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 7: Hesitant Steps

Feeling a small rush of gratitude towards the blonde woman for just being there, Olivia found herself uttering,

"Would you like something to drink?"

Alex didn't miss a beat in answering.

"Sure. Whatever you've got."

Olivia returned from the kitchen with two bottles of Corona.

Taking the one that was offered, Alex sat back in her seat, prepared for another prolonged bout of silence while Olivia worked through whatever it was that was troubling her. Biting back the urge to offer herself as listener, counsellor, or whatever Olivia needed, Alex was mildly surprised when Olivia began to talk to her. Or rather, not talk to her.

Her voice was soft, not angry, as she stated,

"You should go home, Alex."

Alex had no intention of going anywhere, and, so far, her strategy of gentle silence didn't seem to be causing any problems. She wasn't convinced it was particularly productive, but Olivia didn't seem to object to her presence. So, for the time being, she'd stay where she was – at least this way, she could be confident that Olivia wasn't engaging in any self-destructive behaviour, which was what Elliot had seemed most concerned about.

"I'll stay," Alex answered quietly.

"I'm not going to talk about things, you know."

Again, this was said without rancour.

Alex shrugged. "You don't have to," adding almost as an afterthought, "Would you like me to leave?"

This seemed to floor the detective for a moment. Alex saw her struggling with something and suspected that Olivia did, in fact, want her to stay, but wasn't about to admit it. Aware the moment had suddenly become tense, and cursing herself inwardly for breaking the comfortable silence of earlier, Alex felt compelled to speak.

"Olivia, if you want me to go then I will, but since you let me in willingly, and haven't actually asked me to leave outright, I'll assume that you either want me to stay or you're simply not bothered. If the latter's the case, then I'll stay where I am."

Way to go, Cabot. Could you possibly have sounded any more stiff and formal? The woman's hurting, and you sound like you're accusing her of something.

Alex was surprised when Olivia let out a soft snort of laughter.

"My God, Alex, you talk like a lawyer even out of court."

Alex shot a small, self-conscious smile back at her. She seemed to have hacked through the newly-frozen ice in spite of her awkward statement. She shrugged and leant forward, placing her untouched bottle on the table.

"You'd prefer something else?"

Alex shook her head.

"No thanks. Just a bit late for me. I don't usually drink beer and…" she glanced at her watch "…three a.m. is a dangerous time to start picking up that habit, I think." She couldn't prevent the accompanying yawn as her brain registered exactly what time it was.

Alex gave a small smile as Olivia reflexively matched her, apparently unable to resist the contagious affect of yawning.

"If you're staying, you'd better get some sleep. You've got court tomorrow, right?"

Alex nodded – she'd stay up all night if that was what Olivia needed, but seeing as the detective seemed to have relaxed a little and was offering her this opportunity, she saw no reason to refuse.

Olivia cocked her head in the direction of her bedroom. "Through there." Then, pausing for a moment, she added, "I better change the sheets for you."

Alex gave a quiet chuckle, touched by the fact that, despite the emotional wringer that Olivia was going through at the moment, she still had the innate good manners to ensure Alex was going to get a comfortable bed with clean sheets. She shook her head, refusing the kind offer.

"The couch will be fine. Just a blanket. Oh, and some nightclothes?"

Alex felt mildly self-conscious as, for the first time since she'd arrived, Olivia took a good look at her. Faded blue jeans and a tight T-shirt. Alex saw Olivia's eyes shift to the briefcase at her feet, and the mildly confused look in her eyes. Not wanting to get into her initial reason for knocking at the door at this hour of the night, Alex simply stated, "I wasn't exactly expecting to stay the night."

Outwardly, Olivia seemed to accept this as an explanation, but Alex could practically see the cogs turning, as the detective worked it all through in her head. She hoped Elliot wasn't going to get into trouble for calling her. Thankfully, Olivia didn't seem inclined to discuss it with her, pointing her in the direction of the bathroom.

She returned to find Olivia finishing off a makeshift bed for her on the couch, carefully laying out a pair of pyjama bottoms and a plain white cotton T-shirt. Noticing Alex watching her, she mumbled, "Night, then," before turning in the direction of the bedroom.

Alex called softly after her, "I'm just here, if you need…anything."

She saw the briefest of nods as the brunette disappeared from her view, pulling the bedroom door to behind her.

Alex was tired, but she didn't sleep easily. She could hear muffled sobs coming from behind the closed bedroom door and badly wanted to do something to help, but wasn't ready to overstep that professional boundary that they'd maintained, despite the personal nature of her visit.

At approximately five-thirty, one hour after the quiet crying had lessened, then stopped, Alex got up. Moving stealthily, she pushed the door to Olivia's bedroom open. She couldn't see Olivia's face, but the detective was clearly sleeping – she was lying on her front, her head turned to one side, with one arm slung out over the pillow next to her. One foot was hanging over the edge of the bed, poking out from under tangled sheets, and it twitched a little as Alex watched quietly for a few moments just to make sure. Satisfied Olivia was asleep, Alex quickly changed, folded up the covers neatly on the couch, and let herself out of the apartment quietly, after penning a quick, courteous note, just letting Olivia know she could call if she needed anything.

Alex arrived at work to find Elliot waiting outside her office for her. After assuring him that Olivia seemed to be doing okay, and that yes, she'd call to make sure later on in the day, she set about her morning business, keen to get the day over so she could get home and catch up on some sleep.

As she was returning from her morning in court, Alex was debating on when would be the best time to check on Olivia – Elliot had caught her again as she'd left the courtroom, to let her know his partner had decided to take a couple of days off. It was patently clear that he was desperate to talk to Olivia, and Alex had wished that she could tell him that Olivia would be receptive to that, but she just wasn't sure. She wasn't about to tell Elliot that she and Olivia hadn't said one word about the Plummer case, as he seemed to have some sort of notion that she and Olivia had a kind of mystical feminine bond; he'd made some comment about it being good that she had 'another woman to talk to.' That idea seemed to reassure him, so she just let him assume.

Alex didn't want to call too soon, though, didn't want to overstep the mark with Olivia. After the events of the previous night, they seemed to have the beginnings of a fragile sort of friendship, and if that were to continue, Alex didn't want the fiercely independent woman to think she was checking up on her. But still, she hated to think of Olivia alone, overthinking it all, as Alex strongly suspected the detective had a tendency to do. Alex had pretty much decided to leave the phone call till the end of the day as she settled back at her desk for her usual working lunch.

