DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls is the product of Shed Productions. Wire in the Blood is the product of Coastal Productions. I don't own any of it. Never said I did. No copyright infringement or disrespect intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: All translations are via random internet sites, therefore any errors are my own. Translation of dialog may be found at the end of the piece. Never ending thanks to my beta IJ.
SPOILERS: Bad Girls Series 1, YouTube blooper reels for Bad Girls Series 1-3 for references to Simone Lahbib's infectious laugh, Wire in the Blood Series 6. I have taken artistic liberties with all.
CHALLENGE: Written for the Epic Proportions Challenge 2011
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To asmith2215[at]myway.com

Crime and Punishment
By Wordsmith



The world shone brighter than Nikki Wade remembered. After four years incarceration, she wasn't surprised exactly but not quite sure what to do with the information either. Distances took on a greater significance. "Just up the block" used to be a minor inconvenience. Now, it took forever for everything called on Nikki to stare and observe and discover. Perhaps it wasn't that so much had changed but how little actually had . Adverts covered every possible surface. The air smelled of greasy food, bus exhaust, and plastic. Nikki mused that although it smelled better than Larkhall Prison, it wasn't the quality of the air that struck her but the quantity. There was just so much more of it. She had always had the impression that the air in Larkhall was confined to the area just inside the walled courtyard. Her potting shed smelled of earth and fertilizer, of black potting containers and the steel of her tools but it was as if the column of air surrounding the shed rose only so far before being cut off by an invisible barrier like the inside of a balloon. Now she was outside the barrier and all the earth's air was free to surround her again.

Her potting shed. She snorted at the thought. She knew other prisoners also used it as a storage unit for their assigned equipment but there was an understanding among them that, for Nikki, gardening was more than a way to fritter away her time, a way to keep her occupied during the daylight hours of her sentence. Every prisoner who was physically able, if not mentally, was given an official job. Wages were paid out in commissary goods at a rate of 2 pounds fifty per week. Some duties were prized for the ease of the assignments, like serving tea using the rolling tea cart, giving the lucky tea girl a chance to wander the halls socializing with both inmates and staffers. Positions like orderly in the infirmary were often seen as punishment jobs, cleaning out bedpans and changing soiled linens. Many balked at the gardening assignments which involved plenty of heavy lifting, back strain and handling multiple varieties of what amounted to plain old dirt.

But Nikki loved it. Her first assignment had been intended as a punishment; move ten arborvitae trees from one side of the courtyard to the other. This meant digging out waist high trees of a sometimes prickly variety with a circumference larger than her arm's length. The holes to receive the trees needed to be deep enough for the root ball to set without being so deep as to drown the tree. The only way to know how deep to dig the new hole was to dig out the tree at the old location first. Little did she know when she started digging that this particular variety of tree required much more space, and therefore effort on her part, than expected. A job she thought would take the lesser part of an afternoon stretched out to take up more than two weeks. Two weeks of digging through heavy clay and innumerable small rocks. By the time her work shift ended each day, she was covered in mud. It covered her boots and clogged her pores. The upside, when she stopped to think about it, was the beneficial properties the clay's minerals brought to her skin, once she showered off the caked-on dried mud. She joked that every day was a spa day and offered to bring some to the Julies if only they would find her jars to store it in.

Nikki was also pleasantly surprised at how much she enjoyed the work. Insomnia plagued her even before her time in Larkhall but with the sudden increase in physical activity, Nikki found her nights considerably shorter as she fell asleep nearly as soon as her head hit her pillow and rarely woke before the screw's insistent knocking on the metal door in the morning.

But after what she referred to in her mind as The Incident in the Potting Shed, Nikki felt differently whenever she entered the cool darkness of the shed. She knew there was no going back, that her relationship with Helen had forever changed. "Relationship" such as it was. Nikki knew deep in her soul that there was more to her relationship with Helen Stewart, wing governor than was normal between jailor and prisoner.

She never knew what possessed her to forcibly bring Helen's hand to her breast. Blinding jealousy, surely, at hearing the news of Helen's engagement so cavalierly discussed by Sean. Then rage at Helen's attempt to brush it off as inconsequential later while in the shed. Nikki could not believe that Helen could be so clueless to Nikki's feelings toward her. At the time the only thing pounding louder than the blood in her ears was the blood in her heart. Nikki wanted Helen to feel that pounding, understand the reason behind it, accept her role as the cause. Grabbing Helen's hand and clutching it to her breast seemed like the easiest, most visceral way to get Helen to understand what was happening to Nikki.

And when Helen tried to pull away, Nikki followed, stepping right along with her. It was only at Helen's panicked cursing that Nikki realized that Helen had no concept of what Nikki was trying to do. Her hands dangling uselessly at her side, Nikki tried to explain but Helen was gone before she had a chance.

Now brought by the PO to Helen's office, Nikki tried to organize her thoughts, anticipating what Helen would say. But fear of rejection always brought out the worst traits in Nikki and she found herself acting contrary and sullen in the face of Helen's disapproval. Disapproval which initially had been tempered with kindness and compassion until Nikki sulkily refused to sit until shouted at by the young wing governor.

"Sit in that chair!"

Nikki sat but refused to look at Helen as Helen berated her for her conduct. All the points she made were valid but still somehow managed to ring false to Nikki. It sounded almost like Helen was attempting to convince herself as much as Nikki of her heterosexuality. When Nikki looked up at her, Helen's face was flushed, her hazel eyes flashing greener than Nikki had ever seen them and her soft Scottish accent had morphed into a full-on brogue.

Unfortunately for Nikki, Helen also had never looked so hot. Nikki's mouth went dry and she had to clench her fists to control their shaking. More than ever, Nikki knew she was doomed. Doomed to restless nights, endlessly speculating and microscopically examining every conversation, searching for that certain nuance, that casual touch that lasted a moment too long, that lingering look. Anything to confirm that what she felt was reciprocated even in the slightest.

"What did you think I would do, Nikki?" Helen asked when her righteous indignation finally began to wind down.

Nikki met her eyes, pleading silently. "I honestly didn't think that far."

"No doubt." Helen said, moving to a position behind Nikki, just in front of the door. "Did you think I wouldn't notice how hard your nipple was under your shirt?"

When Nikki twisted around to stare at Helen incredulously, Helen put both hands on her shoulders gently but firmly turning her back around, warning, "Stay there Nikki, if you know what's good for you." Nikki faced front again, her mind whirring. She could hear Helen lean against the file cabinet behind her.

"Did you think I would just fall at your feet Nikki, renounce my unnaturally straight lifestyle? Stand in front of the door and beg you to take me? To teach me the sweet joy of loving a woman? Is that what you thought I would do?"

Nikki swallowed hard but thought for once in her life that it might be better to keep her mouth shut at this particular juncture. Her hands gripped the arms of her chair.

"And knowing you would say yes to my request, did you think I would be content with a quick squeeze in a potting shed? After feeling one, do you really think I wouldn't reach for your other breast, feeling the weight, the heft, the softness beyond that rock hard nipple? And once felt, could I resist knowing the sensation of holding them bare under your shirt, soft skin against my own skin, my fingertips?" Helen's voice was soft and low. " But why stop there? Why not, now that the shirt and bra were out of the way, bring those breasts, those lovely warm breasts, to my mouth? I mean, what better way to appreciate your body than by kissing and licking and laving my tongue all over and around them, eh?"

By now, Nikki couldn't decide if this was heaven or hell. Her every fantasy, every sexual thought of the last several weeks was being whispered into her ear. Her hands gripped the arms of her chair harder.

"You know that wouldn't be enough, don't you Nikki?" Helen said. "Once tasted I could never limit myself to just your chest. As delicious as your breasts are sure to be, your mouth is really what I'd want. Kissing usually starts with the lips and moves lower, but when have we ever done anything the usual way? Kissing your lips would be so profound, so delicious, so remarkable I would be shocked if I felt any motivation to do anything else. But while I kissed you, you must know my hands couldn't be still. After learning everything there was to learn of your breasts, how you like your nipples rolled, how hard, how you like me to stroke the sides, what makes your breath hitch in my mouth, I would have to move at least one hand lower."

Nikki's head fell forward, "Bloody hell." she whispered.

"Well I wouldn't go that far quite yet, Nikki." there was a smile in the voice, a voice that was heavy with need, "though I might change my mind once I managed to finesse your clothes out of my way. I don't know about you personally, but if I managed to do all the things I have just outlined here, I would be shocked if I didn't find you the least little bit wet. Would you be wet for me by now, Nikki?

Nikki nodded groaning, "Oh god yes."

"And given all that wetness, wouldn't it be so simple, so smooth to slide my fingers inside you? So easy to slide one, then two fingers in and pull them out, in and out. Timing each little thrust to match your breathing, feeling you draw me in with each pull, in and out. Slowly building each thrust of my hand against you, increasing speed, using your own wetness to help me, waiting until just that right moment. That indefinable moment when just the slightest curl of my fingers, the lightest brush of my thumb against your clit, would make you come harder than you ever have in your life."

Helen leaned forward, her breath hot against Nikki's ear. "Could you come for me then, Nikki, would you come for me?"

Nikki gripped the chair as if her life depended upon it. Her face grimaced as her mouth opened in a wordless cry. Wave after wave of pure pleasure flooded her body. Finally her grip relaxed and she slumped forward, her head against the edge of Helen's desk, breathing heavily. Helen didn't speak until she saw Nikki sit up, her breath returning to something resembling normal.

Opening the door to the office, she said to the PO outside, "Escort Nikki back, would you please?"

Nikki stumbled out the door, pausing only long enough to stare at Helen.

Helen asked, sitting once again behind her desk, "All clear then, Nikki?"

"Not in the slightest." Nikki murmured.



Detective Inspector Alex Fielding was slow to wake up after a full night's sleep, let alone a partial one. But when her twelve year old son Ben woke her, saying someone was knocking at the door, a rush of adrenaline kick started her brain, at least enough to stagger to the door if only to end the incessant pounding. Not particularly surprised to see Dr. Tony Hill, clinical psychologist standing there in his usual state of casual disarray, she stood back while he bustled in. She nearly snorted when he commented to Ben, "Bit late for you to be up, isn't it Ben?" but instead shooed her son back to his room. Knowing the disheveled man would follow along, she went through to the kitchen intent on brewing tea, hoping against hope that Tony's latest manic phase would be short, productive, and relevant to their current case.

Alas, it was not to be. Tony held up a bottle of wine, explaining what to him was a purely rational reason to come barging into her house at an ungodly hour. Helen sighed and pulled two wine glasses from the cupboard.

As Tony rambled on, Helen murmured agreeable noises now and again but focused half her mind on the dream she so recently had been pulled from. Much had slipped away by now but remnants remained, tantalizingly close like the memory of a far away time. She knew Paula McIntyre, one of her subordinate detectives, had been in the dream. There had been a feeling of intense fear and concern for her safety. Alex supposed it was an after effect of the recent danger Paula had been in a few months back when a freak allergy attack had landed her in hospital unable to breath. Alex took turns with the detective constable, Kevin Geoffries, keeping watch over Paula's bedside, waiting anxiously for the doctors to find some treatment that would help the tall blonde woman breathe easier.

Alex never questioned her compulsion to sit personally by Paula's bedside. She knew somewhere in her mind that Kevin was on it and it wasn't technically her job to hold vigil, listening to the pings and buzzes of the machines attached. But she also knew that some part of her needed to be there, needed to see with her own eyes if there was any daily progress, needed to hold the limp slightly clammy hand in her own.

When Tony, through who knew what kind of inspired hypnosis of his own, managed to wake Paula up, it was Kevin who brought Paula home, wearing the clothes Alex picked up for her the day prior to her release. Using Paula's key implied consent from Paula, but Alex still felt uneasy about entering the flat on her own. She wasn't surprised to find it neat and tidy, reflecting Paula's inherent nature. Alex hoped she would find a convenient pile of clean laundry in the hamper next to the washer. Instead she was forced to go through Paula's dresser to find a complete outfit.

Alex wasn't sure why she felt so nervous searching through her colleague's clothing. After all, she was just doing Paula a favor. It felt more appropriate to have someone of the same gender putting together a going home outfit, rather than subjecting Kevin to it. Alex knew the two junior detectives were close but wasn't sure the extent of their relationship until Kevin bashfully asked Alex to pick up something from the flat.

"That answers that question, then." Alex mused. If they had already been sleeping together, Kevin would have just done the seemingly trivial task himself. As it was, Alex found herself confronted by a drawer full of under things, at a loss to pick one. She smiled as she realized that in her steady, practical way Paula made the decision easier. One side of the drawer had neatly folded plain cotton pants. The other side, under a sheet of lavender scented paper, more racy, lacy, frilly lingerie. Running her fingertips over the silky material, Alex allowed herself a brief moment to picture her lanky co-worker. She imagined Paula resting on the large bed, reclining back with a sultry look of invitation.

Suddenly realizing where her mind was taking her, Alex dropped the offending article of clothing, grabbed the first pair from the other side of the drawer and hastily began searching for the rest of an outfit. Unwittingly, she smiled as she removed her favorite shirt of Paula's from a hanger in the closet. Quickly gathering up a pair of slacks, she found socks and, on impulse, threw a pair of trainers in the carry bag.

It wasn't until days later that Alex remembered that she hadn't stopped to tidy the drawer back to its pristine condition. But she felt ridiculous telling Paula "Sorry I never straightened out your knickers before I left. I was too busy imagining how you would look in them." So she kept her mouth shut and only smiled when Paula thanked her later after returning to work. If there had been a questioning look that accompanied the thanks, that was purely Alex's imagination, wasn't it?

At the moment, Alex was more concerned with Tony who, after polishing off the better half of the wine, was starting to look decidedly drunk. "Do you think people can change?" she blurted out. The answer was long, full of psychobabble, and vague. Alex wasn't even sure why she asked it, other than it had been pinging around in her brain for weeks. She wasn't even sure if she was asking for herself or in regard to the world at large.

