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.
A/N: Bits and pieces about Jefferies scrounged from here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/16th_precinct/
CROSSOVER: Bad Girls/Law & Order: SVU - Nikki/Helen   Alex/Olivia.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Unrequited Blood
By Stone Angel

Chapter 13: Building Bridges

Olivia knocked on the door to Alex's office. Hearing no answer, she briefly turned the handle to check it was locked, and was surprised when the door gave. Quietly calling "Hello," but getting no response, she poked her head round the door gingerly. Alex was leaning forward, arms folded on the desk, cradling her head. The blonde appeared to be sleeping.

Slipping in, Olivia closed the door quietly behind her. On the soft snick, Alex began to stir. As she lifted her head, she mumbled "Cabot," automatically.

Sliding into the seat, Olivia smiled her first, tiny, genuine smile of the day, as she caught a fleeting glimpse of an unguarded Alex Cabot. The blonde's normally perfect hair was just a little ruffled to the right of the temple where she'd been leaning on it, and there was a brief look of innocent confusion in the blue eyes as they cast around for a second while the attorney got her bearings.

"Hey, Cabot," Olivia answered softly.

Blinking the tiredness away, Alex gave a brief, self-conscious grin in return.

"Hey. Sorry - must've dozed off for a few minutes."

Giving the other woman a chance to compose properly herself before launching in with her apology, Olivia simply studied her, noting, somewhat guiltily, that Alex looked exhausted.

"So what can I do for you, Detective?"

Olivia took a deep breath and just got on with it.

"Uh, I just came over to say I'm sorry. For earlier. In the squadroom. I was out of line."

Waving it off with one hand as she smoothed out her hair with the other, Alex answered, "It's forgotten. Don't worry. I know you haven't had the easiest time recently," she paused, clearly working out how to phrase the next part of what she was going to say,

"I just thought you might be bored, stuck in the squadroom."

Olivia gave a wry half-grin. "Bored? Yes. Also more than a little irritated with my partner, as I'm sure you noticed. I suspect you also had an ulterior motive for asking me, though."

Alex stared at her. Olivia could see some sort of conflict going on behind the cool gaze. After it became evident that Alex was not going to answer, and feeling grateful that Alex had apparently accepted her apology so easily, Olivia filled in the gap.

"Alex, I know that at least part of the reason you came down to the bullpen today was…well, not to check up on me, exactly, but it was fairly clear in our phone conversation yesterday that you were concerned about my ability to cope with the job so soon after the...case."

Alex opened her mouth to interrupt, but Olivia held up her palm, continuing, "And I know that you are probably going to deny that right now, but let me finish."

The detective paused, taking another deep breath.

"The truth is, you may have been right."

Surprised at this admission, all Alex could manage to utter was, "Oh," but her response didn't deter Olivia, who had arrived with the intention to give the woman as full an explanation as she could manage.

"Listen, Alex, I don't want to get into the details right now, but I know you're aware I'm working through some…issues at the moment. And it's true, I may have come back to work a little soon, but I needed to just get right back into it, you understand?"

Alex nodded mutely, although Olivia wasn't convinced she did, in fact, understand.

"I have a fairly strong idea that you've picked up on my…uncertainty about the job, so I think you came down today to offer some sort of support, or escape for me."

Alex continued to gaze at her in surprise, although she was neither confirming nor denying anything, Olivia noted. She supposed it was to do with her earlier, uncalled-for, 'babysitting' comment to Elliot. She needed to fix that, but sensitively.

"Anyway, I just wanted you to know…although I don't need looking after, you've been concerned, and around, and I appreciate that, especially the other night at my apartment. You've been careful not to push; you haven't tried to get me to talk about Plummer, nor tried to put me off in the way I've handled it. And, well, I appreciate that too. So I know that you inviting me to lunch wasn't meant to be an exercise in watching out for me. Or any kind of conspiracy between you and Elliot. It's just, well, it was a bad moment, and I have a tendency to fly off the handle sometimes; my mouth runs away with me and I say things I regret and…"

This time, it was Alex who held up her hand, unable to take any more of the apologising or explaining or searching for the right words that was so out of character for the usually relaxed and eloquent detective. Olivia was tying herself in knots.

"Olivia, stop, please. I get it. It's fine. Honestly. You're right. I was worried about you, especially after the other night. But, seeing as honesty seems to be the order of the day, I should probably admit I had an ulterior motive in asking you," she paused, "I mean, another ulterior motive."

Olivia regarded the blonde warily. Alex seemed almost nervous.

"Oh?" She asked, her tone carefully neutral.

"I know you've had a horrendous time lately, so I don't want you to think it's because of that, but over these past couple of days, it's dawned on me how little I actually know about you. And that's okay, I guess, in terms of us working together. But I'll admit, I had no idea how to handle the situation we found ourselves in when I came over to your apartment. Honestly? I felt useless."

"Alex, you weren't…"

"No. My turn now," the attorney butted in hastily, eager to explain now she'd started.

"And one of the reasons I came to ask you for lunch was because I thought it might be an opportunity to get to know you better. As friends, that is. And I think I regret that a little now, as it's probably the worst possible time for you. Apart from everything else you're dealing with at the moment, I don't want it to be a case of you thinking I'm only offering out of pity – a 'you could do with a friend right now' kind of thing."

Whatever Olivia had been expecting, it wasn't that. She quickly ran through it in her mind. Alex had been quietly dependable throughout the past few days, and had demonstrated a caring side that had touched Olivia. Most importantly, though, she thought to herself, Alex hadn't seemed particularly bothered about discussing anything to do with the case. She saw a small glimmer of hope there; that, although they did work together, maybe there was a chance of a friendship outside all of that. Her mind made up, she responded,

"Actually, I think it's a pretty good time."

Olivia didn't know how to put the rest into words, or if she even wanted to – that she could, in fact do with a friend right now, so she left it at that.

Alex smiled, evidently satisfied with that. "Good, then."

Olivia caught a note of relief in the other woman's voice, and found herself smiling back and nodding. She felt, for the first time in a week or so, properly positive about something. Spurred on by this, she asked,

"So did you have lunch yet?"

"No, but I have court in…" Alex looked at the clock, "…twenty minutes."

She sounded almost disappointed, Olivia thought.

As she deposited a brown paper bag on the attorney's desk, she explained,

"It was a peace offering…for earlier…just coffee and a salad…thing…on rye," she said uncertainly, at Alex's surprised look. Then, before the embarrassment could get a hold of her, she mumbled quickly, "Raincheck?" as she got up to leave.

Alex shot her a smile.

"Definitely. And thanks for this," she said, glancing at the bag before continuing, "Lunch tomorrow, then?"

Olivia turned to face her, and deadpanned.

"Yeah. I'll probably be bored. Or something."

Alex couldn't help giving a small chuckle on hearing the understated amusement in Olivia's voice.

Chapter 14: Back to Business

Twenty minutes later, Helen was contentedly settled against Nikki in the bath, thoroughly enjoying the sensation of a warm body against her back and the water running over her skin as Nikki scooped up small handfuls of water, letting it slowly trickle over her shoulders.

Completely relaxed, she suddenly remembered the message from earlier that she'd not yet passed on.

"Hey, you had a phone call this morning."

Nikki took a moment to answer, having been completely entranced by the small rivers of water running over gently tanned skin, leaving glistening droplets in their wake.