After spending ten minutes glaring at files then glancing at the phone, Alex was relieved to hear the knock at her door. Her assistant, Ross, entered, bearing a small bunch of carnations. As he laid them in front of her, she couldn't help smiling to herself at his simple, "For you." The entire DA's office knew he had a crush on her, and was overly polite and courteous in his efforts to quietly impress. She responded in kind, while quietly hoping he'd find himself a nice girlfriend. He was a good assistant, though, she thought, as she felt a slight pang of guilt at the curious and slightly hurt expression on his face.

"Thanks, Ross," Alex answered, mustering up a genuine smile, despite her exhaustion.

Happy with this, Ross left her alone with the flowers. Alex took a moment to admire them, inhaling the sweet scent. Turning her attention to the card, she was less surprised than she supposed she should have been to see they were from Olivia – it simply stated 'Thanks', along with Olivia's name.

Alex felt mildly guilty that Olivia had taken the time out to do this for her at such an emotional time. At least she ordered by phone, Alex thought, noting the handwriting was nothing like Olivia's large, sloppy scrawl. Alex supposed this was Olivia's typical manner of dealing with these types of situation, although she really had no idea. It seemed to fit, though – Olivia always seemed to her to be a proud woman, unflinching, and unwilling or unable to show any kind of vulnerability. It would make sense that Olivia would send flowers as a demonstration of her sincere feelings, rather than thanking her in person, and risking any kind of personal intrusion.

It didn't matter anyway, thought Alex. It was the thought that counted, and Olivia had shown clearly several times over the past twelve hours or so that despite her hard armour, she had a sensitive side to her that was quite charming when she demonstrated it. In fact, last night, the detective had offered her bed almost without thinking. Not wanting to rehash the events of the previous night, Alex picked up the 'phone – the flowers had provided her with the perfect excuse to call Olivia and see how she was doing.

Chapter 8: The Treehouse

"I did that once. Stole apples."

Nikki's hesitant, quiet tone, spoke volumes. Helen was unable to prevent herself from reaching out and taking Nikki's hands in her own, turning the larger palms over to give a gentle squeeze of reassurance and encouragement. She heard Nikki sigh softly before continuing in that same, soft tone.

"When I was little, I spent most of my summers at home. My mother was busy with her social life, entertaining, and my father was mostly away at sea. I just remember…trying to stay out of the way. One year, my father was on leave, and my mother decided it was her turn to escape for the holidays. I must've been about six, seven maybe. She went to a villa somewhere in Europe, I think, with some people she knew socially. Officers wives or something. Anyway, my father didn't know what to do with us, Michael and me, so he took us to his mother's."

Nikki paused, but Helen wasn't about to interrupt now that her partner had finally started talking. She watched their joined hands as Nikki curled her fingers around, so she was holding Helen's hands properly.

"It was the best summer of my life, Helen. My grandmother had this massive house in Dorset, and she was all about Michael and my father. Michael was preparing for his secondary school entrance exam, so she'd just spend all her time helping him study. I don't know what my father did. I'd never been there before, and the place was huge. She had servants, cleaners, the works. There were even a couple of horses, but she wouldn't let me ride them because she said I was too small to be trusted. On the second day, I discovered she had a cook hidden away in the kitchen. Sheila was really nice. Actually, she's the one that introduced me to the tomatoes. But the best thing was, she had a little boy, Jamie, who was the same age as me. We spent the whole of August just playing out."

Helen smiled at Nikki's obviously fond recollection.

"One day towards the end, we were in the orchard, climbing trees. There was a treehouse out there that used to belong to my father, and we pretended that it was some sort of cave. Jamie went out to hunt for food, and he came back with all these apples. He said he wanted to cook them, but we had nothing that would light a fire, which was probably a good thing. So we just started eating them. I don't know if they were cooking apples, or just not ripe, but they tasted so sour. So I sent Jamie into the kitchen and he pinched a bag of sugar. I must have eaten about eight or nine in the end, dipping them into the sugar bag."

Helen could see a faint smile on Nikki's lips as she got lost in the nostalgia.

"God, we were so sick. I can still remember how much my stomach hurt. Michael had been sent to get me for dinner and found us behind the stables, puking our guts up. He took me straight to my father, who dragged the story out of me. Funny thing is, although he seemed cross, my father didn't punish me, really. I'd been expecting to be grounded or something like that. He just told me I'd clearly learned my lesson, and sent me to bed early without dinner, which was a relief as far as I was concerned. But when I got up the next day Jamie was gone. Sheila said something about homework projects, but Michael bragged to me that it was because of the sugar. I'd left that part out of the story, but Michael had found the half-empty bag and told my father, who had sent Jamie home, telling him that he was a thief and a liar and didn't want him associating with me. I felt so bad Helen, because it was my fault, really. Jamie wouldn't have got the sugar if I hadn't told him to. But my father wouldn't listen. Said Jamie was just bad, and that he'd be keeping an eye on Sheila now, too."

Helen was quiet for a moment, letting all this sink in. It was the first time Nikki had spoken at length about her childhood, and although it was just one incident, it was obviously salient enough that Nikki had remembered it in such detail after all those years.

"Did you ever go back there?" Helen asked tentatively.

"Once, when I was about thirteen. My grandmother had died. But it didn't feel like the same place. It was just…empty, different."

Helen didn't comment. She stayed silent just in case Nikki had more to say about it. She did.

"Just…with Joshua earlier, it brought it all back. And it feels weird, that all this happens just after my father dies."

Helen gave a slight shrug. "Maybe you just needed a starting point."

Nikki considered this. "You could be right."

Helen wasn't sure how to move the conversation on, as Nikki seemed to have come to a stop. She settled for an all-encompassing, "So where does that leave you now?"

Nikki exhaled slowly, and removed one of her hands from Helen, running it though her short hair.

"I'm not sure. He was cold and distant throughout my childhood, and incredibly disapproving of my choices as a teenager…"

Helen felt her heart melt a little at Nikki's careful choice of words. She was well aware that the man had thrown her partner out when he discovered she'd been involved with another girl at school. And both Nikki's mother and father had disowned her a second time when she was in prison, refusing to have anything to do with her. Yet Nikki seemed strangely respectful.

"…but he didn't deserve to be murdered."

Nikki looked at Helen then, and the Scotswoman could see brown eyes full of tears. Suddenly unable to speak, she shook her head, and reached across to briefly cup Nikki's cheek.

"Even though he was such a bastard to me, I feel bad, feel like I should have gone to the funeral. I don't think I'll ever forgive him, Helen, and I'm not even sure if it would have been paying respects, but I feel like I should have been there."

