DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
SEQUEL: To Whatever Happens in Bristol ... and Miss Bailey Regrets
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Set a few hours after the last episode of Series 3.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To filbertfox.redux[at]gmail.com
Rachel Bailey had never been a fan of house parties. In actual fact, many years of experience had taught her that just like TV cop dramas, road-side burger vans, and any sort of aniseed-based liqueur, they were generally best avoided. Unlike a night out in a pub or a bar, parties just had too many uncontrollable variables too many uncertainties for her to feel truly at ease. Alcohol, of course, was the major issue. The good stuff usually the stuff you'd bought tended to go quickly, and unless you kept your wits about you, you'd be stuck with cheap and nasty, bargain basement plonk and the prospect of a hangover the size of Lake Windermere the following morning. And that was even before the long list of other nightmare scenarios shit music; being groped by drunken dickheads; standing cross-legged on the landing while you listened to someone honking their guts up behind the locked door of the only loo, and so on that all conspired to make you wish you'd stayed at home with a bottle of Merlot and The X Factor on the telly.
So really, all things considered, the fact that Rachel was at a party, surrounded on all sides by people having a fantastic time, while feeling completely miserable herself, was just about par for the course. That she was standing in her boss, Detective Chief Inspector Gill Murray's house, at a party she'd actually crashed, however well that was a bit of a turn-up, to say the absolute least.
Taking a sip from the lukewarm can of Beck's in her hand, Rachel turned to survey the room, taking in the flashing disco lights, the diverse mix of people, and the general air of drunken hilarity. This particular party had originally been arranged to celebrate the engagement of Gill's nineteen-year-old son, Sammy, and his girlfriend, Orla, and because of that, the majority of those currently bouncing off all four walls to the accompaniment of 'Mr Brightside' were pissed-up teenagers. There was also a sizeable contingent of equally as well-oiled coppers though, and Rachel found that she was unable to resist a smile as she caught sight of her best friend, DCI Janet Scott, doing some sort of weird, mutant jive with one of their male colleagues, Mitch. For them, the party had become a tension reliever a much-needed opportunity to blow off a bit of steam, and rejoice in the fact that the good guys had prevailed, their boss was safe and well, and that all was now right with the world.
Not that the "good guys" had actually done that much, Rachel reflected, at least not as far as she'd been able to see. Even with the combined resources of three police forces, and one of the most sophisticated CCTV systems in the world, that Gill had survived to tell the tale was down to one person, and one person only DCI Gill Murray.
The DCI had been hidden away in her bedroom and doing serious damage to a bottle of gin when Rachel and Janet had first arrived at the house. She'd since decided in her own words to "stop moping about like a fat-arsed drama queen", and after a lightning change of clothes and spot of make-up repair, had headed downstairs to join the party. She was now standing just across the room, sharing a joke and her gin bottle with Detective Superintendent Julie Dodson. The joke was at the expense of Gill's ex-husband, Dave. Completely paralytic already, he'd passed out cold in a nearby sofa, providing some unknown artist the opportunity to draw a cartoon penis on his forehead in black marker pen.
Rachel drank more lager as she observed Gill doubling-up with laughter in response to some comment DSi Dodson had just made. Looking at how happy and relaxed she seemed now, it was almost hard to believe that earlier that day, she'd been abducted at knifepoint and then forced to drive to what could have very easily been her death. Rachel still hadn't decided if it was purely a case of Gill putting on a brave face, or whether that brilliant, well-ordered brain of hers had already succeeded in working out a way to reconcile itself to her ordeal. Either way, it said a lot about the type of person she was, Rachel decided, awash with admiration for her boss.
As for herself? Well Rachel was finding it difficult to wrap her own, much less disciplined head around the dramatic events of the day. It didn't help that for the most part even when she and Janet had been called into the Red Centre to join the rescue operation the whole thing had seemed to have an edge of unreality about it almost as if she'd been watching it all unfold through somebody else's eyes. Really, it hadn't been until the moment she and Janet had walked into Gill's bedroom, and found her lying half-pissed and broken on the bed that the stark reality of the situation had finally began to sink in
The sheer enormity of what could have happened
And of what she'd come so perilously close to losing.
Rachel's fingers tightened reflexively around the can in her hand as she relived the moment she'd watched the Humberside firearms team preparing to storm the Boss's car. Although she'd felt calm and relatively detached at the time, Rachel knew for a fact that the scene would go on to haunt her for the rest of her life. As too would the sight of Gill stepping out of her car and into safety barely moments later. She'd looked so fragile and well small up there on the giant video screen, with the waves of the North Sea smashing into the cliffs of Flamborough Head only a few metres behind her.
Rachel was consumed by a wave of panic. All of a sudden, she was cold ice cold yet despite this, she could feel beads of sweat breaking out on her forehead and trickling down her spine. Then the second wave hit, and she was forced to close her eyes over a thick film of tears. You will not fucking cry. You will not fucking cry! Rachel repeated this mantra in her head as she battled against an intense rush of emotion. She had a feeling that if she started crying now, she would probably never stop.
It took a while but eventually, the immediate danger passed. Realising that it would probably be safer all round just to call it quits and go home, Rachel placed her half-empty can of lager down on the shelf of a nearby bookcase, and then headed for the stairs, planning to call for a taxi while she collected her coat and bag from Gill's bedroom. However, she'd barely walked two steps when Janet pounced, seemingly out of nowhere.
"Shitting hell, Janet!" Rachel exclaimed breathlessly. Instinctively, she raised a hand to her chest it felt like her heart was about to crash through her ribcage. "You nearly frightened the life out of me!"
"So you are alive then? Only I wasn't sure," Janet commented sardonically. "Come on Sherlock." She bumped her hip against Rachel's. "What do I have to do to get you up on that dance floor?"
"Short of knocking my out cold and then dragging me onto it, you mean?" Slowly, Rachel shook her head. "Nah, you're all right. I think Godzilla's seen me make a tit of myself one time too many recently, don't you?" She looked over at Gill, frowning slightly as she observed the DCI take a massive gulp from the glass in her hand.
