Six months after Julie becomes Superintendent, everything changes.
In their usual way - busy as hell, but comfortable enough that they don’t need to ring each other every week to stay friends - it takes Gill and Julie that long to go out and celebrate the promotion. Gill apologises by buying the first bottle of wine and saying "I'm ashamed that it's taken this long," as she pours it.
Julie waves the apology away, inclining her head in thanks as she takes the glass, then leans back into her seat. Her eyes scan casually over the crowd in the pub before she returns her attention to Gill. "It's fine," she says. "I know how it is for you, and I'm busier than ever, what with all the arse I've had to kiss since taking the job. They don't put that part in the description: superior posterior adhesion required."
Gill smiles, because that's all that needs to be said. They don't mention the other things - that Gill may have been inclined to go for the position herself, if Julie hadn't, that part of the reason they've taken this long is politics - it wouldn't have done to be seen to be too chummy while Julie was investigating one of Gill's team. That's all work, all bollocks, and they've never let any of that stand in the way of their friendship.
"Well, cheers anyway," Gill says. "Congratulations, or happy six month anniversary, or something." She lifts her glass in salute, Julie responds, and they both take a swallow of their wine.
"How's the boy?" Julie asks, moving on immediately. Her lips twitch into a smile, and she adds, mock offhand, "Oh, and Sammy too, of course."
Gill smiles, rolls her eyes. "Sammy’s well. He's almost finished PCSO training; brought his uniform home the other day and tried it on for me. Bloody strange, let me tell you. Wasn't sure whether to be proud or terrified."
"Aw." Julie sounds half mocking and half earnest. "Did he look like a tiny Dave?"
"Well, yes, but I won't hold that against him. Here's hoping no one else will, either."
Julie sips her wine. "Don't think that's likely, given what a mad bitch of a mother he's got."
"Well, exactly," Gill replies, with a little grin. "And the boy, since you asked, is gone as of a few months ago." She says that part matter-of-fact, no bitterness or regret, and Julie arches an eyebrow.
"Not enough stamina after all?"
Gill doesn't want to speak ill of him, even in jest. The ending was mutual, respectful, adult, and it felt good to move on from someone without her life and heart in tatters. "No, he had plenty of stamina, it just ran its course is all."
Julie smirks. "I was talking about you, love."
Gill laughs. "Of course you were. I'll have you know, I just about invented the multiple orgasm."
Julie leers over her wine glass. "Oh really. Well isn't that a useful piece of information to have." Julie blinks slowly, keeping eye-contact, and Gill doesn't look away. It's nothing unusual; their friendship has always been infused with a sort of casual tension - isn't that normal, when Julie's never made a secret of her sexuality? - but tonight it doesn't wash straight past, it lingers for a moment. There's something there, Gill thinks, something different within her tonight - perhaps connected to the realisation that sometimes things don't go tits-up - but she doesn't reach for it because the thought comes with a flutter in her belly that isn't entirely comfortable. She looks down into her wine glass instead, and when she glances up again the moment has gone.
Probably better that way.
"And you?" Gill asks, moving onto ground that feels steadier. "How's Delilah?"
"Good," Julie answers, rather quickly. "Haven't been able to get out to see her as often as I'd like, lately, but I know she's well taken care of."
Gill smiles, loves the way Julie says it. Anyone overhearing would think she was talking about a mother tucked up in a home somewhere, but in fact Delilah is Julie's horse. Coming out while they were still in uniform, Julie didn't bat an eyelid, and she's never had any problem striding and bollocking her way to the top, whispers of 'bitch' be damned. But owning a horse and being an enthusiastic polo player is far too posh a hobby for a police officer, especially since it's the last remaining habit from her education at a snooty private school. Gill's been Julie's friend long enough to be trusted with her deep, dark secret - long enough that she knows all of them, as Julie does hers - but they still talk about the horse in code, as though discussing an infidelity.
"Must be why your arse is looking wider," Gill says, "not enough time in the saddle."
"Put a saddle on you, you're not careful."
"Putting one on Karen Zalinski would probably be more useful."
