Author: Sarah (aka Sarah Jane, surrender something)
Rating: 12 (PG-13 or alternative)
Spoilers: Takes place immediately following "Find the Lady" (however in this story it is assumed that John is found alive)
Characters: John Boulton, Claire Stanton (brief cameo appearances by Jack Meadows, Detective Superintendent. Hodges)
Authors Notes: This story has been in production since the latest rerun of "Find the Lady" on UKGold. Unfortunately, real life and the impending doom that is A Level exams have meant that this has taken considerably longer to write than I imagined. Thanks to Sammie for putting up with my continual requests for advice, opinions and the like, and for being my fellow (obsessive) John and Claire fan – love you dude, 'shush!'. To all the other holby.tv fans of The Bill – you know who you are, you guys rock. To Tammy – you pester me and I hate you for it, but thank you. Enjoy reading, and any reviews or constructive criticism would be muchly appreciated :) Lyrics in italics at the start come from "Goodbye my Lover" by James Blunt.
I know your fears and you know mine...
We've had our doubts but now we're fine,
And I love you, I swear that's true.
I cannot live without you.
Waking instantly from a restless sleep, her arm shot out from underneath the relative warmth of the covers in a vain attempt to stop the shrill noise. Her palm hit the bedside table with a faint slap as she groped around for her phone, vaguely remembering it being in that approximate direction. Eventually locating it, the next couple of seconds were spent fumbling for the answer button, before the phone disappeared beneath the covers with its accompanying arm.
"Claire Stanton," she mumbled sleepily, reluctantly surfacing from the depths of the bed, sweeping a hand through her hair before rubbing it across her eyes.
"Claire. It's Jack Meadows…" The familiar voice registered in her brain almost immediately, and the tension in his words made her heart beat faster.
"Guv?" she asked, instantly awake.
"I might be stepping right out of line here Claire, but would I be right in saying that there's something more than just a… working relationship between you and John Boulton?"
"I'm sorry Guv, but is this relevant in any way?"
"Just answer the question," he requested wearily, the tension evident in his voice once more. "It's not going to get you into any trouble, I just need to know."
"…Yes," she replied eventually.
"Were you with him tonight?"
"How do you know he's not with me now?" she enquired suspiciously, resting her hand on the pillow his head had occupied nothing much more than an hour earlier. "Be straight with me, Guv. Do I not deserve that after what I just admitted?"
"John's at St. Hugh's. It's not looking good, Claire…"
As the words escaped his lips, she felt as though her heart stopped beating. This couldn't be happening. It wasn't him. He wouldn't have let himself get hurt – not when they were finally sorting things out again.
It was Don, she knew it instantly. She should've tried harder to stop him from going, or to convince him to let her go with him. She should've known it'd all end like this.
She couldn't bring herself to think about losing him. As Jack's voice continued to register somewhere in the back of her mind, she was already halfway to convincing herself that it was all some horrible mistake.
Convince herself that it wasn't true… it couldn't be true.
He sat in one of the hard, plastic chairs, elbows resting on his knees as his forehead rested in his hands. He was vaguely aware of the passing commotion and the accompanying noise, but his eyes were fixed solely on the doors which separated him from his detective sergeant.
It was hard when any member of his team was injured, but John Boulton was something else altogether. His reputation was that of being invincible – he managed to get himself out of ever situation with barely a scrape.
Until now, that was.
But it wasn't just that. Despite his slightly… alternative work ethic, he had to admit he had something resembling a soft spot for the headstrong DS. There was something about him that he respected… and now John was lying helpless on a hospital bed, and there was nothing he could to do to help him.
He'd had his suspicions that there was something going on between his two DS's for a while, but there'd never been an appropriate moment to mention it to either John or Claire. He couldn't begin to imagine what she was going through at that particular moment – her hostility had turned to acute distress the moment he'd mentioned the night's events.
Suddenly the doors burst open and she came flying through at such a speed that all he could make out was a blur of blond hair over dark clothing. Standing up immediately, he caught her before she could burst through the doors of the resuscitation room, hating himself all the while for having to restrain her.