"Hmm?" She commented absentmindedly, reaching for the soap and smoothly lathering up the skin in front of her.

"While you were in the garden, a man called…God, that feels good…"

Helen groaned softly in appreciation as Nikki began a firm massage at the base of her neck, working strong hands gradually along slippery shoulders, kneading gently.

Smiling at Helen's reaction, Nikki asked, "Who?" while proceeding to work her thumbs in small circles just above Helen's shoulder blades, feeling her partner relax and surrender completely to her ministrations.

"American guy. Said his name was James…no John…uhhhh….Munch. Detective…John…Munch. Mmhhh. Just there. Little harder please, sweetheart," Helen asked lazily, as Nikki found a particularly sweet spot at the base of her neck.

Nikki obliged, while processing the information.

"What would an American detective want with me? You don't think…?" She trailed off.

Helen, catching the slight tone of unease in Nikki's voice, and knowing where her thoughts were going, was quick to reassure.

"No, I don't think it's anything to do with your father. We would have been contacted officially, and I got the distinct impression it was something unofficial. Anyway, no talking about that, I thought."

Nikki hesitated for a second, then slid her fingers over Helen's shoulders, pressing gently into the soft area just above the collarbones, knowing this was an area that was particularly sensitive for Helen.

As Helen sighed contentedly, Nikki asked, "Did he say what he wanted?"

Helen shook her head. "Just that it was a personal matter and that you should call him back. I'm assuming you don't know him?"

Nikki thought. "No. Don't think so."

She paused to slide her hands to the sides to rub slowly up and down Helen's upper arms, a move which caused her fingers to brush against the sides of Helen's breasts, eliciting a shiver from her partner.

"What was his name again?" Nikki asked casually, mildly surprised but not questioning when Helen reached up and grasped her hands, pulling Nikki's arms tight around her shoulders to encompass herself in a tight embrace.

"Munch. John Munch," Helen confirmed, settling back once again as Nikki kissed the back of her neck with careful tenderness, holding her close.

"Sounds familiar," Nikki mused, not quite able to place where she'd come across the name before, but fairly certain that she had.

"Munch, Munch, Munch."

Helen laughed softly at her partner's odd mantra.

"Hungry, sweetheart?"

Helen felt the corresponding vibration in her back as Nikki gave a soft snort of laughter in response.

Never one to let a blatant opportunity slip, Nikki began playfully nibbling the side of Helen's neck.

"Not what I meant," Helen chastised gently, but allowing Nikki to continue nevertheless. She wasn't completely sure why she was on the receiving end of such focused, sweet attention tonight, especially when she'd envisaged it would be herself providing the comfort, but Nikki seemed to be getting immense satisfaction and enjoyment from what she was doing, and Helen wasn't about to complain.

"Sure I know that name…" Nikki paused for a second to consider. "Want me to wash your hair?" She added, almost as an afterthought.

Helen adored the feeling of Nikki's strong sensitive fingers sliding against her scalp. But it was a long, sensuous process, the water was already starting to cool off, and she'd realised she was, in fact, hungry.

"Thanks sweetheart, but no," she said regretfully. "Can't be dealing with wet hair this close to bedtime," she added, "Speaking of which…"

"I should just phone him back," Nikki confirmed to herself as much as to Helen.

Taking this as assent, Helen moved to get up and out of the bath, startled to feel herself being grabbed round the waist as Nikki held her firmly in place.

"Where're you going?"

Nikki sounded genuinely surprised at Helen's move, and there was a touch of plaintiveness to her question that made Helen's heart melt a little.

"Nowhere, evidently," Helen commented, with a note of dry humour.

"Good," stated Nikki, relaxing her arms slightly, unable to stop her wandering hands from caressing Helen's stomach.

Allowing herself to enjoy the sensation for a second before bringing her mind back to what they'd been talking about, Helen resumed her previous comfy position reclining between Nikki's legs.

"You could always look him up. Y'know, if he's a detective he's bound to crop up in a newspaper story or two, or something else official. Do a net search."

Once again, she felt Nikki chuckling underneath her.


She was answered, unexpectedly, with a loud smacking kiss on the cheek.

"That's it! I thought he was sending me porn."

Nikki sounded delighted, and Helen couldn't help grinning as Nikki enthusiastically bestowed her with another sloppy kiss, cheekily squeezing her breasts at the same time.

"Hey!" laughed Helen, playfully slapping at Nikki's hands, "Porn?"

Nikki obediently allowed Helen to push her hands down, then proceeded to lazily rub Helen's ribs, using her fingernails to gently scratch a path up and down.

"Emails," Nikki murmured, as she felt Helen squirm slightly against the tickling sensation, filing that away for future reference as she reflected on the fact that there was always something new to learn about her lover's preferences and responses.

"A week or so ago I got three or four emails."

She casually inched her hands back upwards, until she was softly scratching the underside of Helen's gloriously full breasts.

Despite her earlier protestations, Helen moaned quietly. She absolutely adored this playful side of Nikki. They often played this game, Nikki insistently trying to touch her, while she deflected the advances just a little bit too much. She privately wondered if it was their way of dealing with the start of their relationship, which had been pretty much that – Nikki trying to get her attention and affection, and she using all sorts of diversionary tactics. The difference was that then, she had eventually given in. With this physical, usually tender but sometimes more boisterous, teasing, she especially loved the fact that while it often led to sex, sometimes it didn't, and Nikki seemed equally happy with either outcome.

As Nikki continued, cupping her breasts and moving her thumbs in small circles against the sides, Helen thought, as she often did, of how different Nikki was to previous lovers she'd had. As she and Nikki had settled in each other's space, learned about each other's likes and dislikes, both in bed and out of it, she'd discovered that Nikki enjoyed this kind of intimate contact immensely, just for the sake of it. There were no expectations, and no particular pressure that it should lead to anything else. Of course, once Nikki got her fired up like this, she noted with a sharp intake of breath, as thumbs brushed over rock-hard nipples, she was usually more than happy to take things further. But Helen had discovered that there were no recriminations, and no sense of hurt pride or frustration if she didn't.

Helen lazily rolled her head to one side to grant Nikki unlimited access to her neck, which Nikki immediately took advantage of. She felt Nikki smile against her skin, in between butterfly kisses, as she once again took hold of those wandering hands.

It was strange, she thought to herself, how, in the past, with others, sex had always been a completely serious business. Nikki definitely had that side to her though. In fact, when they had first slept together on the night Nikki had escaped, and immediately after her release from prison, it had been almost desperately so. Helen had frequently found herself overwhelmed by the passion and intensity that Nikki had poured into their lovemaking, sometimes moving Helen to the point of tears with her fierce determination to convince Helen of her depth of feelings.

As they'd grown familiar with each other, Helen had discovered, in between these bouts of intense emotional and physical connection, that sex could be fun. Initially borne of Helen's apprehension of making love with another woman, she supposed, Nikki had simply encouraged her to relax and they'd just explored each other. And Helen had let herself gradually be coaxed into taking a more dominant role in their lovemaking through these sessions.

Which was why, she mused, she was so completely at ease and trusting now. She knew that, if she wanted, she could turn this bathing together into something much more heated and erotic, or continue to play along, and that might lead to something or it might not. And Nikki would be happy either way.