Hearing the frustration and hopelessness in Nikki's voice, Helen swallowed hard against the lump she felt forming in her throat. "Nikki, listen to me. Don't you feel bad about any of this. Parents are supposed to support their children unconditionally…"

She trailed off, forcing herself to temper what she was saying.

Softly, she offered, "Sweetheart, the funeral's not until this afternoon. If you really want to go, not because you feel you should, but because you think it'll help in some way, you still have time."

Nikki's breath hitched. Helen wondered if she'd made the right decision in telling Nikki this.

"I think…I thought it would have been sooner. It's been nearly a fortnight. I thought they would have buried him sooner." Nikki was crying now, silent sobs, but Helen could see tears running down the brunette's face, hear the distress in her voice.

The smaller woman was up and moving swiftly round the table, wrapping her arms around Nikki's shoulders. Nikki buried her face in Helen's stomach as she cried, holding on to her round the waist. They stayed like that for a few minutes, Helen rubbing Nikki's upper back soothingly, pausing every now and again to drop a kiss on top of the crying woman's head.

Eventually, the tears subsided. Helen remained where she was while Nikki dried her eyes with the cuff of her overshirt.

"I want to go," she mumbled, a note of determination in her voice.

"Okay, come on then," Helen responded simply, realising this was something her partner needed to do.

While they changed, Helen explained that she'd seen the details of the funeral in the Times' obituary column; Captain Peter Wade had been a man of some importance. She also, as gently as she could, pointed out to Nikki that because of the nature of her father's death, there had been an autopsy, then it had taken a few days to arrange for the body to be flown home, hence the delay in burial.

As she drove towards the South coast, Helen was relieved that Nikki seemed to be fairly composed. She listened as Nikki began to quietly reveal more about her childhood, Helen interjecting occasionally for clarification or to provide encouragement. Helen learned that Nikki had attended Catholic boarding schools since she'd been four years old; before that she'd had a succession of nannies. Michael, Nikki's older brother, had been the shining light of the Wade household, with good grades, sailing through school and university to end up working as a solicitor. He'd married at 33, to a fellow lawyer, and they had two sons who would be teenagers by now, although Nikki had never met them. Apparently, Michael had adored Nikki when she was younger, and made much fuss of his baby sister, but he'd pulled away from her as he began to hit his teenage years, and Nikki had no idea why.

Helen was amazed at Nikki's matter-of-fact tone through all of this. There was no hint of bitterness, just a resigned laying out of the facts. When Nikki had mentioned her parents before, there'd been resentment and anger at their abandonment of her. Helen supposed this new attitude was good, though, as it seemed to be enabling Nikki to get into a calm frame of mind for what lay ahead of her.

Chapter 9: Getting back on the Horse

Olivia had woken up at around ten after a surprisingly restful sleep.

"No," she asserted in a soft, yet firm voice, as her mind automatically returned to the self-destructive cycle she'd found herself embroiled in the night before. She would think about that, she knew, but later. Right now she was going to do something else. Anything, no matter how small, as long as it was positive.

Affirming this by pushing herself up out of bed, she slipped into her jogging gear, and strode out of her bedroom. As she passed through her living area, she saw the neat pile of bedclothes on the couch, with a small piece of paper on top. She'd almost forgotten about Alex's out-of-the-blue visit the previous night.

Olivia had worked out that Elliot had sent her, and couldn't be angry at him for that, as Alex's presence had proved strangely comforting. Reading the brief note, which merely stated that she should call if she needed anything, Olivia was struck by the thoughtfulness of the attorney. Alex had gone beyond the call of duty, and Olivia felt a brief rush of gratitude for that. Although Olivia didn't want to impose on Alex any more than she already had, she wanted to at least acknowledge that she was appreciative of her concern. Deciding she was not quite ready for a face-to-face declaration of thanks, Olivia picked up the phone.

As she sprinted through the park, Olivia let the familiar rhythm of feet pounding pathway lull her into that state where the physical exertion became a comforting and familiar accompaniment to the darker thoughts that began to take form in her head.

There were two issues in the forefront of her mind. Dealing with Elliot, and her place in the Unit. Quickly deducing that it was useful to sort out the first before contemplating the second, she began to try and look at the whole thing from a detached, rational place.

Throughout her time in the Special Victims there had been one solid constant. Elliot. Without exception, he had watched her back as she had done for him. If there was one thing she thought she could depend upon, it was his support – even when she'd acted in a way that he didn't necessarily agree with, he'd backed her up. He'd often questioned her actions and motives, but it was in a healthy way; it made her look at herself from a more objective standpoint, even though she'd never admit that to him. And she'd done the same for him – they complemented each other, and tempered each other's tendency to act on emotion and impulse in cases which struck a chord with them personally. Until this case.

Olivia had felt like the whole squad was against her. A small, rational part of her brain told her that if all of them were telling her to step back, and that they normally acted in her best interests, then she should listen. And she had, taking the break mid-investigation. But she'd known, when she asked Cragen for the time off, that she wouldn't be able to leave it alone. And as a result of that, Plummer was dead. So maybe they had been right. When it came down to it, though, it had been her case. Right from the start, when she'd given Elliot no choice but to hand it over to her. All the victims were connected to her, and it had been up to her to make things right for them.

On the evening when she'd confronted Elliot on his front steps about the protective detail, she'd managed to convince herself that he'd done it out of spite at her taking over the case. She could now see clearly that was irrational, and totally out of character for her partner, who had never held any kind of grudge against her in the past. However, she still couldn't shake off the feeling that he'd sent those men for some kind of babysitting duty, and that really grated. Olivia Benson did not need looking after. But she needed to move past this, if she was ever going to get back that easy camaraderie with her partner. If she even wanted that.

She was terrified of going back to work. Scared of making the wrong move again, acting as a catalyst for another Plummer, setting off a chain of events with similar disastrous consequences. The most unnerving thing was she'd done it without even being aware of it. What if, right now, a perpetrator or victim she'd had contact with was plotting or committing some crime just because of some interaction they'd had with her? Some child that she'd tried to help, but who was irreparably scarred anyway.

Olivia tried to keep in contact with the most damaged ones, but it was inevitable that some would slip through the net; she was bound to fail some of them, and then what? Was it even worth continuing to try to help? She'd seen the stunned faces of the other members of the team when she'd revealed how many of the victims and their families she'd kept in contact with, and heard Elliot's vaguely accusatory tone. She'd been immediately defensive at that, snapping,

"My day doesn't end when we catch a perp or get a conviction."

