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Be Here, By Me

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The alarm goes off far too soon for Julie's liking. She groans, reaches out for Gill, refuses to open her eyes.

Gill sounds groggy herself, this morning. "God, how did I get here? I don't remember going to bed."

Julie growls to test her voice, croaks out: "You fell asleep on me, right at the end of your show. You walked to bed, but I didn't think you were awake. Far too docile."

Gill gives a grunt of her own that could pass for a laugh. "How late were you up?"

"Too late," Julie mutters, feeling it right down to her bones. She'd managed to wrangle a department laptop from the IT lads who'd installed her desktop the previous day (shh, Gill, look, we're in the presence of a mythical creature), and at the end of the long day she'd convinced Gill that it was her turn to do the paperwork, Gill had done enough. They'd come home and she'd set up camp on the settee, working while Gill snuggled into her shoulder and watched Downton Abbey - a harsh penance for sharp words, Julie thought, but one she was willing to pay. It hadn't been until close to three that she'd finished what she needed to and coaxed Gill, by then fast asleep, curled up against her like a cat, into bed. She's going to pay for the lack of sleep all day, she knows, but needs must.

Gill squeezes her thigh. "Sleep for another ten minutes," she murmurs, rolling to plant a kiss against Julie's cheek. "I'll wake you when I'm out of the shower."

Julie is only too happy to oblige.


They have coffee in the car - Julie's need for caffeine today is stronger than tea can provide - and then they're at the morgue with Mary for most of the morning. After that, it's Peverell St again, viewing the rather grisly discovery in the floorboards, and by the time that's over Julie really needs to sit down, so she's grateful to return to the station and the more banal task of leading the push to identify the remaining victims from the cellar.

"I'll be in the exhibits room if you need me," she tells Gill.

Oldham's exhibits room is more of a cupboard, full of shelves for storage and not a lot of desk space. There is one free wall, though, and yesterday Julie tasked Lee, the exhibits officer, with going out and procuring the largest magnetic whiteboard he could find. He's come through spectacularly. When Julie enters the room, it's hung like a blank canvas, taking up almost all the available space, and there are brand new markers and a box of multi-coloured magnet pins in its tray. Julie takes a deep, satisfied breath. It's one of the things she misses most about her own office, Gill's lack of a space dedicated to the spreading out of ideas, seeing the big picture.

Identifying the Peverell St bodies is not Julie's primary role in this investigation, but it is something she wants to have a hand in, start the team off thinking about, especially since Rob is so green and Janet's tenure as acting sergeant didn't include a case this large. Unlike Gill, whose skill is in the connecting of details, following individual ideas to insightful conclusions (what made her so good in the Crime Faculty, without a doubt), Julie is a big picture thinker, a collector of information and stories. It couldn't have been more apparent than it was in the car this morning, Gill honing in on the detail of the graves and order of burial, while Julie's head was full of all the information Mary had given them: the ages and heights of the victims, injuries and discernible physical characteristics - here an old broken leg, there a heavy brow bone. Julie could never have whittled all that down as quickly as Gill had, branched off tangentially to burial order, but big picture thinking is its own skill, and this - wading through the sea of information from the bodies, the tip-line and the photos from the house - is where it will come in most useful.

Julie opens a series of boxes and file folders on the desk, begins work. She starts with what they have, the bodies, now reassembled and photographed with the restraints as close to the positions they were in in situ as possible. Julie sticks each unidentified body to the board, uncaps a marker and notes down all the relevant details about each. She uses Mary's report but finds she barely needs it; all of the information is still in her head, there at a thought. She's always had a good memory capacity, one of the things, her braver colleagues have told her, that makes her occasionally terrifying. It certainly makes her impatient, she knows, probably one of the main problems she had with Kevin, asking him what he was up to and watching him fumble for his notes, stammering, barely able to keep up with the team.