Soon enough Tony, like a five year old running in circles on the playground, talked himself out. One thing Alex would grant him: when Tony Hill passed out drunk, he did it quickly. His head hit the table with a resounding thunk and no attempt to rouse him made any impression. Knowing it would be physically impossible to carry his dead weight to the lounge, Alex raised Tony's head by grabbing a handful of his thick graying hair, slipping a pillow underneath before letting it fall back onto the table.

In the morning, he was still there drooling and softly snoring away, clearly not about to wake up any time soon. Alex quietly made up Ben's school lunch and a breakfast sandwich, calmly explaining that Tony needed more time to sleep after their late talk. Once at work, she attacked the coffee machine with a vengeance. Sleep deprivation was part and parcel of her job at times, but knowing her fatigue this day was due to Tony's inability to understand social mores made her more irritable than usual.

"Rough night Guv?" Paula asked, noting the deep circles of fatigue under Alex's eyes.

"Tony bloody Hill!" Alex snapped back, pouring the last few drops of milk from an essentially empty carton into her cup of what could best be described as sludge. Disgusted, she threw it all loudly into the trash. "Who the hell put an empty carton back in the fridge?"

"Ah." Paula replied grinning at the outburst. "Here take mine. I picked up a double on the way in this morning."

Taking the paper cup from Paula, Alex barely registered the shock of electricity when their fingers brushed. Bringing the cup to her lips, she drank deeply not realizing the liquid within was scalding hot. "Shit!" she sprayed the coffee all over the nearest desk, barely missing Paula.

"Sorry Boss, should've told you it was hot." Paula said as she tried to direct the spill into the rubbish bin. Alex attempted to help until her fingers brushed again against Paula's. When there was no spark this time, Alex realized she was vaguely disappointed. Slumping down in a chair, she reached out to cover Paula's hands, stilling them.

"Stop Paula. It's a lost cause." she looked up at the surprised detective. "Nothing worth saving anyway."

Paula stared at the small hand. Perfect manicure, single silver ring on the middle finger of the right hand, Paula knew the delicate hand did not reflect the strong nature of the woman. One of, if not the, smartest women she had ever met, let alone had the privilege of working for. Paula didn't envy Alex her position as Detective Inspector, having to deal with bureaucrats, competition from other more ambitious colleagues, let alone the oft-times severely mentally disturbed serial killers of most of their cases.

Paula grinned down at her boss, "I'll just nip over to the market across the street, get you a real coffee while I get a replacement milk. Back in two jiffies." As she spoke, she turned her hand palm up, giving Alex's fingers a squeeze before pulling away.

Alex squeezed back and looked up gratefully. "Thanks Paula. Be sure to get something for yourself too. Put in on this month's expense report." she winked, "Someone has to pay for putting the milk back empty."

Once Paula left, Alex busied herself with salvaging what she could of the sodden paperwork. Finding it was primarily last month's expense reports, she chuckled to herself and vowed to work harder to file her paperwork on a more regular schedule. 'Ha, work harder. Like this job doesn't consume enough of me as it is' she thought. When she got this assignment, she made a point to leave no later than six in order to have some time with Ben before he went off to bed, regardless of the surprised looks of her co-workers who often stayed much later, many on her orders. But once word got around that she was the single mother of a pre-adolescent boy, and even more so once her workmates met Ben in person, they understood.

Once he got a little older and more self-sufficient, Alex found she compensated for his not needing her as much by refocusing that time and energy into her work. It was work she passionately believed in, but left little room for a social life. Sure, she met other school moms for an occasional coffee, and even managed to make a Girl's Night Out a few months ago but other than that, her life revolved around finding and putting away some of the region's most despicable murderers. It had taken a few years but the team she put together worked with an unusual sense of synchronicity. Tech savvy Kevin who was as able to tackle a runner as hack into a suspect's computer. Dr. Tony Hill, brilliant though socially inept, clinical psychologist with an uncanny ability to get inside the head of their suspects no matter how dark and depraved.

And then there was Paula. Dependable, intellectually curious but equally steadfast in her ability to simply follow orders, do what was required of her without complaint, in order to solve a case. The fact that her shy smile often made Alex smile in return was surely coincidence. If Alex's gaze lingered on the cut of Paula's boot cut jeans a little longer than strictly necessary, that was just one woman admiring another's fashion sense. Of course it was.

Raising her head at the sound of boots clicking on the tiled floor, Alex was rewarded by the sight of Paula striding toward her, coffee cup in hand. "I got you a triple, non-fat, heavy whip." she said. "That way if you don't want the cream, you can just scoop it off."

Careful to take a slow sip this time, Alex smiled, "No, whip is good. Balances out in the end, eh?"

Paula returned the smile, "Exactly. Okay, I'll leave you to it then."

"Thanks Paula." Alex searched her brain for some reason to keep the other woman in her office but coming up empty she merely shrugged toward the remaining papers now scattering her desk. As the other woman reached the door to the office, Alex blurted out, "Maybe lunch later? If things stay quiet, that is?"

Paula turned smiling brightly, "Yeah, I'd like that. I'll come find you."



As Alex refocused on her work, she found herself grinning at the thought of spending more time with Paula. Outside of work, they rarely socialized, and if they did it was in a group, usually other officers of CID. The time passed slowly however, with Alex becoming more frustrated every time she looked at her watch, the clock, the timer on her computer. None of them seemed to be moving past a crawl. Finally, she got to work on a backlog of reports, long overdue and managed to immerse herself in them enough that when a light knock came on her door, she startled, accidentally bumping the delete key. "No! No, no no no no no." she muttered, frozen at the screen, sure that the past two hours of work had been for naught.

"Here, let me." Paula nudged Alex's hands away. A few clicks later, the page restored, Paula turned to her triumphantly. "All good."

"Oh thank god." Alex breathed. "I hate doing these reports once, let alone twice in one day."

"No doubt. Ready for lunch, now that you know your work isn't free floating in the ether?"

"Yeah, anywhere you'd like to try?" Alex asked.

Paula thought for a moment as Alex got her things together. "Have you been to that new sushi place?"

Helen guffawed, thinking back to her disastrous not-quite-a-date with Tony. "Yes, but could we please go anywhere else. This time, at least?"

Paula looked puzzled and suggested a pub down the street from the station. Once settled there, she followed up, "So, not that it's any of my business, what's wrong with the sushi place?" The question sounded so innocuous, Alex had to smile to herself when she recognized Paula's tone of voice. It was the voice she used when getting suspects to divulge information they didn't want to divulge, without them knowing they were doing so.

She took a bite of her salad. "Good food. Great actually. Not the best company."

"First date?" Paula asked through her sandwich, peering at her through her long fringe of whitish blond hair.

"Sort of." Alex wondered how far this questioning would go and where it would lead.

"But you didn't hit it off?" Another bite of sandwich.

"Oh we got along fine. It's just, he didn't realize it was a date." Alex sipped from her lemon water.

Paula's brow furrowed, as Alex looked on smiling, waiting for the other woman to find the answer. She smiled even more brightly as realization set in.

"Tony?" the surprise in Paula's voice was evident, clear blue eyes opened wide.

"Yup," admitted Alex. "I have a long history of picking the wrong men, and this time my subconscious decided to go for the record." She chuckled, "I don't know what I was thinking. But at least it's over and done with, no harm done."

"Did he ever...I mean will he-?" for once the articulate detective seemed at a loss for words.

"Realize it was supposed to be a date? Yes. Will I ever go out with him again? Not on your life." Alex replied. It was a relief to have a gab with another woman for a change.

"Tony is a brilliant man, devoted to his work which is perhaps why I attempted this fiasco in the first place. But he's also a train wreck when it comes to interpersonal relationships." she pushed back her chair. "Lesson learned."

For the rest of the afternoon, Alex's day seemed to breeze by. Sure the paperwork was still never ending, the files never in the right spot, but Alex found herself humming under her breath on and off, and more than once had to shake herself out of a random reverie.

At promptly six o'clock, she logged off her computer. Stretching to relieve a cramp in her back, she groaned as it suddenly popped back into place, loudly enough to be heard by Paula who happened to poke her head in the doorway.

"Oh nice one!" she exclaimed. "Heading home?"

"Yes. Next stop after feeding Ben, a hot bath and a glass of wine. You?" Alex tilted her head inquiringly.

Paula's eyebrows raised at this but recovered quickly. "That sounds good. I may steal that idea. Only make mine a shower and a lager."

Alex laughed as they walked down the hall, "Beer in the shower? What are you, crazy?"

"Oh no, it's the best! Hot shower, cold beer. You should try it sometime." Now that they had reached the outer door, she gave Alex a squeeze on the arm. "See you tomorrow."

Alex was torn between reluctance at seeing the taller blond walk away and thankfulness that she hadn't seen the blush rising from her neck at the thought of Paula in a shower.



After five years together, Helen knew when to push and when to let things go with her partner. Whenever Nikki showed signs of becoming intractable, digging in her heels, scowling under furrowed brows, Helen learned to assess the situation rather than leap headlong into battle. Most of the time.

"Nikki, you don't understand! This is a time sensitive situation and we need to make a decision now."

"No Helen, we don't. Why can't you see that?" Nikki stomped to the garden at the back of the house, grabbing her cigarettes as she went.

"Don't you dare walk away from me, Nikki Wade!" Helen stormed after her, standing on the upper step, thereby bringing her to eye level with Nikki.

Nikki took a long drag before retorting, "This conversation is over."

"The hell it is!" Helen's eyes blazed green. "We need to give the shelter people an answer, and we need to do it today."

"Fine, then the answer is no." Nikki said.

"You won't even consider it?" Helen implored, her tone softening.

"No." Nikki stubbed out her cigarette and went to stand in front of Helen, her arms sliding around her waist. "Now is not the time for us to adopt a cat."

"But-" Helen started.

"No Helen," Nikki continued firmly. "We agreed that if one of us wasn't a hundred percent on board, we would let it go for another time."

Helen considered this, linking her hands behind Nikki's neck. "But we're only postponing the inevitable."

Nikki laughed, "You think it's inevitable that we'll get a cat?"

Helen tried to look indignant but her eyes were smiling, "We both like cats." she said simply.

"Yes we do, but with your allergies we need to make sure it's the right kind of cat and I am not bringing a cat into this family without doing the proper prep work to keep said cat out of the garden." she kissed Helen lightly. "I'm not going to have all my hard work go to waste because I didn't have time to put a few nets up to keep the cat where we want it."

Helen grinned, "Okay as long as you aren't saying no to the idea." She leaned forward to kiss Nikki again, more deeply. "Now how are you on the subject of lunch?"

As Helen worked to put lunch together, she mused at how far she and Nikki had come. It was hard at first to find ways to accommodate two fiery personalities into their strong partnership. Neither liked to cede control and neither admitted defeat easily. She thought back to their many fights and misunderstanding at Larkhall. Much of their troubled revolved around her reluctance to admit she was even attracted to Nikki, blinded as she was by her role as Nikki's jailor. But as her awareness grew, so did her fear. Not just that someone might find out and jeopardize her job, but that Nikki herself might reject her. It was that fear that kept Helen up nights, and more often than she wanted to admit, reaching for her vodka bottle.

It was one such night when Helen decided to take things into her own hand. Earlier in the evening while watching yet another mindless criminal procedure program on television, the phone rang. "For you," Sean said, handing her the receiver, "some woman."

But when Helen said "Hello" there was no one there. Or rather there was but she did not speak. Helen knew immediately the call was coming from Larkhall, the background sounds were unmistakable, so she also knew immediately who was on the other line. It had to be Nikki. Helen had no idea how Nikki got her number. She panicked and hung up quickly, refusing to take Sean's suggestion to dial the automatic recall number.

Instead she made a lame excuse to him of a headache and went to their bedroom. Her mind whirled as she tried to figure out why Nikki would take such a risk. If there was an emergency, the prison would call her directly. Once in the safety of her bed, Helen allowed herself a moment of pure fantasy, putting words in Nikki's mouth, words she longed to hear but knew she would never have the courage to ask for.

"What are you wearing?" she heard Nikki say in her mind.

"Really? That's the best you've got?" Helen imagined retorting.

"Alright then, are you in bed?" the voice became even softer and deeper.

"Yes, and for your information I'm wearing a camisole set. Light blue. Satisfied?" Helen ran her hands down her ragged Trinity U tee shirt, the one Sean hated. She was surprised to find her nipples already tightening at the thought of talking to Nikki while in bed.

"Oh lovely."

"What about you?" she asked.

"Who says I'm wearing anything?" if a smirk could transmit over the phone, now would be it.

"Oh god." Helen imagined Nikki's long slender body splayed out on her narrow cell bed. Legs for miles, high firm breasts and that lipsticked mouth, that infuriating mouth, all waiting for her. Helen felt herself beginning to throb, and reached out to stroke herself gently, thinking about what Nikki would say next.

"Well I hope you aren't too invested in the camisole, which I'm sure is very nice but rather too much at the moment, wouldn't you agree?"

"Oh look, now it's on the floor."

"Good, that relieves me the burden of ripping it off you and having to buy another tomorrow."

"There is no tomorrow. There's only right now" need apparent in her voice and checked breathing.

"Now I can concentrate on kissing your breasts. God, how I love your breasts. They are magnificent. So perfectly full. Such a perfect handful."

Helen giggled to herself, "And you have big hands."

"Cheeky! Admit it, you love my big hands. You love what those big hands do to you. When they touch you, gliding my fingers over your beautiful breasts. Sliding down your sweet belly."

"Sweet belly? No one wants to hear they have a sweet belly."

Helen shook her head to stop this line of thinking. Even in her fantasies, she and Nikki would find a way to fight. Instead she refocused on how it would feel to have Nikki's strong hands glide over her body, always downward. By now, she was slick and easily slid a finger within, bringing some of the moisture up around her hardening clit. Her hips began to move in an increasingly faster rhythm. The thoughts of Nikki were quickly bringing her closer to her peak when suddenly Helen was interrupted.

