DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story belong to Shed Productions. I am borrowing them for entertainment purposes only and not for financial gain.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the authors.

On Borrowed Time
By Nico


Chapter 1

Monday morning is never a favourite time of the week and this particular Monday morning was worse than most. There was a feeling of unrest amongst the members of Oakley Road Police station's CID division as they sat huddled in small groups and talked quietly amongst themselves. Today was the day things were going to change, and this particular change was most definitely viewed as being a change for the worse.

The atmosphere hung over the incident room like a big black cloud, not unlike the one that hung over the city in general. Rain drizzled down on to the brick building that had been constructed back in the sixties, back then it had been state of the art, these days the only state it could be linked with was one of decay. The brass were located in their expensively decorated offices on the top floor of the building, and each floor below got lower in rank, until you came to the holding cells in the damp and dirty basement.

It was almost 9am and DI Nikki Wade was on the 4th floor in a meeting with Superintendent Jim Fenner. She had been informed three days earlier that the promotion she thought was hers, had in fact been given to somebody else and she had been in a foul mood ever since.

"I'm sorry Nikki, if it was up to me you would have been given the promotion. Unfortunately, Stubberfield wanted to bring somebody else in and I could do nothing to prevent it." Jim felt bad, he knew Nikki was a good copper but it had been taken out of his hands.

"He must have spoken to you about your recommendation though, why didn't you stick up for me?" Nikki couldn't help being angry, she had waited for this promotion for a long time.

"We've already been through all this and I told you, I did stick up for you!" Jim lit a cigarette and offered one to Nikki, "I sounded more like your father than your senior officer. Point is the stubborn old bastard wouldn't listen and there was nothing I could do. I'm really sorry Nikki," he did indeed look sorry.

"Sorry, I shouldn't be taking all this out on you, you tried your best and it can't be helped. I'll survive, worse things have happened. So who's taking over from DCI Atkins then?" Nikki tapped an ash and crossed her legs.

"An officer by the name of Helen Stewart, formerly a DI at Hutton Road."

"Never heard of her."

"Neither had I to be honest, but I'm told she is a good officer and although she wasn't my choice, under the circumstances we have to make the best of a bad situation ok?" Jim spoke softly, he knew how difficult Nikki could be and he wanted to give her a gentle reminder.

"Yes I can take a hint." Nikki rolled her eyes at him, "but if she pisses me off then she'll know about it."

"She hasn't even shown up yet and already the gloves are off!" Jim couldn't resist a laugh, he knew Nikki could appear to be moody and aggressive but deep down she was a caring person. He knew it was only the disappointment of losing out on her promotion talking.

"Hang on a mo, Helen Stewart you said?" Nikki looked thoughtful.

"Yes, why?"

"Not the Helen Stewart DS Andy Lockyer keeps going on about? The much talked about fiancée?"

"Actually I think she is, he did help out on that investigation at Hutton Road last year if I remember correctly."

"Oh great! That's all I need." Nikki rolled her eyes, "any woman who has agreed to marry that idiot wants her bumps feeling." Nikki didn't know Lockyer well, but she knew enough about him to know she didn't like him.

"You could be the woman for that job." Jim chuckled.

"Piss off!" Nikki grinned, "So do we know anything about her?" Nikki wanted to get a feel for the type of person Helen Stewart was, after all, they would have to work closely together.

"Been a copper for about 5 years now, graduate fast track blah blah, is good at her job. That's basically it." Jim shrugged and closed the file.

"This is getting worse by the minutes. I knew I'd miss Yvonne but I didn't know I'd miss her this much," Nikki rubbed her forehead, "Well, I suppose I better get back to work, thanks for letting me know Jim." Nikki stood up and shook his hand.

"If you need anything then you know where I am, don't hesitate to come and see me." He wiggled his eyebrows at her jokingly, just like he always did.

"I'll be sure to Sir," she winked at him and left the room only to turn around and go right back in, "when is she arriving?"

"Should be here in about twenty minutes." Jim grinned at the look on her face.

"I knew I shouldn't have gotten out of bed this morning." She mumbled as she closed the door behind her.

Helen Stewart parked up in her red Peugeot 306 and took a deep breath, before checking her makeup in the rearview mirror. She had butterflies in her stomach, and had only been able to manage a cup of coffee for breakfast. Andy had wanted them to travel to work in his car but she didn't want the whole station to see them arrive together, she didn't want them knowing they were in a relationship just yet.

Helen couldn't quite manage to make her legs move, her heart was pounding and her mouth was dry. She was taking on a responsibility she privately thought she might find difficult to handle, although she would never reveal this to anybody, least of all Andy. He was such a confident person that he couldn't understand anybody who felt unsure of themselves and kept telling her she needed to toughen up. She pulled herself together and gathered her belongings before making her way into the station, steeling herself for what lay ahead.

Nikki entered the incident room and immediately made her way over to DS Tony Dockley's desk, he was on the phone to his wife Shell as usual and Nikki sat on the corner of his desk while she waited for him to finish.

"I gotta go Nikki's here…..ok then, love you too, bye." Tony hung up and turned to Nikki, "sorry, what can I do for you?" He smiled up at her as he folded his arms.

"How's Shell?" Nikki was Tony's best friend and she spent quite a lot of time with him and his wife.

"She's fine, bit upset because the latest pregnancy test was negative but other than that, things are ok," Tony shrugged but there was a sad look in his eyes, he wanted a baby just as much as Shell did.

"It will happen soon enough Tony, when you least expect it, and from then on, it will be dirty nappies and sleepless nights all the way," she gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder, "the new boss will be here soon apparently, I'm sorry I didn't take time off after all."

"He might not be that bad, you should give it time Nik. I know that job should have been yours but everything happens for a reason, you never know it might be a gift in disguise." Tony smiled as he offered Nikki a cigarette.

"Correction, it's a she not a he."

"Oh well that won't be too bad for you, another female around the place, and females are your specialist subject." Tony chuckled.

"Yeah but Helen Stewart is Andy Lockyer's fiancée." Nikki nodded as a look passed across Tony's face.

"I take it back, could things get any worse? Any woman who could marry a man like that should be in a straight jacket." Tony sniggered.

"I suppose I should get somebody to find me one in that case." A Scottish voice sounded behind them.

Nikki whirled round and she came face to face with a small dark haired woman, looking pretty pissed off. Nikki wasn't the slightest bit embarrassed and nodded her head in a short greeting. Tony on the other hand was blushing bright red to the roots of his hair; he shuffled down in his seat and glanced at his computer as if he were in deep concentration, hoping Helen would forget all about him.

"I'm sure we could find one somewhere." Nikki said casually as she picked imaginary fluff from the shoulder of her jacket.

"I'm DCI Helen Stewart, and you are?" Helen offered her hand and fervently hoped she wouldn't have to work with this woman.

"DI Nikki Wade." Nikki made no attempt to shake Helen's hand.

"I've heard a lot about you." Helen lowered her hand as her heart sank, she would have to work with her after all.

"Wish I could say the same." Nikki couldn't help feeling irritated.

"Is that sarcasm I detect?" Helen's green eyes bored deeply in to Nikki's brown ones.

"Your office is over there, we can grab a cup of sludge that masquerades as coffee and then get down to business." Nikki ignored the question and made her way over to the coffee machine.

Helen watched her go, she didn't like this woman in the slightest and she had only just met her. She knew her presence wasn't welcome, and she knew why, she had taken the job that should have been Nikki's. Her first instinct was to feel guilty but she quickly brushed it away, she had been chosen for the job and she had taken it, there was nothing to feel guilty for. She sighed as she followed in Nikki's direction, she knew the two of them wouldn't have an easy working relationship, but hoped they could keep the hostility to a minimum.

The room was silent and all eyes were on Helen as Nikki led her in to her office. She sat down at her desk whilst Nikki sat opposite her. The office seemed to be crammed full of somebody else's presence, even though it was bare, and Helen knew stepping in to Yvonne Atkins' shoes was going to be a challenge and a half.

"So what are we working on at the moment?" Helen tried to sound normal but inside she was all over the place.

"The team and I are working on a smuggling ring case at the moment." Nikki resented the use of 'we' because Helen had only been there five minutes and she didn't consider her a part of the team.

"I'd appreciate it if you could fill me in, what do you know so far?" Helen tried again, and knew Nikki wasn't going to accept her easily.

"This lot have their fingers in many different pies." Helen noted how Nikki's demeanour changed, she obviously had a great love of her job, "we know they are in the gun smuggling business but we haven't been able to find out just where they get them from. They are also known to have an involvement in drugs, as well as prostitution and pornography. They have several different 'businesses' as a front for their illegal activities, and problem is, we don't know who runs the outfit and we are no closer to knowing their identity now than three months ago when this investigation first started,"

"Have you ever thought about putting a member of the team undercover?" Helen thought she would suggest it seeing as how Nikki had made no mention of undercover investigations.

"Well strangely enough it's one of the first things that come to mind when conducting an investigation like this." Nikki enjoyed watching Helen squirm with embarrassment as it dawned on her she'd said something stupid, "However, DCI Atkins didn't think it was a viable option since we know so little about how this gang operates, it could put a member of this team in unnecessary danger, and for the record I happen to agree with her." Nikki almost willed Helen to argue back.

"I suppose that makes sense, but it may be the only option open to us if we are to proceed further in this investigation. One of the worst things that can happen to a case is to let it stagnate and I will be taking it into consideration." Helen was keen to assert herself, she didn't want to be working in the shadow of Yvonne Atkins forever.

"Well you're the boss and that's up to you." Nikki folded her arms and leaned back in her chair. She was less than happy about the situation, she resented Helen's presence in a position she felt she had no right to be in. A position in fact, that she felt rightly belonged to her.

"Yes that's true but I will listen to everybody's opinion on the matter beforehand and make a decision based on that." Helen held eye contact with Nikki, but Nikki looked away.

"Ultimately the decision lies with you and I won't interfere with that." Nikki didn't want to be in the firing line when things went wrong. If Helen made a wrong decision then she had to be the one to take the rap for it, Nikki didn't want a bar of it.

"I see, so I'm going to be putting my neck on the line without any support from you whatsoever?"

"This job, as you know comes with a certain amount of responsibility. If you aren't willing to deal with that responsibility then you shouldn't be doing the job." Nikki was irritated by Helen and didn't bother to hide it.

"It seems I have my answer then. However, I would still expect your support when it is required, and I hope that you will do your job properly and professionally….." Helen was interrupted as Nikki spoke.

"I always do my job properly, and I resent your remark. You've been here less than an hour and already you are making assumptions based on what you think you know about me. I have never acted unprofessionally and I don't intend to start now." Nikki tried to keep a lid on her temper.

"You could have fooled me, and don't you go assuming that I'm assuming anything about you. I'm just asking you to work with me as part of my team, we don't have to like each other, it isn't mandatory. What is mandatory however, is that we respect each other in a professional capacity otherwise this isn't going to work."

"Fine, I can do that." Nikki stood up and left the office, leaving a surprised Helen behind. She hadn't indicated the meeting was over, in fact it was far from it and she was annoyed that Nikki had just walked out without a word.

Helen stood up and quickly walked to her office door and flung it open, she caught sight of Nikki just as she was leaving the incident room.

"DI Wade! A word please." Helen stood with her hands on her hips, throwing a look at Nikki that dared her to defy her.

"Yes DCI Stewart?" Nikki sauntered back over.

All eyes in the room were on them, they all knew what Nikki's temper was like but Helen at the moment was an unknown variable and they were all interested as to how things would proceed. If Nikki got along with her then they knew she couldn't be that bad, but as they didn't seem to be getting along so well they quickly formed the opinion that Helen was a bad choice of DCI.

"Don't you ever walk away from me like that again. When I'm finished talking to you then you'll know but until then could you please sit still long enough for me to take breath." Helen's eyes glittered coldly.

"Yes ma'am." Nikki's voice was equally as cold.

"I want you to start behaving in a manner that reflects your position on this team, do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly ma'am."

"Good I'm glad we understand each other."

"Oh I understand alright, but to be honest darlin' I don't think you've got a clue." Nikki didn't raise her voice; she didn't need to to get her point across.

Nikki flashed Helen a defiant look and walked away, as the rest of the team lowered their eyes and carried on with their work. Helen surveyed the room, and already regretted accepting the promotion.


Chapter 2

By midday Helen was starting to feel very isolated, none of the team would look at her and Nikki was keeping her distance. She hadn't been introduced to anybody yet and it didn't look like anybody was going to bother, so she thought it best to take control of the situation. She left her office and made her way over to Nikki who was tapping away on her computer in a fit of ill-disguised temper.

"Nikki, can I have a moment please?" Helen kept her tone polite; she figured the worst thing to do would be to rub Nikki up the wrong way.

"Of course ma'am." Nikki stopped what she was doing and gave Helen her full attention on purpose, which didn't go unnoticed.

"I haven't been introduced to anybody yet and I would like to get to know the people I'm working with," Helen wanted to stay calm and focused, she tried not to let her nervousness show. She became aware that Tony was eavesdropping on their conversation, whilst trying not to look as if he was doing so.

"Of course ma'am, how rude of me, it totally slipped my mind." Nikki's voice dripped with sarcasm but Helen let it pass, "Can I have your attention please?" Nikki shouted around the room.

