DISCLAIMER: Main characters belong to NBC, Dick Wolf and Shed.
SPOILERS: SVU: Season three. Picks up where 'Wrath' left off. At the start, Alex and Olivia have nothing more than a professional relationship.
Bad Girls: – Helen and Nikki are in an established relationship, approximately a year after leaving Larkhall. So I guess it's post-series three, although I've used a bit of licence with the lives of the other canon characters as and when they appear. I've included some backstory in the first few chapters to explain the year Helen and Nikki have already spent together.
CROSSOVER: Bad Girls/Law & Order: SVU - Nikki/Helen   Alex/Olivia.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Unrequited Blood
By Stone Angel

Chapter 1: Looking out for Olivia.

Elliot leaned against the wall outside Olivia's apartment and tried to make sense of the previous few days' events. On reflection, he realised it was too soon to try to make peace with the stubborn woman. It was impulse that had brought him here, a need to make things right, to convince Olivia that he'd only been acting out of concern for her when he'd assigned the protective detail, but he suspected it was better to hold off for a few days before trying to apologise again. It was an understatement to say she'd been hit hard by the Plummer case – he'd seen her go from stunned silence on learning someone had been killing people to get her attention, to a righteous determination to track down who it was. And, when it had emerged it was Eric Plummer, she'd started to blame herself, questioning the original conviction of rape and murder that she'd been instrumental in securing. He'd been relieved, for about half a second, when she'd taken some vacation time, but he should have known Olivia wouldn't have been able to leave it alone. On discovering Olivia had set about tracking Plummer down alone, he'd rushed after her with Munch and Fin, stunned to find her standing over Plummer's dead body. He'd tried to offer some comfort then, but she'd pushed him away, with a bitter, "You leave me alone." And now, she was refusing to even open the door to him.

Still, he didn't want to leave her on her own tonight with those self-destructive thoughts that he knew would be plaguing her. In addition to the fact that she was feeling unbearably guilty about killing Plummer, and had been inconsolable at the crime scene when the armed response officer had declared Plummer's gun was empty, Olivia seemed to be locked into punishing herself for all of the deaths. Elliot understood this – if a series of people had been killed and he was the only link between them, he'd automatically assume some of the responsibility. But he was more worried about the fact that she seemed to be questioning her whole way of life, and her place in the police force. Munch had told him that, when she'd accompanied Fin and himself to Chauncey's to unwind mid-investigation, Olivia had been unreasonably hard on herself, and was obsessed with the idea that she'd turned an innocent man into some kind of monster.

As she'd left for her mid-investigation self-imposed vacation, Elliot had noticed that she'd taken the case files of the other suspects home with her. No doubt she was in there right now poring over them, trying to look for her own culpability in these criminals' threats against her.

He also realised that, although he badly wanted to do it, he should not be the one to try and offer comfort just now. He was just too close – apart from her anger towards him at the protective detail, he knew she'd rebuff any kind of attempt at reasoning at the moment, as when she got an idea into her head there was no placating the determined woman. This was one of the reasons, he knew, that made her such a good detective – her absolute refusal to let go when she got her teeth into something. However, that was a double edged sword when she turned that determination to negative thoughts against herself, blinkering out any alternative points of view. Through this investigation, he'd seen her rollercoasting to this conclusion, but had been powerless to stop her.

He wished, not for the first time, that Monique Jefferies was still on the team, as Olivia seemed to have a bond with her that stretched beyond the work they did together. He'd been surprised at that, half expecting there to be fierce female rivalry between the two women. He'd been astonished, yet secretly relieved, when he discovered they met outside of work to have coffee and climb together, evidently establishing the kind of solidarity that came from women working together to solve these types of crimes. He wondered if Olivia was still in contact with Monique, as she'd potentially be a good person to call, but realised it was pointless, as he had no way of contacting the ex-SVU detective who'd left abruptly and controversially, seemingly without a glance behind her.

But Jefferies was long gone. And Olivia had no family members, nor, as far as he knew, any current partner that he could call to come over. He started running through his mental list of the other squad members, realising on some level that this decision was important. Willingness wasn't an issue; Elliot knew without doubt that any one of them would offer Olivia support without hesitation.

He discounted Cragen straight away. Although the Captain was sensitive and exuded quiet care, Elliot didn't want Olivia to think he was siccing the boss on her. He also didn't want to run the slight risk of Cragen pumping Olivia for information about what had happened.

Huang also immediately sprang to mind, but again, Elliot disregarded him; although talking with a counsellor at some point would be beneficial to his partner, and no doubt made mandatory after the shooting, he didn't yet trust Huang to cast off his professional persona and just talk to Olivia as a friend. The last thing he wanted was Olivia to accuse him of trying to psychoanalyse her – she'd muttered something about Huang trying to get into her head by trapping her into talking earlier on in the break room.

Fin was an unknown quantity. He would be just as likely to turn up with a bottle of scotch as anything, and whilst getting blind drunk had short term merits, Elliot knew that drowning sorrows as a method of coping might work for a night, but would throw up all sorts of issues with Olivia that would make her current concerns multiply tenfold, due to her mother's alcohol problems.

By this process of elimination, he reluctantly settled on Munch. Munch was a good choice, he decided. The older man was a patient listener, and wouldn't push Olivia to talk unless she wanted to. The only drawback he could see here was that John unerringly managed to eke out people's sensitive points, prodding them into dangerous places that were often painful to confront.

Elliot had seen this in action when Munch had tracked down a man he strongly suspected was Olivia's mother's rapist. Elliot was left to deal with the aftermath of Munch's 'investigation' when he'd accompanied his partner to visit her apparent father. Olivia had been certain, on seeing the man, that it wasn't – to this day, Elliot was unsure as to whether Olivia's conviction was genuine, if she had just been covering up the fact she didn't want to claim the man, or if she just wasn't ready to confront that particular demon. All he knew for certain was that he'd had no idea how to begin to comfort the distraught woman who sat in his car, falling back on an uncomfortable silence, and hoping desperately that it was enough that he was simply there.

