Rachel was used to feeling left out when it came to DCI Gill Murray. There was always someone else she was talking to in her office, door closed, laughter leaking out through the slits in the blinds. She was always talking closely to someone else, a smile on the edge of her lips, when they were all drinking at the Grapes after work. There was always someone in the way, someone else she liked more. Rachel wasn’t jealous, exactly, she just…she wanted to be one of those people once or twice.
When Gill’s quiet invitations to Sammy’s engagement do went around, she was unsurprised when she was left out. Not only had she been reamed just a few weeks ago for her foray with Kevin, she had brought her personal life into the office again and proved to Gill just what an immature fuck up she was. At least, that’s what it looked like to her. But still, hearing Janet and Rob talk about going to that party made her feel like someone had tripped her in public just so they could all point and laugh together at her.
It wasn’t personal, but it always felt like it was.
She didn’t know why her feelings never registered to her as romantic – surely the only reason she wanted Gill’s attention was because she looked up to her, she respected her. And sure, she thought she looked dignified and impressive on the telly when she had to give interviews, and she definitely noticed when she wore her favorite skirt suits, but really, it was all very professional. It was only a professional infatuation.
She wanted to be like her, not be with her.
“Does anyone know where Gill is?” Rob asked, his hand over the receiver of a telephone.
“Home?” Janet supplied.
“Home,” he repeated into the phone, and the office slowed to a crawl, everyone turning to Rob, who was standing in the doorway of Gill’s office, looking increasingly pale.
He had hung up and was staring at a spot on the carpet. Rachel felt her mouth go dry. Something was wrong.
“Member of the public rang 999. Said she saw a woman in a car with a knife to her throat. Took the registration number. It’s Gill’s.”
Someone said something after that, maybe it was Janet, but Rachel heard nothing but a high pitched ringing. She could hear her breath, loud and fast in her own ears, but no one around her seemed to notice. It was impossible – Gill didn’t get into situations like that, those were for telly shows and dime novels. People didn’t just…get into your car and point a knife to your throat. And it certainly didn’t happen to Gill, the most competent copper to join the force in three decades. It just didn’t.
People were a flurry of movement around her, and Rachel had to force herself to hold her breath, just so the sound of it would stop long enough that she could hear everyone else talking.
“Superintendent Dodson’s gone in as commander,” someone said, and Rachel could feel her breakfast, nothing but a cup of coffee and Weetabix, coming up her throat. She could not – would not throw up right now. She needed to look professional, capable. She needed to bring Gill home.
“What’s happening?” she heard herself ask when Rob turned toward her. Somehow, she had gotten to her feet without realizing it. He looked at her curiously, like she was doing something wrong, and then shook it off. Now was not the time.
“Superintendent Dodson wants you and you to join her at CID HQ,” he said, indicating her and Janet. Janet tossed a glance back at her. Their current fight would be put on hold until this was over, she understood. There would be no need to address it.
“When?” Rachel asked, her mouth still dry but the acid in her throat burning.
“She didn’t say,” Rob said, and it was almost sympathetic, and Rachel could easily forget that they weren’t all just at each other’s throats ten minutes ago. She nodded and grabbed her stuff, so quickly that it all almost fell right off of her again. She wrenched her purse up on her shoulder and followed Janet out of the bullpen.
“Hold on,” she said, banking a sharp right into the loo. She heard Janet call her name, but ignored her, shoving her way into a stall and vomiting up her coffee. She dropped to her knees, trying to ignore the way her legs were shaking, trying to pull herself back up.
“You alright?” Janet asked, standing behind her with a tissue.
“We’ve got to go,” Rachel said in lieu of an answer, standing back up unsteadily, taking Janet’s arm when she offered it.
“She’s going to be okay,” she replied, leading Rachel to the sink, where she rinsed out her mouth and wiped it with the back of her hand. Rachel met her eyes in the reflection of the mirror and clenched her jaw.
“I – I don’t know what I’d do if –”
“I know,” Janet said kindly. “So let’s go get her out of there.”