"Oh, started without me, I see" Sean intruded into the bedroom and Helen's fevered fantasy.

Helen was too far gone to care beyond commanding to him, "Mouth, now!"

Sean, for once kept silent as he quickly lowered his head to replace Helen's fingers. In her mind, it was Nikki's tongue tentatively lapping at her, not Sean's, Nikki's hands caressing her breasts, not her own. Nikki's voice continued to croon into her ear words of love, caring and devotion.

Helen groaned, "Harder" and grabbed the head between her legs, thrusting wildly. Looking down, all she saw was a dark head and for a moment was so caught up in her fantasy allowed herself to believe it was Nikki. That was enough to send her careening over the edge, "Nikki!"

Thankfully, the position of her thighs around Sean's ears prevented him from hearing her cry out. When the shaking had passed, Sean waited a few minutes before he peered out from his vantage point. "Right then, my turn." he said smugly. A light snore was the only response.

Back in the present, having lunch in the garden gave Nikki a chance to outline the changes she planned to do for what she now referred to as "the inevitable cat." Helen, for her part, thought the plans were realistic, made sense and would make absolutely no difference to a feline determined to get into the forbidden areas. But the sun was shining so she decided to humor her partner and made all the appropriate noises.

"You think this will never work, don't you?" Nikki asked shrewdly.

"Darlin' I think we won't know until we have a real live cat living here to test your theories." Helen replied. "But if it does keep it out, you may have found a real niche market to exploit."

The phone rang. As Nikki went to answer it, she said over one shoulder, "That's all I need. More markets to exploit."

Helen laughed. Once freed from prison, Nikki found her job as club owner at Chix less than satisfying. Slowly turning into a silent business partner with Trish, she expanded out into the field of coffee shops and internet cafes. Finding the right locations in the right neighborhoods, she worked hard to fit the style of café to the ambiance surrounding it. Not surprising to Helen, she was good at it and was soon at the helm of a very successful business. Many of their employees were ex cons, searching for a better life outside of prison.

Helen, on the other hand, continued to work as an adjunct to the prison system. With the help of Monica Lindsay, she became a crusader for women's rights in prisons. A thorough study of recidivism statistics among former inmates with known drug habits blossomed into a book of her own, and now Helen traveled the country lecturing on the topic.

When Nikki came back outside, Helen immediately knew something was wrong. Nikki's face was pale and her mouth pinched. She thrust the phone at her, "Your dad." she said curtly.

Helen sighed. Her father never understood, let alone accepted, any decision she had ever made from going to university in England rather than Scotland to entering the prison service to her fateful engagement to Sean. "Well, at least he got that one right." she thought ruefully. As for her relationship with not just a woman but a former prisoner in her care and a murderer to boot, the die had been cast. They spoke a few times in the past five years but Helen found it easier on everyone to avoid the conflict that came with contact.

"Hello Dad." she said. "Oh. Okay. Yes, of course. Alright. Goodbye." she hung up the phone and sat down at the garden table. Nikki, sensing something was wrong beyond the usual when dealing with Helen's father, took her hand.

"What is it. He barely spoke to me."concern shone from Nikki's face.

"Yeah, he was upset. My Alice died." Helen turned to Nikki, her eyes blurred.

"Oh Helen." Nikki took Helen into her arms as the smaller woman burst into tears. "Your stepmom?"

Helen nodded and mumbled into Nikki's shirt. "She was all the mom I had. And for all his hardness, I know he loved her."

Nikki stroked Helen's hair, "I knew he had remarried when you were in primary school. I'm sorry I never got a chance to meet her."

Helen agreed, "She always thought he would come around eventually. About us, I mean. But now, she's gone. I'm sorry you never got to know her. She was everything warm and good that he wasn't. I guess when my mum died, he was afraid or unable to love anyone again. But she made up the difference and made what would have been an unbearable childhood bearable."

"How did it happen?" Nikki asked gently.

"No idea. He just said she died and that the service will be on Sat at one o'clock at Stirling Cathedral." she smiled through her tears, "A man of few words, my father."

Taking heart in the light joke, Nikki hugged Helen tight. Attempting her best Scottish accent, she said, "Weel then, to the home coontry we go, my bird."

This did the trick. Helen's laugh was a deep belly laugh. "Och, aye." she replied. "Wi' you by me side, I can face e'en the daemons of hell. Let alone the Tyrant of the Stewarts."



A few days later after their lunch together, Paula and Alex drove to Alex's birthplace. The weather, so fine in Bradford when they left, started to turn sour an hour into the drive and by the time they arrived it was pouring down. Following Alex's quiet directions, Paula found their hotel, a small independent that was at once modern and inviting.

As they checked in, there was a moment of confusion with the receptionist, an elderly woman wearing glasses on a chain around her neck. "Double with two singles or a single queen?" she asked looking down her nose at the two women.

"Excuse me?" Alex asked bewildered.

The woman smirked, "Do you two girls (it sounded to Paula like "girruls") want a room with one bed or two?"

Seeing that Alex couldn't wrap her head around the statement, let alone the implication from the rude woman, Paula piped up. "One room, two beds, please." she smiled warmly at the woman, determined to make this as easy as possible for Alex.

Hearing this, the woman was immediately more hospitable. "Lovely. We've a nice one with a shower tub, mini-fridge, coffee maker/tea kettle. You jist ring down if yeh need any'ting else."

Alex's mind suddenly clicked. Recognizing the woman's earlier implication and distaste of it, she chimed up. "Send us up a few bottles of lager, would you?" Turning to Paula, she took the younger woman by the arm, "Fancy a hot shower and cold beer before tea?" and marched off, Paula barely unable to hide her guffaw at the shocked look on the woman's pinched face.

"That was mean." Paula chided Alex.

Alex was unrepentant. "She's an out of touch homophobe who shouldn't be allowed to deal with the public."

Paula mused, "Not a lot of chances to interact with gays in this area though, Gov."

"Doesn't excuse intolerance. Or her assumption that simply because two women are traveling together they must be lesbians." Alex put the key card in the slot, "And you can call me Alex, you know. We're not here on official business."

"Sorry. Old habits." Paula smiled. "Alex." She tried out the unfamiliar name and found it felt good in her mouth.

Alex smiled back, her tongue pressed up against the back of her teeth, a habit Paula found adorable. "Good. Now, toss you for the bed away from the windows."

It took the two women no time at all to get their things sorted in the smallish sized room. Paula's nerves, which had been increasing as they neared the room were quickly dispelled by Alex's easy nature.

"Well, what now? Fancy a drink?" Alex asked.

"Sure, there's a bar next door. Shall we give it a try?"

"Lead on, Macduff."

"Oh no, never call a McIntyre a Macduff. Them's fighting words." Paula said grinning.

"I always meant to ask you about that. What's with the Scottish name when you're so clearly from further south?" Alex asked as they walked the short distance to the bar. Inside it was fairly dim but she made out the outline of many small tables, some pushed together to make larger ones. Nearly all the tables were filled near the long wooden bar with combinations of tourists and apparent locals.

"Usual story. Family moved generations ago to avoid starving to death. Some went to Canada, some to Ireland, mine wound up in Bristol. And me, eventually, to Bradford." Paula explained.

"You grab that table while I get us drinks? Any requests?" Alex suggested.

"No, you go ahead and choose." Paula said. "Surprise me. I'm easy"

"If only" Alex teased before walking away.

Paula stared at the short woman before remembering her task. Draping her coat over another chair she sat at a table nearest the back wall, the better to see the whole of the bar.



The drive to Stirling was a mostly silent one. Nikki drove while Helen stared morosely out the window at the rain splattered countryside. As they waited at a stop light, Nikki inquired, "room first or food?"

Helen sighed, "I guess food. Lunch seems like it was days ago."

Nikki pulled the car into an open space. "Why don't you head in while I get go across the street to get a newspaper? Order me a seltzer and lime?"

Helen smiled a small timid smile, "Thank you for coming with me. I know it won't be easy for you."

"Darling, anything for you. You know that." She leaned over and gave Helen a brief loving kiss on the forehead.

At the market, Nikki perused the newspapers before picking up a copy of the local in addition to a London Times. Since leaving prison her thirst for current news of the world was rarely slaked, though Helen liked to tease that it was only the Page Three girls she was after.

Inside the bar, she saw Helen standing near the back, waiting to order. Seeing that all the other occupants were busy either staring into the depths of their drinks or to the football match on the corner television, she slid up behind the shorter woman. Cupping her backside, Nikki whispered into her ear, "Hello, Beautiful."

"Excuse me?" the tone was frosty.

"Fancy a snog?" Nikki checked again but no one was paying them any mind.

"I'll thank you to take your hands off my arse before I arrest you!" the voice was low but strident.

"Oh but it's such a nice arse." Nikki said, giving it another squeeze before leaning in to kiss the light brown hair.

At that moment, Nikki felt herself being pulled away and spun around forcibly. A furious blond woman grabbed Nikki by the lapel of her jacket shouting, "Oi! Get your hands off her!"

Five years out of prison did nothing to stem Nikki's protective instincts at the hands of a screw. She raised her hands in front of her, breaking the other woman's grip. Backing up to the bar, she frantically looked around for Helen, who was now on the other side of the blond, asking her, "Paula, are you alright?"

The blond glared at Nikki, "I'm fine. It's you I'm worried about."

Nikki spat out, "Oh mind your own business. I was only having a bit of fun with my girlfriend."

Paula turned to look at the shorter woman standing between them. "Girlfriend!"

As she was about to answer, Nikki heard another voice behind her chime in, "I think she means me."

Nikki turned around to find Helen suddenly standing behind her, smiling a curious smile. But Helen was in front of her too. Turning back and forth, Nikki felt her head was going to explode.

The woman behind her said to the woman in front of her "Hiya Crime."

The woman in front of her replied, "Hiya Punishment."

Paula and Nikki could only stare in amazement as the two identical women came together to embrace each other. One turned to Nikki while the other turned to Paula. At the same time in the same voice they said, "Meet my sister."

"Sister?" Paula said amazed.

"Sister?" Nikki repeated, "Helen, I knew you had a sister but you never told me she was a twin sister!"

Alex and Helen smiled the same open mouthed smile. "Yup" they chimed together.

Paula held a hand up, "Wait a tic. Who's Alex?"

"Here." Alex looked deeply into Paula's eyes, reassuring her that her eyes were not deceiving her.

The other woman turned to Nikki, putting her hand into the taller woman's. "Nikki? It's me, Helen."

Nikki looked down in the fingers entwined in her own. She would know that hand anywhere. Or so she had thought. Knowing she would need more reassurance, Helen added, "I'm Helen and" she lifted her hair from the side of her face, "I have a mole right here."

Alex mirrored the action saying, "I'm Alex and I don't have a mole right here."

Paula and Nikki craned forward to examine both necks. Sure enough, Helen had a small mole just under the ear where Alex had none. The two sisters stood back.

"Our teacher in nursery school taught us that to help people distinguish between us, " Alex said, "We've got a table over there, Helen. Join us?"

"Sure, let me get an order in. Nikki, do you still want seltzer and lime?"

Nikki shook her head, dazed, "Whiskey."

Paula added, "Bring the bottle." And proceeded to show Nikki to their table.

"Sorry for the mixup." she admitted sheepishly as they nervously sat down on adjacent sides of the table where they both could have their backs to the wall and face the room.

"Not your fault, I suppose." Nikki replied. "Did you know Alex was a twin?"

"No, but outside of work I don't know Alex very well, I guess." Paula admitted.

"Oh, you two work together." Nikki asked, "So you're not-"

"No!" Paula interrupted before the question was fully formed.

"I see. Here for the funeral?"

"Yes. I thought Alex could use the support. Apparently, she and her stepmom were close. 'Her Alice' she calls her."

"Yeah, Helen too." Nikki added, "That's nice of you."

Paula glanced away vaguely uncomfortable, "Well, Alex is a nice person."

They sat there in silence after that. At the bar, Alex and Helen put their food orders in and waited while the bartender filled four glasses with amber liquid.

Alex nudged Helen, gesturing over her shoulder toward where their companions sat. "So, that's Nikki then?"

Pride and love shone from Helen's eyes, "Yup, that's her."

Alex squinted a bit, "Pretty hot."

Helen laughed her deep hearty laugh, "Oh? You think so?"

"Not exactly my type but I can appreciate the appeal." Alex laid her hand on Helen's arm, "I'm sorry I haven't made the effort to meet her before this."

Helen nodded, "I understand. You had your hands full with Ben. How is he, by the way? Will he be there tomorrow?"

Alex shook her head, "No, he's staying with friends. Why subject him to the funeral for a woman he barely knew?"

"Makes sense." Helen's mouth twitched, "So, who's the bird then?" she gestured to Paula as they gathered up the drinks.

"Not what you're thinking." Alex followed, "We work together. And she was nice enough to come with me when she saw how upset I was at the news of Alice's passing."

Helen agreed, "Yes, that is very nice." She looked a bit closer at Alex but didn't elaborate.

Once back at the table, Nikki and Paula attacked the whiskey with gusto. Both still had trouble seeing their two companions sitting next to each other.

Helen squeezed Nikki's hand, "Don't worry, you'll get used to it soon enough."

Nikki shook her head, "I doubt that very strongly but I'll take your word for it."

Alex said, looking at Paula, "After a while, you'll start to see the differences and not be blinded so much by the similarities."

Paula blurted out, "Similarities! You're bloody carbon copies of each other." She took a long pull from her drink.

The sisters laughed. Both knew that, even among twins, they were exceptionally alike. But they had been dealing with this reaction all their lives and knew in time, the other women would begin to differentiate between them.

Alex turned to Helen, her eyes full of mischief, spoke in a tone so low only Helen could hear, "How long before they get used to it?"

Helen replied in an equally low voice, "No idea but if Paula really is just a co-worker, I bet Nikki figures it out first."