Despite his misgivings, he wasn't about to leave Olivia alone in her apartment, though, so he pulled out his cellphone and began to click through the phonebook, praying he was making the right choice. As he scrolled through, he hesitated on a familiar name. Cabot.

The three of them, up to this point, had nothing but a professional relationship, as Alex had always politely declined the squad's invitations to accompany them to Chauncey's on the odd nights when they needed to blow off steam after a particularly harrowing case.

To him, the cool, professional attorney had often seemed a little stand-offish, although he couldn't fault her ability to do her job. Much more importantly, though, Olivia seemed to like her. Although the two of them had the ability to get incredibly heated when discussing a case, as far as he could see there had always been a clear undertone of respect between the two women.

He hesitated, completely unsure. On the one hand, neither he nor Olivia knew the attorney on anything other than a professional level. On the other, as Alex had settled into her job, he'd seen her demonstrate a sympathy for the people they dealt with that was straightforward; not patronising at all, rather…objective, but borne of a deep concern. A no-nonsense kind of caring approach that he suspected might work with Olivia. And in this latest case, Alex had controversially fronted up against the higher echelons of the judiciary to force a meeting with Plummer's ex-cell mate, pushing for a significant reduction in Williams' sentence just so she could attempt to get some justice for Olivia.

Elliot shook his head. He'd been standing here debating this internally for almost five minutes, when surely the most important thing was to get someone over here. Munch or Cabot? He reached into his pocket and fished out a coin. Then, cursing his uncharacteristic indecisiveness, swore softly and just pressed the damn cell button.

The phone rang once, twice, and he suddenly realised he had no idea how he was going to phrase this odd request.

"Cabot" The tone was soft, unguarded, and so unlike the crisp, familiar tones he'd been expecting. It was the middle of the night, he noted. He decided to just be blunt about it.

"Alex? It's Elliot. Elliot Stabler."

No response. He realised the woman was probably just trying to wake up.

"Uh, I know this is going to sound strange, but could you come over to Olivia's? There's been a development in the Plummer case and we really need you here."

Elliot cringed as he realised he'd automatically slipped into the professional mode of speaking that he normally used with Alex. But not wanting to get into it, and hoping this approach would work anyway, he continued hastily, "I'll explain everything once you get here."

To her credit, Alex didn't question him, simply agreeing to come right over, asking for the address while declining the offer of a squad car in favour of a cab.

Chapter 2: Life after Larkhall

Replacing the phone in its cradle after the early morning call, Helen sighed softly. For the eleventh day in a row she'd woken alone in the big double bed. Seeing that it was seven thirty and almost time for her to get up for work anyway, she threw back the covers and padded over to the window, scanning the large garden. Her eyes settled on her lover, who today was furiously digging a border out by the side of the long stone wall that contained their property.

They'd lived in this old greystone cottage for almost three months now, after spending nearly a year trying to settle in London, and things had been blissful here until recently. Helen reflected on the time that had passed, and the progression of their relationship, as she watched her partner stand up and stretch, then wander over to the swingseat, crouching down to scratch the belly of the large brown mongrel who lay underneath it, before settling herself in the seat.

The first couple of weeks after Nikki's release had been intense. They'd spent every waking, and sleeping moment together, desperately keen to make up for lost time. Then, reluctantly, Nikki had returned to work at the nightclub she'd been running with her ex-partner, Trisha. Helen hadn't been exactly happy about this, partly because she suspected Trisha still had feelings for Nikki, but mostly she was worried that Nikki would find it difficult to deal with returning to the place where she had killed a man in defence of Trisha. Helen had accompanied Nikki to the club for a week or so, to reassure herself that Nikki was okay with the situation, and had, to her relief, also discovered that Trish seemed to have accepted that Nikki had moved on. Those days and nights passed in a blur, evenings spent in a smoky bar against a backdrop of loud music, and they'd return to Helen's flat and tumble into bed to make love, exhausted.

Nikki had made noises about wanting to find a flat of her own, as going back to live with Trisha had been out of the question, and Helen had even accompanied her to a couple of viewings. But Helen had sensed that Nikki's heart wasn't in it, for a reason she couldn't, at that time, fathom. She'd gently suggested that Nikki should continue to live with her, and Nikki had agreed, although insisting it was a temporary solution, muttering something about an independent life.

Unwilling to depend on her newly released lover for financial support, Helen had set about finding a job. She was unable to secure any kind of position within the main prison service, as she'd had to resign hastily from her previous job at Larkhall when a corrupt prison officer, Jim Fenner, discovered her relationship with Nikki and forced her to leave under threat of exposure. Yet she wanted to maintain a link, however tenuous, with her vocation. So she took a job with a private security company that was responsible for transporting inmates from court to prison, and between jails. Her official title was 'welfare officer'; this ostensibly meant she was responsible for ensuring the prisoners were treated decently during the transfers, and also co-ordinating the trips to make them more cost-efficient.

However, on starting the job, Helen had rapidly discovered her post had only been created because there had been a number of escapes, and complaints about the conditions. On a day-to-day basis there really wasn't much for her to do. She found herself inspecting vans and creating impressive looking charts detailing various statistics to present to her bosses during fortnightly meetings. After a few months of this, she was incredibly bored, and yearned for a return to the days when she had actual contact with the prisoners, instead of just meaningless feedback sheets, and had started to look around for a new position.

She was also hugely worried that she barely saw Nikki – occasionally, her lover would wake her in the early hours of the morning on her return from the nightclub, but their lovemaking would be conducted with an eye on the clock, and Nikki was invariably exhausted. Apart from Sundays, when they at least had a few hours during the afternoon to relax in each other's company, they barely spent any proper time together. Helen was aware that Nikki was feeling the same, as she'd noticed the brunette becoming more and more agitated at their lack of time together. Helen had been on the brink of looking for some kind of night work, when Nikki had announced that she wanted to leave the club.

They'd sat down and talked it all out and Helen had been concerned to discover that it wasn't only the hours at the club that were causing so much tension in Nikki. During a long, emotional talk, Nikki had confessed that while she'd been hugely anticipating throwing herself back into her old ways, she was finding slipping back into her former lifestyle crushingly overwhelming. This was something Helen had been half-expecting, as she'd seen it happen in ex-prisoners before.

