A/N: Sorry this took so long to be completed- writer's block amongst other things. Anyway, hope you like it, and the details about Sheelagh are what I can remember from her old profile- uncheckable at the moment because The Bill Bios is down!
Why was it that certain days crawled by? Take this one, for instance. Sam was looking forward to her dinner with Sheelagh, which they'd already had to rearrange twice because of work commitments, and here she was with her eyes trained on a television screen waiting to see whether local CCTV had picked up anything on an assault. So far it seemed all that had happened on the Coal Lane that morning was a few people walking past and picking their noses. Three of them, in actual fact. Which led Sam to believe they knew the cameras were there. What kind of perverse kick did they get out of that?
Realising she was starting to sound like a school dinner lady instead of a respected detective, she decided to go downstairs and grab lunch of some sort. On the way out of the doors she was called back by Mickey. 'Sarge, phone call for you.'
Inwardly growling, she took the receiver. 'Who is it?'
Her annoyance instantly melting, she put her ear to the phone. 'Well, it is your turn to cancel.'
'That wasn't why I was ringing actually,' Sheelagh answered, her voice slightly out of balance. 'One of my contacts at Social Services just called. Helen Roberts killed herself last night.'
Sitting down in the closest chair, Sam muttered, 'Oh, no.'
'My thoughts exactly.'
'I thought she'd been prescribed sedatives or something. What happened?'
'I don't know all the details. Apparently she refused to take her medication, she was found this morning by a neighbour.'
Unsure what to say, Sam meekly questioned, 'Are you alright? Must have been a bit of a shock.'
'It wasn't the pleasantest thing to walk into,' Sheelagh admitted. 'Listen, I don't know about you but I don't think I'd be very good company tonight.'
'No, Sheelagh, come on,' she immediately protested. 'You know, we don't have to go out, I'll just bring a takeaway round or something.'
'Sam, I wouldn't be any…'
'I'm not taking no for an answer,' she warned. 'What time do you want me to come round?'
'Anytime from seven,' her friend replied. 'That should be fine.'
'Did you get anyone for that assault you were working on?' Gina skidded to a halt half way up the stairs as Sam began to trot down them.
Coming level, Sam shook her head. 'CCTV was useless, no one saw anything.'
'Well, you might be in luck. Me and Roger have just brought in this skinny little thing from the Coal Lane, he's got a wallet with someone else's credit card in it and blood down the side of his trousers.'
A smile worked its way onto her face. 'Finally! Cheers, Gina.'
'Oi,' she said as she began to run down the stairs. 'You're in a rush, aren't you? Hot date?'
'Nothing like that. Just having dinner with Sheelagh, want to get this done and dusted.'
'Yeah, I intend to.'
'I promise I'm on my way,' Sam began when Sheelagh answered the phone. 'I'm just finishing up an interview.'
'Why doesn't that surprise me?'
'I'll ignore that. Anyway, I realised I hadn't asked you what you wanted to eat. So, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Thai or, er, chicken?'
There was a small laugh. 'Doesn't chicken get a country?' she teased.
'Not if you go to the shop I do,' she answered.
'Suddenly I'm off the idea of chicken. Just get what you want.'
'You might regret that,' Sam warned, looking over her shoulder and seeing Mickey beckoning to her. 'I've got to go. Looks like my suspect's about to crack. I'll see you in a bit.'
Balancing the two boxes on top of each other, Sam locked the car and walked carefully up the path. The real art was ringing the doorbell but having got used to years of actually unlocking doors with her hands full of takeaway food (more than once it had landed on the floor, but that wasn't for worrying about at that precise moment) she just about managed. There was a slippery moment as she caught Sheelagh's shadow coming to the door but she saved the situation just in time.
When the door opened she gratefully stepped inside. 'Hope pizza's okay.'
Sheelagh smiled. 'I think it's what I would've chosen.'
'I'd wait before you say that actually,' answered Sam, allowing Sheelagh to take the boxes while she removed her coat. 'I kind of like it hot.'
'How hot?' Sheelagh questioned, leading them both into the living room.
Sam took one look at the sofa and placed herself in the armchair. 'Very.'
A little over five minutes later, when she was laughing at Sheelagh's brave but vain attempts to prove her strength, Sam realised how much she was enjoying herself. Her slices of the pizza were going down effortlessly- it came with practice- but Sheelagh had already left the room once to guzzle down a glass of water.