Superintendent Dodson was far more put together than Rachel expected. She knew Julie and Gill had a close relationship – far closer than strictly platonic. She expected her to be a mess, to be as much of a mess as herself, but Julie was standing there in the middle of the situation room, staring at the satellite feed of what Rachel knew was Gill’s car, traveling toward Leeds, her glasses perched on the edge of her nose, her brow tight and hands on her hips.
Rachel couldn’t take her eyes off the feed. Dodson was barking orders at people, telling them to something she couldn’t understand, didn’t hear clearly enough and suddenly there was Gill’s face on the screen, her back straight and rigid, something light brown around her neck, tight and unforgiving.
She wondered if she made a noise; by the time she could tear her eyes away from the feed, away from Gill’s face, her heart was thundering in her ears, and Dodson was looking expectantly between her and Janet.
“How is Sammy?” Dodson asked, with the sort of tone that said she’d said it once before already.
“He’s fine, he’s at home, Dave’s with him,” Janet said, tossing Rachel a concerned glance while she said it. Rachel understood its meaning. She looked suspicious – she looked like she cared more than she should.
“Good, that’s two birds,” Dodson said thoughtfully. The camera feed switched again and there was Gill’s face, and Helen Bartlett’s right behind her. Rachel felt a surge of fury and clenched her fist. If she could be there, in that car, she’d kill Helen herself.
“Don’t just sit there,” she muttered to herself. Gill was capable, she was dangerous, no matter how many people seemed to underestimate her.
“Nothing she can do,” Dodson was looking at her curiously, like she was looking deep into her. Rachel shifted uncomfortably. “There’s something tied around her neck.”
“Does Gill know we’re there?” Janet asked.
“No,” Dodson shook her head, pulling her scrutinizing gaze away from Rachel and back to Janet. “As far as she’s aware, she’s on her own.”
The belt around her neck burned, like someone had lit the skin of her throat on fire. Gill knew it was residual, just the scrape of the leather against delicate skin, but she couldn’t stop thinking about it. It felt like all of the blood in her body was in her throat, hot and swollen and angry.
“Do you think anybody’s missed you?” Helen asked, the smell of lager wafting up to the front seat with her words.
Gill felt a lump in her throat, borne out of panic. She choked it back. “I have no idea.”
“What will happen?” Helen prodded. “When someone does miss you?”
“I don’t know,” Gill answered, trying to keep her voice calm. That was a lie. She knew what would happen. It would take Sammy too long to realize she hadn’t come home on time; he was far too preoccupied with his engagement party, with the food and the drinks and his fiancée. He wouldn’t know to raise the alarm until it was too late. The idea made her feel sympathy for him. If she couldn’t find a way out of this and Helen did do whatever it was she wanted, Sammy would be left with the thought for the rest of his life that it was his fault his mother was dead.
Rachel would notice first, she thought definitively. She was supposed to give Gill an update when she came back to the office before the engagement party. She would notice when Gill was late, and she would be the first to say something. If no one had noticed that she was missing yet, her only hope of detection was Rachel.
But would Sherlock think to say anything? Or would she call her mobile and give up, thinking that Gill was ignoring her, still punishing her for shagging Kevin and letting her marriage blow up in front of the entire syndicate? She hoped not.
She would apologize to her, to Rachel, if she got out of this. She would tell her why she was so hard on her all of the time, even if it embarrassed her, even if it was unprofessional.
She would be honest, finally.
“I need to talk to you,” Dodson said to Rachel, her hand still pointing at Janet. “Janet, I need you to be the negotiator. You spent the most time with Helen Bartlett.”
“She has a girlfriend, Helen Bartlett,” Janet said. “We could pull her in, see if she knows anything that might be going on in her head.”
“Good,” Dodson said with gusto. “Good. Go get her, bring her in,” she directed to someone, who nodded and stood.
“Keith is going to direct you to an isolated room, so you can negotiate in good faith,” Dodson said to Janet, who clutched her purse a little tighter and nodded, lips tight. “You,” she said to Rachel, “outside.”