But there was more, as was often the case with Nikki. Where previously the brunette had loved the hustle and bustle of city life, she now found it claustrophobic. Nikki had almost shyly confessed a secret yearning for more space, and peace; somewhere they could just be calm, and together. Apparently, this self-realisation had shocked the taller woman, as she'd always revelled in London life before prison. Helen, who'd grown up in a small Scottish village, was happy to discuss the practicalities of such a move, as she had reached the point where she was beginning to wonder if they'd ever have anything like a proper relationship.

Helen was surprised at the relief that poured out of Nikki that night. It emerged that Nikki had been thinking hard about their relationship, and a series of little doubts had wormed their way into the brunette's mind – she was worried it was too much too soon, that she had pressured Helen, through her relentless pursuit, into the partnership, and that Helen had got caught up in the whirlwind. Although Nikki was absolutely sure of her commitment to Helen, she ashamedly admitted that she hadn't been completely sure that she could count on Helen. It seemed that Helen's enthusiasm for the move and the notion of beginning a new life together because Nikki was unhappy had been incredibly reassuring for the ex-prisoner.

Helen had been stunned by all of this, but, on reflection, she realised that it was possibly something she should have predicted – adjusting to life outside of prison was never going to be straightforward for Nikki and there were bound to be times when she was unsure of herself. In a significant way, it was good that Nikki trusted her enough to finally discuss these insecurities instead of just putting on a brave front, which she had a tendency to do.

The floodgates were wide open by now and it seemed that Nikki wanted to lay all her cards on the table; she also admitted that she had been uncomfortable living in the flat with Helen, as she felt like a lodger and was unhappy with the fact that Helen had formerly shared it with her fiancé, Sean. So she'd looked at those flats for herself but hadn't wanted to live separately from Helen at all.

Once they'd got this all out in the open, they concluded that, while they thought they'd been making a fresh start, it might take a change of scenery and employment to enable that fully. So they had begun planning in earnest.

Helen had been slightly surprised to find that out of London, there were many diverse employment opportunities, and she'd quickly secured a job working at a young offenders' home for teenage girls just outside of Oxford. She'd be doing much as she had in the lifers' unit in Larkhall, acting in a counselling role to uncover why the teenagers' crimes had been committed in the first place, how they were coping with their sentences on a day-to-day basis, and what they could do to facilitate a smooth path back into society.

Their basic needs were similar to the women at Larkhall, although there were a varied set of new problems to contend with. With a few exceptions, the crimes committed tended to be less serious than most she'd come across in the lifers' section, and the residents of the home had a different set of issues – things like teenage pregnancies were something Helen had only had to deal with occasionally up to this point.

Before the commencement of the job, Helen had to attend a training course just outside of Heathrow to bring her up to speed on all the demands and intricacies of this new post. Meanwhile, Nikki had been winding things up with Trisha, and dealing with securing their new home, leaving Helen to arrange the selling of her flat.

Nikki had gifted her half of the house she'd shared with Trisha back to her ex-girlfriend, as a thankyou for all the support the blonde had given her while in prison. Trisha had been able to buy her out of the club, and together with the money Helen raised from the sale of her flat, they'd been able to afford a lovely stone cottage in an Oxfordshire village.

Nikki had fallen in love with the garden as soon as they'd pulled up in the driveway – Helen hadn't seen the appeal, as it appeared to be basically lawn, with an overgrown orchard in the back, but she'd adored the house itself, with its big rooms and quiet atmosphere. It was set on a narrow strip of land – out front, there was a driveway running along one side, but the rest was garden.

The house itself was deceptive – from the front, it looked like a small farmworkers' cottage, but it stretched right back, and as they explored the interior, Helen had realised someone had extended it at some point, altering the original layout so there was a living and dining room either side of the main hallway. The central corridor led through to a large kitchen and utility room. The upstairs landing yielded a boxroom, bedroom and bathroom to one side, and on the other, a large master bedroom ran almost the entire length of the house, save for a smallish ensuite at the end.

There was also the location – the house was situated in one of the lanes that meandered out of the small village, and, although they had neighbours either side, there was farmland stretching away at the back of the house, and the front garden led out to a lane, past which there were more fields.

They'd moved in as soon as the sales were completed. Helen found she thoroughly enjoyed her new job; the day-to-day contact with the residents gave her the immediate gratification of making a difference in these girls' lives, and her bosses seemed more than pleased with how she was doing.

Not wanting to put any pressure on Nikki, who seemed to be directionless after leaving the club, Helen had simply let her partner throw herself into decorating the house and renovating the garden. She'd been incredibly pleased to return home a month after they'd moved in to discover Nikki had found a part-time job during a rosebush-buying expedition, working afternoons and early evenings at a local garden centre. The job Nikki had, which was basically dealing with control and upkeep of stock, was virtually without pressure, and the brunette seemed happy with that, although Helen suspected she'd eventually tire of it and start looking for something more challenging.

It had all been idyllic. Helen would leave for work in the mornings, while Nikki pottered around the house and garden. On her return home, the Scotswoman would work in her study for a couple of hours until Nikki returned from the garden centre, then they'd spend evenings together. The only small sacrifice was the loss of their Sundays, as it was mandatory for Nikki to work the busiest day of the week, but it was a tiny concession in view of everything else that made their lives so happy, and Helen had secretly grown to love the lazy Sunday afternoons she spent alone, reading a book or sunbathing.

They'd even got a dog, Helen mused, as she observed the mutt rolling onto his back and decadently stretching, looking for attention, as Nikki rolled up a cigarette above him. They didn't know who the big, muddy-brown crossbreed belonged to, but he wandered into their garden every morning, content to lay either below the swingseat, or on the large front step, if he fancied some sun. He was completely casual about all of this, and trotted in as if he owned the place. Helen knew the previous owners had been an elderly couple, and she wondered if they had been feeding him, although he looked perfectly well cared for. Although neither she nor Nikki indulged him in that way, they had no particular objection to dogs either, and were quite happy to have him around, as he showed no real interest in anything other than sleeping. This was a fact that Nikki had been grateful for, as, when he'd first sauntered in she had been convinced the beast was hell-bent on destroying her new plants. Helen had had to stifle a laugh as she explained to the city girl that dogs were mostly harmless creatures.