As she covers the board with information, moving on from the victims to a selected group of missing person reports she wants to use as examples to demonstrate the kind of thinking she's looking for, Julie finds herself wishing that there was someone to catch in this case. Not for the reasons Gill does - the law will hold Joe Bevan accountable, and that will have to be enough for the victims' families. Julie thinks it's heinous, what the press is doing to Helen Bartlett, and the fact that Gill agrees with them, at least on some level, bothers her more than she wants to admit. No, Joe will answer for his crimes if it's the last thing she does, but Julie almost wishes they were hunting for a killer, just for the pure pleasure it would be to put her head together with Gill's to that end. It's synergy, working with someone like that, and they've been brilliant together before.

Julie remembers, as she's covering the whiteboard with her scrawling handwriting, another time they were brilliant, back when Gill was Crime Faculty and Julie was working a case that stumped her. The Powers That Be weren't ready to authorise the expense of bringing in the review team, or one of Gill's people, but Julie made a late night phone call, and within half an hour Gill was with her, alone in the incident room, saying 'lay it out for me'. She'd been bribed with tea and pastries but was there entirely on her own time, in jeans and a baggy jumper with her hair in a messy bun (she's got enough for Julie to get her fingers in even now, but god, if Gill's longer hair of ten years ago hadn't twisted Julie up in all the most agonizing ways).

'All right,' Julie said, spreading photos and documents across the table. 'Victim is Angelina Nash, sixteen, raped and strangled and found in a roadside ditch, body half covered with branches from a nearby tree. Not found for three days, rain washed away trace evidence. Killed elsewhere, dumped, probably within hours of her death. Rigor hadn't set in when she was dropped, anyway. Can tell that from the way she's lying.'

Gill nodded, studying the photographs. 'Access points?' she asked.

'Road's about it,' Julie said. 'The area behind is private property, no tracks or private roads. Plenty of traffic on the main road, there's a mill a few miles down, but quiet when it's not in operation, between about six and three.'

'Any witnesses on the road? Traffic cameras?'

'Nothing,' Julie said. 'We've made three separate appeals and nothing promising, and the closest traffic cameras are too far away to be useful.'

Gill bit her lip, made a thoughtful face, picked up a number of the reports and some of the crime scene photographs and curled herself into one of the chairs, folded in like no one else in the world would sit, feet on the edge of the seat and knees pressed against the table. Julie worked while Gill read and studied the photographs, pausing occasionally to have her brain picked when Gill asked questions, but more often to just look at her friend, study her while her focus was elsewhere. It wasn't an opportunity Julie got very often, Gill being too sharp by half and the kind of attentive conversationalist who rarely took her eyes off the person she was talking to. But that night she was absorbed in the minutiae of police work, so it was easy to observe her unnoticed. Julie watched the way her teeth worried at her lip as she re-read a paragraph, the way she toyed with her pen after making a note, using it to push a loose strand of hair behind her ear, the way she sipped her tea or nibbled on the end of a pastry without taking her eyes off the page she was reading. Eventually, Julie was doing much more watching than working, even though she knew it was a terrible idea, dangerous in the extreme.

And then Gill looked up. Julie startled, affecting work, but if Gill realised she'd been being stared at, she showed no sign of it, too animated by the thought that had obviously come to mind. 'The branches,' Gill said, 'how did they get there?'

Julie wasn't quite following yet. 'Dragged, presumably. The tree wasn't very far away.'

'But how did they get off it?'

'There was a storm a few nights before she died, big winds. Debris all over the place.'

'Anything else as big as these branches?'

Gill pushed the photograph across the desk to Julie, who considered. 'I don't think so, no, but wouldn't that be why you'd choose them?'

Gill's eyes were alive with energy now. 'Look how green they are. Healthy. Storms usually pull off dead branches, or at least weakened ones. These are solid, fresh. And those photos don't show it very well, but look at the ends of them. They look less like they were torn off than hacked off.'