What had she done to piss off Dodson already? Rachel didn’t know, but she was also only half in the moment – the other half was fixed on the feed, on Gill’s car, her hand so tight she could feel her nails cutting into the slightly calloused flesh of her palm.
“Ma’am,” she said politely, looking slightly up at Dodson, who was scrutinizing her closely.
“I know you care very much about her,” she said gently, dropping a hand onto her shoulder and squeezing slightly. “But I need you to get focused. That’s the only way you can help her.”
“I – I do – I am –”
“You’re not,” Dodson insisted. “And that’s fine. I’ve been there. Some things you just don’t realize until they could be gone.”
She let the statement hang there, in the empty, quiet hallway, the activity buzzing behind the closed door. Rachel swallowed thickly, trying to look at the floor, at the wall, anywhere but Dodson, anywhere but her penetrating, all-knowing gaze.
“We’re going to get her out of there, Bailey,” Dodson said gently, so gentle Rachel felt that foreign warmth of maternal kindness. “But to do that, we need your brilliant mind working as best it can, not focusing on worst case scenarios, not focusing on what you could have said to her when you had the chance.” She caught Rachel’s gaze, pulling her back up. “Okay?”
Rachel felt the tears she was trying desperately to keep bottled up rise to the back of her throat, lodged there roughly. She nodded, inhaling sharply through her nose.
“What do you need me to do?”
Dodson smiled, the first real smile she ever gave her, and said, “I need you to be our runner. If I have to give any nasty orders to firearms, I don’t want Janet knowing about it. It’s the only way she can have a real negotiation with Helen. Understand?”
“Let’s get her back, Bailey.”
“You’re coming off at the next junction,” Helen said, leaning forward in her seat, the acrid stench of booze announcing her presence before her hot breath in Gill’s ear. She barely saw the glint of the knife as it gesticulated toward the sign. Flamborough Head.
I’m not hanging around for that. I’ve had enough. And I’m taking someone with me. And that someone is you, she’d said. Gill had felt herself go cold at the statement, at the almost detached certainty with which it had been announced. She was resigned, and that meant that Gill had next to no chance of talking her out of it.
“I want to be clear,” Gill said, hearing the shake in her voice and trying to rein it in with a sharp inhale. “You’re talking about suicide. Right?”
“Yeah, yeah I am. And I’m taking you with me.”
Gill felt the pit of panic in her gut widen, so much that she thought she would finally cry, would finally start to beg. She didn’t want to – she was far too proud for that, but wouldn’t it be worth it, the sacrifice of her dignity, if Helen allowed her to live? Wouldn’t it be worth it if she could see Sammy again? See Julie, see Janet, see Rachel?
And then suddenly the tears were flowing, down her face, hot and horrifying, and she could feel the sob clawing its way up her throat. She swallowed it back, trying to breathe past the blockage in her throat. She shouldn’t have, she shouldn’t have thought of them, of her people outside the car. She needed to focus on herself.
But once she thought about it, she couldn’t stop. Sammy, with his bright, gleeful smile after he proposed to Orla, Julie and her varied affectionate insults, Janet with her quiet logic, steadfast wisdom, and Rachel. Rachel, with her short temper and impulsive nature. Rachel, with her feather light touches on Gill’s shoulder when she moved past, with her bottom lip between her teeth, worrying it when Gill was asking her questions she couldn’t wait to answer. Rachel with her brilliant mind, her beautiful destructive presence, her smell of cigarettes and sugary tea.
“Why are you crying?” Helen asked, her eyes hawk sharp in the rear view. Gill met them for a moment, just barely blurry with more tears as they welled up.
“It’s not fun, is it?” Helen asked. “Not being in control.”
“Is that how you feel?” Gill replied, tightening her hold on the steering wheel. “Like you’re not in control?”
“Oh stuff it, bitch, don’t try to psychoanalyze me,” Helen spat, cracking open another lager. “You remind me of that other bitch, and her fit little partner.”
“Who?” Gill asked.
“J – Janet,” Helen stammered over her name, and for a moment, Gill saw the mask slip. Beneath the anger and resentment was hurt, deep and primal. She had confided in Janet and Janet had to arrest her for it.