Helen watched the wisps of smoke curl out from beneath the canopy, an indicator that Nikki was stressed, as she'd had recently begun smoking again after kicking the habit she'd picked up in prison. Helen thought about the events that had led to her being alone in the bedroom this morning, while her partner moped in the garden.

Chapter 3: A Professional Motive.

As the taxi pulled up outside Olivia's apartment block, Alex was surprised to see Elliot waiting for her in the doorway. It was unusual enough for him to call her in the middle of the night; even more unexpected was that he'd requested, mysteriously, for her to come to Olivia's apartment.

Alex knew that this case had been exceptionally hard on Olivia – the frustration had radiated off the detective in waves during their earlier confrontation in her office, when Olivia had angrily demanded that Alex do something about Plummer, that she couldn't just sit around when the man was killing people to get her attention. Alex had recognised that for what it was – Olivia was not only enraged that people were dying and she seemed to be the focal point of that; she was also terrified that she herself was in danger.

But the infuriatingly independent woman would never admit that she was afraid. She just put up a big, arrogant barrier of 'needing to get the job done and never mind that this case might affect her personally'. This was one of Olivia's defining features, Alex had realised – the refusal to admit she needed any help – as if she'd be seen as less competent, somehow, if she showed any kind of chink in her armour. Alex suspected there was some kind of personal story behind that, but didn't know Olivia well enough to try and probe the detective for more information.

Playing by Olivia's 'let's keep it professional' rules, Alex had tried to reason with her, explain that, legally, her hands were tied. But Olivia hadn't backed down one bit, and Alex had ended up practically accusing the detective of being drunk and paranoid when she'd asserted that Plummer was stalking her. Alex now regretted her insinuation, but Olivia had steamrollered her into a corner, and instead of reaching out and asking Olivia exactly why she was so insistent, she'd pushed back with an accusation that she really didn't have much ground for – Munch and Fin had confirmed that Olivia hadn't been drunk; had only had one beer, in fact. But she hadn't seen any other way to convince Olivia that there was nothing she could do with the shaky evidence they had.

Alex had briefly considered apologising, but really didn't want to get into why she'd come out with the question about Olivia drinking, as she could see that particular conversation backing Olivia into a corner of her own. Best thing was to let it go, Alex thought. Maybe one day when she and Olivia were on less spiky terms, she'd bring it up, but for the time being, as long as they could continue to work together well, she didn't see any point in poking around in something that was obviously a sore point for Detective Benson.

And right now, maybe, she could make amends. As she made her way out of the cab and towards Elliot, who was shifting about nervously in the doorway at the front of the building, Alex wondered what 'development' there had been in the case that necessitated a middle of the night visit to Olivia's. No matter, she thought – if it meant that they could get this whole sorry mess dealt with and move on, then it was worth it.

"Alex, thanks for coming right over," Elliot stated. Alex thought she caught a hint of self-consciousness in his tone.

Dismissing it, she launched into professional mode.

"Elliot," she nodded in greeting. "No problem. What can I help you with?"

Elliot hesitated, choosing to usher her into the foyer as he formulated his response. Alex waited expectantly.

"Um. It's the Plummer case."

Alex nodded, and shook her briefcase slightly. "Yes. You said on the 'phone. I have all the paperwork right here. Shall we go up and get started?"

Elliot grimaced.

"Uh, that's the thing. It's not exactly a legal development on the Plummer case."

Alex was beginning to get a little impatient. It was the middle of the night and she just wanted to get this dealt with and go back home to bed.

"Then what is it? Elliot, you need to give me some kind of clue here. I'm assuming it's important, otherwise you wouldn't have dragged me out in the middle of the night, to Olivia's, of all places."

The implication hung heavy in the air – she was, indeed at Olivia's, but the woman herself was nowhere to be seen. Elliot had the good grace to look embarrassed as he replied.

"I called you because Olivia won't let me in and I don't want to leave her alone after everything that's happened."

The astonishment was evident on Alex's face. "So you called me?"

Elliot shrugged. "Seemed like the best person."

Alex ran through the list of alternatives, much like Elliot had done less than half an hour before. She had no idea why he'd choose her over Munch or Fin, as those two had an obvious rapport with Olivia. She half-suspected it was because she was a safe bet – if Olivia was hostile, which seemed probable, the fallout from a bust-up with an ADA would be less catastrophic in terms of every day working conditions.

It didn't matter, she concluded – she was here, one of her detectives clearly needed her, and it might just provide her with an opportunity to build some bridges, not just with Olivia, but with the SVU unit itself. It was also clear that Elliot had no clue about her earlier confrontation with Olivia, or he would never have called on her. Realising that Elliot had just wanted what was best for his partner, Alex nodded slightly.

Taking this as confirmation, Elliot gave her the apartment number, promising to stay around for ten minutes or so in case she had no luck with Olivia either.

When she reached Olivia's door, Alex knocked softly at first. When she got no answer, she tried again, this time more firmly. Just as she was readying herself to go back down the staircase, the door opened. She took in the dishevelled detective in front of her. Olivia had clearly been crying, and was making no attempt to hide that. Alex held herself back from the automatic human response to offer some kind of physical comfort.

"Alex? What are you doing here?"

There was clear surprise in Olivia's voice.

Alex mustered up a friendly smile. "Thought you could do with some company."

She thought it best that she didn't mention Elliot had sent her – after the fuss Olivia had made about him assigning the protective detail to her, she suspected the detective wouldn't appreciate him sending another babysitter to her.

Olivia shot her a suspicious look and shook her head. "I'm fine, really."

Alex was prepared for this. She played on Olivia's protective-cop nature.

"Okay. Then can I just come in for a few minutes? It's the middle of the night and I need to call a cab. I think it'd be safer if I waited inside."