Picking up a jalapeno with her fingers, Sam bit into it. 'It's the seeds that do it, you know.'
'I'll take your word for it,' answered Sheelagh, suddenly noticing the second pizza box untouched on the table. 'If that's more of the same…'
'Nope,' Sam replied, licking her fingers clean and cracking the box open. 'I thought an Hawaiian might be more your taste.'
'And how long were you planning on waiting before you pointed that one out?' Sheelagh asked, reaching over immediately and stealing a piece of pineapple.
'I wanted to see how you'd do,' shrugged Sam, taking control of her own box. 'So, how's things?'
After realigning her tongue with a slice of mild pizza, she said, 'Not bad. Someone actually asked me how I was yesterday. I'm thinking of it as a breakthrough. Of course, it was after I'd been thrown to the ground but still…
'Yeah, a breakthrough,' Sam agreed. 'Do you ever miss Sun Hill?'
Sheelagh pondered that for a moment as she ate. 'I don't know. I miss the people. I sometimes find myself in a situation thinking 'what would Reg say'.'
Sam smiled. 'That's a bit bizarre.'
'Believe me, I know. But it's nice having a different voice in your head every now and then, instead of just your own.'
'Watch what you're saying, I've had people put under psychiatric observation for less than that.'
'I don't doubt it.'
'What are you trying to say?' Sam questioned with mock seriousness.
'Oh, nothing,' Sheelagh replied with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. 'How did your case go?'
'It turned out to be self-defence in the end, actually. I was a bit surprised, he was an annoying little…'
'And you had him pegged as an axe-murderer?' Sheelagh finished. 'You'll never learn will you?'
'My hunches are usually right,' she answered then shrugged. 'Well, sometimes.'
'I'm sorry, did you just admit you might have been wrong?'
'And I'll never admit it in front of anybody else,' she warned.
'It'll be our little secret,' Sheelagh said, smiling. 'When are you going to see Abi anyway?'
'Oh, erm…' Sam shifted slightly. 'That's this weekend.'
'So soon? I thought you'd be happier.'
'Don't get me wrong, I'm dying to see Ben again but… Well, me and Abi still aren't on the best of terms and I don't want to make things worse.'
Sheelagh swallowed what she was chewing then said, 'You'll definitely make things worse if you stay away.'
'Yeah, I know. You're right. Why don't I just admit I'm scared as well as wrong?'
'It probably would make things easier.'
Sam laughed. 'Does nobody get offered a drink in this place or am I an exception?'
'Yes, you are.'
Hours had passed before Sam knew it. Regretfully, she realised she should be making a move; she did have to be in work early the next day- she'd been so eager to get away that she hadn't made a dent in her paperwork on the assault case. Sheelagh was in the kitchen, pouring them elegant glasses of orange squash, she resolved to have one more drink then get on her way.
'Here you go,' Sheelagh said, coming back in with two glasses and passing her one. 'Hope you're not drunk yet.'
'Oh, I think I'll cope.' Noticing Sheelagh seemed to be struggling to say something, she asked, 'What is it?'
'Nothing. I was just… It doesn't matter.'
Shifting into a position that made her semi-alert and authoritarian, Sam pressed, 'No, come on.'
'I was thinking about Helen Roberts, that's all.'
Well, that had been the spectre above the whole evening in a sense, though Sam wasn't certain if the subject should be approached at all. But Sheelagh had brought it up so… 'What did your contact say?'
Sheelagh sighed. 'Only that she was found this morning and it was definitely suicide, she couldn't give me details. But it's…'
'Obvious?' Sam finished quietly. 'Yeah, I know.' Recalling what Sheelagh herself had said, she continued, 'We had to do it though. She'd been under suspicion for months, anything could've happened to those kids.'
'They haven't got a mother anymore,' objected Sheelagh. 'That could be worse.'
'It could be,' Sam agreed, waiting until her friend's eyes looked up to meet her own. 'But it might not have been the case. As well you know.'
'You're right, of course you are.'
'Of course,' Sam repeated, smiling slightly. Leaning back in her seat, she finished her drink slowly, savouring the moments before she knew she had to leave. Putting the glass down resolutely on the table, she cleared her throat. 'I should go.'