Everybody immediately turned their attention to her and Helen could see that Nikki had their loyalty and respect, which was a damn sight more than she had, and she wasn't sure if she would ever have it.

"I would like you all to meet your new DCI, Helen Stewart." Nikki waited as a few cursory 'hello's' were thrown in Helen's direction and then turned to her, "You've already met Tony, he's a DS. Sitting over there next to the window is DC Gina Rossi, sitting opposite her is DC Mark Waddle. The officer on the phone is DS Laura Jordan. The rest of the team are either out following up on lines of enquiry, off sick or on leave, I will introduce them to you when they get back. Was that all ma'am?"

"Yes thank you." Helen fled back to her office, she wished she hadn't bothered asking in the first place, it only made her feel worse.

Nikki settled back at her desk and began tapping away on her computer again when Tony came and sat beside her.

"That was unfair wasn't it Nik?" He raised an eyebrow at her; he was of the opinion that she was taking things a bit too far.

"What was?" Nikki feigned innocence.

"The way you introduced her, you should have taken her around to meet everybody. Nobody will talk to her you know?" Tony thought he might be able to appeal to the nicer side of her nature.

"That's not my fault." Nikki carried on typing away, hoping the issue would quietly fade in to the background but Tony wasn't about to let that happen.

"Yes it is your fault, the team is very loyal to you, and if you won't speak to Helen or make her feel welcome then neither will they. It's not fair Nik, she's just trying to do a job like the rest of us." Tony was trying to get his friend to see sense. She was one of the most caring people he had ever met but she could be stubborn at times.

"Yes I know, it's my fucking job she is trying to do, or did you forget that?" Nikki's temper boiled up, why was Tony defending a complete stranger instead of her?

"Oh for god sake Nikki! It's not often I lose my temper with you, in fact I never do but this time you need a kick up the arse. You didn't get the job so get over it, these things happen, grow up and learn to get on with the woman," Tony felt uncharacteristically annoyed.

"But she's bloody impossible to get on with; she accused me of not acting like a professional or doing my job properly!" Nikki lit up a cigarette and threw her lighter down.

"And in this instance she would be correct. You should listen to yourself Nikki, this isn't like you at all." Tony lit a cigarette of his own, "Give the girl a chance, don't dismiss her just because she's where you want to be. You should be supporting her and making sure the rest of the team do too, otherwise everybody, yourself included, will suffer."

"Get off my back Tony, I've already got her nagging at me and I don't need you doing it as well. I don't like her and I don't have to, what she does is up to her and none of my business. If she wants to get to know the team then it's up to her to do so. I'm not a babysitter, she is old enough and ugly enough to look after herself." Nikki wasn't about to budge.

"Ah so now we are getting to the root of the problem." Tony gave a small chuckle and looked smug.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Nikki shot daggers at him.

"You're having a hard time over this because she is attractive. No hang on, she's gorgeous and you can't handle it."

"Tony I swear to god, you are way off base." Nikki was quick to defend herself, "I don't fancy her in the slightest." Nikki was a hundred percent sure she didn't find Helen attractive, at least not that she knew of consciously.

"Yes you do. She's got your job, she's gorgeous and you're torn between hating her and fancying her. I know I'm right."

"You're talking a load of bullshit, she's straight and even if she wasn't I still wouldn't touch it with a cattle prod. So you can get that idea out of your head for starters. I don't like her because she hasn't got a lot of experience and she hasn't got the first clue how to handle the team. She's opinionated, stubborn and thinks she knows everything. She is way out of her depth."

"I wonder who she sounds like?" Tony winked at her.

"Don't push it Dockley!" Nikki stubbed out her cigarette and groaned as she noticed Andy Lockyer enter the room, "if you're looking for your bit of stuff, she's in her office." Nikki gestured towards Helen's door with her index finger.

"As charming as ever aren't you Wade. I reckon a date with me might sort you out, what do you say?" He smiled as he sidled over to her, Tony moved away to his own desk, he knew Nikki was more than capable of looking after herself and he had no desire to get involved.

"Not if you were the last man on earth, and in case you'd forgotten I'm gay. So do us both a favour and go and make a nuisance of yourself with Her Royal Bitchiness." Nikki pointed to Helen's office again.

"If I find out you are making her life difficult Wade, I'm going to come and pay you a little visit," his smile vanished as he started in with his macho man routine.

"Save the hard man routine Lockyer it won't wash with me." Nikki noticed Helen coming from her office and turned her back on Andy.

Helen didn't look pleased to see Andy hanging around, his conversation with Nikki hadn't gone unnoticed and she wished he hadn't turned up. She didn't want the team to see her anywhere near him; she wanted to keep her job and private life separate. She was about to ask him what the hell he was doing there when Tony spoke up.

"Nikki?" Tony called out from across the room.

"What?" Nikki answered tetchily.

"I've just had a call telling me that a body has been found at the back of the supermarket on Keighley Road, it's been found in a skip apparently."

"Assemble a team, and get the SOCO's to attend. You can drive me there." Helen strode in to her office to pick up her jacket leaving a livid looking Nikki behind.

"Have I got the word servant written on my fucking forehead?" Nikki snarled as Tony joined her, "does she think I joined the force yesterday?" Nikki didn't give a damn that Andy was still standing there listening to every word.

"Just calm down, and take a deep breath Nik. You're going out on a job now and you need your full concentration in case you miss anything important. In the grand scheme of things, Helen Stewart isn't much to worry about," Tony's voice had a soothing effect on Nikki, they'd known each other for years and he was the only one besides Yvonne who could calm her down.

"I know you're right but she's just so bloody irritating." Nikki cleared her throat when Helen got back, "Ready to go ma'am?"

"Yes and don't call me ma'am."

"Sorry ma'am won't happen again ma'am." Nikki knew she was pushing it.

"Are you deliberately trying to wind me up?" Helen looked up at her, a hint of anger visible in her eyes.

"I'm warning you Wade." Lockyer puffed out his chest in a manly gesture and stood beside Helen.

"Fuck off Lockyer, when I want your input I'll rattle your cage, until then keep it zipped." Nikki picked up her jacket and put it on.

"Now listen…." Andy shut up when Helen glared at him.

"DS Lockyer, I'm sure you have somewhere you need to be, don't let us detain you." She gave him a look that told him to push off and he took the hint and left with a scowl.

"Are you ready to go ma'am?" Nikki rattled her car keys.

"Yes and for heaven's sake stop calling me ma'am." Helen realised she was already talking to herself as Nikki left the room at a brisk pace.

Helen clung on for dear life as Nikki swung the car around corners practically on two wheels. It was an aspect of police work Helen had never much cared for, she didn't mind if she was the one doing the driving but as a passenger, it always made her feel queasy. She noted that Nikki was aware of how ill she felt and seemed to be enjoying it. It was beginning to get to her and she had to say something.

"Do you have to drive like a maniac?" Helen closed her eyes as Nikki whizzed past another car.

"Maniac? Excuse me but I'm an advanced police driver, I took my test and passed with flying colours." Nikki huffed and sped up a little for spite.

"I don't understand why you have to drive so fast, it's not as if the body is going anywhere, it's not technically an emergency." Helen put a hand over her mouth, trying to quell the rising tide of nausea that swept through her.

"You of all people should know why, we don't want evidence tampered with, we have to preserve the scene of the crime." Nikki ordinarily would never have sped to a call such as this but she did it to get back at Helen.

"Oh shit." Helen managed to gasp as nausea held on to her stomach in a vice like grip.

"Try not to throw up all over the car." Nikki was thoroughly enjoying herself; Helen's discomfort was strangely satisfying.

"Rest assured if I throw up anywhere it won't be in your bloody car!" Helen tried to hold on to the contents of her stomach, but was losing the battle.

A minute or so later, Nikki drew to a stop at the back of the supermarket where a uniformed officer had indicated for her to park. She switched off the engine and giggled as Helen flew out of the car and in to some nearby bushes. She exchanged a smile with the uniformed officer, whom she knew by sight and began to question him as she waited for Helen to come back. She did so less than five minutes later and Nikki felt slightly guilty when she saw her pale face and bloodshot eyes. It was obvious the drive had really affected her and Nikki felt childish now.

"Hey look, I'm really sorry about you being sick, I shouldn't have driven so fast." Nikki tried to make amends.

"Don't worry about it, after all I don't mind throwing up in a front of a crowd of people because it does wonders for my reputation." Helen snarled and walked away.

"Sod you then, you moody bitch." Nikki said just loud enough for Helen to hear.

"Right that's it." Helen about turned and grabbed Nikki's arm before dragging her to one side.

Nikki allowed herself to be dragged out of earshot of the uniformed officers and members of CID who were now watching them with great interest, thinking it would be best if they didn't hear the conversation, or rather the argument they were about to have.

"I've taken about as much from you as I can stand Nikki. Are you going to spend the foreseeable future sulking because you didn't get the job you want? If that's the case then I don't want you on my team, you can go home and cry on your mother's shoulder like the big kid that you are."

"I don't have to take this shit from you." Nikki spoke from between gritted teeth.

"Oh yes you do, because whether you like it or not I'm your senior officer and you're going to have to get used to it."

"I resent taking orders from some graduate fast track copper, who thinks they know it all. I worked my way up the ladder through sheer hard work and I've served more time on the force than you have. I know my job inside out and I could have done yours standing on my head, but instead I'm stuck with you through no fault of my own and I don't like it one little bit." Nikki made sure she looked Helen in the eye before continuing, "oh and another thing, don't think it isn't obvious." Nikki could see they weren't going anywhere any time soon and leaned against the wall and took out a cigarette.

"Don't think what isn't obvious?" Helen ignored all the rest even though she wanted desperately to defend herself.

"It's obvious you're out of your depth darlin' I could see it the minute you walked in, and what's more, you know you've bitten off more than you can chew. So if you're expecting the rest of us to have faith in you then you're sorely mistaken, because I'm sure they are going to be able to figure out you don't have any faith in yourself. You're not a patch on Yvonne Atkins." Nikki blew out a stream of smoke and felt very smug until she saw the look on Helen's face, and a little stab of guilt pierced her.

"I can't keep apologising for taking a job that you wanted, and I can't keep apologising for not being Yvonne Atkins. None of this is my fault but I seem to be the one who is being made to suffer." Helen surprised Nikki by leaning over and snatching her cigarette from her and taking a puff, "You know I thought you would have been a lot more understanding, but you're worse than a lot of the men I've worked with. I thought you of all people would like to see women succeed." Helen looked deflated, as if all of the fight had been take away from her, Nikki had found her weakness.

"I do but not when it's at my bloody expense and does it look like I'm asking you to apologise?" Nikki lit up another cigarette, "Look, you wanted me to do my job, and I will. But other than that, don't go expecting anything from me ok?" Nikki blew out a stream of smoke angrily, she was sick of the whole situation and wished Helen would leave her alone.

"Can we not find a way to get on? I know we don't like each other very much but I would prefer it if we put aside our differences and be grown up about all this."

"Not me acting like a child darlin' you're the one who won't let this drop."

"Oh for fuck sake!" Helen began pacing, "I can't work like this, and I can't work with someone who persists in acting like a total prat! It's about time you got over yourself Nikki, otherwise I'll have you removed from the team and I mean it." Helen's jaw was firmly set, she meant every word.

"Fine, you do what you feel you have to. I don't need all this shit anyway. Now, instead of standing here like an idiot, I'm off to do what I get paid for. You can come if you want or you can stand here all day, I don't care either way." Nikki threw her cigarette end on the floor and marched off towards the crime scene.

"God help me, I'm going to strangle her." Helen mumbled as she followed in Nikki's direction.

Nikki approached the crime scene and noticed another one of her less favourite people was in attendance; she sighed and rolled her eyes. Was every single person who got on her nerves crawling out of the woodwork? Karen Betts stood by the skip, getting kitted out in protective clothing, so that she could climb inside and examine the body in her capacity as a forensic pathologist. She noticed Nikki and gave her a cheeky smile, she knew she annoyed her and it gave her a kick.

"Hello DI Wade, how lovely to see you." Karen gave her a little wave.

"Been taking your happy pills again I see." Nikki remarked sarcastically, she hated it when Karen investigated a death. She would keep her cards close to her chest until she deemed it necessary to inform the police of her findings.

"Helen! Nice to see you." Karen called out as Helen approached.

"Hi Karen, long time no see." Helen was relieved to see a friendly face, she and Karen had known each other for a few years and they got on well.

"Somebody's taking the piss now, why am I being punished?" Nikki began to mumble, the two women who irked her most in the world seemed to be friends.

"What's that DI Wade? Didn't quite hear you." Karen looked on in amusement.

"Ignore her Karen. You're having a bad day aren't you Nikki?" Helen sensed a chance to get her own back.

"What, another one? Every time I see her she's always the same, chin dragging along the floor, and looking like she lost a quid and found a penny." Karen chuckled as she began to climb in to the skip.

"I would prefer it if you pair of old boilers didn't discuss me while I'm still standing here." Nikki's face was like thunder.

"You must have had a lot of experience with old boilers. Hey Karen, maybe that's what's wrong with her face. Either that or it's a touch of pmt." Helen tried not to laugh as Nikki's eyebrows shot up. Karen's strangled laughter could be heard from just a few feet away and the officers standing around also began to giggle.