Alex raised an eyebrow, "The usual?"

Helen held out her hand which Alex promptly shook heartily, "Deal."

Nikki turned suspicious eyes to Paula, "What makes me think they were talking about us?"

Paula nodded. She watched the two sisters keenly, learning each's individual mannerisms. Studying them like a suspect, she realized that though reassured by Alex's words, it was going to take some doing to be able to tell the two woman apart. Especially after seeing Helen push her hair back behind one ear in an endearing gesture she had seen from Alex so many times before.

"So" she asked the two women, "what were those nicknames about?"

"Yes," added Nikki, "what was it you called each other? Crime and Punishment?"

The two women laughed. Alex explained "When I went into law enforcement, it was about the same time Helen started to work for the prison service, so Alice started calling us Crime and Punishment."

"Cute" Nikki admitted. "I know Helen's father wasn't too pleased with her career choice. Was he just as hard on you Alex?"

Alex grimaced, "He was always much harder on Helen than on me. He wasn't pleased with my choice but at least he accepted it for the most part."

Helen tossed back the remains of her drink, saying grimly. "My job was just one more thing to add to his list. I've been a disappointment to him since the moment I was born."

As Alex reached to take Helen's hand, Nikki asked, "What do you mean?"

Smiling ruefully at Alex, Helen replied slurring slightly, "I wasn't a boy." The two sisters leaned toward each other and for a brief moment held their foreheads together before straightening up again.

Seeing Nikki and Paula's puzzled expressions, Helen elaborated as she refilled her glass, "Our parents knew they were having twins but the doctor told them that even if we were born alive there was no way our mother would survive having more children. When Alex was born fourteen minutes before I was, they knew she was a girl, sound in mind and body. So when I was born, all Dad could see was that his last chance to have a boy was gone."

"That's terrible." Paula exclaimed.

"Yes it is" Alex replied grimly. "Then after our mother died a few years after we were born, it was like all happiness emptied out of the house. He could never get over losing her. At least until our Alice came along."

"Thank god for her." Helen said. "She taught us the real meaning of love, and that we are both in our own ways deserving of love." She looked between Alex and Nikki, before bestowing a gentle kiss on Nikki's lips.

Alex smiled to see them so comfortable together.

Paula looked away and abruptly got up, "Excuse me, I need to make a phone call."

Staring after her for a moment, Alex turned to her companions. "So" she said brightly, "where are you two staying?"

"We're next door." Nikki replied. She wasn't sure if it was the effect of the liquor on her empty stomach but she was becoming more comfortable talking to Alex now that the initial shock wore off.

Alex scowled, "Well, be prepared. The landlady is a bigot." And proceeded to detail her and Paula's reception as their food arrived.

Helen turned to Nikki, "We've got two choices. Try to find another place to stay tonight or" her eyes flashed mischievously "we can pretend Alex has two lovers in the same hotel."

Nikki's eyebrows went straight up her forehead. Alex, on the other hand, laughed loudly. "Oh yes, the switcheroo! We haven't played that since college. Please Nikki, say you'll let us."

Confronted by two pairs of hazel green eyes pleading with her, Nikki knew she couldn't refuse. She asked, "Explain the switcheroo before I agree to anything."

Helen winked at Alex, knowing the lack of an outright no meant yes in Nikki's case. "The switcheroo is only used in cases of blatant ignorance. In this case, an uptight woman who needs to expand her mind. Clearly she thinks all gays are deviants and perverts. We'll only be taking it to the very extreme to show her that really, most gay people are just like straight people."

"We used to use it on men, boys really, who thought it would be great to get twins in the sack. Not really thinking about the fact that their fantasy revolved around incest."

The two women looked at Nikki and said simultaneously "Ewww" in a deadpan tone. Nikki burst out laughing. "Alright, alright, you win. What do we do?"

"It's simple really," Alex explained. "When you're ready to check in, Helen and I will swap clothes, she'll check in as me but with you. Are you okay with a little PDA?"

Nikki recalled back to a time when Helen was afraid to be in the same room with Nikki, lest anyone realize her attraction to the dark inmate. "In the name of education, absolutely."

"Great." Alex squeezed Helen's forearm. "She's a good one Sis. Hold on tight."

"Oh I know it." Helen replied as Paula rejoined the group. Helen watched the detective's face as Alex animatedly explained the plan. Paula scowled a bit at first but lightened up as Alex's enthusiasm poured out.

When the time came to put their plan into action, Alex and Helen retreated to the washroom to change into each other's clothes.

Nikki couldn't help but ask, "Are you sure you're okay with this, Paula? I realize we kind of decided while you were out of the room."

Paula glanced away, "No, it's fine. I think it's a good idea to shake things up once in a while and let people know we're not all a bunch of nymphos."

Nikki noticed the use of the inclusive pronoun but did not comment on it. There was more to the blond detective constable than met the eye.

Nikki looked up just as Helen and Alex returned. Even knowing they had changed clothes, she naturally looked first to Alex, now wearing Helen's leather jacket, before shaking her head to herself. "There should be some sort of law that they have to wear their hair up whenever they're together." she muttered.

Paula grinned, "Where's the fun in that?" She herself was finding it easier to spot Alex as time went by. Helen carried herself differently from her sister. Her shoulders were generally back, she walked with an air of confidence that Alex, while not lacking it, couldn't seem to muster in the same quantity. Alex exuded a feeling of competence and businesslike determination. But there were lines of fatigue around her eyes that were absent from Helen. Standing in front of the two women, Paula felt fairly confident that she would be able to tell them apart. She wasn't so sure about if she were to come across one of them individually.

"Ready?" the two woman chorused.

Nikki startled, "Don't do that. It gives me the willies."

Both smiled with their tongue behind their teeth. "What does?" they asked in the same voice.

Nikki scowled. It was bad enough living with Helen's good natured teasing. Now she feared she was in for double treatment.

Helen looked at Alex. "Nikki, trioblaid aig am." (1)

Alex smiled, " Na gabh dragh, air mo shon fhein saoil Paula tuig." (2)

Helen replied, "Gu ro mhor. Innidh bana-mhorair." (3)

Paula glanced at Nikki, "They...weren't speaking English just now, were they?"

Nikki groaned softly, "Twin language. That's just great."

Helen took Nikki firmly by the arm, leading her outside. "Okay, ready to have some fun?"

Nikki grimaced, "All set."

As Helen and Nikki entered the front lobby of the hotel, Alex came in through the back. Paula lingered in the parking lot but watched through the giant window looking all the while like she was waiting for a cab. To Paula it was almost like a stakeout, watching without being seen to be watching.

Helen and Nikki marched up to the counter. Helen flashed her brightest smile to the woman behind the counter. "We need to check in."

The woman looked confused, then irritated as she made note of Helen's arm possessively linked through Nikki's. She pursed her lips and directed her question to Helen.

"Didn't you already check in? With another girrul?"

"Aye" Helen continued to smile though her blood boiled at the woman's manner. "But then I found this one and I couldn't help myself." She ran a hand through Nikki's short cropped hair. "Kin you blame meh?"

Nikki noticed that, even for Helen, her Scottish accent was more pronounced, a sure sign she was growing angry.

"So you'll be wanting a second room then?" the woman scowled, "Because we dinna allow three to a room."

"No, I'll need a second room but this one with the queen. Unless you have a king bed hidden away somewhere?" she winking flirtatiously, outraging the woman even more. "I'm sure we could find a way to use all that space." Helen brought her nose to gently stroke the side of Nikki's face. "Couldn't we, my bird?"

Nikki found it hard to think straight. She knew Helen was playing but part of her was feeling very turned on by Helen's behavior. Following Helen's lead, she whispered submissively, "Yes, Miss...tress" and bowed her head. Inwardly she grinned as she heard Helen's sudden intake of breath.

Fortunately, the woman hadn't heard Helen's gasp, being far too busy tearing paperwork out of the printer for Helen to sign. She slammed the key card down on the counter, demanding, "And I suppose you'll be wanting more lager for this room as well?"

Helen nearly lost her composure at the comment, but simply smiled her brilliant smile again. "No, I think the mini-bar should keep us occupied. Come Nikki" and she pulled on Nikki's sleeve as she walked away, barely able to keep from laughing hysterically until they met up with Alex in the hallway outside their rooms.

"Look Al, side by side rooms!" Helen crowed, tears streaming down her face. "So convenient for you."

Alex waved Paula over who by now had come inside. "Did she say anything to you as you came in? Look, our beer's gone warm."

Paula smirked, "I stopped to see if there were any messages for us and she gave a whole lecture about how I should be careful who I associate with, and how I could do better. With a man, no doubt."

Alex snorted at that, "I beg your pardon. I'm a catch, I'll have you know!"

Paula replied quietly as she unlocked their room, "Oh, I know."

The two sisters embraced "Goodnight Crime." Helen said warmly.

Alex hugged her a little tighter, "Goodnight Punishment. Sleep well."

Alex held out her arms to hug Nikki as well. "C'mon, you're as close to a sister-in-law I'm going to get."

Nikki smiled and hugged her back. "Sleep well, you naughty girl. You know where to find me if you get bored."

Helen swatted her arm, "No, you don't. That's a bad slave!" She laughed as she moved toward Paula to give her a hug as well, but was stopped by Paula abruptly thrusting her hand out. Helen frowned a bit at the gesture but put it down to the quiet detective's shy nature. After also shaking Nikki's hand, Paula turned and entered the room, making a beeline for the bathroom.

Alex followed her after seeing her sister and partner into their room. In the pub, Alex noticed that Paula either looked away or down into her drink every time Helen and Nikki showed affection toward one another. She filed away the piece of information for later, and went about getting ready for bed.

By the time Paula came out, wearing a baggy Bradford fire district tee shirt and knee length gray shorts, twenty minutes had passed. Alex chided the younger woman, "I thought I was going to have to send in a search party. Everything alright?"

Paula blushed, "Sorry. Not used to sharing a room, I reckon." She put her folded clothes into her small carry bag. When Alex came out, Paula was on her side facing away from Alex's bed, apparently asleep.

"Well goodnight then, Paula." Alex told the motionless form. There was no reply.



In the next room, Nikki had barely crossed the threshold of the room before Helen pushed her up against the wall, kissing her furiously. Apparently, the game with the landlady had the same effect on Helen as it had on Nikki. In their many years together, some things had changed in their relationship but nothing had dimmed their near insatiable appetite for one another. As Nikki's tongue slipped into Helen's mouth, Nikki heard the smaller woman whimper quietly. It reminded her of the first time they had kissed.

It had been a few months after the fateful day in the potting shed and it's aftermath in Helen's office. Helen's life was rapidly descending in a downward spiral of personal and professional turmoil. Feeling she had no where else to turn for a sympathetic ear, she entered Nikki's cell to pour out her troubles. Nikki had been everything she wanted in a confidant: non-judgemental, caring and sweet. This only shook Helen's confidence even more as she realized the inappropriateness of coming to an inmate in her care in the first place, let alone confiding in her personal details and showing the kind of vulnerability she had been warned against since entering the prison service.

When Nikki put her arm around her, it felt so warm and comforting she couldn't pull away. And when Nikki put her fingers to her chin and brought their mouths together, all she could do was surrender to softest, gentlest kiss she had ever known. Before she knew it, she was leaning into Nikki, returning the kiss with a kind of untempered passion she thought herself incapable of. The whimper that escaped her quickly turned into something akin to a growl that both shocked and aroused her beyond belief. It also frightened her to her core, causing her to pull away viciously. As Nikki stammered apologies, Helen retreated to her usual offensive posture, berating the other woman in no uncertain terms for an act that, had she been remotely honest with herself, she had expected and anticipated from the moment she entered the small room.

The next few weeks Helen avoided Nikki like the plague. Finding reasons to stay off the floor when she knew Nikki would be around, avoiding the garden grounds, she even changed her morning routine to come in through the side entrance so she wouldn't be tempted to glance up at the row of windows on Nikki's floor where she knew Nikki would be watching for her.

Finally when Nikki's university tests arrived, Helen steeled herself for the inevitable meeting to go over the procedure for the exam. Knowing it was important to Nikki's eventual appeal, Helen wasn't going to let her feelings for the dark haired inmate get in the way.

As usual when feeling singled out by Helen for preferential treatment, Nikki was elated to be summoned to the wing governor's office but wary as well. One look at Helen's ultra-professional demeanor set the tone. She resorted to her fall back stance as well of open defiance.

"Why not put me down in the block then? Breaking Rule 47, subsection 16" she quoted, "Showing disrespect to the wing governor" as she stalked around to a position behind Helen's chair, "by kissing her?"

Seeing Helen's hands clench, Nikki continued, "What about subsection 17, eh? What would happen to me if I followed through on that kiss? How long would you throw me in the block for if I had eased you back on my bed with me and kept kissing you?"

Helen drew in a breath sharply, telling Nikki she had indeed been thinking about what would have happened if Helen had not run off when she did.

Nikki whispered into Helen's ear, "My bed is so narrow but I'm sure we could have found a way for us to both fit. If you spread your legs just enough for one of mine to slip between. Besides, you're so tiny, I could easily lie with you atop me without feeling crowded at all.

Helen's eyes closed as her mouth open to allow for her increased breathing. "Nikki" she warned.

But Nikki wasn't about to stop. "If you were on top, let's face it you're a born top, aren't you, I could easily reach up to stroke your smooth cheek, feel your neck, slide down your shoulder to your beautiful breasts."

Helen abruptly sat up in her chair, ramrod straight. Nikki noticed that as she did so, her legs shifted bringing her thighs together. She doubted Helen realized that she had also started to rock ever so slowly against the edge of the chair.

"With me on my back, you could easily touch me as well but we both know this time was about you. You came to me for comfort, remember? By bringing my hands to your hips I could finally give myself over to touching your body, and I want to touch you everywhere. Your hips, to bring you even closer to me, slowly rising to meet you, feeling our bodies merge together. I know it wouldn't take long for us to find a rhythm together, moving against one another."

