Chapter 1

Matt Ryan didn't share his secrets with anyone. Never had and never would. To admit your secrets, he thought, was to admit your weaknesses, your insecurities. It was an invitation for people to feel sorry for you. And he hated that. He wanted nobody's sympathy. It would only make him feel worse.

The few times his secrets had been revealed, they'd literally been forced out of him – taken completely out of his hands, out of his control – like when his mothers body had been found. No matter how much he wanted to keep that part of his life a secret, stored tightly in that little dark box at the back of his mind, he couldn't once they'd identified the remains. They had been beautiful, even in death, and even after all those years brutally wrapped in a suffocating cocoon of industrial plastic – parts of it stretched and sagged where she had fought against it, pushing her hands out against the prison, kicking her feet in every which way she could manage. Matt had wanted to touch it all at the time, just to feel some of her spirit again, a vibrant beauty of movement he remembered so vividly and which had stayed frozen in his memory since that night his whole world had changed.

He'd been forced to reveal his longing for Jennifer too, when she had so teasingly, yet good naturedly got it out of him. He had been unable to meet her eyes as they sat next to each other in the bar, and he had forced a smile onto his face, because he knew it was the only the thing he could do. But he'd been so unbelievably and torturously embarrassed. And even further mortified when she'd turned him down. And he had given up easily – admitting defeat within himself right then and there.

He simply didn't see what good it did to reveal ones secrets. You just ended up embarrassed or the subject of crushing pity by others. He now did all he could to avoid that. And besides, he still felt an overwhelming responsibility to just be tough and suck it up. He was a police officer and knew he had to act like one, whether he felt capable of it or not.

But when he continually fell short of not only Bernice and Stanley's expectations, but also of his own, he knew his time as a sergeant was rapidly drawing to a close. With every case that went wrong, with every order that Allie and Rhys ignored, with every fed up look that Jarvis shot venomously his way, Matt felt the walls closing in faster and faster around him, until he was all but trapped inside a cell so small he could not even reach his arms out to their full span. He'd never felt anything so suffocating, nor so stunningly lonely, and worst of all, it felt like there was no one on the other side of the wall to reach in and help him out.

Still, in a way he still felt the determination within to fight his way out solo, without anybody else's help. He felt if he couldn't do that, what credibility did he have left? None. It was already eroded to the point of dust anyway, so he was hell bent on fighting to the death to regain what he had worked so bloody hard for all these years. He was not just going to throw it all away. Not without a fight anyway.

But he also missed his colleagues and the way they used to be. Everything had changed – it wasn't just Matt. The office had a new dynamic now, and had for some time. There were too many members, he felt, and even though they all worked well together, there were also a lot of days where the team became divided, squaring off on an issue and working separately. They would bluntly refuse to accept another members ideas until it became too obvious that one side was more right than the other. Then they would grumble and sulk and only be more driven to be the right one the next time.

This division had only been made worse since he became sergeant, he knew. And he knew people were talking about him, commenting on what a move it was to come back to your old squad and suddenly try to lead them. And they were right of course. Before he'd taken that exam they had been equals. Now he knew even less of where he stood. By stripes on the shoulder Matt Ryan was 'better' and more qualified than Jen and Duncan and Allie, but by reputation and results, he felt he'd truly fallen to the bottom of the heap. Equals? What a joke. No wonder he'd had issues since day one. But he'd stubbornly tried to keep working at it, wanting to make it work, wondering too if he'd just had a shocking run of bad luck with difficult cases. He just wanted to save face - to save his own feelings of failure from springing out and to save himself from the embarrassment that he knew would come if it didn't work out.

Only now, when the crunch time had inevitably come, did he see the way Jennifer, Duncan, Stanley, had all tried to help him. But their protests and their quiet words in his office and their forgiving natures had fallen on deaf ears. And that, that had been his downfall. He could see that now. His stubborn refusal to accept help, to show any kind of sign that he was not capable of being a sergeant, had made him yell at Rhys and Allie, made him swear under his breath countless times a day, made him speak to his best friends in a manner so cold and angry that they couldn't hide the shock on their faces and made him feel so utterly incapable of doing the job right.

It was only when Bernice had called Matt into her office one hot afternoon early in November and not one, but four pairs of eyes, were fixated on him, was Matt forced to believe he might have failed. And when they began to speak, he knew he was right.

They scooted politely around the word 'failure'. They never actually said it. It was fifteen minutes of padding out the conversation to make it not feel like such a blow to him. But they were wasting their breaths. He wondered inside, as he sat in front of Bernice, his collar suddenly feeling like it was choking him and the scratchy fibres of his jacket sleeves pin pricking their way through the sleeves of his shirt, irritating his skin so much that he just wanted to rip the jacket off and hurl it half way across the room, if he had always known this was going to be the way his sargeants stint went. He knew he had gone into the course prematurely, piggy backing off the let down of his break up with Emma and using the new position as a tool to bring his life back into what he felt was a sensible order again. It was like booking a six month backpacking adventure in just two days. Some things just required a little bit more planning and thinking and weighing up of the pros and cons. He had not been ready to be sergeant.

They did not demote him. He still held the title. The paperwork still referred to him as sergeant and so did some of his young charges. But he was swiftly inserted back into the way of life of a senior constable for a trial period he was told would last as long as they felt the need for it to. It was a relief from the rigours of being a sergeant – they were letting him take it easy for a while. So suddenly he was back to doing things the way he used to, taking orders from others rather than giving them out, answering to Stanley instead of being his equal. He felt more comfortable in this position, but lamented how short lived his sargeants experience had been. He didn't know if he'd ever be ready to go back to it.

And if I prove no good here

I'll skip to where I should

It took a long time to settle back into just being one of the regular team alongside Rhys and Jen and Nick. He felt like he was struggling with it just as much as he'd struggled with being a sergeant. And everyday he felt the eyes of his superiors watching him, as if he might break, or have a major meltdown, and the pressure mounted because of this. He tried his utmost to keep his cool in the office, trying so desperately to be the Matt of old – the Matt everyone knew and got along so well with. But that Matt was gone, and had been replaced with a Matt who did melt down – but only at home, away from prying eyes, when he was alone and no one could make a judgement on him. He had had more than twenty years of hiding his secrets and putting on a façade – he'd had to do it ever since his mother disappeared – and thought he had it down to a fine art. No one noticed Matt Ryan, he thought to himself constantly.

But alas, they did. And that was how he found himself signing off early one afternoon to make an appointment that had been made for him, rather than by him. He was loathe to keep it, but he got into the lift anyway.

They were going to make him spill his secrets.