For a single, mad moment, Gill was glad she was here instead of Janet. Janet, Helen would have disposed of immediately. She couldn’t have stood a two hour drive to the seaside looking at her face the whole time. Gill was alive because she wasn’t Janet, and Janet was alive because Gill had been taken. It was comforting that at least this ordeal was saving someone else from a worse fate.
“Janet and her fit little right hand. What was her name? Bailey?” Helen chuckled to herself in the back seat; a quick glance told Gill she was glaring down at her can of beer, talking without watching for her reaction. “I tell ya, a distracting kind of piece, isn’t she?”
Gill clenched her jaw, trying to keep her comments to herself. Don’t antagonize her, she thought firmly. Don’t push her, this isn’t worth it. Let her say whatever she wants.
“Wouldn’t mind getting a few minutes alone with her, eh?” Helen took another swig, messy, spilling some of the lager down her front. “Pay her if she wanted.”
“Don’t –” she caught herself the second the reprimand came out of her mouth, muscle memory from dealing with Kevin, from sitting in a room full of men, comfortable with disrespecting women without even realizing there were women in the room with them. She bit back the rest of her sentence, but it didn’t matter. She could see Helen in the rear view mirror, her eyes on hers, glittering with malice.
“Oh, is that it? Don’t want me talking about women, eh?” she leaned forward, the edge of the knife catching the falling light in the window, the glare sudden and frightening. “Or is it that you don’t want me talking about her in particular?”
Gill didn’t answer, her face warm and tight with the restraint it took to keep everything still, to give nothing away. Maybe Helen was too pissed to see anything in her face. Maybe she’d get lucky.
“It’s okay, DCI Murray,” she said quietly, dangerously, “you can admit that you agree with me.”
“I didn’t say –” she said firmly, almost brusquely, her hands so tight on the steering wheel her knuckles were going white.
“I thought you were good with the poker face,” Helen interrupted. “Look like you want to turn around and strangle me. Though I guess it could make this part more interesting.” She sat back in the seat, smugness etched in the lines around her face. “You hot for Bailey too, eh?”
Gill didn’t answer – it would be more dangerous to answer, more dangerous to allow this line of conversation to continue.
“Hello?” Helen shouted, the spike in volume so sudden Gill swerved, just enough that her heartrate spiked – she could feel it in her throat.
“I don’t think about my employees like that,” she said diplomatically, but Helen laughed, loud and ugly, and she knew it wouldn’t be enough.
“Tell you what, I’d like to bend her over one of those interview tables in the –”
“Stop it –”
“Give that long, dark hair a good yank, make her call you ma’am, I bet she’d like that –”
“That’s enough –”
“What are you gonna do, bitch? Stop the car? Take a knife into the back of the neck because I said a few nasty things about one of your employees?” she shouted, mimicking Gill’s voice at the end of the sentence. “I thought you didn’t think about them like that, eh?”
Gill swallowed, past the belt at her neck, and said nothing. She decided she wouldn’t say anything else from now on.
Rachel was standing in the room when she heard Janet say, “Gill?” in her soft, almost breathless voice, and felt the world slow to a standstill. “Are you alright?”
She didn’t hear the conversation, it didn’t really matter to her. She stumbled to Janet’s side, clinging to her hand, when Gill’s voice came through clearly, on speaker for the whole room to clear.
“I’m here with Helen Bartlett,” she said. “I’ve got a belt around my neck, she has a knife, and we are heading toward Flamborough Head. She wants me to drive the car into the sea.”
Rachel felt more than heard the sound that came out of her mouth at the statement, and Janet’s eyes met hers, wide and concerned. Gill’s voice, over the line, faltered.
“Rachel?” she asked, her voice far unsteadier than it had been a moment before, the business-like tone gone. “Is that Rachel?”
“Yeah, Boss, I’m right here,” she said, tears thick in her voice. She heard Gill exhale sharply into the receiver and Janet squeezed her hand again. “We’re going to get you out, okay?”
“I knew you would, Sherlock,” Gill said softly, as if she were trying to hide it from Helen.
