozed off and now seemed a good time to leave quietly without disturbing them. 

 

“You can always come back later after you’ve had a rest,” he suggested. 

 

“Mmh,” Jo agreed, blinking heavily a few times as she tried to fight against the exhaustion. 

 

“Love the hats!” Jay commented, joining Steve and helping Jo get settled back in her bay. 

 

“A… a-all St… St-Steve’s i… i-idea,” Jo said quietly, she was tiring quickly now.

 

“Well, they’re fab!” Jay exclaimed excitedly. “Happy Christmas! I hope you’ve had a good day so far.” 

 

Jo blushed slightly. “Y… y-yeah, b… b-best C… C-Christ… m-mas in l… l-long t… t-time.”

 

Steve’s heart ached as he heard Jo say that. He was grateful to spend time with Kate and Jo, especially given how precariously close both of them had come to not being here at all. But it was a long way from the Christmas he’d imagined. He resolved then, that whatever happened he’d make sure that Jo got to experience a proper family Christmas one day. She deserved it. 

 

“Well I’m glad you’ve had a good time,” Jay smiled. 

 

“Happy Christmas Jo,” Steve smiled warmly at her once she was settled.

 

“H… h-hap… p-py C… C-Christmas,” she replied weakly. She seemed to be carrying less of a weight in her heart, but to Steve, it was clear that she was still struggling. 

 

He sat down next to her for a moment, hoping he could help her in some way. Today of all days. She was already half asleep so he hoped Jo would hear him. 

“I know you find it hard to believe Jo,  but we got them, because of you, because of what you told me. You’re free now, to be who you really are, and live your life. But to do that, you need to be recovered, you need to let people in and learn to trust. You can count on Kate, and you can count on me. She really loves you. I’ve known Kate for 10 years, she’s my best mate and I’ve never known her to talk about others the way she does about you. Even her ex-husband. I really think you can be great together. If not for anyone else, keep fighting for Kate. You don’t have to be alone anymore.”

 

Though her eyes were closed Jo smiled shyly. “T… t-thanks.” 

Accepting help still felt hard. Fighting against the lies she had been told her whole life. It was a battle that would take time. She had hope. She had a chance. People she loved and people who cared for her. Maybe those were worth fighting for.

 




Kate woke to find that the film had finished and Josh was dozing at the end of the bed, eyes closed and snoring softly. 

“J-Josh,” Kate nudged her son gently. 

 

“Mmh, I’m awake,” he replied sleepily, rubbing his eyes. It seemed Kate wasn’t the only one who needed the chance to rest.

 

“T… thank you f-for t-today.” Kate smiled softly. 

 

“You’re welcome,” Josh smiled back. 

He sat up, retrieving the small gift bag from the floor and handing it gently to his mum. “It’s not much, but I got you something. Hope you like it.” 

 

Kate fumbled with the wrapping for a bit, she was still struggling to coordinate her movements, especially when tired but she eventually got there, slowly turning the photo frame over so she could see the picture.

 

“It’s p-perfect,” Kate smiled. “G-reat p-hoto.” 

 

“Yeah,” Josh agreed. “And we’ll get back to going to Forest games soon, even if it takes a bit of time. And maybe we’ll even drag Steve along to a few!”

 

“Sounds like a plan!” Josh grinned.

 

“I’m not sure about that, mate!” Steve laughed, coming back into the bay. 

 

“T-time to m-make a F-Forset fan of you y-yet,” Kate grinned, giving Steve a gentle nudge.

 

It was an interaction that should have been so normal, so close to Kate’s typical banter but for Josh, it was all of a sudden too much. 

“I was really scared.” Josh blurted out, standing up from the bed, tears streaming down his face. “I was so scared, I thought you were gonna die.”

 

“S-sorry,” Kate wheezed. Kate held out her hand to Josh, it was all she could do to comfort him at the moment and it didn’t feel like enough and it hurt. 

 

“It’s not your fault,” Steve insisted. “You don’t need to be sorry, you just need to get better.” 

 

“T-trying my best,” Kate replied weakly. 

And she really was, but that didn’t stop her from feeling frustrated and utterly useless. 

 

“I know you are,” Steve smiled at his friend. 

 

“N-not good at t-this,” Kate sighed wearily. 

 

“Yeah, I figured as much,” Steve replied. “But it’s really important that you don’t overdo it or try to do too much.  You can’t get sick again, you just can’t”

 

Kate sighed quietly, tears welling up in her eyes as she thought of what Josh and Steve must have gone through while she was so unwell. To think that Josh had seen her so ill, almost dying, it broke her heart.  Josh was right, she couldn’t change what had happened, as much as she wanted to. 