"Oh sod the pair of you. If you want me I'll be co-ordinating the investigation from the bloody car where it's free from bastards!" Nikki stormed off as she heard raucous laughter from behind her.

Yvonne Atkins sat and sipped from a mug of coffee as she fiddled around with the colour on her TV, there was nothing wrong with it but she was bored and needed something to do. She had been retired for less than a week and already had no idea of how to fill up her days. She'd had the offer of going in to private investigation but was still considering it; did she really want to sit on people's doorsteps all night in the freezing cold with a digital camera waiting for a few snaps? The phone rang and brought her back to reality; she skipped over to the phone eagerly and picked it up, answering more cheerfully than she felt.

"Hello, Atkins." She fiddled about with a loose piece of cotton on her collar.

"DCI Atkins, I'm glad I caught you." The male voice sounded urgent on the other end.

"I'm just plain Mrs. Atkins these days John, you know that." Yvonne wondered what one of her old informants was doing calling her.

"I do but old habits die hard. Listen I have some information you might be interested in but it will cost you." He sounded agitated.

"You shouldn't be telling me, I passed you over to another officer remember?" she had passed him over to Nikki but he clearly didn't feel comfortable with the idea.

"I know but I also know I can trust you. Do you want this information or not?" He was getting increasingly agitated as the seconds passed by.

"Ok tell me where and when." She got a pen and paper and sat poised to write it down.

"Two hours, the Midland Pub down Kingsley Street."

"Ok I'll be there." Yvonne answered and then heard the dial tone, "goodbye to you too John," she shook her head and put the phone down, whilst wondering what on earth it was all about.


Chapter 3

Karen climbed out of the skip and motioned for Helen to come closer, as she did so, she tried to breathe through her mouth. The smell of decomposing flesh was strong, even from quite a few feet away. Her stomach tightened, she knew that if she had anything left in there, it might soon be on its way up again. She climbed up on the first step of a small set of ladders that had been placed by the skip and peered over the side, gripping the edge when the smell threatened to knock her off balance. She had dealt with quite a few bodies in her time as a police officer but this was the worst one ever, it was in quite an advanced state of decomposition.

"As you can see, the body is pretty far gone. Too far gone in fact to tell the sex, and the absence of clothes doesn't help in identifying the sex either but I'll know more when I examine the body properly. Now seeing as it's you, I can tell you that the cause of death seems to be a bullet to the forehead. However I can't be one hundred percent sure that it wasn't done after death until I examine the body thoroughly. I have seen cases where victims were shot after death, but I can't tell you whether that's the case here yet. The body hasn't been here long, I'd say less than twelve hours, because we had rain last night and the body is dry. I would estimate the victim has been dead around a week or so but I think the body has been kept somewhere warm and the decomposition has sped up. So after piecing all the facts together, I'm a hundred percent certain that wherever they were killed, it wasn't here." Karen began to remove her gloves.

"Thanks Karen, I appreciate that. When can you schedule the post for?" Helen rubbed her hands together to try and get some feeling back in her fingers.

"Well, I'm a bit busy at the moment, but I will schedule the postmortem for 10am on Friday, I know it's a three day wait but it's the best I can do. So if you fancy coming along with miserable arse over there then you are more than welcome."

"I'll be there, I need to be if I'm going to make sure I don't cock this investigation up." Helen rubbed her forehead and sighed, she knew it was safe to confide in Karen, "Trouble is, Nikki knows I don't have a lot of confidence in myself."

"What did she say to you?" Karen lit up a cigarette and offered one to Helen.

"Thanks." Helen cupped her hands around Karen's as she lit her cigarette for her, "She said it was obvious I was out of my depth and that I knew I was. She told me not to expect the rest of the team to have faith in me because I didn't have any in myself." Helen looked lost and Karen felt sorry for her.

"That's not fair; she had no right to say something like that to you."

"She obviously thinks she did. I'm convinced they all think Yvonne Atkins was some sort of saint, and according to Nikki, I'm not a patch on her." Helen took a deep drag of her cigarette.

"Yvonne was a good copper, and she had good instincts, she is quite unlike anybody else I have ever met. I'm sure she wouldn't approve of Nikki's behaviour. If she ever stepped out of line, and it's not often that she does, Yvonne would take her to one side and have a quiet word with her. The only other person I know who is able to keep her in check is Tony Dockley." Karen leaned against her car and folded her arms.

"Then they have my utmost respect because I've only known her a few hours and I've found out to my expense she can be downright difficult. I wouldn't mind but I've heard all these stories about her and so far it doesn't tally with the person I'm stuck with." Helen felt good to get it all off her chest.

"Point with Nikki is, she doesn't suffer fools gladly."

"Oh gee, thanks Karen!."

"I didn't mean it like that." Karen smiled, "It's obvious she has very little patience with you and has made a snap decision about you. I know for a fact that once she gets to know you then it will be fine, all the animosity will stop and she'll settle down, she just misses Yvonne that's all."

"Yeah not to mention I took the job she wanted but I hope you're right because I can't stand another day like today. She won't have to transfer, I'll end up jacking it all in."

"Like I said, just give it time. When I first met Nikki, I couldn't stand her, but slowly she grew on me and now I like her but don't tell her I said that." Karen chuckled, "I'm pretty sure she likes me as well, she has been nice to me on a few occasions when she has forgotten she is supposed to hate my guts. Trust me, things will work out."

"I hope so. I better get going, the team here has everything under control so I should get back to the station and start setting things up with my wonderful DI." Helen rolled her eyes and smiled.

"Take care Helen, and don't let it get you down."

"See you Friday." Helen patted Karen on the arm and then walked back to the car where Nikki was sat scowling still.

Helen got in the car without a word and put her seatbelt on, Nikki waited until she was settled and drove off at a much slower pace. The journey back to the station was silent, Helen didn't feel like arguing again and Nikki didn't even look in her direction. Helen had a bad feeling about the situation, she knew that the station wasn't big enough for the both of them and that one of them would end up having to leave in the end.

Yvonne entered the Midland Pub at not quite 2pm and walked up the bar where she ordered a whisky for herself and a pint for John. She found a quiet corner table and lit up while she waited for him to arrive. He was jumpy at the best of times and she had to be careful how she handled it, one wrong word and he would run, he had done it before and could disappear for weeks at a time.

Yvonne felt strangely detached from life now, she felt like she was on the outside looking in. She had spent the last thirty years in the force and had decided to take early retirement, but she was finding out that after devoting all her life to her career, she had little at the end. She took a sip of whisky, she hadn't really wanted it but she needed to look as if she was there for a purpose other than getting information out of John. Thankfully the barman didn't seem too interested in her, he was too busy watching football on television but she decided to keep a close eye on him anyway, you could never be too careful.

At half two, she was beginning to wonder if John was ever going to show up, when the door opened and he cautiously poked his head in. Yvonne gestured to him and he jumpily made his way across the pub to her. She offered him a cigarette which he declined; he was eager to tell her all that he had to and then get the hell out of there.

"So what can I do you for John?" Yvonne kept her face neutral, she knew that with the mood he was in, one wrong word and it could all go wrong.

"Actually DCI Atkins it's more what I can do for you," he looked around nervously, "There is a body in a skip behind the supermarket on Keighley road."

"Ok, thank you for that information John." Yvonne wondered why he had asked her all this way just to tell her that when he could have told her over the phone.

"That's not all. It's Mike Dougan."

"You better not be shitting me." Yvonne forgot all about frightening him off as her excitement took over.

"I'm not, honestly I'm not. He was murdered a week ago, and I was there."

"Where were you and who did him in?" Yvonne knew this was turning into something big; Mike Dougan was one of the biggest criminals around.

"You know the old printing works, the one that belongs to Paul Parry and his gang?"

"Yeah go on." Yvonne hardly dared breathe. Mike Dougan and Paul Parry were two of the nastiest men alive and their gangs were sworn enemies.

"Well they set up a meeting; Paul thought that Mike was getting too big of a cut on the drugs trade around here. But shortly before the meeting, he found out he was in to gun smuggling as well, and as you know, these days guns mean big money, almost as big as drugs. He wanted a cut and Mike told him to go fuck himself, so Paul figured he could do away with him and take the action for himself. The body was left in the printing works until the early hours of this morning when it was dumped behind the supermarket. I helped move the body and it was in a shit state, they'd been keeping it down in the basement where the boiler room is and it's as hot as hell down there." He seemed to calm down slightly now that he had told Yvonne what he needed to.

"Are you telling me that the smuggling ring case we were working on involved Mike Dougan's gang? We knew there was a gang involved but we hadn't been able to identify who was running the outfit. I'll give credit where it's due, he managed to keep it well hidden." Yvonne was getting excited; this was exactly the break they had been waiting for.

"It was only by chance that Paul found out, one of his men overheard a conversation between two of Mike's men in a pub. Paul knew about the drugs obviously but the guns were a well kept secret. Parry's gang has taken the operation over now, but I do know he isn't the one in charge. Rumour has it, an unknown investor is on board and he's chucking money about like it's water. The operation has tripled in the last week and certain members in authority are in on it."

"Meaning the police?" Yvonne raised an eyebrow.

"Amongst others yes. If you find the top man then you've got the case cracked. I don't know who it is, but I'm sure it won't take you long to find out."

"How come Mike Dougan's lot didn't fight Parry though? There was a lot at stake."

"Simple." John smiled, "their loyalty died with Mike, they saw they could still get a cut of the action and buried the hatchet with Paul. He was happy to take them on and they were happy to work for him. Money always speaks louder than words, you should know that DCI Atkins."

"Which is my cue to give you yours so you can be on your way. Keep in touch though eh John?" Yvonne handed him an envelope with a couple of thousand pound in. She had originally intended to give him far less but this tip off had been a big one.

"Sorry DCI Atkins, this is my last tour of duty as they say. I've got my wife and daughter to think about. If it ever got out that it's me that informed on them then I'd be dead faster than I could blink. I'm taking my family to Spain, hidden out of the way so that those bastards can't touch us."

"In that case then, good luck. And thanks for all you've done for me over the years, I won't forget it,"

"You've always been straight with me and I can't say any different. Take care, I'd like to say we'd meet again but I sincerely hope we don't and please don't take that the wrong way," he stood up and Yvonne followed suit.

"I know John, I know. Take care of yourself and your wife and kiddy. All the best." Yvonne shook his hand and then as soon as she let go of his hand he was gone.

She drank back the rest of her whisky, and grimaced as it touched the back of her throat. She put her cigarettes in to her pocket and went to her car, knowing exactly what her next move should be.

Nikki stomped in to Helen's office and threw herself down on the chair in front of her desk. Tony followed behind her quietly and shut the door as he sat down in the chair next to her. Helen balled her hands in to fists and tried to calm down, she was quickly getting to the end of her tether and Nikki would bear the brunt if she did. She took a sip of her coffee and pulled a face, she imagined dishwater would taste better. She took a deep breath and looked at Nikki.

"Nikki, Karen told me before that the pm on the body is scheduled for ten on Friday morning, are you free to attend it with me?"

"Yeah why not." Nikki shrugged her shoulders and carried on looking at the floor.

"Tony how are we getting on with the CCTV footage from the supermarket?" Helen ignored Nikki and turned her attention elsewhere.

"We've found the tape in question but it doesn't tell us much I'm afraid. We couldn't make anybody out, they were dressed in black and wearing masks, so they must have known about the camera. We did manage to run the plate number on their car, only to find out that it was reported stolen a week ago by…." Tony consulted the file he held in his hands, "A Miss Porter, who is a student teacher, so I think we can safely rule out her involvement in this. Unfortunately, I had a call just before I came in here telling me that uniform had found it burnt out at the top of Lyndon Street at the back of the shops. So we come to another dead end, unless of course Dr Betts can tell us any more." Tony shrugged apologetically and smiled at Helen, who was grateful for the fact.

"What about the interview with the person who discovered the body?" Helen was beginning to feel slightly more in control over the situation.

"She is still being interviewed, she is understandably shaken up. When I get the taped interview from DC'S Rossi and Waddle then I'll let you know boss." Tony stuck his pen behind his ear, and could feel the tension between the two women just bubbling beneath the surface.

"Thanks, you're a star." Helen's head whipped around when she heard Nikki snort, "Tony could you give us a minute please?"

"Of course boss, you know where I am if you need me." He got up and quickly scooted out, not wanting to be around when the fireworks started.

Helen stood up and began to pace behind her desk, Nikki didn't move an inch; she knew what was coming and didn't particularly care.

"If you keep this up Nikki then one of us is going to have to leave Oakley road, but I'm telling you now, I'm damn sure it won't be me. I've worked hard to get where I am and I don't intend to let you fuck it up for me. Now we can either learn to work together and start behaving like proper adults, or we can call it quits and accept that you and I will never be friends."

"You and me friends? You must be joking!" Nikki gave a humourless laugh.

"You've been nothing but openly hostile to me in the few hours since I've been here. I've tried to sort things out between us but you don't seem interested."

