Disclaimer: Red Cap is not owned by me, and sadly hasn't a large following. Yet.
Notes: Between the first and second season, Jo left SIB for Close Protection, with no explanation. This, maybe, answers that question. Rating: R. Slash. Swearing. Minimal sex.

Swimming by Ana Lyssie Cotton

It's not a competition.

She has to remember that, as slim fingers slide in and out of her. Her back arches, and she can feel the scratchiness of the sheets underneath her.

But it's not a competition.

Under her breath, inside her mind where Jo can't hear her, she repeats it as those slim fingers torment her. And she finally hits the pinnacle, and finally feels the world explode while her insides revolve.

Neve doesn't win, if Jo loses. And vice versa. But it shouldn't matter, here between damp and starchy sheets, where blonde hair spreads across the pillow. Sleepy blue eyes close, un-coloured pale lips drift into a tiny smile, then relax. She reaches out and strokes back a strand of that half-brown half-blonde hair. The warm body next to hers shifts closer, snuggles up.

And it's suddenly too much, too soon, too fast, too now. Neve pushes against Jo and struggles out of the shared bed.

She leans against the cool cinder block wall, and watches while the woman in the bed sleeps on, oblivious.

This is not a competition.

But it feels like one. For points, for Roper, for the job, for Burns' attention. And he doesn't notice Neve half as much as he notices Jo. And, oh, but it feels twisted and wrong to be here.

It was right, ten minutes, five minutes, thirty seconds ago.

Jo moves again, and the emptiness of the bed wakes her. She turns, her eyes blinking sleepily. "Neve?" There's something that might be mockery in her voice, but maybe Neve's just imagining that.

Has to be.

"What?"

"Come back to bed." There's an almost hurt look in Jo's eyes as Neve shakes her head quickly. "What is it?"

"I--can't. Just can't." Viciously, Neve slices her hand through the air. "This didn't happen, Jo. It can't."

Dropping her head to the bed, Jo's hair moves as she slowly nods. "I think --I do understand."

Ignoring the other woman now, Neve frantically digs out her clothes, pulls them on. "Must--"

"Neve?"

"No." She's out the door, ignoring the surprise in the man down the hall. Maybe she forgot to button a button on her shirt. It doesn't matter. Fight or flight.

Win. Lose.

She has to get out of here, get back to where she is supposed to be.

Before her careful house of cards comes crashing down. Before the golden girl does more than make her knees weak, and her body pulse. Before she turns and goes back and confesses that she loves Jo.

Her career comes first. It has to.

Goals. Set them. Advance by increments.

No stopping.

How had this happened again? Right. Of course.

--

"It's not a competition, you know." Jo's voice sounded somewhat amused, even exasperated.

Neve looked up from her drink, and shrugged, her lips twisting into a self-deprecating half-smile. "Join me?"

"Don't mind if I do." Calling for a drink, Jo slipped onto the bar stool next to her. "So, tell me, what's a girl like you doing in a place like this?"

"I ran away to the army," Neve replied, sipping her drink studiously.

"Mmm. Any particular reason?"

"No." She cast a sidelong glance at Jo through her lashes. "You?"

"You mean you haven't heard?"

Neve shrugged, "You wanted to do Linda Hamilton?"

"No, be her." Jo paused, and a slight smile touched her lips. "Not that I would have minded doing her. Lovely tight body, and smart, too."

"Ah. Anything else I should know about you?" Surprised at the almost raunchy candor from her colleague, Neve looked closer at Jo. "You all right?"

"Hrm? Oh. Yeah. No, nothing else." A snort came from Jo. "I'm fairly boring, really."

"Ah."

They were silent, then. More drinks came, they were drunk. It seemed that the drab pale orange walls of the Ops room seemed to slowly turn darker. Or perhaps it was the alcohol. Or merely time passing. Neve finally noticed the clock round about midnight.

"Should sleep, shouldn't we." She struggled up from her stool and found that the room tilted interestingly.

"Could."

They were both standing, then. Jo linked her arm through Neve's. "C'mon, I'll see you home."

"Right."

Unsteadily, they walked down the halls through the barracks, going out, once. Finally, they were at Jo's room, and Neve blinked. "Weren't we--?"

"I just..." Jo looked at her, her eyes frank and mouth vulnerable. "I need someone, Neve. A friend, or something more. I don't know anymore."

"Jo--"

"No. Just. Come in. Talk."

And Neve did. She couldn't resist the sudden pleading in those blue eyes, the way Jo walked awkwardly, a combination of alcohol, and the sudden need to physicalise her emotional pain. They sat on her bunk, Jo with her arms around her knees as she looked blankly at the other wall. Neve found herself slipping closer as the conversation went on.

"What did you want to talk about?"

"Men. Women." A half-laugh escaped Jo. "You warned me once about him, remember?"

"Hippy?" Neve guessed, blinking. "I don't--Jo, you haven't--"

"No. I haven't. Though. God, Neve. Sometimes I wonder if he even realises how much I'd love to simply tie him to a desk and fuck him until he passes out." She stopped. "But that... I can't do that, now. Or ever."

"Why not?"

"Men. I... I destroy them."

"You destroy them?"

"There was a bloke--a child, really. He was fascinated with my hair when I was in Paris..." She looked at Neve, eyes clearing slightly. "He was so lovely. God, I was such an idiot."

"What happened?" She doesn't want to know, though. Doesn't want to care, to find out that Jo is simply human like all of the rest of them are. Because if she's human, Neve can touch her, maybe taste her. Feel for her. And this is a competition. One she's determined to win--And if Jo is human, what does that make Neve?