“Gill, I’ve been instructed to tell you to tell Helen that you are surrounded. Firearms officers are right behind you. Would you please tell her?” Janet’s hand released Rachel’s and came to rest on the back of her head, as if patting her for doing a good job, though what Rachel had done, she had no idea.
“Hold on, she’s saying something,” Gill replied, and the phone moved away from her mouth. “What is it, Helen?”
There was a long silence, and then – “Helen? Helen! She’s bleeding, she’s cut herself, I can’t – I can’t do anything –”
It was far more panicked than Rachel had ever heard her, and she was rooted to the spot, listening intently, until Janet shoved at her, motioning to the door. Understanding immediately, Rachel flew down the hall to Dodson.
“She’s down, she’s cut her wrists.”
“Go, send firearms in, minimal force,” Dodson commanded, and Rachel watched on the screen as the officers descended on the car and Gill came stumbling out of the front seat, motioning frantically to the back seat, one hand resting on her neck.
“She’s okay,” Dodson said, and Rachel caught the single tear that slid down her cheek. “Thank God.”
Rachel silently agreed, and she knew Dodson understood when she turned and gave her a comforting smile. “Go tell Janet, will you?”
Sammy’s engagement do went on unimpeded, much to everyone’s surprise. Gill had made it a point when Sammy came to the hospital, all ruffled hair and pale cheeks, that his party would continue, her own feelings be damned, because life goes on.
It was a pragmatic way of looking at things, but Sammy had looked at her like she was crazy. Now, with a house full of people and a mind full of static, she did feel a bit crazy. She took another swig from her bottle of gin, trying to decide as she did if she wanted to get pissed or not. It would be well within her right to be pissed, after what she’d been through. But she didn’t want to face the nightmares while she was drunk. And she knew they were coming.
A light knock on the door announced Julie Dodson right before she slipped into the room, closing the door carefully behind her.
“How’s that neck?” she asked, so kindly Gill couldn’t stand it.
“Don’t you have drinks to be downing, karaoke to be singing downstairs?” she asked. “Or can you not party without me, you mad cow?”
Julie gave her a knowing smile, one that clearly said Gill’s playful insults weren’t going to land tonight. “How are you?” she said firmly.
Gill sighed. “Sore, tired, sad,” she shrugged.
“Your team worked hard for you today,” Julie said. “You should be proud of them.”
“I am proud of them,” she said sincerely, trying to speak past the soreness of her throat. “I knew they were capable.”
“They were all a little shocked in the beginning but they came through,” Julie continued. “Rachel Bailey was a problem, though.”
Julie took a sip from Gill’s bottle of gin before pouring a splash into her empty glass. “Yeah, she was distracted. So concerned with your well-being I had to give her a stern talking to in the hallway.”
“Did you now?” Gill asked absently, playing with a frayed edge of her pillowcase.
“Rachel Bailey doesn’t get distracted,” Julie said knowingly. “She doesn’t lose focus. But when it was you abducted, she couldn’t seem to get her focus back. Any reason that might be?”
Gill shrugged, but she could feel Julie’s eyes on her, could feel the silent questions. They talked about these things, her and Julie, but she couldn’t talk about this one. It had been her secret for so long, she had decided long ago it would never see the light of day. Yet here it was, just on the edge of the conversation, asking politely to be brought in.
“What did you do with that woman?” Julie asked pointedly, taking a seat at the edge of the bed.
“Nothing,” Gill answered honestly. “I’m a professional.”
“Didn’t stop you from fooling around with that toyboy of yours in the NPIA,” Julie said, shrugging one shoulder.
“He wasn’t part of my team,” Gill replied, a tad too harshly, defensively. “Everything was above board. Rachel is part of my team. She’s my responsibility.”
Julie nodded, sliding up the bed until they were both leaning against the headboard, feet propped up on the sheets that Gill had long pushed away from her. She sipped her drink. “Don’t you ever get tired of playing by the rules?”
Gill exhaled, a long sigh that Julie felt travel through them both. “Of course I do.”
“So what are you going to do with her?” Julie asked, looking down at her friend.