Julie snorts. "She'd bite. Throw me off."
"And I wouldn't?" Gill cocks an eyebrow.
Julie pierces her with a stare. "I don't know. Would you?"
Gill takes rather a large mouthful of wine.
"Robbed someone," Julie says, eyeing a burly bloke in a beanie. "Buying beer with his ill-gotten gains."
"Robbed a cash machine," Gill adds. "Pulled it out of the wall with his bare hands."
"Mm," Julie murmurs, "and punched a pensioner who tried to raise the alarm."
"Bastard," Gill quips.
"Total shitbag," Julie agrees.
It's a familiar game, coming up with increasingly outlandish stories about the potential criminal histories of random - and probably entirely pleasant - fellow patrons.
"That one there," Gill says, nodding her head toward a woman - tall, black, legs up to her neck - "accidentally killed her last lover. Smothered him in the throes of passion, sitting on his face."
"Her," Julie says, and Gill glances at her in confusion, prompting her to clarify. "Smothered her. You can't tell me there's a man in the world could give head that good."
"Right," Gill responds, smiling. "I wouldn't know. I'll take your word for it."
"Pity," Julie says, and doesn't elaborate.
Gill slips past into the house. "Both, probably," she says over her shoulder, "but don't tell anyone."
Julie's home is a renovated Edwardian, semi-detached, in one of the more up-market suburbs north of the city centre. Gill has stayed here many times over the years, after a night out. She flicks a light on and drops her bag on the settee while Julie is still fiddling around with door locks, and by the time Julie joins her in the living room she's half-sitting on the back of said settee, one shoe already discarded, rubbing the ball of her stockinged foot.
Julie deposits her own bag on a side table. "Should I open another bottle, or would you prefer a brew?"
Gill loosens her other shoe-strap, smiles. "God, we're not that old. Think I can manage at least one more proper drink without making a fool of myself, if you can."
Julie shrugs her jacket off and tosses it over the top of her bag. "Red or white?"
"Whatever's handy." Gill lets her other shoe drop to the floor as Julie disappears in the direction of the kitchen.
"Put the telly on, if you like," Julie calls from the other room.
Gill glances at her watch. "It'll all be shite, this time of night. What've you got on the thingy?" Gill eyes the little black box under Julie's television, can't remember what it's called. She's not a total loss when it comes to technology - knows enough to not look like an idiot in front of people - but what's the point in having a teenager if you can't annoy him by never quite learning how to program the electronics?
"Nothing new you'll like," comes Julie's response. "It's mostly Game of Thrones at the moment."
Gill and Julie share a love of good comedy, but Gill will never be able to understand Julie's enjoyment of hyper-violent television (too much like what they see every day) any more than Julie can fathom the pleasure Gill takes in curling up with a costume drama (boring and stuffy, apparently).
"You're a barbarian," Gill calls, padding around the settee and settling onto it, propping a pillow behind her back and stretching her feet out across the cushions. "It's all right, the quiet's nice anyway. My ears are ringing from the noise in that pub." She wriggles a bit, getting comfortable, and listens to the sound of glasses chiming as Julie fetches the wine.
Moments later, Julie returns, a glass of red in each hand and a bag of crisps between two fingers. She drops the crisps onto the coffee table and hands one glass to Gill, taking a sip from her own and tapping Gill's feet with a finger. "Lift," she says, and Gill does, tugging them back for long enough to let her get comfortable. Julie toes her own shoes off with a pleased sigh and arranges herself in the corner, at which point Gill's feet go right back to where they were, which is now in Julie's lap.
"Oh, make yourself comfortable," Julie says, smiling.
"Guest privileges," Gill responds. "Besides, you got to put your feet up in the pub."
"Mm, exactly the same," Julie murmurs, but the smile remains, and a moment later the fingers of her free hand curl around Gill's ankle.
Silence falls, for a time. Gill sips her wine and closes her eyes a moment. Now, in the soft seat, she finds she is tired - not monumentally so, but the quiet and the wine and the warmth of Julie's body under her stockinged feet are all conspiring to make her feel lazy and drowsy in a way she hadn't minutes ago. She opens her eyes again, just in case, finds Julie looking at her.