"You're right, I'm not interested. I don't want to be your friend, I don't even want to work with you but since this is my bloody station and all my friends are here, I don't see why I should be the one to leave. If you don't like it then you can piss off, you know where the door is. I can stick it for as long as I have to, so now I'm interested to see if you can." Nikki had a slight smile playing around her lips and Helen knew she had been presented with a challenge.

"Fine if that's the way you want to play it, but I'm warning you, I'm not a very nice person when I'm pushed to the limit. I can make your life a living hell." Helen knew it was all talk but she felt she had to stand up to Nikki, "I want your respect and you aren't willing to give it, so lets see who gets what they want at the other side."

"Ok but in the meantime, leave me the hell alone for a while. I'll do my job and I'll keep my head down but don't push me too far because I won't stand for it."

"That's exactly what I'm talking about, you just can't resist it can you? You don't have to like me but you could at least give me the respect that every human being deserves." Helen's temper was rising again.

"You start acting like a normal human being and you might get some respect. Stop playing the dictator and we might get somewhere because there's more than one member on this team and I feel you should be reminded of that." Nikki had no justification for what she was saying but she said it anyway knowing that it would upset Helen.

Helen was just about to explode when a knock sounded on her office door.

"WHAT?" she exploded as Nikki smirked.

"Sorry to bother you ma'am." DS Laura Jordan popped her head around the door.

"What is it? And don't call me ma'am!" Helen knew she had to calm down, Nikki was pushing her into alienating the team, every time she lost her temper Nikki was getting what she wanted.

"There is a phone call for DI Wade, it sounded pretty important." DS Jordan wasn't about to mention it was Yvonne Atkins, she could see Helen was in no mood to be told her predecessor was on the phone.

"Are we done here ma'am?" Nikki stood up and spoke politely, knowing she had managed to piss Helen off further but still not entirely feeling good about herself.

"Just sod off." Helen shot her an evil look as she sauntered out of the office.

Helen slumped in to her chair, and tears threatened. She was emotionally and physically exhausted and she couldn't take much more. She had thought about quitting more than once since she had arrive that morning but knew she would only be playing in to Nikki's hands. She was determined to win her respect if nothing else, only to prove to herself that she could do it, that she was worthy of respect just like anybody else.

Andy's words kept ringing at the back of her mind, telling her to toughen up, that she was far too soft and emotional and ought to be more like he was. He was always saying she shouldn't let anything get to her, and she wondered if she should take it on board. Could she be cold and unemotional? Could she let things wash over her without a second thought or care? She didn't think she could, she had never been that way and she didn't intend to start now.

She remembered her own cold and unemotional upbringing and had promised herself the cycle stopped there, that she would never make the same mistakes her parents had. She shook her head as the tears started to fall, no she could never be unemotional, it would be like cutting a vital part of herself off. Once the tears had stopped, she would dry her eyes and pick herself up, just like she had done countless times before and prove to the rest of the world that Helen Stewart wasn't going to be beaten.

"Nik?" Tony held out the phone to her, "what's Yvonne doing calling here?"

"I don't know, I'm not on the phone yet," she shook her head at him as if he were stupid.

"Have you had another fight with the boss?" He raised an eyebrow at her, he was getting tired of her selfish behaviour, and he thought Helen deserved a break.

"Yes I have, not that it's any of your business and stop calling her the boss, Yvonne was our boss and she's gone." Nikki flashed him a look.

"Oh grow up for god sake," he shot her a disgusted look and left the room.

"Hello?" Nikki forgot about him and concentrated on her phone call.

"Nikki love it's me." Yvonne sounded excited on the other end, "listen I've got something to tell you and it's big. I should come in and talk to you and your DCI."

"Well the DCI is a bit tied up, she's under a lot of pressure at the moment and I don't think it would be wise to add to it, so how about I come and see you and then I can pass it on?" Nikki wanted to gain back some of the power she felt she had lost and Helen would find out about whatever it was when Nikki was good and ready.

"That's as may be but I really think I should come in, it's very important." Yvonne didn't want to step on anybody's toes.

"Trust me, it would be better not to interrupt, I think it would be easier to leave her be for a while,"

"Ok, you know her better than I do love. Usual place eh? Say about twenty minutes?"

"Sounds good to me boss." Nikki smiled as she put down the phone, maybe now Helen would start taking notice of her for the right reasons.


Chapter 4

Helen watched as Nikki left the incident room and breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't care where she was off to; Outer Mongolia would have been nice in Helen's opinion. Working with Nikki was proving to be the biggest challenge of Helen's career, and things were steadily getting worse.

And then there was Andy. Things had been good in the beginning, they seemed to share a lot of the same interests, and had become very close but she was never naïve enough to think that it was the romance of the century. These days there wasn't much going on, they were spending more time apart and were less bothered about the fact. She still cared for him but she wasn't sure that she loved him anymore, or even if she ever really did and she had an inkling that he was feeling the same.

She picked up the phone and dialed his mobile, she was going to tell him that she was going to go straight home and have an early night, instead of going out to dinner with him. She didn't have the energy to spend any time with him.

"But Helen, I've booked the table and everything." He started to whine as she knew he would.

"Come on, be honest. You didn't really book a table did you?" Helen knew what he was like.

"Well no, I didn't actually book a table but the thought was there and it's the thought that counts." He started to laugh on the other end.

"So they say. I'm really sorry, but I need an early night, I've had a rough day and I just want to flop into bed with a good book." Helen knew what was coming next.

"I can come over and help you relax, I bet you'd like it if….." He was interrupted before he could start describing what he wanted to do to her.

"No, I need time on my own. Thank you for the thought, but I'd rather be alone tonight." Helen rolled her eyes, the one thing about their relationship he hadn't lost interest in was sex and she couldn't seem to get him to understand that she wanted so much more than that.

"I'll just nip out for a few pints and a curry with the lads then. Will I see you tomorrow?" He sounded chirpy about the prospect, leading Helen to correctly assume he would rather have gone out with the lads anyway.

"I'm not sure, let's just see how it goes ok?" Helen rubbed her forehead as she felt a headache threatening; she was surprised she didn't already have one.

"Yeah ok, bye Helen."

"Bye Andy." She noticed he didn't end his call with an 'I love you' like he normally did but she wasn't in the mood to be bothered.

She leaned back in her chair and wondered what to do next. They had done all they could do for the moment on the smuggling case and she was at a loose end. She hit on an idea, Tony didn't seem to be busy either and she knew he and Nikki were close. She decided to take Tony for a coffee and get some information on her; it seemed to be the only way she could think of to start getting to the root of the problem between them.

Nikki sat opposite Yvonne in the Black Horse Pub just across from the station, and listened intently as she spoke.

"So that's basically it. Dougan's dead, Parry took over and now we have this mystery man who's chucking his readies about. This case has just turned into a major investigation, and I can see a lot of shit flying about." Yvonne took a sip of her drink and watched Nikki's face drain of all colour.

"You're not wrong there. Oh god what have I done?" Nikki put her head in her hands and took a deep breath.

"What's the matter?" Yvonne was concerned; she hadn't seen Nikki look like this in a long time.

"I've just gone and shot myself in the foot, that's what's the matter." Nikki looked up and Yvonne saw the look of fear in her eyes, "I'm in for one hell of a bollocking if I'm lucky."

"Why? What have you done?" Yvonne gave her the sort of look her mother had when she was young and had done something naughty.

"The DCI won't be happy about this, she and I don't exactly get on and I deliberately didn't bring her here." Nikki knew Yvonne would be disappointed in her but not as much as she was in herself.

"Why did you go and do something like that?" Yvonne's eyebrows shot up.

"I was sick of her getting on my case, so I figured if I had something to tell her then maybe she would lay off, maybe she would start taking notice of me for the right reasons."

"What if you aren't lucky?" Yvonne held off from saying anything else for the moment.

"Then I've lost my place on the team, she threatened to get me kicked off if I didn't sort myself out,"

"You better tell me what the hell's been going on."

Nikki recounted the day's events as Yvonne shook her head and looked thoroughly disgusted with her. When Nikki had finished, she was silent for a few moments and then began to speak.

"You're a bloody Idiot Nikki! Why are you so hard on her? What's she ever done to you?"

"She took my job, and that kicked me off for starters. Then I just got really annoyed with her, it pissed me off the way she came in and tried to take control. I felt as if I'd lost everything." Nikki shrugged her shoulders.

"Taking control is part of her job! If you somehow feel that getting on with her is being disloyal to me then you can kick that idea into touch right now. I don't expect you to mourn my retirement forever, things change and people move on. We're still friends and we're still going to see each other but we don't work together anymore and you've got to get used to it. Stop being so horrible, it doesn't suit you and it certainly won't do you any favours. Go back to the station, tell her what's happened and take what's coming. With any luck, she'll calm down and forgive you. She sounds to be pretty reasonable by all accounts, she has more patience than I do, I'd have kicked you off the team after about ten minutes," Yvonne's voice was stern.

"I know I've been a total arsehole, and I feel guilty for not supporting her. You know the funny thing is, I actually feel sorry for her, she's got no confidence in herself and she looks terrified. I should have helped her, I should have made her feel welcome instead of making her feel like she was on her own." Nikki had finally realised how awful she had been to Helen.

"That sounds like the real Nikki talking." Yvonne lit another cigarette, "Tell me, is she attractive?"

"Don't you sodding well start! I do not fancy Helen Stewart!" Nikki was on her high horse again.

"I'm just curious." Yvonne had the feeling that Nikki did find her attractive but probably hadn't realised it yet and it was all part of the inner struggle she found herself caught up in. "So is she attractive?"

"You're curious about whether she is attractive? Is there something you aren't telling me Yvonne?" Nikki stopped smiling when she realised Yvonne was still annoyed with her, "yes I suppose she is but she's straight and even if she wasn't then I'm not interested." Nikki had vowed never to look at another woman in a romantic way after what had happened to her in her last relationship.

"Ok, I'm just trying to make conversation, don't spit your dummy out." Yvonne shook her head, "Now, piss off back to the station, you need to know if you still have a job or not." Yvonne watched as several different emotions crossed Nikki's face and despite herself, she felt sorry for her.

Helen sat in the canteen with Tony, and they were having quite a friendly chat. He didn't appear to be anywhere near as unfriendly as Nikki and she felt they would get on well with each other. He had apologised for Nikki's behaviour several times and tried to fill Helen in on the type of person she really was. Helen had been amazed to find out that Nikki sounded quite sweet, but had trouble reconciling it with the image of the woman that she knew so far.

"Nikki is normally never like this; even I'm having a hard time in putting up with her at the moment. She's been moody since she found out she wasn't going to get the job of DCI and since you've shown up it's been worse."

"I don't know what I've done wrong for her to be so hostile towards me. Had she not provoked me then we would have gotten along fine, because apart from her attitude I don't have a problem with her." Helen sat resting her chin on her hand, as she received sympathetic looks from Tony.

"I think it's disappointment coupled with missing Yvonne that's making her behave this way. They are very close, Nikki looks up to her and always has done, and I think the change has knocked her for six. I wouldn't take it personally, it would have happened to whoever took over from Yvonne. If Nikki thinks she is being hard done to then she'll become incredibly difficult, it's just the way she is but normally she is a very warm and caring person." Tony felt the need to defend Nikki even though he knew how badly she was behaving.

"Do you think she'll ever come round?" Helen drained the last of her coffee.

"As soon as she realises the way she is behaving, it should shock her into apologising to you and then things should right themselves. If not, I'll try talking to her again and if all else fails then we'll call Yvonne in. Nikki worships the ground she walks on and if Yvonne can't put her straight then nobody can." Tony stood up and picked up his coffee cup, Helen followed suit.

"Thanks for the chat Tony, I really appreciate it. I was beginning to feel like a leper."

"That won't last either; the team will eventually come round, when Nikki does at least."

"Ah so I've only got a few hundred years to wait then?" Helen chuckled softly.

"I wouldn't say that long, maybe a few decades at most." He smiled as he held the door of the canteen open for her, and they made their way back upstairs to the incident room.

Helen was in her office tapping away on her computer out of boredom when she heard a tap on her office door.

"Come in." She looked up to see Nikki enter and inwardly groaned. She couldn't handle another fight today, "If you've come in here to have another go at me…." Helen didn't bother finishing her sentence.

"No I haven't, actually I needed to talk to you and I wondered if you could spare me a minute?" Nikki did her utmost to appear friendly but noticed the less than welcoming look on Helen's face, and frankly she couldn't blame her.

"Yes, of course I can. Sit down." Helen gestured to a chair and smelt a rat. Why the sudden change in her?

"Thanks." Nikki knew she had to tell her about her conversation with Yvonne but couldn't bring herself to do so. She felt genuinely afraid of losing her job and she needed more time, "I er."

"Go on." Helen laced her fingers on top of her desk and waited.

"I feel I should apologise for my behaviour, I was rude, I was childish and I was wrong." Deep down, Nikki had felt guilty about how she had been treating Helen from the word go.

"Yes you were. I'm not asking for miracles here, I just want us to be able to work together instead of fighting each other every step of the way. Like I said, so long as you do what is required of you then I won't have cause to complain. Just treat me with a little bit of respect, I'm not asking for much."

"You already have my respect, anybody who can come in here and survive a day of putting up with me, deserves a medal. I can't tell you how truly sorry I am, and although it doesn't justify my behaviour, I felt at a loss when DCI Atkins left and I took it out on you. Please don't take it personally, it was never meant that way, and if it's any consolation, I feel thoroughly ashamed of myself. Perhaps we could try and put this behind us and start again?"

