A/N: This story has already been uploaded over at Sierra Oscar and thanks for all the encouragement over there. Equally, thanks to Claire for taking up her traditional role as my mentor/hounder. This has four parts and I'll update soon. Thanks for reading and apologies to anybody who thought I was dead... Haven't uploaded anything for well over a year!
Jo spotted her in the canteen.
It was empty apart from the lone figure with her head bowed at the far end. The lights over there were off, casting a gloom over the constable and the rest of the cavernous room. Jo debated over the plausibility of leaving her be but that wasn't really an option. So, with twelve brisk strides she crossed the canteen, rounded the table and sat down opposite the figure.
Millie made no sign she'd heard her.
Silently, Jo examined the young officer in front of her. Dressed only in her white shirt and trousers she seemed almost naked. Then there was the vacant drawn expression and the shirt sleeves rolled up and stained with dried blood. Clearing her throat, she questioned, 'Have you seen the FME about those yet?'
After an eternity, so it seemed, Millie shook head slightly. 'They're fine.'
Gingerly, Jo rested her fingers over the bubbled abrasions on the left arm. Millie didn't even flinch. 'They still might be infected.'
'I'm up to date with my tetanus,' Millie muttered.
'So you're leaving them like that forever then?'
'I'm fine, Jo, You don't have to babysit me, okay?'
'That's not what I'm doing,' she answered, pulling her hand back. 'I just want to know how you're coping.'
'What's to cope with? A woman killed herself. It happens often enough.'
'Yeah,' she conceded, 'but you don't try and pull every one back from over the edge.'
The brief analysis of the evening's events caused Millie to blink. 'I should've pulled her back. I had hold.'
'And she let go,' Jo replied. 'You're not forgetting I was there, are you? I saw everything, and for a minute there I thought we were gonna lose you as well.' That was true enough. As Pat Keller had landed with a bone-crunching thwack, Jo had looked up, half-expecting to see another body plummeting towards them. But Millie had been gazing down, wide-eyed and uncomprehending. Since then... well, there'd been this. Smithy had sent her home apparently, but it obviously hadn't stuck. Getting her home was one thing, but Jo had a smaller first goal in mind. 'How's about we get you to the FME, hmm?'
'I don't want to see anyone else,' Millie murmured, inclining her face away.
'No one thinks you did anything wrong out there, Millie. You do know that?'
'Yep,' she answered unconvincingly. 'But she's still dead, isn't she?'
'That was her choice. You wanna regulate people's decisions and you've got a lotta work to do. It can't be done.'
First she swallowed, then she opened her mouth as if to say something profound, but then Millie Brown closed it again. After a pause she said, dispassionately, 'I think I want to be alone.'
Jo sighed. 'I can't do that.'
'Please.' Millie's voice was tight.
Wordlessly, Jo stood. Going to the constable's side, she held out her hand. For several seconds Millie remained staunchly distant then, perhaps rightly comprehending that she wasn't going to go away, she took it. Jo dragged her to her feet then caught her by the waist as she stumbled.
'Sorry,' Millie mumbled, a blush rising on her pale cheeks.
Jo shook her head. 'Come on.'
She supported the younger woman along the corridors more than the constable walked herself. At first it felt strange to be holding someone upright like that but she grew used to it. By the time they entered the empty FME's office she was reluctant to let go. At least, however, Millie seemed steadier on her feet as she moved to sit down.
'Okay,' Jo muttered, looking around. After retrieving cotton wool and antiseptic from a glass-fronted cabinet and running water into a bowl, she pulled a second chair close to Millie's. The constable's chin had drooped, leaving Jo free to study the freckled face as she soaked a cotton wool pad in water.
Millie was certainly beautiful, but in that understated way which people rarely appreciated. She also supposed that Millie suffered from thinking the worst of herself, which could make getting over something like this difficult. She had an unalterable sense of right and wrong, and possibly a stubborn streak. But this was all speculation. In truth, she barely knew Millie Brown. Nor should she.