"So," Julie says, and her voice is no quieter than it's been all night but the tone is different somehow. "This bloke, the boy. He treated you right, did he? I don't have to ruin any careers with my new power?"
Gill smiles, props an elbow up on the settee cushion and leans her head against her hand. "You don't, no. He was good, it was, but I don't think it was something either of us expected to be long-term, and when it got to that place where the next step was something altogether more serious, we left it there. I'm pleased, if that doesn't sound bizarre to say - I needed the reminder that people can be adult about these things. Gives me hope."
"For what?" Julie asks.
"The future," Gill says. "Other people, possibilities. If I can do it once without fucking it up completely, I can do it again, maybe with someone I can see a long-term with."
Julie's thumb traces over the ball of Gill's ankle, back again. Her gaze is fixed there, stays that way for a beat too long, and when she looks up at Gill again her eyes are just slightly too wide.
"I'm glad," she says. "I wouldn't know how to ruin an NPIA’s career anyway." She smiles, but the expression sits oddly on her face.
Gill peers at her, puzzled by the response. "What's up?"
Gill can see that Julie's next breath is rattled, reads a lie in the tiny shake she gives her head before she even speaks. "Nothing. Nothing. I'm… Nothing."
Gill feels her eyebrows lift toward her hairline. It's not like Julie to be inarticulate. Blunt, certainly, and occasionally condescending, but never inarticulate. Gill recognises, somewhere, that it could be better to leave whatever this is unsaid, but she doesn't. Feels inclined toward risk-taking. She curls her toes, gives Julie's thigh a nudge. "Doesn't seem like nothing."
"Really," Julie responds, entirely too quickly. "I'm ridiculous. Ignore me."
Gill feels a flicker of concern, now. "I don't think I can, Slap. Have you heard something? Am I wrong about why Chris and I ended?" The idea comes with a sickening twist of the gut.
"No," Julie is quick to reassure her. "Nothing like that, I promise."
Julie's grip on Gill's ankle tightens. She looks up again, and her eyes are even bigger this time. "I don't want to ruin everything." She sounds smaller than Gill's ever heard her sound before, like maybe for five minutes she's something other than a force of nature.
Actually, that's not entirely true. Gill does remember Julie being like this before, but only the once, a very long time ago, before they knew so many of each other's secrets.
They'd worked at the same station when they were starting out, Julie a few years ahead of Gill but both of them green. They were on different teams, but they found that the shared experience of institutionalised sexism that was the police force in the 1980s drew them together and provided the basis for the kind of passing friendship that involved drinks after work or bitching about the attitudes of their male colleagues in the loos. After about two years of that, they were moved onto the same team. They got to know each other better then, even if they rarely got to work side-by-side, WPCs in those days usually being paired up with their male colleagues and used to soften the blow of an arrest or death message. They were usually expected to reassure worried families or console grieving mothers, and they bonded quickly over how ill-suited they were to that, taking adjacent desks so they could mutter snarky commentary after returning from one of those jaunts. Their friendship grew in laughter, in the moments in between, and perhaps grew faster, stronger because of that. They didn't have to endure the petty frustrations that came with the tedium of spending entire days stuck in a car together, or in a tech suite reviewing security footage, but they could debrief afterwards, or exchange glances at team meetings. Julie wrote satires with her eyebrows and Gill learned to smile so subtly that no one else would notice, and they didn't have to team up and interrogate people to develop their own shorthand.
Even so, they did occasionally head out together, and Gill remembers one such day when they were on the outskirts of Carrington, having completed the task they were assigned to with time to spare. In the preceding weeks, Gill remembers, Julie had asked Gill to cover her morning shift unusually often, to the point where Gill had made a crack one day, asking Julie if she was dating a vampire or something, had to get in a shag before dawn. Julie had laughed, responded, bold as ever, 'Yeah, it's Mina Harker, right out of Dracula; she likes to eat me for breakfast', but she'd never actually offered an explanation for why she needed the mornings off. That day, though, out in the countryside, Julie glanced askance at Gill from the driver's seat and said 'So, do you want to meet Mina Harker, then?', to which Gill, bemused but curious, answered in the affirmative.