Olivia didn't say anything, just stood aside for Alex to pass.

As Alex entered the darkened apartment, she considered her next move. She hadn't thought past actually getting in through the door.

"Phone's on the counter," Olivia stated curtly as she flopped down onto the couch.

Chapter 4: Visitors

It had all begun almost a fortnight ago, with a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Nikki had answered, and, wandering downstairs a few minutes later on hearing voices murmuring in the living room, Helen had been alarmed to discover Nikki sitting opposite a uniformed policeman and what she assumed was a detective. After refusing Nikki's entreaties for her to go back to bed, Helen had perched on the arm of the big chair next to her partner, one hand on Nikki's shoulder for moral support. She'd learned with a growing sense of alarm that Nikki's father had been killed during a trip to Singapore, and the police had come not only to inform, but also to eliminate Nikki from their inquiries.

Nikki stayed outwardly calm through all of this, although Helen could feel barely suppressed rage rolling from her girlfriend in waves. Helen herself was seething at their apparent supposition that, because Nikki had previously served time for killing a man, she was immediately suspect number one in their minds. Never mind that Nikki had been freed on appeal, and the fact that the victim, this time, had been Nikki's father. Although Nikki hadn't spoken to her parents since she was sixteen, as they'd disowned her when they discovered she was a lesbian, the insensitivity these men were showing on breaking news of a father's death was outrageous.

After it had been swiftly established that Nikki could not possibly have had any involvement, direct or otherwise, in this murder, Helen had firmly asked them to leave. She had a fierce word with them in the hallway as she ushered them out, advising them they'd be wise to find a more helpful approach, before returning to Nikki, who was sat, unmoving, exactly where Helen had left her.

Nikki hadn't really spoken of her youth to Helen, and all Helen had managed to glean was that she'd been thrown out of the family home at sixteen after being expelled from her boarding school for 'unnatural activities'. Nikki never talked to Helen about her earlier childhood either, but Helen got the impression that her partner's formative years had been fairly unhappy and isolated. Nikki had an older brother, who, Helen understood, had always been distant and uninterested in his younger sister. Although Helen had no siblings, in her early years she'd had a close relationship with her father, and she couldn't begin to imagine what Nikki's childhood must have been like.

Unsure of what to say or do, but wanting to help Nikki, Helen had simply ushered her back up the stairs and into bed, reasoning that Nikki, who was usually forthcoming in expressing her feelings, would talk if and when she needed to. But Nikki had said nothing that night, simply allowing Helen to hold her, returning the tight embrace, apparently drawing some sort of comfort from that.

Nor had the brunette wanted to talk the following days - in fact, she'd been up and out in the garden practically as soon as the sun rose every morning. Helen would have been convinced that her partner was drawing away from her completely if it weren't for the nights, when Helen would invariably wake at two or three in the morning to find Nikki wrapped around her, clinging on for dear life. Helen wasn't sure whether this was Nikki trying to draw some sort of strength from her, or trying to prove to her that her feelings hadn't changed, despite her apparent distance in the daytimes. Helen sensed, though, that these desperate embraces at night were vitally important to Nikki, as they were to herself, as it was a clear demonstration that Nikki wasn't shutting her out completely.

There had been no tears as yet, but when Helen had tried to broach the subject of Nikki's father with her partner on the second day, Nikki had shot her a look that screamed confusion and hurt, and Helen had concluded that it was better to let things come to a head naturally, dealing with any emotional outburst if and when it came.

Helen also suspected Nikki was using the time in the garden to work things through in her mind, much as she had done in the prison gardens. But the Scotswoman was fairly sure that by now it would have got to the point where the brunette was stewing, rather than engaging in any productive thoughts. Nikki was also, reassuringly, continuing to cook for her every night, another activity that Helen knew her partner found calming.

She wondered how long Nikki could go on like this, though, as she regarded the dejected figure on the swingseat. Helen was hugely tempted just to go out and talk to Nikki, try and force her to confront whatever demons she was clearly trying to deal with; anything to help her thoroughly miserable partner. Helen couldn't bear to see the normally strong and resilient woman broken like this.

As she stood at the window, a small movement to the right caught Helen's eye. Distracted out of her recollections, she watched as a small, scruffy blond boy crept along by the side of the wall, apparently trying to make himself as small as possible, casting furtive glances in the direction of Nikki. Helen smiled as she saw the bulging pockets, amazed that in this age of electronic distractions kids still stole fruit from gardens.

As she took in his appearance, noticing that he was wearing grubby shorts and a T-shirt, she wondered why he wasn't at home getting ready for school, then realised it was Saturday. Normally, Helen would have resented the fact that she'd missed her lazy lie-in, but seeing as Nikki wasn't there to share it with her, she reasoned there really would have been no point to it.

The Scotswoman glanced across to see if Nikki had noticed the boy. Something in Nikki's posture indicated that the brunette had indeed seen the small trespasser, but she was doing a very good job of hiding it.

The dog wasn't giving anything away either, Helen noted, with a slight exhalation of disbelief. A raised head, and two soft, disinterested whumps of his fat tail, then he flopped back down on the floor, apparently too busy relaxing to be bothered with small boys.

The boy was on his tiptoes, and Helen laughed out loud as he crept along, then tried to scale the stone wall, which, at around five feet, was about a foot and a half taller than she was. He'd clearly climbed over the wall from the other side, or the back, dropped down, taken some apples or whatever else he might have found in the orchard, then found himself trapped.

There was a wheelbarrow in the corner the boy was heading towards. Nikki had been using it as a place to throw weeds as she dug out the borders. Helen held her breath as the boy carefully climbed in, watching how he took care not to put his weight too far forward and upset the barrow. He was now level with the top of the wall, and took advantage of that to reach up and over, scrabbling with his feet against the stones to find purchase, hoisting himself upwards until he was hanging with the top half of his body in the next door neighbour's garden. There was a precarious moment as he tried to swing a leg up to get his foot on the top of the wall; Helen thought for a second he might topple off backwards. But, with the kind of balance and luck that only small children have, he succeeded the second time he tried, kneeling on top of the wall for a beat before dropping casually off the other side.