The only thing she could do about it now was to get better. To fight with all she had to get better so that she could spend all the time she could with her son. Come what may, she was going to make it work this time. That would be her reason to recover.

Chapter Text

Josh came to see Kate the next morning.

“Hi mum,” he greeted her quietly, offering up a half smile. 

 

Kate smiled back weakly, it was nice to see Josh again. “Hi.” 

Though when she looked at her son she knew straight away that something wasn’t right. Even in her weakened and occasionally confused state, she could tell instinctively that there was something bothering him. 

“S-something happened?” She asked, eyes filled with concern.

 

Josh shrugged in response. “It’s just dad being a bit of a dick.”

 

“Tell m-me,” Kate implored, she might be sick and weak but she still wanted to be able to help her son. 

 

“You don’t need to worry about it.”

 

“Already am w-worried. C-can help. Or at l-least l-listen.” she said, motioning for Josh to come closer. 

 

Josh sighed, sitting down in the chair by Kate’s bed. It was clear why his mum made such a good police officer, nothing got past her. 

“I’m just so fed up with dad at the moment. We had another massive argument last night. Yesterday were so nice and then he went and ruined it.” 

Josh paused, trembling slightly, all the pent-up frustration from the previous evening still lingered and it was hard to hold it all in. He didn’t want his mum to see him like this, but now she’d noticed he at least owed her some kind of explanation. 

“He won’t shut up about how I’m spending too much time here and he keeps saying such horrible things about you! And then yesterday, he kept saying how it were selfish of me to make everyone wait till I got back from the hospital to do stuff but I never asked them to, I didn’t even want them to wait! Then they all joined in, being horrible and saying it would have been better if you died. I just couldn’t listen to it so I ran upstairs.” 

 

“It w-wasn’t f-fair of him to s-say those t-things.” Kate’s heart ached, she could understand Josh’s frustration and couldn’t help but feel hurt that Mark would actively wish her dead. 

 

“No, it wasn’t!” Josh grumbled. “I wanted to shout back, tell them all where to stick it but I didn’t. I kept as calm as I could and just got out of the situation but apparently, that was the wrong thing to do because then dad was shouting that I’d ruined Christmas for everyone and how Grandma and Grandad had come to see me and I should be spending time with them, but they were both saying such horrible things about you and I really couldn’t listen to it.”

 

“S-sorry t-that h-happened, y-you did good staying c-calm.” Kate hung her head. She knew things had ended badly with Mark and that most of the fault was on her but she had never wanted Josh to get dragged into their mess. Though she was also proud of Josh for taking himself out of the situation.

 

“D-didn’t want y-you to get p-pulled into m-my m-mess. S-sorry”

 

“I know that mum,” Josh insisted. He thought of the letter he’d written just a few days ago, pouring all that was swirling around his head. “You shouldn’t have to apologise, I know now how much you do care about me.” 

He screwed his eyes shut trying not to cry, there were some things that still felt so raw.

“You being okay and waking up, that was all I needed, all I wanted. I didn’t want a big family Christmas with Grandma and Grandad and everyone else, it was all too overwhelming.”

 

“Oh Josh,” It was Kate’s turn to fight back the tears.

 

“Then dad is there complaining that I’m bringing down the atmosphere. Should be happy because it’s Christmas. And I’m trying but these past few weeks have been hard. He kept going on about how I’m not doing anything, that I’m wasting my time. But I’m coming to see you. That’s what matters most to me right now.”

 

Kate smiled at her son with teary eyes. “I l-love you Josh, makes m-my day e-every time I see you, but y-your d-dad is right.” Kate paused to take a breath. 

“M-maybe n-not right way of s-saying it b-but c-can’t put your l-life on h-hold f-for my s-sake.”

 

“I want to though!” Josh shot back, a stray tear rolling down his cheek.

 

Kate sighed quietly, it hurt to see Josh so upset. “i-important you s-still d-do n-normal things. S-see your m-mates, w-watch f-footie.” 

 

“It’s just hard to think of normal life right now,” Josh sighed, wiping his eyes. 

 

“d-don’t w-want you t-to m-miss out.”

 

“But this is important to me, you are important to me,” Josh insisted. “I feel guilty enough that I missed out, that I believed dad when he said you didn’t care about me.”

 

“P-please d-don’t f-feel g-guilty,” Kate almost cried. Josh feeling guilty, especially for her sake was the last thing she wanted. 