"I wouldn't worry about it, Rach," Janet said dismissively, also turning to look at Gill. "A couple more of those and it's highly likely she'll be busting some seriously embarrassing moves of her own before long. Or at least she would if they put something on we could bloody dance to."
Janet looked up, and Rachel watched her face twist into a scowl as The Killers gave way to 'Bad Mood' by The Vaccines. Rachel smiled inwardly. The lyrics could have been custom-written to reflect her current state of mind. She made no mention of this to Janet though, of course. But by now, her friend's attention was already elsewhere.
"Actually, hold that thought," Janet told Rachel. "Back in a sec."
Janet stepped off to her right and was immediately swallowed up by the crowd of dancers. Wondering what the hell she was up to, Rachel stood on tiptoe and scanned the room until she eventually spotted her friend bending Sammy's ear about something. Rachel couldn't quite discern his facial expression, but there was something in his body language that suggested that whatever their conversation was about, Janet definitely had the upper hand.
With an impatient sigh, Rachel looked down at her watch. As she studied its dark blue face, she toyed with the possibility of making a break for it while Janet was occupied. Just as quickly, she dismissed the idea. She and Janet had only been back on speaking terms for a few hours. How would it look if she disappeared without saying goodbye? Probably best not to risk it, Rachel decided, resigning herself to staying put for the foreseeable future.
"What did you want with Sammy?" she asked when Janet eventually returned.
"I was just telling him that it only seems like five minutes since I was changing his nappies," Janet explained, a sly smile flickering around the edges of her mouth. "And that if he doesn't want me to start giving all of his friends a highly descriptive, blow-by-blow account, he'll go and tell Fat Boy Slim over there," she jerked her head in the direction of the curly-haired, slightly chubby teenager who was manning the sound system, "to put something on for us oldies."
"Shit, poor kid stuck with you as a Godmother," Rachel remarked before her head had fully absorbed Janet's response. As soon as it had, she immediately back-tracked. "Hey, hold on a minute," she said indignantly. "You'd better not be including me in that us."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realise that standing around with a face like a smacked arse was your way of trying to get down with the kids," Janet countered sardonically. "Fancy yourself as a bit of an Emo, do you?"
"I dunno." Rachel shrugged, nonplussed. "What exactly is an Emo? Isn't is the same as being a Goth?"
"Ah, now you see, you've just fallen into the same trap as I did."
Rachel raised an eyebrow. "Elise?" she guessed.
"God no, she's far too sensible. No, it's Taisie." Janet rolled her eyes. "She's currently in thrall to some spotty, Rocky Horror Show reject called Kye. He's all greasy black hair, eyeliner and monosyllables. I can't really see the attraction myself but needless to say, Taisie thinks he's God in a pair of skinny jeans." She shook her head, looking deeply unimpressed. "Anyway, I think I've resigned myself to the fact that one day soon, I'm going to arrive home and find out she's dyed her hair some ridiculous colour."
Rachel found that she was experiencing a sick, crawling sensation in the pit of her stomach as Janet talked about her youngest daughter. It was the first time Taisie's name had been mentioned by either of them since they'd reconciled their differences earlier that afternoon.
Taking a deep breath, Rachel steeled herself to ask the question. "She's okay though?"
"Who, Taisie?" At first, Janet seemed somewhat surprised by this. Then her expression grew serious and she took a few seconds to study Rachel closely. Finally, she let out a weary, long-suffering sigh. "Look, Rach, your halo may have slipped a bit, but I think it's safe to say you're still right up there with Lady Gaga. Although how long she'll retain idol status now that His Kyeness is on the scene is anyone's guess."
"I am really sorry, Jan." Rachel tried to inject as much contrition as she could into her voice.
"I know you are." Janet acknowledged the apology equally as seriously. "But it's all sorted now, okay? Let's just forget about it and move on." She squeezed Rachel's arm reassuringly and then looked up, eyes widening excitedly as The Vaccines faded out mid-song. A second or so later, the speakers began to pump out the unmistakable intro to 'Superstition' by Stevie Wonder. "Right, that's me." Janet was forced to bellow over a loud cheer of approval from the other partygoers. "You coming?"
Rachel shook her head. "I think I might just do one and go home, to be honest," she replied, unable to stop herself darting another glance over at Gill as she did so. At the same time, the DCI looked up and for a hair-raising, stomach-churning instant, their eyes met and locked and neither of them seemed able to look away. But then the moment passed. Feeling her face begin to burn, Rachel dropped her eyes to the floor. She swallowed thickly, striving to curb emotions that still lurked dangerously close to the surface.
"Are you okay, mate?" Janet asked, brow furrowing as she intercepted the look. Concerned, she moved closer to Rachel. "Only you do know she's okay about you being here, don't you?"
"You can crash my parties anytime, kid."
Rachel was rendered temporarily speechless as Gill's words spoken earlier that evening echoed around her head, causing her already troubled stomach to disappear completely.
"I know she is," she eventually managed to say, hoping that her voice didn't sound as shaky to Janet's ears as it did her own. "I'm just not feeling it, I suppose. It's probably the lager," she added with a shrug, jumping on the first excuse that appeared in her head. "It always puts me on a downer."
"As much as I hate to point out the obvious to such a brilliantly intuitive detective as yourself, there's actually a very simple answer to this conundrum. Rioja. Two cases of it. In there." Janet nodded curtly in the direction of the kitchen and then seemed to relent slightly. "Come on. What's the worst that can happen? You get pissed and make a prat of yourself? Big deal. Believe me, after everything that's happened today, no-one here's going to give a shit."
"Yeah, but " Rachel tried to protest.
"Take it from someone who's been there, done it far too many times before," Janet continued, undaunted. "After a day like today, the last thing you should be doing right now is going home on your own. You need to stay here with your mates, have a laugh and get completely arseholed." Pausing, she considered Rachel shrewdly. "She's going to be okay. You know that, don't you? I know she was a bit on the wobbly and emotional side when we got here, but she's tough as old boots."