But right now, she was wondering if they were right. It would have been better for everyone concerned if she hadn't maintained links with the people Plummer had gone on to kill. So what was the point of doing what she did?

Niggling away at her was the ever present spectre of her initial motivation for her work – on an everyday basis, when she needed to justify why she did what she did, she'd assert to herself she did it to help people like her mother. But occasionally, as now, there was that overriding suspicion that she'd chosen to work as a detective, and went at it with such unstoppable passion, in order to prove to herself and the whole world that she was not like her father.

She was a good person. Helped people; didn't harm them. She didn't want to entertain the idea that any part of him was in her, so she'd chosen a job which stood for everything that he wasn't. Trying to eradicate people like him in the vain hope that it would snuff out the knowledge of him, along with that angry part of herself that could only have come from him. But Plummer had forced that nasty worm out into the open, and Olivia didn't know if she could push it back underground. She couldn't pretend that she hadn't killed him, couldn't deny that there was that dark side to her character that she worked tirelessly to suppress.

Olivia came to a sudden halt, blinking rapidly as she tried to hold back the tears that were threatening to fall. She was suddenly aware that she was wound tight as a spring, shoulders rigid, teeth clenched, and hands balled into tight fists, to the point where her fingernails were digging into her palms. Taking a deep, ragged breath, she tried to relax. Oblivious to the people around her, she brought her hands up to inspect the damage. She was dismayed to see she had almost broken the skin. Staring at the angry red crescents on her palms, the reality of what she was doing to herself dawned on her.

This excessive self-analysis was destructive, not just physically, but mentally. She needed something to take her mind away from these lines of thought that were threatening to swamp her. Normally, she'd throw herself into work, but that wasn't an option right now.

As she slumped down onto a nearby bench, Olivia was aware, on some level, that she needed to work. Just how much had dawned on her a couple of years ago, when a psychologist had been assigned to the Unit to psychoanalyse the members of the team and asked her what kind of job she would do if she wasn't in the SVU. The question had been asked casually, but Olivia had barely been able to hold back the tears when it dawned on her that helping victims was her life. There was nothing else she could ever consider doing.

Right at that moment, sitting in the park, Olivia wished, more than anything, that she could get back into that frame of mind that she'd had in that uncomfortable interview. That blind belief that her vocation was right. That she had been, quite literally, born to do her job.

What did SVU detectives do when they left, anyway? Cassidy had ended up in narcotics, and, from what she'd heard on the grapevine, was a rising star over there. And Jefferies, who had been booted out of the SVU as a result of that very same psychologist who had invoked the realisation in Olivia that SVU was her fate, had continued to barrel down that self destructive spiral of picking up men in bars for a good few months after the the psychologist had called her on it.

Moving to vice had been the best thing that had ever happened to Jefferies, though, Olivia reflected. It had acted as a sledgehammer reality check to her former colleague's behaviour. Monique been forced to take a long, hard look at her own promiscuity and the potential danger this could land her in. She'd settled down pretty fast after that – just as quickly as she'd started her run of casual encounters, she'd stopped, and was now, as far as Olivia knew, working away productively, and dating a firefighter named Rick.

Hit by the realisation that there was, in fact, someone who might understand at least a part of what she was feeling, and already knew all the uncomfortable details about her childhood, Olivia pulled out her cellphone, hoping that Monique was still living in the same apartment that she'd been in when they'd last talked, around Christmastime.

Back at her apartment, Olivia snagged a bottle of water from the fridge as she listened to the messages on her answer machine. Amongst the usual shower of cold-callers, Olivia was surprised to hear the familiar tones of Alex Cabot leaving a brief message, thanking her for the flowers she'd had sent over. Several useless messages later, and there was another, asking about how Olivia was, but this time there was a definite note of concern, with a little edge of panic in the normally unflappable attorney's voice.

Glancing at her watch, Olivia picked up the 'phone. It was mid-afternoon and Alex would probably be in court, but the least she could do was leave a message to let the other woman know she was okay.

Olivia was a little startled when Alex picked up half-way through the first ring. She thought she heard an edge of tension in the businesslike "Cabot" that greeted her.

"Alex, hi. I was just returning your calls."

There was a pause, then a small, quiet breath out on the other end of the phone, before Alex asked in a neutral voice,

"Olivia, how are you?"

"Fine," she answered automatically, then corrected herself. "Well, better, I think."

This time the tone was genuinely warm, "That's good to hear."

There was silence for a long second. Olivia realised the attorney probably didn't know what to say to her, given her general reluctance to poke her nose into Olivia's private business. And the impetus was on her to respond anyway.

"How are you?"

"Uh, fine, thanks."

Olivia was painfully aware that the conversation was bland, but apart from work-related topics, which she didn't particularly want to think about or discuss at that particular moment, she hadn't established any other common ground with the ADA. Sensing a sudden awkwardness, she decided to make a quick, safe closure to the conversation, casually offering,

"Uh, I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then?"

"I thought you were due back the day after."

Olivia could hear a clear note of curiosity in Alex's response.

"I'm already going a little crazy with nothing to do. I decided it would be better just to get back into it, instead of…"

Olivia trailed off. Although it would be obvious to Alex that she would have been thinking about what had happened, she saw no reason to admit that explicitly.

She was surprised at Alex's next words.

"Are you sure that's wise? Sorry, I mean, are you feeling okay about that?"

This was the first time Alex had mentioned anything to do with the shooting, and Olivia's reaction to it. The detective was a little startled – she had no idea how Alex had managed to put her finger on exactly what had been bothering her so much when, save Jefferies, she hadn't discussed it with anyone.

However, emboldened by how much better she'd felt after talking it all through with Monique, Olivia decided to respond to the other woman's obvious interest and concern, even if there was a tiny frisson of shock running through her at Alex's response.

"Uh, sort of. I talked it all through with a friend, and kind of came to the conclusion that I needed to get back to work right away, or…"

She didn't finish the sentence, not wanting to reveal to Alex that she had been seriously contemplating not returning at all. Nor that Jefferies had listened to the whole story and subtly persuaded her that she should go back, by telling her if she was going to leave, then fine, she should do it, but if she had any doubts at all, she should just go back and try. Olivia had made the decision instantly – she'd get it over with as soon as she could, and if she found it was just too much, then she'd leave. Either way, giving it a go was the only way she'd discover whether she could co-exist with her demons and regain that feeling of synchrony with her work.