'With an axe?' Julie asked.

'Exactly. And why do you take an axe with you if you're driving to some random location to dump a girl you've strangled? It doesn't make sense.'

'No.' Julie stared at the picture, puzzled. 'It doesn't.'

'Is it a lumber mill, down the road?'

'No.' Julie shook her head. 'Grain.'

'Hm.' Gill pursed her lips. 'The private property, who owns it?'

Julie leafed through some paperwork, couldn't remember. 'Bloke called Daniel Glover, local farmer.'

'Farmers have axes, and he'd know his property. Wouldn't need a car to dump her, either, which could account for your lack of witnesses on the road. Big bloke?'

Julie shrugged. 'Don't know, one of the lads interviewed him on site. Didn't raise any flags. But you wouldn't need to be big, not really, not if you lived on the property. Could pick your time, use a wheelbarrow, pause for breath as often as you liked.'

'Look into him,' Gill said. 'See what comes up.'

Julie had, and Gill had been right. They'd made an arrest three days later, all because of that, because of some green branches and Gill's ability to draw links between things, pull threads from the tapestries Julie wove in her head and tie them in knots.

Julie has finished scrawling information now, opens the box of photos from Peverell St and begins to sort through them. Some of them are marked with sticky notes on which are written possible dates, names to go with the faces of the people Helen Bartlett remembers. Julie searches for details that might match up with the information they've got, remembers what happened after that night she'd spent studying Gill.

She had burned another relationship that night. Remembers arriving home at 6am after looking into Daniel Glover for hours after Gill left, barely time for a shower and breakfast before she had to head back to work again. Her live-in girlfriend at the time, a fiery Irish lass called Brigid, was furious with her for not coming home, for only calling once to say she'd be late, confronted her in the kitchen and demanded to know where she'd been all bloody night.

'Trying to crack a case. I think I've done it, too.'

'All night?' Brigid demanded. 'It's six in the fucking morning! You couldn't have come home, left it for today? Was it really that urgent?'

'Ask the parents of the sixteen year-old girl we've got in our morgue,' Julie said, but that wasn't enough of an answer, so she elaborated. 'I needed some help, but the bosses wouldn't authorise it, so I called Gill and she came in on her own time. Couldn't very well leave when she dropped everything.'

It was like waving a red flag at a bull. 'Gill! You spent the night with Gill.'

'We were working,' Julie emphasised, but something, some hint of longing or guilt about the thoughts she'd had while they did must have shown on her face, because Brigid wasn't remotely placated.

'I've had this,' she said. 'I've fucking had it.' She banged a cupboard open, pulled a mug out, hands shaking.

Julie leant against the kitchen countertop, sighed. 'You know this about me, about work. You know how important it is to me, that it's my primary commitment. I've never, ever made a secret of that.'

Brigid slapped the mug down onto the bench, turned on Julie. 'And I've never had a problem with that! I don't mind coming second to your work, but I will not sit here and wait for you while you pine away at the altar of your married fucking friend.' There were tears in her eyes by the end of it, and Julie didn't know what to do with them.

'Don't be absurd,' was what she ended up saying.

'Look at me,' Brigid demanded. 'Look me in the eyes and tell me you don't want her, that you're not waiting for her, hoping one day she'll look up and see you.'

Julie's gut twisted, her fists balled. She shook her head. 'I have to get back to work. We'll talk tonight.'

They hadn't, though. When Julie returned home from work that evening, Brigid was gone, and now, all these years later, Julie can't really blame her. She'd loved Brigid, loved her hard enough but not well enough. Hadn't done right by her. And Brigid had been an insightful woman, had been right. No matter how much of herself she gave to her lovers, how fulfilled she was by them, there had always been a part of Julie that was just for Gill, and the more perceptive women in her life had seen it, or at least felt the lack, and they'd been right to leave.