Looking into Janet's soft and sympathetic blue eyes, Rachel was sorely tempted to blurt out the truth: "I know you mean well, Janet, but I don't think I can risk staying here any longer. With every moment that passes, I'm getting closer and closer to falling apart. The thing is, and I know this sounds fucked-up and beyond crazy, but I think I've fallen for her Godzilla, I mean. Right now, all I want to do is go home and cry myself raw because of how close I can to losing her today. You can understand that, can't you?" But in the end, a combination of cowardice and common sense prevailed, and she settled instead for a derisive snort of laughter.
"Who, Godzilla? Tell me something I don't know," Rachel scoffed. "In fact, thinking about it, I can't quite make up my mind what would be scarier being trapped in a car with a knife-wielding, suicidal nut-job, or being trapped in a car with her."
"Yeah, well, I'm sure the feeling's mutual," Janet countered with a knowing smile. "In fact, I'd go as far as to say that if it had been you in that car with her, she probably would have ended up driving you both off Flamborough Head herself." Encouraged when Rachel responded with a reluctant laugh, she tried another tack. "Come on, Rach. It's not like you to be such a boring cow. You can stay for another couple of drinks at least. Please for me?"
Rachel felt her resolve begin to waver when Janet decided to bring out the big guns: a wide-eyed, exaggerated pout complete with a wobbly bottom lip thrown in for good measure.
"Oh, for fuck's sake. Fine!" she snapped, exasperated by her lack of willpower. "But if I end up back in uniform on Monday morning because I've thrown up in Her Majesty's kitchen sink, or snogged one of Sammy's mates, then it's all your fault."
"Fine." Janet nodded her agreement without hesitation. "I'll even hold your coat for you when she summons you into her office. How's that?"
"Gee thanks, pal," Rachel grumbled, trying to ignore Janet's triumphant smile. "I'm going for a fag. That okay with you?"
"Just as long as you're not entertaining any stupid ideas about legging it," Janet warned. "Because I'm sorry, Rach, but if you honestly believe I'm going to let you leave tonight without seeing you shake your groove thing at least once, you're seriously mistaken. So think on."
Rachel turned to watch as Janet danced her way back across the room to re-join Mitch. Morosely, she recalled once setting off to get plastered with Janet, Gill and the rest of the Syndicate after a trial they'd been involved in had collapsed on a stupid technicality. As the bell for last orders had been sounded in The Grapes only herself, Janet, Andy and Kevin were left at this point Janet had suddenly decided that she wanted a dance, and flatly refused to go home without one. From that point due in part to the tequila shots Kevin kept buying what happened next was still a bit of a blur. However, Rachel did have a dim recollection of Janet dragging her up to do 'The Locomotion' in whatever beer-soaked dive they'd ended up in.
Knowing from experience that there was no point in even trying to argue with Janet when she was in this sort of mood, Rachel resigned herself to spending a good proportion of the next few hours on the dance floor. Rolling her eyes, she turned on her heel and headed for the kitchen.
Just like the living room, the kitchen was wall-to-wall people, most of them involved in what sounded like a heated discussion about the future of Manchester United now that Alex Ferguson had announced his retirement. As she squeezed her way past them towards the back door, Rachel couldn't avoid noticing the extensive collection of red wine bottles on the kitchen table. Somehow though and despite the internal demon that urged her to follow Janet's advice she managed to avoid the temptation to stop and pour herself a glass. Come on, Rach, the demon persisted, one glass won't hurt. Rachel pulled a face as she stepped out into the garden, knowing that therein lay the problem; her inability to stop at one.
The patio was liberally sprinkled with smokers, and amongst them was a group of Sammy's friends Rachel had chatted to earlier. No longer feeling in a sociable mood, she waved away their calls for her to join them and instead, wandered out onto the lawn. Instantly, no less than four high-powered security lamps came on and flooded the whole garden with light. Whoa! Overkill, or what? Rachel thought, idly wondering about the possibility of being decapitated by laser beams as she approached what looked like a large shed standing just ahead of her.
The shed actually turned out to be a large summer house, complete with a covered seating area that overlooked a further expanse of well-manicured lawn. Rachel couldn't imagine how Gill had the time to keep it that way, and quickly decided that she must pay someone to look after it for her. And plus, even the idea of the DCI doing something as mundane as weeding or pushing a lawnmower around was downright ridiculous.
Settling herself on a wooden bench, Rachel lit a cigarette. Almost immediately, her thoughts strayed back to the bottles of red wine in the kitchen. She ran an agitated hand through her hair as she resumed the battle with the internal demon. Despite Janet's assurances to the contrary, she really didn't want to risk getting wasted and making an idiot of herself, not here in the Boss's house.
Still, the more she thought about it, the more she came to realise that it was probably a bit unfair on the vintners of the world for her to blame everything that had happened over the past year or so on red wine. It had played its part though, particularly when it came to lowering the barriers between the rational part of her brain, and the vast area of fucked-up grey matter that seemed hell-bent on making her behave like a twat, and do twattish things
Like make highly inappropriate, late-night telephone calls to the Boss, for instance.
Like somehow incite her Muppet of a brother, Dom, to beat a man to death.
Like pick up random strangers and have crap with them in cheap hotel rooms.
Like shag Kevin.
Good for a laugh and actually quite good for a shag too, as it turned out. But like her husband, Sean, an overgrown schoolboy with zero ambition and the emotional and intellectual depth of a puddle.
On top of that, it later transpired that Kevin was also the mole who'd been leaking information about Helen Bartlett to the newspapers. Rachel shook her head incredulously, unable to believe that she'd actually felt sorry for him at one point. But then that had been before Helen had tethered Gill to the driver's seat of her own car and then brandished a knife in her face, driven to desperate measures by the tabloid headlines that had so demonised her in the minds of the general public. Rachel knew that there was no way Kevin could have predicted that his actions would backfire dramatically, but it didn't stop her from wanting to kill the little bastard.
A little bastard you had sex with don't forget, you prize knobhead!