Helen's breathing became more labored and if she could hear the squeak of her chair against the tile of the floor, there was no indication.

Nikki continued, "And if you leaned forward just right, I could finally get a sense of what it might be like to actually make love to you. A bent knee here, a bit of pressure against your back there, how long might it be before you say my name again? Only this time with your voice clogged with the same need I hear in mine every time we speak?"

Helen rocked in the chair oblivious to everything but the sound of Nikki's voice. She knew she shouldn't want this, knew she shouldn't need this but was powerless against that voice. Low, soft, deep, the London accent not quite posh but finely tuned to resonate at a level specific to Helen. "Helen, please" Nikki said, "I need you so much. I've never needed anyone the way I need you."

The pure sincerity in Nikki's voice flooded Helen with warmth. She squeezed her thighs together and threw her head back. Her anguished cry "Oh Nikki!" sounded no different from any other time she grew exasperated. It was her eyes, pupils dilated to allow only a narrow band of green, locked with Nikki's that allowed the other woman to share in the intense pleasure felt by the smaller woman.

When she could speak again, fear and doubt returned. "If you need me so much, why did you apologize for kissing me in the first place? There, in your cell?"

Nikki bristled, "I wasn't apologizing for kissing you. I was apologizing for kissing you there, in my cell! I never wanted our first kiss to be in a prison cell. You deserve better than that. You deserve everything beautiful in the world. Not some sterile, disgusting pit with an open toilet in the corner."

Helen sighed, scrubbing her face with her hands, "You know this can't go on Nikki."

Nikki frowned, "What do you mean?"

Helen stared at her hard, "If we continue like this, one of us is going to have to leave Larkhall!"

It was too much for Nikki. The implications of Helen's statement was like a slap to the face. She stormed out of the office and back to her cell.

Meanwhile in their hotel room, Nikki realized Helen's whimpers were quickly turning into moans. She decided to play a bit with the little bit of role playing that had gone on in the hotel lobby with the landlady. As she kissed her way down the side of Helen's neck, she said in a low voice, "Tonight's safe word is ukelele. Alright?"

Helen paused for a moment, bringing her mind out of the erotic haze long enough to repeat, "Ukelele? Sure, fine. Just don't stop"

"No Miss. I wouldn't dream of stopping." She resumed kissing the side of Helen's face, jaw and neck slowly backing her up to the foot of the large bed in the center of the room. "Unless you want me to?" she asked.

Helen stood back a few paces. In her most imperious voice she said, "What I want is you naked in that bed by the time I come back" and without a further look, she turned on her heel and marched into the en suite.

Nikki was baffled by the abrupt departure but knew Helen must have had something up her sleeve to make the comment. Rapidly she shed her clothes, but taking the time to quickly fold and hang up her garments.

As she slid into the chill sheets, she shivered. She sat up, leaning against the headboard, pulling the top sheet up around her chest. In a moment, Helen emerged wearing a black silk teddy. At Nikki's puzzled look, she explained, "I knew this weekend was going to be hard so I brought something to make me feel good about myself."

Nikki melted at the thought, "Oh Helen, you are so beautiful. Is there anything I can do to help you?"

Helen smiled wistfully, "Well there is." she slid into the bed with Nikki, allowing herself to be held. "Can we put a rain check on our little game? Just for tonight? Tonight I need you to love me. Can we play Stern Prison Matron another night? Would that be okay?"

Nikki hugged her fiercely, "Of course my darling. Let me just hold you and if we make love then we make love. And if not, you can rest assured that I love and adore you completely." She kissed Helen, a kiss full of love and tenderness.

Helen snuggled closer. "I love you so much."

Soon both women were fast asleep.



Paula felt smothered. She was still much too drunk to sleep. The room, small and charming in daylight, was feeling more claustrophobic by the minute. She rolled over for the umpteenth time, readjusting her pillow, trying desperately to find a comfortable position. It was no use. In the other bed, Alex slept on, oblivious to Paula's tossing and turning, the steady gentle cadence of her breathing the only sound in the otherwise quiet room.

Paula mentally kicked herself again, as she kicked off the covers. She must have been mad to think that a sharing a room with Alex was a good idea. Alex was her boss, and quickly becoming her friend. It was inappropriate for them for them to be sharing a room. She should have insisted on a single by herself.

But Alex seemed so lost on the drive up, barely making conversation in the car, that Paula put aside her reservations. Paula practically saw the wheels in Alex's head spinning as she contemplated the funeral of her stepmother the next day and all the possible problems that might arise. After hearing the story of her and Helen's birth, and their father's archaic reaction, Paula was more glad than ever she decided to come in support.

Except how much support could she provide if she was dead on her feet from lack of sleep?

When the morning finally came, Paula was surprised to find that she had slept at all. Her next thought was that someone had clearly been beating her about the skull with a tire iron and had unkindly wrapped her tongue in cotton. Sitting up was a very bad idea, she realize a moment too late as the tire iron suddenly turned into a wrecking ball. She heard the sound of the shower running in the next room, and took the opportunity to search her kit for headache tablets, which she downed using water from the ice bucket in which last night's lager still floated. The thought of beer at the moment made Paula gag briefly but she recovered in time as she heard the en suite door open.

Alex entered barefoot, wearing a hotel waffle robe, a large towel wrapped around her head. "Good Morning" she chirped cheerily, crossing the room to draw open the drapes, letting in the bright morning sunshine.

Paula felt like a vampire, covering her eyes with her arms, gasping, "Agh! Too bright."

Alex grinned, "Everything alright, Paula?"

Paula scowled, rubbing her hands over her face trying to wish the hammering in her head away, "God no!" she looked at the other woman incredulously, "You drank even more than I did. Why aren't you dying too?"

Then Alex understood, "Oh please, you think a little whiskey'll take me down? Not to be a stereotype but that stuff is mother's milk to me."

Paula gagged again, "Don't mention milk." and rushed into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. Helen laughed but quickly got dressed in yoga pants and a simple cotton tee, then dried her hair. After quick call to the front desk, she set about to knock on Helen's door. It opened immediately with Helen saying, "That was quick."

"Don't tell me." Alex said, peering around her sister to the lump in the middle of the large bed, "Hangover cure coming from room service?"

Helen raised an eyebrow, "Yours too? Yeah, Nikki's a bit worse for wear. Who knew she was such a lightweight?" A rumble from the lump told the women that their comments were overheard and not appreciated.

Alex corrected Helen, "Paula's not mine, per se, but she is hung over. I sent down for the usual cure. You up for a real breakfast once it arrives?"

"Sure, let me just get my bag and we can wait in your room with the door open until it arrives."

"Fine, I think Paula's trying to shower the alcohol out of her system."

Before they knew it, two trays arrived with a very confused bell boy. Seeing his head dart back and forth between the twins, Helen put one finger to her lips and handed him a fiver. Now seeing only the large tip, he retreated.

"Let me just write Paula a note, and we can go." Alex went to the night stand and wrote on a piece of hotel stationary


1. eat this

2. drink this

3. sleep for two more hours and you'll be right as rain.

That's an order.


When Paula reentered the bedroom, she found on the night stand Alex's note along with a tray of hot coffee with cream, a bowl of porridge and a single ripe banana. Grimacing at the thought of food and wondering how Alex thought she could sleep after drinking coffee, she followed the instructions. Surprisingly, everything seemed to be staying down and she felt suddenly tired, the kind of tired that, unlike last night, was the kind of tired that promised deep revitalizing sleep. Within minutes of her head hitting the pillow, she slept.

A little over two hours later, she woke to the sound of someone carefully entering the room. Seeing it was Alex, or was it Helen-damn!, she called out, "I'm awake. You don't have to tip toe."

A caring smile crossed the face, "Good to hear Paula. It's Helen. Alex just wanted me to double check on you and asked me to tell you that if you wanted to stay here today to get more rest, she'd understand."

Paula sat up, waiting for the accompanying pain to start in her head again. When it didn't she said, "No, Helen. I'm feeling much better. I want to go with her today. Unless" she hesitated, "you think that's Alex's way of asking me not to come. I don't want to intrude."

Helen smiled her open smile, "You won't be intruding, I promise you. In fact, I know it means a great deal to her that you came all this way to support her." Becoming more serious, she added, "She won't say this to you because she can be as stubborn and private as they come, but Alex doesn't open herself up to many people. That she did with you says a lot about you."

"She is awfully private about her personal life. We didn't even know at the station she had a son until we worked together for months. We all care a lot about her." Paula added quietly, not quite able to meet Helen's gaze.

"She obviously cares a lot about you too." Helen's tone forced Paula to look up. Her face was deadly serious. "And I'll tell you, in all honesty, if you go about fooling around with her emotions, you and I will have a serious problem. Are we clear?"

Paula gulped, "Yes Helen." Seeing for a brief moment the hardened persona of the wing governor, Paula knew better than to take her anything less than seriously.

Just as quickly, the fun-loving woman from last night was back, "Right then, come on down when you're dressed. You and Nikki can compare notes on the Stewart family hang over cure while Al and I get ready."

After quickly dressing for the funeral, Paula hurried down to the hotel breakfast room. Getting a cup of coffee, she joined Nikki who was standing in a corner looking out the window.

"Ah, the other phoenix rises from the ashes!" Nikki greeted her, her brown eyes twinkling with humor.

"Yes, none the worse for wear, I suppose." Paula agreed. "Would you like to sit with me while I finish this?" She gestured to the cup.

"I'll join you but I can't sit." Nikki said as she followed Paula to a table. At Paula's puzzled look, she added, "If I sit, I wrinkle. And Helen made it very clear I am not to be wrinkled in any way today."

Paula took in the immaculate dark blue Armani suit, then her brows furrowed, "But how are you going to get to the church?"

Nikki's eyes lit up, "Yes, exactly! You're brilliant. Whew" she blew out a breath as she quickly sat down. "I've been standing ever since I got up. What Helen doesn't quite get, " she crossed her long legs, "is that this kind of wool shakes out so wrinkles aren't really a problem. But I've found it's best not to argue with her when she makes demands."

Paula chuckled, "After what I saw this morning, I can't say as I blame you. She can be quite intimidating when she wants to be."

Nikki laughed, "Don't tell me, she gave you the 'If you hurt my sister, I'll hurt you' speech? Alex gave me the same one when she came to wake me. Devious women we have there, devious."

Paula's grin vanished and she looked away. Quietly she said, "She's not really 'my woman' though, is she?" Seeing Nikki was about to reply, she quickly amended, "I mean, we work together, that's all."

Nikki took the hint and said nothing. After sitting in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes, she gratefully said, "Ah, there they are. Remember, my sitting down was all your idea so if anyone is going to take a bollocking, it's you."

"If I claim my headache is back, will she take pity on me?" Paula's good nature resurfaced as she mimed a terrible pain in her head.

Looking up at the two women striding toward them, Paula recognized Helen immediately as the petite woman zoned in on Nikki. Striding furiously, she spat out, "Nikki, I asked you to do one thing this morning. One thing! And that was to not spoil your suit." Her eyes flashed with anger.

Nikki leapt up. "Helen, the suit is fine. Look" she turned in a circle holding her arms out, "No wrinkles."

Helen face crumbled as her eyes filled with tears. Wordlessly, she leaned into her partner who encircled her in her arms, holding her close. Paula cleared her throat nervously and looked around for anywhere else to be. Snatching her empty cup from the table, she mumbled something about coffee and headed for the large urn on the other side of the room. Alex followed her with her eyes, but did not move.

After a few minutes, Helen raised her head. "Sorry 'bout that. I guess I'm a bit more touchy today than usual."

Alex smiled ruefully at her, "Not to worry Hel, I think we're both a bit on edge about today." she glanced over at where Paula stood, apparently pondering her sweetner choices. "It's understandable." Noticing the time, she blew out a breath, "It's time we were leaving. Do you want to take one car or two?"

Helen looked up at Nikki. After a moment of wordless communication, she answered, "I think two is a better idea. Just in case."

Alex nodded, "Agreed. But remember, we both have each other's backs. We're there for Alice, not him. He can't hurt us, unless we let him, right?"

Helen nodded back. As the two women embraced in a fierce hug, Paula wandered back. "All good?" she asked Nikki quietly.

"Yeah," Nikki replied. "We're taking two cars though. Are you okay with driving Alex?"

"Sure, no problem." Paula said. "I'll go pull the car around and meet her out front."

During the short drive to the cathedral, Alex made small talk about the weather, and made a quick phone call to Ben to reassure him she would be home the following day. As she snapped her phone shut, she said, "I think Ben would be fine if I stayed away for a week he's having so much fun at his friend's house."

Paula parked the car in the large lot. "That's good. I remember that age. Anytime my parents were gone, it was like party central on our block. It's a miracle we made it out alive."

The moment of lightheartedness was short lived however. At the sudden intake of breath by Alex, Paula looked out the window. There, next to the funeral home hearse, stood a fairly stocky balding man with a fringe of shockingly white hair around the back of his head.

"Your dad?" Paula asked quietly.

Alex set her jaw, "Yup, that's him."

Paula reached over and took Alex's hand, squeezing lightly. "Hey, I'm here for you in whatever way you need me to be."

Alex turned to face her, "Right now, all of a sudden, I'm numb. So I don't really know what I'm going to need in the next few hours. But it's nice to know you're here. Thank you." She held Paula's gaze for a long moment, hazel eyes edging into dark green by the reflection of the sky outside against her dark power suit. Finally, she blew out a deep breath, clearly steeling herself for what was to come. "Okay then. Off we go."

Paula followed at a respectful distance as Alex greeted her father. They hugged each other, but Paula could tell it was a cold, emotionless hug purely for form's sake, not affection. Alex turned to Paula, "Dad, this is my colleague Detective Constable Paula McIntyre. She's been kind enough to drive me today."