The small drama finished, Helen automatically glanced over to gauge Nikki's reaction. The seat was swinging slightly, and the only creature in the vicinity was the lazy brown dog, so Helen grabbed her robe and made her way downstairs.

Nikki was in the utility room when Helen entered the kitchen. From the scraping sounds she could hear, Helen assumed the gardener was cleaning her muddy boots. Pouring two mugs of coffee from the machine, Helen set them carefully on the big wooden table, and waited.

Nikki mumbled her thanks as she sat down at the table and took a sip of coffee. There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Avoiding the obvious, Helen chose an uncontroversial topic as the icebreaker, keeping her tone deliberately light.

"I see we had an intruder."

Helen thought she saw the barest flicker of a smile on Nikki's face, although it was quickly overpowered by a much more sombre expression.

"Little thief," Nikki commented flatly, with no hint of malice.

"Do you think we should do something?" asked Helen.

Nikki shook her head. "I don't know who he was. But I think he learned his lesson."

Helen gave a soft chuckle as she replied, "Aye, I'd say he did."

Nikki didn't seem inclined to take the topic any further so Helen cast around for something else to say. Over the past few days, she'd praised the work in the garden to a level that was fast approaching patronising, knew the details of Nikki's work plans for the next fortnight inside out, and had probably bored her girlfriend to death outlining her own current projects at the centre. She tried to put a lid on the frustration she felt rising within her.

"Nikki…" she started, but her potentially damaging line of questioning was interrupted by a quiet knock on the front door.

Nikki looked at her expectantly, not making any effort to move.

Helen's patience suddenly snapped. "I'm not dressed," she muttered, not trusting herself beyond those three small words as she turned and headed for the staircase.

Halfway up the stairs, Helen was unable to stop her eyes from welling up with tears. She was cross with Nikki, and frustrated too, at the stubborn Londoner's apparent unwillingness to deal with her father's death and her refusal to let Helen help. More overwhelmingly, Helen was angry with herself for being so useless, and the fact she'd almost blown up at her partner when Nikki really didn't deserve that at the moment, compounded her misery tenfold.

Helen turned around on the stairs and sat down heavily, putting her head in her hands and squeezing her eyes tight shut, not wanting to give in to the tears. She was surprised to hear soft footsteps in the hall alongside her, and then the creak of the front door, followed by the soft click of it shutting behind her partner.

Chapter 5: In Silence

Olivia wasn't surprised when Alex made no move towards the 'phone, instead silently taking a seat in the armchair. She had no idea why the normally reserved attorney had turned up at her apartment in the middle of the night offering 'company', and she didn't really feel inclined to wonder; she had more important things on her mind.

When Olivia had heard the first knock on the door, she'd recognised it as being different to Elliot's. She'd thought it belonged to Justin. A hesitant, soft knock, which would be appropriate considering the last time she'd seen him he'd been running out the door, clearly unable to cope with the sight of a dead body in a box on the sidewalk in front of Olivia's building.

She hadn't felt like answering the door to him – in the aftermath of the case, the last thing she wanted to deal with was his apology for his reaction to the whole thing. It had been going fairly well with him, up to that point. Justin was a paediatric doctor; she'd met him a couple of months previously at the hospital while she was on a case. They'd dated, had fun, then progressed to spending the night together. He was tall, blond, charming, and it was all very uncomplicated and straightforward. Up until that night, he'd been very insistent that he could cope with her job and all that entailed. As his own job occasionally involved some of the darker aspects of human behaviour, Olivia had been inclined to believe him.

The night the body had turned up, though, Justin had been worse than useless – Olivia had invited him over because she hadn't wanted to be alone. After making love, he'd fallen into a deep sleep, not stirring even at the insistent buzzer indicating someone was waiting to be let in. After discovering the box and its grisly contents, Olivia had buzzed back up, but Justin had taken a good ten minutes to emerge. All she'd wanted was for him to put his arms around her, but he'd stood, transfixed by the sight of the dead man in front of him, then bolted back upstairs, dressing and leaving hastily.

He'd left a couple of messages on Olivia's voicemail, apologising profusely for his behaviour, but there was something in the tone of his voice, a kind of helplessness, which had made Olivia think he was simply out of his depth. She couldn't blame him – he was a kind, sweet man with a conventional life and she should have realised he was unequipped to deal with the reality of her job. If their relationship had been further on, she would have been angry, but it was still embryonic, really.

Just now, though, she didn't feel in a particularly forgiving mood – he'd let her down badly once and she really wasn't sure she could trust him again. She had enough on her plate without having to soothe his fears and insecurities about her job. It was often par for the course with her, and she knew, if she tried to work through it with him, there'd be the inevitable questions about what she saw and dealt with on a day to day basis, and how that affected her. She didn't mind that so much, but his reaction that night had demonstrated clearly that although Justin might make all the right noises and be a generally understanding person, he'd never really understand why she did what she did.

On the second, louder knock, she'd resigned herself to the fact that he wasn't going to go without seeing her, and so had made her way to the door with the express intention of telling him to leave it alone, for a while, at least. Automatically glancing through the peephole, she'd been amazed to see ADA Cabot. Unable to contain her curiosity, she'd opened the door and Alex had entered her apartment.

Coolly regarding the blonde in front of her, who was making no move to do anything, Olivia realised that she was, in fact, indifferent to Alex's presence there. Alex was just sitting silently, apparently feeling no need to break what could easily be interpreted as an extremely uncomfortable silence. They were both skilled at this particular strategy, Olivia knew. She herself used prolonged stretches of silent staring when interviewing suspects; more often than not, they would be unable to stand the tension and would start speaking just to break the quietness. Alex, though, was well-versed in using the very same tactic in the courtroom. Great, long pauses, for effect, to allow judges and juries time to process her points.

Olivia realised they could probably sit like this for hours, not talking. And that, in fact, she was quite happy with that. Despite only having interacted with Alex on a professional basis, she was finding the ADA's quiet presence unexpectedly soothing and unintrusive. Despite all the incredible tensions of the past few days, Olivia found herself relaxing slightly. Alex wasn't going to start questioning her about how she felt, she wasn't going to chastise her for her actions, and she didn't seem to be bothered about Olivia's irrational blow-up in her office earlier that day. Alex was just letting her be.

