DISCLAIMER: Can you imagine what would be gracing your TV screens if I owned either one of these characters? Can you? Alas, no. L&O characters are property of Wolf Productions; Bad Girl characters, of Shed Productions.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Tricky, tricky timeline here, particularly involving events on "Bad Girls". The closest I could get to it making sense would be season 3 of BG, but with the characters of Dockley, Denny and Dominic still on the show. Even then, for those who watch the show, a suspension of time disbelief will be necessary. SVU and BG actually run concurrently, so it is a season 3 Benson we see here. My thanks to roman_machine for the title and BG analysis, and for beta-ing it AFTER the entire opus was done. Thanks also to a bunch of people for getting me hooked on BG in the first place (residentgeek being one). Now, before this becomes an Oscar speech…
FANDOMS/PAIRINGS: Law and Order: SVU/Bad Girls   Olivia/Nikki
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Out of Context
By coolbyrne


Part Two

"So what did the princess want?" Nikki asked when Olivia returned to the cell.

Instead of answering, Benson said, "You wanna go for a walk? Get some air?"

Nikki tossed her book on the bed. "Sure."

The two women had stepped outside and felt the warmth of the sun on their faces. On a good day, Nikki could lounge in the yard after an hour of working in the shed, her overalls off her shoulders and her arms bare to the sun. On a good day, she could pretend she was anywhere but here. Right now, however, she was thinking more of the woman who walked beside her.

"You okay?"

Benson came out of her reverie. "Hmm?" Realizing she had been out of it, she smiled apologetically. "Sorry."

"Shell Dockley?"

"No," she shook her head, "though I'm beginning to realize I can't trust her as far as I can spit. Which in and of itself wouldn't be a problem, but I've got other things to worry about besides her bitching."

"The case."

Benson smiled again. "You've got all those books and so little vocabulary."

Nikki bumped shoulders with her in jest. "Well, now that I know you're a cop and not a doctor, I'm worried you won't understand all the big words."

"Very funny." She rubbed her forehead and became serious once more. "This case, you know. Just too many things that can go wrong. Too many scenarios to play out in my head; too many columns and rows. If this happens, then this or this can happen. If that happens, we're left with that or that."

"And in all those scenarios, you're not in them." Benson raised her eyebrow at Nikki's remark. The lifer leaned closer. "Come on. You came 3000 miles to go undercover in a prison because you didn't trust anyone else to do it. Now you're here and it's all happening over there. That must be making you barmy."

"Remind me which one of us was pretending to be the shrink?" They walked up to a newly planted row of flowers and they stopped. "Geraniums?"

"Very good. Geranium endressi. I like them because they're not fussy about where they're planted." She gently touched one. "They're pretty, but they're a hardy lot."

"I don't know my plants from my weeds," Benson admitted, "I just guessed. But they seem like an appropriate flower for you." She also reached down and touched one. "These are lovely. Well done, Nikki."

"You'll have to help me plant the rest. Before you go."

The cop shouldn't have been surprised to discover Nikki had thought that far ahead - that despite never asking Benson, she knew her stay at Larkhall was to be a short-lived one. It was something Olivia herself had almost forgotten, having gotten so caught up in it all.

"Yeah, I will," Olivia softly agreed.

Nikki bent forward and touched the soil that always seemed to be a comfort to her. Standing up, she wiped her hands on her jeans and asked, "What's next?"

"I've got to win a phone card off Shaz, phone my partner, then… wait, I guess," Benson answered as they resumed walking.

"Poor Shaz. Though I secretly suspect she started losing on purpose just to get on your good side."

"Not a chance," Olivia scoffed.

Nikki laughed then reached into her back pocket. She handed her cellmate a plastic card. "Here."

Taking the offering, Olivia asked, "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," the lifer answered, "what do I need it for?"

Quietness passed between them. "Thanks," Olivia said at last.

"Go on," Nikki said, tilting her head in the direction of the door. "Don't be too long, though. I hear it's the Chef's Super Surprise tonight."

"Oh, I can't wait," she drawled. Before the lifer could respond with a further quip, Olivia leaned forward and kissed her full on the mouth. "Thanks," she said again, "for everything." She quickly turned and jogged towards the steps, and for the second time that day, she left Nikki stock-still and stunned.

"Detective Stabler, SVU."

Benson laughed. "How did you know it was me?"

"How do you know I haven't taken your advice?"

"Yeah, right."

"When you phone, there's a funny click just before the call's connected," he confessed. "I've gotten used to it."

"Are you saying I call too much?"

Now he laughed. "Nah, you know that's not what I meant."

She got down to business. "Any word?"

"Nothing yet."

"Nothing?" she echoed incredulously.

"Liv," he soothed, "you only talked to him yesterday. We're not talking about an ounce here. And there's more at stake for him than a kilo of drugs. I'm sure he's going over this with a fine tooth comb." When she didn't reply, he went on, "You admitted it yourself; you were surprised at how fast this is going. So maybe give it a bit of time."

She sighed. "You're right. I know it. I just… wanna get this over with, you know?"

"Everything okay there?"

She didn't bother getting into the whole business with Dockley. "Yeah, yeah, it's fine. That's not what I meant. I just want this case over with."

"You and me both, partner."

"So I guess I'll call you tomorrow?"

"Call me after dinner, your time," he suggested. "If he's gonna set anything up, I'm sure Weston'll probably want to make sure our guy can contact me at a half decent New York hour. Even if that's lunch for me, it won't be until after five your time."


He heard the restlessness in her voice. "Relax, Liv. There's nothing you or me or anybody else can do until Weston makes his move. You've done all you can. Now we just wait."

"Okay," she repeated, but with more certainty in her voice.

"Good. Why don't you hit the gym, work off that energy, give the girls something to talk about?"

She couldn't help but smile at how quickly he could lighten the load off her shoulders. "Been there, done that, El. Keep up, would you?"

"You never told me that!" The hurt in his voice was an obvious ruse. "We're gonna have a long talk when you get back."

"And a strong coffee," she added.

"And a strong coffee," he echoed.

"Your treat."

"You got it."

"I'd save that long face 'til you've tried the latest dish," Yvonne said to Benson when the American sat down at the table.

Nikki lifted her fork. "I've got a quid or a card that says it's supposed to be tuna casserole."

Atkins made a face then looked at Olivia. "You all right, love?"

"What? Oh, yeah, sorry. Just had a talk with my lawyer. Nothing yet." She glanced at Nikki, who picked up on the hidden meaning immediately.

"That's too bad," Barbara consoled. "Did he say anything at all?"

Benson shrugged. "He wants me to call him back tomorrow. Who knows?"

"Bastards don't know their arseholes from a hole in the ground," griped Yvonne.

Nikki was still examining her fork. "Sometimes it's just a matter of time."

Laughing, Atkins conceded the point. "Well, we got plenty of that, don't we, girls? And I'll see your bet, Miss Wade and venture that this is chicken."

Nikki waved over the two Julies who were wiping down tables. Holding up her fork, she asked the two kitchen workers, "Julies. Liv here would like to make a recipe book of all these wonderful Larkhall dishes to send back to America. This would be what, exactly?"

In unison, they replied, "Tuna casserole."

"Thank you, Julies," Nikki said. Winking at Olivia, she held her hand out towards Yvonne. "I'll take the phone card, please."

Although Olivia had initially assumed the opposite, Nikki had been right - the prison was never truly silent at any time, even when the women had turned in for lock-up. Darkness descended on Larkhall, but not silence. Out of the shadows, Jim Fenner crept silently towards the cell of Shell Dockley. A quick glance around assured him no one had seen him, and as stealthily as possible, he turned the key in the lock and slipped inside the cell.

As soon as she had heard the key, she knew who it was. "Mr. Fenner," she whispered seductively. "I've been waiting for you. You didn't pay me a visit last night."

He grinned lecherously at her pouting expression. "I'm here now, love." When she crooked her finger at him, he slid onto the bed and kissed her. "Happy to see me?"

"Oh, yes, sir," she answered and ran her hand down his chest to his pants. "The question is, are you happy to see me?" Feeling his evident bulge, she pretended to be surprised. "Oh, look what I found!"

"The question is, what are you going to do to keep me happy?"

The question so clearly echoed Benson's earlier statement that Shell couldn't have planned it better if she tried. Her face fell and she sighed heavily.

"What's the matter?" Fenner asked, poised on his palms.

"Nothing," she said, knowing her denial would only fuel his curiosity.

"Don't play coy, Shell, spit it out."

She sighed again, as if getting the words out was a chore. "It's just that American, right?" Looking up, she checked to see if she had his interest. Even in the dim light through the window, she could see his eyes narrow as he listened intently. Knowledge was power, and in Larkhall, Fenner ruled because of it. "I got to thinking about what you said. You know, that she was in for drugs and all. I figures, why not be mates, me and her?"

"That's your problem, Shell," he muttered, "you start doing stupid things like thinking."

She had to give him his due, she thought; he had nerve, considering his balls were in her hand. Pretending not to be offended, she carried on, "I thought me and her could team up, you know, do a bit of business together." His eyes became small slits of menace until she quickly added, "I would have told you, sir, I just wanted to find out first, right? Didn't want to waste your time; I know how busy you are." She stroked his crotch to soothe his suspicion.

"And what was the outcome of this master plan, then?"

"She told me to piss off!" Shell answered, her indigence carefully measured. "Told me she had bigger things to do than pair up with a little fish like me."

Fenner frowned. "What'd she mean by that?"

"I can't understand half of what she'd going on about with that accent, but," she whispered conspiratorially, "I heard through some mates of mine that she's got someone on the outside getting her kit in."

"You're wrong," Fenner replied, shaking his head. "She hasn't had a visitor since she got banged up."

"I'm just telling you what I've heard, Mr. Fenner. But she wasn't sniffing sugar when I caught her in the loo the other day, I'll tell you that much."

"Why didn't you report her?"

"She saw me! Told me she'd feed me my own tits if I grassed on her." She could almost see the wheels turning in his mind and decided she had done enough. The seed had been planted and she knew he couldn't let some American tart get the jump on him. If there was one thing she learned while in prison, it was to never try to get one past Jim Fenner. The bloody screw found out every damn thing eventually, and if it wasn't in his favour, he'd make sure it wasn't in yours, either. She knew one other thing - she didn't want to be Olivia Benson.

Pleased she had set the wheels in motion, she unzipped his pants and said, "Let's forget about her; I'm sorry I brought it up." Her hand slipped into his underwear and she winked, "Oooh! Looks like I brought something else up. What are we going to do about it, eh?"

Two floors down, there was another prisoner who wasn't getting much sleep, but it had nothing to do with any carnal activity, though Benson almost wished it had. Instead, the images of kids, with their broken bodies and vacant eyes prodded her subconscious from slipping into the blissful nothingness of sleep. When morning finally arrived, she knew she had barely slept more than an hour or two. And if she needed the confirmation, her cellmate was more than willing to give it to her.

"You look like shit," Nikki said by way of greeting.

"Good morning to you, too," Benson grumbled in return.

Nikki softened her expression. "The case?"


Tossing a towel in Benson's direction, she said, "Come on. Have a shower, maybe you'll feel better. And if nothing else, the other women in the showers will thank you."

Benson couldn't help but laugh. "Before I know it, you'll be pimping me out."

"If I thought I could keep up with the demand…"

"Get moving," Benson ordered, though her smile betrayed her.

She had to admit, she did feel better after the shower, the hot water washing away the weight of the night, until prison regulations kicked in and turned the water cold. Even then, she steeled herself under the icy spray for another five minutes before she finally stepped out. Olivia wasn't surprised to find she was the last prisoner in the showers, and she quickly wrapped a robe around her body and caught up with the rest of the prisoners as they were shepherded back to their wing.

"I don't know how you stand it," Nikki commented, referring to Benson's cold shower routine.

Olivia shrugged. "Keeps me alert."

"Try getting more vitamin B."

"Thanks, Dr. Wade," she smiled.

"Well," Nikki said, leaning in, "two can play the doctor game."

That was an hour ago, and in the meantime, Nikki had gone outside and Olivia agreed to help her with the last batch of flowers that needed to be potted. She had just turned to join her when the dark figure of Jim Fenner blocked the doorway. There were times when not breaking cover was a bad thing. Seeing the look in his eyes, Benson knew this was going to be a very, very bad thing.

She tasted the warm metallic tinge of blood in her mouth and the cold concrete floor against her forehead, as she curled up in the fetal position and tried to protect herself from the kick she knew was coming. Sure enough, a large boot found its way between her arms and her knees, connecting soundly with her ribs.

"Now listen closely," whispered the menacing voice of Jim Fenner, low into her ear. "A little birdie told me you've been trying to run a little show behind my back. Now, you're new and I've taken that into consideration. So consider this a generous warning - nothing goes on in here without going through me first. Whatever business you think you're running is my business. Is that perfectly clear, my American beauty?"

Olivia could only nod her head weakly and breathe out an affirmative answer between clenched teeth.

"Good. Now clean yourself up and we'll start fresh, yeah?" He didn't even bother to wait for her answer.

As she lay there on the hard floor, the beat of her heart magnifying every bruise on her body, she wondered why she hadn't seen this coming.

She barely crawled her way to bed and rolled onto the lower bunk when she heard the voice of Nikki as she entered the cell.

"Did you get -" Wade stopped in her tracks when she saw Benson on the bed, her back to the door. "What's going on here, then?"

"Sorry, Nik," came the muffled response, "I just felt sick all of a sudden."

"Well don't deposit your stomach contents on my bed!" When her quip didn't get the amused response she had intended, she walked over to the bunk and sat on the edge. There was a meaning in Benson's curled body language and Nikki knew then that the woman was serious. "Is there anything I can do to help, Liv?"

Olivia shook her head and mumbled, "No. I'm fine." She paused, then changed her mind. "Oh, shit!" Scrambling to get up from the bed, she pushed Nikki away, who stood up quickly from the action.

In a crouch, Benson rushed to the open toilet. She hadn't lied when she told Nikki she felt sick - the pain in her ribs set off a nauseous chain that ended in the bottom of her stomach. Dropping to the floor, she cradled her ribs with her left arm and used her right hand to brace herself against the wall. The heaves that racked her body did nothing to help the pain, but her stomach ignored the pleas of her nerve endings. Nikki knelt beside her and said nothing, choosing instead to soothe the cop by rubbing her back and simply waiting for it to pass. When it looked like the worst was over, Nikki wet a face cloth with cool water and gingerly began wiping Olivia's face.

"Attractive, huh?" the American asked ruefully.

"Happens to the best of us," Nikki replied. "In fact, I believe we're now even." For the first time, she was able to get a good look at Olivia, and noticed the scrape above her right eye. "What's this, then?"

Benson unconsciously reached up and touched the broken skin where her forehead had grated across the concrete floor. "Nothing," she answered, and tried to stand up. Even with her arm protecting herself, the movement sent a jolt of pain to her ribs. She tried not to flinch and nearly ground her teeth to dust. The motion didn't go unnoticed by Nikki.

Tenderly touching Olivia's arm, she softly asked, "Let me see."

Reluctantly, Benson dropped her arm and let Nikki lift the hem of her t-shirt until it came up under her bust. She knew it would look worse later, but even now, if Nikki's expression was any indicator, the damage was ugly.

"Jesus Christ!" Nikki exclaimed when she saw the dark purple stain making its way across Benson's ribs and towards her abdomen. "Who did this?" she demanded. "Was it Shell Dockley?"

"No," Olivia winced.

Realizing the pain the other woman was in, Nikki walked her over to the bed and laid her down. Benson made a motion to reject the offer, but Nikki gently but firmly pressed her shoulder down. "Stay." When it looked like Olivia would agree, Wade asked again, "Who did this?"

"Just let it go, Nikki, please."

Nikki clenched her teeth, then nodded her head. "It was that bastard Fenner." The way she said it, it was a statement, not a question. Olivia looked away, only confirming the guess. "Bastard! I'll kill him."

Olivia quickly turned to look at Nikki. "No. You stay away from him." Nikki's jaw clenched and her eyes smouldered. "Nikki, look at me." Wade glanced down to Benson. "If you're serious about your appeal, you'll stay away from him. You cannot afford to get a reprimand on your record, do you understand?" Nikki looked away again and gave a half-hearted shrug. Olivia would not be deterred. Through clenched teeth, she wheezed, "Do you understand how important it is to keep your nose clean?" There was still no answer from the lifer. "Do you know how guilty I would feel if I was responsible in any way for fucking up your appeal?"

"Yeah," Nikki finally answered.

"Good. Besides, you're the only person I trust. If you got sent to the Block, I'd be on my own."

"Looks like you were on your own without me in the Block," Nikki sneered.

"I don't expect you to be my body guard, you know. And you can't protect me twenty-four hours a day anyway. If it wasn't this morning, it would have been some other time."

"Yeah, I suppose. Fucked up world when you can trust a cop killer but not one of your own." She touched the bruise above Benson's eye. "Right. I'm here now, aren't I? And the least I can do is get you some proper medical help."


"Don't worry," she said, "I'm not going to tell anyone. But that doesn't mean I can't improvise, either." She stood up and took Olivia's shoes off. "Stay here, get comfortable. If I come back and find you've been moving around, it will make me incredibly cross."

"Where are you going?"

A familiar grin tugged at the corner of Nikki's mouth. "I'm going to go play doctor."


The tall blonde looked up from her mopping duty in the kitchen to see Nikki leaning in the doorway. "Hiya, Nikki."

Nikki waved her over to the door. "I need you to do me a favour," she whispered.

The secrecy of Wade's tone made the woman lean closer. "What is it?"

"No questions. I need a bag of frozen vegetables."

Julie pulled back in surprise. "You what? Frozen vegetables?"

"Shhhh," Nikki admonished. "Yes, frozen vegetables."

"What for?"

"Did you miss the bit about no questions?"

Julie made a face at the sarcasm. "Very funny. But I'd like to know why I'm nicking a bag of frozen veggies before I do the deed, you know. Just in case I'm pulled in front of Miss Betts and all."

Nikki thought fast on her feet and said, "Liv got a bit too aggressive in the gym; she sprained her wrist on the punching bag."

"Oh, I can see that!" Julie agreed. "You playing nurse, Nikki?"

"Jules…" the lifer warned.

The blonde would have none of it and laughed. "That's not really my cup of tea, as you know, but I could see why she'd float your boat if you were into that sort of thing."


"Right. A bag of frozen vegetables. Can you give us about ten? Just so's we don't get caught."

"Sure thing," Nikki replied. "Thanks, Julie."

"Why've you got your head in the freezer?"

Julie jumped and turned to find her namesake standing behind her. "No time for explanations now, Jules. We're doing a favour for Nikki, who's doing a favour for Olivia."

The shorter Julie raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Do tell!"

"Come on, help me hide this and we'll go find out."

"Where the bloody hell you gonna put that?"

She re-entered the cell and made sure Benson hadn't moved.

"I haven't moved," the cop said, her eyes closed.

"You listened to orders? I bet that's a first."

Olivia lifted her lids enough to glare at the woman. "Your bedside manner could use some work, Florence."

"Good thing you're here for me to practice on, then," Nikki quipped.

A lazy grin touched her mouth. "Where did you go? I don't see anything I would consider medical or medicinal."

"They're on order."

As if on cue, the two Julies knocked on the door and poked their heads inside.

"Is it all right -"

" -for us to come in?"

"Sure thing, Julies."

The two women shuffled in, very nearly joined at the hip. Though it was common to see them attached this way, it also disguised a more covert reason. Reaching under her shirt between her body and her cellmate, Julie J pulled out a small package wrapped up in a towel. With their two bodies wedged together, the lump had been carefully obscured.

"Got something for that wrist, Liv."

Benson glanced at Nikki, who looked down at Olivia's left arm, which was still nestled gingerly across her stomach. Nikki reached over and took the towel from Julie before either of the two Js could get a closer look. She unravelled the package and smiled when she saw the small bag of frozen peas.

"You're the bee's knees, Jules."

The shorter Julie coughed and held out her closed hand. When Nikki raised her eyebrow questioningly, the woman smiled and uncurled her fingers. Resting on her palm were four small white tablets.

"Paracetamol," Julie crowed.

Nikki reached forward and lifted them between her fingertips. "Where in the world did you get these?"

"Do you know Angie -"

" -the girl who's in for setting fire to her bastard ex-husband's place?"

Flipping through her memory banks, the name and the offence rang a bell. "The one with the patch over her eye?" Nikki asked.

"That's the one," the two Julies said in tandem.

"I gave her some cigarettes the other day," Benson recalled.

"And you didn't make fun of that horrible patch," Julie S added.

Julie J nodded. "You've got a friend there, Liv."

"The paracetamol, girls?" Nikki asked, attempting to get them back on track.

"Oh, right. Angie works in the infirmary."