Julie doesn't know where that leaves her, now. Over the moon, terrified? A bit of both, really, because no one ever tells you what happens after you get what you've always wanted.


"I was thinking about you, before," Julie says to Gill later, when she's finished in the exhibits room and they're back in Gill's office, working at their respective desks, organizing and delegating and reporting. She swivels in her seat to look over her shoulder, and Gill smiles without looking away from her work.

"Oh really?" she asks, eyebrow arching. "Two hours in another room and you spend it thinking about me? Anyone would think we were shagging."

Julie smiles. "Was thinking about the night you helped me solve the Angelina Nash murder. You know, I spent most of it watching you work instead of doing anything productive."

"Did you?" Gill asks, a hint of music in her voice. "That's a bit creepy, you know. You're lucky I love you, or I might think you were strange."

Julie's breath catches, and Gill glances at her, just for a moment, then continues tapping away at her computer. "Did you just…" Julie stammers, and then all her words fall away.

"Something wrong with your hearing?" Gill asks, prim as anything, blatantly ignoring Julie's gaze, which must be hot enough to set her on fire, if the way it feels from the inside is anything to go on. She's never said it before, that word, they've never said it, and…

"No, nothing wrong with my hearing," Julie replies. Her voice comes out a low purr, nearly a growl. "Want to bend you over that desk, make you say it again." She focusses on the desire, the heat Gill's words stir in her, because it's easier than thinking about the other things. Safer.

"Too many people," Gill says, as if Julie was seriously considering it. "Windows are a problem." Her eyes flick over to Julie again; Julie smirks in response, adjusts the fantasy.

"For you, maybe. I'm pretty well-hidden here, in this corner. Bet I could move, no one would even notice. Get under the desk, get your knickers off, get my mouth on you, and you'd just have to keep a straight face." God, it's a thought, and she can see the faint trace of colour rising in Gill's cheeks that say it's a good one for her, too. She doesn't break her stride, though, keeps typing, like it's a test.

Julie knows she should return the words, say 'I love you' back, but she doesn't think she can throw them out casually like Gill did. They've been too long inside her, simmering half-denied for a decade, and Julie feels like when she says them the world will shake. Here is not the place for that; she hopes Gill understands.

Whether she does or not, Julie is rescued a few moments later when Rob knocks on the door.


There's so much to do once an investigation like this one reaches critical mass, an endless stream of digital paperwork, signing off on requests, sending her own, fighting with budgeting, making sure everyone gets paid and making absolutely certain that every single 'i' is dotted on the criminal paperwork lest some canny solicitor come along and use a single mistake to undermine the whole thing. When Gill and Julie get home, again later than they'd like, they manage a meal, laughter, an hour of forgetting, but after the plates are cleared away Julie is back on the settee with the laptop, checking and re-checking and submitting until her eyes are glazing over.

"You just edited that word three times," Gill says from behind her shoulder, "and it's still spelled wrong."

"Is it?" Julie isn't even surprised that she didn't hear Gill approach. She looks at the word again, fixes it. "Better?" she asks, feeling weight settle on the cushion as Gill leans against the back of the settee.

"That's right. About time you packed it in, though, don't you think? Save the rest for tomorrow and come to bed?" Gill's voice is right by Julie's ear; a hand slips onto her shoulder. "We have to be up again in six hours."

"Six?" Julie protests, though the warmth of Gill's fingers making circles against her collarbone has already taken the fight right out of her. "I can get another two hours in before I have to sleep."

"Not tonight," Gill murmurs, and Julie feels her hair being tugged away from her neck before Gill's mouth presses against the skin behind her ear. "I seem to recall a rather vivid proposal you made this afternoon. You going to follow through on that?" Gill nibbles at her throat, hand sliding down further to splay over her chest, fingertips brushing the top of Julie's breasts.

"That was context dependent," Julie breathes, even as her head falls back, throat arching against Gill's mouth. "Seem to recall you saying something, too."