'Hmm?' Sheelagh checked her watch. 'Oh, I didn't realise what time it was. I've got an early start.'
'Me too.' She stood, picking up her coat and bag from the floor. Proceeding to the front door, she turned, recognising the feeling in her stomach as apprehension. 'Thanks for having me.'
The silence was awkward. Sam reached for the door handle. 'We should do it again, lunch or something.'
'How about tomorrow? I'm in Sun Hill for a meeting tomorrow morning,' Sheelagh added quickly by way of explanation.
'Yeah, okay. Well, I'll meet you at the station then.'
'Oh, Terry, don't!' Sam said as she spun on her heel to face the detective constable. 'I was just leaving.'
'Meeting Sheelagh Murphy?' he questioned, smiling. 'Just letting you know she's down in the office.'
'Well, I'll let you off the hook then,' she replied. 'This time.'
'Actually, there was some paperwork the DCI was…'
Going down the stairs she found Sheelagh leaning against the door frame. 'You're on time.'
'Well, I thought I'd surprise you,' Sheelagh said with a smile. 'Are you ready or do you need a little longer?'
'Now, why would you think that?'
As she spoke Tony Stamp came into the front office. 'Sarge, you got a minute?'
'No!' When he recoiled a little, she added, 'I was just out the door, can't it wait?'
'Yeah, course,' he answered, shrugging, then he noticed Sheelagh. 'Oh, hiya, didn't mean to interrupt.'
Sheelagh shook her head. 'It's just difficult getting her out of the station.'
'Can see it might be. I won't hold you up.'
After they'd got into Sheelagh's car, Sam glanced over indignantly. 'I'm not that bad.'
'No, I'm impressed,' answered her friend. 'Where are we going?'
'Little café I know. Let's go, shall we?'
'This is a really nice place,' Sheelagh said looking around the small conservatory. 'Surprised I haven't noticed it before.'
'It hasn't been open long,' Sam replied, sipping her mineral water. 'You know what it's like, these places pop up and disappear before you know it.'
'Mmm. Have you had a good morning?'
'The usual. Oh, and Abi called.'
Sheelagh looked up. 'Does she still want you to go up this weekend?'
Sam shrugged. 'I think she was checking I still wanted to go.'
'Well, you do don't you?' Sheelagh raised an eyebrow. 'I know we're in public but am I allowed to say the 's' word?'
'I'm not scared!' Sam protested. 'I've been thinking about it, I want to go. Last time I saw Ben he was barely crawling. According to Abi he's trying to talk, I've missed a lot.'
'I sense a 'but' coming.'
Sam shook her head. 'I'm scared of screwing things up, I have a habit of doing that.'
'No, you think you do. Sam, when are you going to learn that you're not as much of a mess as you think?'
She couldn't help but smile. 'I think I'll get there eventually.'
'After a lot of persuasion,' Sheelagh replied. 'Lucky I'm around.'
When Sam looked over the table at her former colleague she suddenly recalled the memory that she'd been battling down over the last few weeks. Yes, they'd agreed to forget about the kiss, it was a drunken mistake put into the past, but at that moment Sam couldn't help but remember Sheelagh's lips on her own. It caused a blush to rise on her cheeks.
'Are you okay?' Sheelagh questioned quickly.
'Yeah, I…' Glancing around for a point of interest, she spotted something outside- a hooded figure running down the street, a brick in hand. A second later a wailing cut into the air. 'I'll go check that out.'
She vaguely saw Sheelagh roll her eyes but she was out onto the street in seconds. The culprit was out of the way, obviously, but it wasn't difficult to spot where the damage had been done.
Walking back into the café, she frowned. 'Maybe we better get a takeaway sandwich.'
Sheelagh glanced up. 'What's the problem?'
'Someone just put a brick through your windscreen.'
'Well, that wasn't exactly how I expected lunch to go.'
Sam raised an eyebrow as she hailed a cab. 'What were you expecting?'
'Not a bill that size anyway.' When they were neatly settled in the back seat of the taxi, she added, 'I don't understand it. There were twenty cars on the road, why was mine singled out?'
'It's just a pity I didn't get a better look. But don't worry, I'll look into it. Got the CCTV from the supermarket and the pawn shop, it shouldn't be too difficult.'