 

“Sorry,” Josh responded quietly. “Everything is so far from normal, that I just can’t continue like nothing has happened.”

 

“i-important you k-keep d-doing n-normal things. I’m t-trying r-really h-hard t-to g-get b-better, b-but it’s g-going take t-time,” Kate wheezed, beginning to feel short of breath and a little dizzy.

 

“I know that too,” Josh insisted. 

 

Kate tried to respond, or at least offer some comfort to Josh but she had to pause for a moment, taking several deep breaths to try and steady herself. 

 

It was a moment that didn’t go unnoticed by Josh. 

“Are you okay?” He asked, jumping up, suddenly very concerned. “Do you need me to get someone?”

 

Kate shook her head. She too noticed the moment of panic that flashed across her son’s face as she tried to steady her breathing. She hated being so weak, but what she hated more was how it affected those around her. Josh shouldn’t have to worry as much as he was. Especially not about her, it was all the wrong way round. 

“M-mh fine,” she eventually stuttered. “Talking l-lot’s s-still hard. G-get tired quickly.”

 

“Okay…” Josh still looked uncertain

 

Kate tried a different tactic, giving Josh something to focus on, a task of sorts, and then a way of coming to see her after. She hoped it would be enough of a distraction to help him and give him the chance of doing something he enjoyed without feeling too pressured. “W-why don’t y-you to the game, t-then come b-back and t-tell me a-about it.”

 

“Suppose I can do that,” Josh agreed somewhat reluctantly. 

 


 

In the hours afterward, the conversation with her son weighed heavily on Kate’s mind. Watching Josh get panicked so quickly earlier had scared her, and affected her more than she wanted to let on. She hated feeling so weak and was determined to do something about it. She had promised Josh that she was trying hard to get better, and that was exactly what she had to do. Get better, get out of hospital so that they could spend more time together and actually do things. 

The first step she decided was to be able to get out of bed, the most she’d managed since waking up a few days ago was sitting up and that didn’t feel like enough. Surely she could manage more than that. 

Slowly she shifted into a more upright position, untangling her legs from the covers so she could swing them over the side of the bed. Even such a simple movement took extreme effort, she had to use her arms to balance so she didn’t topple backward and her movements remained slow and uncoordinated

Kate realised just how much strength she’d lost, she felt as if her body wasn’t her own, she knew what she wanted to do but getting her brain and limbs to cooperate enough to manage that was a different matter. She could feel her breathing becoming increasingly shaky and beads of sweat forming on her forehead.

 

She was so focused on trying to get up that she didn’t notice Steve coming into the bay.

 

“Kate! What are you doing?” He asked, rushing over, immediately concerned.

 

“G-getting u-up,” Kate huffed, her breathing heavy and laboured. This was harder than she had expected. She could feel her breathing becoming increasingly shaking and her vision blurred as she was hit by a wave of dizziness. The monitors she was attached to also flashed in alarm.

 

“I don’t think you’re quite ready for that yet,” Steve tried to counter but he was met by a stubbornness so typical of his best friend, in that Kate completely ignored him. 

 

Kate gritted her teeth, grunting with effort before trying to swing her legs around in a weak and uncoordinated motion. Suddenly she toppled forwards and if Steve hadn’t been there to catch her she would have crashed to the floor. 

 

“I’ve got you,” Steve reassured her but it didn’t help. 

 

Lying uncomfortably on her side. Too exhausted to move she screwed her eyes shut and let out a frustrated sob. 

 

“Can’t do anything,” she cried quietly. 

 

“Mate, just listen a sec, okay,” Steve knelt down so he was on eye level with Kate.

“It’s okay to be weak and struggling right now, in fact, it’s to be expected. I know you don’t like to think about it but you nearly died, more than once. Three, or maybe more times. I try not to count cause that thought still scares me.” 

Steve rubbed his eyes, he too could feel tears forming. He looked directly at Kate

“I try not to think about it, but there was a point when we thought we were going to lose you and I don’t know what I would’ve done if that had happened.” 

 

Kate looked at Steve with tear-filled eyes. 

“I…” she wasn’t sure how she was supposed to reply. She hadn’t really thought about how her being in hospital could have affected others. About how the time she’d spent unconscious and unaware of what was happening around her would have impacted Josh and Steve.

“I’m s-sorry.”

 

“You don’t have to be sorry mate,” Steve replied. 

 

“It’s j-just…” Kate sighed. “I g-guess I’m n-not used to having p-people w-worry about me.”