"Really?" Gill tugs at the top button of Julie's shirt, slips a hand underneath the fabric. "I say all sorts of things when I'm hard at work, must have slipped my mind. You'll have to remind me." Fingers slide along the seam of Julie's bra, down to graze over a nipple, and Gill makes a pleased noise that vibrates against Julie's skin.

Julie slaps the lid of the laptop closed. She pushes it off her, twists in her seat, gets her knees underneath her and turns to face Gill. She wastes no time reaching up, tugs Gill down for a kiss, and it reminds her of that first night snogging on the sofa at her place, the cant of her chin upwards, the smug smile on Gill's face in the wake of it, her entire vision full of this tiny little bird of a woman who somehow takes up all the space in the room.

"Bed," Gill whispers when they break apart, breathless but somehow still managing all the authority of a DCI or a determined mother.

"God, yes," Julie replies, and rises.

She's shed her shirt by the time they make it to the bedroom, discards it just inside the door (house rules; no suggestive trails of clothes in the hallway for Sammy to stumble over when he gets in from work). Closing the door, she reaches for Gill, who is fluffy now, wrapped in a robe. She's had a shower since they got home, while Julie was working, and she's fresh and warm and clean. Julie wraps an arm around her waist and tugs her close, hopes she's not gross by comparison, still in her work gear after the long day. Gill doesn't seem to mind, though, curls her arms around Julie's neck and pulls her down for another kiss, long and hot and full of promise.

"I could barely concentrate this evening," Gill tells her when they break for air. "Kept thinking about having your mouth on me. You'll have to repeat everything they said at the briefing." Her mouth quirks in a smile, and Julie growls.

"Later." She backs Gill toward the bed, grips the cord of the robe and tugs it undone. Underneath, Gill is wearing a black thing made of lace and silk and lust, and Julie makes a strangled, incoherent noise as she pushes the robe off Gill's shoulders so she can get her hands on it and the woman beneath it.

The lingerie is loose around the hips, a silky skirt falling from an empire waist. Julie's fingers fall against it, dragging the fabric across skin as she slides her hands around to cup Gill's arse with both hands, lifting her clean off the floor for just a moment, before they both tumble onto the bed. Julie comes down on top, pinning Gill beneath her, taking a moment to enjoy the sight of the rest of Gill's ensemble, the top half a barely-there lace construction clinging tightly to Gill's small breasts and just begging to be peeled away with teeth. Thus glutted on the sight of her body all wrapped up like a gift, Julie raises her eyes once again to look at Gill's face, at the self-satisfied little smile she wears and the amused light in her eyes.

"You," she says, feeling the heat in her cheeks, in her whole damn body, "are just full of surprises." Her hand touches down on Gill's stomach, slides its way up over satin until she feels the rasp of lace against her palm and the swell of breast beneath it, squeezes lightly, doesn't break eye contact.

"Love you," Gill responds, barely a breath, and she doesn't get the chance to say it again, can't say anything, because then Julie's mouth is on hers, swallowing the words right out of her mouth.

Things blur a little, then. Julie still can't say it, thinks she might break if she does, burn away with the force of it, but she wants Gill to know it, feel it, does her best to show her. Her hands cover Gill, her mouth descends, and it's a mess of sensory input: here the taut lines of Gill's throat quivering under her lips, there the smooth slide of her palm over a silk-covered hip. Hair tangles in her fingers, a sharper tug, and the lace is rough against her mouth when she catches a nipple between her teeth. Gill makes noises, guttural and approving, and they just add to the cacophony. Julie glories in it, drowns. She moves down, kissing through fabric, hands fisting in silk as she pushes it up, exposes a thigh and slides her fingers beneath it, lifting Gill and tugging her closer. The silk flutters back and there are no knickers beneath it, nothing but Gill, open and bare.