Gill didn't know what to expect when Julie pulled off the main road. Logically she knew that they were not headed for a looming gothic manor, but even so, she was surprised by the rustic farmhouse that came into view as they rolled up the driveway. That surprise increased when, climbing out of the car, Julie didn't lead Gill to the front door but instead to a side gate, which she unlatched to let herself through.
'Shouldn't we have a warrant for this?' Gill asked, smiling, eyeing Julie in her uniform and glancing down at her own.
Julie grinned. 'Place belongs to some friends of mine. They won't be in. It's fine, I come and go all the time.' She held the gate open for Gill.
They made their way down a gravel path, past a chicken coop, a vegetable patch, and what looked like a series of beehives - Gill was a city girl, hopelessly, but she thought that's what the white and green boxes were. At the end of the path was a stable, behind which stretched an expansive field where three horses grazed, and on their right was a smaller training yard where another stood, front leg bandaged and looking rather forlorn until Julie lead Gill in that direction.
'Hello, girl,’ Julie called, and the horse's ears pricked up, head turning. Julie approached another gate, unlatched it. 'Coming in?' she asked Gill.
Gill had never been particularly comfortable around horses, didn't have much experience with them. She remembered the rag-and-bone man with his horse and cart, from her childhood, and she and her brother had been to the races a few times with their Dad (watching him spend money they didn't have while Mum worked her weekend job), but Gill had never had any desire to get closer than that. When she was assigned to crowd control teams on football weekends, she always kept her distance from the mounted officers. They made her nervous, these animals who were taller than her, but Julie was looking at her expectantly, clearly at ease, and Gill Prescott wasn't afraid of things. She ignored her anxiety and ushered herself through the gate.
Julie made a clicking sound with her tongue, and the horse approached, walking normally - or what seemed like normal to Gill's eyes - despite the bandaged leg. Julie reached out, the horse nudged her palm with its nose, and Julie smiled at Gill.
'Gill, this is Ariadne. Ariadne, this is my friend Gill from work.' Julie scratched the mare's nose, glanced up at Gill, and her expression was eager but tentative, searching Gill's. 'She's the reason I've needed so many mornings off, lately. Sprained leg, my fault - I pushed her too hard in a polo match a few weeks ago. Feel terrible about it.'
Gill found herself staring, not quite sure what to say. Never in a million years would she have guessed that Julie was a horse person, had an interest this far removed from their job cleaning up the roughest parts of Manchester, would be comfortable in this setting. 'You play polo?' was the response that came out of her, incredulous.
'I do.' Julie fussed with Ariadne's mane. 'Have since school.'
'God, where did you go?' Gill asked, smiling. 'St Trinian's?'
'Manchester High School for Girls,' Julie answered, speaking to the horse.
A silence followed while Gill took that in - Julie Dodson, private school girl. She broke it moments later with a laugh. 'Get you, Lady Muck. Didn't know I was riding around with Princess Diana.'
It was meant as banter, a little joke like the ones they threw at each other all the time, but when Julie looked up at her, Gill realised it had been absolutely the wrong thing to say. Her friend's eyes were wide, hurt, and far too late Gill realised what all this was. This wasn't just an afternoon interlude, it was an admission, a plea for acceptance. Julie's accent, her manner, none of it matched up with what Gill would expect from a former private school girl, which probably meant she had intentionally unlearned it all after leaving. Even so, she'd seen fit to share this thing with Gill, an important part of herself, something that mattered, and Gill had thrown jokes back, blindly ignoring the signs of approaching danger until she impaled herself on her own wit.
'Shit,' she said. 'I'm sorry.'
'I'm not a princess,' Julie said, sounding small.
