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What Lies Beneath

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Patricia Haggard was practically Amazonian; tall, broad-shouldered and strong. She had a mane of curly red hair with a streak of grey-blonde at the front and often dressed in floaty pinstripe trouser suits accented with a silk scarf. It added to her distinctive presence in Whitehall as Liaison for the much derided Preternatural Research Bureau, more widely known as PROBE. A former police officer, Patsy’s role was to justify the bureau’s existence alongside the force whilst it took the lead and carried out investigations into unexplained phenomena.   

 

Doctor Elizabeth Shaw looked far more delicate in stature than she actually was and she vehemently defended her work and her principles to anyone who threatened them. She was a physicist who, unconventionally for a woman, smoked a pipe and enjoyed a regular tipple (or three!) Although running for her life on an increasingly regular basis had kept her trim and physically fit, it was certainly a world away from when she was a professor at Cambridge University. However, even though there were some down right rotten and gruelling days with PROBE, Liz wouldn’t want her life any other way now.

 

On paper it seemed like the two career women were chalk and cheese, the scientist and the Whitehall bureaucrat, but having been thrown together with little in the way of resources or support, they’d made an excellent team over the last few years. An even better friendship had also sprung up from it and for that Liz was especially grateful. She hadn’t had that sort of friendship for a long time and some days it was the only thing that kept her going.

 

***

 

Whitehall was a strange place to work; old, hallowed hallways, ornate staircases and expensive antique furniture sat so close to the natural beauty of St James’s Park. Aside from the tourists in the summer season and during fair-weather days, it could often be a nice tranquil lunch spot, when Patsy got the rare chance to actually indulge in a lunch break that was. Today wasn’t one of those days, so wolfing down some food at her desk had been the best option she’d had. And then of course the phone had rung and disturbed her train of thought. She picked up the receiver and answered with her standard professional greeting.

 

“Patricia Haggard, Home Office.” Technically the department that took responsibility for her and her team as supernatural phenomena was considered more of an inland security issue. Although they still had many connections with the MOD and UNIT.

 

“Hi Patsy, it's Liz.” Patsy immediately put down her egg salad lunch as well as the file she had been leafing through and gave her friend every last ounce of her attention. They hadn’t spoken in weeks; Liz had gone off-radar during her compassionate leave, completely consumed by everything she had needed to do as a consequence of her father's death.

 

“Liz darling! How are you bearing up?”

 

“Alright now, I think. I err… just wanted you to know that I’d like to return to work on Monday.” As much as the two women were friends, Patsy still had a high-level stake in PROBE’s success, which in turn meant the people, or more accurately the person , who worked to deliver the results. Which reminded Patsy that she was going to have to have an uncomfortable conversation with Liz on her return about Lou Bayliss.

 

“Of course! If you think you’re ready? You can have more time if you need it.” Liz’s voice hadn’t sounded too confident and Patsy would fight tooth and nail for it if Rutherford saw fit to refuse further compassionate leave with pay. No one worked for the Bureau for the money and benefits, that much was certain, so as the new Minister responsible for overseeing PROBE, that was the least he could do for Liz.

 

“No, no I want to get back to some sort of normality, have a routine again. I’ve been going stir-crazy to tell you the truth.” Patsy chuckled lightly and and felt reassured, that had sounded just like the old Liz.

 

“Well I won’t deny that I’ll be glad to have you back. I’ve umm… missed you.” What Patsy wouldn’t have given to be able to see Liz right at that moment, just to satisfy herself that her friend really was okay.

 

“Someone needs to keep you sane and out of trouble I suppose.” Liz sparred back and the two women fell about laughing.

 

“Uh huh? I think you’ll find it’s usually you getting into trouble and me having to come and rescue you.” Patsy waggled her eyebrows into the phone and Liz could practically hear it in her voice. Although, she didn't deny the truth of the statement.

 

“And who plies me with alcohol afterwards? Speaking of which, thank you for the card. I’m sorry I haven’t had the time to properly get in touch. Let’s have that dinner soon eh? But you’re bringing the wine. You drink most of it anyway...” Liz suddenly realised that it had been a while since they’d sat down and really talked and that she’d been working through her father’s death more or less alone.

 

“Oi, the cheek! But you’ve got yourself a deal.” There was a knock at Patsy’s office door and Rutherford himself appeared looking bothered and impatient. Patsy looked up and nodded at him. “Look, sorry Liz, I’ve got to go. See you Monday?” Rutherford shot a questioning look at Patsy and she tried to smile but it came out more like a grimace. Patsy had only known him five minutes, quite literally, but she already had a feeling he wasn’t going to be easy to win round and support PROBE’s work or existence.

 

“Of course, bye Pats.” There had been no need for Patsy to explain, Liz knew that her job was pressured and a lot more went on behind the scenes than she either knew or understood. Patsy didn’t always tell her what was going on, couldn’t or wouldn’t Liz didn’t always know, but she trusted the younger woman with her life so that counted for a lot in her book.