Deflecting Alex away from that line of conversation, she moved her answer onto safer ground,

"Well, I mean, it's just desk duty for a couple of weeks, right? Shouldn't be too strenuous."

"I guess not. It should be a change, anyway, from being out in the field."

The pregnant pause that followed left Olivia in no doubt that Alex wanted to ask her how she felt about being taken off the streets. Again, that was something she didn't want to get into. She'd realised that being stuck in the office was probably best, for the time being, anyway, as it was the place where she could do the least harm. She couldn't think of a decent response to what Alex had said, so settled on a rather weak, "Yeah…I'll see you tomorrow, then?"

There was a brief moment of silence, and Olivia wondered if Alex was going to probe deeper into her decision to return to work so soon. It seemed not, as Alex merely replied, "Sure. See you tomorrow, Olivia."

Chapter 10: Lay to Rest

As they drove up to the church in the small Dorset town, Helen was astonished at the sheer number of cars that were there. The car park and the road immediately in front of the church were filled with large, expensive-looking new vehicles. They were forced to park in a side street, and as they walked up the small path that led to the church's entrance, Helen grabbed Nikki's hand.

They stayed like that through the entire service. Nikki had slipped into a pew at the back of the church, not wanting to draw attention to herself. Helen was in awe of the grand surroundings. Her own father was a Presbyterian Minister, so she was used to church services, but this magnificently decorated hulk of a building was a far cry from the small chapels she'd attended in her youth.

Helen was so proud of Nikki, who sat in quiet dignity throughout the entire event, apparently listening intently. She showed emotion only once, when the Father talked of how proud Peter Wade had been of his only son and all his achievements, both professional and personal; Helen saw tears spring to her partner's eyes then, and was secretly resentful that Nikki was not mentioned even once during the service. She continued to grip Nikki's hand.

Once the ceremony was over, they filtered out behind all the other mourners. Helen had noted that as the people passed them by, Nikki had kept her eyes downcast. When they emerged into the bright sunlight, Nikki seemed hesitant to follow the crowd to the burial; Peter Wade was to be interred in a family plot at the back of the churchyard and people were milling around in that general vicinity.

"Want to go home?" Helen asked, fairly satisfied that Nikki had gone through enough for that day.

Nikki glanced at the mob of smartly-dressed people, then shook her head. "I'd like to see it through," she admitted, "Although I'd prefer to stay at the back."

So they took their place on the fringes of the gathering. No one around seemed to recognise Nikki, although the brunette cast a few anxious glances around at first. They couldn't see anything from where they were standing, but they could hear the sombre tone of the Father as he committed Peter Wade to the earth in the familiar ceremony. Helen could hear a woman sobbing at the front, and as Nikki gripped her hand tightly, she was suddenly reminded of Spencer Lindsay's funeral. The woman sounded much like Spencer's mother had that day. Helen pushed the image of the former inmate, Monica Lindsey, sobbing on her son's coffin, out of her head, and turned her attention to Nikki as the crowd began dispersing.

Nikki seemed lost; unsure of what to do, not moving as the churchgoers made their way past. There was going to be a wake in the town hall, and Helen was sure Nikki wouldn't want to attend that. She wondered why Nikki was just standing there, when she noticed her partner trying to look past the tide that was moving against her. She realised Nikki wanted to see the grave. Helen ushered her partner off the path, where the majority of the people were walking, and they made their way forwards.

As they approached, Helen could see a few people still gathered around the plot. There was a woman in a wheelchair, flanked on either side by the Father and a tall man who were apparently trying to comfort her – this had been the woman Helen had heard crying earlier, and was, she supposed, Nikki's mother. There were a couple of younger men hovering uncertainly close by.

Nikki stopped abruptly. "I can't," she whispered. Helen felt her partner freeze as the tall man took his place behind the wheelchair and manoeuvred it round to face them. The two young men slotted efficiently in behind. The grip Nikki had on Helen's hand was now almost painfully tight, fingers interlocked, squeezing bones together, but Helen matched the pressure. As the party drew closer, Helen was surprised to feel Nikki's hand relax in hers.

The taller woman shifted her posture slightly, so she was standing like a soldier to attention, solid and upright. Helen sensed a sudden change in Nikki's demeanour. Fear and panic had been replaced by an arrogant, defiant brashness, evocative of Nikki in Larkhall on the many occasions when the inmate had stood off against Helen herself. Fight or flight. The phrase from her psychology training echoed in Helen's mind. Helen had never known Nikki to back down from anything, and the brunette was clearly readying herself to stand her ground, physically and mentally.

The Father was talking in quiet tones, issuing platitudes as the small group drew near. Helen was familiar with the kinds of things he was saying, as she'd heard her own father offering the standard words of comfort and hope for the future on many occasions. The woman in the chair didn't seem to be listening, though; her eyes were fixed firmly on Nikki.

The tall man drew to a halt four or five paces from Nikki and Helen. Safe distance the Scotswoman thought to herself. As he reached down to snap on the wheelchair's brakes, Helen got her first good look at Nikki's mother. Jane Wade was small and frail, and bore no resemblance to Nikki at all. She had grey, elegantly styled short hair, and sharp blue eyes assessed Nikki quickly, before casting a critical eye over Helen. Helen could see the woman had been beautiful once, still was, in fact; she had high, sculpted cheekbones, and the accompanying classical bone structure.

Helen could see that the man pushing the chair was his mother's son, with his fine features and cold blue stare. Michael was tall, though, maybe six foot four; clearly both siblings had inherited their father's height genes. He also had the same shade hair as Nikki, Helen noted, although Michael's was greying at the temples.

The Father had stopped talking mid-flow, suddenly aware of the icy atmosphere between the two parties. Briefly touching Jane Wade's arm, he mumbled something about the wake, and hurried off down the path.

Michael was the first to speak.


This was accompanied by a curt nod of his head, and no attempt whatsoever to make eye contact.

Nikki replied in kind.

"Michael," she stated.

On the surface Nikki's utterance was full of calm composure, but Helen had learned that this particular tone indicated false bravado on Nikki's part. Still, it sounded convincing to an outsider, she supposed.

Up to this point, Helen had only been vaguely aware of the other two young men, but as they moved around Michael, evidently to get a look at Nikki, Helen could see that they were, in fact, teenagers. Both tall and awkwardly gangly, their height, at a distance, had been deceiving. These were clearly Nikki's nephews.

