This is a follow up to “Breakdown” It’s also AU because none of it happened except in my head. I hope you will enjoy it anyway.
She would refuse, he knew. He was going to make her understand, she needed some rest. He had to take her home.
“Don’t move, I’ll be with you in a minute.”
He received no answer. She just sat there lost in thoughts, her eyes red rimmed from crying. An obvious sight that Bettany Whelan’s death had affected her more than she would let on. When Joe came back into her office, a few minutes later, it was to announce that she would be going home.
“I can’t, Joe. There is still work to be done.”
“No discussion. Kenny is taking over.”
“But…” She started.
“No buts,” Joe said.
Vera wanted to protest again, just to annoy her former DS a bit, but in the end did not do so. She was too tired. It was if Bettany’s death and getting a confession from Simon had drained all her energy. She suddenly felt incredibly old… All these years in this job and never once had she felt like this. Not even when she had had her angina.
“I’m getting old.” Vera suddenly said.
“No, you are not. You just need to learn to take better care of yourself or at least let someone take care of you.”
She eyed him sternly.
“Don’t look at me like that, Vera. You know I am right. Bloody hell! Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. If you want my opinion it rather shows that a person is strong.” Joe sighed. “Nothing has changed since I left.”
“Nothing needs to change, Joe.” She smiled up at him.
Joe shook his head. “You are infuriating, you know that?”
“Yes, pet, I know, but that’s why you’ve put up with me for so long.”
“You’re probably right on that one. Now come on, let us get you home,” Joe Ashworth simply said.
“I have no choice, have I?”
“No, you don’t.”
“Let’s go then,” she said reluctantly.
Joe chuckled. “You make it sound as if it’s a torture.”
“In a way, it is,” she told him.
“Is it because you live in there alone?” he asked, concern clear in his voice.
“No. I don’t mind the solitude. Solitude has become a particularly good friend. It is just, I like to occupy myself. Cleaning and all that is not my favourite kind of activity, you know that, but my place is clean.”
Joe watched her suspiciously. He had been to her place. “Hiding things under the carpet…”
“Joe, don’t tell my secret to everyone!” She smirked.
Ashworth was happy he had managed to brighten her mood a little.
“I’m still perfectly capable to drive.”
“Vera,” he warned.
Vera Stanhope sighed heavily as she handed over her keys. DCI Stanhope was relieved Joe was driving. Though, she would never admit such a thing to him. He had told her earlier she was not old. Maybe she did not really look like an old woman, but inside she felt like one.
The ride was silent which did not really surprise the man sitting behind the wheel. He knew her... Vera was tired. Stubborn and pig headed, but with such a kind heart. If he would have been older or she younger… No, her age did not matter. Joe knew lots of people with a little age difference that were not married anymore. His own marriage had not survived; after so many years of being together it finally had exploded. Vera had been right. Celine was demanding and jealous of the time her husband spend with his boss. When she had agreed to marry him when they were young, she knew what she would have to deal with and yet she pulled through and now so many years later, she was accusing him of being responsible for their marriage failure. Like Vera had said, marriage did not mean that one person becomes the property of the other. Two entities deciding to join their lives together and walk the path of life together for a few years or the rest of their lives. Depending on if you found your true love or not.
Age does not matter. Where did that come from? Then he suddenly realized what was going on. His wife had said that years ago, a little after they were married, that she did not understand how people with ten years age difference could get together or even get tother in matrimony. Joe had not really had an opinion on the subject back then, so he had simply agreed. Now that he really thought about it, Joe realized that age difference did not matter to him as long as the people involved were happy. That was what was really important.
How had he managed to put up with it for so long? Joe wondered. He should not be thinking about this anymore. Celine was not a part of his life anymore now. Leaving had not made things between them any better. There was always something wrong with anything he said or did. She had filed for divorce and he had not objected to it. With pain in his heart, he had left the kids with her for their own sake. Joe did not want his children to be caught in the middle of their fight for custody. He loved his children too much to do that to them.
He would tell his former boss about his divorce in due time, what mattered now was to get Vera to rest. Not an easy task with a woman like her. She could be so stubborn sometimes.
When he parked the car, Vera did not move. She just kept looking through the window. Joe looked at her thinking he hated seeing her like this. Stepping out of her car, he rounded it and opened her car door. He unhooked her seatbelt and extended his hand.
“Come on, let’s get inside,” he told her with a soft smile.
She put her hand in his and he helped her out. Closed the car door, next he gave her his arm so she could lean onto him as they walked toward her home. Joe opened the door, she let go of his arm and went inside, Joe following her. He closed the door and locked it—not that it was necessary —the next neighbour was miles away. It was more out of habit than anything else, Joe realized.
Vera moved to her living room.
“Let me help you out of that,” his said, helping Vera out of her parka.
Joe hung everything into the hall before going back to her asking her if she wanted him to put the kettle on.”
“Later maybe, right now I wouldn’t mind something stronger.”
“Are you sure you don’t want something else.”
“Joe, love, if I had wanted something softer, I would have asked for it. I do not want to get drunk; I just want to numb the pain I feel inside. That’s all I want.”
Vera’s confession surprised him, it was unlike her to admit anything, let alone about how she felt.
“Fine then,” he said and went in search of a drink.
It did not take him long to find what he needed. Nothing had changed in the house either, he smiled inwardly. At least the glasses he found were clean. Vera would never change. She was not the kind of women doing household things. She did everything that needed to be done but sometime the dishes would stay in the sink a week or more. Sometimes, he remembered the dirty dishes had stayed in there until there was nothing left to use in the cupboards simply because she was too overwhelmed by a case. That was simply who she was. Also, why she has chosen celibacy.