'Don't waste your time on it,' Sheelagh advised.
'Now, come on, I don't give up that easily.'
'What are you working on?' Terry questioned, pulling up a chair beside her. 'I'm not busy, I could help.'
Sam tore her eyes away from the blurred CCTV footage. 'Someone put a brick through Sheelagh's car window, trying to work out why.'
'Got anymore tapes?'
'Yeah, there's some from the supermarket there. Thanks, Terry.'
Ten minutes later she was called over. 'Got something, Sarge.' He pointed to the black and white screen. 'Now, this is the best we've got. The hood's slipped a bit, it's the only real look we get.' He glanced up. 'Do you know her?'
Sam nodded. 'Yeah, I know her. Give me a minute.' Pulling out her mobile, she dialled Sheelagh's number. 'Sheelagh? Got a bit of news.'
'You've found who did it?'
She sighed. 'It was Alice Roberts. I'm going to have to pick her up.'
The silence on the other end of the line confirmed that Sheelagh was having the same reaction to the news as she was. 'Oh, no.'
'It has to be done, you know that. But with any luck she'll just get a caution.' She wasn't even convincing herself. 'Look, I'll let you know how it goes.'
'Thanks for letting me know.'
Hanging up, she looked to Terry. 'Alright, let's get this over with.'
'Have you got an address?'
If you give me a minute I'll call Social Services. They placed her with foster carers a few weeks ago.'
Having been told by Alice Roberts' social worker that she hadn't reported in with her foster carers for several days Terry suggested they try the flat on the Jasmine Allen. It seemed a logical place to look but when they got there it became obvious that Alice wasn't going to be there, though one look at the police tape over the front door would probably have been enough to tip the teenager over the edge.
Since they had to be sure, Sam ducked under the tape, checking all the rooms and ending in the kitchen. The dried blood smudged over the lino was an indicator that this was where Helen Roberts had killed herself. Suddenly feeling immensely guilty, Sam backed out of the flat. Alice wasn't there so she should get back to the drawing board.
'Hmm?' she glanced up from her computer screen distractedly. 'Oh, Terry, have you got something?'
'Yeah, neck-ache from trawling through CCTV. Anyway, I got her on three cameras heading away from the town centre. Now, one of them was outside that garage you said you stopped at, then she passed the supermarket on Ryland Road then I lost her on Silver Street.'
'Silver Street?' Sam repeated. 'That's right near Sheelagh's office.' Checking the time, she picked up her phone and dialled quickly. 'Sheelagh, have you left work yet?'
'No, why, what's up?'
'Look, it might be nothing but I'd like to pick you up and make sure you get home safe.'
'Sam, I'll be fine.'
'Come on, for my peace of mind.'
'Well, I'd like to preserve what little you've got left,' Sheelagh answered. 'Is an hour okay?'
'Yep, see you then.'
Slipping into the car, Sheelagh clipped her belt into place then glanced over. 'So what's this all about?'
Indicating out of the parking space, Sam shook her head. 'It's probably me overreacting but Terry managed to get CCTV of Alice Roberts leaving the scene and she just seemed to be heading in your direction, that's all. And since it was your car she threw the brick into…'
'You think she blames me?'
'Well, us. I can see why she thinks that. I went round to the flat today, it's not a pretty sight. If she's seen it I can understand why she's in the state she is.'
Sheelagh sighed. 'So she followed me earlier, what do you think she's planning to do?'
'Hopefully it won't get to that.'
'Let me guess, you're planning on being my security guard until this clears up.'
'How did you guess?' Sam glanced sideways, surprised to find Sheelagh's eyes not on her face but on her chest. Quickly pulling away her gaze, she added, 'You better have food in, I'm not doing this for free.'
'Sam, you've been checking the window every five minutes, will you come and sit down?'
Smiling as sincerely as she could, Sam let the curtain drop back into place and moved back to the sofa. She was a little on edge, not just because of a teenager hell-bent on revenge was roaming the streets, but also because she was finding being close to Sheelagh difficult. They'd managed to brush the kiss under the carpet but now they were again in a confined space with no scenery flitting past the window she was nervous again. She wanted to discuss it, she needed to get it out of her system, but she could hardly do that. It'd embarrass Sheelagh, and that was something she didn't want.
'Do you want a drink? I've got some wine in the fridge.'
