DS Matt Devlin walked briskly down a dim corridor of the CPS offices, loosening his tie as he went. He rounded a corner and sighed. It had been a long day, longer than most, with the giving testimony in court all morning, picking up in the afternoon where he and Ronnie had left off their investigation into the sexual assault and murder of a six year old girl, and then the five hour long interrogation of the pedophile suspect that sapped away the majority of the evening hours. He was weary down to his bones and every cell in his body screamed for respite. He was more than ready to kick back with a pint and watch football on the telly but first he had to leave a bundle of paperwork and case evidence files at James Steel’s office so that the prosecutor would see it first thing in the morning.
He was simultaneously caught off guard and unsurprised to see Alesha Phillips at her desk, alone in the glow of her computer screen and the golden light of the desk lamp, her face a blank, unreadable expression. Matt stepped up to the threshold of her office and leaned against the door frame. He tapped his knuckles twice against the door, said, “Knock knock,” and flashed a tired smile.
Alesha snapped her head toward him, her expression momentarily flickered to one of fear and then immediately to relief. “Matt,” she greeted him with an unsteady voice as she rose from her seat and turned her back to him. She brought her hands to her face for a brief second before stepping from behind her desk and crossing the room to him. As she neared, he saw the redness of her nose and the puffy wetness under her eyes and he felt his insides harden.
Matt cleared his throat and looked down at the floor. His voice was tight but calm when he held out the files and said, “Evidence on the Callahan case. Meant to pop over earlier but the uh, the day sorta got away from me. Long day for you as well, yeah?”
Alesha took the file from his hand and robotically replied, “Yeah, long day,” as she opened up the folder and skimmed the text. When she sniffled, his jaw clenched and he suppressed a flash of white fury. A long, palpable silence hung in the air until Matt finally said, “Listen, I don’t want to pry and you’re welcome to tell me to bugger off if you don’t want to answer but...are you OK?”
Alesha looked up from the file and gazed at him as if she were really seeing him for the first time since he knocked on the door. “I’m fine,” she said meekly. “As I’ve said, I have good days and bad ones. Today was a bad one, that’s all,” her voice grew stronger, steadier, as she spoke. “Mostly I’m OK but sometimes when I’m busy or stressed, all of those emotions come flooding back.”
“And working well into the night helps with that, does it?” Matt responded in a light, easy tone. Alesha narrowed her eyes at him but there was a hint of a smile playing at one corner of her mouth. She closed the file and placed it on her desk then crossed her arms over the front of her lavender cardigan and asked, “You had court today?”
“Yeah, the MacGill case. How’d you guess?”
She gestured to his black plaid button down and deep red tie. “You never wear a tie unless you’re testifying. I like it though. It suits you.”
Matt reached up to his throat and hooked his fingers into the knot and began to loosen it further. “This one’s Ronnie’s actually. I was in a rush this morning and clean forgot I had to be in court so I nicked Ronnie’s spare. I’ll have to sneak it back into his desk tomorrow morning before he realizes it’s gone and sets another DS onto his stolen property.”
When Alesha chuckled, Matt felt a measure of weariness and stress evaporate from his shoulders. He shifted his coat and scarf to his other arm and took a few tentative steps into her office. “Listen, Alesha, I know I keep coming back to this but I need to say it again. If you ever just wanna talk or you just want company...I’m, I’m here for you,” his words were quiet, measured, reassuring. “I know that you’re not broken but I can’t help feeling like there’s something I need to fix, something I need to put right. Not you obviously, you’re perfect, but...just, something .”
A slow smile stretched across Alesha’s face. “Is this you finally cracking on to me? It’s taken you long enough,” she teased. It pleased her to see the warm affection and concern in his eyes even as his face split with an impish grin. “Maybe it is,” he replied and closed the small amount of space between them, laying his outerwear across the arm of the nearby chair. “You told me to just be the same as always but it’s going to take some time to get back there. So in the meantime…” He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her in close.
After a brief hesitation, Alesha slid her arms over his back and returned the embrace. She let herself be held and felt the heaviness and tension of her sadness begin to slowly melt away. She spent so much time insisting that she wasn’t broken that she sometimes ignored the little fissures and splinters that ached deep within. For the moment, in Matt’s arms, those fissures began to repair over, healing under a swell of molten gold emotions that warmed and filled those deep aching places. It had been a long, difficult day struggling with the darkness that invaded her mind and she opted to turn to the light he offered.
Matt released Alesha from his embrace and took a moment to study her face. She always had such a fearless, iron strength that it would never occur to Matt to describe Alesha as fragile but, occasionally, she could seem so soft and vulnerable that he felt the need to offer himself as a protector or carer though he knew full well she needed nothing of the sort. Looking at her now, she seemed more at ease, more like Alesha.
He reached out and snagged her coat. “Come on,” he said, holding the coat out to her, “let’s both call it a night and go grab something to eat. I’m buying.”
Alesha gazed at him for a long beat before taking what he offered. “Yeah, alright,” she said. “What’d you have in mind?”
Matt retrieved his own coat and scarf as he watched her button her coat. “I’m thinking either Chinese or fish and chips,” he draped his scarf over his neck. “D’you have a preference?”
Alesha switched off her desk lamp then stepped toward the door, waiting for him to follow. “Fish and chips,” she said. “If you get soy sauce on Ronnie’s tie it’ll be your murder we’re handling next.”
Matt threw his head back in laughter as he stepped over the threshold into the corridor and let Alesha close and lock her office door. “It’s a fair point,” he said and, without thinking, reached out to take hold of her hand.
Alesha paused in the act of dropping her keys into her bag. The touch of Matt’s hand in this way was foreign but the warmth and support of it felt comforting at a time when her own skin felt ill-fitting. “Fish and chips it is then,” she grinned. She gave his hand a squeeze and then tugged him toward the exit.