The slightly taller one appeared to be around sixteen and was startlingly delicate-looking. He had clear blue eyes and sandy hair; Helen wondered whether either Jane or Peter Wade had been blond. Again, the delicate bone structure, this time with a willowy frame. Helen couldn't decide if he was incredibly handsome, or oddly pretty. The other boy could easily be classified in the former category. He was a couple of years younger than his brother, Helen estimated, but his shoulders were already broader than the older boy's, and she could easily predict that three or four years, this young man would fill out considerably and probably end up being bigger than his father. He had dark hair, which flopped over his forehead, and Helen couldn't help but hold his gaze, as his eyes were carbon copies of Nikki's.

Helen was waiting expectantly for the polite introductions, curious about these young relatives, but as she stared into the achingly familiar brown eyes, Helen's peripheral vision registered Jane Wade's hand making an impatient flapping movement. Michael was quick to respond.

"Boys, wait in the car," he ordered, in the same clipped tone.

Helen caught the flicker of disappointment on the younger boy's face as he reluctantly followed his older brother towards the road.

Nikki was the first to speak, presumably wanting to stake out her place in this standoff.

"Mother, Michael, this is my partner, Helen."

Good, she's standing her ground. Helen noted, with a measure of pride, that Nikki was maintaining the same, confident tone that she'd used before.

"I'm aware of Miss Stewart," commented the woman in a vaguely sarcastic tone. Her accent had come as the result of elocution lessons, Helen was sure, as the woman's upper-class voice sounded somehow affected.

Helen assumed Jane Wade had learned of her identity through the television coverage of Nikki's appeal, so she didn't dwell on that. Responding in as warm a tone as she could muster, Helen responded to this cold half-greeting politely.

"Mrs. Wade."

Jane Wade didn't even glance at her. Nor did she even grace her daughter with so much as a hello after all these years, Helen noted in disgust. The woman simply got down to business.

"Nicola, I wish to talk in private with you and your brother."

Nikki seemed to be prepared for this.

"Anything you have to say, Mother, you can say in front of Helen. There are no secrets in our relationship."

Although Jane Wade had clearly known about the nature of her and Nikki's partnership, Helen saw a brief expression of comprehension, followed quickly by disgust, in the older woman's eyes. Then she regained her steely composure, stating,

"This is a private family matter."

For a split second, there was the tiniest note of plaintiveness in the assertion. It was quickly pushed down, but it was there, nevertheless. Unaccountably moved by the fact that the woman did, in fact have a human side to her, Helen heard her own voice softly saying,

"If you want, Nikki, I can wait by the gate."

She punctuated this with a squeeze of Nikki's hand, to communicate to her partner that it was completely up to her.

For a long moment, Nikki hovered on the brink of indecisiveness. Then, with a quick nod, apparently confirming something to herself, she released Helen's hand, uttering a single word as she did so.


Unwilling to see Jane Wade's reaction to this simple, heartfelt declaration, and feeling no need to keep up the façade of controlled politeness, Helen silently turned and walked back down the path.

She stood alone by the gate, nervously casting surreptitious glances in Nikki's direction. All three of the Wades held their positions for the duration of the conversation, which couldn't have taken more than five minutes, although it seemed a lot longer to Helen.

When Nikki finally made her way back towards Helen, the Scotswoman could see barely controlled tension in the brunette's brisk stride. As Nikki drew close to her, though, her expression changed from flat detachment to something more soft.

With a hesitant smile, Helen asked, "Okay?" feeling the need to reassure in some way, although she knew her question was hopelessly inadequate.

Nikki didn't answer, just drew her girlfriend into a tight hug, burying her face into Helen's shoulder. Helen sighed inwardly as she immediately felt some of the tension flee from the form against her. She automatically brought her hands up to rest on Nikki's back, incredibly relieved when she felt Nikki relax even more. They held their position for a long moment, as Helen allowed Nikki to draw all the strength she needed.

Nikki let go first, loosening the embrace slightly so that she could face Helen comfortably, but still holding her. She looked Helen directly in the eyes, with such love and appreciation that Helen thought she might cry.

"Thank you." Nikki whispered.

Almost making a move forward to kiss her girlfriend, but remembering where they were just in time, Helen gave a half-smile in response, then glanced past Nikki's shoulder to see Michael and Jane Wade watching them from a distance.

While Helen might have had a strong sense of propriety, Nikki evidently didn't. Muttering, "Oh, fuck it," she moved forward to kiss Helen. It was a long, closed-mouth press, ostensibly far more chaste than Helen was used to receiving from her partner, but Nikki poured such insistent love and gratitude into it that Helen was breathless when Nikki reluctantly pulled away.

"Let's go home," Nikki whispered into Helen's ear, with a final squeeze that felt to Helen like an appropriate conclusion to the afternoon.

Chapter 11: Volcano

Olivia found a virtually empty squadroom when she arrived the next morning. During a quick chat with Cragen, it had been quickly and forcefully established that yes, she was fit to return to work, and yes, she would concede that it might be better if she was driving a desk for a while.

When Munch, Fin and Elliot had arrived back at around ten-thirty, grumbling about a fruitless search, Olivia was well into her paperwork. Not looking up from her file, she waved a slip at them.

"Your guy's employer rang in with a secondary home address."

Taking it from her, Fin grumbled, "Man, that's only two blocks from where we just were."

Olivia shrugged. She was aware all three were regarding her warily. She waited.

"You need me on this guys?" Elliot asked, hovering uncertainly.

Fin mumbled something about Elliot having a swarm of bees up his ass and stalked out of the squadroom.

"Guess not," remarked Munch dryly. With a quick squeeze of Olivia's shoulder, he followed his partner out of the precinct.

After a long second, Elliot asked, "Want some coffee?"

Eyes still downcast, Olivia replied curtly. "I'm fine."

Elliot took a step forward, then, apparently thinking better of it, went to get himself a cup, before settling himself in his chair, quietly picking up a file from the top of his pile.

For an hour, the two of them worked in silence, occasionally answering calls. Olivia actually began to relax a little, wondering if Elliot's reluctance to speak meant they would just work their way through their current impasse, as they had done in the past.

She'd often found that a good way to handle any kind of conflict with Elliot was just to get right back to being partners; focusing on the job always seemed to reaffirm in her mind that even though they might argue, the overriding dynamic of their partnership was that they made a good team. Any disagreements were quickly dropped and smoothed over just by throwing themselves back into an investigation – something as simple as tagteaming a suspect, or one of them interviewing a victim while the other provided unspoken support by remaining in the background would often be enough to get them on track.

But then she'd become aware of his furtive glances towards her, brief at first, then longer and longer stares, until she felt like she was being studied. Unable to stand it, she'd glanced at her watch. 11.42. Right. She'd give him until 11.45 to cut it out.