Overcome with a sudden urge to ask her lover why this was, Helen gently turned around, unable to suppress a smile as two large hands immediately slid their way down her back to gently rub her buttocks. Helen also noted, with some satisfaction, that Nikki's eyes were closed, and there was an extremely contented smile on her face.

Leaning down to plant a loving kiss on the inviting lips, Helen shifted slightly to get more comfortable, unsurprised to feel one of Nikki's thigh's slide neatly up between her own.

As the lazy brown eyes opened slowly, Helen simply smiled at Nikki, who looked back at her questioningly.

"Enjoying yourself?" Helen enquired quietly, thoroughly appreciating the slow caresses as Nikki's hands slid over her hips, and the gentle thrusts Nikki's lower body was making against her own.

"Mmm hmm," came the liquid reply. "Every second."

Still smiling, Helen asked, "How do you do that?"

Mirroring her expression, though genuinely lost as to what Helen could be referring to, Nikki simply offered, "What?"

Kissing her tenderly once more, Helen spoke slowly, "When we're here, like this, how come there's no pressure?"

Nikki shrugged slightly. "Because there's not?"

Not content to let it go at that, Helen continued, "It's very obvious you're turned on…"

She paused with a wry grin as Nikki once again thrust her hips gently upwards, apparently unaware of what she was doing.

"…But I know, if I don't want, it doesn't have to go any further. How do you do that?"

Nikki chuckled indulgently. "God, Helen. Just relax, enjoy. You always have to dissect everything."

There was an undertone of humour in her voice indicating that this was not a criticism.

Helen shrugged, then shivered. "We should get out, it's getting cold."

"I know."

"Then why…?"

"Because we could have buckets of ice dumped on us just now and I wouldn't care less."

Helen looked at her in wonder.

"You really wouldn't, would you?"

Helen moved to get out once again, but Nikki had a tight grip around her waist and a big grin on her face.

Recognising that what had begun to be a more serious moment had been deftly switched back by playful mode by Nikki, Helen kissed her firmly on the lips, grinning back at her.

"You," Helen announced, punctuating the point with another quick peck. "Are impossible." Another brief kiss. "It's cold." Kiss. "There's water on the floor." Kiss. "And this bath." Kiss. "Is far too small." Kiss. "And impractical." Kiss. "For what you have in mind."

At this declaration, Nikki burst into delighted laughter.

"Oh, Helen," she chuckled, "If there's one thing you can't stand it's impractical."

Helen wasn't sure whether to be insulted by this or not. It was probably true, though she'd not want to admit it. Deciding that the safest option was mock-offence, she mumbled, "Nothing wrong with that."

Nikki shook her head. "No," she admitted softly, "Nothing at all."

Touched by this honest admission, and the love and admiration she felt coming from Nikki at that moment, Helen leaned in and kissed her again, deeply, this time trying to communicate without words everything she felt at that moment. She was surprised and pleased when Nikki accepted the kiss with gentle passiveness, responding with such tenderness and emotion that Helen thought she might cry. When they parted, she was touched to see the brown eyes were shining with tears.

"Hey," Helen whispered, "I love you, Ms. Impractical. But it's time to get out."

This time, Nikki acquiesced. Once out of the bath, Helen handed her lover a towel and began to dry herself off, only to be stopped by soft hands on hers.

Chapter 15: Caught Off-guard

Returning from her morning session in court, Alex checked her voicemail. There were just the usual shower of work-related messages – questions about arraignments, requests for signatures, confirmations of trial dates and meetings – nothing, in fact, that Ross hadn't already eagerly briefed her on, as she'd passed by his small office. And nothing, she noted with slight disappointment, from Olivia on their lunch date.

As she replaced the phone in its receiver with a small sigh, she realised that she'd been looking forward to this lunch more than she'd dared to admit to herself. Alex had never denied that the dark-haired detective was physically attractive, but, right from when she'd arrived at the SVU, she'd been aware that almost everyone in the precinct shared that opinion of Olivia Benson, whether they cared to voice it or not. So she'd just dismissed it as a universal thing.

But over the past few days, Olivia had shown an innate charm and honesty that was incredibly appealing to Alex, especially since the detective had been struggling with things that were beyond what any normal person would be able to cope with. But during all this, Alex had seen a side of Olivia that she thought, bar some victims and maybe Elliot, few were privy to.

Alex knew, from painful experience, how those little, barely-noticed sparks of casual attraction could flare into uncontrollable blazes without a person even noticing. She needed to put water on this, and quickly.

She held firmly onto the knowledge that now was quite possibly the worst time to be having these feelings. She was determined to be a friend to Olivia Benson, and nothing more than that. Given that Olivia was dealing with crushing issues at the moment, and the fact that Alex had no solid evidence as to the detective's sexual preferences anyway, she determinedly pushed the completely inappropriate thoughts out of her head.

She cursed inwardly as she realised that her feelings about this lunch had changed from eager anticipation to mild trepidation. Shooting an angry glare at the phone for initiating that dangerous, unrealistic, and more than likely, disappointing train of thought, she jumped in surprise when it rang in response.

Snatching it up in a panic, she didn't give herself the moment she needed to compose herself, and blurted out, "Olivia?"

Damn, Cabot, she thought to herself as there was a heavy silence on the line. She braced herself for the reply. She just knew it was going to be one of her fellow ADAs or, God forbid, a judge. Hopelessly, she prayed it was Ross.

"Uh…yeah? Alex?"

Alex's momentary flash of relief was quickly replaced by dismay. On balance, the fact that Olivia herself was calling and had heard that was equally bad, if not worse, than almost anyone she could think of.

But Alexandra Cabot was not often a woman to be caught on the back foot. On the odd occasion that it did happen, she had a formidable arsenal of tactics at her disposal. Quickly deciding that feigning complete ignorance of what she had just done, leading, hopefully, to confusion, then dismissal on the part of the detective, was the best way to go, she put on her best casually-confident voice, and spoke.

"Hi, Olivia. If you're still okay for lunch, I'm just about ready. You want to meet me here or should I come to the squadroom?"

Alex didn't have any business over there at that moment, but she felt the tiniest bit guilty for the trick she was attempting to pull.

There was a pause, then a hesitant, mildly confused, "Ummmm…how about we meet on the steps of the Precinct in, uh, ten minutes?"

Alex smiled in genuine relief. The detective seemed to have unwittingly played into her plan; either that or she was politely choosing to ignore it.

"Sounds good. See you in ten."

If Olivia was surprised at Alex's choice of venue, she didn't let on. It was a smallish café, with a modest interior and an unfussy, basic menu. Alex had chosen it for three reasons. Firstly, she suspected Olivia might feel more comfortable in a place without pretension; secondly, she wanted to keep things casual; and finally, most importantly to her at the moment, she herself dined there often, felt at ease there, and she needed to put herself in a place where she had a fighting chance of relaxing enough to engage the other woman in decent conversation.

It wasn't working, though, she noted ruefully. They'd ordered, were eating, but, apart from bland conversation about the food and the weather, the two of them were circling each other uneasily. It was blatant, it seemed to Alex, that they were avoiding talking about work, the Plummer case, or anything remotely personal. Of course, her own nerves also stemmed from her earlier revelation in the office about her feelings towards Detective Benson.

After a long silence, Olivia spoke. It was, Alex reflected, probably borne of the detective's need to talk about something, as she noted the other woman's carefully patient tone.

"So, go on then."