Paula held out her hand to him. They were roughly the same height and Paula was surprised to see the man narrow his eyes as they shook hands quickly. "Got you driving her around, does she? Putting on airs, if you ask me."

Paula was astonished and started to retort but was cut off by Alex, "Dad, stop it. Paula is here because she's my friend and wanted to be nice. So lay off."

Stewart scowled, "Well which is it? Is she your work mate or your friend?" The last word was said with such a sneer, Paula was shocked.

"I'm honored to be both, Sir" Paula said respectfully, for Alex's sake. The old man merely hurrumphed and walked away.

She looked hopelessly at Alex, who quickly reassured her, "It's his defense mechanism. Pay him no mind."

Paula wasn't sure but bowed to Alex's wish. At that moment, she noticed two men walking toward them. She was surprised at first to see Dr. Tony Hill and Kevin Geoffries at the funeral, then realized it was simply a reflection of the esteem that Alex was held in by her squad.

She moved to one side to talk to Kevin while Tony said hello to Alex. "Nice of you boys to come." she said.

Kevin shuffled uncomfortably, pulling at the collar of his button down shirt. "I hadn't planned on it, but kind of got roped in by Tony. Besides, the 'gov deserves it."

Paula nodded. Suddenly, she noticed Kevin's eyes growing wide. Turning to see the cause, she stifled a smile to see Helen and Nikki walking down the street, arm in arm. "Whassa matter, Kev? Didn't know Alex had a clone?"

The blond man continued to gawp as the couple came nearer. Helen whispered into Nikki's ear, making the taller woman laugh. As they came closer, Paula introduced Kevin to them both.

As they all walked toward the church, Paula saw Alex walking with her father toward the front steps. Tony joined them but was nonplused at meeting Helen. Nikki asked Paula in a low voice, "I don't get it. He didn't even blink."

Paula replied, "He's a bit of an odd duck. Very nice, but not what you might call 'regular'."

At the foot of the steps, Helen stopped. Keeping her arm tightly linked with Nikki's, she squinted in the glare of the high mid day sun. "Hello Dad."

Mr. Stewart glared down at his daughter, "Under no circumstances are you to come into this sacred place with her." He sneered at Nikki contemptuously.

Alex immediately jumped in, "Oh Dad, today of all days! Give it a rest, would you please?"

"Enough out of you, missy. I will not stand by while your sister flaunts her unnatural lifestyle in a house of God."

Helen flushed red, "And I will not stand by while you dishonor the only mother we ever had with your bigotry and hate." She started up the steps, Nikki in tow. Stewart moved to block the couple.

How dare you!" he shouted, specks of spittle flying from his mouth. "You are an abomination in the sight of the Lord!"

Alex put a restraining hand on her father's arm, "Dad, enough. You aught to be ashamed. What would Alice say?"

"She would say that God made me this way, and that her God doesn't make mistakes." Helen added firmly.

"Saint Paul's letter clearly states that man shall not lie with man." Steward flung Alex's arm off angrily.

"Uh, actually, no he didn't." a voice from the below said.

All heads turned to Tony Hill, standing at the base of the steps. "The, uh, passage you refer to was actually, if you had read the entire chapter, referring to a time when there was a terrible depopulation in the area. Paul's message, in the correct context, clearly was meant as a stop gap measure. He only meant that the men should resist lying with each other until such time as the area was, uh, repopulated. After that, it was fine. For man to lie with man, that is." Tony looked up to find everyone staring at him. He smiled awkwardly.

After a moment, Stewart demanded, "Who are you?"

"Oh, uh, I'm Dr. Tony Hill. I work with Detective Inspector Fielding." he stammered.

Alex smiled reassuringly at Tony. Her father, seeing the smile, flew into another rage, "Oh he's one of your...your...paramours too?"

"No, well, actually, I'm a clinical psychologist." Tony tried but was cut off by Alex's "Tony, not now!"

Stewart faced Alex again, "No doubt one of your adulterous lovers! At least you had sense enough to leave your bastard son at home."

"Dad!" Alex was shocked.

"Right! That's enough!" Helen stormed up the steps. "I will not stand by while you defame our mother's memory like this. Now we are going into this church, we are going to honor Alice in a fitting way, and if you don't like it, you can go to hell!"

Taking Alex by the arm, she stalked into the church, quickly followed by Nikki, Tony and Kevin. Paula watched as a whole range of emotions passed over Alex's father. He seemed baffled at the outcome of his tirade and unsure what to do next.

"Sir, can I help you to a seat inside?" Paula asked gently.

It took the older man a few moments to respond, "Yes please, uh Detective, uh" he flustered.

"McIntyre, Sir." Paula took his arm and led him to a seat in the front of the cathedral. On the other side of the isle sat Alex and Helen with Nikki on Helen's other side. Paula was about to take her seat in the pew behind Alex alongside Tony and Kevin, but Alex gestured for Paula to join her. Once seated, Alex took Paula's hand but stared straight ahead, eyes sparkling with unshed tears.

At the end of the service, Alex and Helen walked out together, with Nikki and Paula not far behind. During the reception at the church hall, their father gave them a wide berth as they mingled with Alice's friends and former co-workers. Two hours later, most of the guests had left and the church ladies were starting to clean up.

Paula asked Alex, "So what now? Back to the hotel? I assume you don't want to drive back to Bradford tonight."

Alex sighed, "No, not tonight. I would understand if you got a ride back with Kevin though. No need to babysit me anymore." But the expression on her face was so sad and downtrodden, Paula reassured her,

"No, of course not Alex. I'd be glad to stay another night. No problem at all."

Alex smiled wanly, "Thanks."

"Besides Kev and Tony are staying tonight. They're checking into our hotel too, if there's room."

"Sounds like a recipe for a good old fashioned wake if ever I heard one." Alex said, eyes smiling again.

Paula groaned, "Oh god, not more alcohol! I can't Alex. I love you but I can't drink again tonight. I just can't."

Alex grinned, "Oh, don't you worry. We'll go easy on you this time. Last night was just the warm up."

Paula winced, "That's what I'm afraid of."



For dinner, all six met at a tiny Sicilian restaurant a few blocks from the hotel. They took over the only large table in the corner next to an ancient piano. Paula found herself seated in the center with Alex on her left and Kevin on her right. Helen and Nikki sat across from Kevin and Paula with Tony on the end. After ordering a variety of delicious sounding pastas, a few bottles of wine and an antipasto starter, Tony asked Helen, seated at his elbow "So how did you and Nikki meet?"

Alex suddenly choked a bit on her wine, and forcibly shook her head at Tony, who looked baffled. Paula frowned as she noticed a crimson blush rushing up Helen's neck.

Nikki cleared her throat, "Actually, we met in prison."

Tony was nonplussed, "Really? Which one?"

Nikki said curtly, "Larkhall" hoping that would be the end of it.

It wasn't. "Oh yes, Larkhall. Which wing?"

Alex tried kicking Tony from under the table but he simply glanced down at his smarting ankle and shifted his leg. Paula watched as Helen and Nikki seemed to brace themselves, curious as to the reason they would avoid talking about how they met when they so clearly had such a strong relationship.

Nikki plowed on, "G wing. I was there for roughly five years before I got out."

Tony smiled, clueless, "Oh yes, it must have seemed like a prison sentence yourself, working there, I mean." He looked up from his plate of salami and peppers to find the rest of the table staring at him.

Helen cleared her throat, "Nikki was an inmate there, Tony. For five years."

"Oh!" that got Tony's attention. "And how about you Helen? How long were you in for?"

Realizing that the man had no clue, Alex tried to intervene but was stopped by her sister with a short shake of the head.

"Tony, I wasn't an inmate. When I met Nikki there, I was the wing governor. Of G wing." she said pointedly.

"While Nikki was there? How fascinating." he went on eating.

Alex jumped in," This really isn't any of our business, is it? And besides, water under the bridge."

But Paula couldn't help but ask, "Wait a sec, though. You met while Nikki was an inmate and you were a prison official?" At Nikki and Helen's serious nod, she continued, "And yet, here you are now. Together."

Nikki scowled but Helen answered for them both, "Yes Paula. We met while Nikki was in my care, and after she got out on appeal, we started our life together and have been together ever since. Love triumphed, etcetera etcetera." The words were spat out bitterly. Helen took a large drink from her wine glass, Nikki quickly refilling it and her own.

There was a moment of silence while everyone drank or stared at their plates uncomfortably. Tony finally broke the silence, "So what were you in for Nikki?"

"For God's sake! I was in for murdering a cop but before you all get up in my face about it" Nikki half shouted angrily, seeing the reaction in Paula and Kevin's faces, "he was raping my girlfriend at the time, and we later found out that he had been a serial rapist and the scum of the earth. Which doesn't justify my killing him but it does explain it."

"Nikki Wade." Kevin suddenly blurted out. "You're Nikki Wade? I knew you looked familiar."

"Yes, what of it? No doubt there's a picture of me on every dart board in every police station in Britain." Nikki's face was thunderous.

Kevin held up his hand placatingly. Turning to Paula he said, "Gossard. Remember me telling you about that git from academy?" When she nodded, he said, "That was Gossard. Never met a bloke more likely to go to hell in my life. If it hadn't been you, Nikki, it would have been somebody else. The man was a terror."

Not sure what to make of this, Nikki said nothing. Paula thought back and seemed to recall reading about the case years ago. She agreed with the dark haired woman's assessment of the situation. Killing was rarely justified but this came close.

"Can't condone killing someone" she said, "but if I could, this would be the case." she raised her glass just slightly to Nikki before taking a small sip. This seemed to relieve the overwhelming tension at the table.

Alex let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "So" she said brightly, "When are you two lovebirds going to make me an auntie?"

This time when Helen spat out her wine, it was due to laughter. The rest of the dinner proceeded without incident. The food was made to order and so took plenty of time, during which more wine than bread was consumed. Paula found herself feeling tipsy and switched discreetly to water. Her ravioli in red sauce was spiced nicely with red peppers and she secretly wished she was alone to lick the plate clean it was all so good. Similar food epiphanies were taking place all around the plank wooden table. Alex took a bite of her gnocci and made a noise very similar to a moan. When Paula turned to her in surprise, Alex speared one of the small round pieces, swirled it in the whitish cream sauce and held it out to Paula, "You have to try this."

Paula shook her head, "No thanks, mine is fine."

Alex pressed the fork closer, "You don't get a choice in this Detective Constable." Her eyes were half lidded but the voice was all command, "I insist."

Swallowing hard, and not just to rid her mouth of the food in it, Paula stared at Alex. Her mouth was slightly open, her cheeks flushed. Paula opened her own mouth and accepted the morsel of food. It melted in her mouth, a slight tang to the sauce that was unexpected and incredible. Paula was horrified when a moan escaped her own mouth. "Oh my god."

Alex said triumphantly, "I know, right?"

Paula closed her eyes, savoring the gnocci. "Blue cheese?" she asked.

"Got to be." Alex confirmed. "But something else I can't figure."

Paula grinned, "Give me another bite, I suss it out."

Alex laughed and pulled the plate away, "No way, get yer own" but speared another forkful, feeding it to the other woman.

Nikki, meanwhile, watched the two with interest. She nudged Helen who was also too focused on her food to notice what was going on across the table. When she saw her sister feeding Paula, her brows furrowed slightly but she just shrugged to Nikki and went back to her meal. Nikki could tell she was thinking about it though.

Finally when the plates had been cleared, and coffee sent for, Tony piped up, "So Alex. What did your dad mean when he called Ben a bastard? I mean, your name is Fielding and Helen's is Stewart, so I assume that means that you married Ben's father. Although" he looked up to find, once again, a table full of people starting at him aghast. "I suppose you didn't necessarily have to have been married to Ben's father, did you?"

Alex took a deep breath, "I was married to Ben's father. Gabe Fielding. But we got married after I got pregnant." Her tone brooked no nonsense. "After we divorced, it was easier for Ben if I kept my married name."

"Oh yes, of course." Tony flustered. "That would explain it."

"Thank god" Paula muttered.

To the relief of everyone, at that moment the man who until that point had been their waiter, Giovanni, sat down at the piano. Playing a flourish on the keys, he quietly announced to the full restaurant "I play requests, if you have them. Otherwise, you're stuck with what I know." He smiled displaying his white teeth, then played a series of standards including "Fly me to the moon" and "The girl next door" among others.

Listening to the music, Paula felt the world was, for once, at peace. The wine in her system made her feel slightly sleepy but in a calm way while the food in her stomach felt settled and comfy.

Helen said quietly to her sister, "An-drasta is laghachaiche." (4)

"Seadh." Alex agreed, sighing contentedly. (5)

Nikki burst out, "No, really. You have got to stop doing that!"

Giovanni glared at Nikki but kept playing the love theme from The Summer of '42. Helen placed a calming hand over Nikki's, "Darlin' what's the matter?"

"The matter is, I was always taught it was impolite to speak another language unless everyone knew it." Nikki hissed at her. Paula nodded in agreement. Seeing it, Nikki went on, "You see, it's making everyone uncomfortable when you two go on in your little twin language. Frankly," Nikki huffed imperiously, "it's rude."

Both Alex and Helen sat stunned for a moment, then broke out laughing, loud deep belly laughs amplified by two. Giovanni scowled but started to play an upbeat number instead. When one of them would start to calm down, it only took a look from the other to get them going again. Giovanni was halfway through the score of "Mama Mia" before the two finally quieted down enough to speak.

"You thought we were talking in twin language? Oh Nikki, that's just a myth." Helen wiped tears from her eyes.

"No it's not. You were doing it yesterday and you were doing it right now."

Paula jumped in to help. "Tony, of any of us, besides these two" she glared good naturedly at Alex and Helen who were looking likely to burst out laughing again any second "you'd be most likely to know. Is there such a thing as twins growing up with their own kind of special secret language?"

"Oh uh, yes, Paula. There are documented accounts of it." Tony said matter of factly. "In fact, as far back as the eighteenth century-"

She put up her hand to stop him, focusing back on the rest of the table, "There. That proves it."

