Summary: Tessa has a dilemma. She's in love with her partner. What should she do? Follow regulations or her heart?

Rating: PG-13 (T - suggestion of adult themes)

Disclaimers: I do not own the characters, the setting or the world of Tessa Vance. The copyright lies with Jennifer Rowe, and the TV-show belongs to Southern Star and Hal McElroy.

Author's Note: Argh, really old fic - I'm almost embarrassed of how poorly written it is:P But I felt like I had to upload it anyway. In a way, it's kind of cute... Meheheh

Moral Battle
by neela

Tessa Vance, Homicide detective, was late. It was unusual for her, seeing as the last time she had arrived late for work was nearly five months ago, in her first case at the new division. It was a memory she would be happy to forget. Unfriendliness, embarrassment, being preyed by Brady Mumm… She shook her head, hurrying down the steps.

Fifteen minutes later found her rushing into the office, breathing a little more heavily. Steve Hayden, her partner, was already behind his desk, typing a report. He looked up as she entered, dark eyes flashing with emotion as they locked on hers. She found herself shivering slightly from the dark orbs beneath the shady mop of hair.

"Thorne's on the war path," he said low as she hung off her jacket and dumped the handbag on her untidy desk. Not long after he had said so than their boss' voice rang through the room.

"Vance! In my office. Now."

Dee Suzeraine, passing through the office on her way down to the forensic lab gave her a sympathetic glance. Tessa nodded gratefully in her general direction, giving Steve a curt look before vanishing into Inspector Malcolm Thorne's office.

Five months, and the man was still giving her a hard time. Tessa entered with her chin up even though she steeled herself for the following reprimand. And she was not disappointed.

"In this unit we have an appropriate time to come to work," the man behind the desk, sitting uptight and hands folded on the desk before him, "And that is not half-an-hour later."

She opened her mouth to apologise and say it would never happen again, but he cut her off, "I am well aware that our clients do not go anywhere, but that does not mean we can cut back on the time we use to find their killers. Am I understood?"

"Yes, sir." What else could she say? If there was a single man on Earth she was loathe coming cross with, then it was Thorne. The man was a stickler to rules, and disapproved greatly of her airy professionalism. A gesture told her she was dismissed, and Tessa let a breath out when she left the office.

"Only the second time in five months, and he still gives you a hard time over it," Steve remarked gently when she returned, having picked up a cup of coffee on her way back.

"Indeed he does," Tessa replied, putting her cup down and trying to rearrange her desk to make it tidier. It was a futile attempt, and drew a chuckle out of her partner.

"Tess, you know you're never going to get that tidy." His eyes were twinkling.

"I am still allowed to try, am I not?" she shot back lightly, making him grin. Oh, it felt good to have reached better terms with each other. She remembered how evasive and untrusting they had been in the beginning, and how they had in the months past begun to form a relationship of sorts.

After the conclusion of the Fairview case, they had went by her place so she could change, and then gone to the S & M where they'd played pool, talked and overcome the first difficult obstacles. Tessa had explained to him about Brady, and had even started talking about Brett before containing herself. He respected that, and did not push her.

However, a month later, when the soreness of the subject had worn down and Steve seemed more willing to listen, she had opened up to him about the bouncy relationship between the two of them. In return, he had told her about his unsuccessful marriage while in uniform and the scarce girlfriends he'd had since. It had been a whole new turn, and a beginning to what they had today: a trustful friendship, always ready to back each other up.

Though, Steve could not have done much to back her up with Thorne; nearly no one could rise to the Inspector's level. So she smiled at him and they returned to the case files.

It was one of their most gruesome murders yet; a young woman had been found buried at the beach. She had probably been most alive when buried; she had been gagged and tied up. It was impossible to get any forensic evidences, as the water had washed away traces of shoes and feet, and the body had been free of marks with the exception of the bonds.

Tessa still shivered when she thought back on the day of the discovery. Some building company had started digging, and drug the body up from the sand. It had resulted in many fractured bones, leaving the woman's limbs to stick out bizarrely. She had wanted to throw up.

Steve had noticed, and asked her to start the door-to-door on the beach houses nearby. She had never been so grateful before, and had set to the task which brought very little to go on. No one had seen nor heard anything. In fact, the people owning the beach houses only stayed there through summer and had to be contacted by phone.

And now, a week later, they were at a dead end. It was nearly nothing to identify the woman by, and there were none called in missing who fitted her description either. No family, no friends.

The hours dragged by. They made phone calls, visited Lance Fisk down in his lab, talked to Tootsie about the corpse, and drank coffee. Tessa was getting sick to the bone; although she reminded herself this would be a good time to finish on some paperwork from last case which was overdue. Steve made no comment when she dug forth the file from last murder, and just grinned at her.