Alex, although glad that Olivia had made an attempt at opening up a conversation, was confused. All sorts of wild thoughts flew through her head, most of which were clamped down on quickly. Cautiously, she replied, "Go on what?"

Olivia visibly relaxed.

"Get to know me better. I thought that was the point of this lunch. Alex, you've been like a…" she stopped for a second, giving a small grin to herself, obviously thinking better of whatever she was about to say. "I don't bite, you know."

Alex was cursing inwardly. Those words about wanting to get to know Olivia better had come out of her mouth like an exceptionally bad pick up line, and she'd been cringing about them ever since.

"Alex, can I just clear something up?"

Alex managed a small nod.

"There's a certain amount of…nervousness coming from you at the moment. And I'm thinking it's to do with the case."

Alex just stared at her, not at all placated by this, and not willing to cheat by agreeing with Olivia and taking the easy escape that was being offered, either.

"And, while I don't want to spend hours rehashing it all right now, if there's anything you want to ask, if there's something specifically bothering you, then I wish you just would. You know, everyone's been tiptoeing round me, afraid to talk to me. At least, till now, you had a reason – you didn't know me that well. But … if we're going to be friends, then we need to get this, whatever it is, out of the way. Because there's no way I'm sitting through the rest of this lunch with this…" she waved her hand between the two of them, "…atmosphere."

Alex swallowed hard. Then she told a white lie – the first thing that popped into her head.

"I was feeling a bit awkward because of the conversation we had in my office about you being drunk in Chauncey's that night when..."

Olivia interrupted her with a shake of the head. Mercifully, Alex thought.

"Forgotten. Alex, you were probably justified, anyway. And I was frustrated because the law wasn't moving fast enough for me. I think we both share equal blame for how that particular confrontation went, and I'll gladly take responsibility for initiating it."

Alex nodded. "Okay," she agreed in a small voice.

"Anything else?"



Olivia flashed her a smile that elated and terrified her all at the same time, before speaking again,

"Okay. So, uh…what do you like to do outside of work?"

The question was lame, Alex recognised, but she knew that Olivia had to be aware of that too. At least one of them was making a proper attempt at normal conversation. She decided to give it a go herself.

"I run, every day, actually, read a little when I have time. And the usual stuff, you know, cinema, restaurants. What about you?"

Olivia looked amused as she answered, "Oh, I climb, I run too. All the 'usual stuff', like you say."

Alex was curious about Olivia's expression. "What's so funny?" She asked, wondering if the other woman was making fun of her.

"Ah, I don't know. It just struck me that this whole scenario is like a particularly bad blind date. Long, embarrassing silences, pointless small talk about the food and hobbies, staying away from contentious topics because you don't want to make a bad impression."

Alex put a lid on the tiny frisson of panic that ran down her spine. Quickly composing herself, she asked,

"Have you been on many? Bad blind dates, that is?"

She was ridiculously proud of herself at finally managing to say something appropriate to the whole situation; something genuinely conversational.

Olivia shot her a disbelieving look, but went along with it anyway.

"In my line of work? With my naturally suspicious and untrusting nature?"

She said this so self-deprecatingly, Alex knew the detective was gently teasing her.

As if to confirm, Olivia continued, "No. Not one. Not ever. My best friend at the academy tried to set me up one time, but I got the name out of her, and did my own research beforehand."

Alex felt the beginnings of a smile. That was so typically Olivia.

"That was the closest I got to any kind of blind date," the brunette stated, "And it was a disaster, anyway. Just…like this, actually, but worse. Much, much worse. He ended up trying to put a move on me, and ended up with a black eye."

She smirked at Alex's shocked look, before clarifying, "It was an accident, my elbow… he sort of lunged at me from behind. Poor guy was wearing glasses."

Olivia winced dramatically.

"I'm not sure which one of us was the most surprised. He seemed quite nice, despite his complete lack of social skills. And I ended up with a reputation."

Alex couldn't help laughing at this – it was a combination of the mental image she had of Olivia thumping some hapless guy, and the completely deadpan tone in which the story was delivered. It was just…comical. She felt, suddenly, somehow, better. More relaxed.

"Isn't there some law against hitting people with glasses?" She asked, relieved as, at long last, the words came naturally.

"Ah, so that's why you wear them. Nothing to do with looking serious, or intimidating in court?" Olivia shot back.

Alex pretended to be affronted. "Hey!" She protested, enjoying the unexpected easy banter.

Olivia grinned at her. "Better," she said. "Now, do I have to tell you more embarrassing stories from my past, or have you loosened up a little now?"

Alex smiled a little self-consciously.

"Oh, I think I've got over myself," she admitted, adding, "Not that I'm averse to your embarrassing stories, just for the record."

Before Olivia could come back with another smart remark, they were interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone.

Chapter 16: Explanations and Overthinking

Once out of the bath, Helen handed her lover a towel and began to dry herself off, only to be stopped by soft hands on hers.

"Please. Let me."

Curious, Helen allowed Nikki to take the towel, and begin to gently rub across her shoulders and down her back. She almost missed the soft statement.

"This is how."

Turning her around so they were face to face, Nikki began to dry Helen's front, continuing quietly,

"No pressure, see?"

Realising that Nikki was trying to answer her earlier question with a physical demonstration while she searched for the words, much as she had in the potting shed when Helen had first become properly aware of Nikki's feelings towards her, Helen remained quiet, knowing that Nikki would find the right way of expressing what she had to say.

"It's just…you're so beautiful. And being here with you like this. I just have to touch you. I can't help it. And I love making love with you. All of it. All of the kissing and the touching. From the very start. All of it and any of it. Didn't you know that?"

Nikki was kneeling now, slowly working her way down one of Helen's calves with the towel. She paused and looked up at Helen to see if she was understanding. She gave a small smile to herself as she saw Helen was blushing slightly, but she wasn't sure, so she continued,

"It's enough. Whatever we do, it's enough. If it's holding hands, or cuddling up, or kissing, or sex. You're always enough. That's why there's no pressure. Because there isn't."

Helen smiled, getting the point, although saying nothing as it was evident Nikki hadn't finished.

"When we started out," Nikki continued slowly, choosing her words carefully, "We fitted. I knew it right from that day I first kissed you in my cell, before that even, and then, when I escaped."

Helen allowed herself a small smile at the thought of that incredible night.

"But you were hesitant, Helen. And scared, and I expected that. Loved that about you. And I loved the way you touched me. Touch me. So much. No-one's ever touched me like that."

Helen looked down at her partner, who was now engaged in carefully drying a foot. She reached down and raked a hand through the dark hair affectionately, feeling no small sense of relief at these words. Although she'd never asked outright, she'd always wondered how she measured up to Nikki's previous lovers. Although Nikki never complained and always seemed to enjoy herself, Helen had some insecurity that her inexperience with women was evident.

"And I don't know how, but I can sort of tell. Tell when you just want to be like teenagers, playing around, and when you want to make love."

This was something Helen had noticed. Nikki had always been very sensitive to her boundaries on any given day. She'd wondered how Nikki could tell. It seemed Nikki had no idea either.

"I'm not putting this very well." Nikki sounded slightly embarrassed, and Helen was quick to reassure.

"It was perfect Nikki."

Nikki stood, finished with her task, and looked at Helen for a long moment. Then, realising her message had got across, commented softly, "Strange day, huh?"