"Let me go!" she struggled, her voice raised slightly as he caught sight of the tear-stains on her cheeks. "Let me go to him Jack, please!" she pleaded, her struggling stopping as abruptly as it had begun.
"Claire, they won't let anyone in. There's nothing you can do right now, the best thing you can do is stay calm – he's going to need people to be strong for him," Jack told her gently, holding her arms firmly
"I can't do this. I can't," she whispered, turning her face away from him as he led her over to the chairs. The tears she'd fought so hard to control on her way there suddenly rolled down her cheeks, and she swiped a hand fiercely across her eyes as she sat down, feeling suddenly drained of energy. "Oh god, what if he…? I should've done more. I should have stopped him from going, I should have…"
"Claire, stop it. You can't blame yourself for this, it wasn't your fault." He rested his hand on her back as she leant forward, fighting to catch her breath. "I hate to ask it, but do you know who he was with?" he asked hesitantly, receiving no reply for what seemed like an eternity.
"Oh god," she whispered eventually, pressing the back of her hand to her mouth in an attempt to stop the bile from rising in her throat. "Don. He was with Don, Don Beech."
"Claire do you have any idea what you're insinuating?" Jack asked sharply.
"I've been trailing him for months. He did this. He did this to John, I know he did. He's up to his neck in the Rachel Booker case…" she trailed off, realising moments too late what she'd said.
"What the hell do you mean, you've been 'trailing him for months'?"
"He's corrupt, Guv. I've been working for CIB for months…you need to get hold of Detective Superintendent Hodges, and tell him this was Don. You have to believe me, Guv." She couldn't stop the details coming out – had she been thinking straighter, she might have kept her cards closer to her chest, but at that particular moment all she could think about was making Don pay for what he'd done to John.
The consequences, well she would deal with them later.
"CIB?" Jack asked in shock, staring open-mouthed at her.
"It was never meant to come out like this. He's in deep with Fallon and Bazini, Guv. Really deep. And he has to pay for what he's done to John. I'm not letting him get away with it, not if it's the last thing I do."
"You do realise you could have just compromised your whole investigation?"
"Screw the investigation. Coupled with what he's just done to John, there's enough evidence there to force him into a confession…" she trailed off as the doors to the resuscitation room swung open, and Jack saw her fists clench instinctively as the doctor strode towards them.
"DCI…Meadows?" he addressed Jack with a question, his face giving nothing away as the two police officers stood up.
"Yes. This is DS Stanton, John's…"
"Colleague," Claire supplied quickly. "How is he?"
"Well, the injuries he's sustained are serious, and it was touch and go for a while. There's still a considerable risk of internal bleeding and he may require surgery if it gets any more serious, but all things considered, I'd say he has a fairly good chance of making a full but slow recovery. He regained consciousness briefly and we extubated him, however that involved some sedation, which should wear off in the next couple of hours."
"Oh my god," Claire whispered, gripping Jack's arm for support as the meaning of the doctor's words sunk in. "Can I see him? I need to see him."
"That shouldn't be a problem. Just try not to disturb anything and I'll be back to check on him soon," the doctor replied, gesturing to the doors he had exited moments previously, before heading off in another direction. Claire turned to Jack, her hand pressed to her mouth. He nodded slightly, giving her a gentle push in the direction of the resuscitation room.
"Please, Jack – call Hodges. I need you to believe me…" she said, turning at the door to look at him.
"Okay. I'm not happy about this Claire, but if what you say is true then he deserves everything that's coming to him," Jack agreed reluctantly. He couldn't deny that he'd had his suspicions regarding a few of Don's cases in the past, and he had seemed rather eager to get involved in the Rachel Booker case, by all accounts. But corrupt was a serious allegation… and Claire being in CIB had even more serious implications. "Claire. One thing," he said suddenly, just before Claire disappeared through the door. "Does John know all of this?"
"Okay. Go and see him, I'll call this Hodges guy."
"Thank you," she whispered, turning and taking a deep breath before walking into the resuscitation room in the hope that it'd calm her slightly.