"Yes, I'm sure we can do that. Thanks for taking the time to come and see me, I appreciate your apology," Helen was stunned; she hadn't expected this at all. She gave Nikki a polite smile.

"It's the least I can do after how I've behaved. How about I take you out for a drink after work? It will give us a chance to have a chat and get to know each other properly."

"Ok, I'd like that." Helen reached out to shake Nikki's hand and this time she took it. Helen found she was actually looking forward to it.

"Me too, see you later." Nikki left the office with a sinking feeling, once Helen found out that she was keeping things from her, there would be hell to pay. She didn't want to get on the wrong side of her again, now that they were just beginning to sort things out.

When the shift had finished, Nikki waited by her desk for Helen to come out of her office. She was feeling very nervous, and didn't know how much longer she could continue to keep secrets from her. Nikki was usually a very honest person and she wasn't sure where her head had been for the last few days. Not only was she afraid of losing her place on the team, but now she was afraid of upsetting Helen. She knew how vulnerable she was, and she could see that she was pretty stressed out; this would only make things worse. Nikki felt like the biggest coward on two legs, and was unsure of whether she should tell her now instead of leaving it any longer.

Nikki rolled her eyes as Andy Lockyer swaggered into the incident room, she hated being anywhere near the bloke. At times he could be cocky, arrogant and downright horrible to people. This made her blush, as she realised she had been behaving that way herself of late. Andy saw her blushing and mistook it as a sign of something else.

"Thinking about me were you? No wonder you're blushing." He winked at her suggestively.

"No, the only time I think of you is when I'm feeling nauseous, and I actually think you might be the cause."

"You think you're really clever don't you? Bloody dyke." He sneered at her.

"I hope you didn't say what I thought you just said," it wasn't Nikki but Helen who was speaking.

"Hiya." He knew he'd been caught and had the grace to look ashamed of himself.

"If I ever hear you describing Nikki in that way again then there'll be trouble." Helen was plainly pissed off and Nikki was quite surprised.

"I was only having a bit of a joke with her, it was nothing personal." Andy shrugged his shoulders.

"Like I said, if I hear you use that word again then I'll report you to your DCI, nothing personal." Helen shot a look at him, she hated the way he was rude to people.

"I'll get off down the pub. You can catch up with me when you're done." Nikki nodded to Helen.

"I'll be there in about ten minutes." Helen watched as Nikki left and then turned to Andy, "do you have to make such derogatory comments to people?"

"She's been giving you hell all day, why do you care?" Andy perched on the corner of Nikki's desk and folded his arms.

"She's already apologised to me for that and I think she deserves a second chance. And even if that wasn't the case then she doesn't deserve to be called names because of her sexual preference, it's not fair and it's extremely uncalled for."

"Oh give me a break, she's a bitch and she deserves it. You wouldn't really report me would you?" he smiled and reached for Helen.

"Have you ever known me to say something to you with such conviction and not follow it through?" Helen pushed him away.

"Ok point taken. I'm sorry and I shouldn't have said it. Are you off down the pub with her?"

"Yes, she asked me to go for a drink so that we could talk."

"But you said you wanted to be alone tonight." Andy stood up and put his hands on his hips.

"I do, after I've had a chat with Nikki then I'm going home. We need to talk because we have to get things sorted; I can't work with her otherwise."

"You can spend time with a raving dyke but not me?" Andy sounded like a petulant child.

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that. Just go out with your mates, we need some time apart, if we don't then we'll only end up fighting and I don't have the energy." Helen put her leather jacket on and picked up her bag.

"Oh do what you want." Andy stormed off.

Helen sighed and turned out the lights in the incident room, things were getting worse between them and she wasn't sure how much more she could stand. Why did he always make her feel as if she was the one causing all the problems? She'd been nothing but supportive of him and yet he couldn't be bothered to return the favour. She didn't have a lot of experience with relationships, but so far the few that she'd had had all been basically the same. She wondered if she would ever find anybody who could give her what she needed.

Helen entered the pub five minutes later, it was smoky and noisy and full of officers who were having a quick pint before heading off home for the night. She found Nikki sitting in a corner smoking a cigarette and sipping from a pint.

"I got you a pint, I wasn't sure what you drank but I took a guess." Nikki smiled up at her.

"You were spot on, a pint is fine thanks." Helen took her coat off and rummaged about in her handbag for a pack of cigarettes that she kept in there for emergencies.

"Here, have one of mine." Nikki offered the pack and Helen gratefully accepted.

"Thanks. I shouldn't but I think I need one." Helen cupped her hands around Nikki's as she lit her cigarette and felt a slight tingling that she tried to ignore.

"Let me guess, an ex-smoker who still indulges occasionally?"

"More than occasionally, in fact I'm thinking of taking it up again full time. Do you drink in here often?" Helen took a look around the pub; it was quite cosy with old fashioned wallpaper and prints of sepia photographs from the early 1900's. There was a fireplace not too far away from them which gave off a great deal of warmth, and added to the overall comfortable atmosphere.

"I pop in here now and again, I'm not much of a drinker but I like a pint or two. Did I get you in to trouble with Andy?" Nikki tapped an ash and took another sip of her pint.

"No, we had a slight disagreement and I wouldn't worry about it. So tell me a little about yourself." Helen was eager to find out what the real Nikki was like.

"Not much to tell really. I came out when I was sixteen, my parents were really good, they accepted it and I was lucky I didn't end up like a lot of people I know. I left school and I drifted for a while, I got sick of all the dead end jobs so I joined the force when I was 18 and I've not looked back since. That was 12 years ago and I'm happy with what I've achieved. What about you?" Nikki didn't want to say too much, it would only drag up the past.

"I went to Uni and got a psychology degree, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do at first but then I was offered a place in a psychiatric unit of a hospital and I took it but it wasn't really what I wanted to do. I hit 25 and knew I needed a change, soon after I met up with an old friend from Uni who had joined the police on the graduate fast track scheme and he persuaded me that it was something I should seriously look into. I did and here I am." Helen never usually felt comfortable talking about herself but she didn't mind telling Nikki and wondered why that was.

"So have you got your big day planned out then?" Nikki took another sip of her pint and stubbed her cigarette out.

"Andy keeps mentioning it but it's a long way off. I want to get my career sorted out first, and he knows that even though he keeps dropping the hint. What about you? Have you got somebody special?" Helen doubted she would ever marry him, if they couldn't get on with each other now, then there would be no point in taking things a step further.

"I'm single and I like it that way." Nikki was only half telling the truth, she wanted a relationship with somebody but it scared her to death, "being a copper can be a bit of a strain on relationships, what with all the shift work and things."

"Yeah that's why I'm lucky Andy is in the force too, he knows the pressures of work and is pretty understanding in that respect." Helen refrained from saying it was the only thing he was understanding of.

"You know what I said earlier this morning about you being out of your depth?" Nikki watched Helen nod, "Well, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything, it was unfair of me to mention it. If you are ever unsure about something or you need anything then don't hesitate to ask. I'll be more than happy to help and I promise not to hold it against you," Nikki had meant to apologise about it before but she'd been so nervous that it had slipped her mind.

"I think we should put it all behind us now. We both said things we shouldn't have and it's all in the past. Thanks for your offer of help, I'll be sure to remember." Helen gave her a warm smile; she was beginning to see what Tony was talking about.

"I'm going to get myself a coke, would you like one?" Nikki stood up.

"Let me get them." Helen stood up too.

"Sit down and relax, I'll get them. You can get them in next time." Nikki gave her a smile and then wandered off to the bar. She couldn't bring herself to tell Helen now, the poor woman looked absolutely worn out.

Helen thought how strange it was that that morning they had fought like cat and dog and here they were now having a grown up conversation. She thought that if they had met under different circumstances then they would probably have hit it off straight away, she was genuinely beginning to like her now but at the back of her mind, she had to wonder how long it would last. She decided to accept things for the way they were and rationalised she may as well enjoy the time they were spending together because that morning it had looked extremely unlikely they would ever be friends.

Nikki waited at the bar to be served; she had to admit Helen was nowhere near as bad as she had imagined her to be. Had she met her in another place then she knew she would have liked her straightaway, and she had to admit that Tony was right, Helen was gorgeous although she wasn't looking at her in a romantic way. She couldn't afford to, one badly broken heart was enough to be going on with and she didn't need any more complications.

Three hours later, they were still sitting in the pub, and showed no signs of moving. They'd swapped stories about their job and their lives in general, and were both quite pleased that conversation seemed to come easily for them. Nikki had managed to put the smuggling case to the back of her mind for the moment and concentrated on building bridges with Helen. But it continued to worry her that everything they had managed to build up so far would probably be ruined when she eventually told Helen.

An hour later, Helen noticed the time and told Nikki she had to be getting home, although she wished she could sit and talk to her all night. By now it felt like they were old friends, which was an entirely new feeling for Helen, she had never bonded with somebody so quickly, and especially not a person whom a few short hours ago she couldn't stand the sight of.

"I'll walk you to your car." Nikki stood up and helped Helen on with her leather jacket.

"You don't have to do that."

"I know, but I want to." She held her arm out for Helen and then escorted her from the pub, "oh lovely, it's pissing down." Nikki wrapped her coat further around her.

"It's only a bit of rain, you won't melt. You English are wimps when it comes to the weather." Helen giggled as she was dragged across the road by Nikki.

"You can't tell me you like the rain, it's bloody awful."

"It's not that bad. I've always loved the rain; I think there is something romantic about it. If you think this is bad then you want to try getting out and about in gale force winds when the snow is up to your arse, now that's weather you complain about."

"You get that much snow up there?" Nikki loved snow; she just couldn't stand the rain.

"We can do yeah. It's nice getting up in the morning when it's been snowing all night, it makes everything look so beautiful."

"I can imagine it would. I'll see you tomorrow then, have a good night." They had arrived at Helen's car.

"You too, and thanks for tonight, I enjoyed myself." Helen unlocked her car and then got in.

"Me too, drive carefully." Nikki reached in through the open window and gave Helen's shoulder a quick squeeze.

"Night Nikki." Helen flashed her a lovely smile.

"Night Boss." Nikki waved and watched as Helen's taillights disappeared down the road.

She looked up at the sky and then at her car, she shrugged and began to walk home, thinking Helen was right, the rain wasn't that bad. She heard a car horn behind her and turned around; it was DC Mark Waddle with his girlfriend Gina Rossi.

"Hiya Nikki, is your car not working?" Mark was ready to lend a hand in fixing it.

"The car's fine, I don't live far and I fancied walking home."

"In the rain? You hate the rain." Gina looked at her as if she had lost her marbles.

"Its not that bad, I think I quite like the rain now." She smiled, thinking of Helen's words.

"We'll see you tomorrow then." Mark and Gina said goodnight and drove away.

Despite the feeling of uneasiness deep in her soul, Nikki smiled. The rain wasn't that bad at all.


Chapter 5

By Friday morning Nikki and Helen were well on their way to being close friends. There hadn't been a single cross word between them and Helen was finding Nikki's help invaluable as she tried to settle in to her role of DCI. They had enjoyed their trip to the pub on Monday night, so much so that they had repeated it on Tuesday and Wednesday. But much to Helen's dismay, she had to stay home on Thursday night because Andy had been complaining that he hadn't seen her all week. She knew he couldn't have missed her that much because she had spent much of the evening staring at the wall daydreaming whilst he watched football.

Nikki on the other hand had treated herself to a trip to the hairdressers, feeling like a new haircut would cheer her up a bit. It had grown quite long since she'd last had it cut and it was now shorter and spiked on the top. She knew it was time she got back in to the swing of things, her life wasn't quite turning out as planned but it wasn't bad and she was pleased she was getting on with Helen.

She had made her mind up that she would tell Helen everything after they had attended the post mortem. She seemed to be in a good mood, things were going fine and Nikki wanted to keep it that way for as long as she could. She started the engine, and put her seatbelt on just as Helen climbed in.

"I like your hair." Helen remarked as she put her seatbelt on.

"Thanks. Thought it was about time I got it cut."

"It's nice, it really suits you. So what else did you get up to last night?" Helen wondered if Nikki had had a better evening than she did.

"Oh you know, the usual. Takeaway, few cans of lager and a few pages of my book before bedtime. You?"

"Virtually the same." Helen didn't want to mention Andy for some reason, and she wasn't sure why because she knew Nikki was aware that they were in a relationship.

At 9:45am, Nikki parked behind the back of the pathologists building in the grounds of Oakley Hospital. She and Helen climbed out and walked through the door in to reception.

"Good morning, DCI Stewart and DI Wade here to see Dr Betts." Helen flashed her ID at the receptionist.

"Do you have an appointment?" The woman pulled a face and looked down at the book without waiting for an answer.

"Mrs. Hollamby, you know very well we are expected here for a postmortem this morning. We haven't got a lot of time so could you please call through to Dr Betts and let her know we are here?" Nikki spoke politely, she didn't like the woman but couldn't be bothered getting into a disagreement with her.

"I'll call through but I'm not promising anything, Dr Betts may be too busy. Take a seat." Hollamby sniffed and pointed to a couple of plastic chairs.