“Nothing,” Gill replied adamantly, reaching for the gin bottle. “Nothing, not until I retire.”
“Which will be never,” Julie pointed out. “You’re going to make that girl wait forever?”
“I have no illusions about Rachel’s patience,” Gill said softly. “She won’t wait for me. Maybe it’s better that way.”
“You’re such a stupid arsehole sometimes, you know that?” Julie said sharply. “You just went through a life threatening experience, most people would be seizing the day and all that. Snogging the girl they’ve always wanted to snog.”
“Not me,” Gill said firmly.
“No one would judge you,” Julie said. “No one would begrudge you a moment where you let the professionalism slip. Especially after today.”
“That’s not fair to her.”
“It doesn’t have to be a one off.”
Gill sighed, her hand around the gin bottle unmoving. She didn’t want to drink anymore – she didn’t want to get pissed after all. But she couldn’t handle this conversation if it continued as it was. Julie, when she wanted to be, was determined, and she understood Gill better than most. Better than anyone, she’d hazard to say.
“I’m going to send her in to talk to you,” Julie said after their silence had stretched too long, and stood, straightening her jacket. “Alone.”
“Don’t,” Gill warned. “Don’t, Slap, don’t you dare.”
“You haven’t seen her yet,” Julie reasoned. “It would only be polite.”
“Don’t pull that shit, you sneaky bitch,” Gill retorted. “I haven’t seen anyone.”
“But you want to see her.”
Janet tried to explain it to Rachel in the washroom, “Gill’ll make a point of looking untouchable,” but that didn’t make sense to her. It felt like a disservice to what Gill had gone through, seeing all of these people celebrating a good thing, like Helen Bartlett wasn’t dead, like Gill hadn’t almost died. It was perverse.
She stayed mostly outside during the party, sipping on the same glass of red wine. She had no interest in getting pissed; she didn’t even know why she was here. Janet had brought her along, with no argument, but also with no explanation.
“Thought I’d find you out here,” Dodson’s voice was still just foreign enough that Rachel jumped, her hand fumbling with her carton of cigarettes, looking for something to do. “Don’t light it up on my account.”
“Ma’am,” Rachel acknowledged, and Dodson cocked an eyebrow at her. “Sorry,” she said. “Habit.”
“Gill is up in her room,” Dodson said calmly, looking out into the darkness like it was the most nonchalant thing in the world. “If you wanted to talk to her.”
Rachel shook her head, this time actually pulling a fag out of the carton and bringing it to her lips. “I already crashed her party; I don’t need to crash her bedroom. Besides, she’s been through enough today.”
“You can’t tell me you crashed this party just so you could smoke in the dark,” Dodson said shrewdly, taking a sip of what looked like a glass of straight gin. “I saw, when we were in the situation room, when we weren’t sure if Gill was going to get out, what she really means to you.”
Rachel didn’t say anything, didn’t trust herself to speak. Instead, she took another drag of her fag and waited for Dodson to continue.
“You don’t have to stay silent,” she said knowingly, swirling the gin around in the glass and staring at it pensively. “Life is short – sometimes it ends before we wanted it to. Especially in this profession. Being brave is far more important than being smart sometimes.”
“Gill would say the opposite,” Rachel finally said. “Always be smart, being brave can put you in unnecessary danger.”
“She might say something different tonight,” Dodson said, patting Rachel on the shoulder before slipping into the house again.
Gill knew it was Rachel’s knock the moment it came. Julie didn’t exaggerate, and she didn’t deliver empty threats. She hesitated for a moment, wondering if she should pretend to be asleep, avoid this moment until it was safer, avoid it until it went away, but then she heard her voice call out, “Come in,” and her decision was made.
Rachel slipped into the room, barely opening the door, as if opening it more would invite more unwanted eyes, even though Gill’s room was far down an empty hallway, away from the party. She was in the black blazer that Gill liked, the little pocket square sticking out of the breast pocket. She always secretly suspected it was a men’s jacket, probably pilfered from an unsuspecting closet by Rachel, who couldn’t be bothered to wear women’s clothes.