'I know. I'm an arse.' Time for an admission of her own, Gill thought. 'I've never been this close to a horse before. They make me nervous. Can I, how do I…?' She reached out a hand, wanting to know now, wanting to understand, hoping Julie would take it for the acceptance it was.
She seemed to. Smiled and beckoned Gill closer, took a step to the side. 'Let her sniff your hand,' Julie said, 'she won't bite. She's pretty even tempered. Polo ponies need to be.' Gill did, nerves fluttering, hearing a strange little laugh come out of herself as the horse's breath tickled her fingers. She glanced at Julie, who was smiling even more now, encouraging. 'Now give her neck a scratch. Neck's a good place to start, neutral, but she loves having her cheeks scratched, too.' Gill moved her hand slowly up to touch Ariadne's neck, ran her fingers over it. She was silkier than Gill expected, but the hair was shorter than it looked, grazing against Gill's palm. She applied fingernails, first a gentle scratch and then a firmer one, and the horse cocked her head to the side, pressing into Gill's hand. This time, Gill's laugh was delighted, and she looked over at Julie, who was watching them with a look that was half smug and half close to tears.
Gill recognises that moment for what it was, now - the first time Julie had made herself vulnerable, shared something that she thought might change their friendship forever. It's the same look she's wearing now, bracing, and Gill can't fathom why.
"Slap, what you could you possibly say that would ruin everything?" Gill asks, but as soon as she says it she thinks she knows, and now the the question is in the air and so is a tension that makes her fingers tingle, sends a wave of something crackling through her. If this is a secret, Gill wants to hear it, even if it does change everything. She watches Julie intently.
Julie hesitates, heaving a breath, but under Gill's gaze seems to make a decision. "Well, speaking of futures, I could tell you that I've thought for a while now that waking up looking at you would be the best way I could imagine my own."
Gill can feel Julie's fingers trembling against her skin, can feel the blood in her head heating up her face. Her mind stumbles into and over thoughts and feelings, tries to sort through them, gives up. Her instincts were right, though, felt this coming, and she listens to them, hoping they keep her on track. If she's honest with herself, she thinks 'instinct' is just another word for observations unacknowledged, and if that's the case then she has noticed this thing, over and over, and perhaps she refused to acknowledge it because she enjoyed it too much to risk losing it.
But the risk has been taken now. Gill searches for words. "You haven't ruined anything," she says, eventually. "Maybe I've been waiting to hear you say that for a while."
Julie stares at her for a long time, and when she speaks again, her voice is half incredulous and half fragile. "Are you pissed? Because I'm not having anything to do with this conversation, if you are."
Gill feels a flicker of irritation, a flicker of amusement. Glances at the glass in her hand then reaches across to deposit it on the coffee table. "No, I'm not pissed. Maybe I'm braver than usual, more ready to admit things, but I'm not pissed. Are you?"
"No. Want me to spell my name backwards?"
Gill laughs. "You probably learned to do that when you were five." Julieanne Charlotte Rose, Gill knows, another family inheritance that she's shared with Gill but would go to her grave before admitting to anyone else.
"Six, actually," Julie says, and a cautious but more natural smile re-emerges on her face. "My first party trick." It grounds them, the banter. They've thrown everything else into the air but they're still them, still capable of this effortless back and forth. That feels important to Gill, and it seems to make Julie more comfortable as well.
"Well, we're just going to have to take each other's word for it then, aren't we?"
"Suppose so," Julie says, then leans forward over Gill's legs to set her own glass down as well. Glances sideways. "So what happens now?" She leans back again, settles, lets her fingers slide up a little further so they're under Gill's trouser hem. "Just to be clear, this is not you've been waiting to hear because you already had an inkling, and it's fine but not reciprocated, is it? That's not the conversation we're having?"
"No." Gill swallows. "It's not."
"Then what is it, exactly? I'm going to need you to be a little clearer about what it is you want." Julie's voice is steady now.