Pressing the cold cotton against the speckled wounds on the left arm, she was both impressed and disconcerted by the fact that Millie didn't even flinch. This had to sting, but it seemed she was right in the assumption that Millie was shut down to all but basic tasks. Apparently, feeling pain didn't come into that. At the moment that was probably a good thing, but it would have to wear off at some point and Jo dreaded the moment when it did.
Suddenly feeling eyes on her, she looked up from her careful cleansing. Millie was watching her with an unreadable expression. Jo shifted under the scrutiny but persisted in wiping blood gently away until the cotton was stained. Disposing of it, she picked up the antiseptic and doused another cotton pad in it before pressing it against the wounds.
Now Millie flinched.
'You alright?' Jo asked measuredly, keeping her focus.
Left arm done, she released it. Without being asked, Millie held out her right arm. Jo took it, though this one was more difficult to reach. Her own left arm was lodged over Millie's lap keeping the arm steady while she tended to it. The constable took a long breath but said nothing.
When she was finished she let the arm drop. Lifting her eyes to Millie's she found them already searching for her gaze. Recognising she was much too close, she made to pull away but strong hands suddenly grasped at her wrists. Then Millie was kissing her, slowly and experimentally, no doubt the first time she'd kissed a woman.
Jo reciprocated for several seconds before she came to her senses. Jolting backwards as if burned, she jumped to her feet and stepped back several paces.
'I shouldn't have done that.'
Millie's forehead creased. 'You didn't do anything.'
She grimaced at the hurt tone. Sitting back down, though deliberately out of reach for both their sakes, she said, 'Look, Millie, you've had a rotten night. You're just looking to be close to someone but it's not the way to deal with it.'
'That isn't what I'm doing,' the young woman answered. Her eyes had fallen to the floor again; any progress Jo thought she'd made in the last five minutes was about to go up in smoke.
'Okay, listen to me,' she said. 'We need to get you out of here, alright? So I'll drop you off home and you can sleep and just forget about everything that happened today.'
'You really think I can sleep?' Millie questioned.
'Cross that hurdle when you get to it. Come on, let's get you out of this place first.'
She was walking better now, Jo noticed. After a brief stop by the locker room to collect some things, she made her way out to her car with the constable beside her. Though she'd had the opportunity to change Millie hadn't taken it. As a consequence, the street lamps that beamed down on them as they walked caught the white of her shirt inside her jacket and the red that stained it quite vividly. Jo couldn't help but shiver when she caught sight of it, something which had nothing to do with the September chill.
Once in the car they were silent. Millie was again lost in her own world and Jo didn't want to shake her from it. Truth be told, her lips were still smarting from the kiss they'd shared and the thought of that kept her preoccupied until they reached Millie's district. She knew the area vaguely so she had to rely on clipped directions to get her to the actual street. It was one of those new developments; faceless flats and small houses lined the streets. Millie nodded Jo to a stop on the left side of the road just before Maple House.
Unbuckling her seatbelt, Millie finally looked at her. 'Thanks.'
'No problem.' Jo waited for her to move but she didn't. 'You okay?'
'Will you... Will you come in with me?'
The words were said in such a rush that it took a few seconds to comprehend them. 'Oh, erm...' She sighed and gazed at her passenger. 'That's not a great idea.'
'I don't mean... I just...' Millie swallowed. 'I haven't really got anybody and I can't... I don't want to be alone right now.'
Jo hesitated. An hour ago this girl wanted help from no one, would ask for help from no one. Now here she was making a simple request that it would be very easy to comply with. But still... If she went in there the chances were that things would take a direction both of them may regret in the morning, whatever their good intentions.
That sealed it. With a brisk nod, she unbuckled her own seatbelt and locked the car behind them as they approached the block of flats. Millie lived in number five on the second floor. It was a smart enough building, Jo discerned as they walked through the lobby; one of those developments that suited the young professional who wanted a bed and nothing more. She herself had grown out of that years ago, and yet she was still living in the equivalent of it.
Millie's flat indeed showed signs of rare inhabitation. The carpet in the hallway was much too clean and the kitchen sparkled too much to be in use regularly. But after a twelve hour shift who wanted to cook? Jo couldn't exactly blame her for making use of the local takeaway facilities, the evidence of which was piled on top of the fridge.