When the hands on the clock neared three, Steve's voice interrupted her while she was typing down her last report.

"Nah, what do you say we leave early for the day?" he asked casually, his sleeves folded up and tie loosened as they often did at the end of the day. "I think even Thorne would agree to that."

Tessa looked at him above the laptop screen. "I am just going to finish this, then head back home."

"Sounds even more boring than my plans," Steve said, staring at the clock on the wall.

"What are your plans?" She looked up at him now and then, alternating her focus on the screen and her partner.

"Not much, go home to a stinky, unfinished house in a desolated street where approximately every building needs a repaint." A smile touched her lips. "How about you?"

"I was thinking rock-climbing in the gym," she replied. "That is, if I ever get to finish this report." A sigh escaped her lips and she turned her eyes on the screen again. Moments passed, Steve was rising from his chair and moving around. Suddenly, his hand was on the screen and closed it. She began to protest, but he only grasped her shoulders firmly and ushered her up on her feet.

"Na-ah," Steve told her as he pushed her towards the coat hanger and slung her jacket over her shoulders, "It can wait 'till tomorrow. Right now, you and I have an appointment with Gino's down the street. It is time you get off those solo trips of yours and spend some quality time with other people."

And before she could protest further, Steve had already said their goodbyes to Thorne and pushed her out the doors of Central Homicide. The laptop stood still on the desk behind them.

Gino's proved to be more than Tessa expected it to be (a dungy diner where the maids wore unwashed aprons), with its comfortable spacey room, mahogany tables in various chairs and adjoining cushioned chairs. Steve led her over to a table for two by the window, pulling her chair out like a real gentleman. He grinned at her as he sat down.

A male waiter, tall and fair with a forced smile, was right at their side with the menus, and they accepted them gratefully. Tessa looked over the dishes, wondering what on earth she was going to have. It did not occur to her until after they had ordered that she and Steve might be testing a few boundaries at the moment.

"Is this alright?" she asked, quickly adding, "Us being partners and dinner," when he quirked an eyebrow at her in confusion. He lightened immediately and flashed a twinkle.

"According to police regulations, partners are allowed to spend time together, but an intimate relationship is frowned upon. Surely you know that," Steve added as an afterthought. Tessa blushed and grudgingly admitted she had forgotten about it temporarily. She had been thinking about something else than the police regulations…

The chatter went on until the food arrived, steak to him and chicken to her, and they resumed the light talking throughout dinner. However, the light talk soon evolved into gentle flirting, and Tessa found herself thinking how beautiful smile the man before her had. Of course she had noticed it before, but it had never shined so much before.

It must be your company.
No it's not.
You know it is.

She ignored the comments in her mind, laughing at a story he told her from the bush and the days he was young.

"Ah, so you have been young once".

Steve feigned taking offence, making her chuckle. He soon grinned himself, and cracked a joke about her always being young. It looked as if he had wanted to say something more, but reined in and laid the cutlery down on his plate to announce he was finished. Tessa wiped her mouth gently with her napkin and folded it, putting it down on her own plate.

The waiter came and took their dishes, eyeing Tessa almost disgustfully and asking if there was anything they wanted more. They shared a look before Steve said no and asked the man to bring the bill. Tessa's hand was already in her bag fumbling for her wallet, but Steve spoke up.

"It's one me tonight, Tess."


"No," he said firmly, giving her a look that made her melt inside. His eyes were not so bad either, nor the delicate lips—

Stop that line of thought right now! It can never happen! You're partners.

She shook her head with a smile, returning the wallet to her bag. Steve smiled happily and paid the waiter without a question. The waiter bid them goodnight as they left, linking arms in friendly camaraderie.

Once out in the cool night air, Tessa discovered how the hours had passed from afternoon to evening. The city was glowing in lights here and there, making it nearly impossible to see the stars above. From her veranda she had always been able to see the stars, but here downtown…

She was drawn out of her thoughts as Steve's arm disappeared and she saw they were by the car. Jumping inside the front seat, Tessa dug forth her mobile to see if anyone had called. Not a single phone call. Oh well, in some ways that was good; no interruptions in their dinner.

"It was a wonderful dinner, Steve. Next time's on me."

"I was hoping you would say that, it would save me a lot of money to be spared of paying your dinners," he replied jokingly as he pulled out of the parking lot and set off into the night. "I only paid today so that next time I could buy the largest beef they have in town."

Tessa pretended to swap him. "I should have guessed there was some underlying intention in your sudden interest in playing gentleman." They chuckled.