Helen, who had almost forgotten where they'd been that day, was suddenly overcome with a rush of guilt. Nikki had probably just had one of the worst days of her life, and here she'd been, asking the other woman serious and taxing questions about the nature of their relationship.

Helen nodded in response. "Difficult, yes. And I'm sorry for all this…emotion. I should have kept things lighthearted."

"Hey. I was actually going to thank you, sweetheart," said Nikki, reaching for the silk robe that hung on the back of the bathroom door and holding it out to Helen, who slipped her arms inside and let herself be gently pulled into Nikki's body by the lapels. "A terrible day, and you've managed to completely distract me."

Still unsure about this, Helen asked, "Not too much for you?"

Nikki planted a small kiss on Helen's nose before answering.

"Not at all. I feel closer to you now than I have in a while, because of … today, and that talk we just had, so stop stressing." She kissed Helen softly on the cheek, before continuing, "And it wasn't all serious, remember?"

Helen flashed a quick smile at her partner as she was released, and she took a seat on the edge of the bath, reaching over to pull out the plug, then watched decadently as Nikki began to dry herself off.

Admiring the toned body in front of her, and the play of muscles on Nikki's stomach and arms as she towelled herself, Helen asked, "So what about this Munch? You never did finish that explanation. Something about porn emails."

As Nikki rubbed her way down her legs, she stated, "Right. Uh, I had a few emails, but I deleted them off without opening them because I thought they were pornspam. I mean, 'Munch'? Please. And they had titles like…"

She paused, trying to remember, "…'information needed', 'please respond', and other vague things like that."

"Curious," Helen commented. "And not altogether helpful, seeing as they're now gone."

"No," agreed Nikki. "Wonder what he wanted?"

Helen thought for a moment, concluding that she had no idea whatsoever. "Well, what say you go and have a quick surf, see what you can find, and I'll cook something. More than my turn by now, eh?"

Nikki shot her a look to see if she was serious. Helen wasn't usually one to volunteer for cooking, as she really didn't like doing it, and wasn't, if Nikki was completely honest, very good at it.

Catching the glance, Helen grinned.

"Och c'mon. I won't poison you, promise."

"Can't really argue with such a charming proposition, can I?" Nikki said with a matching grin as she pulled on a terry bathrobe

Nikki wandered into the kitchen to find the table set with two plates of pasta with some kind of sauce, along with a big bowl of salad. Helen had lit the room with two candles, set at either end of the table, obviously wanting to create an aura of quiet togetherness.

The woman in question, however, was nowhere to be seen, so Nikki took a seat, pulling a piece of paper from her robe pocket and smoothing it out on the table. She picked up a fork and poked uncertainly at a piece of pasta. Helen appeared from the utility-room door, clutching a bottle of red wine.

"D'ye want?" she asked, grabbing a corkscrew.

"Please," confirmed Nikki, smiling as Helen's Scottish accent broadened unexpectedly, and apparently unconsciously. "This all looks really nice."

Helen made no comment as she uncorked the wine and sat down, filling their glasses. She picked a piece of lettuce from the bowl and ate it, waiting.

Nikki took the plunge and pronged two pieces of pasta, dipping them in the sauce, which appeared to be tomato-based. Aware of Helen's intense scrutiny, she did not hesitate as she took her first bite, secretly steeling herself, but determined to look impressed, as her lover had clearly gone to some trouble to make this meal.

"This is really good," she remarked, finding herself actually meaning it, to her surprise. It was more than passable.

"You don't have to sound so amazed," shot back Helen, not missing a beat, as she picked up her fork and began to eat.

Nikki, unsure of how to respond, risked a glance at Helen, who had a small smile on her face.

Giving a small chuckle and a shrug, Nikki had the good grace to look slightly bashful.

"And I've learned, that when I find myself in a hole, the best thing to do is to stop digging. So thank you for this dinner, darling. It's lovely."

Accepting this, Helen nodded, "You're welcome. Want some bread?"

Nikki, with a mouthful of pasta, shook her head in response.

They ate quietly for a few moments, content to enjoy the food and relaxed atmosphere. Helen was the first to break the silence.

"So what did you find?" she asked, gesturing with her wine glass in the general direction of the computer printout.

Pushing the paper towards the candle to get better light, Nikki answered, "Well, John Munch exists, and he is a detective."

Reading from the search page results, she continued, "Baltimore, Homicide, then, uh, the 'Special Victims Unit' in Manhattan."

At Helen's inquisitive expression, she explained, "Seems to be…" she hesitated before continuing, "Sex Crimes."

Helen spoke slowly, digesting this, "Homicide and Sex Crimes?"

Nikki nodded in confirmation.

"You don't think it's to do with all that…business with Trisha?" Helen tried to phrase this as delicately as she could. She was referring to Nikki's time in jail, which had been caused by her partner killing a policeman who was trying to rape Trisha, Nikki's then-time girlfriend. This was a crime Nikki had been cleared of, through an appeal that had mostly come about through Helen's dogged determination to push it through. They'd talked it through many times though, and Helen knew that Nikki was more or less at peace with the issue, as was she, and they tended not to mention it, as they were both keen to just get on with their lives as they were presently.

"Don't know."

The quietly accepting way Nikki said this alerted Helen to the fact that this was something her partner had considered already. Helen pushed this to one side for the moment, as Nikki clearly had more to tell.

"His name also came up as author of various articles on conspiracy theories. Mostly from the late sixties, early seventies."

"How would that relate to you, though? I'm not seeing any connection."

"I'm not sure. The only thing I can think of is that he's been looking into my case to prove some sort of point."

At Helen's mystified expression, she explained, "Y'know – miscarriage of justice."

"You mean you're thinking he's interested in your original conviction, that it was some sort of … government plot? Against what? Women? Lesbians? Nightclub owners? Don't you think that sounds a bit far-fetched?"

Nikki was slow to respond.

"I was actually thinking that my appeal would fit better into the conspiracy thing. Like, I was meant to be freed to make some sort of political point. But what you say makes sense too."

They were both silent for a moment, trying to work it out, before Nikki added, "More sense, really, as I could see the law at work when I appealed, see you and Claire pushing for my release. The original conviction just happened so quickly in comparison. I was in jail and sentenced so fast."

There was another pregnant pause. Helen noticed that Nikki had stopped eating, and was apparently in deep thought about all of this. She also noted that the atmosphere had switched, from being one of amiable companionship, to incredibly tense, as Nikki was clearly reliving her early jail time.

Reaching over to give Nikki's hand a reassuring squeeze, she quietly asked, "More wine, sweetheart?" while automatically refilling Nikki's glass anyway.

Brought out of her reverie by the gentle words, Nikki gazed at the wine, a deep, dark, solid red in the soft candlelight.

"I think," she said in an measured tone as she reached for the glass, "That I'm overthinking it."

"Aye," concurred Helen, watching as Nikki took a thoughtful sip of wine.

"I'll phone. Find out." Nikki's eyes were automatically searching for the kitchen phone in the shadows of the worktops.

"It's Saturday, Nikki," Helen reminded her.

Helen was relieved to see Nikki give a sheepish smile as she responded, "Sunday, actually. Quarter to one."

"Past bedtime, then."

"Yeah," Nikki still seemed a little lost. Helen decided to give her some time to sort herself out, stating,

"Leave it a few days, eh? If it's life-or-death, I'm sure he'll call back. Let's just let things settle for a little while."