The kitchen was to the left of the living room. Three doors back past the main entrance seemed to be the bathroom and probably two bedrooms. Millie led them into the living room where she systematically emptied her pockets. Her warrant card, keys and wallet went on top of the television, her mobile phone went on the table then she dropped her bag into the armchair. It was obviously a pattern, one which Jo noted with interest.
'Do you want a cuppa?' Millie asked suddenly.
'I'll make it,' Jo offered.
'No, I'd rather...'
She understood the hanging sentence and gestured for her to go ahead. Left alone in the living room she took a look around. There were the usual essentials- television, sofa, phone- but also a few things that Jo would call peculiar to Millie. The bookcase, for instance, was overflowing, mostly with obscure authors. At least, Jo hadn't heard of half of them and that counted as obscure in her book. Then there was the wine rack nestled in the corner beside the window, every shelf occupied. Most coppers that she encountered on a regular basis were beer drinkers, with a dash of something a bit stronger if the day called for it. Wine was much too refined for the Sun Hill crowd. Rounding off the room was the cabinet in the corner next to the wine rack. It was glass-fronted and housed what seemed to be a collection of pottery turtles, each one delicate and hand-painted by the look of it.
When Millie returned with the tea Jo had seated herself on the brown sofa, trying to look as casual as possible. Millie sat next to her, possibly too close, but didn't speak for a long time. Jo let the warmth of the hot drink seep through her; it had been a chilling day and she dearly needed some heat in her body.
'Why did she do it?' Millie abruptly broke the silence.
Jo sighed and leaned forward to place her mug on the table. 'She couldn't bear to live anymore. Grief does funny things to a person, so I'm told.'
'But I... We're supposed to help. We didn't do that. We didn't notice how she was feeling until she was on that roof and by then it was too late.' It seemed Millie had opened the floodgates; now she couldn't stop talking. 'If I'd listened properly when me and Sally went round there this morning then maybe she wouldn't have done it. Maybe she would've seen there were ways to-'
'Oi!' Against her better judgement, Jo placed her hand over the younger woman's trembling one. 'We can only help if they let us. You know that. I don't know how she was feeling. I can't even imagine the pain she was going through, losing a child like that...' Clearing her throat and seeing she had a captive audience, she continued, 'But when it came down to it she wanted to die more than she wanted to live. You couldn't have changed her mind. I know you tried. I saw you.'
Millie shook her head. 'I should've done more.'
There was something else at play here, Jo's detective instincts had told her that from the off. Carefully, she asked, 'Have you dealt with this kind of thing before?'
The answer was too quick to be true but Jo didn't press it. Instead, she returned to her tea and watched the shadows dance over the collection of turtles.
When they were both finished, she asked, 'Are you tired?'
'Okay.' Pausing, Jo searched for something else to offset this painful silence. 'What about a shower, would that help?'
Millie shrugged, though her chin had lifted slightly. 'A bath might.'
'Alright, a bath. How about I go run it and you can wash up these tea things?'
Locating the bathroom as the door closest to the main entrance, Jo flicked the light on and surveyed the small room. It was cosy, perhaps the most personal of the rooms she had seen so far. Candles of many colours were scattered along the windowsill and the side of the bath and there was a definite wicker feeling going on here. With a half-smile, she found some lavender bubble bath and set the hot water running.
Apprehensively, Millie stepped over the threshold a few minutes later. Jo wiped her hands on a towel then tried to smile as she brushed past the younger woman. To her surprise, Millie gripped her arm as she passed.
'You're not gonna leave, are you?'
She shook her head. 'I'll watch some telly or something.'
After the door closed, Jo looked at it for a second, unsure of what she was getting into. Millie was very vulnerable right now; did she actually want any part in that? Usually, it was so easy to see people struggling at work and then walk off and blot it from her memory at night. She couldn't do that in this case. The more concerning thought was that she didn't want to either. There was no doubt in her mind that if Millie kept asking her to stay she'd stay the entire night, though God knows where that would lead.
