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Never Too Late
The phone call had come halfway through an excruciatingly depressing episode of EastEnders and saved Emma from having to pretend interest in the parenthood of whatever lipstick smeared teen was currently bawling on-screen. "Hello?" She gave her sister a quick look of apology before slipping from the room to speak with DCI Sullivan; she felt guilty for hoping his call was the precursor to a murder investigation but after living with her sister and her family for three months she was grateful for any excuse to escape their company. "What's up, Boss?"
There was a moment of hesitation as he brushed aside the protocol that would normally make his entreaty impossible, before quickly jumping to the reason for his telephone call, "I need your help," he said, desperation colouring his words and immediately alerting Emma to the personal nature of the call. "It's Ash."
"Is she okay?" Emma hadn't spoken to her former partner in nearly five months but even now her heart started beating at triple time at the mere mention of her name. That those mentions always came from Sullivan, the man who had ostensibly stolen Kate away from her, was salt to the wound, but she'd never really been able to blame him for the situation; no, the fault lay with her, and with Kate. "Is it the baby?" She asked automatically, even though she knew that Kate wasn't due for another three weeks; but you could never be too careful when it came to childbirth.
"What? No, the baby's fine." He paused once again, causing Emma's blood pressure to rise as she imagined all manner of catastrophes befalling her former friend. "She's left me," he said at last, embarrassment mixed with anguish. "Gone back to her parents'."
"Oh." In the early days of Kate's pregnancy, before the rift had developed between them, Emma had been subjected to too many diatribes against the male assumption that baby-hormones made women stupid to even think of suggesting they were probably the cause of Kate's behaviour; even if she secretly thought they were. "I'm not sure I'm the best person to speak to her." The last time they'd spoke, Kate had accused her of trying to ruin her marriage, and although Emma had done no such thing, at least not intentionally, she'd felt guilty for wishing the attempt had succeeded.
"You're the only person." He sounded hoarse, as if he'd been yelling, but Emma found it hard to imagine any circumstance under which he'd let himself display such base behaviour. "She doesn't love me," he added, as if it was news to either of them. "I've known for a while, even before she fell pregnant, but I kept hoping things would change." If she listened closely, Emma knew she'd be able to detect tears in his voice, but she refused to invade his privacy to that degree. "I was being selfish."
"Don't say that." It wasn't his fault. Kate had fooled them all, in the beginning, then by the time the cracks had started to show, it had been too late. "None of this is your fault."
There was silence on the line. "I was jealous of you," he finally admitted. "That's why I didn't intervene." He was talking about their estrangement, she knew, but he could hardly be to blame for a situation they had caused. "I should have said something."
"What was there to say?" Kate hadn't wanted to listen to reason and she'd been too angry to try; years of buried feelings had erupted in a breath-stealing kiss that had left them both feeling guilty and cheated of the life they should have lived. "It's in the past," she decided, unable to revisit those memories once again. "The important thing is that we get Ash back home where she belongs." It was what Kate had chosen, after all, despite the alternative Emma had been more than willing to provide.
"That's not why I called." His voice sounded stronger; the strength of character she'd always admired had resurfaced and, whatever he said, she knew it would have been born of careful consideration and a resolve not easily destroyed. "It's you that she needs."
Emma's hand shook as she began to pace the small hallway, her brows scrunched together as she tried to work through her conflicting emotions. "She chose you." Not that any of them had known there was an alternative; the feelings, buried beneath layers of friendship, had emerged only after the 'I do's had been exchanged. It had been months of almost-moments and a kiss that should have never been before they'd realised the extent of what they'd done; it was too late to take it back now. "You're what she wants."
"Rubbish!" He sounded angry and that anger somehow made the conversation easier. "I've been the perfect husband and a devoted father-to-be, but it's not enough." Kate had pretended that it was; that their life together was everything she'd ever imagined, but he wasn't a stupid man, he'd seen behind her fake smiles to the truth. "She wants you."
"Don't give me any 'buts' Scribbs! Get round to the Ashursts' this instant and don't leave until Ash agrees to leave with you. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Boss," she said, and would have saluted if she wasn't clutching at the phone with knuckle trembling rigor.
The anger left his voice. "I've had six months to mourn the end of my marriage, Scribbs, but this still isn't easy. I want her to be happy. Hell, I want us all to be happy, the baby most of all, and I think the only way we'll stand a chance is if the two of you are finally honest with one another."
He was right. "I am sorry, James, I hope you know that?"
"Yes, Scribbs, I do."
Mr. and Mrs. Ashurst adored Emma in a way their daughter had found inconceivable, despite her own affections, but that knowledge did little to ease Emma's nerves as she knocked on the door to their home with the sole intention of persuading their only daughter to leave her husband and live in sin with her.
"Emma, sweetheart, it's been so long," gushed Mrs. Ashurst, as she ushered Emma into the house and proceeded to divest her of her jacket and propel her towards the living room. "Guess who it is?" she said, moving aside to reveal the nervous looking blonde before anyone within had had a chance to venture a suggestion.
"Scribbs?" Kate looked as big as a house, but Emma was once again caught by her beauty, and would have stood gaping if Mr. Ashurst hadn't jumped to his feet and engulfed her in a hearty embrace; a rather over enthusiastic gesture, Emma would have realised, if she hadn't been so thoroughly discombobulated herself.
