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Beating the Bounds

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Seen the inside of one pub's loos and you've really seen them all, Rachel thinks. Comes in handy when you're pissed and need the shortest path from the door to the bowl. Even handier when you're half-carrying your best friend, hoping she doesn't sick up on the new shoes she just got on sale.

"D'you need anything?" Rachel calls through the door.

"Sod off," Janet replies. She groans and coughs wetly into the toilet.

Rachel leans back against the counter, reassured. If Janet's still telling her off, she'll be all right, then. Strange though, being on this end of the deal, Janet the one who's overdone it and her sober and responsible – or nearly both, anyway.

She's been trying to hold herself to two a night, three at the most, she has. But it didn't take a half-hearted vow for her to nurse just the one tonight, not when Janet had reached for her glass like her interview clipboard, like it could get her to the bottom of everything that was wrong.

Janet's not the sort to get weepy-drunk, not usually, but she got quieter and quieter, her answers to Rachel's questions shorter and harder to hear, and she's not the sort to keep it to herself, either. Not with Rachel, at least. And it was practically a relief to think about something other than her own shite – other than Dom, other than Sean and all his proposals, other than Nick bloody Savage. "Look, what's up?" she finally asked after a particularly long pause, proud of her even voice and her not-quite-empty glass.

'Course, then Janet started to cry, and then she slapped a hand over her mouth and struggled up from her chair, leaving Rachel to shove their bags under one arm and support Janet with the other.

Rachel shifts against the counter, gives a dirty look to a short girl who brushes past on her way to a cubicle. Maybe she's not so good at the taking-care part. Maybe it's best left to the experts.

For an insane moment she actually thinks of calling Godzilla, asking her to come get Janet sorted, save them both from Rachel fucking up any more. Then she thinks of the way Godzilla would look at her, like she was a complete tosser and Janet's state was all her fault. "Right," she mutters, straightening up. "Janet?"

The cubicle door creaks open. Janet leans against the wall, her face completely drained of colour. Her eyes stand out more than usual, almost manic in their intensity.

"Come on," Rachel says, shifting their bags around awkwardly and holding a hand out. "Rinse your mouth out, yeah, and then let's get you some air."

Outside, Rachel helps Janet into her coat and steers her down the pavement, away from the crowd around the pub. Janet's not crying anymore, at least, but she twitches away from Rachel's steadying arm and weaves along on her own, eyes fixed on the tricky job of negotiating where her feet go.

Rachel lights a fag and smokes it slowly. She's afraid of this new, quiet Janet, almost, afraid to say something else stupid. So she smokes and lets Janet walk, worrying.

"Ade's not home," Janet says at length, still watching her feet.

"Yeah, love, I know," Rachel says. He's not been home for a while; she can't say she's surprised that he and Janet split up, but then, she's hardly one to judge, is she? And if the alternative for Janet is Andy, well. Maybe Ade's not so bad.

Janet shakes her head and overbalances slightly. Rachel stretches out, but she rights herself, keeping just out of easy reach. "We had a drink the other day. Told him I wanted him to come back."

That's news to Rachel, but she just makes a supportive noise, keen to keep Janet talking. She's not exactly been clued in to Janet's life lately, after all. "And?" she says after a moment.

"Told him about Andy, told him I've been a bloody idiot." Janet stops and swipes at her eyes, smearing mascara down one cheek. "Told him to take his time, now, really think about things. God knows what he'll do." She sags suddenly sideways, listing against the brick wall at the end of the road.

"Janet?" Rachel places one hand tentatively on Janet's shoulder; when she doesn't pull away, she wraps her up in a hug, feeling the tremors running through her as she sniffles. "Hey, come on now," she says reassuringly. "He'd have to be mental not to know what he's got in you."

"Not sure you're the authority here," Janet says softly. It's not that different to what Rachel's been telling herself, but hearing it from Janet's mouth still hits her hard. She winces, making to pull away, and Janet's arms come around her in apology. "Sorry," she says, "sorry," clutching Rachel with the fervour of the thoroughly bladdered. "Don't mind me, Rach, I'm too bloody pissed to know what I'm saying."

Just makes you more likely to say what you wouldn't usually, Rachel thinks, but she gives Janet a reassuring squeeze and pulls back.

"I should be getting home," Janet says, looking about as if a taxi might show up out of the mist. "The girls..."

"They're not there alone?" Rachel asks, suddenly struck by an image of the two of them sat waiting at the kitchen table, Elise maybe doing beans on toast when teatime comes and goes with no sign of Janet.