Settling on the sofa she picked the most mindless drivel she could find on the television and sat back, not really watching it. The programme went through three advert breaks before she realised how long Millie was taking. A cold feeling bubbled in her stomach. Going to the bathroom, she knocked twice loudly on the door.
'Millie?' she ventured.
Pressing her ear against the door she listened for any sound she could hear. What she caught were sobs, stifled ones but sobs nonetheless. Without thinking, she pushed open the door, finding Millie naked in the bath with her knees drawn up to her chin while she cried into them almost silently.
Jo was kneeling beside the bath in a second. She wasn't paying attention to the state of undress, she was more concerned that Millie didn't seem to have noticed her entrance.
'Oi,' she said softly so not to startle her. Slowly, Millie's grasped her presence and a blush rose on the pale cheeks. Perhaps she was thinking that the bubbles in the bath were virtually non-existent now, or that Jo was so close she could probably taste her tears. Whatever it was, Jo was quick to squash it. 'You must be freezing.'
The constable just shook her head. More tears were working their way down the freckled face, despite obvious efforts to stop them. Wrapping an arm awkwardly around the shoulders of the young woman, Jo pulled her to her. Suddenly Millie's resolve broke and her body convulsed with sobs that rattled around the tiny bathroom. Despite not knowing what the hell was going on, Jo felt tears well up in her own eyes. How could you see someone in this much pain and not react? At least, that's what she was telling herself as icy water seeped through her thin top- a mixture of bath water and tears.
They stayed like that for perhaps five minutes. Slowly, Millie's sobs subsided and she glanced away, evidently embarrassed. Jo, too, was feeling a mite bashful but to mask it she retrieved the bath towel she'd put to one side and offered it to Millie, assuming she'd take it. What happened was altogether different. Millie stood, but shook as she did so. Jo averted her eyes as she stepped out of the bath and held out the towel. Then Millie stumbled and fell into her arms, pressing against her, though the towel acted as a light barrier between them it didn't prevent Jo getting absolutely soaked.
'God, I'm sorry,' Millie muttered and tried to step back. Jo, however, held her fast, trying to think of a way out of the situation that wouldn't involve her seeing more flesh.
Hesitantly, she reached down towards Millie's bare thigh and pulled at the edge of the towel. After doing the same at the other side, she joined them together over Millie's warm back and attempted a light smile. 'There, no harm done. You go get changed and I'll see you in the living room, alright?'
Though she was making a good pretence of being calm, by the time she reached the living room and the rambling television her own cheeks had grown very warm. The smart thing to do now would be to make her excuses and leave, but somehow she couldn't picture herself doing it; the look on Millie's face would be difficult to walk out on. So with a sigh she waited for the young woman to return and gradually her clothes dried in the warm room.
When Millie entered it was obvious she'd tried to scrub her face clear of tears, doing a pretty good job of it as well. Jo looked up as she came in and swiftly ran her eyes over the flannel pajamas the constable was wearing, happy to note the lack of any provocative nightwear. With halting steps, Millie sat beside her on the sofa, a suitable distance away, and said nothing.
Somehow they both ended up focused on the television. What had been a documentary before Jo had gone to the bathroom had morphed into an American talent show. She idly considered switching it off but a sideways glance at Millie showed she was enjoying it, not the content perhaps but the madness of the thing. Resting back against the arm of the sofa Jo kept her eyes on the television.
Slowly- and she didn't know how it happened- they moved closer together as the show went on. As a result, by the time the credits rolled and Jo stretched out her arms she managed to smack Millie on the head.
'Sorry about that,' she said with a grin that turned into a yawn no matter how hard she tried to stifle it. Almost regretfully, she added, 'I should go before I'm too knackered to drive.'
Apparently reluctantly, Millie nodded. 'Thanks for tonight.'
'Don't worry about it. You gonna be alright, yeah?' Though she dreaded the answer, she had to ask.
Her concern was well-founded, it seemed, when Millie murmured unconvincingly, 'Mmm hmm.'
Jo halted half way to the door. Her better judgement was losing a raging battle with her less scrupulous side, the side that muttered that by staying she could make sure Millie was alright without actually overstepping any mark. Her hand was on the doorknob before she turned back with finality.