"We thought we'd give it a go, see? And sure enough, she was there."

"And happy to help her friend."

Nikki's eyes went back and forth between the two women as they explained how they came into possession of four pain killers that would normally only be given after pulling the teeth of the incompetent Doctor Nicholson.

There must have been something in Nikki's expression, because Julie J said, "It's not like you were going to get any out of Dr. No-No, was it?"

Benson, too, was trying to keep track of the conversation. "Dr. No-No?"

"So called because when you ask him if he knows what's wrong or tell him you need medicine, that's his answer," Nikki explained. "Here, put this on your wrist and I'll get you some water."

Olivia took the towel and rested it on her wrist. "Thanks you guys. I owe you."

The two Julies blushed and brushed away the compliment. "It was nothing, Liv."

"Nothing at all."

"Nikki would have done it for us -"

" -and has done more for us."

Again in unison, they said, "It was our pleasure."

Julie S looked over at Nikki. "If you need anything else, Nikki, just let us know."

After the women left, Nikki returned to the bed with a cup of water. "I think I need one of those for my headache."

"Be nice," Benson admonished, "they're good people."

Nikki smiled. "They are." She re-adjusted the towel gently across Olivia's side. "Julie J asked me what the vegetables were for; I told her you sprained your wrist in the gym."

"I figured it was something like that."

"Does it hurt to breathe?"

"Yes," she admitted, "but I don't think anything's broken, if that's what you're asking."

"Okay. Take two of these," Nikki ordered, as she held out two of the tablets.

"And call you in the morning?"

"If you could only get rid of me that easily. I'm going to be sitting right over there, doing some reading. You're going to be getting some sleep. I'll wake you up in plenty of time for tea."

"I'm not tired," she argued.

Nikki could barely contain her eye roll. "You were lucky if you got two hours sleep last night, isn't that true?" She didn't wait for the answer. "And you've just got the shit kicked out of you. Rest. Doctor's orders. Come on, roll over; I want you to take the weight off your side."

Olivia did as she was told, with a little help from Nikki who tugged the blanket from underneath her and covered Benson up to her shoulders. Though she'd never admit Nikki was right, Olivia fell asleep almost immediately.

Beyond the external noises of a prison going about its business, the cell had remained relatively quiet for the afternoon. Every so often, Nikki would look up from her studies to check on Olivia, who had remained unmoved the entire time. An hour after she had told Benson to sleep, Dominic McAllister had shown up in the doorway.

"Hey," he greeted, then seeing the sleeping American, lowered his voice to a whisper. "What's going on?"

"She's sleeping," Nikki replied as if it was obvious.

McAllister made a face, acknowledging her sarcasm. "I mean, when I asked around for you, the two Julies told me Olivia had sprained her wrist." He tilted his head in Benson's direction. "She all right?"

Her face softened, a silent apology to the guard. She knew his concern was a genuine one. "I think she just over-did it in the gym. And the pain in her wrist was making her feel ill."

"Did you try and get anything for it?"

"Well," Nikki smiled, "let's just say I have ways."

The guard couldn't help but smile and shake his head. "It's probably for the best if you don't say anything else. If she isn't feeling any better by tea, let me know. I'll help you bring some up."

"Thanks, Dom."

He didn't correct her use of his Christian name. Instead, he simply nodded and left.

Twenty minutes to dinner, Nikki softly sat on the edge of the mattress and gently squeezed Olivia's shoulder. It must have been some kind of ingrained police training that caused the cop to jerk awake immediately.

"What is it?" she managed to ask as she lifted her head.

Nikki held her hand on Benson's shoulder. "There's no rush. I wanted to wake you before tea, that's all."

Resting her head back on the pillow, Benson groaned. "God, I feel like hell."

"Well, you did go 12 rounds with someone's fists. And I suspect, their boots as well." She gently turned Olivia onto her back. "Come on, let's have a look."

Olivia dutifully did as she was told. Nikki lifted the damp towel from Benson's ribs and pushed the t-shirt up for a better look. If there was a silver lining to be had, it was that Nikki was allowed long lingering looks at all that exposed skin. Trying her best to maintain a detached façade, she frowned and admitted, "I'm no doctor; I don't know if this is good or bad."

"Is there any yellowing?"

She scrutinized the large bruise. "I think so. In little spots everywhere, yeah."

Olivia nodded. "That's good. It means it's starting to heal already."

"I'll pretend your knowledge is based on being well-informed and not because you're speaking from years of experience." She glanced down at the bruise again and winced. "And how are you feeling, really?"

Benson closed her eyes as she took a mental inventory of her body. "It's easier to breathe than it was earlier." Running her fingers up her ribcage, she went on, "It's tender; really sore in some spots." She reached for Nikki's hand and went over the tender trail again. "This is okay and here is okay," she explained as she directed Wade's fingers with her hand. "But between those two ribs - God, that's sore."

Somehow, Nikki found her voice. "How's… how's your head?"

Benson squeezed her eyes tightly. "I think the headache's worse than anything, to be honest." She was savouring the feel of Nikki's cool fingers on her hot skin when she heard a small hum of pleasure from the lifer. Olivia could only smile at the synchronicity.

"I had a cat once who had that same expression after I gave her a bowl of cream," Nikki observed and Olivia laughed. "Come on, you can take those last two tablets and we'll go eat."

It was the jolt of pain through her side as she stood up that reminded Benson she had serious business here other than Nikki Wade.

"You all right, Olivia?"

Standing in the food line, she turned at the question. "Yes, sir," she answered when she saw McAllister. "I just wasn't feeling well."

"I heard," he replied. "Maybe you should stay out of the gym for a while, yeah?"


"And if morning comes and you still feel poorly, let me know and I'll take you to the doctor." He slid a glance at Nikki and good-naturedly added, "A real one, I mean."

"Hell," Nikki quipped, "by the time I get out of this place, I could have my medical degree."

"You could open a clinic here, Nik," Benson suggested. "I'm sure you wouldn't have problems attracting patients."

The guard blushed and he held up his hands. "That's enough for me, thanks!"

"Thanks, Mr. McAllister," Benson said.


The young man left them just in time for their turn at the counter. The grinning face of Shell Dockley was there to greet them.

"Liv, you're looking a bit rough," she sympathized facetiously. "You okay, love?"

Benson could feel the rage emanating from Nikki and she surreptitiously put out her arm to stop Wade from doing anything rash. "I'm not too bad, Shell, thanks for asking." Leaning forward, she said, "Better than some people will be if something happens to Mr. Weston's newfound money train, wouldn't you agree?" When the blonde did nothing but blanch, Benson looked down at the selection of the day and commented, "I was too sick to keep my lunch down today; I think I'll have two servings tonight. Is that all right with you, Shell?"

Dockley nodded her head more times than necessary. "Yeah, yeah," she finally stuttered out. "Here you go, Liv."

"Only my friends call me 'Liv'," Benson reminded her. "And I think certain events have made me question our friendship, Shell. You can understand that, can't you?" As Shell nodded again, Olivia reached under her shirt and pulled out the bag of peas. "And put these back."

Benson and Wade walked away as Dockley picked up the bag.

"Eh?" she called out after them.

"You ate both servings," Nikki noted as the two women cleaned up after dinner. "That must be a good sign."

Olivia dried her plate and put it on the shelf in the cell. "Yeah," she replied, "and those pills must have kicked in because my headache's gone."


When they were finished, Wade held up a thin piece of plastic between two fingers. "Thought you might want to phone that partner of yours in the States."

The cop smiled and took it. "I owe you."

"Careful, I might collect. Come on, let's go."

As Nikki ushered her to the door, Olivia asked, "You going to be my bodyguard?"

Shaking her head, Nikki smirked, "Maybe later. Right now, I have other business to attend to." She saw the look on Benson's face and shook her head. "Just paying a little visit to a mutual friend."

The sarcastic drop of the last word hinted at the truth. "Stay out of trouble," Olivia warned, "for my sake if not your own. I mean it."

"Yes, Mother." Though she rolled her eyes at the admonishment, she tempered her attitude by squeezing Benson's arm. "I promise."

"Okay. I'll hold you to it." She looked at her watch. "If you're not back here in fifteen minutes, I'm coming to look for you."

She took the steps two at a time, determined and driven. Though willing herself to remain in control, Nikki kept a sliver of anger on the surface; just enough to keep her edgy. When she got to the top level, the first person she saw was Yvonne Atkins, who was leaning against the railing, smoking a cigarette.

"Hey, Nikki," the older woman greeted. "What brings you all the way up here?"

She got straight to the point. "Is Dockley here?"

Atkins exhaled and peered at Nikki through the smoke. "What's going on?"

"Is she here?"

Having no love lost with Dockley herself, Yvonne said, "Yeah." However, she did have a soft spot for Nikki. "Be careful. The last thing you need is for one of the screws to catch you doing something stupid."

"That's why you're here, innit?" Nikki smiled without humour. "You're going to make sure I don't get caught."

"But you are going to do something stupid."

Her tone was hard and cold. "I'm going to do something I've wanted to do for ages. You with me?"

Atkins stubbed out her cigarette. "Damn straight I'm with you, love."

The two women marched towards Dockley's cell, and Nikki unceremoniously pushed the door open.

"Oi!" Dockley swore as she stood up to protest.

"Oh, that's the best thing you could have done, Shell," Nikki said.

With the blonde upright, it was nothing for Nikki to step forward and grab her by the throat. Yvonne quietly closed the door, leaving only a small crack in case she had to get Nikki's attention. Inside, Wade ran Dockley into the far wall, bouncing Shell's head off the concrete, but holding her fast around the throat. Having an extra inch or two on Shell helped, as the pressure on the blonde's throat forced her to look up right into Nikki's eyes. Wade bared her teeth and squeezed harder.

"Do you know how easy it would be for me to crush your windpipe, you worthless piece of shit?"

Dockley couldn't answer because of the pressure, and she didn't dare try to move her head for the same reason. Her eyes, as huge as saucers, tried their best to answer for her.

"You know, I generally like to inflict pain with something sharp and jagged. And I'd love to have something like that right now so I could mess up that pretty little face of yours. Bet that would put Fenner off you for a while, wouldn't it? Or maybe not. He probably doesn't even look at your face when he's got you down on your knees, does he, you little slag?" Nikki's eyes were nearly black with fury and her gaze bore through Dockley. "You don't have to answer that, darling. I'm not here to ask questions. I'm here to state facts. And the fact is, it could be another fifteen years before I get out of this shit hole, and by that time, I'll almost be fifty. So what's another five or ten years added on for assault? And that's the best case scenario for you if you try that bullshit with Fenner again. Keep your pit bull at bay in the future, or I'll make sure he has no further use for this gob of yours ever again." She roughly pushed Dockley away from her and didn't bother to watch her slide down the wall and gasp for air.

"Everything kosher, Nikki?" Atkins asked as the tall brunette came out of the cell.

She nodded. "Right as rain."

"You've got the office bugged or what?"

Benson laughed. "Hello to you, too, El. Weston must've called."

"About ten minutes ago." He knew she had been waiting for this as much as he had, so he got right to it. "Deal's been set up for Thursday. His guy's going to call us when he gets in and we agree on a meeting place from there."

"Anything more specific about the time?"

"We got it down to sometime in the early afternoon. It doesn't sound like much help, but we don't figure he's going to want to be in New York too long with a kid, so we're checking incoming flights with a six-hour window at LaGuardia and JFK."

She thought about this for a moment before asking, "What's your gut instinct on this?"

"My gut?" he repeated. "My gut is, we've got a good chance here, Liv. We get the passenger lists of every flight coming in from London, narrow it down from there. An adult and a kid traveling together? Even without knowing the exact time, I like our odds."

"And you've got the late booking of the flight," she conceded.

"And we got that. Anyone who's booked a ticket in the last four days is gonna be a red flag."

Taking a deep breath, she admitted, "I feel a bit better now."

"It's gonna be all over soon, Liv. Either way."

"I know."

There was something in her voice that caught his attention. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Just tired." She rested her head against the phone. "I won't be able to call you on Thursday. Lock up here's 9 o'clock, and with the time difference…"

"Call me first thing Friday, okay?" he offered. "I don't care what the time is here, just call."

"Okay. Be careful."

"I will. And I'll talk to you on Friday."


"Look, I know it's gotta be eating you up inside to be there when it's going down here, but I want you to try and not think about it until Friday, until the dust settles. I know I might as well tell you not to breathe, but give it a shot, okay?"

Her tired chuckle rolled down the line. "Okay. Take it easy."

He said his goodbyes and she held onto the receiver long after the line went dead.

"Any word?" Nikki immediately asked when Olivia returned to the cell.

"And here I thought I was going to have to go looking for you."

Wade smirked. "Oh, no, it didn't take long at all."

"I'm just glad you're on my side," Benson remarked.

"Go on." She sat down and gestured for Olivia to do the same. "Did you find out anything?"

Olivia took a seat in the opposite chair. Leaning forward to keep her voice down, she said, "Thursday, early afternoon, Weston's guy is going to call my partner and set up a meeting place."

"You can't catch this bastard before he leaves England?"

"No," the cop answered, "we need to catch him with the kid, and there are just too many ways that can go wrong here. If we catch him out of the country, we've got him by the balls."

"Will he get prosecuted there or here?" Nikki queried.

"The supplier will get prosecuted in the States. Weston will more than likely get prosecuted here. It's going to be a legal nightmare trying to get both countries to work together, but I think crime scene photos of the kids will spur both legal systems to co-operate."

"No doubt. So what now?"

Benson propped her elbow on the table and rested her chin in her palm. Sighing, she said, "We wait. The deal goes down Thursday, but with the time difference, I won't find anything out until Friday morning."

"Should I reserve the pool table for you?"

Olivia laughed. "Yeah. And maybe we'll finish plotting those flowers."

Nikki smiled in return. "I'd like that."

There was a soft rap on the door, and when Nikki called out an invitation, the two Julies popped their heads around the frame.

"Everything all right, girls?" Nikki asked.

"We was just going to ask you the same," the taller Julie said.

The shorter one piped up, "How you feeling, Liv?"

"Better. Much better thanks to you two," the American replied.

"Aw, it was nothing -"

" -nothing."

"We brought you these, just in case." Julie J put two small pills on the table. "We would've got more, but we didn't want to cause Angie any aggro."

"I made her a pretty little patch to replace that horrible black thing she's wearing," Julie S said.

Both Olivia and Nikki laughed, and it was Wade who stood up and walked over to the small cupboard. Shaking her pack of cigarettes, she took out three and handed the rest to the Julies. "Take one each and give the rest to Angie. With my thanks."

"Ah, cheers, Nikki!" praised the two women in unison. The shouting of the guards caught their attention, and tall Julie said, "Looks like lock-up. We just wanted to drop those off and tell you we was glad to help out -"

" -glad to help out."

"Thanks, Julies," Olivia and Nikki chimed together, and as the two women left, Nikki groused good-naturedly, "Christ, we're getting as bad as they are!"

The key scraped into the hole and the lock clicked into place. Olivia looked over to Nikki, who was brushing her teeth at the sink.

"Do you ever get used to that?" she asked.

Nikki rinsed her mouth, then raised her head. "To what? You mean being locked up? I don't know. I suppose so. Four years in this place should be long enough to drum a routine into anyone, even a hard head like me. They tell you when to get up, when to eat, when to go to sleep. If they could, I'm sure they'd tell you when to shit."

"Does it bother you, to have your life so regulated?"

"Well, it is supposed to be punishment, innit?" she remarked. "Fact of the matter is, I don't really give a toss either way. What I value most is up here," she tapped her forehead, "and they can regulate things down to an inch of my life and still wouldn't be able to touch it. That's where my freedom is. Anyway, that got serious all of a sudden, didn't it?" she smiled. "I won't be able to get to sleep if we keep going on, and I need every minute of the eight hours they give us."

Olivia smiled back. "It's more sleep than I get back home, I'll say that much."

She turned slightly and grabbed the hem of her shirt with both hands. Lifting it, she only made it up to her shoulders before her ribs reminded her of the situation. Wincing, she relented for a second, took a deep breath and tried again. Her ribs would have none of it.

Nikki stepped forward and very softly whispered, "Let me."

Olivia slowly dropped her arms and Nikki took the cotton in her hands.

"If we do one arm at a time, it might be easier," she directed. Pulling one side away from Benson's body, Nikki said, "This arm first." When Olivia did as she was instructed, Nikki repeated it on the other side, and with both arms out, she was able to lift the shirt over Olivia's head until the tee was completely removed. She carefully folded it and placed it on the bunk behind Olivia's shoulder and rested her hand on the mattress. Their bodies were so close that Olivia could feel the warmth emanate from Nikki, a contrast to the cool metal bed frame that pressed across her shoulders.

Benson's gaze flicked up to Nikki's eyes and she wondered if hers held the same look of… craving. Words like desire and attraction seemed woefully inadequate in comparison to the fever that spread through her body like a wildfire. She chanced a glance at Nikki's mouth and subconsciously licked her own lips. When the lifer grazed her nose alongside Benson's, the cop decided to make a vain attempt at keeping her head.

"This is impossible, you know, me and you."

Nikki's breath caressed Olivia's ear. "I know." When there was no further comment from the American, Wade slowly reached around Benson and unclasped her bra with exquisite slowness.

Olivia's chuckle was low and heavy. "You've done this before."

"Maybe," Nikki admitted with a chuckle of her own. "Once or twice."

The last clasp obediently unhooked from its partner, and the silk prison relinquished its tension. With her hands returning to the front, Nikki slid her fingers under the thin straps and inched them off Olivia's shoulders until she could pull the garment away from her body. The two women sighed in unison, though it was difficult to determine who was more pleased. Placing her hands flat against Olivia's breastbone, Nikki ran them up along the side of her throat and into her hair, and, with two tight fists, she pulled Olivia's mouth to her own, fierce and hard. Lips and teeth and tongues collided without grace or patience. Olivia thought she could detect the metallic tinge of blood, but she couldn't tell who it belonged to. She didn't care.

Nikki tore her mouth away and rested her forehead against Olivia's, and gasping for air. Their shaky breath wound around each other and there seemed to be nothing else in the moment except the sound of their ragged breathing. Uncoiling her fingers from Olivia's hair, Nikki returned to her tenderness as she dusted her fingertips across Benson's collarbone and down her sternum, resisting the urge to cup the offered breasts in her hands, much to Olivia's objection.

"Patience, darling," Nikki whispered. "We've got all night." As if on cue, the prison lights shut off and they were left bathed by the ground lights that shone through the window into the darkened cell. She brushed her mouth across Olivia's and skimmed over the hard jaw until she reached the soft skin of her neck. Finding the long tendon, Nikki scratched her teeth across it, causing the other woman to jump in surprise.

Benson didn't know which sensation was driving her crazier, the maddeningly slow trail Nikki's fingertips were blazing down her abdomen to her jeans, or the blatantly obvious way she was trying to mark her. She tried to create a suitable diversion by finding a space between their bodies and sliding her hands underneath Nikki's tank top. The action only made her realize there would be no such distraction from the sensory overload. On the contrary; when her palms touched bare skin, her body nearly cried out with the gratification.

She wasn't alone. The contact of Olivia's hands on her body made Nikki bite down in pleasure and her growl masked the soft popping sound of the button being released on Olivia's jeans. Benson had been in the game long enough to know that anticipation was often part of the sexual dance, but she couldn't get close enough to this woman fast enough for her liking. She tugged the hem of Nikki's tee and whispered, "Take this off. My ribs won't let me."

Reluctantly pulling away from Olivia's body, Nikki grasped the bottom of her shirt and pulled it over her head before tossing it on the bunk. When Nikki tilted her head forward to Olivia's mouth, the cop touched her shoulders to stop the advancement. They stood like this for an eternity, until Olivia painted her palms down Nikki's breastbone and cupped the soft flesh of her breasts. The lifer's eyes fluttered shut, but her mouth opened, a soft moan escaping through parted lips. Hard nipples pressed into Olivia's palms and the sensation made her sigh. Reaching up with one hand, she pulled Nikki's mouth down on hers.

The action caused their bodies to press into each other, and at long last, they were skin-on-skin, nerve endings alive and aware of every minute movement that caused their bodies to brush or graze or rub against each other. Hips jerked forward, looking for their counterpart and limbs tangled in an effort to map out as much of the exposed skin with fingertips and mouths and tongues as possible.

Nikki's fingers tickled over Olivia's ribs until they reached denim and uncoupled the metal teeth of the zipper. Curling her fingers around the waistband, she tugged down both panties and jeans, and as her hands lowered, so did her mouth. Her hot breath blazed a path down Olivia's neck to her collarbone and between her breasts, again refusing the slight arch of Benson's body except to lick the underside of her left breast.

"You're a fucking tease, Nikki Wade," Benson breathed.