Rachel swallowed queasily over this thought. Lifting a hand to her forehead, she felt the skin there burn hot with shame. Of course, having sex with Kevin was only a small part of the story. She couldn't just stop there, could she? Oh no. She had to actually do the deed in Janet's spare bedroom just down the corridor from Elise and Taisie.
What in the hell were you thinking? How could you have been so stupid? Rachel asked herself the questions, even though she knew that they came with the benefit of hindsight. At the time at least as far as her pathetic, drunken head had been concerned it had seemed like the perfect way to break the deadlock between her and Sean. And it had worked, insofar as her actions had finally rid her of a husband who in her heart, she knew she'd never wanted to marry in the first place. But what Rachel hadn't counted on was Taisie overhearing her and Kevin at it. Nor Janet going absolutely bat-shit mental, and chucking her out onto the street. And then to rub salt into the wound, Sean had decided to go all caveman and try to knock Kevin's block off right under Gill's nose.
Although she and Janet were okay now, thank God, Rachel knew that Gill had finally been forced to write her off as an unprofessional liability someone with a bad habit of sleeping with the wrong men, and then dragging the fallout into the office. Rachel pulled deeply on her cigarette as she thought about this. The DCI had made a point of joking about it earlier, she supposed, which at least meant that she could consider herself on the path towards being forgiven for this latest indiscretion. But the light-hearted comment had also raised a worrying question in Rachel's mind. Namely, had Gill also dismissed what had happened between them in that Bristol hotel room as just another "embarrassing and inappropriate" sexual encounter?
The security lamps switched themselves off, plunging Rachel into almost complete darkness. Allowing her head to drop back, she closed her eyes and sighed hopelessly.
Rachel had long since abandoned any attempt to figure out how it actually happened. No matter how unexpected and out-of-character it had been, the indisputable fact remained that it had. One minute, she'd been sitting on the end of the bed, scowling up at Gill and then the next, they'd been falling back onto it together, kissing hungrily and frantically pulling at each other's clothes. What followed next had been fast and heated instinctive all-consuming like nothing Rachel had ever experienced before.
Afterwards, they agreed to pretend it had never happened. No-one else knew and, apart from that one night a pissed Rachel had decided to start making ill-advising telephone calls, it had never been referred to again. Yet it hung over them both whenever they were alone together. Well it hung over her, anyway. It was hard to tell with Gill. Although there had been a couple of occasions here and there when Rachel had caught a glimpse of uncertainty in the Boss's eyes enough maybe to suggest that she was just as confused and conflicted by the whole thing she somehow doubted that the DCI had spent so many long and sleepless nights worrying herself sick about it.
So why, after all this time, couldn't she let it go? That was the question Rachel kept asking herself during all of those endless nights spent staring up at the ceiling. It was just another random shag, wasn't it? But if that really was the case, then why couldn't she just write it off as one of those bizarre, messed-up things that tended to happen when your name was Rachel Bailey and move on?
She'd tried of course. Had failed miserably.
Really, it hadn't been until this evening that Rachel had finally come to understand or rather, had finally admitted to herself that the truth ran a hell of a lot deeper than that. The truth was that something had awoken inside her in that hotel room. Something powerful. Not just passion or lust or desire something a lot deeper and on a much more fundamental and life-changing level.
Something she'd been running scared from ever since.
The sound of a muted click jolted Rachel out of her thoughts. She opened her eyes and then was forced to quickly blink them closed again as she was dazzled by bright light. Rachel blinked again and as her vision cleared, realised that she could see stars above her. For several long seconds, she gazed up at them in wonder. Then it dawned on her that the "stars" were actually white fairy lights hundreds of them hanging in fringes from the wooden ceiling above her head. Sitting bolt upright, Rachel swung around in her seat, heart twisting painfully in her chest as she spotted the woman standing directly behind her, with her finger on a light switch
DCI Godzilla herself.
"I was beginning to think you'd fallen asleep," Gill commented, lips quirking into a smile as she observed the look of astonishment on Rachel's face. "What do you think?" Taking her hand off the light switch, she waved it at the lights. "I wasn't sure when Orla first suggested it. Thought it might end up looking like something off a council estate in the run up to Christmas. I think I'm sold now though."
It took a while for Rachel's brain to start firing on all cylinders again. Once it had, she shifted her attention to the lights above her head and concentrated her efforts on trying to formulate some sort of intelligent response.
Visually, the effect was quite striking, she supposed, but it was hard to work up enthusiasm for something she would've dismissed as far too much bother if someone had suggested she do something similar herself. But then creative decoration had never been Rachel's forte. Her own flat had been decorated and furnished with an eye for comfort and practicality rather than aesthetic appeal. She just hadn't seen the point in shelling out silly money on designer wallpaper and specialist lighting for a place she was only going to eat, sleep, shower and watch late-night TV in.
"I'm sure your hormones got mixed up somehow. Probably all that cheap gin our so-called mother kept drinking while she was carrying you. I'm surprised you didn't come out pickled actually," her sister, Alison, had remarked shortly after she'd first moved in. "Bloody hell, Rach. Even our Tony's got a better eye for interior design than you have, and he's a bloke." But then Alison was one of those people who were incapable of walking past Debenham's or John Lewis without blowing half of her wages on stuff she didn't need. You couldn't move in her house for candle holders and bloody scatter cushions.
"Er, yeah " Rachel replied eventually, nodding her approval. "It it looks nice."
"Steady on, there's no need to go overboard," Gill responded in a voice that dripped sarcasm. "What are you doing sitting out here in the dark, anyway?"
"I came out for a fag," Rachel explained. As if to prove it, she lifted said cigarette to her mouth. Taking a long drag, she exhaled and then took a minute to study Gill through the smoke. The DCI was swaying slightly from side-to-side, she noted, quite obviously pissed, yet still somehow managing to retain her air of authority. "How did you know I was out here?" she asked.
"Contrary to popular belief, the 'D' in 'DCI' does actually stand for Detective not dickhead," Gill replied, an edge of drunken belligerence lending a little something extra to her usual brusque tone. "I followed you, of course." Moving towards the bench, she motioned with her hand for Rachel to make space. "Budge up."