'Got a spare duvet?'
A true smile crept over Millie's pale features. 'Better. Spare bed.'
They returned to the living room. This time when they sat down they were much closer but Jo didn't deliberately move away. Instead, they sat mere inches apart from over an hour while lurching from programme to programme. Much as she didn't want to admit it, she was enjoying the sensation of sitting just close enough to- and just far enough away from- this intriguing little constable. They barely spoke but it didn't matter; her over-active imagination was substituting words into the silence, words that she had no intention of ever uttering.
Abruptly, Millie reached for the remote and flicked the television off. Quiet momentarily deafened them before Jo asked, 'You tired yet?'
'Yeah, I think so.' Millie shot her an apologetic look. 'Don't know how well I'll be able to sleep. I wouldn't like to disturb you.'
'Once I'm out that's it,' Jo replied. 'Had to stick Britney on my alarm just to force me out of bed on a morning.'
'Oh, so you're a Britney kind of girl?' The smallest hint of a tease from Millie's lips set Jo smiling.
'Little prissy for my liking. And I never did go for the bald ones.'
Millie chuckled lightly then her face shadowed over again. Standing, she moved quickly through the door, calling back, 'Think I've got something you can sleep in.'
Jo watched her go then let out her breath heavily. Talk about a recipe for disaster! Still, she'd said she'd stay now, she could hardly run out of the door screaming.
When Millie returned she was carrying a pair of baggy shorts and a t-shirt which she thrust at her without looking. 'Spare room's next to the bathroom.'
The clipped tone surprised Jo but she made no comment. Going to the said room, she found it to be a typical guest bedroom: lacking in colour and individuality but generally nice. She closed the door behind her and swiftly changed, tossing her clothes on the chair underneath the closed blinds. When she was dressed she couldn't help but peek at herself in the wall mirror; she couldn't say she'd ever worn a Snow White t-shirt before but it suited her in a strange way.
Returning to the hallway, she found the lights out and Millie's bedroom door closed. With a frown she went to use the bathroom before bed, remembering all too vividly the moment when Millie's slender body had fallen into hers. She shook the memory from her mind quickly; she was the one supposed to be anxious about Millie propositioning her, not the other way round. She was here to offer support and if it wasn't needed she should get some sleep. It had been too long a day already.
It was difficult to get comfortable in the cold bed. After tossing and turning for a while, she stiffened as she heard a door open outside. Her own door was merely pushed to and a light appeared in the hallway, followed by a shadow crossing through it. Jo followed her with her ears all the way to the kitchen where she ran water, probably for a drink, then returned slowly to her bedroom with shuffling steps. The light switched off, though the door didn't close again.
It took a few moments for Jo to realise that no one manoeuvred around their bed that silently. Stepping into the chilly room she pulled open her door and stepped out into the dark hallway. Turning sharply right, she walked straight into Millie's bedroom. At first she could see nothing but when her eyes adjusted they settled on the shuddering figure in the bed. Unless she was mistaken Millie was crying again.
Fumbling, she found a switch to the left of the door frame and flicked it. Millie's head immediately ducked under the covers, possibly at the brightness but more likely through the desire to hide something. Sure enough, when Jo knelt beside the bed and coaxed the constable's chin out from under the duvet she saw her face was tear-stained again. Sighing, she let her hand cup the cheek momentarily before withdrawing it.
'What's going on here? And don't tell me it's nothing because it isn't.'
Millie's forehead creased. 'Really, it's-'
'What did I say, hmm?'
After opening her mouth several times, the younger woman turned over. 'Jo, I can't.'
Though the voice was breaking, she had to push it. If she didn't whatever this was would ruin any chance of sleep- for both of them. So moving to sit on the edge of the bed, she pressed, 'Come on, talk to me.'
There was a lengthy silence, but instinct told Jo it was leading somewhere. Sure enough, Millie eventually began her tale. Throughout, Jo sat quite still, eager not to disturb or distract the trembling figure in front of her but drinking in every word.