Nikki's chuckle vibrated through Olivia's abdomen and spread throughout her body. She carefully kissed the delicate area where the bruise had stained her white skin and she heard Olivia gasp. Raising her head, she asked, "Am I hurting you?"

Olivia ran a hand through Nikki's short soft hair. It was the tenderness, not pain that had made her murmur. "No." With a smirk, she added, "You are driving me crazy, though."

"All good things, love," Nikki said; though, as if offering a concession, she peeled away the jeans and cotton panties down to Liv's ankles at a pace quicker than she would have liked. Benson lightly touched Nikki's shoulder for balance as she lifted her foot - one, then the other - to help shed the garments.

Nikki sat back on her heels and drank in the long lean sight of the naked woman before her. "God, you're gorgeous."

She ran her fingers up Benson's calves and raised herself to her knees as her hands guided themselves back up Olivia's body, brushing over hard nipples and around her shoulders, then scratching their way down her back and over the curve of her ass. Benson all but purred in pleasure. Bringing her hands around to trace the faint outline of the pelvic bone, Nikki's fingers went lower, barely grazing the coarse dark hair on the way to the soft skin of Olivia's inner thighs. Benson's hand clenched and unclenched in Nikki's hair, her body humming in anticipation, and when Nikki's mouth came in contact with the tender flesh, she nearly jumped out of her skin. They both knew the kiss was a pre-cursor for what was to come, and they both yearned and savoured it in equal measure. She focused on nothing but the feel of Nikki's breath on her skin and how that simple act sent sparks of desire up and down her body.

It seemed like an eternity passed before Olivia whispered, "Please."

Though she didn't need to ask, Nikki realized she had been waiting for the permission Olivia's simple word had given her. With two thumbs, she gently revealed Olivia's swollen clit and she couldn't resist. She blew a cool breath across the sensitive nerve and decided she had teased long enough. With heady conviction, she pressed her mouth alongside Olivia's clit and dragged her tongue in a long deliberate lick that made Benson's knees buckle.

"Jesus!" she groaned, her fingers tightening in Nikki's hair.

Nikki repeated the action again before pulling Olivia into her mouth. She revelled in the taste and texture as she flicked her rough tongue over the satin flesh. The weight of Olivia's leg as she hooked it over Nikki's right shoulder made the lifer exhale a moan that reverberated through Olivia's clit and only made her dig her heel harder into Nikki's back. Her hands free, Nikki glided them up Benson's lean frame and, at long last, made contact with Olivia's breasts.

Benson linked her fingers with Nikki's and held her there, squeezing her hands as Nikki squeezed her breasts. The edge of the metal bunk bed jabbed into her shoulders as she arched her back, but she felt nothing - nothing but Nikki's cool hands and warm mouth, driving her mad. She tried to establish a rhythm between her hips and Nikki's mouth, but it was all too much and she wasn't sure how long she could keep herself upright.

"Stop," she said, her voice raspy. "Sto -God!" A gentle nibble told her Nikki hadn't heard, and she moaned. Opening her mouth, she wet her parched lips with her tongue and tried again. She forced clarity on her brain and repeated, "Stop."

Even in the darkness, she could see Nikki's eyes meet hers. The way the light from the window shone against Wade's mouth and made her lips glisten with Olivia's wetness only made the cop moan again.

"What's wrong?" Nikki asked.

Benson shook her head. "Not a thing." Gently tugging at Nikki's hair, she got her to stand up. "I'm just not sure how long my legs are going to co-operate." She pulled Nikki's mouth towards her and sucked Wade's bottom lip between her teeth while running her hands down her back. When she reached the cotton material of Nikki's pyjama bottoms, she murmured against Nikki's mouth. "And you're over-dressed."

Nikki smirked and kissed the corner of Olivia's mouth before gently pressing Benson's shoulders so that she sat down on the edge of the mattress. Stepping back slightly, Nikki hooked her thumbs in her waistband and stripped away her remaining clothes, all while under the watchful eye of Olivia.

"Get a good look, did you?" Nikki joked.

"Not what I'd like with this light, but it was pretty good."

"Pretty good?" she echoed with a note of playful incredulousness in her voice. "I'll show you 'pretty good'."

She bent forward and kissed Olivia, and cradling her head to avoid hitting it on the bed frame, she lowered her to the pillow. She waited for Benson to swing her legs up to the mattress and once both women were on the bed, Nikki craned her head to check their surroundings. The bed barely fit one person; to have two was an exercise in space management. Kneeling between Olivia's legs and her back bowed, Nikki swore.

"These bloody beds were made for bastard elves!"

Olivia threw her head back and laughed so honestly that Nikki couldn't help but do the same.

"It's never like it is in the movies, is it?" Wade complained.

The laughter faded into a warm chuckle. "No, it isn't," Benson agreed.

Propping herself on her left elbow, Nikki lowered her mouth and kissed Olivia, a move designed to distract the American from Wade's wandering right hand. "Well, I suppose I'll just have to go with Plan B."

"Oh?" Olivia asked. "And what exactly would that -"

Two slender fingers slid into Olivia, and the cop's eyes squeezed shut in pleasure.

" -be?" Nikki finished for her, grinning against her mouth.

Benson grabbed the sheet tightly in her fists and opened her eyes wide. "God, you're sneaky."

Pulling her fingers out, Nikki cocked an eyebrow. "Anything else?"

"And gorgeous."


The unflappable Olivia Benson barely prevented herself from begging. She could feel Nikki's fingertips grazing against her, so close yet so maddeningly far. "And you've had me thinking about this since the first day we met."

"Have I?" Nikki asked as she slowly pushed her fingers inside Olivia once more. "Just like this?"

"Christ, yes, baby."

Wade hummed at the endearment. Lifting her right leg over Olivia's, Nikki used her thigh to press her fingers deeper into Benson. Olivia's mouth opened, though words became unintelligible whispers. "Lift your leg, darling," Nikki instructed.

Olivia tried to focus at the direction, and when she looked down between their bodies, she understood. Raising her right leg allowed Nikki to rock her hips back and forth, pressing her clit into Olivia's thigh.

The surprise at the feel of Nikki's wetness must have shown on her face, because the lifer smiled and asked, "What? Did you think it was just you?" Whatever Olivia was about to say was lost in the kiss Nikki lowered onto her mouth. Wade's fingers retreated again and before Olivia could voice her displeasure, she thrust them inside a second time, her thigh pushing against her hand.

"Faster, baby," Olivia pleaded.

Shifting her weight on her left forearm and thigh, Nikki was able to find a comfortable rhythm that complemented Benson's responsive hips which rose off the mattress to meet Nikki's hand. Every time they met, Nikki could feel Olivia's hard clit bump into her palm, so she angled her wrist enough to rub the sensitive spot. The sensation made Olivia jump.

"God, I… I'm almost there…" She gripped Nikki's forearm and held Wade's hand still as she jerked her hips up and ground them into Nikki's palm. "Just a little bit…" She was so close, but somehow found the wherewithal to look at Nikki.

The woman looked down at Benson. "Don't worry about me, love," Nikki whispered, anticipating what Olivia could not find the breath to say. "It won't take me long, I promise."

Olivia closed her eyes and allowed herself to relish the feeling that was rolling through her body. She couldn't seem to focus on a single sensation; her mind jumped from the feel of Nikki rocking against her thigh, to the glorious pleasure of Nikki's hand between her legs. When she thought she couldn't take any more, Nikki captured Olivia's nipple between her teeth and she was over the edge.

Though Nikki was quick, she wasn't quite quick enough to prevent a hitched moan escape from Olivia's lips. It seemed loud in the small room, but it simply joined the hundred other sounds of the prison settling in for the night - women laughing and yelling at each other; some singing; some banging against the windows until the boredom lulled them to sleep.

In this cell, Nikki's mouth covered Olivia's and she watched as the cop came down from the carnal bliss. She could feel Benson clenching and unclenching around her fingers, as the last waves of the orgasm ran spent through her body. Nikki had continued to grind into Olivia's thigh, and watching Benson come had pushed her dangerously close to the edge herself. When Olivia finally opened her heavy-lidded eyes, she didn't say a word. Instead, she simply slid her hand between her thigh and Nikki's swollen clit.

"Fuck!" Nikki gasped.

Though short of breath, Olivia managed to reply, "That's the idea." Wiping away the damp hair from Nikki's forehead, Benson pulled Nikki to her, but rather than kissing her mouth, she lightly sunk her teeth into Wade's neck, a replay of the action Nikki herself had performed on Olivia in a time that seemed like a lifetime ago. She felt the lifer go rigid and clench Benson's thigh between her legs. Nikki's release was muffled in Olivia's neck and the cop eased her onto her body while gently stroking a sweat-soaked back. Wade said something Olivia couldn't quite catch.

"What's that?"

Using up whatever energy she had left, Nikki lifted her head and repeated, "You tell anyone I let you call me 'baby' and I'll kill you."

Wade's head dropped back into the crook of Olivia's neck and Benson laughed. "Careful what you say."

Nikki jerked her head back up. "Sorry," she apologized, as real life and circumstances returned.

"No," Olivia said, running her fingers through Nikki's damp hair. "That's not what I meant. I just meant you might want to keep your death threats to a minimum since you're in prison." As if to support her words, she leaned up and kissed her again.

Nikki's body was cooling, but her desire was still burning and she returned the kiss with fervor. It was when she heard Olivia moan that her head cleared for a moment, and she looked down at her body lying prone on Benson. "Am I hurting you?"


Chuckling, Nikki said, "Your ribs, remember? Am I hurting you?"

"Oh, them. I forgot all about it," she replied before nipping Nikki's jaw with her teeth. "But maybe just for health reasons, I should be on top this time."

Day gradually overtook the night and, as the artificial lights of the prison yard were replaced by the sun, Benson's internal clock, finally on British time, nudged her awake. In her sleepy haze, she attempted to stretch, only to have her ribs remind her of yesterday's events. It was only a matter of moments before the rest of her body reminded her of what else happened the day before. Smiling, she rolled away from the wall and glanced over her shoulder. And found she was sleeping alone.

Benson's movements must have alerted Nikki, because the con leaned over from her perch on the top bunk and said, "Morning." Olivia's eyes narrowed in confusion and Wade could almost see the cop trying to piece everything together. Deciding to help out, Nikki explained, "I've only been up here for about an hour. The screws catch us sleeping together and we're in it. They know it goes on, and they know they can't do anything about it, but they'd rather not have us flaunt it in their faces. Not much different than being on the outside, I suppose." She climbed off the bunk and grabbed her cigarettes off the shelf. Opening the window, she lit the cigarette and watched as Olivia sleepily ran her fingers through her hair. Blowing a cloud of smoke out the window, Nikki smirked, "Or was the confusion in finding you were the one who woke up alone and not the other way round?"

"Hey!" Benson objected, knowing full well the meaning behind the words. She also knew her defense was a weak one. "Okay, so I'm the one who usually leaves before morning."

"I knew it!" Nikki crowed.

"Anyway," Olivia went on in an attempt to change the subject, "once the screws open the door, they'll know we've been at it like rabbits."

Laughing, Nikki said, "Hence the window and the fag. Maybe we'll get lucky and we'll have the pleasure of Bodybag this morning. She wouldn't have a clue. Probably hasn't gotten any since the Napoleonic War."

Right on cue, there was a knock at the door and the rattle of keys as Sylvia Hollamby announced her presence. "All right, come on, rise and -" She stopped in the doorway and looked around suspiciously. Benson was on the bottom bunk, but it was obvious Wade had slept in the unmade top bed. And yet there was something not quite right, but she couldn't put her finger on it.

"Morning, Miss," Benson greeted.

"Morning, Sylvia," Wade added.

The guard frowned. "It's Miss Hollamby! Once more out of you and you'll be written up for disrespecting an officer." She looked around again, though failing to find anything amiss. "Hurry it up, then!"

When the guard departed, both Olivia and Nikki burst out laughing.

"We okay about last night?" Nikki asked as she finished her cigarette by the window.

"Regrets, Wade?"

Nikki scoffed. "Not bloody likely. Though I did wonder how it would be in the harsh light of the day as it were."

Benson sat up and cautiously placed her warm feet on the cold concrete. Looking up, she said, "Sweetheart, it might not seem like it in here, I know, but life's too damn short." She smiled and stood up, naked. "Now, in the harsh light of day, where is my underwear?"

Wade shook her head in amusement and lifted a pair of jeans off the floor. "I believe they're still in here."

Olivia snatched the denim from Nikki's fingers and slipped on both bits of clothing. Her eyes searching, she spotted her bra on the floor as well. "You're a slob, Wade."

"What?" the con asked incredulously. "I folded your shirt, didn't I?"

Benson conceded the point with an eye roll, and walked over to the sink as she gingerly pulled the tee over her head. Running the taps, she splashed cold water on her face and through her hair. As she raised her head to dry her face, she froze.


Alarmed, Nikki joined her at the sink and looked at their reflections in the mirror. "What is it?"

Benson tilted her head and pointed at her neck. In clear contrast to the white skin of her throat was a large red mark that stood out in relief.

Nikki's mouth twitched in poorly disguised amusement. "What?" she asked, her attempt at innocence just as poorly disguised.

"How am I going to explain this to the girls at breakfast?"

Nikki shrugged. "I would think they'd be able to figure it out on their own." For her efforts, she got a playful elbow in the stomach. "I do see a problem, though," she admitted.


"Yeah." She slipped her arms around Benson's waist. "You're going to be off-balance all day, walking around with only the one." She nuzzled the unmarked side of Olivia's neck.

Benson slapped Nikki's arm half-heartedly. "I suppose it's okay," she confessed, "since you've got one, too."

Wade's head jerked up in surprise. "What?" she exclaimed as she pushed Benson out of the way. Sure enough, the reflection didn't lie. Directly above her collarbone, a faint yet obvious welt showed itself. "Are those teeth marks?!" Nikki's eyes were as wide as saucers. "How am I going to explain this to the girls at breakfast?" she asked, echoing Benson's earlier refrain.

"I would think -" Benson stopped short when she caught Wade's reflected glare.

"You're lucky you've already got a rib problem," Nikki muttered as she touched the hickey just to make sure.

The two women looked at their reflections for a quiet moment, and then, for the second time that morning, erupted in laughter.

Beyond a hearty, "Thank Christ!" from Yvonne as a morning greeting at the table, and a knowing smile from Barbara, Olivia and Nikki hurdled the gauntlet of breakfast with little incident. It was only when the two Julies stopped by under the pretense of wiping the table did someone try and get a good one in.

"Ah, look Jules, Liv and Nikki -"

" -neck and neck."

Olivia nearly choked on her tea and Nikki's eyes snapped up. Glaring, she warned, "Julies…"

"What?" Julie J innocently replied. "I was just mentioning to Jules that you two were almost done eating at the same time, wasn't I, Jules?"

"You were."

Yvonne piped up, "I'd say Liv and Nikki have been eating more than breakfast lately."

"Had we known you girls were so interested in our sex lives, we would've got a camera smuggled in, wouldn't we, Liv?" Nikki asked, deciding that playing along was the best defense.

Olivia chose another path. "Let me die," she groaned.

Julie S nudged Nikki's shoulder. "Ah, come on. You love us."

"Which is the only reason I'm not using you two as fertilizer for my plants."

"Aw, you know we was just joking."

Nikki's expression softened her tone. "Don't you two have work to do? Go on, then. Sod off."

When they saw her smile, they winked in return. "We love you, Nikki."

As the two women walked away, Atkins turned to Barbara. "Hey, Babs, a quid or a card says the news of recent shagging events gets around by tea time."

Barbara looked up from her diary and seriously contemplated the odds. "With the two Julies knowing? You'd better get me down for mid-afternoon. Say two o'clock?"

Nikki shook her head. "You two are shameless," she accused. After a fraction of a pause, she added, "Put me down for lunchtime." Olivia turned to her, eyes wide and mouth agape. "What?"

"I should be using you as fertilizer," Benson muttered as she sifted through the rich soil.

After breakfast and cleanup, the cellmates decided to go out to the shed and finish the potting job they started a week ago.

"You're not sore about breakfast, are you?" Nikki asked.

Olivia glanced at the woman who was standing shoulder to shoulder with her. She couldn't help but laugh. "No. I'm just not used to being the topic of conversation."

Wade smirked. "That's because you leave before anyone can get your name." While she had the cop speechless, Nikki said, "So tell me about your life beyond all this. What are you going back to? You told me you worked on some kind of special unit. What's that about?"

Choosing to let the original quip pass, Benson replied, "Special Victims Unit. Pretty self-explanatory, though some cops call it the Sex Crimes division. And other cops just call us the Panty Brigade."

"Oh, very nice."

"Yeah," she acknowledged. "Divisional rivalry is par for the course, but we get it fairly often."

Nikki placed a small bulb into one of the plastic containers and gently covered it with soil. "Why do you think that is?"

"Dunno," Benson shrugged, "though I've always suspected it's because it makes most people uncomfortable. Straight up murder or robbery they can deal with, but when it comes to rape or assault of women, a lot of cops just can't deal with the sensitivities of it. Most cops are married or have kids of their own, so to have to deal with a woman lying broken on the ground because she's been raped…" she trailed off before picking it up again. "And rape of a man? Forget it. Most of the time the testosterone's so thick, accepting a man can get raped isn't a macho attitude to take."

"And you deal with kids as well?"

Benson nodded. "Mm-hmm. Another hot button issue for most cops."

"For most people, I should think."

"True," Olivia agreed.

"Can I ask you something?" Hearing the question come out of her mouth, Nikki flashed a self-depreciating eye roll. "Sorry, habit." When Benson's look encouraged her to continue, she said, "I have to say, this unit sounds pretty shitty - I mean, you deal with pretty shitty things. What made you want to join?"

"When I joined the academy, I'd never heard of SVU; I joined just because I wanted to become a cop. It was only later that I heard about it and decided it was something I wanted to be a part of."

"But why?"

Reaching for the watering can, Olivia lightly sprinkled the clear liquid over the freshly potted plants. "The fact that very few cops were interested was one good reason. But if we're supposed to protect and help people, shouldn't we be doing everything we can as officers to do that instead of shying away from it because it makes us feel uncomfortable?"

"Good point."

Olivia touched the soil to make sure it was damp enough. "And I had a personal reason."

Nikki waited, unsure whether Olivia's comment was the end or a beginning.

Glancing quickly at Nikki then back to her work again, she said, "My mother was raped."

Nikki froze. "Jesus. How… how old were you?"

"I wasn't born yet," Benson answered. "I was born because of it."

She waited for all the pieces to fall into place for Nikki, and it only took seconds for the con to figure out the implication of Olivia's words.

"Bloody hell," Nikki whispered. She thought of how her life and that of Trish's had changed because of the attempted rape. She couldn't imagine what it must have been like for Olivia's mother to go through that horrible experience, let alone come out of it pregnant. Deciding to keep the baby must have been the most difficult decision the woman ever made. "Your mother's a very courageous woman," Nikki admired.

"She was," Benson agreed and seeing the questioning look from Wade, she added, "She died last year."

"I'm sorry." Shaking her head, Nikki said, "That word seems woefully inadequate."

"No, it's okay," Benson assured her with a small smile. "You know, she seemed to make peace with things a hell of a lot sooner than I did. I don't think she took any hate with her. Though back then, I probably carried enough for the both of us."

"And now?"

She wiped her hands and stepped back to admire her handiwork before answering, "And now… you know, when I graduated from the academy, I was on all cylinders. I pursued every perp at full throttle. And when I got accepted for SVU, I carried that over."

"Every crim was your father."

Olivia looked at Nikki and nodded at the con's insight. "Yeah. Yeah, I suppose you're right. But somewhere along the way I learned the most important person in a crime isn't the perp. It's the victim. So I tried to find a balance in all that zeal."

Nikki smiled. "And what's your partner like?"

This time, Olivia's smile was a full and genuine one. "Detective Elliot Stabler. He's my anchor, my family. He's married with a brood of rug rats," she chuckled. "He's always had my back and has always treated me like a partner instead of a woman."

Nodding appreciatively, Nikki said, "Sounds like he's one of the good guys."

"He is."

"Maybe one day I'll meet this knight in shining armour," Nikki quipped.

"Hey!" the cop half-heartedly objected, "that's my partner you're joking about. Besides, I bet he'd love to meet you."

"Oh yeah, I bet," Wade facetiously concurred. "Just don't tell him I have a way with bottles and men in uniform. I'm sure he'd figure I got what I deserved."

"He already knows." Wade's eyes widened. "What? You don't think he didn't read the same files I did before I got here?"

"So he knows about me?"

"He knows about you," Benson informed. "And he knows I'm sharing a cell with you. And he's not ready to string you up just because the guy you killed was a cop." She saw the con's expression of mild surprise. "You have to understand, we deal with cases like yours every single day. The irony is, if it had happened in New York, chances are, we would have been the ones investigating it."