"We--I let him get too close. He was standing next to me when a bomb went off. We weren't even supposed to be in that market..." Jo slowly lowered her head until her forehead touched her knees. "There was so much blood, his eyes--my god, Neve, his eyes were so full of pain."

"I... It's not your fault."

"Isn't it? He died screaming, Neve. He died right in front of me. And the kid at the Embassy. And now Roper. God, Neve, I can't--" She stopped and jerked her head up, "And there's you, of course. It's so fucking ironic it's not funny anymore."

"Me?"

"You. Me. Roper doesn't even have a foot-hold, sometimes. It's always you, the competition, the moments when I look at you, and I wonder."

Neve just stared at her, mind completely blank for a moment. Then she moved, and surprised herself as her lips meet Jo's. And it's wrong for a moment, and then the other woman sighs softly. And then it's right.

They fell back together, Jo twisting like a cat and dragging their bodies into full contact.

--

She didn't have to say it, of course. Jo had felt it in every touch and turn and movement as they played that night. But she wasn't going to embarrass Neve. The other woman had run so fast, she knew it would simply make their working relationship that much more cantankerous.

Days passed, and no one noticed that they were edgier around each other. That they tended to veer away--that Jo, especially, tried to get assigned to work with anyone except Neve.

It worked for a while, too. And then Burns needed them to use their 'feminine wiles' against a group of warrant officers. And they found themselves in a car, alone.

The silence was deafening.

"Neve."

"Yeah?"

"I meant what I said--you may not have heard me, but... No strings, Neve. No competition. It was just--"

"I know. Just sex. Yes." Because you can't have Roper. And I can't have him, and it's something that defines us outside our job. But Neve can't say that to her. Instead, she turns, "So, Jo, what are you doing tonight?"

And so it goes. For a week. Longer, then, and Neve can't deny that she wants to tell Jo every night before she leaves her room (or Jo leaves hers--and it feels wrong to leave, but they can't be caught at this).

Three simple words, and it will change everything for them. And so she can't say them, can't let herself care--even if she does. And it's all fantastically self-delusional, in her logical moments she knows what she has to do, but she can't do it. Can't take that last step and tell Jo good-bye. Because it would mean she has to give up the golden girl and the sex and the fact that she needs her so desperately it could hurt.

Emotion isn't supposed to come into her decisions. She's supposed to advance through this career, to get to the top. To become the first 35-year old colonel, the first woman to command thousands, millions--and even Maggie Thatcher has to be pleased, doesn't she?

But for here, this is life. This has to be life--the way it is, the way it shall be. And, oh, but it hurts.

"Do you love him?" Perhaps this is the wrong time to ask, but she has to know. Before it all goes wrong.

Jo turns, looks at her. Her hand caresses down Neve's thigh, and she sighs, "This has nothing to do with us."

"Doesn't it?" Chest tight, and, she hasn't answered. She's avoiding the answer, eyes looking away, hands stroking, moving. And it's a distraction, but Neve won't let herself be distracted this time. "The truth, Jo."

"You don't..." And she turns away, sits up on the edge of the cot and leans forward, her fingers touching the floor. Then she stands. "You don't want the truth, Neve. Neither of us does."

"Are you sure about that?"

Jo looks down at her, eyes suddenly dark with emotion. "I'm sure."

"This is... You said..." Neve looks away from her, completely shaken by something she thinks could have been love. It's now darker, uglier.

"It's not a competition between you and Roper, Neve. It can't be."

"Because he has a cock and I don't?"

"No, it's not--" And Jo sighs. "It's not about that, it's about feelings. Love. Hate. You can't feel either, Neve, therefore, there can't really be anything between us."

"Amd you think Roper can."

"For all that he's completely fucked up and uncertain of what he wants? Yeah. Yeah, I think he can."

"So blind, Jo. You are so fucking god-damned blind." Neve drags herself to her feet, and can feel herself shaking as she shoves Jo out of her way. Her clothes are there, crumpled in a heap, and she can't remember how to clasp her bra properly so leaves it off.

"To what?"

"Everything." She bites out, pulling her boots on.

"But--"

"No. Listen to me. This could have been something real--it was." Neve stops, mouth closing as pain finally clenches her heart. "You'd rather chase ghosts with Roper."

"Ghosts?"

"Danny. Or don't you think I misunderstood?"

Jo looks disturbed now, backing up. "Neve, whatever's in your head--"

"It's wrong, right? But I know, Jo. I know that you are so fucking frightened of a real relationship that you run from it. Danny died saving you, and you think Roper is safe to want because he'll never make up his mind. I was safe, for a time, because you think--" Neve's voice broke, the tone completely ugly and low as she finished, "you think I'm a cold-hearted bitch who could never touch you. The Golden Goddess of SIB."

"Neve, I never--"

"No, you didn't. You know what makes it sadder, Jo?"

Mutely, she shakes her head.

"I did care."

The door slams behind her, and Jo is left standing there, numb. Feeling that things spiralled before she was ready--and it can't, shouldn't end this way, should it? It can't. It... But it has. And Neve isn't coming back. She's not going to walk back through that door all half-smiles and achingly beautiful caresses.

Jo looks at the rumpled bedding. And it's all too much. The paper is still in her desk drawer, the request, the files--

They wanted her back in close protection? Well, with Neve here to spew venom, they would have her. As soon as Howard signed the papers. Before the ink was dry.

Before she had to face the folly of her life.

Before everything really does become a competition.

-finis-