Head spinning as she debated Gill's reasons for deciding to follow her, Rachel slid over to the other end of the bench. A couple of seconds later, Gill plopped down beside her. Skin already tingling in response to the DCI's close proximity, Rachel's predicament worsened as she breathed in the familiar scent of her perfume. Sharp, heady and sophisticated, it made her senses reel. God help me. Rachel offered up a prayer of desperation, unable to recall ever feeling so aware of somebody else's presence before. But then thinking about it, she'd never been attracted to another woman before, either. Yet there was something about this one that drew her in, like iron filings to a magnet.
Stifling a sigh of longing, Rachel turned to study the woman seated beside her. Gill was lounging languidly on the bench, looking rather like a floppy-limbed ragdoll. Too much gin, Rachel deduced, also picking up on the fact that the DCI's eyes were crossing slightly as she struggled to maintain her focus. Pissed or not, she was still absolutely drop-dead gorgeous though, Rachel decided with a certain amount of dismay.
"Can I have one of those?" Gill nodded towards the cigarette in Rachel's hand.
Rachel felt awash with disappointment. Gill's reasons for following her were now crystal clear she wanted a sneaky smoke, nothing more. What else did you expect? Rachel gave herself a stern talking to as she pulled her cigarettes and lighter out of her trouser pocket. Handing them over to Gill, she sat back and watched as she lit one.
Closing her eyes, Gill pulled deeply on the cigarette and blew the smoke out with obvious satisfaction. "That's better." She took another long drag and then opened her eyes. "I've been gagging for one of these all night. Still, it's my own fault for not cornering you earlier." Holding out the cigarettes and lighter, she regarded Rachel speculatively. "So come on then, face-ache. Why aren't you pissed?" she asked abruptly. "If you're going to crash someone else's party, you could at least have the common decency to make it look like you're having a good time. You don't just stand in the corner all night with a face like a bag of flaming spanners."
"I er " Rachel stammered, knowing that none of the excuses she'd used on Janet were going to work. Generally speaking, Gill could spot a lie at thirty paces it was part of what made her such a formidable detective. As she reflected on this, Rachel felt absolute, heart-stopping certainty hit her like a bucket of cold water in the face.
The woman sitting next to her was no longer just her boss someone who irritated her, infuriated her, and who regularly left her speechless with admiration. This was also the woman she loved the woman she was in love with
A woman who could have very easily died a few hours ago.
Rachel felt the painful reality of the day's events pressing down on her shoulders like a dead-weight. Dropping her cigarette, she collapsed back into the bench and covered her face with her hands. This time, her emotions got the better of her and before she knew it, her whole body was quaking with explosive sobs.
"Hey," Gill said softly, placing a tentative hand on Rachel's shoulder. "It's okay."
"It's not though, is it?" Rachel snapped, twisting out of the contact. "You could've died."
"But I didn't, did I?" Gill pointed out matter-of-factly. "Please don't cry for me, kid. There's honestly no need." She paused, seemed to reconsider, and then tossed her cigarette away with an exasperated sigh. "Rachel. Please don't."
Rachel felt hands gently, but insistently pulling her into an embrace. It was an action that caused her defences to finally, irrevocably shatter. No longer capable of putting up any resistance, she buried her face into Gill's shoulder.
From that point, Rachel lost all sense of time and place. All that she was conscious of was the sensation of Gill's hands moving in slow circles over her back and up through her hair. As her sobs began to ease, however, reality came crashing back down. Mortified when she noticed that her tears and God only knew what else had soaked through the fabric of Gill's dress, Rachel abruptly pulled away. Sitting up, she furiously wiped her face and eyes with her hands.
"I'm sorry," she said shakily, wanting nothing more than for the ground to open up and swallow her. She didn't even dare to look at Gill. Didn't want to risk seeing that familiar look of disappointment in the DCI's eyes visual confirmation that she'd made a complete tit of herself yet again. It was strange though. Despite her embarrassment, she could still feel the lingering warmth of Gill's embrace, like a comfort blanket around her shoulders.
"Julie Dodson told me that you and Janet did an alright job today," Gill said. "Believe me, that's high praise coming from that picky cow."
Rachel looked around in surprise. She saw that Gill was smiling back at her reassuringly and quickly came to understand that the DCI was trying to spare her blushes by making light of the situation.
"Thanks, but I really don't think we did that much," she replied, unconsciously echoing Janet's words from earlier that day. "And I mean that. I'm not just fishing for compliments."
"Yeah, well. You done well, kid," Gill said approvingly. Laying a hand on Rachel's knee, she squeezed it briefly and then let go. "You kept it together when it counted just like I said you would one day and for that, I'm grateful."
Unable to recall the last time Gill had paid her a compliment, let alone one of such magnitude, Rachel was unsure of how to handle it. Although part of her couldn't help but glow with pride, the truthful, more self-critical part of her squirmed with discomfort. The truth was that Rachel didn't really think she had done that much well, apart from run up and down corridors, high on caffeine and adrenaline as she carried messages between Janet and DSi Dodson. No, it was Gill who'd done all the hard work. She was the one who'd been abducted at knifepoint and forced to drive to the other side of the country by a deeply disturbed woman on a path of self-destruction. What had she and Helen Bartlett talked about during that long car journey, Rachel wondered. Had that conversation played a part in Helen's decision to quietly slit her own wrists, rather than take Gill over that cliff with her?
"I'm just glad you're okay," Rachel said softly, meaning it.
"Me too," Gill agreed. "And I am okay, I mean. Or rather I will be. It's hard to tell at the moment. Everything's still a bit raw."
The DCI looked away, but before she did, Rachel caught another glimpse of the vulnerable and broken woman she and Janet had encountered earlier that evening. It immediately brought it home to her just how much of an ordeal Gill had been through. Rachel couldn't even begin to imagine how she was going to deal with it all. How long before she could climb into her car without breaking into a cold sweat? How long before she could close her eyes without seeing Helen Bartlett's face?