Julie doesn't dive right in. She lifts Gill's leg, plants a kiss on the inside of her knee, looks at her, all stretched out and dishevelled, pink in the cheeks and hair spread out against the duvet. She kisses the inside of Gill's other knee. "Tell me," she whispers in a voice that comes out low and gravelly. "Tell me what you want."

Gill's back arches against the covers and she gives a petulant little moan, struggling to find her voice. She only half does. When she speaks, the sounds catch on her breath. "God, you. Your mouth. On my cunt. God, Julie, please."

Julie smiles, but it's a cover for the heat licking through her. Making Gill Murray plead is one of her favourite things, as is hearing her name - her actual name, which Gill never says - whispered like a prayer. But Julie won't make her wait long tonight. She's breathless and writhing, looks half-starved. Julie moves her mouth further down Gill's thigh, kisses again, this time heavy with intent.

Julie's phone rings on the nightstand.

They both freeze, poised for a moment as though it will go away, as though they can make it stop with the sheer force of their willpower. Someone out there has more, though, because it buzzes again, and Julie knows she can't ignore it. No one would ring at this time of night but work.

Julie lets Gill's legs down gently, growling in protest. "Fucking hell," she grouses, shifting to the side and reaching out to retrieve the handset, "someone had better be dead."

The caller ID identifies Janet as the person with the horrible timing. Julie takes a moment to compose herself before she answers. "Dodson." She's proud of how it comes out, doesn't sound murderous at all.

"Ma'am, it's Janet. I'm sorry to be ringing you so late, but we've had a bit of a problem here that I thought you should be aware of. Rachel and I are at Oldham General with Helen Bartlett. She took an overdose this evening."

"Oh, God," Julie breathes, feeling all the lingering heat drain out of her as her gut twists into a guilty snarl. She sinks onto the bed, can see Gill in her peripheral vision, rising in concern, gathering up her robe. "Is she…?"

"They think she'll be okay, but they're still running tests."

This is our fault, Julie thinks. Our fault, our fault, our fault. "Well, I… Thank you, for letting me know. You'll call me if there are any more problems?"

"Of course, ma'am." There's a moment's hesitation on the other end, then Janet asks: "Should I call Gill? Or will you...let her know?"

Julie feels her eyes widen slightly. Gill hasn't mentioned telling her, but if anyone's likely to have worked it out, it's Janet, and Julie knows they can trust her. "I'll tell her," Julie says, and leaves it at that.

"Right. I'll text you once I know what's happening, call if anything goes wrong. See you tomorrow, ma'am."

"Wait," Julie says, glancing at the clock. "You two will probably be at the hospital a while yet. Get some sleep, take the morning. We'll see you at ten. Eleven, if you need it."

"All right, ma'am. Thank you." Janet rings off. Julie sets the phone back down on the nightstand, lets out a heavy breath.

"What is it?" Gill asks, behind her. "What's happened?"

Julie doesn't turn around. "Helen Bartlett. Tried to kill herself." Julie scrubs her face and the fingers of her other hand tighten around her knee. "Jesus."

"It's not…" Gill starts, but her voice breaks off when she sees Julie's shoulders tighten.

"It is," Julie says, then rises to her feet. She's full of restless energy, suddenly, heat turned to a wiry itch. Finds her own robe and wraps it around herself, hugging her waist. "I need some air," she says.

Gill makes a noise of protest, soft and pained, and that cuts through Julie, too. She turns back, looks at Gill, small and rattled on the bed. Feels torn in two different directions. She reaches out, touches Gill's cheek, waits for eye contact. "I'm sorry," she says. "I can't." This is not about you, she hopes her eyes say.

After a moment, Gill nods. "Okay," she whispers.

Julie's fingers linger on her skin. "Get some sleep," she says, and tries to smile. A moment longer, and then Julie turns, headed for the deck, for the 'bad day' packet of cigarettes hidden in the cabinet, for silence and cold air and ghosts Gill doesn't need to see.