Helen bit into her hand to keep from laughing. Alex started to say something but was interrupted by Tony.

"But they weren't speaking twin language." he said absently.

"Okay Mr. Expert in everything" Nikki challenged, "What were they speaking?"

"Oh that" he replied, picking at a bread crumb on the table, "that was Scottish Gaelic. Beautiful language really."

Now it was Alex and Helen's turn to question Tony, "You know Scottish Gaelic?"

Tony finished with the crumbs, brushing them off onto a spare plate, "Well not to speak it. At least not as well as you two, but yes, I can recognize it. Slightly different from the Irish, wouldn't you say?"

Nikki turned to Helen astonished, "Ten years we've known each other and I'm just now learning you speak a whole 'nother language? What else don't I know?"

Helen smiled "Never had the chance to use it, except with Crime here. C'mon, let's dance and I'll make it up to you."

Nikki beamed, her face shining with love for her partner. Taking her hand, they walked out to the minuscule dance floor. Seeing his chance, Giovanni slowed the tempo down for "Fernando". The two women were soon joined by a few other couples.

Paula couldn't take her eyes off Helen and Nikki dancing. The difference in their heights only seemed to add to their appeal as a couple, making it appear that they melded together into a finished whole. Nikki curled one of Helen's hand to her chest with the other firmly wrapped around her waist. Occasionally, she would dip her head to nuzzle her mouth against Helen's temple. Helen's eyes were closed and her face was one of pure bliss.

Alex turned her attention from her sister to the woman seated next to her. Bumping against her arm, Alex said in a low voice, "I know I'm biased, but they do make a lovely couple, don't they?"

Paula turned to stare at her, an unreadable expression on her face. "Yes, lovely. Will you excuse me please?' and bolted from the table. Alex frowned as she watched the other woman stalk off.

"Kevin?" she asked, motioning the man to move into Paula's vacated chair. "I know you and Paula are friends and I don't want you to betray any confidences but" she lowered her voice, "does Paula have a problem with gay people?"

Kevin's eyebrows shot up to his forehead, "Gov?"

"I know she would never let something like that come in the way of her job" Alex attempted to explain, "but on a personal level. Is she religious or something?"

"No" Kevin replied, "Not that I know of. To both questions."

"Why would she have a problem with gay people, Alex" Tony intruded, taking up Nikki's seat across the table. "Being gay herself?"

Alex startled, "Paula's gay?"

"Well, I don't know for sure, having never asked her, but um" Tony stammered at Alex's reaction, "she does show some signature characteristics that might be interpreted as someone who is comfortably out of the closet."

"For example" Alex demanded, not unaware of Kevin attempting to shrink back into his seat to avoid being brought into the conversation.

"She wears a gold ring on her right pinkie, now considered a throw back homage to the pre-Stonewall era to announce to an unsuspecting public, a code if you will, of one's lesbianism. She holds a job that statistically has a higher percentage of lesbians than the general population. She also has a tattoo on her shoulder of a labrys, a double headed battle ax, thought to be the weapon of choice for the historic Amazon warriors-"

"That she got in college and wishes she hadn't" Kevin blurted out.

Alex turned on him, "You don't have to answer this Kevin, because it might be seen as harassment by me to even ask it, but" she implored him with her eyes, "as her friend I think I have a right to know. Is Paula gay?"

Kevin clenched his jaw, "All due respect Ma'am, you have to ask Paula."

"Fine" she said tightly, standing up. "And don't call me Ma'am. I'm not the blood Queen!"

As she stormed off in pursuit of Paula, Nikki nudged Helen. Watching her, Helen returned her head to Nikki's shoulder, "I've seen that look. Best leave her to it, whatever it is."

Once outside, Alex confronted Paula who was sitting on a bench, smoking a cigarette.

"Paula, as your boss I have no right to ask you this, but I'm asking you as a friend, "she looked down at the startled woman, "are you gay?"

Paula frowned, puzzled, "Yes Alex, I am. Why do you ask?"

"Because I want to know why you have such a problem with my sister and her partner! Is it because Nikki was in prison when Helen worked there? Because they went through hell and back to be together and-"

"Alex! I don't care how Helen and Nikki got together. They've obviously got a great relationship. Why should I care?"

Alex voice was tight with anger, "Then would you like to explain to me why every time they show the least bit of affection for each other, you look like you wish the floor would open up and swallow you whole? Or run off at the soonest opportunity, like just now. Since when do you smoke, by the way?"

Taken aback by the ferocity of the questions, as well as by the non sequitur, Paula could only stare at the woman before her. She stood up and slowly crushed out her cigarette under her heel, clearly taking her time in answering.

"I smoke when I'm nervous" she stated. "Believe me, I don't have a problem with your sister or with Nikki. It's just hard for me to see them together because" her voice broke a little but she quickly covered it up, "because when I look at Helen, I still see you."

"And it bothers you to see me with another woman? You're gay! Why should you care if I appear to be with a woman? Paula, that doesn't make sense." Alex was beyond puzzled.

Paula took a deep breath and blew it out again, "Alex, it doesn't bother me that you're with a woman. It bothers me that the woman isn't me!" The pain in her voice returned and she turned away from Alex.

Alex stood there, stunned. It took a few moments for her brain to wrap itself around what Paula was saying. "So when you see Helen with Nikki, you see me. When you see Helen dancing with Nikki, you see me dancing with her. When you see Nikki kissing Helen, you see-"

"Yes, I see Nikki kissing you, and I want it to be me kissing you! There, I said it. Satisfied?"

Paula shouted, horrified at being found out.

Alex stared at the other woman. Paula's blue eyes were misted with tears, her hands were clenched into tight fists at her side, and her whole body shook with rage and humiliation and fear of rejection.

"No" Alex said softly coming over and laying her hand on Paula's arm. Gently she turned the taller woman around. In her heeled boots, they were nearly the same height. Tilting her head slightly, she examined the other woman. "I'm not satisfied."

Finally unable to withstand the intense scrutiny, Paula said in a quavering voice, "Alex?"

Bringing her head closer, Alex kissed Paula tenderly. Tentatively Alex moved closer to Paula and carefully brought her arms to wrap about Paula's slender waist. Paula's fists relaxed and she brought her hands up to cup Alex's face. Moving to kiss her high cheekbones, eyelids and back to her lips, Paula found Alex's mouth soon opened under her questing tongue. But before they could go too far, she pulled back searching Alex's face.

Alex's eyes shone bright under the amber glow of the street lamp. "Wow" she breathed. "That was bu thoil leam."

Paula laughed loudly, "No Gaelic! Only English, it's not fair."

Alex smiled her wide open smile, "No worries, I only said" she looked down suddenly shy, "I would consider it a desire. Would it help if I said I've never felt like this, not from one kiss?"

Paula nodded, "Me too. I didn't think you were gay."

Alex grinned, "Me neither."

Paula stared at her, "Wait, you don't mean-"

Now it was Alex's turn to nod, "Yes Ms. McIntyre, that was my first kiss with a girrul." she smirked.

Paula laughed again, "And how was it?"

"Certainly warrants further investigation." Alex said as she leaned her head toward Paula again.

For Paula, kissing Alex was better than a dream come true. The smaller woman felt wonderful in her arms. Her mouth was soft and inviting. Soon they were both breathing heavily. Backing away just enough to take in fresh air, Alex looked at Paula.

"We should probably get back inside, before Helen sends out the hounds for us."

"Wouldn't want that." Paula followed Alex. Once back inside the restaurant, Paula saw that Nikki and Helen were still out on the dance floor, obliviously slow dancing to "Night Fever" as the Bee Gees took over from Abba.

When the song ended, Giovanni announced he was taking a short break, so they returned to the table. Nikki glanced at Alex. There was something beyond familiar about her that she couldn't quite put her finger on. Shrugging it off to the insistent resemblance to her partner, she sat down, throwing her arm across the back of Helen's chair.

Helen too noticed something different about her sister. Alex's eyes sparkled, and her lipsticked was smudged slightly. In the manner of all sisters, Helen reached out and wiped the smudge clean.

"Can't take you anywhere" she teased. "Nice color though. Can I borrow it sometime?"

Alex turned beet red, locking eyes with her twin. Coming to some unknown conclusion she abruptly turned to Paula, "Paula, can I borrow your mobile?"

"Sure Luv. I mean Gov! I mean Alex!" Paula also turned an unusual shade of crimson.

Upon hearing the slip, Nikki looked sharply at Alex. Suddenly she realized what it was about Alex that looked familiar. She had been kissed. Her lips showed the same light swelling that Helen's did after Nikki had kissed her properly. Jealousy tore through her until she shook herself, reminding her that the woman across the table was Alex, not Helen.

Feeling the shiver, Helen turned to Nikki. Seeing her face, she asked, "Everything alright, Sweetheart?"

"It will be when one of you starts wearing glasses." Nikki replied stormily. She was frustrated at herself for still not being able to distinguish the sisters.

"Oh Nikki," Helen said softly, "You've only known Alex for two days. It'll take time but you'll get there, I promise." She leaned in to kiss Nikki gently. This time, Alex noticed, Paula did not look away but showed the same expression of friendly approval as the rest of the table.

"Not to kill the moment" she said with a grin, turning to Paula "but would you like to date me, Detective Constable?"

Both Helen and Nikki's heads turned around at that. Kevin choked a bit on his wine but was smiling as he coughed, waving Paula off with a hand. Tony just sat there, humming to himself.

Mirroring the face, Paula answered formally, "Very much so, Detective Inspector." She moved in to resume kissing Alex but Alex put a small hand on Paula's chest stopping her.

Seeing Paula's expression change to one of disappointment, she said, "There's something I need to do first. Give me five minutes?"

Not sure what Alex was up to, Paula nevertheless gave her the benefit of the doubt. "Sure. Here's my mobile. Should be all charged up."

"Perfect. Order me a drink while I'm gone?" She glanced at Helen, saying more than words, "Tequila?"

Helen's face brightened while at the same time Nikki groaned. As Alex walked off laughing, Nikki explained, "Helen only drinks tequila when she's celebrating." She covered her face with her hands, "And when she celebrates, she celebrates a lot."

Paula looked frantically at Helen who was smiling smugly. "Oh god, not another binge?"

"I don't know about you, Detective, but I suspect we should order room service now" the tongue peeked out at her behind the teeth.

By the time Alex returned, Helen was already three shots in, Nikki and Paula not far behind. The men kept up but Tony was already turning a pale shade of green.

"What's the song? Beer on whiskey, mighty risky. Whiskey on beer, never fear" he looked blurry eyed at the rest of the table. "What does it say about Patron on wine?"

"It says Live for today, for tomorrow we may die." Alex announced as she returned to the table. She grabbed one of the full shot glasses on the table and quickly downed it. Wincing slightly, she picked up another. Taking a quick breath, she swallowed that one too. Picking up the salt shaker on the table, she held out her wrist to Paula, "Lick me?" she said, seductively.

Paula, whose mind was rapidly clouding with drink, could only nod wordlessly. Bringing the wrist to her mouth, she slowly licked a trail which Alex then covered in salt. Bringing a third shot glass to her mouth she said gallantly, "Down the hatch" tossing back the liquor, then licking off the salt before putting a piece of lime wedge into her mouth sucking hard, her eyes locked on Paula's the whole time.

Paula nearly fell of her chair. It was all so silly and yet so sensual at the same time. She grinned, "You did that backwards, you know. It's supposed to be lick, salt, lick the salt, drink, suck the lime." It was getting harder to pronounce her words, and she resolved to slow down.

"No, no nay, it's not." Helen slurred slightly. In her hand, she held an empty shot glass. "You have to do the shot, then the salt, then the lime. It only makes sense."

Nikki turned to her, incredulous. "How in the world does that make sense?" She held out a hand ticking off fingers as she explained. "The lick is for the salt, the salt is to make you thirsty for the drink, the drink is, well it's the drink, isn't it?" she looked to Paula and Kevin for confirmation who both nodded sagely. "And the lime is to...well, I don't know what the lime is for. Other than to fight scurvy!" She hooted with laughter at what, to her, was clearly a clever remark.

"The lime is just tasty." Paula added. She was at that moment of drunk where she knew she should stop or would wind up passing out on the table. Assessing the situation at the table, she stood up, wobbling in place for a moment before saying, "I'll get the next round."

Alex grabbed her arm, pulling her down until their faces were inches apart, "Don't be long" and kissed her suddenly long and deep. Wanting to stay there forever, it was only at a discreet cough from Kevin that sounded suspiciously like "Get a room" did they break apart.

When Paula returned, it was with a tray loaded with more limes, salt, another bottle of golden tequila and a full bottle of vodka. At seeing the vodka, Helen protested, "Ach, why bring that devil poison?" she poured herself another shot from the tequila bottle. "Makes me sick, that does."

Paula caught Nikki's eye. "I thought Nikki might want to switch to vodka with me. Don't make me drink this all by myself."

Although vodka wasn't really her drink, something in Paula's eyes made Nikki take the glass offered to her. When she drank it, her eyes widened in surprise. It was water. Realizing an ally in her battle against another hang over, she grinned at Paula. "Yes, that'll do nicely. Thank you Paula."

"Ech, canna stand the stuff." Alex waved it away, as Paula knew she would. When Paula sat down, she scooted her chair as close as it would go. Alex's breath was warm in her ear, and one hand started to play with the longer strands of blond hair at Paula's neck. "You were gone too long."

Paula murmured back, wickedly, "Punish me later?" Just because she had stopped drinking didn't mean she wasn't already tight.

Alex nearly moaned at the thought. She kissed the nearby earlobe and was rewarded by a sharp intake of breath from Paula. Then her attention was brought back to the table as she realized Nikki had asked her a question.

"So, Alex, what kind of crime do you deal with, generally?" Nikki asked, her tone conversational.

"Mostly murders, though a few serial rapists now and again." Alex answered, drinking again and sucking on yet another lime.