At precisely 11.44, she called him on it.

"What?" Olivia kept her tone carefully flat.


"Why are you looking at me like that?

"Like what?"

"Like I'm about to combust, Elliot."

"Are you?" Elliot's tone was tentative.

"What?" Olivia didn't even bother to hide the irritation in her voice now.

"About to combust?"

"Leave it, Elliot."

He paused for a moment before speaking again.

"Olivia, we have to work together."

"I know!"

Olivia punctuated this by suddenly standing and planting her hands firmly on the desk, completely forgetting that her partner was wise to these physical intimidation tactics.


"So what, Elliot?" She shot back angrily.

"We need to sort this thing out."

Olivia was vaguely aware of someone approaching the desk. She didn't look up, as all her attention was focused on the glaring contest with her partner.

"What?" She snapped.

"I, uh, just wondered if you wanted to get some lunch."

Alex. Olivia kept her eyes firmly fixed on Elliot.

"Goddammit, Elliot, I don't need Any. More. Babysitters."

Elliot's eyes widened slightly then flickered in the direction of Alex. Before anyone had a chance to say anything, Cragen's voice boomed through the squadroom,

"Benson. In here. Now."

With a final glare at Elliot, Olivia brushed past Alex and into Cragen's office.

Cragen's voice was firm as she took a seat.

"Go home, Olivia."

"I'm fine," she shot back quickly.

"You're clearly not."

"I'm fine, Captain."

Cragen took a second before responding, deciding on the best way to handle his detective.

"Olivia, I trusted your judgement on time off before and look what happened."

She refused to be drawn onto that topic, insisting, "I need to be at work."

Cragen considered this for a moment. He seemed to be on the brink of something. With a short breath out, he countered,

"I will not tolerate outbursts like that in my squadroom. Do I make myself clear?"

Olivia nodded once. "Understood, captain."

Cragen's tone was softer as he continued, "You need to work this out with Elliot. He was only trying to…"

"I know what he was trying to do."

Her impatient tone indicated she wasn't intending to discuss this.

"Olivia. I will not tolerate…"

"Outbursts like that in my squadroom. I heard you the first time."

Olivia crossed her arms, as if to emphasise what she was saying.

The captain's voice was low and controlled as he spoke.

"You are sailing very close to the wind, Detective. You need to take a step back."

"Or what?"

"Or consider a transfer."

Olivia was silent as this sunk in. She wasn't sure if this was an empty threat, or if Cragen was serious.

"Is that something you want, Olivia?"

Olivia paused before answering. "No," she admitted quietly, "I don't think so."

Cragen sighed. "Good. Because you're one of my best detectives. And you and Stabler make one hell of a team. If you're intent on staying here, you need to talk to him, Olivia."

Olivia nodded again as she rose from her seat.


Turning, Olivia looked at the captain.

"I think you should also go apologise to Alex."

Once again, she felt her anger rising at being told what to do.

"I'm not a child."

Cragen levelled a cool gaze at her.

"Take a few minutes to cool down, then go and apologise, Olivia."

Biting back a retort, Olivia left Cragen's office briskly. Mumbling, "Ten minutes," at her partner, she headed to the crib.

When she arrived back in the squadroom, Elliot was exactly where she'd left him. There was a fresh cup of coffee on her desk. Taking her seat, she began to speak. She'd loosely mapped out what she wanted to say during her break, and drew on that, as she talked in a careful, measured tone.

"Elliot," she began, gratified when her partner looked up from his paperwork, then settled back in his seat, giving her his full attention, apparently happy to let her speak without interruption.

"I'm still angry about what happened with Plummer, and about what you did. And I'm not going to talk, or forgive, right now."

Elliot nodded minutely in response. Taking that as acceptance, Olivia continued,

"But, as you say, we have to work together. So, I'm willing to try that. Just get on with the job. And I'll be stuck in here for some time…"

She flapped her hand, indicating the squadroom.

"…so it's not like we'll be in each other's pockets, not for a while, at least. Maybe by then, things will have eased off a little, and we can get back to just being partners."


Olivia raised her eyebrows. "Okay?"

A smile crept over Elliot's face. "Okay. Sounds good. Perfectly reasonable. Always worked before." He ended his statement with a shrug.

"Good, then."

Not finished, Elliot added, "There's just one thing."

"What?" Olivia's tone was wary.

"I think you should apologise to Cabot."

Olivia was about to bite back, when she discerned a slight note of humour in her partner's voice. Getting up from her desk, she warned, in a mock-angry tone, "Elliot. Don't push it," as she headed out of the squadroom.

Chapter 12: Reconnecting

Although Nikki had wanted to drive back, Helen had insisted her partner should be passenger once again. Nikki gazed out of the window at the countryside as Helen negotiated them out of Dorset and back towards Oxford. When they had been travelling for a good half-hour, Nikki had begun, without prompting, to volunteer information about what had transpired between her and her mother.

Helen had assumed that one of two things was occurring in the conversation while she waited by the churchyard's entrance. She'd thought it was most likely that the Wade family business concerned Peter's will. That would explain why Jane wanted both Nikki and Michael in attendance. Slightly less probable, she thought, was that Jane wanted to reiterate her disapproval of Nikki's lifestyle and felt the need to have Michael there for some kind of moral support. If she was honest, Helen had also held out a vain thread of hope for Jane making some sort of reconciliation attempt with her daughter. However, as Nikki had started talking in the car, it had soon become clear to Helen that the secret churchyard meeting had been none of these things.

She glanced over at Nikki, and, seeing her partner with her head gently pressed against the window, asleep, began to run through the most salient points of Nikki's monologue, trying to make sense of the odd conversation Nikki had recounted.

Nikki's mother had tried to apologise for something, but Nikki had no idea what that was, and the typical stilted way Jane had gone about it had left Nikki doubting whether it was an apology at all. She'd told Nikki she should forgive her father; at first, Nikki had assumed this was in relation to his behaviour when she'd been sixteen, but when her mother had started apportioning blame on herself for her husband's actions, Nikki suddenly wasn't sure. Jane's behaviour that very afternoon towards Helen and herself, along her attitude towards their relationship, had been completely consistent with the way her mother had treated her all her adult life.