But nothing could have prepared her for the sight of him lying there bruised and battered, connected to numerous machines and looking nothing like the strong, confident man she'd fallen in love with. She felt tears spring to her eyes again as the sheer severity of the situation caught up with her, and she made her way further into the room on shaky legs, collapsing gratefully in the appropriately placed chair.
"Oh John," she whispered eventually, leaning forward and taking his hand hesitantly in hers. "What have you gone and gotten yourself into this time?"
"I just got to the point where I couldn't face being without you any more," she spoke softly, surprised at how easily the words came when he couldn't answer back. "The only reason I ended things was because I didn't want you to get caught up in this whole sorry mess… but I never planned on falling for you this hard.
"I feel like it's my fault somehow. Maybe I should never have taken this job. Maybe I shouldn't have gotten so caught up in catching Don Beech… and I know I definitely shouldn't have let myself fall for you." She stopped, her thumb running gently over the back of his hand as she found herself blinking back tears. "When I was with you, it was like nothing else mattered. I know you had your suspicions about me, especially recently… and you'll never know how much it tore me up inside to have to keep such a big thing from you. But I have trusted you – I'd trust you with my life…"
Feeling a tear roll down her cheek, she made no real attempt to brush it away, the presence of further tears blurring her vision as she stared down at their linked hands. "I know it's stupid, getting this upset. And if you were awake now, you'd be telling me to pull myself together and stop being so sentimental. But I just… love you, and I don't think I could handle coming this close to losing you again.
"All I know right now is that we have to get through this…" her whispered statement was interrupted by a discreet cough, and she wiped her hand roughly across her eyes, keeping the other linked with John's before turning around. The sight of Meadows and Hodges didn't really shock her, however at the back of her mind she worried about just how much they'd heard. Running a hand absently through her hair, she waited for one of them to speak.
"Claire," Hodges spoke evenly, after a slight pause. "Would you care to explain what the hell is going on?"
"I think that's perfectly clear, Guv. Beech called John, asked him to meet him–"
"And you know this because…?"
"I was with him," she replied quietly, the tone of her voice defying its volume in saying there was no room for argument.
"You do realise you could have compromised months of work?" Hodges persisted, his collected anger clearly visible.
"I'm perfectly willing to accept responsibility for that," Claire shot back, her gaze icy cold and directed solely at her CIB boss. "But it's gone too far now. We have to move–"
"Surely the most important thing here is to establish what happened, and act appropriately on that information? And until John regains consciousness, there's little more we can do. There's no point in arguing until we know the facts," Jack cut in smoothly, his gaze flickering between the two as he reasoned the situation logically, noting a passing observation that Claire hadn't let go of John's hand since they'd entered. Her own gaze challenged Hodges', defiant and determined as she refused to back down. Catching the almost imperceptible nod of his head, she turned her attention to Meadows.
"I don't have a problem with that. Would you… mind, giving me a moment?" she asked as an afterthought, her attention returning to John. Jack nodded, resting a hand on her shoulder briefly before following Hodges out of the room, and Claire felt a brief flicker of amusement as she pictured the sheer awkwardness and hostility between the two men as they sat on the hard, uncomfortable hospital chairs waiting for news.
"You see the trouble you've gone and caused?" she asked John eventually, feeling a fond smile cross her face as she leant across to kiss his forehead quickly before resting her head on her hand. "I guess at least you'll know everything now – there really will be no more secrets," she added with a slight laugh. "I won't blame you if you're angry, you know. But I'm not walking away again, not this time. So I guess you're stuck with me…" she lapsed into silence, tracing a pattern on the back of his hand as she watched the rhythmic motions of the machines he was hooked up to, making no attempt to smother her yawn.
She had no idea how much time had passed, but it felt like a lifetime since she'd last had any resemblance of sleep.
"Please wake up," she whispered eventually, resting her head on the bed, keeping one hand linked with his as her eyes slowly closed, reluctant to lose sight of him…
Disorientation was the first feeling that hit him. He wasn't entirely sure where he was, or what events had taken place in order to result in this situation.