Nikki picked up one of the few remaining empty containers and filled it with dirt. Glancing at Olivia, she mused, "Strange how it turned out that we'd meet anyway."

The day passed with little fanfare, and, though she knew Nikki was doing all she could to keep Olivia's mind occupied, for the cop, time seemed to push her closer and closer to the edge.

"Sorry," Benson apologized at the con for the second time that day.

Wade took it in stride. "It's okay," she said as she slipped her nightgown over her head. "Frankly, I'm surprised you've lasted this long."

At the sink, Olivia replied dryly, "I'm not sure whether that's a compliment or not."

Tidying up the table, Nikki smiled and answered, "What I mean is, you've got a lot to think about right now and it's only getting harder. I'd say you did a hell of a job keeping your feelings at bay today."

"Well, I'm sure it would have raised some eyebrows if I couldn't keep my emotions under wrap."

"Your undercover skills deserve an award."

Laughing lightly, Olivia added, "And the company I kept helped." She refused to let Wade ignore the praise. "I mean it. Thank you."

"Yeah, sure, whatever," Nikki accepted with an embarrassed shrug.

"Perhaps the sentiment just doesn't translate properly," Benson mused. Reaching out for the front of Nikki's nightgown, Olivia grabbed a fistful of material and yanked the startled con towards her, kissing her hard on the lips.

A pleased Nikki pulled away slightly and smirked, "I think I got that message loud and clear."

"Did you?" Olivia asked. "Good. Because I owe you a thanks for last night, but that might take me a bit longer to translate."

"Good thing we've got all night."

"So when are you going to tell me about Helen Stewart?"

Nikki had been awake for less than an hour and she wondered how Olivia knew. Was it the lack of the warm body the cop had moulded herself around that signalled Nikki's move to the top bunk? She allowed herself that bit of pleasant conceit before realizing what Olivia's first words of the morning had been.

"That's a hell of a way to greet someone," Nikki remarked while carefully avoiding the question.

"Don't worry, you didn't say her name in your sleep. Or worse." Nikki craned her neck over the edge of the mattress and Benson chuckled, sleepy and thick. "I am a cop, you know. It's my job to read people."

"Yeah, well, you read wrong."

"Did I?"

Nikki slid off the bunk and nearly yelped when she felt Olivia's hand on her calf.

"Skip the cigarette and come lay with me for a bit," Benson said.

Assenting, Nikki slipped under the thin blanket. "First sign of the screws and I'm out." She curled around Benson, enjoying their fit until she felt Olivia's feet against her own. "Jesus!" Nikki complained. "How can your feet be so bloody cold and your body so warm?"

"Why do you think I called you back into bed?" Nikki groaned her dismay. Revisiting her earlier question, Olivia tried again. "So, you and Miss Stewart."

"So, me and Miss Stewart nothing." Though Olivia didn't respond, Nikki knew she wasn't going to get away that easily. "Nothing anymore," she conceded. "We tried, but, you know, it was impossible, really."

When the lifer said nothing more, Olivia said, "Yeah, I guess I can see it. The situation isn't what I would call a workable one."

"Oh, it was workable. I just wanted too much and she… she didn't know what she wanted."

"That's not just you being stubborn, is it?" Olivia nuzzled Nikki's ear in order to soften the question.

"Well, she rebounded with Dr. Waugh, the prison shrink. Dr. Thomas Waugh. So draw your own conclusions, Officer Benson."

"Yet she obviously still cares about you."

Nikki snorted. "Oh, our Miss Stewart is full of good intentions, I'll give her that much. I'm her pet project. Not that I'm bitter or anything."

Olivia's chuckle tickled down Nikki's throat. "No. Not at all."

Nikki turned her head slightly to face Olivia. "Beyond the whole 'It's my job' bit, what tipped you off?"

Benson's brow furrowed as she tried to articulate her instincts. "I don't know," she admitted truthfully, "there was just something in the way you looked at each other. And the fact you called her by her first name."

Wade admired the cop for picking up the clue she hadn't even realized she had left. Then, with a sly grin, she said, "And I've called Bodybag by her first name twice since you've been here. Doesn't mean I want to shag her!"

The women shuddered in unison. "Thanks, I'll never that that out of my head," Olivia groaned.

The jingle of keys alerted them and Nikki bolted from the bed and for her cigarettes. The door swung open and another day began.

Benson barely made it to the front of the food counter when Dockley leaned over and hissed, "When do I get my gear?"

The cop blinked. "Sorry?"

"You heard me. Word has it your deal is going down today. I want my share by the weekend."

"Or what?" Benson's stare was icy and hard.

Dockley glanced menacingly at Nikki, who was sitting at a nearby table. "I'm just saying, right, that I might not be able to touch you, but that doesn't mean other people can't be got, if you catch my meaning."

Benson followed Shell's gaze, and Wade must have felt the attention her back was getting, because she turned. Seeing the two women looking at her, Nikki stood up and approached the counter. Other prisoners went around Olivia and quickly got their breakfast, as if sensing the storm brewing.

Benson's stare nailed Dockley to the floor. "If I thought for a second that Nikki Wade couldn't hand you your ass in tiny pieces, I might be worried. If that's it, I'd like my breakfast now."

Dockley's eyes burned red. "Oi! You listen to me. I've had just about enough of you walking around here like you own the place. The only reason you've still got two eyes in your bleedin' head is because I've let you, right? Anybody can be got to and no one would ever know who did it. You remember that."

"What's going on here, then?" Nikki asked as she stood beside Olivia. Closing ranks on the other side was an alert Yvonne Atkins, who could feel the trouble developing from her seat at the table.

The mob wife carefully whispered, "Everything all right, Liv?"

During Dockley's quiet outburst, Benson could feel the hackles rise on the back of her neck, and the flush of anger spread up to the tips of her ears. Her cop training told her to stay calm, that staying rational was the only way to defuse the situation. Perhaps it was her surroundings that made her overlook her training. Or maybe she had adapted her cover so well that she had forgotten. Either way, it wasn't the cop in her that reached out and grabbed Dockley by the throat.

Alarmed, but unsure of what to do, Nikki used her height as cover from the guards and Atkins twisted her body to do the same. Even the two Julies, who were nearby wiping tables, surreptitiously sidled up to the trio to block any curious eyes.

So overcome with rage, Benson didn't know where to begin. "I hear another word out of your mouth and I'm going to cut out your tongue, understand?" she whispered furiously, and the blonde blinked rapidly in response. "You sic your fucking pit bull Fenner on me and you have the fucking nerve to ask me for drugs?" Nikki wondered what Yvonne and the two Julies were making of this revelation. "I have just about had it up to here with your fucking bullshit, your fucking threats and every fucking thing about you. If you only knew…"

Nikki jumped in, worried Olivia might say something to blow her cover. "Olivia? Liv?" When Benson didn't respond, Nikki put her hand on the cop's arm. "Liv. You can't afford to be sent to the Block. Do you get what I'm saying to you?"

The red film over the American's eyes cleared and she unlocked her fingers from around Dockley's windpipe. McAllister chose that moment to make an appearance.

"What's all the fuss, ladies?"

Benson painted an apologetic expression on her face. "Sorry, sir. Just a little misunderstanding with Shell. She didn't realize I'm allergic to…" Olivia looked down at a nearby selection and couldn't identify a single ingredient. "… that," she pointed.

If the guilty looks of the women weren't enough to convince him that Benson was lying, the deep red spots around Dockley's throat did the trick. "That true, Shell?" he asked, knowing his chances of getting the truth out of Shell Dockley, regardless of the circumstances, were slim. If the truth didn't suit her, she'd lie. And if she felt compelled to tell the truth, the unspoken rules between prisoners would prevent her from saying anything.

The blonde nervously nodded her head. "Yes, sir. Mix-up with the paperwork is all."

McAllister bit the inside of his bottom lip and nodded, though he didn't believe a word of it. "Fine," he said, "let's move along then, shall we?" He watched until Dockley slid eggs and some toast onto Olivia's plate, and the group of women walked to their table. He looked at Dockley. "You okay, Shell?"

She rolled her eyes. "You'll forgive me, sir, if I tell you to sod off."

At the table, Yvonne leaned back in her chair and remarked, "I think you've got some explaining to do, Liv."

Benson told what she could, which wasn't much. She admitted her role in setting up deals through Dockley, though she kept the scope to the confines of the prison.

"Oh, Liv," Barbara said disapprovingly. "And you knew about this, Nikki?"

"She told me last week," Nikki informed.

"And I haven't done anything since," Olivia assured. Thumbing in Nikki's direction, she added, "I've been too scared of this one."

Even Barbara had to laugh.

Yvonne tried to put the pieces together. "And what was that bit about Fenner?"

Nikki looked at Olivia. "Show them."

Glancing around to make sure the screws were fairly occupied, Olivia half-stood and raised her shirt up her rib cage.

Barbara covered her mouth. "My goodness!"

"Fenner did that to you," Atkins growled.

Olivia nodded. "I told Shell I wasn't hooking her up with any more drugs. I guess she didn't like it."

"And we know when it comes to it, Dockley can't play with the big kids," Nikki said.

Yvonne clenched her jaw. "So she got a bigger kid. Bastard!"

"Please be careful, Liv," Barbara implored. "I don't trust either one of them."

"I will, I promise."

"Should have finished her off when you had the chance," Atkins said. "What?" she asked when she saw the reactions of Barbara and Nikki. Olivia simply shook her head. "Come on, Nikki, don't tell me this place wouldn't be better off without that slag around?"

Nikki conceded the point. "You've got me there."

"If I didn't have a chance of getting out of here soon…" Olivia trailed off, wondering just how far she would have gone. "Anyway, I've got more important things to think about than Shell Dockley."

The blonde was still fuming long after breakfast. She dropped unceremoniously into a chair near the pool table and watched Denny play. When her turn was over, the young prisoner sat beside Dockley.

"What's up, Shell? You look like someone shit in your cereal."

"It's that bleedin' American, innit?" Dockley sneered. She threw a disgusting look in the direction of a table across the wing, where Olivia, Nikki and Crystal were sharing a laugh. "I've had it up to here with her, I have."

"Ah, come on, Shell, she's not so bad," Denny defended. Realizing those were not the words Dockley wanted to hear, she back-pedalled slightly. "What I mean is, I figure as long as she stays out of your way, there's no problem."

Dockley shot daggers at the far table. "There's a problem, all right. And mark my words, Den, Shell Dockley's going to fix it."

With that, the blonde stood up and stalked away, leaving behind an uneasy and unsettled Denny.

"… then Jules says 'Amen' and when we's all trying to be serious right, Denny hiccups. I thought we was gone for sure." As Crystal retold the time the two Julies brewed up some wine in Larkhall, both Olivia and Nikki laughed at the story. "The good Lord reminded me of my transgression the next day," the young Christian admitted. "How come you weren't there, Nikki?"

Nikki scoffed at the idea. "Are you serious? I helped make it, remember? I wasn't going to drink it!"

"You, aiding and abetting an illegal operation, and from within a prison to boot?" Olivia shook her head in mock disbelief. "I'm shocked, Nikki."

Crystal saw Denny hesitantly approach and called out, "Hey, Denny! We was just talking about you."

It was just enough of an invitation to convince Denny of what she wanted to do. As she came up to the table, she asked, "Oh, yeah? What about?"

"Remember that night in the two Julies' cell with the wine?"

"I wish I could forget," Denny groaned. "To this day I can't look at an apple without me head wanting to explode." When the laughter around the table faded, she looked at Olivia. "Could I talk to you about something?"

Benson looked around. "Is here okay?"

Denny shrugged. "Yeah, sure. It won't take a minute anyway." She shuffled from one foot to the other as she tried to gather her thoughts and her courage. She had known Shell for years and knew loyalty was hard to come by in prison. But she also knew that Olivia was one of the good ones. And she owed the American for what happened in the cell that first day. "I just thought you should know Shell's on the war path."

Nikki blew a short breath of scorn through her pursed lips. "What else is new?"

"No, I mean it," Denny stressed, "she's looking to do something crazy, man."

"Did she say what it was?" Olivia gently asked.

The young con shook her head. "Nothing obvious. But I've seen her like this before. And bad shit happens."

"That girl needs the wrath of the Lord brought down upon her," Crystal declared.

Denny smiled a bit. "Yeah, well, I've got nothing to do with all that. Why don't you get on your God phone and ask him for a favour?"

Crystal frowned. "Careful or I might have Him send a little extra for you."

"Nah." Denny nudged her cellmate with her arm. "You'd be too scared the cell's too small and He'd hit you by accident." She turned back to Olivia. "I mean it, right? Just watch your back with Shell."

"I will, Denny. Thanks."

"Well, I figured I owed you for that bit in the cell, yeah?"

Olivia understood. "Consider us even."

"Cheers, Liv," Denny beamed before she sauntered off.

Crystal watched as she walked away. "That girl's come a long way. The Lord's been hearing my prayers about her."

"Ask and ye shall receive," Nikki drawled, "isn't that how it goes?"

Crystal nodded her head appreciatively. "Sing it, sister." Tilting her chin in Olivia's direction, she said, "I'll add you to my prayers. With that psycho bitch around, you might need it."

"You worried about Shell Dockley?" Nikki asked as she watched Olivia pace the small cell. Although lunch and supper had passed without further confrontation with Dockley, the weight of Denny's warning hung over the day like a thick fog.

Olivia stopped moving and sat in a chair. "No. I mean, yeah, I've got to deal with it at some point, but for now, I'm wondering what's going on in New York."

"This could be it right now, yeah?"

Looking at her watch, Benson replied, "Well, it's almost eight here, so three in New York. Who knows?" She glanced up at Nikki. "Sit down. Distract me." Wade raised her eyebrows suggestively and Olivia laughed. "Later. I mean, talking."

With a dramatic disappointed sigh, Nikki sat in the opposite chair. "What would you like to talk about?"

"I don't know," Olivia replied. "We've talked a lot about me. Let's talk about you. Beyond these walls."

"There's not much beyond this place. I've got an ex-girlfriend who still runs our nightclub."


Nikki played with her cigarette package. "A mother and a father, like most people." She saw Benson's smirk and flashed one of her own. "My father is a Navy man, my mother a Navy man's wife. Lots of G&T and bridge. I've got an older brother as well, though I haven't seen any of them since I basically got kicked out at sixteen."

"They found out you were a lesbian," Olivia guessed.

"Yep. Bounced around from friend to friend, but somehow managed to stick with school. Found out I had a fairly good head for numbers."

"The literature came later?"

Nikki grinned. "Well, I didn't seem to have the luxury of time back then. I was more concerned about fact; I didn't have much time for fiction. I'll give prison that much - I've read more books in my time here than I did my entire life up to that point."

"So how did you get from sixteen to here?"

"I don't know," Wade admitted. "You think you've got all the time in the world back then, you know? I hit my twenties and was working in a club; a bit of tending bar, some book work. One night, this fantastic blonde comes in and, embarrassingly, I fell head over heels."

"This is your ex, I presume?"

"Yeah. Trisha." Nikki smiled at the memory. "Before I knew it, we weren't only living together, we had decided to open our own business."

"That's a risky thing to do in your twenties," Benson said admiringly.

"Two women in their twenties," Nikki said. "The hoops we had to go through with the banks. They couldn't believe two little women were going to go into business without a big strong man to help them. And then… here I am."

Though Olivia had read the file, she encouraged Nikki to continue. "What happened that night?"

Nikki held up her cigarettes. "Do you mind?" When Benson gave silent consent, Wade slipped one out and lit it. Leaning back, she hugged herself protectively with one arm and inhaled a deep lungful of smoke. "I turned up at the club one night to take her home. There was just her and this shit who used to come in. D.S. Gossard. You had to butter up the local filth to keep them off your backs. Most of them were okay but… Gossard. He had her pressed against the bar and he was saying, "Come on, rug-muncher, have some of the real thing for a change." I just saw red. I picked up a bottle and smashed it over his head. He just laughed." She took a shaky drag of her cigarette. "So I stuck what was left of it in his neck." Wiping away a tear with a trembling hand, she pressed her lips together and looked at Olivia. "So, having second thoughts about sharing my bed?"

Olivia frowned at the implication. "Why would I? Because I'm a cop? Because the man you killed was a cop? I'll admit looking at things objectively isn't always my strongest suit. But try and step back and look at it this way - what if you were a man? Would people have a more favourable view of it, because as a society, we seem to expect a man to protect a woman?" She shook her head. "What if Gossard was a janitor instead of a cop? What would people say then? No. What it comes down to is this - a person killed another person to prevent harm coming to someone they loved. It doesn't excuse what you did, but things can't be looked at in isolation. That's how I view it, anyway. Besides, who among us can say we wouldn't have done the same thing?"

Nikki was quiet for a long time. At last, she asked, "Have you ever killed anyone, Liv?"

"Yes," she confessed, "and just because it was in the line of duty doesn't make it any easier. The only difference is, I got a leave of absence and you got a life sentence."


Deciding to move the subject in a better direction, Benson remarked, "Helen Stewart seems to think you've got grounds for an appeal. Do you know the basis behind it? Judicial error? Case evidence omitted?"

"No idea," Nikki said. "It's all Greek to me."

"But Helen seems pretty confident, so there must be something."

Nikki allowed herself a small smile. "Yeah. I suppose so."

"Good. Once this is all over, if there's anything I can do to help, let me know."

"Thanks. I will." Nikki extinguished her cigarette. "Listen, I collected on that bet yesterday, so if you need a phone card…"

Benson reached over and slapped Nikki on the shoulder. "Very funny. But no, not tonight, anyway. Can I have a rain check for tomorrow?"

"Of course."

"Okay. So, we never really got to talk about you and Helen Stewart this morning…"

Nikki groaned and lit another cigarette.

The weight of Nikki's arm over Benson's waist as she lay spooned behind the cop was a welcome feeling for Olivia. Somewhere in that state between sleep and unconsciousness, she asked, "What time is it?"

"Just shortly past seven, I should think," Wade whispered into Olivia's hair. "I heard the day staff come in about ten minutes ago. Go back to sleep; you've still got a good half hour."

"You never left," Benson mumbled.

"Someone wouldn't let go of my arm." Olivia hummed in sleepy amusement. "Besides," Nikki went on, "it's only been the last few hours that you've gotten any real rest. I didn't have the heart to wake you."

Rolling leisurely over onto her back, Benson cracked open her eyes. "Did I keep you awake?"

"Yes," the con replied, "but I don't blame you. You've got a lot on your mind."

Olivia lazily lifted her arm and stroked Nikki's cheek with the back of her hand. "Sorry." With the other hand, she covered a yawn, then said, "It'll be all over soon."

"Yes, it will."

The wistful strain in Nikki's reply got Olivia's attention and she rolled to her side to face her. "Sorry. I didn't mean -"

"I know what you meant," Nikki cut in. "It's all right. But it is all connected, innit? Everything stems off from your case. When that's finished…" The words remained unspoken because they didn't need to be said. "Anyway," Nikki continued, "I knew what I was getting into that night you seduced me."


"Don't play coy; we both know what happened," Nikki teased.

"You're delirious," Olivia declared and pushed Nikki away. "Get away from me, it might be contagious." She rolled over and felt Nikki spoon up behind her again. "Seduced you!" she chuckled. The feel of Nikki's warm breath on her cheek as she nuzzled Benson's ear made the chuckle die down to a low moan. "I'll never get back to sleep if you keep doing that."

Nikki stopped. "Do you always get what you want?"

Olivia flipped over again. "Do you always do what you're told?" And with that, she clutched a fistful of Nikki's hair and brought the con's mouth down to her own.

A half hour left them little time to do much beyond stoking their hormones again and when the keys were heard in the lock, Nikki was already up and ready with her bath robe and towel.

"I'll never be happier to stand under that cold water," she remarked, much to Olivia's amusement.

"I'll try and refrain from seducing you again," the cop said.

Ignoring the empty promise, Nikki asked, "Will you call your partner after wash-up?"

Olivia nodded. "If they'll let me."

"If you get out of the showers quick and down to the phone before breakfast, you should be all right," Nikki reasoned. "If you get back and I'm not here, the phone card is in the book on the table."

The door swung open and Dominic looked in, surprised. "You ladies are up bright and early this morning. Looks like you're raring to go."

"In more ways than one," Nikki muttered. As she exited the cell, she called over her shoulder to the young guard, "Is the water nice and cold this morning? God knows I need it."

McAllister tilted his head in confusion as the two cellmates walked away.

Despite her eagerness to phone Elliot, Olivia savoured her time under the sharp spray of the shower and again was the last person remaining. She found here, just as she did at home, that the staccato beat of the water against her face and body made for moments of clarity and thought. Here, under the lulling sensation, she could think about Elliot and the case; New York; England; Larkhall and Nikki.