Janet shakes her head and Rachel sighs, surprisingly relieved. "No, my mum's with them. She's been brilliant, I don't know what I'd've done if she'd not stepped in." She sniffles and drags a hand under her nose, maudlin again.

The thought of taking Janet home like this – walking her through the doorway under Dorothy's disapproving eye like every one of Rachel's worst memories of college come back to haunt her, Taisie watching as her mum bumped along the hallway from wall to wall, and then Janet inevitably having to face them all at the breakfast table, hungover and depressed... it all leaves a knot in Rachel's stomach, makes her feel like she's the one who's worse for wear, off-balance and ill. She isn't going to let Janet do that to herself, to her kids. "Right, give us your phone," she says, holding out her hand.

Janet reaches into her coat pocket automatically, but doesn't hand her mobile over, clutching it to her chest. "What d'you want?" she asks, copper's instincts fighting the wine.

"Going to text your mummy, ask can I keep you out all night." Rachel winks. Janet looks at her blankly. "Look," Rachel says, "come back to mine, hey? Easier than going home." She gestures for the mobile again; after a pause, Janet hands it over.

Rachel deliberately doesn't look too closely at Janet's message folder, navigating to the thread that says ‘Mum’ and tapping out a quick text. Dorothy, it's Rachel Bailey. Janet's spending the night at mine. Ring me if anything comes up. She adds her mobile number and hits send before she can think better of it. A moment later, the display lights up: You girls have fun! Take care!

She tries not to see that as a threat.

Janet's swaying on her feet, and Rachel recognizes the signs: the adrenaline's going to wear off soon and leave her a puddle on the pavement. "Come on," she says, looping her arm through Janet's and tugging her towards the main road, "time for all good girls to go to bed."

Janet's still with-it enough to raise an eyebrow at that, and they trip towards the taxi rank together, Rachel as wobbly with laughter as Janet is with drink.

By the time they get to Rachel's, Janet's lost the last of her coordination to exhaustion. Rachel hauls her through the flat to her bedroom and sits her on her bed. "Shoes off," she says firmly, "pyjamas on," digging through her wardrobe for shorts and a loose-fitting shirt. Janet groans but obeys; Rachel darts to the kitchen for paracetamol and water, and by the time she gets back, Janet has rolled herself up in Rachel's duvet.

"Drink," Rachel says, holding the glass up. She alternates water and pills until half the glass is gone and Janet's eyelids are drooping. "Don’t be sick in my bed, okay?" she says, pulling the bin closer, just in case.

Janet struggles to sit up. "I can't put you out like this," she protests.

Rachel shrugs. Not like she doesn't fall asleep on the couch half the time anyway. "I think I owed you one," she says. "Don't worry about it." She flicks the light off and closes the door on Janet's sleepy voice.

In the kitchen, she considers the rest of yesterday's bottle of wine before sighing and getting a glass of water for herself, too. Sagging down onto the couch, she turns the telly on, flipping mindlessly through the channels and listening for Janet with half an ear, just in case.

Eventually, she falls asleep.

In the morning the scent of tea wakes her, reaching deep into a dream about Godzilla – the monster, not the DCI – crashing about on the moor. She flails upright, knocking the remote to the floor. "Morning," Janet says softly from beside her.

"...morning," Rachel manages, dragging a hand over her face. She feels groggy and stiff, and as she sits up, her back cracks loudly. "How're you feeling?" she asks to cover her wince.

"Yeah, all right," Janet says. Bare-legged and curled into the corner of Rachel's couch, she looks younger than usual, if a little worse for wear: she's still too pale, and her hands shake on her mug.

"What d'you think about breakfast?" Rachel's not one for food the morning after, but Janet usually swears by the restorative properties of grease and carbs. She wrinkles her nose, though, and Rachel nods. "Maybe in a bit," she suggests instead, happy enough to sit and wake up for a while.

"Look, thanks," Janet says suddenly. Rachel glances at her, surprised. "For last night," she clarifies. "Bringing me back here and all."

Rachel flaps a hand, uncomfortable. "Nothing you wouldn't do – nothing you've not done," she points out.

"Still," Janet says. "You didn't have to, and I appreciate it. Didn't know you had it in you," she teases. "You took good care of me, Rach. So thanks."

"Yeah, well. Learned from the best, didn't I." Rachel unfolds herself from the couch and stands quickly. "Anyway," she says, before Janet can respond. "I'll just shower, and then we can find you something to wear, and..." She trails off. Janet's looking at her, more perceptive than she has any right to be after the night before. "And, yeah," she finishes weakly, already walking away. "Back soon."

"Love you too, Rachel," Janet says into her mug.

It's quiet enough that Rachel can pretend not to have heard.