Nikki sighed. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. No point in coming out the end of one drama just to leap size-sixes-first into another one," she commented in a resigned tone, indicating she'd understood exactly what Helen's 'settle' had been referring to.

"Sweetheart, I'm sure it's nothing to worry about…" Helen trailed off. If she were to be perfectly honest, she didn't want to shatter this small amount of real peace they had found in the last few hours. It was selfish, she knew, but she just wanted a little time for the both of them to get back to their usual, contented domestic life, before opening up any more potential cans of worms. So, now was most definitely not the time to be getting into that. In her mind, she put a firm lid on the topic, and, in a determined tone, stated,

"You go on up. I'll clear away. Be up in a sec."

Nikki's eyes scanned the table in front of her. "Leave the dishes. I'll do them in the morning."

Helen smiled at her fondly. "Wouldn't have it any other way, sweetheart. I'll just dump them in the sink. Now scoot."

Chapter 17: The Nature of the Job

'Sorry,' mouthed Olivia, as she flipped open the phone.

Alex shrugged. She was surprised neither of them had been interrupted so far. As she sat there, she started to feel slightly uncomfortable as it became evident it was not a work-related call.

"No. I can't now… Yes, I got them … I'm at work … I know you are, but…"

Catching Olivia's eye, Alex jerked her head questioningly in the direction of the bathroom. Olivia shook her head quickly.

"Listen, I have to go now, I'm busy … okay … maybeno … not right now."

Alex watched, surprised as a clearly irritated Olivia abruptly ended the call.

"Sorry. Boyfriend," Olivia said apologetically.

Alex felt a small pang of disappointment, but it was quickly overwhelmed by a huge wave of relief. She could, she realised, put Olivia into that 'safe' category of 'unattainable women'. Alex had had some practice at this, and her efforts in the past had been largely successful. When she'd caught herself in time, that was. Mentally slotting Olivia into that place would allow her to concentrate fully on their friendship, which was what she dearly wanted just now. Sure, she knew inappropriate feelings would crop up from time to time, but knowing they would never come to anything with Olivia firmly classified as 'unavailable' would make it easy to dampen those sparks as soon as they appeared.

This quick reorganisation in her mind allowed her to do the decent, and moreover friendly thing, and ask, with only the smallest note of hesitation, "Problems?"

Alex listened as Olivia gingerly picked her way round a tale that basically seemed, to Alex, to be the traditional 'boy-meets-girl' in the beginning, which then led to a frankly baffling change of heart from both parties. It had ended up with Olivia being convinced that this Justin couldn't cope with the idea that she was a sex crimes detective.

Almost from the start, Alex was very aware that Olivia was holding back big parts of the story. The detective finished, then looked at her expectantly. As Alex searched for what, exactly, wasn't being said, her lawyer instincts kicked in automatically, trying to hone in on the missing pieces. Then the penny dropped, hard.

Filling in the rest of the gaps rapidly, Alex realised that she had no answer that seemed enough to encompass the complicated issues that had arisen in Olivia's personal life. Nor did she have any right to be forcing the issue, especially when Olivia clearly wasn't ready to talk about the more gruesome aspects of what had happened.

She settled for a very inadequate, "Maybe you should just talk to him, sort it all out."

Olivia, who had run a gauntlet of emotions during the recounting of the tale, - happy, hopeful, sadly reflective, hurt, and downright angry had all been in there - answered,

"If it was ten, even five years ago, I'd maybe agree with you, but I've been there before. People outside of the job, ninety nine percent of the time, just don't get what we do."

Alex nodded, understanding this, yet not willing to concede just yet. Keeping it deliberately, carefully vague, she stated,

"It's not like you to leave it all up in the air like that, though. From what I've seen, normally you like to get things sorted out straight away."

Olivia smiled half-heartedly. "I'm not sure the Cap. would put it quite that way, but you have a point."

Suddenly turning serious, Olivia took a deep breath, and announced,

"He was at my apartment the night…" Olivia glanced around the half-full café, "…when that box turned up…"

Alex smiled gently. Although Olivia hadn't mentioned that specifically, skirted around it, in fact, it was obviously the pivot in that whole story.

"…And he didn't react well?" Alex finished for her.

Olivia gave a small sigh. "That's an understatement, actually. He fled."

"Oh." Alex was quiet for a moment. "I think it's hard, sometimes, for people to understand the kinds of things you have to deal with."

"The things we have to deal with," Olivia corrected.

"I don't think it's exactly the same for me. Once cases, or victims, or people reach me, it's … sanitised. One step removed from what you see."

Olivia regarded her evenly for a moment, then remarked, thoughtfully, "I know what you're getting at, but don't tell me, when people find out what you do, they aren't a bit shocked."

With a rueful half-smile, Alex told her, "Well, if you say the word 'lawyer', that's usually enough for most people – their faces glaze over and no further questions are forthcoming. But you're right - I remember explaining to my sister about the Unit just after I started, and the kinds of cases I'd be prosecuting. I didn't even go into specific detail, and she was more or less speechless by the time I'd finished. I don't know if it was the realisation that those kinds of crimes actually existed or the fact that I was getting involved with them on a day-to-day basis that shocked her the most."

"See, that's it," Olivia answered, "I think, at some level, people are aware that these bad, sick things happen – I mean, there's the news, so you can't escape it. But it's a step too far to be hit with the reality of it all; I don't think Justin really believed there were actual dead bodies."

Olivia paused, then corrected herself, "I'm not explaining this well. He obviously knew there were victims, I'm just not sure he allowed himself to imagine that I actually came into contact with them for real. And that's just hard for me to deal with. Someone who can't even begin to envision what it is that I actually do."

Alex nodded thoughtfully. "You know, I think, in her own way, my sister put it quite well. She said it sounded like soap operas. Things happen that are so unexpected and unrealistic, but she finds herself half-believing they could happen, just because anything's possible in the realm of human experience and actions, right?"

She glanced at Olivia, who appeared to be listening intently.

"And she said she could even sometimes imagine herself in those situations – how she might react, for example, if she found out a brother was sleeping with her mother's best friend…" Alex paused, suddenly worried about the appropriateness of this story, "Sorry, that didn't come out quite right, bad example…I didn't mean to compare the work you do to a soap opera."

But Olivia shook her head, "Go on, I'm following you."

Alex let out a small breath of relief, "Okay, so she sees, she imagines. But she still thinks, at, at some level, that these things don't happen to normal, everyday people; not people she knows, and certainly never to herself."

"But they do," Olivia remarked sadly and softly, "Those things do happen to 'normal' people. Kids, too. We see that every day."

"Exactly," confirmed Alex, "But I think people…me even, need to find a way to get distance just to stay sane. Because if you let yourself believe that there's a rapist or a murderer waiting for you round every corner, life wouldn't be worth living. So people use denial. And that's a good, useful thing, I think. I'm not advocating ignorance though," she clarified carefully, "I'm not saying people shouldn't be vigilant. More like, a way of rationalising these kinds of crimes is to only let them take a fictional place in your mind."

Olivia nodded; obviously she'd thought about these issues herself; had to, in fact, as part of her job, and even before then, given circumstances of her own conception. But the way Alex was explaining it gave it a slightly different spin. She worked it through as she spoke. "So, as a civilian, when you're confronted with an actual body, for example, it's something you never thought you'd actually see, or, even, you might have idly thought you could cope with it. But either way, your gut reaction is something that's impossible to deal with, because it's so hugely different from anything you could have possibly imagined."