She was so deep in thought that the only time she realized Shell had slipped into the room was when she felt a sharp pain between her ribs and saw the blonde's maniacal grin as Olivia slipped down the wall of the shower and collapsed in a pool of water and her own blood.

When Nikki entered the cell, she was surprised but not alarmed that Olivia hadn't returned. The cop had established a pattern in her short time in Larkhall, and, though Nikki didn't share the sentiment, she knew Benson enjoyed every last minute of wash up. It was only as time passed - time that long surpassed what the screws allowed - that she began to worry.

As her long legs strode towards the showers, Nikki spotted one of the female guards.

"Miss Barker." The guard turned at her name. "Have you seen Olivia, Miss?"

The woman frowned. "No. Surely she's done wash up by now. What's wrong?"

She paused and wondered how much to say. She didn't trust the screws as far as she could throw them. Why couldn't she have run into McAllister? But the decision had to be made, and she knew she'd rather be safe than sorry. "She had a bit of a dust up with Shell Dockley." She knew she wouldn't have to spell it out for the guard, and sure enough, Barker nodded her understanding. "Can I just check the showers? I'm probably just being paranoid, but -"

Barker shook her head and cut the lifer off. "No. Come on. There's no harm checking, is there?"

"Thank you, Miss."

They entered the cavernous tile room, the barred florescent lights flickering on and off, the sound of water dripping endlessly from ancient taps.

"Is this your idea of quick?" Nikki called out loudly, the hollow humour in her voice bouncing off ceramic.

It was Di Barker who found her. The guard's alarmed expletive brought Nikki's attention to the stall and the con froze in the doorway. "I need medical assistance on the second floor!" the screw yelled into her radio. "There's been an accident in the showers."

Nikki pushed Barker aside and stepped into the stall, her shoes splashing the collection of blood and water that Benson's prone body had prevented from swirling down the drain. Kneeling, the first thing she thought to do was check for a pulse. Her warm fingers touched wet skin, turned cold from the water and blood loss. The cop was unconscious, but had a strong pulse.

"That's my girl," Nikki whispered.

"Is she all right?" Barker asked.

Nikki passed on the little medical information she could, and, turning Benson over slightly from her fetal position, the two women could see the American had been stabbed in the back. With the blood continuing to seep out, neither could determine much more. Nikki peeled off her sweater and, bunching it up into a ball, pressed it firmly against the wound. The pressure caused Benson to groan. Wade gently lifted the cop partially off the cold tile and cradled her, trying to generate as much heat with her hands and body as she could. Looking up at Barker, she asked, "Where the hell is the bloody help?"

"They're on their way, Nikki."

As if on cue, a team of four officers came in with two medical kits and a make-shift gurney. One stepped forward and asked, "What's happened?"

Nikki sneered. "What's happened? She's been stabbed and is losing blood by the second while you work out the bloody obvious!"

Di crouched down. "Nikki…"

The medical officer touched Di's arm and got her to stand again. Looking in Nikki's direction, he inquired, "Who's that?"

"Nikki Wade," she explained. "We both found her - Olivia Benson."

"Right. Let's go," he said to his fellow officers. "Miss Wade, you're going to have to get out."

The con shook her head adamantly. "I'm not leaving her."

"You don't have to leave," he said gently, "but we need to help her and there's only so much room."

Nikki blinked at the common sense and replied, "Yeah. Right. Sorry." She handed Olivia off to one of the guards who had squeezed into the stall. Standing up and stepping out, she brushed the back of her hand across her worried brow and wiped them on her t-shirt, oblivious to the trails of red that streaked across the white fabric.

A shaken Barker put her hand on Nikki's elbow. "Come on, Nikki."

"I'm not leaving her!"

"You're in shock," Di said. "Hell, I'm in shock. Let them do their work and I'll make sure you get to see her later, yeah? Come on, look at you. Do you want her to see you like this when she wakes up?"

Nikki glanced down at herself and realized for the first time how she must look. Shoes that were wet and dark, jeans that fared no better, and a t-shirt that would cause anyone not aware of the situation to call medical attention for her. With a trembling hand, she ran her fingers through her hair in a subconscious gesture to calm herself down.

"Yeah," she replied at last. "Yeah, okay." She watched as they put Benson on the stretcher. "She's going to be all right, isn't she?"

The medical officer nodded. "She's lost a lot of blood, but she's stable. I gave her some morphine for the pain, so she's going to be out of it for a while. The doctor will have to take a look at the wound to be certain, but I'm confident she'll be fine."

"When can I see her?"

Di stepped in. "Nikki, I promised I'd get you in to see her as soon as possible and I will. But right now, you need to take care of you." She looked around at the scene. "And I've got to fill out paperwork until the next millennium."

"What the hell hap -" Helen came to a full stop in the doorway of the cell when she saw Nikki. "Jesus Christ!"

Nikki jumped up from her chair and didn't even bother to follow Helen's gaze. "It's not mine. Can I see her now? I asked Miss Barker…"

"She told me," Helen replied. "That's why I'm here. But I'd like to know what the hell happened first."

"We found Olivia in the showers."

"I got that from Di Barker, thank you. What I want to know is why did you feel compelled to go look for Olivia in the first place?" Nikki feigned ignorance. She didn't have the time to get into it all. Helen frowned her displeasure. "It wouldn't have anything to do with Shell Dockley, would it?"

The con remembered her words to Barker and groaned. "Shit."

"Shit? I'd say so! Jesus, Nikki!" Stewart pressed her fingers between her brow. "Nikki, don't go and do anything stupid. Think about your appeal."

"What?" When she realized what Stewart was implying, the tall brunette exploded. "Why don't you piss off and take my bloody appeal with you! I've got someone I care about lying in the hospital, going through God knows what, and you think, what? That I'm sitting here figuring out how I can stick it to Shell bloody Dockley?" She waved her hand in disgust. "Of course you would, wouldn't you? Because I couldn't possibly have an emotional reaction you approved of, could I? So is that why you're here? To babysit me like the child you think I am?" She stopped and realized her actions were giving credence to her words. Mustering up as much control as she could, Nikki said, "Look. I just want to see Olivia, all right? Please."

Helen pressed her lips together and simply nodded. "Come on."

"Why isn't she in a real hospital?" Nikki demanded as she stood outside the door to Larkhall's infirmary.

"The doctor says she's stable," Helen explained. "Paramedics came in from the local hospital to administer a blood transfusion, but by all accounts, she's fine."

Nikki bristled. "If it had been one of the screws, they would have been shipped out."


The con's face softened. "Sorry. Is that it, then?"

"Well, it looks like she was stabbed with something small - something the size of a pencil, maybe a sharpened toothbrush. But they were able to stop the bleeding and stitch it up."

"When will she get out?"

"Depends how she feels," Stewart replied. "But the doctor seems to think once the morphine wears off, he can get her on some regulated pain killers and she could be back on the wing in a couple of days."

Nikki took in all the information, then quietly asked, "Can I go in now?"

Helen offered a small smile. "Go on. I'll be outside when you're done. No rush."

Nikki returned the smile and pushed open the door.

The florescent bulb above the bed shown down on Olivia, and the way the light bounced off the white sheets only served to make Benson look paler. With the lack of a heart monitor or any other real medical devices beyond the IV drip, Nikki wasn't sure if she should be alarmed or relieved. There was no chair or stool in the small room, so Nikki stood quietly at the side of the bed, as if any noise might startle the cop awake. She awkwardly reached out for Olivia's hand.

"So…" As expected, silence was the only response. "So," Nikki said again, "everyone seems to think you'll be all right, so that's good. Another scar to add to your collection. Though remind me to get you to tell me the truth about that one on your shoulder." She absently rubbed her thumb across the back of Benson's hand. "Anyway, just thought I'd see how you were and to let you know how things were going. And to tell you that you owe me a sweater. I'll have you know that was cashmere. I can't get that at the Larkhall souvenir shop." She added a small laugh, then looking down, added, "Oh, and a t-shirt. Maybe I'll just nick one from your collection, what do you think?" Her gaiety died away and she was surprised to feel hot tears prick her eyes. "Don't ever do this to me again, you understand?" Again, there was no response, but in a small way, Nikki was grateful. The last thing the cop needed right now was to see Wade become some blubbering idiot. "I should go; let you get some rest. I know you haven't gotten much lately, even though I'd like to take some credit for that." She smiled again. "And I'm starving. Totally missed breakfast during all of this." Remembering Olivia's agenda for the morning, Nikki swore. "Shit. Your partner." She brushed a gentle caress across Olivia's brow. "Don't worry, I'll take care of it." An image of Shell Dockley came to mind, uninvited. "I'll take care of all of it."

"Do you want me to bring you up something to eat?" Helen asked when they returned to the wing.

Nikki sat on the edge of the bed and answered, "No, I'm fine. Besides, if I have you waiting on me, people will talk." She tempered her tone with a smile.

"God, if it's one thing I've learned, it's that people will talk regardless!"

Nikki chuckled. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. But no, I'm fine, thanks. I just… need to get my head straight." She pulled at her shirt. "And clean up."

"Okay. Listen, I'll have to call you up to the office at some point to get your statement as to what happened," Helen informed. "I've already taken Di Barker's; it's just a formality."


Helen looked as if she was about to say more, but seemed to think better of it. "Right. Well, I'll see you later, then." As she got to the door, Nikki's voice stopped her.

"Thanks, Helen."

Stewart simply smiled and left.

"Jesus Christ!" the two Julies exclaimed in unison as they rushed into Nikki's cell. "We heard…" When they saw the tall brunette sitting forlornly on the bed, her shoes still damp enough to leave a wet impression on the concrete of the floor and the blood drying to dark stains on her shirt, they repeated their exclamation. "Jesus Christ!"

"What the bloody hell's going on? I heard something about -" Yvonne Atkins stopped short in the doorway. "Christ!"

"That's what we said."

"Seems to be the order of the day," Wade remarked, and lifting her head from her fixed stare on her hands, her eyes glazing over fingernails that housed blood underneath them, she relayed the news. "She's all right. And besides the bloody obvious mental breakdown I'm having, I'm fine, too."

Yvonne stepped forward and knelt in front of Wade. With a gentle touch on her friend's knee, she softly asked, "What happened?"

"Shell bloody Dockley happened!" Nikki spit out with unrivalled venom. She closed her eyes tightly and willed herself a measure of control. "Sorry," she apologized, "I don't mean to take it out on you."

"It's okay, Nikki," Atkins said.

"Yeah," Julie S chimed in, "we understand."

"We do," Julie J assured.

"Shell Dockley made good on her threat," Yvonne surmised.

Nikki nodded. "There's no proof, of course, but who else could it be? The doctor thinks it was a small weapon, the size of a pencil or toothbrush. Or the filed end of a spoon or knife. Like the kind of shiv she tried to pull on Olivia the first day she was here."

"Bitch," Atkins swore. "Well, it'd made sense, wouldn't it? She works the kitchen along with a handful of other girls. Who would notice a bit of plastic going missing?"

"Nikki," Julie S said, "we work the kitchen."

Wade frowned in disbelief. "I'm not accusing you two!"

"No, what I mean is -"

"What she means is -"

"Yvonne's right - who would notice a bit of plastic going missing? If you get my meaning."

Julie J picked up on the train of thought. "Yeah. What's good for the goose -"

"Is good for the gander!"

"About time someone gave it to Shell Dockley."

Nikki's mouth dropped open. "I don't believe I'm hearing this, from you two, of all people. I expect more of that from Yvonne."

The mob wife jumped in. "Oi! Now listen, the Julies might be on to something, hear me out." The Julies moved in conspiratorially. "We know she did it, right? And we know she's got at least half a brain in that bloody head of hers, so she's gotten rid of the weapon, right? We just need to put it back."

The shorter Julie crumpled her face in confusion. "How do you suppose…" her face lit up. "Ah, I hear you."

"We get something from the kitchen," Julie J said.

"And we make sure Shell Dockley gets it," her cellmate finished.

Yvonne grinned devilishly. "In more ways than one."

Nikki looked back and forth between the three women. "I don't believe you," she said incredulously. "You want to plant a weapon on Shell Dockley?"

Atkins shook her head. "No. We want to plant it in her cell." Nikki could only laugh at the minor distinction only Yvonne would make. "Besides," the older woman went on, "it's not really 'planting', is it? We know she did it. This is more like… returning." She turned to the two Julies. "Can we count on you, girls?"

Nodding in unison, as they did with most things, they assured, "We are on the job, Yvonne." They looked at each other. "Let's go."

"Meet me in my cell when you're done," Atkins told them.


When they left, Yvonne turned to Nikki and stood up. "Take off your shirt."

Nikki jerked her head back, startled. "Sorry?"

"Take off your shirt."

Slowly grabbing the hem, Nikki pulled it up over her shoulders and head. Standing up, she handed it to Yvonne and quipped, "I don't think now is the time. You'd only be a rebound."

"Eh? Oh, sod off!" Atkins laughed. Giving the subject its proper gravity, she then asked, "That's Olivia's blood, innit?"


"Then I'm going to need it. The more convincing we can make that weapon look, the better." She saw the look of distress sneak through the cracks of Nikki's tough façade. Touching her friend's shoulder, Yvonne said, "Don't worry, love. She'll be fine and Shell Dockley's gonna pay for it."

Nikki reached for the mob wife and embraced her. "You're a rock, Yvonne. Thank you."

Atkins returned the hug and the feeling. "No worries, sweetheart. Now back off before someone comes in and sees us, with you half-dressed."

Nikki couldn't help but laugh. "Go on, then."

Atkins held up the shirt and winked. "I'll see you later." But before leaving, she asked, "You will be all right, yeah?"

"Yeah," Nikki answered. "I'm going to wash up then take care of a few things." Yvonne's eyes narrowed and Nikki shook her head. "Nothing like that, I promise. I'll see you later." When Atkins left, Nikki glanced over at the phone card, still peeking out from the pages of her thick book.

"Hello?" The groggy greeting stumbled down the phone line and for the first time, Nikki remembered the time difference.

"Shit," she said and hesitated momentarily.

He must have sat up, because his voice was a fraction clearer. "Hello? Who is this?"

'In for a penny,' Nikki thought to herself. "H-hello. Is this Detective Elliot Stabler?"

Instead of answering the question, he repeated, "Who is this?"

"It's… it's Nikki Wade. Olivia's cellmate." It sounded odd to hear it out loud.

Now Nikki was sure he was sitting up. "What happened?"

"Let me stress that she's okay," Wade assured, knowing if the positions were switched, she'd be thinking the worst, too. "But she was… stabbed in the showers this morning. About two hours ago."

She could almost see him lean into the phone, as if holding the receiver tighter would transport him to England. "How did it happen?"

"Shell Dockley," Nikki said, assuming from what Olivia told her that Stabler would know who she was referring to. "She got wind of the deal that went down yesterday. She didn't take too kindly to getting the brush off from Olivia. I… I found Liv in the showers." She faltered at the memory.

There was such a long silence on the other end that Nikki wondered if the connection had been cut. His quiet voice told her otherwise. "I don't even know where to begin asking you questions."

"Olivia told me last week," Nikki began, understanding full well what the cop meant. "She needed someone to trust, to watch her back. Not that I was any bloody help in that department." She paused for a moment. "Anyway, she told me who she was and who you were. I called information to get your number. Sorry about the time. Completely slipped my mind."

"It's okay," he said, "you did the right thing. I'm just… she never told me."

"Maybe she was worried what you'd think about her trusting a cop killer."

"Listen," he replied, "it doesn't matter what I might think. She obviously trusts you; that's good enough for me."

She smiled at the faint praise. "You Yanks are a strange lot, I'll give you that much." More seriously, she asked, "Will you make arrangements to get her out of here the minute she's able? She's in the prison infirmary and I don't trust the screws to watch her 24/7. And I really don't trust Shell Dockley."

"I'm going to be on the earliest flight possible," he answered. "Even then, it's going to take me…" Stabler trailed off while he figured the flight and the time. "At least twelve hours. Hasn't anyone pulled Dockley aside?"

Nikki snorted. "She's psychotic, but not stupid. I'd wager a month's worth of fags she's gotten rid of the weapon and maybe even cooked up an alibi. Besides, she's in tight with one of the screws. Guards."

"So she's just going to walk on this?"

"Oh, don't worry. I might not have been able to prevent it from happening, but I've got things covered from here."

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," he said.

There was something about the cop that appealed to Nikki's nature and she remarked, "You're all right, Detective Stabler." She heard his chuckle and nodded. "Will you phone the Governor and tell her the truth?"

"That's Karen Betts, right?" he asked, pulling the name from his memory banks.


"I figure she'll probably be phoning me to tell me what happened. I've got my name down as an emergency contact."

"Shit, I didn't even think of that," Wade swore. "Sorry."

"No," he forgave, "I appreciate the head's up. And if Olivia's okay, Betts'll figure there's no sense in calling right away. What's the point with me here and her there, right? But this way, it'll give me time to find a flight. I'll fill her in when she calls."

"Okay." She wasn't sure what else to say. "I guess that's it, then."

"I'll see you when I get there."

This piece of information startled her. "You'll see me?"

"Yeah, so wear your best outfit."

"Now I know why you two get on so well."

His smile seeped into his words. "I'm interested in finding out how you two get along so well. Will you look out for her for me?"

His switch from humour to concern caught her breath. "Yeah. Yeah, I will. I promise."

Three hours later, Karen Betts hung up the phone more sharply than she had intended. "Bloody Americans!" she cursed out loud. She had just gotten the full story behind Olivia Benson; the undercover ruse, the drug deal, the kids. 'Bloody Americans and their secrets!' And now she would have to be a conspirator along with them, because there was no way in hell she could share this information with anyone and expect Olivia to make it to the end of the day. Fortunately, with Benson being an obvious victim of a stabbing, Betts could put an additional guard in the infirmary without raising suspicion. She already felt a migraine coming on as she began the paperwork that would have Olivia out of Larkhall before the new week began.

Fenner glanced around, and confident no one saw him, he entered Dockley's cell. Had he not known better, he would never have thought this woman had viciously stabbed someone only hours earlier. He watched as she painted her toenails, and, tilting his chin at the glass container, said, "You know that's not allowed."

"Oh, come on, Mr. Fenner," she pouted. "It's only a bit of pretty." She looked down and continued her task.

He shook his head in an odd sense of admiration. "You are sure of yourself, aren't you, Shell? I hope you haven't cocked things up with this whole Benson business, though."

"How so, sire? I haven't done nothing."

"Don't play me, Shell, it's not worth your time. If I wanted you down the Block, you'd be there."

"And if anyone thought I has something to do with poor Liv, they'd have come searched my cell, wouldn't they?"

"And would they find anything?" he asked.

"Don't be daft, Jim," she replied. "Let's say I did have something to do with that tragic accident. I would've got rid of the weapon in the rubbish bin that went out this morning, wouldn't I?" She stretched out her legs and pointed her toes. "What do you think, sir?"

Fenner could only shake his head at the woman's gall.

Nikki had bypassed lunch and instead was allowed by Helen to sit with Olivia. The cop flitted in and out of consciousness as the pain killers kicked in and wore off, and Nikki was able to tell Olivia about Stabler's arrival.

"Chances are, he won't be able to get into London until later tonight, which means he won't show up at Larkhall until tomorrow morning. For the best, really," she said as she brushed Olivia's hair back. "You look like hell."

Benson clutched Nikki's free hand. "Thank you," she replied weakly.

Nikki knew the woman wasn't referring to her quip. "I'm sorry I wasn't there."

Benson closed her eyes and shook her head. "No," she replied, summoning enough strength to make it sound like an order. "You did all you could," she added, her voice now a whisper. "I owe you. A sweater, at least."

Nikki's eyes widened. "You heard me?"

Olivia smiled, then slipped back under the comfort of unconsciousness.

It was her growling stomach that reminded her of the missed lunch. Nikki put her book down and looked at Olivia, who was still asleep. She was contemplating returning to the wing for supper when the door opened.

"Hiya, Nikki," Helen greeted.

"Hi, Helen. Sorry. Miss Stewart."

The shorter woman chose to ignore the jab. "They're about to serve tea; I thought you might like to go up and have something. I know you missed lunch."

"I won't even ask how you know." Nikki turned to the bed. "I was just thinking of getting something myself," she admitted.

"She'll be fine," Helen assured. "I okay'd a request from Karen Betts to put an additional guard at the door, if that's what you're worried about."

"Yes, I suppose that's part of it."

Helen tilted her head. "And the rest?"

"I don't know," Wade shrugged. "I feel a bit responsible, really."

"You did all you could," Stewart said.

Nikki looked at her and smiled. "You know, she told me the exact same thing. Word for word."

"Well, do you believe us, then?"