'When I was twelve I went out walking with my uncle and cousin for the day. David was a year old than me, thought he knew it all. I was a quiet kid, he... wasn't. Anyway, my Uncle Keith had just lost his job but we didn't know that. He worked an old factory but they'd shut down so...David started winding his dad up, like you do. We stopped at a level crossing to let a train past but David wouldn't shut up. He was calling Keith all sorts of things, just asking for a smack. And he got one. Keith knocked him out cold. Then he just...'
Jo knew precisely where this was going but she had to let Millie say it. After swallowing, she continued, 'He jumped the barrier, ended up in front of the express train. I saw it.'
Reaching out to touch her shoulder, Jo was rewarded with the touch of a tear-soaked hand and an iron grip on her fingers. Prising them away, she moved back to the doorway and threw the room into darkness again. Carefully returning to the bed, she slipped inside the covers and nudged Millie further in. Settling her head on the pillow, she wrapped an arm around Millie's waist. Initially, the young woman stiffened then she slowly relaxed. Lifting her head slightly, Jo swept back hair from the clammy forehead and kissed the skin there. She felt Millie shiver then melt further into her arms.
A few minutes later and she found Millie to be asleep. If she was right it wouldn't be long before she followed suit. Meanwhile, she was inhaling the sweet fragrance of Millie's shampoo and trying not to get intoxicated by it. Fat chance.
When she awoke she was confused. At first she assumed this was some ill-advised drunken conquest breathing lightly beside her but as she rolled onto her back and caught sight of Millie's peaceful face she immediately remembered the events of the previous day.
By the look of the sun peeking through the blinds, it was almost time for them both to get up. Jo idly entertained the thought of just slipping out of the flat and going home before Millie even awoke, but that was cruel if not impractical seeing as the constable had fallen asleep holding her hand and hadn't yet relinquished it.
Stretching out had the desired effect. Millie stirred then her eyes fluttered open, catching on her and blushing. Jo wanted to speak but resisted the urge. She wasn't accustomed to waking up in an unfamiliar bed and being unsure of what to say. It was usually something along the lines of thanks and bye with the number being deleted on the way out of the door. This was far from that simple.
I'm sorry I put you to so much trouble,' Millie finally murmured.
Thankful that it was that and not the idea of them being in bed together that disturbed the younger woman, Jo shook her head. 'No trouble. You feeling better?'
'Much. Thank you,' she added hesitantly before sitting up and glancing at the clock. 'I should probably get ready or something.'
Taking the hint, Jo slipped out of the bed, immediately feeling the morning chill. 'I'll be out of your hair in a minute, gotta nip home before work.'
Once dressed, she lingered a moment longer than necessary in front of the mirror. She certainly didn't look any different from the previous morning, though she was in need of a shower and a spruce, but she felt a little strange. She'd made it a rule a long time ago that colleagues were off limits, even if the urge came and it rarely did. She wasn't in the habit of making her life more complicated and work place romances were a sure fire way to bugger up that resolve.
But this wasn't a romance. She'd spent the night in bed with a gorgeous woman and nothing had happened, bar a comforting kiss that didn't even take place in the bedroom. Not that she would've usually taken advantage of such a situation, she just wouldn't have stuck herself in it in the first place. Still, it seemed the moment she'd gone looking for Millie yesterday evening she'd started searching for something. And what had she found?
'Can I come in?' Millie's head peeked around the gap before she pushed the door open and came in, still dressed in her pajamas.
Jo smiled and reached for the car keys she'd tossed onto the dresser. 'I'm about ready.'
'Right. Um... I don't...' Trailing off, the constable looked nervous.
Anticipating where this was going, she said, with more than a pang of regret, 'Our little secret. I'll see you at work.'
As their arms brushed in the doorway, Millie briefly gripped her shoulder, though she didn't look directly at her. 'Thank you.'
'You've said that already,' Jo answered. When she reached the front door she couldn't help but throw a friendly smile back over her shoulder. Then she left to return to her almost-illegally parked car.
Dropping into the driver's seat, she took a moment to steady herself. Then, starting the engine ferociously, she headed home.