'Yeah, that'd be great, thanks.'
A few minutes later they were settled comfortably, Sam all too aware of them being in the same position as the last time they had a few glasses of wine together. Still, as they drank she relaxed and found herself talking and laughing freely.
They were on the second bottle where Sheelagh managed to spill white wine all over them both after jumping at a noise outside.
'And you were telling me to calm down?' Sam queried, standing before the liquid soaked through her trousers. Sheelagh also rose, placing her empty wine glass on the table and rushing to get a tea towel.
Coming back, her friend didn't hand her the tea towel, instead she scrubbed at the wet patch herself, only tapering off when she realised where she was. Straightening her back, Sheelagh turned away and started attending to herself. 'Sorry, I didn't mean to…'
'Sheelagh, it's fine,' Sam said, moving towards the stiff-set back. 'Come on, we're just lucky it's not red.'
'Mmm, I know.'
'Look at me.'
It took a few seconds but eventually Sheelagh did turn towards her, allowing Sam to recognise the uncertainty in her eyes, mainly because she was positive it was mirrored in her own face. 'I'm sorry.'
'Can you stop apologising?' Sam asked. 'This isn't a big deal.'
'Of course it's not.'
'I know.' A few seconds of looking at the floor then Sheelagh suddenly lifted her eyes to Sam's. 'I know.'
Was that the green light? She took it as one. Closing the distance between them, Sam very carefully pressed their lips together, still slightly unsure as to whether she was about to get a slap in the face for her trouble. She was lifted when none was forthcoming. In fact, Sheelagh didn't seem inclined to pull away at all.
Wrapping one arm around her ex-colleague's waist, Sam shifted them to the sofa, hardly noticing when she sat in the wet patch left by the spilt wine. The moment seemed to last for a lifetime until-
Pulling away, Sam just managed to pull Sheelagh out of a direct confrontation with the brick which tumbled to a stop near their feet. Following it through the now billowing curtains was a glass milk bottle stuffed full of burning paper. Of course, it broke on impact with the carpet, forcing Sam to stamp out a flood of flames with her thick-soled boots. 'Call for back-up,' she instructed.
'Sam, where are you going?' Sheelagh questioned when she made for the door.
'Just to see if she's still about, that's all.'
Not giving Sheelagh chance to argue, Sam hurried out of the front door, scanning up and down the dark street for any sign of movement. Though she didn't see any she wasn't satisfied. Was there a rear entrance, a garage or something? Sam recalled there to be a dirt path leading round to the back garden and quickly spun on her heel, charging back through the house. Unfortunately, Alice Roberts had beaten her to and smashed another brick through the patio doors as Sheelagh appeared at the door.
'Don't move!' Alice warned. 'Either of you.'
Backing away towards Sheelagh, Sam held up her hands. 'Okay, we're not doing anything, right?'
The teenager's hand was shaking on the brick she had in her left hand and she didn't appear to have noticed that the splatterings of glass from the broken window had cut into her. Blood was dripping from her hand onto the wooden floor as she reached through the hole and unlocked the door. Coming inside, she slammed the door behind her, causing the majority of the glass remaining in there to dissolve onto the floor.
'Get in there,' Alice instructed, waving the brick in the vague direction of the living room.
Sheelagh went first, Sam reassuringly brushing her waist with her fingers as she followed. Neither of them sat down though; after a glance at Sheelagh Sam moved over to the opposite side of the room and leaned against the wall.
'What do you want from us, Alice?' Sheelagh asked after the girl had scratched her heel in the blackened carpet spot where the milk bottle had landed.
She didn't answer straight away and when she did her voice was shaking violently. 'My Mum killed herself. Did you know?'
'Yeah,' Sam said quietly. 'We know. And you think we're somehow responsible?'
'Somehow?' Alice repeated with a taut strangled laugh. 'Somehow? You drove her to it!'
'How did we do that?' Sam questioned, eager to keep her talking until back-up arrived. 'We did what we had to do.'
'You think she wanted to be stuck on her own in that poxy flat? We were all she had!'
'Alice, she went on holiday leaving you on your own!'
'We were fine! I'm not an idiot, I can look after my family!'
Before Sam could argue that point, Sheelagh answered, 'How old are you, Alice?'