"I suppose so."

"You suppose so?"

Nikki rolled her eyes. "Okay. I can't take on the both of you at once. I know when I'm beat."

"Good," Stewart said approvingly.

Stealing another look at the cop, Nikki asked, "Can I come back later?"

"For a little while," Helen allowed. "Now, let's go get you fed."

The wing had an unusually quiet pall over it, and nowhere was this more evident than at the serving counter. Word and rumour had spread like wildfire, and by tea time, Shell Dockley's guilt in the stabbing was known, if not proven. Many women avoided eye contact with the blonde behind the counter, out of fear or disgust, but there were many more who made their contempt known through hard stares and icy body language.

"Yeah, well, I don't need any of ya, do I?" Dockley proclaimed loudly when the two Julies pushed her aside as if they never saw her. When Denny approached for her food, Shell leaned forward and said, "Can you believe this, Den? You'd think I offed Mother bleedin' Teresa!" The young prisoner didn't reply. "Oi, what crawled up your arse?"

Denny bit her bottom lip and quietly said, "You've gone too far this time, Shell."

The blonde couldn't believe what she was hearing. With a snort, she moved back. "Yeah, whatever, Denny. Why don't you piss off to your new mates?" She dropped a ladle of food onto Denny's plate with sharp punctuation.

If the wing had been quiet before, it literally held its collective breath now - behind the small form of Helen Stewart at the barred entrance was the dark glowering figure of Nikki Wade.

As they entered the area, Helen discreetly laid her hand on Nikki's arm. "I'll tell Dominic to take you back down to see Olivia whenever you're ready," she told the tall woman. Nikki's stare burned across the room and hit Dockley full on. "Nikki," Stewart said, then repeated the name with a touch of force. "Nikki." This got Wade's attention. "If you do something that gets you down the Block, you won't be able to see her."

The line between Nikki's brows softened and she found enough amusement in Stewart's warning to raise an eyebrow. "So you've given up using my appeal as leverage?"

Helen narrowed her eyes and feigned defeat. "Well, that wasn't working, was it?"

"I'll be good, I promise," she vowed.

"I'll hold you to that," Helen replied. "Let Dominic know when you're finished, okay?"

"Okay." She took a step towards the counter, then stopped. "Miss Stewart?" she called out as Helen walked over to McAllister. When the Scot turned, Nikki gave a self-conscious shrug and said simply, "Thanks." When Helen accepted it with a small smile, Nikki began towards the serving area again.

If she felt every eye of the wing following her path, Nikki gave no indication. She ignored the interested stare of Jim Fenner who was hovering in a corner, the bastard obviously hoping the con would give him an excuse to use some force. And she pushed aside the feel of Helen's gaze that had settled between her shoulder blades. The sound of Nikki's tray on the counter was like a gunshot in the deathly silent room.

"Oh, is that chicken pie?" Nikki asked with exaggerated pleasure. "My favourite. I'll have some of that, thanks."

Dockley was the only one at the counter, because any other available hand had quietly made themselves scarce. The blonde sauntered up to the food, but it was the slight tremble in her hand as she dropped the serving into Nikki's plate that gave her away.

Wade smiled appreciatively. "Milk, please."

The audience's shocked silence was nothing in comparison to Shell's. Dockley had expected an outburst, a show of violence; anything but this unsettling cheerfulness.

As Shell poured the milk, Nikki leaned forward and whispered through the plastered smile on her face, "You're lucky we have an audience or I would take great delight in leaping over this counter and throttling the worthless life out of you."

With false bravado, Shell sneered, "Careful, Wade. It's funny the things that can happen to someone when they think they're top dog round here. Just ask your friend."

The taunt failed to get a rise out of Nikki. "Then I wouldn't get too comfortable in the position if I were you, Shell."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Nikki shrugged. "It's just a long drop from Enhanced. Figuratively speaking, of course." She lifted her tray. "Though I wouldn't mind giving you a push."

"Sorry I'm late," Yvonne said as she came up beside Nikki. "I couldn't find my spoon." She winked, then looking around, remarked, "It's quieter than a bloody church in here. Who died?"

Without breaking eye contact with Dockley, Nikki replied, "No one yet, Yvonne."

The older woman looked down at the selection. "Is that chicken pie? I'll have me some of that."

Slowly, but surely, a smatter of conversation began amongst the other prisoners and the wing returned to a cautious normalcy. The explosion that the wing had expected never materialized, but it did nothing to quell the heightened anticipation. If anything, a subdued Nikki Wade only seemed more dangerous.

"Self satisfied bitch," Yvonne spit out as she and Nikki sat down with Barbara. "What I wouldn't pay to wipe that smirk off her face."

"You're not the one who had to stand there and listen to her practically brag about what she had done," Nikki retorted, her nostrils still flaring as she controlled her anger.

Atkins took a sip of her coffee and glared at Dockley over the rim. "Yeah, well, let's see how much bragging she does when the screws toss her cell."

"Everything go smooth, then?"

"As silk. Now we just gotta put a little bug in Betts' ear."

Nikki thought of Stabler's arrival, and, for the first time since she left the infirmary that day, Wade allowed herself a genuine smile. "I think I've got that covered."

True to her word, Helen had given Dominic the okay to bring Nikki down to visit Olivia after dinner. Although Benson had continued her cycle of drifting in and out, Nikki stayed as long as she could before McAllister gently told her it was time for lock up. She bartered for a few extra minutes and the young guard couldn't say no.

"Do you think he fancies me?" Nikki asked the sleeping cop, and was surprised when she received a sleepy smile in return. "More likely he fancies the pants off you. Not that I can blame him, I suppose. Anyway, I've got to go, but I'll see you in the morning. Doctor says you should be ready to get off the strong stuff and move down to the paracetamol. Which is good for everyone because God knows I'm getting tired of the sound of my own voice." The knock on the door was Dom's polite way of telling Nikki her time was up, and she sighed. "Right. Well, I'll see you tomorrow. And your partner. Should be fun times for all." She stood up and pressed a kiss on Benson's forehead. "Sleep well, Liv."

It hadn't been that long ago since Nikki had had her own cell. As a lifer, it was standard procedure to be given a single cell. She didn't know whether that was supposed to be a measure of decency on the part of the prison system, or just more punishment. As a loner, Nikki always took it to be the former. Though her reputation as well as her crime gave her a large measure of respect, the last thing she needed was to have to sleep with an eye open. The only reason she had been two'd up with Barbara was because the woman had a touch of claustrophobia and the big brains upstairs thought sharing might help her. Nikki reminded herself to ask Barbara how she was coping with the new cell on Enhanced.

As it was, when she entered her cell and heard the heavy door lock behind her, she realized for the first time in over a year, she was truly alone. And for the first time ever, she found no comfort in that privilege.

Karen Betts extended her hand. "Good to meet you, Detective. Though I have to admit, I wish the circumstances were different." She gestured to the opposite chair. "Please, sit."

Elliot accepted the offer and sat down. "I'm glad you could see me so early, Ms. Betts. I'm sure this has all been a bit crazy for you."

"That's one way of putting it." Holding out a pack of cigarettes, she asked, "Fag?"

Stabler smirked. "No, married."

The confusion clearly played across Betts' face until she realized his joke. "Ah, that pesky English slang. I'll be more careful." She slid a long cigarette out and flicked her lighter. "I've had more of these in the last 24 hours than I have all month."

The American was gracious enough to look contrite. "Yeah, sorry about all this. I'm sure you can understand why this had to go down the way it did."

Exhaling, the governor had to nod her head. "I suppose I do," she admitted. "It's just a bit of cold water to find out what's been going on under your nose. I had no idea. I'm just glad it didn't end up any worse than it did."

"So, she is okay?"

"I spoke to the doctor before your arrival. He seems to think he can move her down from the medication to something like paracetamol. Equivalent to aspirin," she clarified when she saw his look. "The paper work set a new world record for clearing bureaucratic red tape, so I can release her once the doctor gives the all clear."


"I'm not sure. No later than tomorrow morning, definitely. Don't worry, I put an extra guard on her door last night."

Her words soothed his concern and he nodded his thanks. "Can I see her?"

"Of course," she replied, extinguishing the cigarette and standing up. "I'll take you down immediately."

Stabler held his hand up, stopping her. "I was wondering if I could see someone else first." Her puzzled look urged him to continue. "Nikki Wade."

Betts couldn't keep her surprise out of her voice. "Nikki Wade? I… well, yes, of course. If you don't mid the question, may I ask why? By all accounts, she has very little information to offer." As she watched him brush an imaginary speck of dirt from his pant leg and avoid her gaze, it dawned on her. "Nikki Wade knew." She dropped back into her chair and pressed her temples between her thumb and middle finger. "Nikki Wade knew," she repeated. "Christ."

"My partner felt she needed to trust someone. She chose Nikki Wade."

Betts laughed. "Ms. Wade seems to have that affect on people. But you do know what she's in for?"

"Yeah," Elliot answered, "and so does Olivia. And that trust tells me more about Wade than whatever file you might have on her."

Betts paused at the thought. "Point taken," she said, then lifted the receiver of her phone. "Can you have Nikki Wade brought up to my office as soon as you can?" She looked over at the jet-lagged cop. "And have someone bring in a strong pot of coffee."

Dominic approached the table of women. "When you've finished breakfast, Nikki, Miss Betts would like to see you."

Nikki stood up immediately. Knowing full well this meant Stabler had arrived, she asked, "Can I go now?"

Startled, the guard replied, "Why don't you finish your breakfast first?"

"I'd really like to go now, sir."

Yvonne looked up from her plate. "I'll clear up for her, Mr. McAllister. It's probably word on Liv. Nikki'll only jitter and annoy the shit out of the rest of us until she can go."

McAllister smiled. "All right, then. But I don't want to hear you complaining about being hungry later on, yeah?" Nikki smiled in return. "Let's go."

As he walked ahead, Atkins grabbed Nikki's arm. Lowering her voice, she said, "This is it, Nik. Whatever you've got planned to get that cell of Dockley's knocked over, you'd better do it before she finds our little gift, right?"

"No worries, Yvonne," Nikki assured. "You've done your part. Now watch me do mine."

There was a light tap on the door before Dominic opened it a sliver. "Nikki Wade, Miss."

"Let her in. Thanks, Dom."

The young guard nodded and swung the door open, allowing Nikki into the room. The first thing that caught Nikki's attention was the man in the chair who stood up to greet her. She didn't know if he matched any image she had of him because she never quite created one of the faceless voice on the phone. But without a doubt, this had to be Elliot Stabler. There was just something in his manner that screamed, 'Cop!'

She smiled at the thought and out loud mused, "You must have gotten all the brains."

Elliot's eyes narrowed as he deciphered the comment. Realizing the meaning, he laughed. "Jesus, you've got a set, don't you?"

"Well, in my defense, I am a lesbian," Nikki quipped. "Though I know a few girls on the wing who would be all over that brooding intensity thing you've got going on there."

Betts simply covered her face.

Elliot held out his hand. "Elliot Stabler."

Firmly shaking his hand, she replied, "Nikki Wade."

Karen stood up and asked, "Is it safe to leave you two alone?"

Before Betts got to the door, Nikki stopped her with a query. "How's Olivia?"

"Good," the governor answered. "I think the doctor will release her by tomorrow morning."

Nikki nodded. "That's good. Any leads on who might have done this?"

Betts' hand froze on the door handle. The last thing she wanted right now was to ignite the hot-headed temper of the lifer. "We've got people looking into it, Nikki."

Wade turned to Stabler and translated, "Which is the polite way of saying, we don't know our arses from holes in the ground."

"Nikki…" Karen gently warned. "We have no witnesses. We can't do much without that, can we?"

Stabler stepped back and watched as the two women stood their ground.

"Have you talked to Shell Dockley?"

Karen frowned. "Shell Dockley? No, why?"

Nikki snorted at how much went on without the higher ups knowing. "Fenner took the boots to Olivia last week." Both Betts and Stabler drew a gasp of surprise. "And everyone on the wing," she stressed the last word, an obvious distinction between what the cons knew and what the ones in charge didn't, "knows Fenner and Shell are hand in glove, to use the nicest phrase possible."

It took Karen several seconds to find her voice. "But why would Jim Fenner want to harm Olivia? And more importantly, why in the world didn't you tell me Olivia got beat up?"

"What's the use? It's not like you've ever believed a word against the sainted Jim Fenner, is it?" Nikki glanced at Stabler then back to Betts. "And if you knew why Olivia was here, it wouldn't take a mathematician to put one and one together."

"Detective Stabler has filled me in."

"Well then you'd know why Shell would put it to Liv. It's about the drugs, innit?"

The corners of Karen's mouth turned down. "I don't know, Nikki."

Wade threw her hands up in the air. "Typical. You want us to help you clean up the prison, but you don't believe us when we try and tell you what's going on right under your nose. If I were you, I'd be giving Dockley's cell a tip, but then, who am I, eh? Just another con. Whatever."

Nikki crossed her arms in disgust and watched as Betts hesitated at the door. The seed had been planted and Wade knew Dockley's days were numbered.

"You two take as much time as you need," Karen said. "If you want to go see Olivia and I'm not back, there will be a guard nearby to assist you."

When the door clicked shut behind Karen, Stabler remarked, "That was smooth."


Elliot shook his head in admiration. "Shell Dockley did it; you've found some way to make sure they'll find the evidence in her cell."

Her wide-eyed innocence was betrayed by the tongue planted firmly in her cheek. "I've no idea what you mean." They both sat down and wondered what to say before the awkwardness kicked in. "Listen, I've got a favour to ask," Nikki said as she slyly leaned forward. Stabler mirrored her pose and raised his eyebrows. "Do you think I could have some of that coffee? I bet it's the good stuff and not that shit they serve on the wing."

Stabler pulled his head back and smiled. Reaching for the nearby carafe, he poured a stream of dark hot liquid into the governor's unused mug. "Don't tell Betts."

Halfway down the hall, Karen bumped into Dominic who was coming around the corner.


"It's okay, Dom," she replied, and, when he made a motion to keep walking, she put her hand on his arm. "In fact, you're just the person I need to see."

McAllister's face was an open expression of curiosity. "Oh?"

"Yes," she said. "It's about Shell Dockley."

"When do you get in?" Nikki asked after she savoured a sip of the delicious coffee.

"About two hours ago," he answered and rubbed his hands over his face vigourously, as if the question reminded him of how tired he was. "I've still got my bag in the car."

She showed a small grin. "Manage to hit anyone on the road?"

He scratched the back of his head as he replayed the few close calls he had when he forgot which side to drive on. "No. Close, though."

Crossing her legs and nestling the hot mug on her lap, she could have easily been mistaken for a prison official and not the offender she was. Even in the chair, she looked tall, her lean body only adding to the illusion. She was dressed in what Elliot would call 'casual', though considering they were in prison, he figured there wasn't any other style. Worn jeans clung to long legs and he recognized the same t-shirt and sweater combination his partner wore. Hands that had gripped his so firmly now loosely cradled the cup, and as his gaze moved up, he was met with a wry smile and sparkling brown eyes.

"Is that a cop thing?" she queried. "I got that same catalogued look from Olivia the first day we met."

Stabler grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. Habit." He looked down at his hands then back up again. "Listen, I just wanted to say thanks for everything you've done. I appreciate it."

"I'm not sure what you mean," she frowned. "I haven't done anything."

"You watched my partner's back." He held up a hand, stopping the retort he already knew was coming. "She didn't expect you to be there twenty-four hours a day, so you shouldn't either. You probably saved her life. I owe you."

Coughing, Nikki had to cover her mouth to prevent the coffee from escaping. "You owe me? A cop owes me. That's a new one." She blew out her disbelief in a short hard breath. "There's a certain irony about having a cop killer save a cop, isn't there?"

"You're a human being who saved another human being," he corrected.

"Yeah, well…" Despite his efforts, she seemed determined to deflect the compliment by changing the subject. "Can you tell me what happened Thursday? With the case?"

"How much did she tell you?"

"Everything, I think. I know that Weston bastard is using kids to smuggle in his smack."

Elliot nodded. "We got the passenger lists of every flight coming into New York within a certain window of time," he explained. "We got lucky; the supplier was only traveling with the kid. A young boy. Eight years old."


"We got them at the airport. Like I said, we got lucky."

"How's the boy?"

"We got him to the hospital. We took a quick statement before they rolled him into surgery. Enough to nail the supplier and Weston."

"Will he be all right?" Nikki asked. "The boy, I mean."

"Health-wise, there shouldn't be any problems," Stabler answered. "The rest of it - bringing him back, finding his family, doing what's best for him - that's another story. We've already contacted the proper child services agencies here; hopefully they'll do right by him."

"And Weston?"

"The I.D won't be enough, but it's a pebble in the pond. The supplier is up to his neck in shit as it is; we should be able to lean on him. And we'll have Olivia's testimony. Beyond the legal nightmare over which country gets to do which case, I think we've got this one."

Nikki smiled, pleased that it all seemed to work out. "You'll let me know how it goes, won't you?"

"I'm sure we can figure out a way to keep in contact."

Setting her jaw in a weak attempt to look serious, Nikki searched Elliot's face for a sign of mischief in his expression. He held her stare and she thought he'd make a formidable poker player. It wasn't until he blithely said, "Speaking of which, do you want to go see her?" that she laughed.

"Cheeky bastard!"

Taking the position that avoiding the majority of the wing was in her best interest until the entire Benson situation died down, Dockley found solace in her small cell. She was flipping through a beauty magazine when Dominic McAllister knocked on the door before entering.

"'Allo, Mr. McAllister. What can I -"

He had no time for her fake pleasantries. "Save it, Shell. Up and out," the guard directed.


"Up and out," he repeated as he put his gloves on. The guard her brought in with him did the same. "Cell search."

She slowly stood, bewildered. "But I ain't got nothing."

Dominic picked up a small container of nail polish. "Well, this isn't allowed, is it?" Before the blonde had time to protest, he shook his head. "I don't want to hear it, Shell. I was told to tip your cell. That's what I'm doing."

Dockley complied and stood outside her cell. Watching the two guards meticulously peer through every drawer and into every nook and cranny, she wondered what they were looking for. The screws had to know she wasn't stupid enough to keep drugs in her cell, not after the incident with her bird. Then the light bulb went on over her head. They were looking for a weapon. Someone had planted a bug in Betts' ear and now they were looking to find something on her. 'Probably that bitch, Wade,' Dockley disdainfully thought. Well, they weren't going to find anything - she wouldn't be stupid enough to leave the weapon in her cell. She crossed her arms and leaned against the door frame. With a smirk, she said, "Whatever it is you're looking for, you ain't going to find it here."

Ignoring her, Dominic ran his fingers along the seam of the mattress until he found a small tear. Gently pushing two fingers in, he ferreted around until he felt the hard object. He pulled his fingers out and held a plastic stem, its original white now tinted a faint pink and turning to dark red where blood had dried in the grooves of the handle.

"So what is this, Shell," McAllister asked, "a spoon? A knife? Before you filed it down and turned it into a weapon, I mean."

The supreme confidence that had held her head up only minutes ago dissipated in the blink of an eye. Her mouth opened and closed like a fish caught on dry land. She was finally able to stammer, "That's not mine!"

"No, of course it isn't," he replied, all but rolling his eyes at her.

"It ain't!" she implored. "Do you think I would be stupid enough to keep it in my cell?"

"You really don't want me to answer that, Shell." He placed the evidence into a small plastic bag and handed it to the other guard. "Take that to Miss Betts and tell her I'll be up straight away." Turning back to Dockley, he said, "A DNA test will tell the truth. In the meantime, it's the Block for you."

Just as Karen had said, there had been a female guard hovering in the vicinity to take Stabler and Nikki down to the infirmary. When the door was opened, they were pleased to see Olivia propped up in a sitting position. Her eyes were closed, but she was alert enough to catch the sound of the door opening. Lifting the heavy lids, her gaze froze when she saw the two at the door.

With a sleepy chuckle, Benson said, "Man, I am on some good shit."

The pair approached the bed and Stabler touched Olivia's arm. "Hey, partner."

Running a hand through her hair and wincing slightly at the reminder of why she was in the bed in the first place, she asked, "What day is it?"

"Saturday," Stabler answered.

"I missed a day," Benson said. "That explains why I'm confused as all hell. Now maybe you can explain to me why she's gone all quiet." The cop tilted her chin at Nikki, who had stayed back to let the partners reunite.

Stepping forward, Wade replied, "I thought maybe you'd have some secret partner bonding ritual that I shouldn't see. Besides, I got tired of hearing myself talk while you were lying about."

"Is that what that noise was?"

"Very funny. How are you feeling?"

She pushed herself up a bit more and said, "Not bad. Sore. Tired. But I think that's from the drugs. And my head's a bit heavy. I probably feel the way my partner looks."