"Yes. I mean, think back to the first time you ever saw something like that."

Olivia was quiet for a moment. "I don't think it's the same. I'd seen photos, had training, lots of preparation."

"But still…"

Olivia nodded quickly, admitting, "Yeah. You're right. And I still feel like that, mostly. Every one is different."

"And how do you deal with it?" Alex asked. It wasn't any of her business, but she was suddenly curious.

"I…uh, I guess I just think that somebody has to do it, has to get over themselves and get on with the job we do. And I want to do that, for them. Because…" she paused, obviously rephrasing whatever she was going to say, "I want to help," she continued quietly, reflectively, "In some ways, actually, the living victims, the survivors, present more of a…challenge. No…a different set of problems, or, I mean, you obviously have to handle those cases differently. Shit, that sounds stupid."

Despite the awkward phrasing, Alex knew exactly what Olivia meant. Some of them were just so broken. But that wasn't the kind of conversation to be having during what was meant to be a light lunch; in fact the whole 'dead body' conversation was wholly unsuitable. She suspected, from Olivia's silence, that the detective was probably coming to the same conclusion.

"Your sister got it right, I think," remarked Olivia distractedly, obviously still having lingering thoughts about it all.

Alex couldn't help smiling, "She's pretty smart," she said.

"You have any other brothers or sisters?" Olivia asked. It was an innocent question, and an obvious attempt to change the subject, but Alex couldn't help the automatic shutter that came up when it came to talking about her background.

"No. Just the one."

Olivia, who had been trained to notice such things, shot Alex a curious, yet somehow empathetic look, Alex thought. Evidently casting round for another subject, Olivia settled on a simple,

"So what should I do about Justin, do you think?"

Alex was floored. This was the first time Olivia had directly asked for her advice or help on anything, and she couldn't help feeling a little honoured. She answered carefully, expanding on her earlier observations.

"I probably should say it's up to you, but if you want my advice…" she glanced up to gauge Olivia's reaction to this blatant get-out, but the brunette seemed genuinely interested in her viewpoint.

"…Then I'd say that most people, especially the good guys, which he seems to be, deserve a second chance."

She watched as Olivia processed this, before clarifying,

"From what you've said, he reacted like any regular person would. So, unless you're planning to confine your dating to the Unit, which seems…unlikely, I think you should give him another go."

Olivia didn't look convinced, so Alex elaborated.

"Olivia, from where I'm standing, this can go one of three ways. You can write it off and never see him again, which doesn't really seem fair to me, on either of you; you can try and work it through with him honestly; or you can just date him, have fun, and never mention it again – I mean, I got the impression that things weren't hugely serious yet…would I be right?"

Olivia nodded.

"So I think either of those last two options sounds more…promising than the first. At the very least, even if you do decide you want to end things, I think he at least deserves that you explain to him exactly why. You don't strike me as the kind of woman to be unfair, or uncaring about someone else's feelings. Nor do I think you're the type of person to leave things hanging or shy away from potentially difficult conversations, so…" She trailed off, realising she'd said enough to let Olivia come to her own conclusions. And she did.

"You're right. I should at least talk to him. See where we both stand," the detective said, with some kind of finality.

Although it wasn't a definite commitment to sort things out with the man, it was a start. Olivia deserved someone decent and caring, and from what she'd said, Justin sounded to be both of those things. Alex found herself genuinely smiling as she answered, "I think that's probably wise."

As she finished her coffee, Olivia glanced at her watch. "We should get back," she stated.

Alex reached into her purse, muting Olivia's protestations with a shake of the head.

As they were getting up to leave, Olivia said simply, "Listen, this has been…good. We should do it again sometime."

Alex couldn't prevent the note of incredulity that crept into her voice. A good proportion of the lunch, from her point of view, had been excruciatingly awkward. She couldn't help herself. "Really?"

She stiffened in surprise, when, as they were exiting, Olivia casually slipped an arm around her shoulders.

"Really. Look, Alex, I don't know what all the nervousness was about, but just relax."

She punctuated this with a quick squeeze of Alex's shoulder, and the blonde forced herself to do just that as Olivia continued, "Friendships can begin in the strangest of places, and, well, the circumstances have been unusual, but this has been nice, honestly. I like you, Alex; I like talking with you. You're a good listener." She paused, "Think of it this way, at least we've got all the awkward chat out of the way in one go, eh?"

Alex nodded, processing the words slowly, as her attention was mostly focused on the arm around her, which gave a final reassuring squeeze before leaving her shoulders. As Olivia's words manifested themselves, she found herself hoping that what Olivia said about awkward conversations would turn out to be true.

Chapter 18: Overwhelmed

When Helen had cleared away the dinner things, checked the doors were locked, and switched off all the downstairs lights, she made her way up the stairs quietly, not expecting Nikki to be asleep yet, but not wanting to disturb her if she was.

As she entered the bedroom, it was clear the brunette was still in the ensuite, so Helen busied herself by brushing her hair and pulling clean nightclothes from the drawer for herself. When Nikki emerged from the bathroom, Helen was pleased to see she seemed to have shifted all thoughts of prison and American detectives from her mind. She was even more pleased to note the taller woman shedding her robe and slipping into bed naked. Since they'd heard about Peter Wade's death, Nikki had taken to wearing pyjamas to sleep in, something Helen didn't mind at all at the time, but, she realised as she took in the graceful, athletic body, she'd really missed the basic comfort of skin-on-skin contact through the night.

"What?" Nikki asked, as she made herself comfortable, noticing Helen's stare.

With a self-conscious shake of the head, Helen made her way to the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face.

Slipping back into the near-darkness of the bedroom, Helen cast off her own gown and made her way to the bed, sliding underneath the duvet and moving into Nikki's offered embrace, snugly fitting her form against the familiar curves. As Nikki kissed her softly, Helen couldn't help stretching luxuriously into the long body pressed against her own. It had been less than two weeks, but she'd forgotten about the softness, the welcome fullness, of Nikki. She smiled on hearing Nikki sighing deep in her chest as the brunette returned the lazy stretch with interest, sliding a palm down the smaller woman's side to caress the curve of her stomach, finally coming to rest on the flare of her hip.

"Y'know, I think we set some sort of record," Helen murmured, as Nikki began stroke her way down the back of a smooth thigh.

"What? For the longest we've gone without sex?" Nikki whispered, in a tone of faux-horror.

"Two weeks? Definitely not the longest…" Helen let the sentence trail off.

"…months and months, more like it. Remember how incredible it was…?" In one fluid movement, Nikki hooked her hand around the back of Helen's leg and lifted it over her hip, sliding her leg firmly up between Helen's thighs.

Helen swallowed hard, remembering the night of Nikki's release from Larkhall, which had come some months after the first night they'd spent together. Incredible was the only word to describe it. She was glad for the darkness as she felt herself blushing, the hot feeling starting in her cheeks and spreading rapidly down her body.

Striving to keep her voice even, inwardly cursing when all she heard was a low husky tone, she half-whispered, "You can take that smirk off your face, Nikki."

The low sexy chuckle Nikki emitted didn't help Helen to keep her composure at all. Nor did the way a strong thumb started kneading the soft spot just below her kneecap.