Helen and Nikki did as they were told and sat down together facing reception. Sylvia Hollamby turned her back on them as she got on the phone.

"Have you ever met old Bodybag before?" Nikki whispered conspiratorially to Helen.

"Bodybag?" Helen was incredulous.

"Yep, quite an apt name for her I thought, especially given her workplace." Nikki chuckled. She was in a good mood despite being awake half the night worrying how Helen was going to react to what she had to tell her.

"This is the first time I've ever met her, but to be honest I haven't been down here very often. I tried to keep away as much as I could, it takes me days to get over the things I see in here." Helen didn't mind admitting the mortuary wasn't her favourite place.

"I don't like it down here either but I try not to let it get to me, that's not to say that it doesn't but I've learnt to handle it over the years." Nikki was glad she had come with Helen, she didn't want her in a place like this on her own.

The room was painted a sickly shade of green, institutional green may have been a better way to explain it. The chairs weren't comfortable and neither were the surroundings but then again this room hadn't been designed with comfort in mind. It was a place people should never have to visit but unfortunately some poor souls were destined to do so.

As Nikki and Helen talked quietly an elderly couple came in, escorted by an officer Helen recognised as coming from Hutton Road police station, they nodded to each other and then the officer approached the reception desk to talk to Sylvia. She got on the phone and a minute later, a mortuary assistant came through a set of double doors at the end of the hall and motioned for them to follow him.

"That's something you never get used to seeing." Nikki remarked as she watched the doors swing shut after the couple, she knew they were there to identify a body.

"I've told plenty of families their loved ones were dead and I can only imagine how hard it is to have to come down here to identify them." As Helen finished her sentence the elderly couple came back out.

"That's one part of my job that I positively detest, it's not an easy thing do have to do and like you, I couldn't imagine what it would be like to have to identify somebody you love." Nikki knew where Helen was coming from.

The couple came back through the double doors, the woman was crying into a handkerchief and the old man, who was crying himself, helped support her along with the officer who had escorted them in. Both Helen and Nikki felt a lump in their throats.

"Dr Betts will see you now." Bodybag called out across the room, she seemed unaffected by the old couple and from what Nikki knew of her, it didn't surprise her.

Nikki nodded and stood up, whilst Helen followed her. She felt a tightening in her stomach and willed her breathing to remain normal; she hated this part of her job and was secretly glad she had Nikki with her.

Tony entered the incident room with an armful of files as his phone rang, he placed the files on his desk and then tutted in annoyance when they slid on to the floor, he left them and picked up the phone.

"DS Dockley."

"It's me." Shell sounded excited on the other end of the phone, "You'll never guess what."

"What's the matter?"

"I'm pregnant!" Shell was jumping for joy on the other end of the phone, "I felt different somehow this time and I didn't believe the pregnancy test should have been negative so I went to see the doctor, and I'm pregnant Tony, I can't believe it."

"Oh sweetheart! That's fantastic news." Tony felt tears running down his face, "just wait till I tell Nikki, she'll be made up."

"I know, sometimes I think there are three of us in this marriage." Shell chuckled at the other end of the line, "listen love, I better go, we can talk about it tonight."

"Ok, see you later and take it easy ok?"

"I will, bye daddy!"

"Bye sweetheart." Tony put the phone down and wiped his eyes, he couldn't stop smiling.

He was just about to call his parents and tell them the good news when the phone rang again.

"What now?" he snatched the phone up, "hello?"

"Tony, it's Yvonne."

"Hiya boss, you'll never guess what I've just been told."

"Please tell me it's not about Nikki." Yvonne wished it wasn't, she didn't know what kind of trouble she was in and hadn't been able to get hold of her because her phone was off.

"Why would it be about Nikki?" Tony wondered what was going on.

"No reason." Yvonne changed the subject, "so what's this you've been told then?"

"I'm going to be a dad, Shell's pregnant." Tony's tears started again.

"Oh love! I'm really pleased for ya, tell Shell I'm over the moon." Yvonne was smiling stupidly on the other end of the phone.

"I will, thanks boss. So spill, what's all this about Nikki?"

"Has anything happened? With her and the new DCI?"

"Not that I know of. She apologised for acting like a pillock and they seem to be ok now. Why? Should something have happened?"

"There wasn't a big bust up of any kind?"

"No, look if something is going on, I would like to know about it." Tony was getting anxious; he wondered what was going on with Nikki.

"Look don't worry about it, it's either ok now or…..oh god I hope she told her, I hope she hasn't been hanging on to this all bloody week." Yvonne had the sinking suspicion Nikki hadn't said anything yet. In the couple of times she had spoken to her since Monday, she had given no indication that anything was wrong and Yvonne had assumed things were ok.

"Told her what? For god sake Yvonne tell me!" Tony started pacing as much as he was able to, without pulling the phone off of his desk.

"Meet me in the pub, I can't tell you something like this over the phone."

Karen greeted both women as they entered the autopsy room, and waved them both over to a long steel table that was being readied for the body. They were wearing surgical gowns, footwear protective booties and face masks. Helen had giggled when she saw Nikki in her gown, it was meant for a much shorter person and it ended just above her knees, whilst Helen's flapped around her ankles.

The room was some forty feet in length and about half that in width. Steel tables were situated at regular intervals and there were sinks at the head of them. The floor and walls were tiled for easy cleaning, and it made the room look cold and clinical, which of course it was. There were other autopsies in progress and Helen tried not to look at the occupants of the tables, knowing it would haunt her dreams.

Nikki instinctively knew that Helen felt like running from the room and gently gripped her elbow, for which Helen was grateful. They stopped at the far end of the room where Karen was waiting for them.

"Morning girls! How are we today?" Karen was cheerful as ever, and Nikki could never figure out why things didn't seem to get to her.

"Morning Karen." Helen smiled cheerfully, although she didn't feel that way.

"Morning." Nikki smiled, "tell me Karen, doesn't any of this ever get to you? Every time I see you, you've got a smile on your face."

"It does get to me but I don't dwell on it, if I did, I'd be a basket case. You're cheerful this morning," Karen noticed the way Nikki held on to Helen and guessed that they must have sorted out their differences.

"Lets just say I've been acting like a prat recently and I owe several people an apology, including you," Nikki shrugged and smiled, she figured seeing how she was going to tell Helen her secret later on that she may as well enjoy her last morning on earth.

"Oh that's alright; I like em mean and moody!" Karen giggled as she waited for her assistant to bring the body from the refrigeration room.

"Aren't I somewhat girly for you? What with you being straight and all." Nikki giggled, and Helen was glad of the distraction, the banter between Nikki and Karen was taking her mind off what lay on the table behind her.

"I wouldn't say that, in fact, they say you have to try everything at least once in your life don't they?"

"Karen, I didn't know you cared." Nikki smiled and gave Helen a quick squeeze where she held her arm, just to let her know she was still there for her.

"Ah but could you handle me?"

"I'm sorry to say I probably couldn't, I don't think I'm strong enough." Nikki held her hand to hear heart, "I've seen you in action remember?"

"Don't you believe it Karen, to be honest I think she could handle an army of women, although her conversational technique sometimes leaves much to be desired." Helen joined in.

"What's wrong with my conversational technique?" Nikki looked down at Helen.

"What's right with it?" Helen snorted.

"I'm cut to the quick! Am I really that bad?" Nikki kept the banter going.

"You definitely need to work on it, probably like a lot of your other techniques." Helen winked over at Karen who was laughing at the look on Nikki's face.

"Oh I wouldn't say that, I've been told at least one of my techniques is spot on." Nikki realised what she had said and began to blush.

"So you reckon you could have any woman you wanted do you?" Helen folded her arms and waited for Nikki's response, enjoying her blushes. Nikki decided to give as good as she got.

"Well put it this way, I've never met a woman yet who didn't come to fall for my charms eventually." Nikki ran a hand through her hair and straightened her suit jacket.

"You're very sure of yourself." Helen couldn't help laughing.

"That's because I'm very sure of my charms. I could click my fingers and have any woman fall at my feet," Nikki smiled to let Helen know she was only joking.

"Yeah yeah, and then you woke up and ate your cornflakes." Helen remarked dryly.

Nikki burst out laughing, it was a warm, infectious laugh, and Helen was struck by just how much she liked this 'new' Nikki.

"I'll give you that one ma'am!" Nikki used the much hated word.

"Yeah and I'll give you one in a minute!" Helen clenched her fist as if to punch her.

"Give me one? Oooohhh ma'am, I love it when you talk dirty." Nikki giggled as Karen watched them with interest, if she wasn't much mistaken then these two were going to be very good friends.

"Be nice to me and maybe I'll do it more often." Helen winked at her and wasn't phased in the slightest. Nikki on the other hand felt herself grow hot as she blushed.

The body was wheeled in and it put a stop to any more banter as they became focused on what was about to happen. Karen explained what she was doing as she began to examine the body.

"I can't see any trace evidence that doesn't appear to be from the skip and it's a distinct possibility that the body was kept wrapped up until they came to dump it. My guess is that it would have been wrapped in plastic since I see no fibres indicating any other type of material." Karen had almost finished her external examination and was ready to start examining the internal parts.

Helen had to close her eyes once or twice as Karen lifted several gruesome looking parts from the body and examined them. She took samples of the organs that weren't in too bad of a condition. Karen then labeled them and would send them upstairs to the labs for testing. She eventually moved on to the skull where her assistant was just about to saw the skull cap off for examination of the brain.

"Ready Dr Betts?" the assistant waited for confirmation.

"Yes Charlotte, you can begin."

There was a loud whining noise as the saw started up and began to cut through the bone. Helen felt her knees go weak and thought she had rather a better view of what was going on than she wanted to.

"Just as I thought it would be, the brains are liquefied but it should still be good for testing. Ah look, here's our bullet." Karen reached in with a pair of tweezers and held the bullet up, "we can send that off to ballistics and see if anything comes up on the computer."

Helen started to feel dizzy and her legs wouldn't hold her, she'd seen far too much and her vision blurred just as she was about to pass out. Nikki grabbed her as soon as she saw her start to stumble.

"It's ok sweetheart, I've got you," she put her arms around Helen and didn't seem to notice she had used a term of endearment.

"Nikki, take her to my office and put her on the couch. She needs to lie down for a while." Karen had never seen Helen like that before; she knew she didn't like autopsies but it had never made her want to pass out before.

"I can't move my bloody legs, they're like jelly." Helen clung on to Nikki and then passed out.

"Don't worry, I've got you." But Nikki was already talking to herself as she picked Helen up in her arms in one swift movement and walked briskly to the door as if she were carrying a child.

Tony had met up with Yvonne in the pub across the road from the station half an hour previously and was shocked when he heard the tale. He wondered what the hell Nikki was playing at; if she wanted to lose her job then she was going the right way about it.

"I'm certain she hasn't told Helen now, because I'm pretty sure she would have gone through the roof. I can't figure out why she left it so long." Tony took a sip of his orange juice.

"I don't know either, because she hasn't done herself any favours. If she had told her straightaway then maybe it would have been ok but she's known all week. Maybe I should go and see DCI Stewart, tell her that I've got information for her and maybe we can drag Nikki out of the shit that way." Yvonne crossed her legs and leaned back in her chair.

"You can't sort this for her, she has to sort it out herself, she's a grown woman who needs to take responsibility for her actions. I can't really see any way out of this without lying for her and I know she wouldn't want that. I just don't know what to do." Tony sighed, how did Nikki get herself in so deep?

"The only other thing we can do is be there when she tells her. Maybe we can calm the DCI down a bit and keep things in perspective."

"Even if we keep things in perspective then the roof will still blow off, Nikki has really done it this time."

"Drink up; we should wait for them back at the station. The sooner we get Nikki to spill the beans, the sooner we know what the damage will be." Yvonne gathered her belongings and downed the rest of her drink, as Tony did the same. They both headed back to the station with heavy hearts.

Helen came to and the first thing she saw was Nikki's worried face looking down at her. Nikki had hold of her hand and was stroking the back of it with her thumb. Helen gripped her hand tightly as another wave of nausea passed over her.

"How are you feeling?" Nikki asked softly.

"I still feel a bit sick but I think I'm ok. I should sit up." Helen went to get up but Nikki pushed her back down.

"Just lay still for a minute sweetheart, you need to rest." This time Nikki knew she had used the word.

"I feel like such an idiot for passing out, I don't know what the hell is wrong with me."

"Shhh, don't worry about it, you couldn't help it." Nikki reached down and put a hand on Helen's forehead, "You feel a bit hot, just lay back while I get you a drink of water, I'll be back soon."

"I'm ok really." Helen was grateful for Nikki's attention.

"I'll be back soon, don't move." Nikki wasn't convinced but she knew Karen wouldn't let Helen out of there until she had checked her over.

Helen closed her eyes and rested back on the couch when Nikki had gone. Her mind drifted and she thought how nice it was to have Nikki there taking care of her, she had felt safe and protected while she had been holding her hand. She had liked the way that Nikki had called her sweetheart, it had made her feel warm inside and cared about for a change. Her thoughts drifted still further, in to places she ordinarily wouldn't have thought it was wise to go but she could still feel Nikki's hand in her own and the tingling sensation it had caused.