His throat felt raw and upon a few experimental movements he found that he hurt in places he hadn't known it possible to hurt, but true to his character he felt it necessary to suffer in silence.
He wasn't sure whether it was lucky or not that it only took a few moments for the memories to come flooding back. Don Beech, the deserted quarry and a side of his friend that he'd never seen before came shooting back into his mind, the memory of sheer helplessness bringing moisture to his eyes that he would've given anything to conceal.
But the memory that was both the most comforting and pained him the most was the thought of Claire, lying in bed alone, waiting for him to return. She hadn't wanted him to leave, and guilt wracked his body as a result of this. The moisture threatened to spill from his eyes, and as he turned his face to the side to conceal the tears from no one at all, he was met with her ever-familiar wavy blonde hair spilling out across the sheet as she slept silently, her head rested on folded arms.
Relief flooded instantly through his body, and he felt an instant need to touch her, to hear her voice and feel her lips on his. Ignoring his body's protestations he reached out an arm, fingers sliding through her hair and beginning a gentle massage on the back of her neck, a well-practised technique which had never failed to wake her up.
It was to this pleasurable massage that she slowly awoke, thoughts of nothing in-particular running through her head. However the massage proved to do little to ease the intense ache in her neck, and in a split second her location came flooding back to her.
Sitting up in somewhat of a daze, she rubbed a hand across her eyes briefly before staring disbelievingly at the site in front of her.
"You're not allowed to need taking care of; I'm the one lying in a hospital bed…"
His voice was raspy, and the logical part of her brain should have registered that he probably needed a drink. But suddenly she was crying and laughing all at the same time, and nothing seemed to make sense except for the fact that he was lying there, and he was awake and touching her and talking to her…
Pressing her lips to his in a long, hard kiss she felt alive, and as she suddenly felt his tears mingling with hers, it hit her that he was alive too.
Brushing her tears away with the back of her hand, she pulled her lower lip between her teeth and ran the back of a finger very lightly across one of the bruises on his cheek. She felt tears spring to her eyes again at his slight wince and settled for simply kissing him again, not having a clue what to say.
"What…?" he began, cutting himself off with a coughing fit which prompted Claire to react instantly, locating a glass of water and holding it to his lips for him. "How…?" he began some moments later, his eyes finishing the question for her as they met hers.
"You're at St Hughes. You went to meet Don last night and…you didn't come back," she explained, rubbing a hand across her eyes self-consciously. "God, John, I was so scared…"
"Well I guess that reaction's nice to know," he replied in an almost cheeky tone.
"You're well on the way to losing any sympathy I might have for you," she shot back, a smile crossing her face at this sudden return of their familiar banter. "How are you feeling?"
"Funnily enough, like I've been in one hell of a fight," he deadpanned, receiving a look from her that he knew all too well. "Okay, okay. I feel like crap."
"I should call a doctor…" she said eventually, but was caught by his hand on her arm.
"Wait," he said urgently, only receiving a firm shake of her head.
"No arguments. I know what you're going to say, and there's a lot that you need to know. But right now, I just need to know you're okay." Feeling his grip loosen on her arm slightly, she smiled briefly, leaning over to push the button which called the doctor.
"One thing," he said some moments later, drawing her attention instantly back to him. "Why are you here? I mean…how did you know?"
"Turns out that we weren't quite as discreet as we'd thought. Meadows called me – asked outright whether we were a couple, and then told me," she explained.
"Remind me to thank him," John smiled slightly, meeting her affectionate gaze briefly before closing his eyes.
"John?" she asked instantly, leaning forward and running a hand lightly through his hair. He opened his eyes again briefly, and she caught in them the weakness that he seemed so unwilling to admit. Nodding her understanding, she reached over to kiss his forehead briefly.
"I'm…glad you're here," he said quietly, receiving the first truly warm smile from her since he'd awoken, just as the doors burst open and a doctor strode through, followed mere seconds later by Jack Meadows and a man John didn't recognise.