 

“Well tough,” Steve smiled. “Cause you’ve got people that worry about you. And we worry because we care.”

 

“S-still trying to w-work every t-thing out in m-my head.” Kate wheezed quietly. Her thoughts were still foggy at times.

 

“That’s okay,” Steve implored. “It’s okay to need time.” 

 

Kate closed her eyes for a few seconds, thinking of her resolve to be more honest. 

“O-ne t-thing is c-clear.”

 

Steve smiled. He had a feeling he knew what Kate was going to say. 

 

“A-bout J-Jo.” 

 

“I l-love her, r-really love h-her.” 

 

“I know.” 

 

“I’ve n-never f-felt this b-before, t-terrifies me b-but also f-feels r-right.”

 

“You go for it mate. I just want you to be happy. I want you both to be happy. You deserve it, both of you. I’ve already told Jo the same. And I’m here for you, both of you.

 

“You’ve g-gone all s-soppy mate.” Kate grinned at Steve. 

 

Steve laughed slightly. “Y’know what? I don’t care. There are worse things to be than soppy. And if I’m being soppy it's only because I care.”

 

“T-thanks,” Kate replied quietly. “I c-care t-too.”

 

“I know you do mate, I know you do.” Steve offered Kate a comforting smile. “Just try and rest for now, okay.” 

 


 

Josh was still wearing his Forest hat and scarf when he returned to the hospital. Cheeks flushed from the cold he had evidently come straight from the football. He launched straight into an account of the match, being as dramatic as he could even with the result ending in a 0-0 draw with Birmingham. 

 

“G-glad you e-enjoyed yourself,” Kate smiled through a slight wheezing laugh. Josh made quite the commentator.

 

“Yeah,” Josh mused quietly. “I guess I kinda missed the crowds and the atmosphere that comes with home games.”

 

“C-can’t beat i-it,” Kate agreed. “We’ll get t-to s-see o-one together s-soon.”

 

“Promise?” Josh asked, still feeling uncertain. He didn’t mention it, but he’d been worrying the entire time he was out at the football with Dan. 

 

“Promise,” Kate confirmed. She took a deep breath. Time to start being more honest. 

“C-can I t-tell you s-something?” she asked, nervously fiddling with one end of the covers. She knew it would be better to have this conversation sooner rather than later. She didn’t want any more secrets, but she also didn't want to ruin things with Josh. Telling Steve was one thing, he had already pretty much worked it out, but telling Josh… It was such a big thing and she didn’t want to make a difficult situation even more complicated. 

 

“Course,” Josh replied.

 

Kate took another deep breath. Why did this have to be so hard?

“A-about Jo.”

 

Josh smiled, a wave of relief washing over him. He already had an inkling of what his mum was going to say. For a moment he’d been worried she had bad news, she was still so weak and he didn’t know if he would be able to cope if anything else happened to her. 

“Go on,” Josh implored, watching his mum carefully.

 

“I…” Kate paused, admitting her feelings out loud still fell hard, and she was still struggling to make sense of everything and this was the one thing she didn’t want to come out all jumbled. “J-Jo… I think, n-no, I know… I love her.” 

 

Josh breathed a sigh of relief and then smiled. 

 

“I l-love Jo,” Kate clarified. “I h-hope you d-don’t m-mind.”

 

“Why would I mind?” Josh asked. “You’re still my mum, nothing is gonna change that and all I want is for you to be happy.”

 

Kate gave Josh a tearful smile. 

“T-thanks, m-means a lot, r-really.”

 

“You were never happy with dad,” Josh added quietly. 

 

“I…” Kate stumbled. She hadn’t realised just how much Josh had noticed, even before she had gone and messed it all up. 

 

“If Jo can make you happy then go for it,” Josh gave his mum a gentle nudge. “You’re not getting any younger you know,” he added with a sneaky smile. 

 

“Oi!” Kate laughed weakly back. “m-may b-be in h-hospital but c-can s-still ground y-you!”

 

“Have you told her?” Josh asked.

 

“Yeah,” Kate replied quietly. “She was u-unconscious b-but…” 

“Maybe you need to talk properly,” Josh suggested. 

 

“I k-know,” Kate sighed. “it’s h-hard.”

 

“Just tell her. I don’t really know Jo but from the way she were looking at you yesterday I reckon she feels the same.”

 

“When d-did my b-baby b-boy get s-so g-grown up,” Kate cried quietly

 

“Just happened, I guess,” Josh shrugged. “I love you mum, no matter what.”