"Hey!" Elliot objected. "It's 6AM in New York right now. I haven't slept since Thursday."

Reaching out for his hand, she said, "I'm glad you're here, El. Thanks." It was obvious she was still trying to piece everything together. "I remember… Nikki telling me you were coming."

"I'm surprised you remember; you were fairly out of it," Nikki remarked.

Benson looked at Stabler. "How did you know?"

He thumbed in Nikki's direction. "This one here tracked down my number and called me."

Smiling appreciatively at Wade, Olivia whispered, "Well done."

"That's me," Nikki said, "Nikki Wade, private investigator." The three of them laughed. "Unfortunately," she went on, "it was all a bit anti-climatic. I completely failed to take into account that you would have had Detective Stabler listed as an emergency contact. Jumped the gun a bit there," she said to Elliot. "Sorry."

He dismissed her apology. "I'm glad you did."

Benson smiled at the pair. Then, as if it just occurred to her, she asked, "What happened with the case?"

"Long story short, we got 'em at La Guardia," Elliot told her. "They rushed the kid into emergency surgery, but we got enough information on Weston to arrest him. DCI Williams knocked on his door around midnight on Friday."

Closing her eyes in relief, Olivia said, "Thank God. And good work, El."

"Me? I wasn't the one who went undercover in a women's prison. Though now that I've said it out loud, it doesn't sound so bad." The two women chuckled. "And I wasn't the one to get beat up or stabbed." Benson looked over at Nikki, and Stabler saw the look. "Yeah, she told me. You should have told me."

"What could you have done, Elliot?" she asked. "Besides, I had someone watching my back after that."

Nikki groaned. "Let's not start this again, shall we?"

"I take it I have Shell Dockley to blame for this," Benson surmised.

"Yeah," Nikki answered.

"Any evidence?"

"Ever the cop!"

Elliot bent forward and loudly whispered towards Olivia, "That's her way of saying, there's no direct evidence." He stressed the word 'direct'.

Narrowing her eyes, Olivia waited for her cloudy head to clear. "You mean… you're planting evidence?"

"Is this something that perhaps you shouldn't know about?" Nikki queried. "You know, what with you being officers of the law and all."

Stabler groaned and Benson could only shake her head. "I don't know whether I should thank you or throttle you."

"Well, if you're going to thank me, I'll take all the credit. But if you're going to throttle me, I'd like to mention that it was all Yvonne Atkins' idea."

Both cops simultaneously covered their ears and Nikki laughed.

The meeting between McAllister and Betts was a short one. With the other guard corroborating Dominic's find, it all added up to one thing.

"Shell stabbed Olivia Benson," McAllister said.

"Let's try and keep this to ourselves until the results come back, shall we?" Karen requested, though she knew full well the minute the door closed behind Shell Dockley, the word got out.

"What's the diagnosis on Olivia?"

"Full recovery," Betts replied. "She's bounced back remarkably well, considering. The doctor went so far as to say she could be released by tomorrow."

McAllister frowned. "Released? Is she getting moved to another prison?"

Betts realized her slip up and sighed. "There are some things you'll find out, Dominic, just not right now, okay?"

"So when do I get out of here?" Olivia groaned.

"Can't wait to leave the place, I take it," Nikki playfully remarked, though Benson caught the underlying meaning.

"I can't wait to get out of this bed is more like it."

"Doc says by tomorrow morning at the latest," Stabler said. "Today, if you're feeling up to it."

"Will they let me fly?"

He shook his head. "Probably not for a couple of days, but I figured staying in a hotel, even on the SVU budget would be better than staying here. And once word gets out about Weston…"

"It might not be safe for me to stay here," his partner finished.


Nikki looked at the two cops. "What? You think they'd try and get you in here?"

"Hard to say," Stabler admitted. "But once word gets out it was a set-up, odds are it'll get worked back to Liv."

"Is your job always like this?" she asked, half joking, half serious.

Benson smiled. "No. It's usually more busting down doors and kicking ass."

"And I get the coffee," Stabler joined in.

"So she's the brawn as well as the beauty," Wade slyly noted.

The joke went by Olivia, but Stabler caught the meaning. "Yeah, all I got was the brains."

When the laughter died away, Nikki said, "Listen, I'm going to leave you two to it."

Olivia frowned and asked, "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," the con answered. "I imagine you've got secret police business to catch up on that would bore me to tears. And I've got some business of my own I need to follow up."

"Never mind 'Nikki Wade, private investigator'. More like 'Nikki Wade, kingpin'," Olivia laughed.

"Don Corleone has nothing to worry about, trust me," Wade assured. "Anyway, the girls will want to know how you're doing. I bet the poor Julies haven't slept a wink."

"Tell them I'm fine."

"I will."

"You will be back later, right?"

"Of course." Turning to Stabler, Nikki asked, "Can I ask what your plans are?"

He shrugged. "I'll probably stick around for another hour or so - catch up on secret police business. Then I've got to go see Williams and give him a report on what happened in New York. And then I need to get a couple hours sleep."

"Will you be taking Olivia out of here tonight, then?"

He glanced at his partner and nodded. "Yeah, I think so. I'll leave her in here long enough to enjoy one last dinner, then I'll pick her up."

The thought of food, let alone something from the Larkhall kitchen made Benson's stomach turn. Grimacing, she said, "Gee, thanks, El."

"Don't worry, when we get back to the States, I'll treat you to a nice juicy New York hotdog."

She touched her stomach. "That's not helping."

Nikki smiled at the camaraderie between the partners. "One day it would be nice to just sit down like three normal people, away from all this." The reality of the situation, particularly Nikki's, settled in the room. "Anyway, can you have a guard come and get me when you go?" she asked Elliot.


"Brilliant. Well, I'll see you later, then."

The door closed behind her and before Olivia had time to speak, Elliot coughed and asked, "So… you and Wade. Did you two… you know."

Olivia's mouth dropped and she exclaimed, "I can't believe you'd ask! No, wait, I can."

Stabler shrugged as if he couldn't help himself. "So, did you?"

"Nikki!" the two Julies greeted in unison. "We was wondering what happened to you this morning."

"Hello, ladies," Wade greeted in return as she stood at the food counter. "What's for lunch?"

"Lunch?" Julie J asked. "Sod lunch. What happened to you? How's Olivia?"

"And did you hear about Shell?" Julie S finished.

Nikki took a moment to enjoy their enthusiasm. They could always be counted on for a smile. "I went to see Olivia. She's doing well. Shell Dockley's down the Block?"

They nodded. "Got it in one, you did. Word is, they did a search this morning. Found a weapon in her cell."

Nikki's expression mirrored the fake surprise of the other two women. "Did they? What a fascinating development. Thanks for the information, girls."

When she picked up her tray to leave, the taller Julie asked, "She really is okay? Olivia, I mean."

"She's really okay," Nikki replied. "The doctor's amazed at her recovery and when I saw her this morning, she was sitting up and talking."

Julie S put a hand over her heart. "Aw, that's wonderful, Nikki. She's a good one, that one. It'd be a shame if something had happened to her."

"A right shame," her cellmate chimed in.

"When I see her later on, I'll be sure to tell her you were asking about her," Nikki promised.

"Cheers, Nikki. And you tell her if she needs anything -"

"Anything at all, all she's got to do -"

"Is ask."

Nikki thanked the women and walked to a familiar table, where Yvonne and Barbara sat.

"Where've you been all morning?" Yvonne asked immediately.

"Hello, Yvonne. Good to see you, Barbara."

"Yeah, all right, whatever," Atkins growled.

Smiling, Nikki commented, "Looks like I missed all the excitement while I was visiting Olivia."

"Oh, how is she, Nikki?" Barbara inquired.

"She's good, Barbara. Should be out of the infirmary soon."

The quiet woman's eyebrows shot up. "Really? That's good news."

"Apparently, a healthy body leads to a faster recovery," Nikki remarked.

"She's definitely got one of those, I'll give her that," Yvonne admitted. When she saw her table mates turn to stare at her, she shrugged a shoulder. "What? I'm just saying that woman's got a healthy body. Don't get any ideas beyond that - especially you," she pointed at Nikki.

The lifer pressed her lips together and tried not to smirk. "I wouldn't think of it, Yvonne."

"Right," the woman said. "So, you've heard about Shell, then?"

"The Julies told me," Wade replied. "So they did the tip after all."

"I take it you had something to do with it," Atkins ventured.

"I might have had a word or two with Betts, yeah."

"Well, I for one am glad that horrible woman is finally getting what's coming to her," Barbara said, with a surprising amount of venom in her voice. Now it was her turn to be on the receiving end of a pair of looks. "I'm sorry, but she's gotten away with too much for too long. It's time she faced at least some of the consequences, and if that means it had to be achieved through underhanded ways, then so be it."

"Remind me never to cross Barbara," Atkins told Nikki.

"It's always the quiet ones you've got to watch out for, Yvonne." Wade saw Karen enter the area and whispered, "Nice and normal, ladies; Betts is coming this way."

The women's attention dropped to their plates, and, when Karen approached, it was an unusually quiet table. In fact, there was something that seemed just off about it, but Betts couldn't quite put a finger on it.

"Nikki," the governor greeted, "I was wondering if I could ask a favour." The con looked up. "Olivia's awake, as you know. I thought we'd get her things together for her."

Atkins ears perked up. "Why? What's happening?"

Karen reminded herself to tread carefully and could only hope Nikki went along with her. "We're transferring Olivia out today."

"What?" Yvonne exclaimed.

"Well, considering what happened, I would say it's obvious," Betts said.

Atkins snorted and declared, "What's bleedin' obvious is that Shell Dockley needs to be booted out of Larkhall before she kills someone. What are you doing about that? Why move Liv, who never hurt anyone, who gets along with everyone, when we all know it's Dockley who's the fly in the ointment."

"I have to say, Yvonne's got a good point," Barbara agreed.

"Look, Olivia is a step away from an appeal that seems assured," Betts began, making up the lie as she went on. "We're moving her to a minimum security facility. She would have been released from Larkhall in a matter of weeks as it was."

"So it's easier paperwork for you lot to transfer Liv than Dockley, is what you're saying," Atkins retorted. She turned to Nikki and noted, "And you don't seem particularly surprised by this bit of information."

"I heard the doctor discussing it with Liv," Wade spun, "but I didn't know for certain. I didn't want to say anything until we knew."

Barbara stepped in and asked, "And what exactly happens to Shell? We heard you found a weapon in her cell."

When Atkins saw the look on Karen's face, the mob wife laughed. "Everyone finds out about everything in here, love."

"Yes, well. We're waiting for the test results to come back on the blood, but we're fairly certain it's Olivia's."

Nikki leaned back and pasted a fake smile on her face. "That's a brilliant deduction, congratulations. Come up with that one all by yourself, did you?"

"Nikki…," Betts warned. "I didn't tell you to argue with you. I told you because I thought you had the right to know."

"Still haven't told us what you plan on doing with Dockley, though, have you?" Yvonne interjected.

Karen took a deep breath and sighed. "Yvonne, when I know, you'll know, all right?"

Under her breath, Atkins murmured, "We'll probably know before you."

Ignoring the jab, Karen continued, "In the meantime, Nikki, when you're finished, find Dominic and he'll help you sort out Olivia's things."

Knowing the woman was doing the best she could given the circumstances, Nikki thought she'd give Betts a break. With a gentle tone, she said simply, "Thanks."

She tried to put it off as long as she could, but knowing Elliot would be sending a guard to get her soon, she found Dominic and now stood in the doorway of her cell with an empty plastic bag in hand. The guard had been considerate enough to leave her alone, though, as she faced the emptiness of the room, she wondered if it would have been better to have him stay. But that option had come and gone and she wouldn't lean out the door to call him back now.

There wasn't much of Olivia's things to collect, though Nikki took extra time, as she pulled out the clothing from the small cupboard and placed them on the table. A walk to the sink gathered the cop's toiletries together and joined the clothing. Nikki looked down at the collection and marvelled at how such a small pile of items could represent so much. And how two weeks could end up feeling like a lifetime. She stood at the table and folded the shirts and sweaters, despite the action not being necessary. It was an adolescent gesture, and a hopeless one at that, she knew, but she couldn't quite bring herself to let go; handling the material was simply a way of prolonging the feeling. She looked up at the small window, the narrow space trying in vain to bring sunlight into the dim room, only serving to remind her of the reality of the place. It was all she had - this narrow space inside her that offered something beyond the undertow of prison life. It was all anyone had in here. Don't let it drag you down. Always look at a positive, however small it might be. Keep your eyes ahead, because looking back will only remind you of what has been. These were mantras she held firm in order to get through another day, another hour, another minute.

The sweater felt soft in her fingers and her mind stumbled over the well-worn phrases. Dropping into the chair, she let the tears fall.

By the time Dominic softly knocked on the cell door, Nikki had carefully tucked away her emotions and the wall was up once again.

"Have you got everything?" he gently asked.

"Yeah, sure," she answered, and looked around. "Not like we've got space for much more than this, is there?" She held up the plastic bag and raised an eyebrow.

"No, I suppose not," the guard smiled. Standing back, he gestured out of the cell. "Come on, I'll take you down."

At the infirmary door, Dominic knocked and announced himself before taking a quick look inside. "You up for a visitor, Olivia?" he asked, and knowing he didn't need to wait for her answer, opened the door wide and ushered Nikki inside. "Miss Betts said you could stay here as long as you like," he told Wade. "Just let one of the guards outside know when you want to leave and I'll come back, yeah?"

Nikki nodded. "Thanks, Dominic."

McAllister turned to the cop who was sitting on the edge of the bed. "I've got to admit, I've got the feeling there's a lot more going on with you being here than what we've been told. I don't know what that's all about, but I thought I would just say I hope it all works out for you, Olivia."

"You're a good guy, Mr. McAllister," Benson said. "Thanks."

He backed away with a shy smile on his face and closed the door as he left.

"I knew he fancied the pants off you," Nikki commented. She looked at Olivia who was chuckling, but with obvious difficulty. "You all right?"

Benson grimaced. "The doctor took me off the strong stuff; now I'm on aspirin or Tylenol or whatever you people have over here. It doesn't dull the pain as well, so I'm feeling it a bit more than I did this morning."

"Should I get the doctor to give you something better?"

"No," Benson replied, "I'm fine. I was just spoiled with the hard stuff. Come, sit beside me."

Dutifully doing what she was told, Nikki took up the empty space beside Olivia. The bed sagged at the additional weight and they leaned into each other.

Olivia pointed to the bag on Nikki's lap. "Is that all my stuff?" When Wade nodded, the American marvelled, "Why did I think there would be so much more?" They sat in silence for several minutes as each contemplated the moment and the road ahead. Olivia was the first to break the stillness as she cautiously slid off the bed and stood on the cold floor. "Jesus!" she exclaimed when her bare feet touched the concrete. "Boy, you're the compassionate one," she said sarcastically when she saw Nikki laugh at her little dance. "You can help me get dressed."

Placing the bag in the spot vacated by Olivia, Nikki opened her legs and pulled the cop in by her hospital gown. Benson saw Wade's eyes darken and she told the con, "We don't have time for this."

"For what?" Nikki asked innocently as her hands snaked around Benson's waist and tugged at the tie. Successfully pulling the knot free, she moved up to Olivia's neck and performed the same task. "Do you have these embarrassing gowns in America?"

"You mean the ones that show off your ass to everyone as you walk down the hall? Oh, yeah."

Playfully, Nikki noted, "I suppose it's a good thing you've got such a great ass, then. Very nice." She slipped the material from Benson's shoulders and watched as it fell to their feet, then slowly, her eyes stopping at several intervals along Olivia's body, she brought her gaze back up to Benson's.

"This is so not fair," Benson complained.

"What?" Nikki feigned ignorance, then laughed. "Darling, I'd gladly strip down with you, but I don't know what I'd say if someone walked in. Besides, didn't you just say we didn't have time?"

"Chicken," Olivia smirked. "Fine, where's my underwear?"

"Why is it you're always asking me, I wonder?" Nikki asked as she rifled through the bag. "Here," she said, holding out the requested item. "And they're pants."


"Pants. Not underwear. I've meant to correct you every other time you've asked."

Olivia frowned. "Then what do you call pants?"

"The things that go over top, you mean? Those are trousers."

"You'll have to help me with those, too."

"Yes, princess." Avoiding a playful slap, Nikki bent down and helped Olivia into her underwear. "I'm trying desperately not to picture Elliot doing this, you know."

"So am I."

Nikki chuckled and reached back for the pair of jeans she left out. "Come on, step. Okay, now the other one," she directed as she slipped the denim over Olivia's feet and up her legs. Standing, she pulled at the waistband and tugged them up to Olivia's hips. "You can fasten them yourself. You're not helpless." Turning away from the cop's look of surprise, she picked up a small white item of satin. She let the bra dangle from her fingertips and drawled, "Very sexy."

Olivia looked up from her hands and shook her head. "You're incorrigible."

"Guilty as charged," she admitted, "among other things. Arms through, come on." When Olivia completed the request, Nikki let the thin straps rest on Benson's shoulders and once again, reached around the woman.

"Let's see if you're as good doing them up as you are unhooking them," Olivia challenged with a gleam in her eye.

"Well, I will admit there's more fun in the undoing than the doing," Nikki volleyed back.

As Nikki's body leaned into hers, Olivia was reminded of their first night together, and suddenly, her body was aware of every place Nikki's met with her own. Warm breath caressed Olivia's cheek and she could almost feel Nikki's warm lips graze her soft skin. Groaning, Benson decided to override her previous refusal and said, "Wanna shag?"

Rather than pull back in surprise, Nikki tickled Olivia's ear with a deep chuckle. "I suppose if you go back to America knowing only one good British slang, that's the one. And I'm on to you, Miss Benson; you're just trying to distract me," she whispered. "However…" Stepping back, she revealed her success.

"Great. I'm frustrated as all hell, but good job."

Nikki reached into the bag one more and pulled out a long white shirt. "I went looking for something you could put on and take off fairly easy, given your injuries and was surprised to find nothing but tight tee shirts and sweaters. Not that I'm complaining, mind you," she quickly clarified with a smile. "But they're not going to do you many favours when you've got to do this yourself, are they? So I brought you one of mine." She held out the shirt by the sleeves and revealed the buttons on the front. "It's probably a bit long for you, but I thought we'd go more for substance than style, just this once."

Not knowing quite what to say, she simply said, "Thank you." Following Nikki's wordless direction, she slipped one arm through, then the other. Despite the purpose of the shirt being something Olivia could do herself, Nikki buttoned it up for her. "Now I owe you a sweater and a shirt," Benson noted. When Nikki's eyes looked up from her task, Olivia could see there was something behind them. "What's wrong?"

"I want to tell you something," she began. "I don't want to make a big deal of it, but I don't want to let it pass, either." She sat back on the bed and gently pulled Olivia down beside her. "Just let me say this and then you can laugh or whatever, right?" Olivia took Nikki's hand in hers and silently encouraged her to go on. With a deep breath, Nikki plunged in. "This place is shit, you know? I mean, of course it's shit, it's a prison. And I've never tried to pretend I didn't deserve to be here." She saw Olivia open her mouth to protest, and Nikki shook her head. "No, please, let me say this. I killed someone, Liv, and I'm willing to be accountable for that, no matter what the circumstances." She looked away for a moment before continuing. "Do you know what the real punishment of being banged up is? It's not being separated from friends or family or loved ones. It's being convinced that those things aren't there any more. You can get so caught up in the daily bullshit of this place, the constant nothingness from one day to the next, that before you know it, years have gone by and so has your life. I know you're going to go back to the States, back to your job, back to your life and you'll forget about all this, and I won't blame you, quite frankly. But I wanted you to know that… that I won't forget." Looking down at their joined hands, she gathered a shaky breath. "I didn't realize it at the time, and you probably didn't know it at all, but you came along at just the right time. What with me and… well, you know about Helen. And my appeal looking like a pipedream, I had almost forgotten that there's life beyond these walls. Somehow, in less than two weeks, you've reminded me that there's more than this shit; that there's something more. I need… needed to remember that, before this place dragged me down. So I owe you," she finished with a small smile.

Olivia reached up and smoothed a hand over Nikki's hair. "Sweetheart, all things being equal, I think we're more than even."

"Yeah, well, I just thought you should know."

She looked down at their joined hands and smiled. "You know, I wasn't really sure what to expect when I got here. Being a cop, you'd think my first instinct would be to think all perps are horrible people, but years on the job have taught me that's not always the case. Sometimes it's just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe it's circumstances that got out of control. I like to pretend it's always black and white, but, I know in my heart, it isn't. So I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to find I came to care about people in here." She raised her eyes to Nikki. "And that I'd be friends with a lot of them on the outside."

"I'll be sure to tell Denny you said that; she'll be over the moon."