"Hmm fascinating" Nikki leaned in. "Anyone who, you know, does it again and again?"

Paula noticed a mischievous gleam in Nikki's eye and wondered what the other woman was up to.

Alex answered slowly, forming her words carefully, "You mean a repeat offender?"

"Yes, exactly" Nikki said, then looked meaningfully at Paula, who quickly caught on to the game.

To Helen, Paula said, "You must have had to deal with that kind of repeat offender at Larkhall. Did you have to track their, oh what do you call it? Statistics?" she smiled engagingly at the drunk woman.

Helen said, thinking hard first, "You mean the recidivism rates?"

At hearing the words, Nikki and Paula cracked up. "Oh good one!" Nikki crowed, sloppily giving Paula a high five. "Quick, ask Alex what sport she did in university."

Paula looked at the woman, who was by now nearly sitting in her lap, "So Alex, what sport did you do in university?"

Alex's eyes narrowed suspiciously, "The same as Helen. I rowed crew."

Paula almost dumped Alex out of her lap she laughed so hard. Nikki guffawed loudly, tears starting to stream out of her eyes.

"Yes" Nikki explained to Paula who was still laughing, "Helen, tell Paula what position you had in the boat?"

Helen was starting to look annoyed but she replied, "I was the stroke."

"And you Alex" Paula tried hard not to crack up, "What position did you have?"

"I was also the stroke."

When Tony chimed in, "I was the cox on my team" lifting his head from where it had been resting on the table, Nikki and Paula lost it. They laughed hysterically until their sides ached. Their female companions were not so amused. When the laughter finally died down, Nikki and Paula noticed the identical stony expressions on Helen and Alex's faces. Kevin gulped loudly and excused himself from the table. Tony returned his head to its resting place.

"You think it's funny to make fun of our accent, do you?" Helen demanded, rolling her r's even more so than ever.

Paula stifled a giggle, trying not to laugh again in the face of a clearly pissed off Helen. Nikki shot her a warning look and tried to appease her partner, "Darling, you know I love everything about you. Accent and all."

"It's not as if we had a choice where we grew up" Alex demanded. "As you well know. I don't make fun of the way you speak, do I Paula? Paula McIntyre!" The final name came out sounding like it had eight or nine r's at the end.

Paula couldn't help it. She knew she shouldn't but she could not hold back the snort of laughter. Hearing it, Alex wavered. Helen's eyes narrowed alarmingly at her sister. But it was too late, Alex gave in. She grabbed Paula by the arm and let the waves of laughter wash over her. Soon even Helen buckled and she joined the rest of the table in boisterous laughter.

When they finally died down, they noticed that the rest of the restaurant was empty. Giovanni waved away their attempts to pay the check. "The sleeping gentleman, he took care of it before you all sat down. Insisted that no matter what any of you said, he be allowed to treat you all tonight."

Kevin, with the help of Giovanni, took charge of half carrying the psychologist outside to a waiting cab. "I'll make sure he gets into his bed okay" Kevin told Paula. "No worries."

"Thanks Kev" she told him.

Returning to the other women, she asked, "Cab or walk?"

"Let's walk. It's dry for a change." Helen said, slipping her arm through Nikki's. Paula couldn't tell if it was for balance or just to be closer to her lover. Nikki's expression told Paula it was probably a little bit of both.

Feeling a small hand slip into her own, Paula looked around. Alex stood at her side, shy, "Ready?" she asked in a quiet voice. Paula nodded, not trusting her voice to speak without breaking.

The trip back was only a few blocks but the women took their time, meandering along. Once in the hotel, this time Paula didn't hesitate to hug Helen briefly before entering her room. So much had changed since last night, but she was once again confronted by a severe case of nerves. What if Alex changed her mind or decided it was just the drink and good company that led her to their kiss? What if-

"Stop worrying" Alex insisted gently, taking off her boots as Paula kicked off her shoes. "I haven't changed my mind. I don't regret what happened. I won't regret what's going to happen."

"What's going to happen?" Paula squeaked.

Alex stepped closer. "Yes. When you make love to me all night long. But first, you have to do some paperwork."

"Paperwork?" Paula was thoroughly confused.

Alex grinned, "That phone call I made? It was to the district office requesting they fax over a copy of Rule 91 for us both to sign."

"Rule 91?"

"Yep, the one that certifies that you are here of your own free will, entering into a non-binding physical and emotional relationship with me, your superior officer who will no longer be allowed to write up your annual evaluations. Basically" she looked at the other woman, "it's to keep the department from getting sued if we break up."

"Oh you mean the Consent to Date form!" Suddenly it all made sense to Paula. "Sure, no problem." Quickly, she signed the form under Alex's scrawled signature.

"Nice, now I have one less evaluation to write this year." Alex joked but Paula could see she wasn't taking the situation lightly. "Now that's done."

She closed the small distance between them. Stroking Paula's face, she outlined her full lips before bringing her hand around to the back of Paula's head. Raising her face slightly, she brought their lips together in an explosive kiss. Paula tasted limes and the acrid tang of tequila but mostly just the sweetness of Alex's mouth.

Alex's hands seemed to be everywhere at once, tearing at the buttons of Paula's shirt all the while kissing Paula's face, and neck. Paula brought her hands up into Alex's hair, marveling at the silkiness. She kissed Alex's forehead fervently, before reclaiming her mouth. Stepping back slightly, she pulled at Alex's wrap around top until it came loose from her dark slacks.

Whirling them around, Alex pushed Paula onto one of the double beds, quickly climbing aboard to straddle her. "Oh god" she gasped, breathlessly. Continuing to try to kiss and touch Paula everywhere at once, she said, "I want yeh."

Paula, for her part, was in heaven. Alex's skin burned hot under her hands, and when Alex brought Paula's hands up to touch her breasts through her bra, Paula thought she was in heaven. Alex's breasts felt warm and heavy but Paula needed more contact, so she quickly removed them to circle around to Alex's back. She pressed Alex deeper into her, groaning at the increase in pressure, her legs flailing to find purchase.

Alex reared up, grinding against Paula. Hastily she removed her shirt and bra before leaning back down again. Paula wasted no time in taking one of Alex's nipples in her mouth while her fingers tweaked the other. "Sweet Jesus" Alex gasped again. She clasped Paula's head to her tighter, relishing the feel of Paula's full mouth on her breasts, first one then the other.

Reaching down, she was thwarted from her goal by Paula's shirt. Tugging at it, Paula shifted enough to slide it over her head. Alex delighted to see Paula wasn't wearing a bra. She took in the sight of the woman beneath her, chest heaving in exertion, flushing red spreading across the pale white skin. Alex slid down to reverently kiss Paula's breasts, all around in ever diminishing smaller circles until she took the hardened tip into her mouth. Paula jumped and Alex found most of the breast now in her mouth, which she gratefully accepted.

Paula slipped one hand between their bodies and eased Alex's zipper down. Sliding her hand beyond the waistband, she felt more heat than she thought possible. When Alex stopped what she was doing to Paula's chest, Paula whimpered until she saw the expression on Alex's face. It was one of pure determination.

"Up," she commanded. "Pants off, both of us. Now."

Paula scrambled up and removed the rest of her remaining clothes. Both women slid under the sheets, moaning when their now nude bodies came in contact. Alex smiled cheekily, "Oh much better, wouldn't you say?"

"Much," Paula said before her mouth was reclaimed once more by Alex. Unable to restrain herself, Paula brought her hand back to where it had been interrupted. Marveling at the silky softness of Alex's inner thigh, Paula was rewarded by another moan from Alex.

"Paula, love, you have to hurry. I'm almost there already." Alex voice was heavy with desire. Her body threatened to betray her. She had never been so turned on in all her life. She knew it wouldn't take long for her to reach her climax but couldn't bear to slow their pace. This felt so right, like nothing she had ever experienced. Sure enough, it only took a few strokes from Paula's long fingers before Alex was wailing into her pillow, attempting to stifle the noise.

Keeping her hand steady, Paula waited until Alex raised her head from the pillow. Slowly, she flexed her fingers and was soon circling Alex's moisture around the hardened nub again. When Alex tried to protest, "Don't bother. I never come twice." Paula shushed her and kept up with her ministrations. Alex stopped fighting it, and soon found herself moving in time with Paula's fingers, her breath increasing as well.

"That's it Alex. A little more," Paula crooned into Alex's ear as the older woman's head drooped down to her chest. Paula could feel the tell tale flutter begin and continued to stroke the hot wetness. "Oh god, you feel so good."

"Paula, I-" Alex could not speak. Her world exploded behind her eyes and into Paula's fingers. The pleasure was excruciating and exhilarating and seemed to go on forever. She groaned loudly before finally stilling her body and slumping down to rest next to Paula who held her gently, waiting for her to recover.

"I've never done that before. I mean, no one has ever gotten me to...you know." Alex ducked her head into Paula's shoulder, suddenly embarrassed.

"Oh, I think you just haven't been with the right person until now." Paula assured her. "I mean, who better to know what to do with a woman than another woman? It might be a cliche but that doesn't make it any less true."

"Hmm" Alex agreed. Turning her now vivid green eyes to Paula, she added, "I suppose that would be true in the reverse then, eh?" She used one hand to stroke down the center of Paula's chest to her navel and lower. She raised one eyebrow speculatively.

Paula saw the look and wondered what was going on inside that brilliant head. She kissed Alex again, intending it to be soft and sweet but was delighted when Alex, now clearly refreshed, aggressively used her tongue to kiss the other woman nearly senseless. Alex draped herself over Paula, kissing her way down the lanky body.

When she reached Paula's waist, Paula stopped her, "Alex, you don't have to..if you don't want to...I mean, it's your first time..."

Alex smiled up at her lover, "I do want to Paula. Please, may I?"

She was so polite and earnest, Paula's heart melted a bit more. She could only nod wordlessly. Alex brought Paula's legs up over her shoulders and bent her head to the task. Alex could smell the musk and found it made her mouth actually water. Using her tongue she gently licked her way up from Paula's thigh to her inner lips. Liking what she tasted, she licked again harder this time, bringing forth a low hiss from Paula "Oh yes."

Taking this as a good sign, Alex continued to taste and lick at Paula until she was full faced into her lover, rubbing her nose over Paula's hard clit and thrusting her tongue inside as far as it would go. She felt Paula buck against her but held on, licking and sucking for all she was worth. Feeling more than hearing Paula give voice to a high keening wail, she slowed her movements but only when she felt Paula reaching for her hands, resting atop Paula's thighs, did she stop completely.

Looking up, she saw tears streaming down both sides of Paula's face and was immediately concerned. She returned to her place beside Paula in the bed, holding the taller woman to her until her shuddering ended. "Paula?" she asked worriedly.

"I'm sorry Alex. It's silly really. It's just..." Paula sniffled a bit, smiling ruefully.

Alex stroked her face with her fingers, "What, Darlin'?"

Paula looked abashed but said, "I know it's too soon for me to be saying this but" again she hesitated. At the gentlest nod from Alex, she said, "I've loved you for so long, and to finally be here with you, like this. It's just a bit overwhelming for me."

"Oh Paula, I understand. This is all so overwhelming for me too" Alex said, "I can't believe it's taken me this long to see who I really am, and to see that what I was looking for all over was right here, right here in front of me."

Smiling, Paula teased, "You mean me, right? Not Tony Hill."

At that, Alex laughed her loud belly laugh again. Only to be startled by a loud thump on the wall. They heard Helen's distinctive voice "Keep it down in there! We can handle your other noises but we married people are trying to make love and can't do it with you two giggling all night long."

Which of course, led to more giggles until the two women fell asleep in each other's arms.



The next morning passed both couples by and it was early afternoon before they all stumbled down to the breakfast room, now set for lunch. None seemed to be worse for wear, after the previous night's libations, though all were a bit quieter and introspective. Paula and Nikki shared the morning papers while Helen and Alex made plans to come back in a few weeks to deal with clearing out Alice's things from their father's house.

"If he'll let us," Helen grumbled.

"He has no choice. He knows if he discards anything without checking with us first, there'll be hell to pay." Alex finished her orange juice with a satisfied smack.

Helen's eyes twinkled. "So," she began. "All right then?"

Understanding completely, her sister replied, "Better than alright."

"Good. It's about time."

"Time to check out ladies." Nikki called out. They all walked together to the front desk, only to be confronted by the grim woman who checked them in.

But to their surprise, she was all smiles, "Ready to go, are we? Now then," she checked her paperwork, "Ms Fielding, are you still paying for both rooms or is your sister," she looked pointedly at Helen "going to chip in for hers as well?"

Alex was baffled, "You knew there were two of us?"

The woman smiled conspiratorially, "Not at first. And believe me, when you waltzed in asking for a second room, oh I can tell you, I was not happy. After all, leaving this poor thing," motioning to Paula, "all to herself. But then I realized you were sisters and that no one was being left behind."

"But why did you give us such a hard time when we first checked in. All that business about one bed or two?" Alex followed up.

"Oh that, well I'll tell yeh." the old woman confided, "My eyesight isn't what it used to be and I was mistaken in thinking the young woman," indicating Paula again "was much younger than she really is in the cold light of day."

Paula scowled to be determined so as the woman went on, "Here I was, thinking you were robbing the cradle. When it was actually a case of her dragging you out of the closet. It does take some of us a mite longer to catch on to what we really want."

"Wait a tic." Paula demanded, quietly, as the other women looked on astonished, "You're gay too?"

"Oh aye, came out these forty years ago." the old woman announced cheerily, "My lady friend and I have been together ever since."

"And how did you know I was in the closet? And have since been dragged out?" Alex asked warily, not quite sure she wanted to hear the answer.

The woman's blue eyes sparkled again, "Thin walls, dear. Now will that be credit or debit?"

The End

1. "Nikki, she hasn't got it."
2. "No worries, but for myself, I think Paula understands."
3. "Good for her. Smart woman."
4. "This present time is nice."
5. "Agreed."

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