It was so typically Rachel that it made her smile.
“Sorry for crashing your party,” she said sheepishly, lingering by the door.
“You can crash my parties anytime, kid,” Gill answered before she could decide saying exactly that was a bad idea. Rachel furrowed her brow, studying her countenance closely, trying to decide how drunk she was, how much of that half-empty gin bottle she’d had herself tonight. “I’m not drunk,” she said into the silence.
“Okay,” Rachel said uneasily.
“Are you going to sit down?” she asked, and only when Rachel’s eyes cast around the room did she realize there were no chairs in her bedroom, only the bed. “Did you only come here to stand in the doorway?”
She said it with a hint of a challenge in her voice, and Rachel’s eyes met hers with a hint of a smile. Rachel could never resist a challenge. Without any preamble, she came around the side of the bed and sat, close enough that Gill could smell that she’d just smoked a fag, probably lingering outside where Sammy’s friends couldn’t talk to her, sipping her typical red wine. Gill had bought Shiraz just for her, just in case.
“How do you feel?” she asked, and Gill knew the question was coming – that was always the first question they asked after incidents like that.
“Alive,” Gill answered quietly. “Painfully mortal.”
Rachel laughed quietly, behind her hand. “That’s…not what I expected you to say.”
“What did you expect?” Gill asked blandly. “That I was sad, depressed, frightened? You’re talking to the wrong lady, Sherlock.”
Rachel, her gaze down at her lap, smiled, a soft, quiet smile that Gill figured she wasn’t supposed to see, but she was well-versed in Rachel Bailey’s facial expressions, and that one wasn’t one she was used to seeing.
“Julie Dodson told me you were unfocused in the situation room today,” Gill said, watching Rachel’s profile carefully for a reaction. To her credit, Rachel only went very still, her hands clasped on her lap. “Rob used the word ‘inconsolable.’”
“I – I wasn’t –”
“Were they lying, then?” Gill asked, leaning forward just enough to catch Rachel’s gaze and pull it up to her own.
“Am I going to get bollocked for being concerned for you?” Rachel asked shrewdly, turning more completely to face her, pulling her knee up onto the bed, far enough that it was pressed against Gill’s own thigh. “Or is this just curiosity.”
“Don’t make me interview you properly, DC Bailey,” Gill replied, the set of her brow just serious enough that Rachel had to study her face to figure out what to say next. “I’m kidding,” she added, and then Rachel did exactly what she was afraid of.
She started crying.
“Oh,” she said, quietly, to herself, and reached for Rachel, her hands grabbing her wrists, pulling her close, close enough that she could properly hold her, her body shaking with sobs. “You know I hate it when you cry.”
“I thought you were –”
“I know, kid,” Gill answered, releasing Rachel’s wrists to hug her into her side, one hand running through her hair. In response, Rachel slid her arms around her to clutch at her shirt, fingers tight in the material. “We all did.”
Rachel didn’t reply, but her sobs quieted, down to quiet sniffles, her hands loosening from the material of her shirt, now relaxed and resting one hand under Gill, on her hip, the other resting on her thigh. Somehow, Rachel ended up with her head almost resting on Gill’s stomach, Gill’s arms resting across her shoulders comfortably and protectively.
“But I’m not,” Gill said finally.
Rachel didn’t speak, content with the warmth of Gill’s body and presence. She didn’t want to speak, didn’t want to accidentally break their spell, get too close to reality so this dream would end.
“Helen talked about you,” Gill broke the silence, clearly unable to bear the quiet.
“Did she?” Rachel murmured. “She right hated my guts.”
“She thought you were a hot piece,” Gill said, trying to keep her voice even. Saying it out loud incensed her all over again. “Her words.”
“Why on earth would she tell you that?” Rachel asked, sitting back up, her arm sliding out from around Gill’s waist. “Taking you hostage in a car doesn’t seem like the right place for that.”
“I dunno,” Gill shrugged, suddenly losing whatever nerve she had when Rachel’s intense, dark eyes were on hers, probing, dissecting.