"You do that," Olivia agreed, bumping good-naturedly against Nikki.

When she rested her head on the lifer's shoulder, Nikki asked, "Are you tired?"

"Yeah, a little," Benson admitted.

"Where's your partner? Is he really going to make you stay for tea?"

Olivia sat up and cautiously stretched. "He's probably in some hotel room, sleeping the sleep of the just, if I know him at all. He deserves it though." Glancing around the room for a clock, she asked, "What time is it?"

Nikki reached into the plastic bag and pulled out a heavy silver watch. "Ten past three," she answered before handing it to Olivia.

"And what time's dinner?"

"Usually round five."

Wagging her eyebrows suggestively, Olivia whispered, "What will we do for two hours?"

"And you call me incorrigible," Nikki laughed. "Bruised ribs and a stab wound and you still want to shag."

"You're irresistibly shaggable."

"Oh, flatterer!" Nikki thanked her with batted eyelashes. "And more often than not, that would work; however, you need to get some sleep, love."

Frowning, Benson complained, "I'm not sleeping away the last few hours we have."

"Yes, you are," Wade countered. She stood up and lifted Olivia's legs onto the bed.


"It's like this," Nikki reasoned. "If you don't get some sleep, when the doctor comes in to see how you are before you go, he'll change his mind and you'll be stuck here for Larkhall breakfast, too." Olivia didn't look convinced. "Come on. Do it for me?"

Shaking her head in disbelief, the cop asked, "Does that really work?"

Nikki sheepishly looked away. "Worked on me, I'll tell you." Gently climbing over Benson's legs, Nikki slid in the small space behind her. "Made for skinny bastard elves!"

Olivia tilted her head back and laughed. "Gee, had you told me you were getting into bed with me, it would have saved us a lot of time."

"Roll over," Nikki commanded and spooned up behind Olivia. "Incorrigible," she whispered into the American's hair.

She hadn't fallen into a deep enough sleep to not hear the light knock, but Nikki wasn't fast enough to sit up before Dominic opened the door and looked inside. He took a moment to enjoy the tough Nikki Wade reduced to a sleepy-eyed child, complete with two large pieces of hair standing on end. It was when he saw her mouth turn down that he realized she had caught his train of thought. Coughing unnecessarily, he said, "The doctor said he'd be here in a few minutes. I thought I'd make sure…"

"What? That we were decent?"

"Dressed, yeah." He caught the accidental double-meaning and quickly corrected, "I mean, Olivia dressed. In regular clothes. If she gets the clear, the doctor's going to release her tonight."

Nikki watched as the guard tried in vain to not dig himself further. "Yeah, she told me," Wade acknowledged and turned off her stern stare.

He blushed slightly in relief. "They're serving food in a quarter of an hour. I can bring some down for you if you like. I mean, I've got to do it for Olivia anyway, so it's no trouble bringing yours as well."

"That'd be nice, Dominic, thanks," she said sincerely.

"Right. Well, I'll leave you to it. I'll be back shortly." Just as quietly as he entered, he left.

"I still suspect he fancies the pants off you," came the muffled voice beside Nikki.

Leaning over Olivia's shoulder, she asked, "Are you awake, sleeping beauty?"

There was a deliberate pause. "If I say no, will it get me a kiss?"

Nikki gently turned Benson over onto her back. "You'll get a kiss either way," she promised and bent her head to fulfill her promise.

There was another knock on the door and the doctor entered.

"Jesus," Nikki complained, "can't a girl get time for a decent snog around here?"

"If that's anything like a shag, I offered earlier," Olivia reminded.

"Nice to see you find humour in the situation, Miss Benson," the doctor said. "I find the return of a sense of humour usually indicates a better turn in health."

Nikki refrained from asking the good doctor to cite this incredibly scientific bit of information and instead, swung her long legs around the bed and helped Olivia up to a sitting position.

"How are you feeling?" he asked as he flashed a small light into her eyes.

"Good. A bit sore. Tired."

"Yes, well, next time try sleeping alone." Olivia reached out and touched Nikki's leg in an attempt to stop the con from blurting out something sarcastic. Holding a stethoscope to Benson's heart, the doctor inquired, "Difficulty breathing?"

"Not in my chest, no," Benson answered. "Down where I was stabbed? Yeah." She didn't dare glance over at Nikki, whom she knew was fighting off a smirk.

He either ignored her or was unaware of the sarcasm. "Yes, let's check that, shall we? Lift up your shirt, please." Doing as she was told, Olivia pulled up the material to her armpit. Peeling the medical tape away from the skin, he gave a cursory look at the wound underneath the gauze. Murmuring something intelligible, but somehow encouraging, he covered the injury again and stepped back. "It's healing remarkably well, Miss Benson. You've got an amazing recovery turnaround. The bandages will need to be replaced at least once a day for seven to ten days. No bathing or soaking for at least four weeks. Showers should be quick and not directed onto the wound. Are you up to leaving today?"

"Abso-fucking-lutely," Benson remarked.

"I'll assume that's a quaint American expression that means 'yes', shall I?" he asked facetiously. "Right. Well, I informed Miss Betts of my prognosis this morning; I'll be sure to confirm my findings with her and sign off on all the requisite paperwork. I suggest you see your family practitioner once you return home."

Under her breath, Nikki muttered, "Just to make sure."

He shifted his small beady eyes in Wade's direction and passed a distasteful judgment in one swoop of the con's body. She tried not to shudder in revulsion.

"Very well," he went on. "I'll notify Miss Betts and off you'll go. Your tea should be down shortly and that will be that." His hand touched the door knob and before leaving, he coiled around to Nikki. "Come see me about a vitamin supplement. You're looking a bit poorly." He turned his back in time to miss the abrupt two-finger hand gesture.

"Don't let the wing catch wind of this, yeah?" McAllister said to Nikki as he entered the room with dinner. "Everyone will expect it if they find out."

"Oh, the Julies would love that, wouldn't they, sir?" Nikki teased.

"More than I care to imagine." Setting the food down on the small bedside table, he nodded towards Olivia. "Hey, I saw the doctor before I came in. Looks like you'll be out of here today. Congratulations."

"Thanks," the cop replied.

"And good luck on your appeal." He saw the brief but telling twitch of her mouth. "Yeah, I thought it was something like that. Whatever the truth is, I hope everything goes all right for you, Olivia. Take care."

She held out her hand and after a slight hesitation, he shook it. "If you're ever in New York and need to get out of jail, give me a call."

He was still trying to piece things together as he walked out of the room.

Nikki shook her head sympathetically. "You've only confused the boy even more."

"I don't expect it to last long. I'm thinking word will get out in a couple of days anyway," Benson noted. "What do you think?"

"Yvonne did say that everyone finds out about everything around here," Nikki remembered. "I think she's fairly right. There will be a rumour of some sort or another."

"What will you tell them?"

"I don't know," the con admitted honestly. "On one hand, a lot of women in here are mothers or in the very least have a maternal instinct in them. The reason you're here would be enough for people to turn their head at the fact that you're a cop. On the other hand," she smiled, "you're a cop. That would be a tricky situation on its own if you were staying. As it is, it will still be a difficult one for me. I could be seen as a narc by association; I'm not sure I need that hanging over me at the moment. I'll figure out how to deal with the questions when I'm asked, I suppose."

"You know, I never took into consideration how much you were risking in knowing."

"Well, it helps that I didn't grass on anyone. The extent of my involvement is hiding your identity. My reputation should come out of this fairly intact. Better, quite frankly, when they find out I pulled a cop."

"Why do I think amid all that slang that you're bragging?"

"Come on," Wade said, deflecting the question. "Let's eat before it goes cold." She peered over the plate. "Or maybe it's better cold, I'm not sure."

They sat sideways on the bed, each with a leg tucked underneath them and one leg dangling off the edge. Plates balanced precariously on knees, and mugs were carefully set on the mattress.

Breaking the short silence, Nikki commented, "So, your last supper. Heavy stuff."

Olivia lifted her fork and eyeballed the portion. "Do you mean the food or the event?"

The women were laughing as the door opened. The movement caught Benson's eye and she smiled. "Look who's up."

Stabler closed the door behind him and said, "I was just about to say the same thing. How are you feeling?"

"Tired," she answered. "Tired of people asking me how I'm feeling."

He held up a hand in surrender. "Point taken." In his other hand, he held a paper bag. "I would have tried to bring in some real food, but figured I'd have to go through a strip search just to make sure I wasn't smuggling in a hacksaw. And I was right, because if I had to go through half the hoops I went through to bring in coffee…" Both Olivia's and Nikki's eyes lit up.

"You're the dog's bollocks you are, Mr. Stabler," Nikki praised.

'I'll tell you what," he bargained, "I'll take that as a compliment if you never call me 'Mr. Stabler' again. My kids' friends call me 'Mr Stabler'." He pulled out the two cups of coffee and handed them to each woman. "I went to Starbucks because I didn't trust myself to find anything else. Probably paid twenty bucks with the exchange rate, but what the hell." As the two women savoured the hot beverage, he looked at their plates. "Maybe I should have tried bringing in food."

For the umpteenth time that day, a knock was heard on the door and a figure half-stepped in to see what was going on.

"Jesus, Nikki," Olivia muttered under her breath. "This room gets more traffic than your cell." Her comment wasn't quiet enough because all eyes in the room turned to Nikki.

"That's fantastic," the con whispered, with no intent of keeping her words a secret. "I'll just die now, thanks very much."

The most interested pair of eyes belonged to the newcomer, though after a quick raise of her eyebrow in Nikki's direction, she turned her attention to Olivia. "I heard you were leaving today," Helen Stewart said. Though Benson assumed that being at the top of the food chain in Larkhall would mean Betts had filled Helen in, the cop wasn't certain what to say. Stewart must have seen the hesitancy because she smiled. "Karen Betts informed me of the situation. I have to say, I was more than a bit surprised to hear you and your co-workers felt it necessary to keep it so well-hidden. However, I suppose it was understandable, given the circumstances." She glanced over at Nikki again.

In the same unsubtle whisper that got Nikki the look in the first place, Olivia slyly told Wade, "You're in trouble."

"Story of my life."

Helen bit back a smirk and instead announced, "Yes, well, I just wanted to see you off, Olivia. Take care."

Holding out her hand to stop the short woman, Benson looked over at Elliot. "Are we ready to go?"

Stabler glanced around and shrugged. "Sure, I guess."

Looking back at Helen, Benson asked, "Can you wait for Nikki? She might as well go up with you rather than having to call a guard to come get her."

Nikki slid in front of Olivia and blocked off Helen's view. Her expression clearly said, "What the hell are you playing at?" and Olivia caught it clearly, because she winked. There was a slight stretch of silence before they both ventured in unison, "So…"

Laughing, Nikki remarked, "If you hadn't slept away our last two hours together, we would have had our goodbyes already planned out." She examined down the floor then tilted her head to look at the American. "So much to say, so little time. And so few words to say it. I'm glad we met, Liv."

"So am I, Nicola." The con scrunched up her face at the name and it gave Benson time to step forward. In a soft voice meant only for Nikki to hear, Olivia said, "They say nothing lasts forever. I don't believe that; the bad stuff comes and goes, for sure. But the good stuff?" She looked over Nikki's shoulder at Helen, then back to Nikki. "The real good stuff? That sticks around forever, even if it has to hang on by its fingernails. Do you know what I'm saying?"

Nikki pressed her lips together and nodded her head slightly. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I do."

"Good. Now come here." When Wade stepped into the circle of Benson's arms, they embraced each other tightly. "Never give up on anything, do you hear me?" Olivia whispered in Nikki's ear. "And know I'm only a phone call away."

Nikki could only nod her understanding and she held on a minute longer. Pulling back, she didn't dare look at Olivia's face, for fear of opening the floodgates. Instead, she turned to Elliot. With a measure of awkwardness, she extended her hand to him, and said, "You seem to be the exception to the rule, Mr… Detective Stabler."

"Make sure you let us know how you're getting on, Nikki," he told her as he shook her hand.

Remembering why they were all there at that moment in the first place, Nikki said, "Make sure you let me know how the case went."

"She will," Stabler smiled and, recognizing Nikki's silent plea to get things over with, he jerked his head in the direction of the door. "You ready to go, Liv?"


"You two go on ahead," Nikki offered, not wanting to stretch the goodbyes out any longer than necessary. "I've got to collect my dishes. Go on."

Understanding Nikki's struggle, Olivia grabbed her bag and walked towards the door, but not before kissing the con on the cheek. "Bye, Nikki."

She was glad she had her back to Helen because she wasn't sure she would have been able to stop herself from bursting into tears had she seen a glimmer of compassion from the Scot. As it was, when she felt Stewart's presence move to her side, she whispered, "Please, don't say anything. I couldn't… I just couldn't bear it right now, all right?"

True to her silent promise, the two women wordlessly made their way back to the wing. As they walked side-by-side, Nikki searched out to draw in as much strength from Helen as she could, and Stewart seemed to sense it, because she deliberately walked closer to Nikki. Their companionable silence did more for the con at that moment than any amount of words. When they got to the cell, they both paused in the doorway.

Looking around at the cold concrete and steel that surrounded them, Nikki asked, "Why is it that the best things always leave me?"


"Sorry, that was a rhetorical question, I suppose."

"I'm here if you need me, Nikki."

"Yeah. That's great." She entered the cell and picked up her pack of cigarettes. When she turned, Helen was still in the doorway. They stood facing each other, both silent and willful. Eons passed between them until, at long last, Nikki saw that internal switch go on in Helen's eyes, the one that signaled she had given up in disappointment. Just as she turned to leave, Nikki's subconscious jumped in with a swift kick. "Helen," Wade blurted out, surprising them both. When the Scot turned expectantly, Nikki closed her eyes and counted two full breaths before looking right at Helen, another woman she had shared a brief yet wonderful chapter with. "I… thanks. It… it means a lot. I mean it."

Helen flashed a warm, full smile. "I'll see ya."

She was exhaling the smoke of her cigarette out the window when she exclaimed, "Shit!" Running to the door of her cell, she yelled, "Yvonne! Julies! Denny! Get over here, quickly! Babs, you too!"

The women ran to Nikki's cell, alarm written all over their faces.

"What's wrong?" Yvonne asked worriedly.

"Sorry," Nikki apologized, "I didn't mean to give you lot a heart attack. But you should come to the window. Olivia's leaving."

"Oh!" the Julies exclaimed and all six women tried to find space on the bed to get a good look out the small window.

"Quit pushing," Denny complained. "I'm the shortest one; I should be in front so I can see."

"You'll be seeing her in your dreams for the next year," Atkins retorted good-naturedly. "Pull those two chairs over and we should all be able to get a good look."

"Oi, who's that nice looking bloke with her?" Julie J asked appreciatively.

"That's her partner," Nikki answered.

Yvonne frowned at her. "I thought you told me she was… you know."

Nikki realized her slip and decided if she was in for a penny, she might as well be in for a pound. "She's a cop."

Silence dropped on the cell like a bomb. Then they all started talking at Nikki at once.

"You're having us on!"

"Go ahead, pull the other one!"

"Yeah, right!"

"Are you winding me up?"

Nikki held up her hands. "Later, ladies, I promise. In the meantime, look who's escorting them out."

Yvonne balanced on the chair and looked over Denny's shoulder. She laughed evilly. "Oh, this should be good."

"Well, you've found an ingenious way of getting out of here, I'll give you that," Fenner complimented as he walked Benson and Elliot to the gates.

"Yeah, I'm sure my partner wanted to get stabbed," Stabler muttered. He noticed how Olivia walked between the two men, and he didn't doubt she did it on purpose. After finding out Fenner had put the boots to Olivia, Stabler wasn't inclined to play nice. "Which reminds me," the cop said, as if the idea had just occurred to him. Stopping, he pulled out a small leather case and handed it to Benson. "Your badge."

"Oh, right. Thanks, El."

Fenner froze on the spot and eyed the pair warily. "What's going on here?"

A loud whoop of laughter and cheer bounced off the walls of the small cell.

"What's going on here, then?" Dominic asked, the noise drawing his attention to the room.

Barbara was the only one able to tear her eyes away from the scene below. "I dare say Olivia has Mr. Fenner's balls in her hand."

The only sign that McAllister had heard her was a deliberate blink of his wide eyes. "You're joking," he accused and stood at the window where the two Julies made room for him. Sure enough, it appeared to be just as Barbara had said, and the guard burst out laughing. Then realizing the inappropriateness of his reaction, he coughed and stepped off the bed. "Try… try and keep it down, ladies, all right?"

The women barely noticed him leaving.

Fenner tried to measure his breathing but the pain in his crotch overrode any effort to concentrate.

"Mr. Fenner, I'd like you to meet my partner, Detective Olivia Benson of the New York Police Department," Stabler introduced the pair formally.

"Don't worry, Jim," Benson spit out in a harsh whisper, "you don't have to say anything; I'll do all the talking. Where do I begin, you piece of shit?" She squeezed tighter in punctuation. "By the time I'm through with you, having your balls intact will be the least of your worries. In the meantime, if I catch even a hint that you tried this shit on any other woman in there, I'll hang these up on my rear view mirror, understand? And if that woman's Nikki Wade, I'll make you eat them, you got that? Just nod, Jim." He dutifully did as he was told.

"Not as dumb as he looks," Stabler remarked.

She let go of her grip and watched as Fenner struggled to get the blood moving through his body once again.

"Fen-ner! Fen-ner!" the women chanted from the window, "Is a bloody wanker!"

He couldn't stand up straight enough to see where the women were, but Olivia tilted her head up and scanned the windows until she saw the faces pressed against the squares of the bars. There was something about seeing all those women looking down on her that made her swallow hard.

Stabler noticed the reflex. "You almost look like you're sad to go."

She thought of the women inside and the ones who, in many ways, were no different than her. "Yeah," she admitted, "a little." Fenner's groan caught her attention and she threw down a look of disgust. "Almost."

"You know I should knock your teeth down your throat, right?" Stabler asked the guard.

Olivia touched his arm. With one last look at the prison, she said, "Come on. Let's go."

As they watched the two Americans leave, the chant died away and was replaced by yells of encouragement and goodbyes.

When the gates closed behind the pair, the women slowly and quietly came down from their perches. The excitement was over, and it was business as usual at Larkhall. It was left to Yvonne to not let it go just yet.

"So Nikki. You and Olivia…"

Nikki sighed. "I'll tell you all about it tomorrow, all right?"

"Yeah, yeah, sure," Atkins brushed aside. "What I mean is, you and her; you shagged her, right?" The tall brunette groaned. "Right. So you pulled a cop?"

The two Julies looked at each other and said, "You know,"

"I never thought of that."

"Nikki, you -"

"Shagged a cop," they exclaimed gleefully in unison.

"Someone save me, please," Nikki pleaded to no one in particular.

"Christ, Nikki," Atkins admired, "next thing you'll tell us is you're shagging Helen Stewart."

There was just enough of a gleam in the mob wife's eyes to make Nikki wonder. Then she remembered what the woman had said earlier about everyone finding out everything. While Nikki was wondering just how much the older woman knew, she corralled the rest of them and said, "Let's go, girls. I want to greet Mr. Fenner when he crawls back onto the wing." As they exited out of the small room, Atkins turned back to Nikki and winked. "We'll talk soon."

Nikki wasn't sure if that was a promise or a threat.

"How was your first night without your girlfriend, Wade," Fenner sneered as he opened the cell door at 8am.

"Not bad, Mr. Fenner," she answered as she lit a cigarette. "How was your first night without your balls?"

The guard's face turned beet red and she could already see the vein in his temple stand out in sharp relief. "I should write you up on report for that."

"Yeah," Nikki agreed. "If you could get Helen Stewart to file it between bouts of laughter, you mean. Besides, if I were you, I'd be more worried about your little girlfriend, Shell Dockley. I heard there was blood on the weapon they found. I heard the blood was Olivia's."

"You hear a lot of things, Wade," he noted suspiciously. When the con shrugged, he narrowed his eyes. "If you had something to do with it…"

"To do with what?" she feigned innocence.

"Shell wouldn't be stupid enough to leave a weapon in her cell. If she did it in the first place."

"I'm quite sure I don't know what you're talking about. Sir." She could almost see the wheels in his head spinning, and she couldn't have been less interested. Glancing out the window, she remarked, "Looks like it's going to be a gorgeous day. I might do some planting." She slyly looked in his direction and clarified, "In the garden, I mean." She stubbed out her cigarette. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm famished."

As predicted, it turned out to be a gorgeous day, and Nikki did get down to the potting shed. No matter what kind of mood she was in, it was here that she felt grounded. With her hands deep in the rich soil, she felt connected to something worth more than the trivialities of life. She saw the flowers she and Olivia had potted only a couple of days ago and thought of just the right spot for them to flourish.

The End

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