The girl's eyes brushed uncertainly between the two of them. 'Seventeen.'
'I was younger than you then.'
Sheelagh moved backwards to sit on the sofa. 'My mother died when I was sixteen, I had three brothers and two sisters to look after before I even left school.' As Sam swallowed, her friend continued, 'Believe me, it wasn't easy. But I was the oldest so I didn't really get a choice. The last thing I wanted was for us to be split up.'
'I didn't want that either!' Alice burst out, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.
'I know. But there were times when I really could've done with some help and there was just no one around. What we were doing, when we took you away from your mother, was trying to get you some help. Can't you see that?'
'But my…' Alice violently shook her head. 'What happened to Davy wasn't my Mum's fault! She shouldn't have been punished!'
'It was no one's fault…' Sheelagh began but Alice cut her off.
'It was my fault!'
Sam glanced to Sheelagh who caught her eye anxiously before looking back to the distraught teen. 'What do you mean, how was it your fault?'
Shaking her head, Alice turned around. 'I dropped him. When Mum was away I dropped him.'
Sheelagh was silent for a long moment. 'You see that photo on the wall there?' Alice looked over and nodded. 'That was my daughter, Niamh. She died when she about Davy's age.'
Sam watched carefully as Alice slowly turned back to Sheelagh. 'What happened?'
It was obviously taking a lot for Sheelagh to talk about this calmly, Sam noted her fingers clenching and unclenching next to her left knee. 'I don't know, it just happened. It wasn't my fault or anyone else's.'
'But I dropped him!'
'You don't know that had anything to with what happened, it could just have been an accident. But I do know one thing, you're not helping yourself. Do you ever want to see your brother and sister again?'
'Of course I… Yeah.'
'Then just drop the brick,' Sheelagh advised. 'If you carry this on you'll make it worse for yourself.'
'You think things can get worse?'
'Alice, it's my experience that things can always get worse.'
As sirens began to blare outside, the teenager dropped the brick with a heavy thud and sank to her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks. Sheelagh moved to crouch beside her, trying to reassure her with some words which Sam couldn't hear. She was rather glad she couldn't hear them, if she was honest.
'I think you might need a new carpet.'
Sheelagh returned from seeing the Uniform officers out and rolled her eyes at the blackened burnt patch plus the mud Alice Roberts had somehow managed to trail in from the back garden, despite the fact there had been little enough rain in the last few months to feed a plant let alone waterlog a lawn. 'Well, it's a good excuse to get one, isn't it?'
Sam indicated for her friend to sit beside her on the sofa. 'Are you alright?'
'Oh, I'm…' Sheelagh shrugged then rested heavily against the back of the leather. 'I'm exhausted.'
'You know, I'm sorry you got caught up in this.'
'Don't feel sorry for me; that poor girl's the one who's lost everything and now she's looking at a prison sentence. It's not right.'
Taking her hand, Sam entwined their fingers. 'Yeah, I know.'
'Sam,' Sheelagh started. 'About what…'
'If you're going to say it meant nothing, I'd rather not hear it,' she warned. 'It meant something to me and I'd like to keep that if I can.'
'Do you ever turn off that defensive streak?' questioned her former colleague.
'Yeah, when I get drunk. And look what happens then.'
Sheelagh's face broke into a small smile. 'You loosened up a little. It was nice.'
'Me loosening up or…'
'All aspects. So I'm not going to say it meant nothing. But…'
'See, there's always a 'but',' Sam muttered.
'But,' Sheelagh said firmly. 'I'm not rushing into anything. I've been perfectly fine on my own for a year or so now, anything else would be a huge adjustment.'
Sam raised her eyes to Sheelagh's electric-blue ones. 'You're not saying no.'
'I'm not. To be honest, I've thought about little else since we kissed last month, I've been useless at work, I just haven't been able to concentrate.'
'No, me neither.'
'So, I think we should just take this very slowly and see what happens. Is that okay with you?'
'Perfectly,' Sam said, echoing Sheelagh's earlier statement. 'Now, have you got a hammer?'
Sheelagh raised an eyebrow. 'Pardon?'
'Well, I've got to put your house back together. Don't move, it won't take long.' Before she stood, Sam leaned over to kiss Sheelagh gently. 'When I come back you can pour more wine over me.'
'I'd be more than happy to.'