Rachel's heart skipped a beat as she felt Gill's hands touching hers. Looking down, she watched in amazement as the DCI's fingers entwined with her own. Fingers that had once touched her been inside her that had once made her entire body feel like it was melting. Rachel trembled in response to this memory; felt instant heat pooling in her groin, and something that felt like a depth-charge explode inside her stomach.
"You know how some people say that when you're facing death, your whole life flashes before your eyes?" Gill said suddenly.
Rachel raised her head and saw that Gill was regarding her expectantly. Desperately, she willed her brain to process whatever it was the DCI had just said, but it was hard to concentrate when it felt like every one of your erogenous zones had just been plugged into an electrical socket.
"Well, it's bollocks. It doesn't. And it's happened to me twice now, so I know," Gill continued. "I can't remember what exactly was going through my mind when that little twat waved his gun in my face in Hulme, but this time, all I could think about was Sammy mostly how pissed off he was going to be that I'd mucked up his party." She smiled ruefully, but it was an expression that faded as she glanced down at her hand, still linked with Rachel's. "The thing is, I can't help thinking that if it had if my life had flashed before my eyes, I mean that thing that happened ..." She paused and swallowed heavily. "Being with you in Bristol, I mean, would have been one of the highlights."
Rocked by this bombshell, all Rachel could do was look on, transfixed, as Gill leaned towards her. Then their lips touched and Rachel heard herself let out a whimper, every one of her senses going into overload in response to a kiss that was slow, lingering and easily the most erotic and sensual thing she'd ever experienced. After a few blissful moments, Gill pulled away and Rachel stared at her mutely and helplessly, shocked by the rush of emotion brought about by the loss of contact. She raised her fingers to her lips in amazement, not quite sure if she could believe what had just happened.
"No matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to get you out of my head," Gill whispered hoarsely. Letting go of Rachel's hand, she reached up to touch her face. "It's fucking killing me. You're fucking killing me " Her voice trailed off into a ragged groan of longing as her lips collided with Rachel's for a second time.
It was Rachel's turn to groan as she felt the familiar electricity arcing through Gill's body and into her own, causing the same intense heat that had once nearly reduced them both to a pile of smouldering ashes on a Bristol hotel bed. Now, as then, the heat quickly exploded into an inferno, causing raw passion and blind desire to build at an unstoppable pace. Rachel was now completely lost still unable to believe what was happening, but at the same time, never wanting it to end. She could sense the same level of need in Gill could taste it in her kiss, and feel it in the urgency of her lips and tongue.
Rachel was so caught up in the moment that she hadn't noticed Gill's hands sliding underneath her top. The sensation of them touching the bare flesh of her stomach was indescribable, but it also jolted her back to reality. She wanted Gill, needed her desperately, but at the same time, she was acutely aware that the DCI was drunk and although even wild horses would struggle to drag such an admission out of her probably a little emotionally overwrought too. On top of that, there was also the fact that they were sitting outside in the open air, where anyone might stumble across them. Regretfully, and cursing her conscience for choosing this particular moment to surface, Rachel reached down to grab Gill's wrists. Gently, she eased them away from her body.
"Gill, we can't," she mumbled, almost able to hear every cell in her body screaming its displeasure as she broke the kiss. "Not here."
"I know we can't," Gill replied breathlessly. Briefly, she allowed her forehead to rest against Rachel's before pulling away. Again, she touched Rachel's face, wincing slightly as she allowed a thumb to trace the contours of a cheekbone. "That's the thing about near-death experiences. They make you want to do spontaneous, life-embracing things like drag your best-looking DC up to your bedroom, tear off all of her clothes, and then shag her until neither of you can walk straight the next morning. But " Gill left the sentence unfinished. Removing her hand from Rachel's face, she fell back into the bench.
Rachel lowered her eyes, feeling euphoria slide away into the deepest, darkest despair. In her heart, she knew that whatever it was that she and Gill shared it could never be translated into real life. The DCI just had too much professional integrity to allow herself to become romantically involved with a member of her Syndicate, let alone a shag-bandit with such a car crash of a track record. Rachel's chest tightened as she recalled something Gill had said to her shortly after Sean had attacked Kevin in the office: "Your job's not just a bit of your life. Your job is your life. If you want your job to be just a bit of your life, you have to keep things separate."
Rachel swallowed over the stone that had lodged in her throat. "I know," she said, unable to keep the bitterness from her voice. "You Boss. Me liability." She darted a defiant look at Gill and saw that the DCI was staring back at her intently, but seemingly without rancour.
"Do you think I was overly harsh on you?" she asked.
Rachel took a moment to think about this. It was all too easy for her to recall the mounting sense of cold dread she'd carried into the Boss's office that day. She'd been convinced that Gill was going to kick her off MIT and straight back into uniform do not pass Go, do not collect £200. Ordinarily, Rachel would have considered herself lucky to have come away with just another ear-bashing.
Only it hadn't been just another ear-bashing. Far from it. Gill had been calm and controlled, and without raising her voice once, had impressed on her just how much of a professional liability she'd become one who was on a fast-track to flushing her whole career down the toilet. Rachel had walked out of that office feeling about two inches tall. Chastened and ashamed, she'd resolved there and then to grow up, stop acting like a kid, and get her life back on track
A resolution that had probably lasted all of five minutes, she reflected dismally, thinking about the childish sniping that had become her only form of communication with Janet since the Kevin incident.
Looking up at Gill, Rachel shook her head slowly. "No," she replied. "No I don't."
"Good, because I wasn't." Gill's voice was brisk and business-like once again. "Of course, what I really wanted to do was grab hold of you and shake you until your bones rattled. You make me so bloody mad, Rachel. I look at you and I see how good you are how good you're going to be and then I have to sit there, time and time again, and watch you try your best to throw it all away. How do you think that feels?" She glared at Rachel and then threw her hands up, exasperated. "And Kevin?" she howled incredulously. "What the fuck were you thinking?"
"That's just it, I wasn't thinking, I mean." For a crazy second it was on the tip of Rachel's tongue to ask Gill if she'd been jealous. Thankfully, it didn't take long for her common sense (and sense of self-preservation) to kick in. Lifting a hand to her forehead, she ran it down over her face in a gesture of hopelessness. "I'm sorry. I'm a twat."