"What smirk? And what record?"

Helen had to fight hard to listen and think of an appropriate response, as she was suddenly hyperaware of Nikki's body pressed tight against her, full breasts flush up against her own, and that thumb, moving in probing circles around her knee, a place that she previously would have classified as anything but erotic. The slow throb she felt starting up between her legs in response, though, was forcing her to rethink her ideas about erogenous zones.

Helen closed her eyes, and forced herself to regulate her breathing.

"I was referring to…the fact…that it's been…at least two weeks…since we argued."

Helen could swear she felt the grin growing wider on Nikki's face.

"We argued this morning, sweetheart," Nikki reminded quietly, fingers pressing gently into the back of Helen's knee.

After the long, exhausting day they'd had, Helen had not been expecting the sudden return to this kind of physical intimacy. But as Nikki clearly signalled her willingness by pressing a slow line of kisses along her shoulder and up the side of her neck, eliciting a shiver and a quiet whimper from the highly aroused Scotswoman, all she could think about was the fact that it had been almost two weeks since they'd been together like this.

As Nikki slid her hand back up Helen's leg, Helen was finding herself unable to utter complete sentences.

"We didn't. You sulked. Not argued."

"You really want to get into this now, hmm? You stropped," Nikki whispered, an amused note of challenge creeping into her voice.

Helen cursed her inability to think past her body's immediate responses, while Nikki was seemingly able to carry on a completely normal conversation. The Scotswoman gave up.


Helen almost cringed at her own tone. That had come out almost as a plea.

Nikki, however, was not to be deterred. "We're arguing now, Helen."

Nikki accompanied her statement with a slow fingertip sweep of the back of Helen's thigh, a move which almost caused Helen to lose her senses completely. Her tenuous grip on self-control slipped for a second, and she reflexively rolled her hips to grind hard against Nikki's thigh. She blushed furiously once again as she felt the slippery evidence of her arousal against Nikki's tensed muscles. She realised that Nikki was coiled tight as a clockwork spring, and, as she pushed forward, felt a matching moist heat against her hip.


It came out in a breathless whisper.

"Yes…you…are." Nikki teased, copying Helen's tone.


It was all Helen could manage, as she used every last bit of willpower she had to stop herself from pushing herself harder onto Nikki's leg.

"What are you doing then?"

The smugness was evident in Nikki's voice.

Helen almost groaned out loud. Despite her body's protestations, she was absurdly determined to hold out.


Helen felt the arm around her shoulders pull her in even tighter, pressing them impossibly closer. All she was aware of for a few short seconds was the pounding in her body and the rush of blood in her ears. And Nikki. For the first time, she thought she heard a tremor in Nikki's voice when she spoke.

"So that's not your heart that's beating so fast?"

Helen couldn't respond.

"You're lying Helen, but your body's not."

Nikki relaxed the arm that was holding Helen so close, and brought her other hand up the smaller woman's body, grazing along hip and stomach with her knuckles, to squeeze Helen's breast tenderly.

"And there's nothing happening here?"

Helen gasped as Nikki dragged the pad of her thumb around and over a hard nipple, unable to prevent herself from setting up a slow rocking rhythm against Nikki's thigh.

As Nikki pushed her hand downwards between their bodies, Helen's stomach muscles tightened automatically.

"And here, Helen, there's nothing…"

As Nikki's hand slid between her legs, Helen felt the exact moment the other woman's resolve snapped. She had no time to feel self-satisfied, instinctively arching against Nikki as the brunette's fingers made a firm sweep downwards over her centre, palm firm against her clit.

"God, Helen."

Nikki was breathing hard, suddenly.

"So wet," she whispered.

Helen ground down hard against the hand, which was trapped against Nikki's strong thigh.

And then Nikki was kissing her long and hard, all self-control forgotten, and Helen found herself on her back as Nikki pushed two fingers deep inside her.

Needing to maintain the full body contact, Helen wrapped her arms around Nikki's lower back and pulled her lover close, clinging on as Nikki began thrusting deeply and gently into her, never breaking the kiss, tongues dancing and sliding against one another.

Helen pushed down against the hand, moving her own palms down to cup Nikki's behind, squeezing, realising the brunette needed little encouragement, as, tearing her mouth away from Helen's to let out a strangled cry, hips began to move in synch with hand, spreading wetness against Helen's own thigh.

Helen gritted her teeth to prevent herself from coming as she felt Nikki's legs spread wide, and a hard clit rubbed desperately against the front of her upper leg. Realising how close Nikki was, Helen brought her thigh up firmly as Nikki thrust harder and faster against her.

Nikki was now solely using her hips to push her fingers over and over inside of Helen. Helen whimpered as she felt a thumb graze the side of her clit, making her arch suddenly into Nikki as she felt her body tense and the first hard tremor sweep over her. She felt her inner walls contracting, and heard Nikki moan sharply as the brunette reached her own climax.

Helen dug her nails into Nikki's lower back, feeling a flood of wetness against her thigh, and powerful shudders racked her body. Nikki rode out her orgasm, continuing to thrust in and out of Helen, slowing the rhythm she'd set as she felt Helen's climax begin to subside, the warm muscles surrounding her fingers clamping down less desperately. Helen's body went limp as the movements inside her slowed to a halt. They both held their position for a few moments, as their breathing gradually returned to normal.

Nikki kept her fingers inside Helen as she leaned down to kiss her, tenderly exploring the familiar contours of Helen's mouth.

Helen felt warm tears against her cheek as Nikki drew away. Forcing herself out of the hazy post-coital fog, the smaller woman brought a hand up to gently caress Nikki's cheek, wiping away the tears with a thumb as Nikki eased her fingers out of Helen.

"Sweetheart, what is it?" Helen asked softly, a note of concern in her voice as she felt her lover's breath hitch. She'd only known Nikki to cry once after sex before, on the night of her release from prison, and that time, she herself had been equally overwhelmed.

Nikki kissed her again, a salty, wet, closed-mouth kiss, seemingly drawing strength from her partner as Helen responded reassuringly.

Nikki rolled over onto her side, pulling Helen with her, as they both lay face to face, legs still tangled, and warm, clammy bodies pressed close together.

As Helen stroked Nikki's cheek with the back of her hand, Nikki composed herself.

"That was the first time we came together." Nikki's voice held a note of awe.

Helen smiled, and kissed her again softly. This was something Nikki had mentioned several times before, and, although they'd tried to achieve a simultaneous climax on a number of occasions, Helen had always found it impossible to concentrate on anything but the sensations Nikki's hands, mouth and body produced in her. Until now, though, she hadn't realised quite how important it had been to Nikki. And, after the experience, Helen had to agree.

"Aye. It was…" she trailed off as she searched for the right word.

"I know," finished Nikki for her, drawing Helen into a deep kiss. Lost for words, Helen slowly and carefully tried to communicate everything she was feeling, aware that her partner was doing the same. There were a further series of gentle, loving kisses, accompanied by the lazy caresses that invariably followed this kind of emotional lovemaking between the two of them.

As Nikki held her close, running a hand up and down her back and planting soft, sweet kisses on her temple from time to time, Helen felt herself drifting into sleep. She heard Nikki's low voice, expressing quiet, secret affirmations of love, and heard her own equally tender responses, murmuring in response as her breathing deepened and she relaxed completely in the safe embrace.

To Be Continued

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