Gill takes a breath, weighs her words. "I didn't know, not really. Maybe I noticed the tension, a bit, but up until tonight I've told myself that that's a normal part of this sort of friendship. But it isn't, is it? I've been in a funny place, a closed-off, scaredy-cat sort of place, ever since Dave, and it's taken me 'til now to realise that I like it, the tension. With you." That doesn't quite answer Julie's question, though, so Gill continues. "As for what I want, well, waking up with you seems like a nice thing to put at the top of the list."
Gill thinks of countless other moments exactly like this one, the two of them slipping away early from a work function or the din of a crowded pub, wanting less of the society of everyone around them and more of each other's company. She thinks of late night phone calls from Bristol or London or Kent, when she was with the Crime Faculty, calling Julie instead of Dave when she wanted to share the stories of her day with someone - phone calls that sometimes pulled Julie away from her own partners, sometimes right out of bed. They've been orbiting each other for years, it seems to Gill, the respective gravities of their lives holding them close while keeping them in check, but now there's nothing else between them, and the prospect of collision feels both inevitable and welcome.
Julie smiles again now, and Gill's known her for thirty years but she's never seen that smile before, long and lazy and cryptic. The sight of it sets something warm and tingly quivering in Gill's stomach. It's like earlier, at the pub, only now it's less uncomfortable and more exciting. "And?" Julie asks, fingers massaging Gill's calf. "Is it just tension you like, or are you a woman of action?"
Gill's mouth curls in a smile of her own, and she wonders if hers is just as new to Julie, if it causes the same stomach-flutter. She wonders if Julie finds this as extraordinary as she does, a situation so familiar but so suddenly new, charged with an energy that's never been present before. She doesn't want to ask, though, finds she likes not knowing. It opens up the possibility of discovery. "Both are nice," she answers, letting the pleasure of that thought sound in her voice. "Does action mitigate tension?"
"Depends on the action," Julie says, with a slow blink.
Gill gazes at Julie for a few moments more, then she's in motion, pulling herself up and sliding across the settee, rearranging her limbs so it's no longer her feet in Julie's lap but her whole self, thighs settling over knees.
"How's this, then?" she asks, letting her arms fall either side of Julie's broad shoulders, wrists resting against the back of the settee. She wriggles again, making herself comfortable, feeling the heat of Julie's thighs against hers even through their layers of clothing. Julie makes a noise, rumbling and hoarse, and it occurs to Gill that rendering Julie Dodson inarticulate is something she'd like to do a lot more of.
"Mm," Julie manages, a moment later. "Still plenty of tension."
Gill threads her fingers into Julie's hair, tugs her head back. When she kisses her, it's warm, breath mingling but lips only slightly parted. Gill takes her time, lingers, enjoying how new it feels to learn the shape of Julie's lips, but also the familiarity, that sense of two things that fit together finally sliding into place and locking.
"And now?" she breathes, when she eventually breaks away. She looks down at Julie, who blinks, heavy-lidded, but stares up her with eyes full of light.
Her smile is crooked, as if Gill left it that way. "Is this the part where I remind you I'm a woman, straight girl?"
"God yes," Gill's voice is a breathless laugh. "Remind me."
And Julie's arm is curling around her waist and pressing urgently into the small of her back, tugging her close enough to feel the soft curves of belly and breasts against each other. Gill's mouth descends again, and this time it's hot rather than warm, with Julie's other hand coming up to curl around the back of Gill's neck. This time Gill learns what Julie tastes like, and also that her tongue is far from inarticulate after all.
"Jesus," Julie whispers, when they break apart, breathless. "I'm never going to be able to look at your mouth again without thinking about kissing it, am I?"
"Is that a problem?" Gill responds, tugging Julie's head back a little further to give herself access to the line of her jaw, which she has always, always liked the shape of. She likes the way it feels beneath her mouth even more.
"Everything about you is a problem," Julie grouses, but the noise she makes when Gill finds the spot below her ear tells a different story.
"You know," Gill muses, pulling back just far enough to look down at Julie's face again - it's come up pink all over, very telling, the unwitting honesty of English skin - "I've never kissed a superior officer before. Does this count as climbing?"
Julie laughs, though it's half a groan. "Oh, shut up, you daft cow, and do it again."