He let the doctor perform the necessary checks and tests with surprisingly little reluctance, a fact which was duly noted and worried over by Claire. When the checks required her to move, she made a promise to not be long and moved over to where the two men were standing, and John was aware of a hushed and agitated conversation taking place between the three of them. When Claire returned to his side, she seemed satisfied, and proceeded to extract information from the doctor regarding his condition and potential recovery time.
"So, John, it takes a little more than this for us to finally get rid of you then?" Jack asked eventually, once the doctor had departed, the response to which was a wry smile being exchanged between the two men. "Look, I'm under orders to keep this as short as possible for now, by more than one person," he added, with a pointed look in Claire's direction, "so there's really just one thing I need to know. Claire told me you were heading out to meet Don Beech – was it him who did this, John? Because I'll have officers waking him up in ten minutes if it was, I swear…"
"Yeah," he replied eventually, his tone brisk and even ashamed. A look of understanding passed once more between the two men, prompting John to ask a further question, in his typically blunt manner. "Will you answer me one thing in return? Who's he?"
"Detective Superintendent Hodges," Jack replied, after a quick glance at Claire. "He'll need to speak to you later, but for now we'll give you some time to rest."
"I'll explain," Claire cut in smoothly, with a brief nod at both of her superiors. They acquiesced almost immediately, moving towards the door as a suspicious glance passed between Hodges and John. "There's a lot we need to talk about," she continued, drawing his attention back to her.
"Is this going to have anything to do with why we've argued the past few days?" he asked astutely, receiving a nod in response. "And this…Hodges guy?"
"CIB," she confirmed eventually.
"Claire, are you telling me you work for CIB too?" he asked quietly, to which she proceeded to relate the entire situation, a monologue which he chose not to interrupt.
At times during her revelations she met his gaze, at others she looked away. When talking about her involvement in the CIB case she spoke of how she'd wanted out for a while, and sounded almost angry that she'd agreed to the job in the first place. Talking about her feelings for him, she spoke candidly, and more openly than he'd ever heard her speak – there could be no doubt in his mind about her love for him.
Finishing her tale, she slumped forward on the bed, her head resting once more on folded arms.
"I wouldn't blame you if you hated me – I'm finding it pretty hard to like myself right now. I can't help thinking that maybe I shouldn't have let myself love you this much..."
"Don't," he interrupted firmly. "Apologise for anything else, but please don't apologise for loving me." The pain in his voice this time came from no physical injury, of that she was sure.
"Oh god, I'm so sorry…"
"Claire. Stop for just a minute, and let me say something, yeah?" he asked gently, his hand on her shoulder somewhat reassuring. She nodded eventually, barely moving from her position. "If you'd told me this…twenty-four hours ago even, I think you can guess what my reaction would've been. I highly doubt I'd still be in the same room as you…but my god Claire, I don't think I'll forget that look in his eyes as long as I live." His voice was weak, and she could hear the exhaustion, but he continued nonetheless and she felt powerless to stop him.
"Excluding you recently, I'd consider him without a doubt the closest friend I have at Sun Hill. But the look in his eyes before he lunged at me…" he stopped talking suddenly, and when she looked up several long moments later, she was shocked to see a tear silently roll down his cheek. Springing into action instantly, she reached out a hand tentatively to wipe the moisture from his cheek, allowing her hand to cup his cheek gently afterwards, ever-conscious of his injuries. "I've never been more scared in my life, Claire…" he whispered brokenly. Biting her lip to stop the tears from falling from her own eyes, she brought her other hand up to his face, the intense look that passed between them saying more than words could hope to.
"I don't think I can get through this without you…" he said eventually, closing his eyes briefly at the admission.
"You don't have to," she whispered, smiling through the tears which flooded her eyes. "I know," she pre-empted his words, guessing them from the simple look in his eyes. "I know it's not all okay, and I understand that it'll take a lot for you to be able to trust me again…"
"It's not trust, Claire. I'd trust you with my life, instantly," he said, not realising how closely he mirrored her earlier words. "But there's a lot we need to work through. For now, I just…really need you."
"I'm not going anywhere."