Olivia's knee-jerk reaction to the case had been to shut herself away from everyone, so she could work it all through in her head. What she was feeling was so complicated – a man she now believed was innocent had been put in jail and raped because of her testimony, then he had gone on to kill four more people because of her; if Huang was right, Plummer had killed them to release them from suffering caused by her. She, however well-intentioned, had created a monster.

Olivia had no idea how to deal with that. She'd long held the belief that if her work helped just one victim, or prevented just one more crime, then it was more than worth doing. But what if, perversely, her job had driven a previously good man to killing? To become the kind of person she was dedicated to putting in jail. If there she'd changed just one person like that then she was clearly doing more harm than good. It made a mockery of everything she believed in. And if she'd done that to Plummer then it didn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to realise there could be others.

And, then, she'd shot Plummer, killed him. What kind of a monster did that make her? If a man like Plummer could change from being inoffensive and law-abiding into a calculating killer, then it was perfectly possible that he could have changed back again, given the right treatment and guidance. But she'd not even given him that opportunity. He'd told her there had been no bullets in his gun as he'd held it at the temple of the terrified woman, but Olivia had shot him anyway. She hadn't cared – bullets or no bullets. She just wanted him gone.

She'd made him, and couldn't bear to be responsible for that, so she took responsibility for his demise, telling herself at the time it was better a killer be off the streets for good. But, in her indecision when her hand faltered, her overriding emotion had been one of self-loathing, that she could have set all of this in motion. She could hardly stand to look at him. And she'd hated him.

The words that had come out of her mouth had been ones of understanding, of a promise to testify as to his solid character at any hearing, to take the blame for his actions upon herself. If he'd dropped the gun, she would have kept her vow, she'd told herself. But really, she was just itching for an excuse to shoot him. So he'd be gone. She had barely been able to look at him, this excuse for a man she'd had more than a hand in creating.

So she'd focused on the sounds of the sobbing woman who was in the room with them, hearing and empathising with her terror, locking herself into the familiar frame of mind she needed to convince herself the woman was about to be killed and she alone had the power to stop that. And all the time her eyes trained on Plummer. But he saw the fear there; she knew that, and she also knew he hadn't expected her to shoot him. He'd been calm, taunting her when she'd asserted he shouldn't doubt she would fire her gun.

"I'm counting on it, Detective Benson."

That had tipped her over the edge. A moment of understanding had passed between them; he'd pushed her to the point where she could kill even when she was unsure it was justified; Plummer had the power to do that to her, just as she'd done to him. And, in that moment, Olivia could see that he recognised she understood, and it didn't matter any more to him whether she killed him or not. His job was done. It was up to her.

She had believed him when he said he had no bullets, but she'd gone ahead and done it anyway. Because she could and she wanted to; she knew she could justify it easily – that she thought he was going to shoot, that he'd killed before, that he'd threatened her. She could say anything she liked and they would have to, want to, believe her. But she'd always know that, for that split second, she'd become what Plummer was – a heartless killer.

And the core of her was glad he was gone. She could hardly bear to admit it to herself, but there it was.

She was unable to stop herself from wandering into the territory of her background, as she commonly did in many of her cases. She often felt herself keeping a cap on her temper when she was confronted with suspects, holding back the rage, forcing herself to work within the constraints of the legal system productively to get justice for the victims. Most of the time she was successful, and she knew it made her an extremely effective cop when she channelled her anger single-mindedly into her job.

But occasionally when the wrong buttons were pressed it all bubbled over, and she found herself unable to contain herself. Often, she told herself it was a righteous vengeance, but when you got down to it, it was more irrepressible and instinctual than that – a loss of reason and an inability to do anything other than act on her immediate feelings.

That was what had happened with Plummer; she'd lost control, and had relied instead on gut feeling and animal instinct. Sitting there, like the elephant in the room, was that overriding feeling that she'd inherited that tendency to rush into dangerous, destructive action from her father. That she could kill just because she wanted to – in an instant, she could do it because she felt like it. Like her father, like Plummer, like a thousand perpetrators. Her badge was her shield of legitimacy, but, when you got down to it, she was no better than any of them.

Olivia could barely sort through all this in her own head; there was no way she could even begin to explain it, or admit what she was feeling to anyone else. And she was immeasurably grateful that Alex wasn't pressing her to do that. Plus, it was nice just to have someone with her, so she wasn't alone, although she'd never admit that to anyone, either. Feeling a small rush of gratitude towards the blonde woman for just being there, she found herself uttering,

"Would you like something to drink?"

Chapter 6: Icebreaker

After she had taken a long hot shower, Helen felt much better; stronger and calmer. She had managed to cast off her impatience under the warm water, and could feel herself sliding back into the quiet, patient frame of mind she'd managed to maintain so successfully up until this morning.

As she descended the stairs, Helen was intrigued to hear voices coming from the kitchen. She immediately identified Nikki's, and was hugely surprised and relieved that her partner seemed to be happily chatting to whoever it was. As she entered the kitchen, she raised a questioning eyebrow at Nikki, who was sitting at the table with the little blond apple-thief. He was munching on some kind of sandwich with his back to Helen.

Nikki supplied an explanation.

"Helen, meet Joshua. His dad sent him over to return the apples."

"Oh," replied Helen, not wanting to get into the adult whys and hows in front of the little boy.

"Joshua lives next door and is five," Nikki announced, as if this was incredibly important information.

"Six," came the indignant muffled response.

Helen relaxed. Whatever spell this boy had cast had worked, as this was much more like the old Nikki. Taking a seat at the table, she waited until the lad had finished his mouthful before greeting him.

"Hi, Joshua. Pleased to meet you."

Joshua nodded. In a polite tone that hinted at much coaching, he responded, "Hello, Mrs Wade," before taking another bite of what Helen had now identified as tomatoes on toast.

Helen glanced at Nikki, who seemed as confused as she was.