She decided to sit up, but her legs refused to co-operate, they felt as if they were made of lead. She had gotten in to a sitting position by the time Nikki came in carrying a glass of water.

"I told you not to move." She shook her head at Helen's stubbornness, "There you go, sip it slowly." Nikki handed the glass to Helen and squatted in front of her.

"Thanks Nikki, I'm sorry about this." Helen took a sip of water and then closed her eyes.

"I told you, there is nothing to be sorry for. You can't help it." Nikki realised her hand was on Helen's knee and she quickly removed it.

"I've just been feeling a bit funny lately, that's all. I'm not sleeping properly, and I've been feeling a bit off colour, this isn't the best place to be when you're not feeling a hundred percent. It's probably just tiredness." Helen sat further back and closed her eyes.

"Are you sure that's all it is?" Nikki got up and sat beside her.

"Yes I'm sure. I'm fine now honestly." Helen smiled and placed her glass down on the coffee table, "we should probably get going now."

"Not on your life, not till I've checked you over." Karen stood in the doorway to her office with her arms folded and Helen groaned, "come on, let me look at you, you're the first living patient I've been able to get my hands on in years." Karen advanced towards her with a mock evil look on her face.

"Be gentle with her." Nikki was laughing at the look on Helen's face, she looked horrified.

"Yeah be gentle with me, and please, no scalpels. I came in with a full set of internal organs and I would like to leave in the same condition." Helen resigned herself to being checked over by Karen and laid back down as Nikki promised her she would be right outside the door.

Yvonne was pacing the room, and continually mumbling to herself as she passed back and forth behind Nikki's desk. She thought they would have been back ages ago and was getting more anxious with each passing minute. Tony poured her a cup of coffee and handed it to her with a sympathetic look, he knew how she felt, he was worried too.

"I'm sure they'll be back soon, try not to worry."

"I can't help it. Eurgh! This bloody coffee hasn't improved." Yvonne pulled a face and put the cup down.

"You've probably forgotten how bad it tastes in nearly the two weeks you've been gone." Tony smiled and put his own cup down, thinking he would be better off if he didn't drink it either.

"It tastes like it's been sitting here all that time as well." Yvonne looked up as Nikki and Helen came in to the room, "Nikki, you're back at last."

"Hiya. Yvonne, this is DCI Helen Stewart. Helen, this is Yvonne Atkins." Nikki made the introductions.

"Nice to meet you love." Yvonne shook Helen's hand warmly.

"It's a pleasure to meet you too, I've heard a lot about you." Helen was surprised, Yvonne wasn't what she expected. She didn't look anywhere near as scary as she had imagined her to be.

"How are you settling in then?"

"It's not too bad, my first day took a bit of getting used to but I'm doing fine now." Helen didn't make any mention of the fact that Nikki had been to blame.

"I'm not surprised working with these animals!" Yvonne then pointed to Nikki, "how are you getting on with this pain in the neck?" she wanted to test the ground.

"Nikki and I get along just fine, in fact we've become good friends, haven't we Nikki?" Helen flashed a smile in Nikki's direction.

"We certainly have," she smiled at Helen and then looked at Yvonne, "I'll be with you in two minutes ok, Helen isn't feeling too well today so I'm just going to take her in to her office, please excuse us."

"It was nice to meet you Yvonne." Helen shook her hand again.

"Nice to meet you too love, I'm sure we'll see each other around."

"I hope so." Helen was then escorted towards her office by Nikki, "I'm not a bloody invalid you know Wade," there was a smile in Helen's voice.

"Part of my job as DI is to assist the DCI and to be frank, at your age, you need help." Nikki chuckled.

"Cheeky cow, we're the same age!" Helen opened the door to her office.

"Yeah but you look as if you've had a hard life." Nikki stuck her tongue out at her.

"You're walking on thin ice Nikki, I'll bust you back down to DS if I have to." Helen sat down and rubbed her hands over her face.

"I'll be back in with a cup of coffee for you in a short while. I'll go to the canteen for it; the stuff they make in here is awful."

"You don't have to do that." Helen was touched by Nikki's kindness.

"Don't argue, just rest, I'll be back soon." Nikki closed the door with a smile on her face and then remembered she still had something to tell Helen, and it had suddenly clicked why Yvonne was there. Nikki's heart dropped in to the pit of her stomach.

She walked back across the room as if she was taking the final few steps of her life, she knew it was all going to come crashing down around her ears soon and wished she hadn't let it get this far. She was no longer bothered about herself, she was concerned for Helen and she knew that despite her protestations that she was fine, she was still finding things difficult. Nikki knew that if she was kicked off the team, she would miss Helen even though she hadn't known her very long.

"You haven't told her have you? That's why you look sick." Yvonne looked at her as if she was mad.

"I had a very good reason for not telling her, and as stupid as it was, I think I made the right decision," Nikki didn't believe a word of what she was saying, she was sure she would have believed it earlier on in the week but not now.

"You don't believe that surely?" Tony echoed Nikki's thoughts.

"You've got to tell her and soon, that's why I'm here. Tony and I will go in with you." Yvonne didn't look in the mood to be argued with but that didn't stop Nikki from trying.

"No way, not today. She is under enough pressure as it is and if I tell her then it's going to make things worse. We've just come back from the postmortem on Dougan and she passed out. She's not sleeping properly and she is stressed out to the eyeballs, I don't want to make it worse." Nikki shook her head defiantly; she was concerned about Helen's well being.

"And whose fault is that?" Yvonne kept her voice low; she didn't want the entire team knowing.

"I know it's my bloody fault and I feel guilty about it. Helen isn't the only one who can't sleep; I lay awake for hours at night too. I know I caused all this and I'm sorry believe you me. And despite what you might think, I don't give a shit about what happens to me, I'm more worried about Helen."

"You've changed your tune." Tony couldn't help getting annoyed with her; he couldn't believe she had acted this way. He felt like telling her she should know better but refrained from doing so.

"You've still got to tell her, and it's got to be now. The quicker she knows then the quicker she can get this investigation on the go. You two seem to be getting on ok now and I'm sure she'll come round in the end." Yvonne tried to look on the bright side, but didn't think there was one.

"Come on then. You wanted me to tell her, so I might as well do it now." Nikki marched off across the room with a confidence she didn't feel.


Chapter 6

Helen had closed her eyes for five minutes and was slowly beginning to feel better, when a knock came at the door. She sat up, rubbed her eyes and then straightened her clothes.

"Come in." Helen smiled when she saw it was Nikki, but it turned to a look of puzzlement when Tony and Yvonne followed her in with grave looks on their faces.

"I need to talk to you." Nikki's heart was pounding.

"Sit down. So what's this all about?" Helen waited patiently as Nikki began.

Several heads shot up in the incident room when the sounds of somebody going postal in Helen's office drifted through. They heard a Scots accent get stronger by the vowel and correctly assumed Nikki was in for a right roasting.

"I can't bloody believe this! I can't believe you deliberately withheld this information from me!" Helen was pacing the office and Nikki grimaced, "I stupidly believed you when you said you were a professional, but this is the worst case of unprofessional behaviour I've ever seen. You deserve to have your arse kicked straight out of this team!"

"I'm really sorry Helen; I should have taken you with me. I messed up."

"Too bloody right you have and you've wasted far too much time. We could have had Parry in for questioning days ago, not to mention getting forensics in to see if there was any evidence. But it could be too bloody late now, because they've had time to get rid of it." Helen's expression was dangerous.

"I didn't tell you on Monday because I knew I'd cocked up and I needed more time, I was afraid of losing my job. And I've left it this long because we've been getting on so well, and I didn't want to put you through any more hassle. I did want to tell you today either, because you haven't been feeling well." Nikki was fidgeting around in her seat, wishing none of this had ever happened.

"It's a good job that those two forced you to then isn't it because I could have gone on forever not knowing the bloody truth!" Helen's accent was still getting stronger and they were having problems understanding her.

"I'm sure Nikki didn't mean any harm Helen, she just got herself in to a situation that she found hard to get out of. Settling into a new job isn't easy and I'm sure she didn't want to add to your stress." Yvonne spoke up for her, despite feeling she should be made to get on with it on her own.

"Maybe she didn't mean any harm but that's not the point. Despite her reasons she should have known better, the fact remains she had all week to tell me." Helen turned to Nikki, "you've been in the force a long time now and I thought you had more sense. They're smuggling guns in left right and centre and I wouldn't be surprised if it starts a bloody turf war! Am I that bad that you can't talk to me?"

"No, of course I can talk to you." Nikki sat up straight and looked Helen in the eye.

"Then what? Don't you respect me enough to think I warrant being told these things? Or have you still not gotten over resenting me yet?" Helen was upset; she had thought that she and Nikki were friends.

"You know that's not true. Jesus, nothing could be further from the truth. I know I've messed up and I'll take whatever's coming but you have to believe me that I didn't do any of this to hurt you." Nikki's eyes were pleading with Helen to understand.

"Right now I don't know what I believe Nikki. I warned you once before about what would happen if you didn't start behaving properly." Helen was so angry that she couldn't bear to look at her.

"You can do whatever you like to me, I deserve it but all I'm concerned about at the moment is you."

"Don't bother. All thought of me must have gone out of the window when you decided it was a good idea to carry on lying to me. Just get your stuff and go home, when I figure out what I'm going to do I'll let you know but until then stay away from me," she wasn't in the mood for forgiveness, Nikki had just betrayed her in one of the worst ways imaginable and it was all the more difficult to accept because Helen had come to care for her.

"Take it easy today; you still look a bit pale. I hope you feel better tomorrow. I'm sorry." Nikki quietly left the office, Yvonne had never seen her look quite so withdrawn and was worried about her.

Helen slumped down in to her chair and put her head in her hands as she tried to block everything out, she couldn't cope with what had just happened.

"Helen are you ok?" Yvonne walked over to her and laid a hand on her arm.

"No, but I don't feel like talking about it." Helen didn't know how to feel about things but she was certain she didn't want to talk about it.

"You're going to have to, you need to. Tony love, do me a favour and get us some coffees, once you're back we can start to sort this whole mess out." Yvonne was sorry any of this had happened in the first place.

Nikki walked forlornly to her car; she tugged her jacket off and rolled it up into a ball before throwing it on to the back seat in a sudden fit of temper. She couldn't believe how she had ruined things, and she couldn't blame Helen one little bit for treating her the way she had because she knew she deserved it. She gunned the engine and reversed in a wide arc, before screeching off up the road. Her thoughts were filled with Helen, and she wished she could go back to when they had first met and make it alright again, but she knew she couldn't do that and it hurt.

She didn't feel like going home, she couldn't sit there while the four walls closed in on her but she had nowhere else to go. She turned the CD player volume up high to try and drown out the noise of her thoughts but couldn't help wondering what to do next as she drove off in the direction of her flat. Trying to talk to Helen again was out of the question; Nikki was convinced she had burned her bridges as far as she was concerned. Yvonne would probably still be mad with her, as would Tony. Her parents would be at work and she didn't want them to know anyway, she knew they would never judge her but she loved them so much that she didn't want to disappoint them. She knew she was on her own this time and accepted it gracefully, because there really wasn't much she could do to rectify the situation.

Helen rubbed her temples, the headaches that she had been having were back with a vengeance. No matter how many times she pushed the ideas around in her head, she always came to the conclusion that Nikki had betrayed her. She was disappointed, angry and hurt, but mostly hurt because she had thought that she and Nikki were becoming close friends. She had trusted her and that trust had been ripped away in a split second when it became clear that Nikki had been lying to her. Helen was aware that Nikki had only really been guilty of omission but at the moment, it hurt just as much.

"What are you going to do?" Yvonne could see Helen was starting to calm down.

"I'm not going to sack her if that's what you mean. As for working with her then I'm not sure, I don't know if I can trust her."

"Of course you can, I know that sounds a bit rich considering what she's done but Nikki is one of the most trustworthy people I know. I know she treated you like dirt in the beginning…." Yvonne stopped mid-sentence when Helen butted in.

"How? Did she talk to you about it?"

"Yes she did as it happens. She told me that she was sorry about the way she treated you, she felt guilty for not supporting you."

"I can tell she is sorry but it doesn't excuse what she did. You have to look at it from my point of view. She promises to start behaving like a proper police officer, and then she goes and drops this on me." Helen dropped her eyes to her desk.

"Be honest Helen. It's not really to do with work is it?" Tony suddenly piped up, "It's because you care about her and you thought you could trust her. I've seen the two of you together; you've developed an incredibly close bond in the short space of time you've been working together. It feels more personal than anything else am I right?" He raised an eyebrow at her.

"Yes it does, even though it shouldn't feel like that because this is a serious work matter." Helen had known Tony was an astute observer of people, but she hadn't realised he had been watching them.

"Yeah but you classify Nikki as a friend, and the personal side of things is bothering you more. So what does that tell you?" Tony carried on and Yvonne gave him the thumbs up but made sure Helen couldn't see.

"It tells me that I would probably be willing to forgive her on a professional level." Helen could see what he was playing at.