The embrace complete and an offer of tea duly accepted, both Mr. and Mrs. Ashurst quickly fled from the room, their haste and Kate's obvious displeasure should have given Emma amble warning of choppy waters ahead, but she failed to take note. "Ash," she said, with all the cool of a spotty-fourteen-year-old on his first date. "The Boss said you'd be here."
Kate's eyebrows descended and Sullivan's chances of reaching his pension decreased exponentially. "Why?"
"Dunno," she shrugged to illustrate her point, forgetting for a moment how many rules that particular motion contravened. "He seemed to think you'd left him."
It was the turn of Kate's nostrils to flare and, together with her thunderous eyebrows, give the impression of a woman about to commit a most gruesome murder. "I meant," she said, through gritted teeth, "why did he tell you?"
The tone of Kate's voice would have made it plain to even an imbecile that Emma should have taken the comment as an insult but the blonde refused to acknowledge the slight; mostly, because she knew it would drive Kate up the wall. "Thanks," she said instead, "I will take a seat." She slumped down into the couch with the kind of loose-limbed slovenliness that she knew would further infuriate the brunette.
"What are you doing here, Scribbs?"
Emma didn't really know; she'd got the impression, from Sullivan, that she was meant to ride in and whisk Kate away on her white charger, but she was allergic to horses and Kate would have probably just rolled off the back. "Trying to sort out the mess you've made of our lives," she said instead.
It was at that moment, with Kate set to erupt like Krakatoa, that Mr. And Mrs. Ashurst walked back in, and promptly walked back out again having deposited the tea things and spared a look of apology mixed with fear at the visiting blonde.
"How dare you-"
"Shut up!" Emma had no idea what to say but she knew that if she left things to Kate they'd be stuck in the same rut for years. "You're in love with me," she declared, with as much authority as she could muster. "You don't want to be, I get that, but you are, and all the huffing and puffing in the world isn't going to change that." Her choice of words brought forth an image of the three little pigs but she wisely chose not to share that little titbit. "I know you love James, but you aren't in love with him, and God bless him, he knows it too and is willing to walk away to make you happy."
"He would never-"
"Yes, he would!" Sullivan would do the right thing; it was his Achilles heel, in some respects, but it was also the reason that she admired him above all men. "You're not happy, Ash, and we can all see it." They might not have spoken for months but they'd crossed paths enough at the station for the impression to take hold; a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes and looks of quiet desperation that had left Emma feeling hollow and powerless to intervene.
Tears began to well in Kate's eyes but she refused to let them fall. "He loves me," she said, not for a moment denying Emma's assumptions about her own feelings.
"Yes, he does." It would have been so much easier if he didn't but Emma hadn't mistaken his willingness to step aside for an absence of the love that had drawn him to Kate in the first place.
The acknowledgement of James' feelings overpowered Kate's denials in a way that a dismissal never could. She laid a hand against the swell of her stomach and the baby that lay within. "What about the baby?"
"He's her father, and that's never going to change, no matter what happens between the two of you." Emma wasn't supposed to know it was a girl but Sullivan hadn't been able to contain himself; in the telling, she'd seen the utter joy on his face, and she knew it wasn't something that would diminish.
Kate might not have had her wedding day planned out since infanthood but she's always yearned for the perfect partner with whom she could raise a family and grow old; she'd found that with Sullivan, she'd thought, but nothing had turned out the way she'd imagined. "So what happens now? Does he move out and you move in and we all pretend that this isn't some dreadful Jeremy Kyle episode in the making?"
"You watch Jeremy Kyle?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Scribbs." Kate looked offended. "I may have been reduced to little more than a pen-pusher by the male chauvinist pigs we work for but I still have a functioning brain."
Emma thought about pointing out that the decision to take Kate off active duty had been her husband's and he'd only taken it after a rather nasty incident involving Kate, an arsonist and a wheelie-bin during her seventh month, but thought better of it. "This is the twenty-first century, Ash, lots of kids grow up with three or four parents." Which would mean that Emma was going to be a parent, she realised, but the freak-out she'd expected at such a thought failed to materialise. "How about, for the minute, we just concentrate on us and worry about childcare arrangements tomorrow?"
Kate looked ready to disagree but the lack of clarity to their relationship prompted her to acquiesce. "You said that I was in love with you," she accused, "and while that may or may not be true, you failed to say what your feelings were on the subject."
"May or may not be true?" Emma waited a moment to see if her disbelief would elicit an acknowledgement of the truth, but when none was forthcoming she sighed, "Of course I'm in love with you," she grumbled. "Everybody knows that."
"Not everybody," snapped Kate. Outside in the hall, with their ears pressed up against the door, Mr. and Mrs. Ashurst would have confirmed Emma's statement if they hadn't been terrified of disturbing the moment and somehow derailing their daughter's happiness.
"So? Are you in love with me?" Emma prodded.
Kate huffed. "Yes, fine, I'm in love with you." It wasn't the kind of declaration she'd envisioned, but the truth was that Emma could be so damn irritating, especially when she thought she knew best. "But we can't date until after James and I have officially ended our marriage."
"Okay." Emma nodded in thought. "I don't really like dating anyway, I'd much rather just shack up and take if from there."
"We are not shacking up!" Kate's outrage subsided quickly as she realised the inevitability of the situation. "You can stay with me, on a temporary basis, after the baby's born, but we're not moving in together until after we're married."
As proposals went it was somewhat lacking in hearts and flowers but it was enough to prompt Emma to do something she'd been waiting five months to do again; leaning over, she brushed her fingers against Kate's cheek before slowly bringing them together for their second kiss.
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