 

“Bye Darling.” Patsy didn’t get the chance to finish off her lunch before she was whisked away to attend a series of meetings which had almost sent her to sleep. A large glass of wine at home later more than made up for it though.

 

***

 

Liz’s first day back at work had hardly been the slow, easy transition she might have hoped for; she’d ended up headfirst in a new PROBE case and bickered with Patsy over the usual bureaucratic red tape. Predictable really but it had all got too much for Liz by late afternoon, so she’d escaped to her father’s graveside to collect her thoughts. This time Patsy hadn’t been able to ignore her instinct and had followed her friend out of concern.

 

Liz removed the old, stale flowers from the graveside vase and replaced them with a fresh bunch, arranging them neatly as she did so. A shadow loomed over her but Liz initially failed to notice it.

 

“Liz...?” Patsy addressed her friend quietly, so as not to startle her as she had seemed so engrossed in her task. The older woman looked up slowly, surprised at having been discovered.  

“How did you find me?” Liz didn’t sound angry or surprised, just resigned to the fact she’d been found at all. She grasped the old bunch of flowers tighter, a little nervous facing Patsy after their earlier disagreement.

 

“I used to work in surveillance, remember?” Patsy smiled weakly as she knew her attempt at humour had already fallen a bit flat.

 

“I’ll just, uh finish up here.” Patsy nodded and watched as Liz tidied up her efforts, threw the spent flowers into one of the bins and slipped on her overcoat. The older woman inclined her head for Patsy to follow as she made her way back to the car park. They walked side by side and spoke quietly between them.

 

“I know we’ve not really had the chance to speak… I’m really sorry about your dad.” It was a weak and feeble way to express what she had really wanted to say.

 

“Yes.” Liz was short and sharp with her friend and Patsy felt a lump in her throat, this wasn’t how she’d planned this conversation.

 

“Liz, this morning I….”

 

“Forget it. It’s not important.” Liz had cut her off and Patsy stopped walking. She put a hand to Liz’s shoulder blade in attempt to soothe her, calm her down.

 

“I’m trying to apologise Liz. I know how important this is for PROBE… and for you.” It was important to her too but Patsy always felt caught between the system and what was happening on the ground.

 

“But why move Lou Bayliss?” Two people doing the work of twenty was how Liz had described their situation several weeks ago; now she was a lone ranger and her life was going to get seriously more difficult.

 

“The powers that be Liz!” Patsy didn’t have as much sway as she would have liked, needed even, but she at least she still had a little bit of clout.

 

“I thought you were the powers that be?” If only it had been that simple, Patsy thought.

 

“Huh! I sometimes wonder what I am nowadays.” They continued on their way and talked at the same time. “In the beginning it was so simple, everything was black and white.. I don’t know, people were prepared to give a little…” It had seemed that funding had been thrown every which way back in the day, now the budget cuts were coming thick and fast and organisations like PROBE were bearing the brunt of it.

 

“There just isn’t the imagination anymore Patsy, let’s face it.”

 

“We were just beginning to win Stevenson round and now we’re stuck with this stuffed shirt… whatshisface…. Rutherford?” Liz chuckled up into the air. “It’s one step forwards and two steps back, all the bloody time!” Liz finally realised that Patsy had been just as frustrated by the system as she, that she did the very best she could even though her hands were tied.

 

“Is it just me or are we both turning into a couple of miserable old sods?” They both chuckled and Patsy reached out to put her arm around Liz’s shoulders. The older woman leaned in and they ended up back at their respective cars wrapped around each other. “Dinner at my place? We can have a proper catch up then.” Liz offered and Patsy smiled gratefully.

 

“I’d like that, very much.” Hopefully at some point they could leave the working day behind them and get around to talking properly about Reuben’s death.

 

“You know… I’m convinced that you moved Lou just so you can have her all to yourself.” Liz teased Patsy and winked at her. The younger woman’s mouth widened and eyebrows raised incredulously.

 

“I wish!” Patsy muttered under her breath but loud enough for Liz to hear. Although, to be fair, even though she was smart and rather pretty, Lou really wasn’t Patsy’s type. No, if Patsy were truly being honest with herself, her type was someone even closer to home. She shook herself free from her thoughts and temporarily parted ways with Liz.

 

They'd never had a deep and meaningful conversation about it but the fact that Patsy was a lesbian had been acknowledged in many other ways over the years. She kept her personal life very private and was guarded about who she didn't deny her preferences to. It was a boys club in Whitehall which meant being a woman in her job was difficult enough as it was. There were rumours of course and she had no doubt there were sniggers and jibes behind her back. But for as long as she refused to confirm anything about herself, they couldn't use it against her.

 

Away from work it was a different story, in her circle of friends she was open and honest and that circle had included Liz ever since she'd known her. Theirs had been a natural and easy friendship from that very first day and it had only grown deeper with time.