Rachel blinked slowly, as if her brain were unraveling it all before her eyes. “You forget that I’m actually a good detective sometimes, don’t you?” she asked.
“How can I ever forget when you endeavor to remind me every day?” Gill asked, trying to keep her eyes from straying to Rachel’s hand, still on her thigh.
Rachel looked down at the bed, her hair falling into her face, and laughed. “Why did she say it?” she asked. “Or do you want me to guess?”
Gill hesitated, considering taking the gin bottle again if only for liquid courage, before Rachel spoke again.
“How much did it upset you?” she asked knowingly, her hand tightening just so on Gill’s thigh. “When she said that about me?”
“I never said it did.”
“Your face is red,” Rachel pointed out.
“It is not.”
Rachel smirked, the quirk of her lips a little smug, and then her hand was on Gill’s cheek, light and almost cold. “I am glad you’re safe,” she said, quietly, almost to herself.
“Me too,” Gill replied, trying to find the courage to find Rachel’s gaze again, looking for the courage she always had when they were working a job, and finding none. This is exactly what she was afraid of – an opportunity to act on what she knew would quickly spiral into something wildly unprofessional.
And then Rachel’s hand on her face slid, feather light, down to the bruises on her neck, the cold of her fingers a welcome reprieve of the constant burn, and Gill tilted her head back, against the headboard of her bed, and let her eyes find Rachel’s.
Rachel’s eyes were wide, as if silently asking if she was hurting her, but too timid to ask. Gill didn’t oblige her, didn’t say anything, but let a quiet sigh escape. Rachel’s hand on her throat applied no pressure, just explored the tender, bruised flesh.
“You should go back to the party,” Gill finally said, a last ditch effort to save them both, to keep them both in the clear.
Rachel leaned toward her, as if telling her a secret. “I didn’t come here for the party.”
“But I bought you your favorite wine –” Gill protested, and then Rachel was brushing her lips against the bruise on her neck, just below Gill’s pulse point, and Gill had nothing to say. She just let her hand find Rachel’s shoulder and squeezed. Rachel huffed a laugh, her breath bringing goosebumps on the skin of Gill’s neck. She kissed her, again and again, systematically covering the bruises with the gentle skin of her lips, softer than Gill thought Rachel could be.
“You bought me my favorite wine?” she murmured against her neck, lifting her head far enough to kiss Gill just under her ear. “You didn’t even invite me to this party and you bought me Shiraz?”
“I was going to text you,” Gill replied, breathless, as Rachel kissed her along her jaw, still painfully soft, gentle, sweet. “Invite you when I got a bit pissed, so I could pretend I didn’t just want you to be here.”
“Stop pretending,” Rachel admonished with a laugh.
“Hey, I’m the boss, missy, not you,” Gill replied, trying for jokes. Rachel pulled away, far enough to take in her whole expression, a sly smile on her face. “You don’t get to order me around.”
“Fine,” Rachel replied. “Fine, then I’ll await my orders.” She sat up straighter, crossing her arms over her chest, trying to arrange her face into something noncommittal. Gill watched her do it fondly.
“Come ‘ere, you silly twat,” she ordered, taking Rachel by the wrist and pulling her back to her.
“Yes, ma’am,” Rachel murmured, swooping in to finally kiss her on the mouth. Her hands were delicate, just barely touching, careful to avoid her neck, avoid the bruising as much as possible. Gill didn’t care – her neck didn’t burn anymore, not when she was so focused on Rachel, on her hair through her fingers, on her hands on her waist, nothing was more important than Rachel.
Finally, reluctantly, Gill pulled away, her hand on the back of Rachel’s neck, commanding and possessive. “Go get the bottle of Shiraz from downstairs and then come back up here,” she ordered. “Don’t smoke a fag, don’t get distracted. Come straight back here, is that clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Rachel grinned, her cheeks flushed, and Gill smiled at her.
“And try to wipe that smug look of your face, Sherlock, while you’re down there.”
Rachel rolled her eyes, swooping in for another kiss, long, hard, demanding, and pulled away. “I’ll be back soon.”
“I’ll be waiting.”