"Yes you are," Gill agreed bluntly. "But then unfortunately, you also happen to be a twat I care about."
Rachel experienced a plunging sensation near her heart. "Really?" She looked up at Gill hopefully.
"It doesn't matter what either of us feels though, does it?" Gill continued. "However you look at it, it's an impossible situation. Nothing can ever come of it, you know that, don't you?"
Rachel nodded. "Yeah yeah, I know." Hearing her voice tremble with tears, she fell silent. Reaching up to wipe her eyes, she took a second to collect herself. At length, she forced a smile. "But you'll be glad to hear that this time, I'm going to deal with it like an adult. No more drowning it in red wine, or having crap sex with dickheads "
"Or getting married," Gill offered.
"Well I can guarantee that if I do, there'll be no karaoke at the reception afterwards. That's a mistake I won't be repeating again in a hurry." Rachel looked over at Gill and they both laughed. "I suppose I'll have to see about getting a divorce organised too."
Rachel felt a stab of guilt as she thought about Sean. Solid, dependable Sean. Safe? Yes. Boring? Most definitely. But that didn't mean he'd deserved to have his heart so cruelly broken. If only he'd been able to accept like she had that their marriage had been a stupid mistake. He hadn't though. As far as he was concerned, whatever problems they'd been experiencing had all been in her head. Andy had been exactly the same with Janet totally incapable of accepting that the woman he loved didn't want to be with him anymore. Bloody men and their sodding egos, Rachel thought.
"Oh, and I've decided," she continued, making a point of staring determinedly into the DCI's eyes. "I'm going to put in to take my Sergeant's exams again."
"Good." Gill nodded her approval. "I've said all along that there's a bright future there for you, Rachel. Of course, whether or not you decide to make it a reality is entirely up to you."
Rachel smiled inwardly. Translation: don't fuck it up this time, knobhead.
"I can only console myself with the hope that one day, when you're a DCI in charge of your own Syndicate, you'll end up lumbered with a pain in the arse DC who does your head in just as much as you do mine."
"I'm not sure I've got it in me to be as patient as you've been," Rachel admitted, although the mere thought of running her own team make feel slightly giddy. "If I were you, I'd've kicked me well into touch by now."
"Don't think for one second I haven't been tempted, lady." Gill's smile contradicted the sharpness of her tone. "As for patience, it's one of those things that comes with experience. Which is why I know, and despite everything I may have already said to the contrary, this thing between us whatever it is it will pass."
Rachel felt a lift drop thirty floors inside her stomach. She tried to speak, but discovered that her mouth was bone dry. She swallowed and tried again. "Will it though?" she asked, hearing a note of desperation in her voice. Nothing could ever happen between her and Gill, she knew that, but somehow, the prospect of the DCI moving on was unbearable. "Gill, when you when we " she stammered, struggling to arrange her thoughts into some sort of coherent order. "I've never felt anything that even came close to "
"Neither have I," Gill cut in. "But then life's shit like that." Leaning forward, she reached out to brush a stray strand of hair from Rachel's forehead. "Wrong time, wrong place, kid."
Rachel nodded, giving into the inevitable. She sighed, dejectedly and then jerked her head up as the security lights unexpectedly switched themselves back on. "Shit, who's that?"
"Come in Rachel Bailey, your time is up," an instantly recognisable voice boomed. "Get your arse on this dance floor, pronto!"
"Bollocks, it's Janet," Rachel said with a groan. "For some reason, she's got a proper bee in her bonnet about getting me up to dance. It's not funny," she protested when Gill started to laugh. "Last time she got one on her like this, she had me up doing 'The Locomotion' and all sorts."
Just as Rachel completely her sentence, Janet rounded the summer house.
"There you are," she said upon spying Rachel. "I've been looking all over " She came to an abrupt halt when she also noticed Gill. Stopping at the bottom of the short flight of wooden steps that led up to the seating area, she frowned up at the two women. "What are you doing out here?"
"I fancied a cigarette, and I knew that Fag Ash Lil here would be able to oblige," Gill replied smoothly, with a sideway nod at Rachel. "All right, cock?"
Janet nodded. "I'm not so sure Dirty Dave is though," she replied with a sly grin. "He chucked his guts up in your front garden about five minutes ago. Unfortunately, just as your Sammy and a couple of his mates were man-handling him into the back of a taxi. Of course, the taxi driver took a major exception to this and flat-out refused to take him."
"Great." Gill pulled a face. "Meaning that muggins here is going to have to put up with him snoring his head off in the spare room all night."
"It's okay. Orla's mum and dad offered to drop him off on their way home."
Gill sat up straight. "Shit, have they already gone?"
"They tried looking for you, but nobody knew where you were," Janet explained. "I didn't think of looking out here. Anyway, they said to tell you not to worry, and that they'd see you for lunch on Sunday as planned. Oh, and you'll never guess. You know that dick someone rather aptly drew on Dave's head? It's not shifting. Looks like whoever did it used permanent marker."
Gill let out a snort of laughter. "Really?"
"I don't think he's got a clue. Too pissed to know what day it is, let alone anything else. He's in for one hell of a shock when he looks in the mirror tomorrow morning though."
"Oh dear, what a pity, never mind." Gill allowed herself a smile as she rose from the bench. "I suppose I'd better go and inspect the damage he's wreaked in the front garden. If he's thrown up on my dahlias, I'll bloody brain him." She started towards the steps and then paused. Turning back to Rachel, she inclined her head slightly. "Thanks for the cigarette, kid."
Rachel nodded. "Anytime," she replied, looking directly into Gill's eyes as she did so. For a few, weighted moments, they stared at each other. Then the DCI winked and turned away.
With a heavy heart, Rachel watched Gill descend the steps and then disappear around the side of the summer house. It suddenly felt like all of the happiness had been sucked out of the world. Once again, she was overwhelmed by the need for a glass of something alcoholic. Not wine this time though. She needed something a lot stronger a good shot of single-malt, maybe. It took one hell of an effort, but Rachel resolutely managed to close her mind to this thought. She reached for her cigarettes instead.