 

***

 

After they had finished their takeaway and consumed several glasses of wine, the carriage clock had suddenly alerted them that it was one in the morning. Liz had offered Patsy the spare room for the night but when she had come to give her a spare towel she had been struck by the fact that it had been the room her father used to sleep in when he stayed over and then she’d fallen completely apart.

 

Patsy gathered her friend into her arms and held her close, unwilling to let her go any time soon. She felt Liz bury her face in her neck; her damp cheeks and hot shaky breath on Patsy’s skin reinforced just how much she must have bottled up her grief all these weeks.

 

“Come on, let’s get you to bed. We’re both tired, drunk and emotional.” There wasn’t the slightest hint of protest from Liz and that’s when Patsy knew she couldn’t leave her alone for the next few hours. She carefully guided her friend back down the hallway to her own room and closed the door behind them. Patsy took the redundant towels from Liz’s arms and replaced them with the pyjama’s she’d seen at the foot of the bed. “I’ll err… give you a moment.” When Liz failed to respond or move, Patsy grew concerned. “Liz…?” the older woman turned to her then, eyes bright with unshed tears.

 

“Can you give me a hand?” She asked with a slight hint of embarrassment but her limbs felt like lead and Patsy was her closest friend after all.

 

“Of course Darling, if you're sure?” To what she is referring was implicit but both understood without the need for it to be explained. She took the pyjamas from Liz’s hands and put them back on the bed before turning back to the woman in question. Patsy unclasped Liz’s long necklace and then set it down on the bedside table.

 

“Jumper off…” She warned as she tucked the gathered the hem of the light pink garment in her hands and drew it up Liz’s torso. The other woman automatically lifted her arms so Patsy could pull the jumper up and over them. It was fairly loose-fitting, so luckily hadn't caught on the way up. Liz looked very small and fragile stood in her jeans and bra, and for the first time Patsy wondered what on earth she was doing working for PROBE. Liz was as tough underneath her small frame as Patsy looked. But it could also have been said that underneath her bravado, Patsy was as soft and vulnerable as Liz appeared to be right now.  

 

Patsy quickly helped Liz with her pyjama top but, for practical purposes, she was going to have to sort out her own jeans and bottoms. With a bit of prodding they got there and Liz simply collapsed into bed after the effort. Curled up on her left side with her back to her, it gave Patsy the opportunity to strip down to her camisole and underwear; she'd not been expecting to stay so didn't have anything to change into. She turned off the light and carefully shuffled herself into bed. She then pulled the covers up and around them both before curling her body protectively around Liz's. Liz reached behind her for Patsy’s arm and hooked it over her hip and around her waist, their fingers entwined and settled on the mattress.

 

It hadn’t taken long for Liz to fall asleep, Patsy listened for the slow, steady breathing and felt her body relax against her. She wasn’t far behind a sleepy state herself but a determination to see Liz settled first and a slight worry about how they were going to navigate this situation in the morning kept her awake a little while longer.    

 

***

 

Patsy roused, conscious of little puffs of warm breath on her face. She slowly opened her eyes to find Liz’s staring kindly back at her.

 

“Hi.” Patsy greeted her with sleep in her voice which was underlined warmth and affection as she smiled broadly.  

 

“Hello,” Liz said back. They laid nose to nose with Liz’s left leg sandwiched between Patsy’s longer ones, their bodies having twisted and entwined in their sleep. “Thank you for taking care of me, I’m sorry I….” Patsy put a finger to Liz’s lips and shook her head.

 

“Nothing to be sorry for. I’m glad I was here for you last night.” There was a second of silence before Liz craned her neck and delivered a solid, lingering kiss to Patsy’s lips. Patsy reacted just as it ended, having been caught very much off-guard. Liz blushed, mildly embarrassed by her presumption, and looked away before moving and extracting herself from the bed. It had been the proverbial bucket of cold water she had needed to break the moment.

 

“I’ll put some coffee on. Feel free to use the shower if you want to and come down when you’re ready.” And with that, the older woman grabbed her dressing gown off the back of the door, slipped it on and headed out of the room. Patsy sank her head back into the pillows and let out a frustrated sigh. She didn’t quite understand what had just happened between them but she had a feeling that they’d just missed an opportunity to explore it further. Her heart ached with a tinge of regret but knew that she didn’t have time to dwell on it just now. First and foremost they were friends and while Liz was still grieving, it would be unfair of her to think anything more of it at this time.

 

Unbeknownst to Patsy, Liz had been having similar thoughts as she had prepared some fresh coffee and breakfast for them both. She was self-aware enough to realise that there was some sort of spark between them, had been for some time, but any romantic notion felt a bit cliche right at that moment. Liz decided that she was just overwrought and if there was meant to be anything deeper to her relationship with Patsy, it would happen when and if the time was right.