Helen didn't have an explanation for her. Even when Nikki suggested that perhaps her mother had been hinting that Peter had had an affair, Helen couldn't see Jane taking on the role of inadequate wife, and told Nikki as much. Helen fleetingly wondered if all this was related to the mystery surrounding Peter's death, as although no one had talked about it, Helen was fairly sure she'd heard the word 'mafia' as the mourners had pushed past them in the churchyard. But she had nothing resembling proof, nor even a theory, and the thought was dismissed from her mind almost as soon as she'd acknowledged it.

She smiled, brought out of her musings by Nikki stretching out in the cramped seat beside her, waking up from her nap and asking in an innocent tone,

"We home yet?"

When they got back to the cottage, Nikki headed straight for the living room and flopped down onto the couch. Helen hesitated in the doorway, unable to read Nikki's mood. She looked exhausted. Helen, unsure of what to do or say, fell back on the uncontroversial tried-and-tested convention, asking,

"Cup of tea?"

Nikki opened her eyes, and regarded Helen. Shaking her head, she held out her hand, and simply said,


Letting out a small breath of relief, Helen moved forward, taking Nikki's hand and letting herself be pulled onto Nikki's lap. Nikki's arms automatically slid around Helen's waist as she held the smaller woman against her warmly. They sat like that for a while, Helen with her head on Nikki's shoulder, each of them feeling the other systematically relaxing after the recent stressful events.

Nikki took Helen's hand, intertwining fingers with her, and running her thumb along Helen's palm. Almost shyly, she murmured, "Thanks."

Not sure what Nikki was referring to, Helen responded, "Well, you're welcome, but what for?"

"Just…for today, the past couple of weeks, you know."

Helen simply shrugged.

Feeling the need to elaborate, Nikki continued, "I know I haven't been the easiest, lately."

She paused, trying to search for the right words to express what she wanted to, settling on, "I shut you out, and I'm sorry."

Helen kissed her gently on the cheek.

"It's okay, sweetheart. You've had some pretty big things to think about."

As she thought about it, Helen couldn't help laughing softly to herself.

"What?" Nikki asked with a smile, not at all offended at the incongruous moment, as she was thinking to herself that it was far too long since she'd heard her lover laughing like that.

"I suppose I now know a little of what you've had to put up with these past few years."

"What do you mean?" Nikki asked, totally mystified.

Helen gazed at Nikki for a moment, who was looking adorably confused, and couldn't help giving her a brief, affectionate kiss.

Nikki shot her a brief, lopsided smile. "Good answer, but again, what?"

"Haven't you ever realised that, with us, you're the one that's always wanting to talk about 'issues', push things on, right from the start?"

A brief flicker passed across Nikki's face, and Helen, realising that what she'd said could sound vaguely accusatory, continued quickly, "I mean, that's not a bad thing. We wouldn't be together now if it wasn't for that."

Nikki nodded, as she thought about it. Helen was right. It was her own relentless pursuit of Helen, and insistence on getting the woman to talk about often painfully embarrassing emotions that had led the Scotswoman, after many denials, to admit she had feelings for Nikki, when Helen had clearly not wanted to confront the issue at all. Nikki on the other hand, had had no problem in expressing exactly what she wanted, and had set about achieving it with determination.

As if reading her thoughts, Helen continued, "And I've always been the one to clam up, to try and weasel out of working these things through, because I used to think that if I didn't speak out about what I was feeling and thinking, it would go away."

"And?" Nikki asked, curious about how this related to their current situation.

"And lately, I've seen you go through ten kinds of hell, completely unable to talk to me about it, and I've not known how to reach you. I've wanted to help you so badly, to push the issue, but I know how it feels to not want to talk about it, so I didn't."

Nikki caught a note of regret in Helen's last words.

"Sweetheart, it's not that I didn't want to talk about it. I couldn't, because I didn't know exactly how I felt…" she trailed off, not sure she was getting her point across.

Helen nodded thoughtfully, taking in this new piece of information. Apparently, it wasn't that Nikki had deliberately kept her out of the loop, rather that she just hadn't been sure about what to do, or say.

"You were confused." It was half question, half statement.

Nikki continued. "Yes. And I should have told you that, maybe. But I was scared that if I did, I'd have to start dealing with things that I wasn't ready to confront…"

Once again, she left the statement unfinished, not wanting to get into the details of her history with her parents again.

Helen, sensing this, briefly brought up their joined hands and kissed the back of Nikki's hand.

"I understand, Nikki."

It was said so gently, quietly and honestly. Nikki suddenly realised how frustrating all of this must have been for Helen, and feeling an unexpected urge to reassure her girlfriend, added, "And you were perfect, darling. You just gave me space to let me get on with it, and you didn't force anything. I don't think I would have been able to do that myself."

At this, Helen allowed herself a tiny smile.

"I don't think you would have, either. And I love you for that."

"For being a pushy cow?"

Helen gave a small, low laugh at Nikki's typically blunt, yet perfectly expressive, words.

"For being you. For being enough of a pushy cow to make sure that we deal with these things. For loving me."

"Touché," murmured Nikki quietly, feeling tears well up in her eyes at this heartfelt declaration.

They sat like that for a few minutes, enjoying the relaxed closeness. Nikki's mind began to wander over the events of the day, and the past few weeks, and how Helen had indeed been there for her, steadfast in her gentle support. She was brought out of her musings by Helen snuggling in closer to her and placing a soft, affectionate kiss on her jaw.

"I've missed this," Nikki murmured absentmindedly, automatically giving Helen a gentle squeeze in response.

Nikki began to wonder if Helen was falling asleep on her, as she so often did, as she noted the relaxed body and even breathing against her neck. She was mildly surprised to hear the soft question,

"What now?"

Nikki wasn't sure if Helen was referring to the general situation with her father, or if this was an enquiry as to what was going to happen next tonight.

She settled for a vague, "I thought I might have a bath."


Nikki thought she caught an odd tone in Helen's voice, something akin to disappointment, but she wasn't sure.

"You're coming with me?"

"I thought that might be your way of telling me you needed a little more time alone," Helen answered softly.

"Sweetheart, I think I've spent enough time alone lately, don't you? I think, what I mean is, what I really want to do now, is just to spend some time with you."

Helen wasn't quite convinced, asking hesitantly, "Are you sure? I don't mind if you want to…"

Nikki cut her short. "Just me and you. And not talk or think about what's going on outside."

"But we need to…"

"I know. Just not tonight," adding in a softer tone, "I think you need that too."

Helen was touched that, despite everything that Nikki had been dealing with, she was still thinking about what she, Helen was feeling. She realised, with a warm rush of love, that she could think of nowhere she'd rather be than with Nikki, reconnecting.

She smiled in response. "Lead the way, then."

Part 13

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