"Still got a face like a smacked arse then, I see," Janet observed as she climbed the steps up to the seating area. Plonking herself down on the bench next to Rachel, she folded her arms and watched as she lit a cigarette. "Don't think for a second I don't know what's going on here."
Rachel had just taken a drag on her cigarette, and only just managed to stop herself from choking out a cloud of smoke. "What's that?" she asked, feeling her heartbeat kick into overdrive. Calm down, she told herself. Although Janet could be scarily perceptive at times, Rachel couldn't see how she could possibly know about anything that had just taken place between her and Gill. Well, not unless she'd somehow developed psychic powers in the past half an hour.
"Why don't you just admit it?" Janet continued. "It matters to you that she's okay."
"Of course it does. I'm not completely heartless," Rachel snapped, partly out of relief, and partly because she knew that Janet would expect such a reaction. "There. I've admitted it. Happy now?"
"I suppose so." Janet threaded her arm through Rachel's and then cuddled in to her side. "I always knew that underneath that hard-as-nails, 'don't fuck with me' exterior, you were nothing but a big softy at heart."
"Tell anyone, and I'll " Rachel hesitated. "I'll kill you in some horribly painful way I haven't quite managed to think of yet. And I'll make sure that no-one ever finds your body." Scowling, she made an unsuccessful attempt to free her arm. "Shitting Nora, Janet!" she exclaimed as her friend responded by snuggling up even closer. "Has someone slipped you an E, or what?"
With a cackle, Janet let go. "So is she okay?"
"Who, Godzilla?" Rachel nodded. "Like you said, she's tough as old boots. Come Monday morning, she'll be rampaging across the Oldham skyline like nothing ever happened." Deciding that it would be prudent to shift the topic of conversation away from Gill for her own peace of mind, if nothing else Rachel pulled a face. "Shit. You're not really going to make me dance, are you?"
"I really don't understand what your problem is."
"I've got two left feet and all the rhythm of a busted drum machine. That's my problem."
"You danced with Sean at the wedding, didn't you?" Janet thought about this. "Although strictly speaking, I'm not sure you can really class a slow shuffle around the floor to Girls Aloud as dancing."
Rachel took a long drag on her cigarette, transported back to the moment Sean had led her onto the floor for their first dance. He'd been grinning from ear-to-ear. She'd just wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. 'I'll Stand By You', indeed. What a ridiculous song choice that had been and on so many levels. Still, it could have been worse. Sean had originally wanted 'You're Beautiful' by James Blunt, and had somehow expected Rachel to be flattered by the choice. She hadn't been. "Get that thought right out of your head, McCartney," she'd told him. "It's bad enough that I have to get up and dance at all. There's no way I'm having that moany twat whinging on about complete bollocks in the background n'all." It had actually been the only time that Rachel had objected to any of the plans Sean had made for their wedding. Unable to work up that much of an interest, she'd been relatively content just to let him get on with it something she could now see as just another huge, flashing danger sign. Why hadn't she spotted it at the time?
"What the fuck was I thinking, Jan?" Rachel said with a groan. "Well, that settles it. I am never ever getting married again."
"You will," Janet said firmly. "You've just got to meet the right person is all."
"What if I already have?" Rachel didn't realise that she'd actually spoken the words out loud until she saw Janet's eyes narrowing in anger.
"Rachel Bailey, I swear to God," she snapped. "If you're referring to that colossal twat, Nick Savage, I'll push you down those steps over there, and then jump up and down on you until your pips squeak."
"I'm not talking about Nick." Rachel held her hands up in a placatory gesture. "Honestly, I'm not. I " Running out of words, she shrugged. "I don't know. Ignore me. I'm talking crap. Like I said, it's probably that beer I was drinking," she added feebly. "It always makes me miserable."
"Have you met someone?" Janet asked, refusing to be deflected.
"Course not." Rachel carefully schooled her facial expression into one of wide-eyed incredulity. "In fact, it's safe to say that men are strictly off the menu at the moment." Which in a weird way, is actually true, she thought. "I need to get my head straight. Sort my life out you know "
"I know." Janet nodded solemnly. "I'll believe it when I see it, of course. But " Janet yelped, squirming away from the elbow Rachel aimed at her ribs. "Seriously though. If something was going on with you, you would tell me about it, wouldn't you?"
"Well, duh. Of course I would, daft-head."
"That's all right then." Janet studied Rachel intently for a few seconds and then nodded, seemingly satisfied. Slapping her hands down on her thighs, she stood up. "Come on. Shift your arse, kid. If we leave it any longer, chances are Pete Tong in there will start playing shite again."
"Jesus, don't you start," Rachel grumbled as Janet hauled her up from the bench. "Godzilla calls me 'kid'. I hate it. It makes me feel like I'm about twelve."
"You are a sensitive little flower tonight, aren't you?" Janet rolled her eyes. "It's just a figure of speech, Rach. She doesn't mean anything by it." She paused, brow wrinkling as she considered this. "Or at least I hope she doesn't. She just called me, 'cock'."
After weeks of cold silences interspersed only with childish sniping, the sound of her laughter mingling with Janet's was like music to Rachel's ears. As well as warming her heart, it was a sound that filled her with hope. After all, this was a friendship she'd been convinced was damaged beyond repair less than twelve hours ago.
Rachel felt her spirits begin to lift. In that moment, everything and anything seemed possible even the impossible. What was it Gill had said. "Wrong time, wrong place"? Well bollocks to that. One day, the time and place would be right, Rachel was suddenly sure of it. And no matter how long it took, she would be waiting. In the meantime, she just had to follow Gill's advice and exercise a little patience.
"Come on then, Ginger Rogers. Let's get this over with." Rachel linked her arms through Janet's and tugged her towards the house. "I'm warning you now though, I hear even the slightest hint of 'The Locomotion', and there'll be sodding murder on that dance floor, never mind anything else."
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