"So." Yvonne jumped in again, "if you would be willing to forgive her on a professional level, then you can also forgive her on a personal one, seeing as how she was only trying to protect you. I know it's hard to come to terms with but you know deep down she never meant to hurt you in any way, she did what she thought was best. Nikki is a good copper, but sometimes she lets her heart rule her head, and this time it's gotten her into trouble. To be honest you need somebody like her on your team, I'm not trying to tell you what to do, I'm just giving you the benefit of my experience where Nikki is concerned." Yvonne had said all she had to say, she couldn't do anymore now, Helen had to be left to think things through.

"You two make a good team; I wonder how many criminals you've managed to trap with conversations like this?" Helen smiled, "I know what you're both trying to say but I just need a little more time to think things over. When I calm down I can think about the whole thing more clearly."

"Ok love, can't say fairer than that. You should get off home, you look awful." Yvonne stood up.

"I'll be ok, I've got a headache that's all, it will wear off soon." Helen rubbed her temples again.

"I've got some headache tablets in my desk drawer. I'll get you some water and bring them in to you." Tony straightened his tie and picked his coffee cup up.

"Thanks Tony, you're fantastic."

"So the Mrs. keeps telling me!" Tony winked at her and smiled.

Later on that evening, Helen had been attempting to go over some paperwork when Andy had turned up with beer and a takeaway. It had been a mostly silent meal and Helen hadn't eaten very much, the minute she had put food in her mouth her stomach had clenched up and refused to allow her to eat. She pushed her food around her plate whilst Andy rattled on about his latest case; he hadn't seemed to notice yet that Helen wasn't even listening. Once the meal was done, Helen cleared up while he took a shower. She wasn't happy, it felt like he was moving in for the kill on all areas of her life, and she felt there was never any room to breathe. She went back in to the living room and settled back down to her paperwork but she couldn't concentrate and turned her attention to the TV instead.

Andy had reappeared from the bathroom and was currently rattling around the kitchen trying to find a bottle opener for the bottle of beer he held in his hand. He had noticed Helen was quiet and he was getting fed up of it, he reacted to it the same way as he always did, he was going to get pissed so he wouldn't have to deal with it. He slammed a drawer shut and called out to her.

"Where is your bloody bottle opener? I'm dying of thirst in here."

"Second drawer down." Helen called out from the living room where she sat curled up in her armchair, as she thought about Nikki. Her heart hadn't stopped aching since she had left her office earlier on that afternoon.

"I've looked, it's not there."

"Oh for god sake." Helen got up and went into the kitchen, "it is there, you just don't look for things properly," she handed it to him and marched back in to the living room.

"Are you going to tell me what's up with you? You've been in a mood ever since I arrived." He stood in the doorway of the living room with his beer bottle clutched to his chest.

"It's nothing, honestly I'm fine. Don't worry about me," she gave him a smile and then looked away. She didn't want to tell him, he wouldn't understand anyway.

"I've had a hard day and this is the last thing I need, cheer up for pity's sake." He threw himself down on the sofa and took a long swallow from his beer bottle.

"You're not the only one, I haven't had an easy day either." Helen couldn't even be bothered looking at him and stared at the TV.

"And what makes you so special?" he threw a disgusted look in her direction.

"Nothing makes me so special, in fact you're always quick to point out I'm not." Despite not wanting an argument with him, Helen couldn't help herself.

"Don't turn this into something personal. I know you've had a shit day at work but don't bring it home." He turned the volume up on the television.

"I'll bloody well bring it home if want to, because in case you had forgotten, this is my house!" Helen snatched up her cigarettes and lit one, before throwing her lighter down on the coffee table.

"You've been like this all week, ever since you started that bloody job. If you can't handle it then pack it in." He took another mouthful of beer and was already thinking of fetching a second one.

"Thanks for you sympathy. You of all people should know how hard it is to walk into an established team. You were seconded to Hutton Street after all, and I recall you found that difficult. It's hard for me, I'm taking over control of a team that wished I wasn't there, they all still miss Yvonne and it's hard for me to gain their trust and respect. I could do without you giving me a hard time." Helen puffed furiously on her cigarette.

"Change the record." He turned the TV up again.

"I wondered when it was going to become obvious you were jealous." Helen had suspected he was jealous for some time because she was a higher ranking officer.

"If I wanted to make it to the rank of DCI then I could, but I'm perfectly happy where I am thank you very much," he didn't sound all that convincing, even to himself, "I don't feel the need to be dangerously ambitious unlike some I see sitting before me. Trouble with you is you're too damn driven, it's become an obsession." He drained the bottle and began fiddling around with it, trying to peel off the label.

"How can you say that? I'll admit to being ambitious but not overly so, certainly no more than your average person. I want to do well in my career? What's wrong with that?" She thought he was being incredibly unfair, it wasn't true at all and it never had been. She had never wanted to succeed so badly that it became an obsession.

"It's knocking everything off balance. You and I aren't getting on so well anymore, and all marriage plans seem to have gone out of the window. Unless things are to do with work then as far as you're concerned they seem to pale into insignificance." He began stuffing bits of label into the bottle and wouldn't look at her.

"Here we go again!" Helen stubbed her cigarette out and stood up, "you know my reasons for wanting to wait till we get married, we've been through all this. Is that all that matters to you? Get married at any cost so you've got a wife at home waiting on you hand and foot just like all your mates?" she didn't wait for him to answer, "and while we're on the subject, you've got a pretty twisted idea of how a marriage should be anyway, and the relationship we're having is proof of that. I'm supposed to support you and give you all the encouragement you require but when it comes to me, there isn't any forthcoming. Well you know what? Sod you; you can wait till I'm ready and if you don't like it then you know what you can do."

"I'm not putting up with anymore of this, I'm tired and I need to sleep. I'm going to bed," he slammed the bottle down and stood up.

"Not in my bloody bed you're not." Helen's head whipped around to face him.

"Oh I see, you've had a hard day and that translates to you wanting to sleep on your own. Fine, have it your way, I'm going home," he put his shoes back on and started to rummage around the living room for his car keys.

"They're in your jacket pocket." Helen gestured towards the hall with her thumb, "and you shouldn't be driving anyway, you've had a drink. Call a taxi."

"So go ahead and arrest me. I'll see you when you can be bothered to cheer up." He marched in to the hall.

"Don't hold your breath." Helen shouted after him, and was rewarded with the sound of the front door almost being taken off its hinges as Andy slammed it.

Helen sat back down again and tried to calm herself, she felt sick and her heart was racing. She had been wound up for the second time that day, but this time it was purely anger. She knew she needed to relax otherwise she would make herself ill. The aching feeling still hadn't left her and she wondered where Nikki was and what she was doing.

Her anger towards Nikki had dissipated hours ago and she was now able to think more clearly about things. The situation left her wondering just how much of what Nikki had said to her had been the truth. Did she respect her? Did Nikki even care? She remembered back to that morning when she had passed out. Nikki had taken care of her, had picked her up and carried her to Karen's office. She remembered the look in her eyes; she could picture it now in her mind. That was what changed things for Helen, it came to her in a flash that she was certain Nikki was telling her the truth.

She picked up her mobile and dialed Nikki's number but there was no answer. She tried several more times over the next ten minutes but her phone remained unanswered. So she dialed Yvonne's number next, hoping that she knew where Nikki was and if she was ok.

"I haven't seen her love, I did try ringing her but there was no answer. Maybe I should go round there." Yvonne had also tried calling several times. She knew Nikki was a grown woman but it didn't stop her worrying.

"Same here. Look can you give me her address? I'll go and see if she is ok, I need to talk to her anyway." Helen got ready with a piece of paper and pen, and Yvonne gave her the address.

"I know it's none of my business but have you decided what you're going to do yet?" Yvonne didn't want to appear nosy but she was praying things would work out.

"I'm going to ask her to come back to work. Hopefully, we can sort things out and that will be the end of it."

"That's great news love. Can you do me a favour? When you do see her, tell her that Tony and I still love her as much as ever."

"I will do, thanks Yvonne, see you soon."

"See you love, good luck."

Helen ended the call and snatched up her car keys and ran out of the door, she was prepared to forgive Nikki for anything. She was willing to lie for Nikki if she had to, she could smooth things over at the station and nobody need ever know. She just hoped that she wasn't too late and that their friendship wasn't irreparably damaged.

Nikki hadn't been able to take any more of being alone in her flat so she had changed into her shorts and gone for a long run. Despite the weather being cold and the occasional shower of rain, she had quite enjoyed it. She had managed to get rid of all the frustration and tension in her body and she felt much better for it when she got home. She didn't notice Helen's car across the road and wearily dragged herself up the garden path as she fiddled in her pocket for her house keys.

"You took your time, it's bloody freezing out here." Helen's voice came from the shadows and Nikki's head jerked up.

"Helen." Nikki was frozen to the spot.

"Now that we've established you remember my name." Helen smiled from where she sat on the step, "can we please get inside before I pee myself? The cold can do awful things to a woman's bladder." Helen stood up and rubbed her hands together.

"Shit sorry!" Nikki fumbled with the key in the lock, took Helen into the flat and showed her where the bathroom was.

She stood in the living room waiting for Helen to come back. And when she did, Nikki wasn't quite sure what to say.

"Been out running?" Helen could see she had but it was all she could think of to start the conversation off.

"Yeah, I was bored of sitting in here and had to get out before I went round the bend. Would you like a drink? I've got tea, coffee or soft drinks."

"I'd love a coffee. Why don't I put the kettle on and you can go take a shower. You look freezing." Helen was unsure of what to do so she stood rooted to the spot.

"I won't be long." Nikki went upstairs to take a shower and Helen headed off in to the kitchen.

By the time Nikki got back, Helen had taken a seat on the couch and was clearly mulling things over in her mind because she hadn't noticed she was back. Nikki walked in and startled her; Helen held a hand to her chest and took a deep breath.

"Sorry about that, didn't mean to frighten you." Nikki sat down next to Helen on the couch, "Don't think I'm not glad to see you but why are you here?"

"I came to talk to you. I had everything I wanted to say all planned out in my head but there's no point in saying it now." Helen was about to continue when Nikki jumped in.

"What do you mean there's no point?" Nikki was starting to get worried; she had visions of Helen telling her she didn't want anything more to do with her.

"Meaning, I don't want it all dragged up again and nothing more needs to be said on the matter except for me to say that I'm really sorry I said the things I did. I was angry at the time and I overreacted." Helen was clasping her hands tightly in her lap.

"You must be joking, under the circumstances I thought you were pretty restrained; you could have been a whole lot worse. Besides, I'm the one in the wrong, you shouldn't be apologising to me." Nikki folded her arms and turned to face Helen.

"Let's just say we were both wrong. I'm sorry, and I know you are and I think we should forget about it all. We're never going to be friends if we carry on arguing are we?" Helen placed her hand on Nikki's arm.

"No I suppose not." Nikki was surprised that Helen was pointing in the direction of forgiveness, "excuse me for sounding a bit thick but what does all this mean?"

"As far as I'm concerned the slate has been wiped clean once again!" she gave Nikki a nudge and smiled, "and we've proved we can be friends so I don't see any reason why we shouldn't be. I want you to come back to work; it's not the same without you."

"I've only been gone for a few hours." Nikki shook her head as if Helen was mad.

"I know but I really want you back."

"Maybe I should just retire from the force, save us all the bloody hassle." Nikki ran a hand through her hair, and sighed.

"Oh shut up, if you retire now then I'm following you. I'd have sod all to come in to work for if you left." Helen took hold of Nikki's hand, "go on, say you'll come back to work with me."

"If you really want to work with an idiot then yeah. I did say no woman could resist my charms." Nikki gave a slight smile; she felt much better that she and Helen seemed to be back on track.

"That's true, look at me, I've only known you for less than a week and already I'm mad about you." Helen smiled and placed her tongue in-between her teeth, which she had a regular habit of doing and Nikki thought it was cute.

"You need some serious counseling." Nikki managed a wider smile.

"I mean it, you really looked after me today and I know you wouldn't have done that if it meant you didn't care about me. I care about you too which is why it seems I'm able to forgive you for anything. Come here." Helen pulled Nikki in to a hug and held on to her tightly.

"You know if the super finds out about this then you'll be in deep shit, I don't want you to lie for me." Nikki didn't care if he knew what she had done but she didn't want Helen to get into trouble.

"We'll sort all this out and Jim Fenner need never know. But I hope you know you owe me big time and I expect you to pay out." Helen's smile became mischievous.

"What do you want me to do?" Nikki was willing to do anything for her.

"You can start by helping me get this investigation sorted out tomorrow and I'll let you know when I require anything else slave!"

"Your wish is my command." Nikki meant it.

"I'm glad to hear it." Helen leaned over and gave Nikki a soft kiss on the cheek.

"Fancy another coffee?" Nikki gave Helen's hand a gentle squeeze before letting go of it.

"I'd love one."

"Won't be a tick." Nikki turned around before she entered the kitchen, "oh and Helen?"


"Thank you. You really are a very special woman." Nikki flashed her a lovely smile and disappeared into the kitchen.

"So are you." Helen whispered.

She rested her chin on her hands and smiled, Nikki was quite something, and she was proud to be able to call her a friend. At least now they could get back to being able to work together and this time there would be no secrets between them. Friendships a lot older than theirs may not have survived something like this but theirs had, and Helen felt it was a testament to the fact that they seemed to have something very special between them.

Chapter 7

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