With a careful smile, Helen stated, "You can call me Helen."

"Or Miss Stewart," Nikki added helpfully.

"Okay," Joshua shrugged his shoulders in indifference before continuing. "Thought you were married," he muttered, shooting a vaguely accusing glance at Nikki.

Taken aback, Nikki joined the conversation properly.

"Who told you that?" she asked, intensely curious.

"My dad said you were sorta like a mummy and daddy, but because you are two ladies that makes you a mummy and mummy. Mummy and daddies get married. I thought it was the same."

Absolutely not wanting to get into the intricacies of gay marriage, Nikki settled on a general question.

"Your dad was talking to you about us?"

She was interested to know how this conversation had come about, and what exactly had been said.

Joshua nodded. "I saw you on that swing thing and I asked my dad about it."

Nikki, choking back a smirk, chanced a glance at Helen, who had instantly gone bright red. That 'swing thing,' which Nikki had recently dragged from the orchard to the front of the house to take full advantage of the sunny summer mornings, had been much used during their time in the house so far. On the majority of occasions, they'd simply sat and chatted, now and again sharing a cuddle.

However, on one particularly memorable night, Nikki had decided to surprise her lover, and had prepared herself beforehand. To her delight, she'd discovered that a length of silicone, combined with a particular angle and gentle continuous rock of the swingseat, produced gloriously long and loud orgasms from Helen. It was an event Nikki had definitely planned to repeat, but judging by the mortified look on her partner's face, there was now no chance of that.

Swallowing hard, Nikki forced herself to ask, "When did you see us on the swingseat?"

Joshua paused, obviously thinking hard about this. Nikki braced herself for the answer.

"Don't know, 'xactly. It was the last day of term, and I was out playing before tea." He looked uncertainly at Nikki, wondering about all these questions.

"Did I do something wrong? Dad said I shouldn't have been spying. But it was only kissing. It's on TV all the time. Just…not ladies."

Helen wondered how Joshua's dad had reacted to that particular enquiry, and silently made a note to herself to introduce herself to the man and congratulate him on a situation well handled.

Relaxing when she realised that the little boy hadn't seen anything untoward, and hearing the nervous tone in Joshua's voice, Nikki was quick to reassure.

"No. You didn't do anything wrong. Your dad probably just didn't want you get into trouble."

Joshua, apparently pacified by this, made no comment and took the last bite of his sandwich.

"Finished?" enquired Nikki needlessly.

Nodding, Joshua slid down from the table. Then remembering his manners, stated politely, "Thank you very much."

"You're welcome," answered Nikki, getting up to see the small boy out.

"Bye, then, Joshua," smiled Helen.

"Bye…" Joshua contemplated her for a second, obviously struggling with something. "…Miss Helen," he finished uncertainly, before following Nikki down the hallway.

Helen watched as Nikki handed Joshua a couple of carrier bags filled with what she assumed was produce from the garden.

When Nikki returned to sit at the table, Helen gave her a warm smile. "Miss Helen. I think I like that."

"Makes you sound like a Southern Belle or something," Nikki commented quietly.

"So, you have a new friend?"

Helen kept the tone light and general. She wondered if Nikki's abrupt change in demeanour meant her partner was ready to talk, but knew Nikki would get around to it in her own time.

"Yeah. He's a sweet kid. His dad gave him hell for stealing, then sent him round to apologise. He looked so miserable about it all, so I ended up giving him a ton of stuff from the orchard and told him to just ask if he wanted anything else."

"Sucker," teased Helen lightly.

Nikki shrugged. "They live alone, you know. His mum died a couple of years ago. I had a word with Darren, his dad, at their gate, about the breakfast, and I have a sneaking suspicion he might like it if Joshua had some adult female influence in his life."

Helen nodded thoughtfully. "Poor kid," she said quietly, then added, "It's about time we made friends with the neighbours anyway, and Joshua's dad seems to be one of the good guys."

"I got that impression," agreed Nikki. They'd both had a slight worry that it might be difficult for them to integrate into village life as a gay couple. However, if Joshua and his dad were anything to go by, that wasn't going to be an issue at all.

There was that awkward silence again, and Helen broke it quickly, eager to prolong Nikki's chattiness.

"So, what did you give them? Apart from apples, presumably."

"Uh, bit of everything. Apples, plums, and a few tomatoes. Should be better next year. I'll have time to plant properly. Really expand his eating habits."

Helen was momentarily thrown by the seemingly cryptic comment. "Huh?"

"Tomatoes. Kid said he hated them."

Recalling what Joshua had been eating less than ten minutes ago, Helen couldn't help asking.

"So you just put them on toast and he ate them? I would have thought that kids hated cooked tomatoes even more than raw ones."

Nikki gave a little grin at Helen's raised eyebrow. "I put sugar on them."

Helen grimaced. "That's disgusting."

"You should try it," Nikki shot back. "They're a fruit after all. It just makes them sweeter. Joshua seemed to like it, anyway."

"I'll pass, thanks," Helen assured quickly. Then, curious, she asked, "How did you know about that?"

Nikki shrugged. "Not sure. I think I must've had it when I was little or something. I haven't thought about tomatoes and sugar for years…"

As she trailed off, Helen wondered if this was a sore point for Nikki. She stayed silent, willing Nikki to continue, for once not minding the silence that stretched between them.


The voice was small, uncertain. Helen leaned forward, elbows on table, sliding her palms around an empty glass, a response that was meant to reassure and encourage.

"Do you believe in coincidences?"

Helen watched as her partner nervously fiddled with the edge of a teatowel. She wasn't sure about coincidences, but it was clear that a positive answer would facilitate more discussion, so she responded slowly and carefully.

"I think that there are patterns in life, and that at times when emotional events occur, or we're particularly stressed, then those patterns become more clear to us."

Nikki nodded, and continued to worry away at a loose thread, pulling ever so gently. Helen watched as the yellow border began to slowly unravel.

The thread broke free when it worked its way to the corner of the towel. Carefully placing the material on the table in front of her, Nikki smoothed the teatowel flat before speaking again.

Part 7

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