Vera took the glass Joe handed her with a tired smile appearing on her lips.
He nodded taking a seat next to her on the couch.
“Don’t you want anything, pet?”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
They fell in a comfortable silence, Joe watching quietly drinking. Here he was with her as if nothing had ever changed or happened. Unfortunately reality was something else entirely. If it had not been for Aiden calling him, Joe would probably not be here now. Joe Ashworth hadn’t talked or even tried to call his former boss after everything that had happened with his wife, telling himself he didn’t want to bother her with his personal problems, but was this the real reason?
“Everything alright, pet?” Vera asked.
“I was asking you of you were alright… You suddenly seemed miles away.”
“Yes, I’m fine. No need to worry.”
“Celine troubling you again?”
He looked at her, surprised, realizing suddenly that he did not have to tell her about what had happened in his life since he left because she already knew everything.
“Unfair?” she supplied.
Joe nodded in agreement. “Why do I have the impression that you know everything already?”
“That’s because I do. Why didn’t you call me? Don’t you know you can come to me with everything?
“Honestly, Vera, I don’t know. I thought Celine moving was the best thing for the girls… the best thing to save our relationship. What I didn’t see at that moment was that my marriage was already falling apart or maybe I did and didn’t want to face it right away. I’m not sure which one of the two it is.”
“You could have called me still.”
“I know. But we are not here for me, but for you if I recall.”
She huffed. “Wanting to know how you are, makes me think of my own failure toward Bettany.
“You couldn’t have known what that bastard would do.”
“I should have known, Joe. I should have known something like that was about to happen. She did not deserve to die. If only I hadn’t…” Vera’s voice trailed off.
“If you hadn’t what?” he asked her gently.
“If only I would have thought more outside the box and faster, she wouldn’t be dead.”
Joe Ashworth considered his former boss for a few moments and suddenly realized that it wasn’t what she had meant to say.
“Spill it, what is really going on Vera?”
“Nothing, I promise.”
“Vera.” He started.
“What?” she said annoyed.
“I might have left a few years already, but I know you. Something is clearly bothering you and it’s not only because Bettany has been killed,” he said coming to sit a little closer to her.
She sighed heavily, staring into her almost empty glass but said nothing. Silence stretched between them. Joe did not press; if she wanted to talk, she would.
Vera did exactly that after a few moments.
“Bethany wanted to go to Major Crimes, but I told them she wasn’t ready.”
“Don’t tell me this is the reason why you beat yourself up about all this. There is no need for that you know it.”
“If I had accepted…”
“Don’t start with that. It probably would have happened anyway. I know it is not something one wants to hear, but it was the end of her journey. If you ever taught me something that’s it. One does what he or she can. There will always be criminals who will kill, and it is our job to stop them. We owe it to their families; the people who loved them. There are times we can prevent crimes from happening and sometimes not that’s life. When we do, it is a bonus, but when we do not. All there is left to do is put whoever it is behind bars so he or she won’t hurt anyone ever again.”
A smile appeared on her face; it was indeed what she had told him so many years ago. Vera knew he was right, but it was not that easy when you were on the other side of the line. Now she was the one who had lost a member of her team. For some reason, the words sounded hollow.
“Strange how those words don’t seem to comfort when you are on the receiving end.”
“I know. It always feels that way when I must announce terrible news to the family. One is never really prepared for that.”
“No one ever is. The day you became used to it, is the day you have to quit.”
“I tell myself the same thing.”
“I’m not there yet. I still have the impression there is lots I can do to help.”
“I have no doubt,” Joe Ashworth said, he hesitated a fraction of seconds, but in the end did not say anything more. Vera, who was watching him, sensed there was something he wanted to tell her but held himself back for god knew what reason.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on in that pretty little head of yours?”
The floor seemed suddenly remarkably interesting for her former DS.
“Joe say what you have to say!” she told him, annoyed.
The man sighed heavily before looking up at her. This was not why he came back. He thought. He came back to bring her moral support, he wanted to be there for her. Ashworth looked at her, but no word came out of him. Which made Vera sigh in frustration but did not say anything.
The guess game seemed to be popular today. Joe Ashworth could be such a mature man, but then for some reason he would turn into a child when he came to his problems.
So, she did it again and looked at him and guessed correctly what was going on.
“You can stay here as long as you want.”
Joe stared at her wide-eyed. “How did you know?”
Vera Stanhope smiled tiredly “I haven’t lost my touch, love.”
A graced his lips. “No, you have not. Thank you.”
“You are welcome.” She smiled, then looked at him about to say something, but stopped herself. She told herself there would be no more guessing games for her or him that night and she simply said what she wanted to say. “Joe would you mind coming up with me?”
Surprised, Joe looked at her, not sure he understood her correctly.
“Don’t go getting any ideas, pet.”
Smiling Joe nodded. “No, of course not.”
Moments later, Joe helped Vera Stanhope get into bed and when he was about to leave the room, she held his arm. “Don’t,” she said.
“I’m not going anywhere, promise.”
Vera still did not let go. Suddenly something changed and her eyes watered. Joe did not think, he rounded the bed and laid down behind her. Spooning his body; holding her tight.
“It is alright, Vera. You can let go, I’m here to catch you,” he whispered, and her body started to shake slowly. She was finally allowing her grief to run its course. From now on things would start to go better again. It would still be difficult at times, but it would get better and he would be there for her along the way.
His decision was made. He was going to come and live back here again and would see if there was way for him to be able to work with her again.
It took time, but her cries finally subsided, and she fell asleep in Joe’s arms.
Joe hoped it would be a dreamless night so that she could feel better in the morning.
Up to another follow-up?