"Honestly, I had a really good time too," Steve said after the laughter had died away. "I can't remember the last time I spent the evening with such a beautiful woman."

It was said in a very lightly way, but could be interpreted many ways, and right now it had hit very close to the base of her thoughts; a romantic dinner between friends, not partners as she had first assumed. Tessa decided to change the subject, needing the familiar professionalism against this new unexplored emotion dwelling inside her.

"Do you think there is a link between the ring on her finger and Roger MacDowell?"

If Steve understood or wondered about the reason behind the sudden subject-change, he said nothing, and they were consumed in work talk until the car pulled up outside Tessa's apartment block. The silence stretched for a moment before she opened the door and got out.

"Thanks for tonight," she bent down in the door opening. She could not see his face fully; it was covered in shadows. There seemed to be many thoughts inside his head, for he only made a non-committal agreement before saying goodbye.

Tessa went inside her block, watchful of shadows though deep in thought. From behind her, she could hear the car get out on the road again and set off into the dark hours of evening. It had been an absolutely wonderful evening, so why did she feel guilty of leaving him?

Pushing the thoughts back in her mind, she bounded up the stairs and locked herself in, placing the keys in the deadlock. It had proved very effective to have a deadlock, indeed. She just had to worry about not locking herself either in or out.

When she went to bed that night, having taken a shower first, her mind returned to her dark-haired partner. Steve Hayden was nothing short of a handsome (drop-dead gorgeous as Bridget had said), muscular and exotic man in his mid-thirties. A ladies' man and still he had no apparent girlfriend.

He's attracted to you.
He's not.
Admit it; you have seen the way he looks at you.
We're partners.
And you're attracted to him.
Intimate relationships are frowned upon, not forbidden.

Tessa shook her head, tired of her inner battle, and bundled into the covers trying to get some sleep. However, it took a long time, and when she finally did sleep, her dreams were filled with dark orbs below a dark mop of hair, smiling seductively.

The next day found her five minutes early, Thorne's reprimand fresh in her memory. Steve had not arrived yet, so she made coffee and sat down finishing the report she had abandoned last night. Just as she printed it out, her partner sauntered in the double doors, greeting her with a smile.

Good, so he's not having any hard feelings.
You can't know that.
Shut up.

"All went okay last night?" Tessa asked casually as went over to the coffeemaker and poured him a cup.

"Yeah, traffic was lame," he replied. When she set the cup down on his desk, he stopped her before she could move on. Dark brown orbs met her sea blue. Emotions, forbidden, fleeting; his features schooled themselves.

"I am sorry if I made you uncomfortable last night with that comment," Steve said quietly, honest regret in his eyes. Tessa became very aware of their surroundings, but found herself uncaring as heat trickled up her arm from where his hand laid.

"No, no," she replied quickly, "Nothing to be sorry about." Silent understanding passed between them, and he let loose of her arm. Consciously putting one foot before the other, Tessa returned to her desk and they resumed working. Professionalism kicked in and they were soon idly talking about the case.

Thorne made an appearance around ten thirty for an update, also telling them Fisk might be on to something and that he would call if he found anything. Tessa told him of the possible link between the woman's ring and MacDowell, and was rewarded by going out to interview him. Steve said he would go down and pester Fisk while getting the pictures he had asked for from Dee Suzeraine.

Tessa felt a single jab of jealously rush through her when Steve stopped to talk with an attractive, dark-haired constable from the second floor. Denying the thoughts in her head, she quickly found her bag and left for the interview.

Four days later, Tessa sat in Bridget's living room, an apartment with kitchen and living room in one and a small bedroom with an even smaller adjoining bathroom. Her lively friend was speaking non-stop about her newest project – Bridget tended to call the guys she dated for projects – and for the umpteenth time this week found herself thinking of Steve.

The day after their dinner had been pure professionalism, but as the days wore on, the flirtiest comments had returned and lightened the mood currently depressed of the case lack of development – Thorne had announced they would soon put the case on hold if not new elements showed their faces.

And along with the comments had been her thoughts. The hopes, dejections, even visions of the future. And last night she had dreamed of him again, though in the kind of dream that made her flush when she thought about it.

"Tess, are you listening?"

She looked up to see Bridget staring at her curiously, almost slyly. "Yes, of course I am." Her voice lacked any sign of conviction, and she knew it before the words were uttered. Her friend started to giggle before leaning forward as if they were sharing secrets.

"You have never been much of a liar when it comes to boys, Tess. Spill it, who's the lucky bloke?" There was a gleam in her friend's eyes that only appeared when boys were in the picture, mainly boys and Tessa. After Brett, Bridget had been pestering her about being on the lookout for potential boyfriends. This new discovery was surely something she had been waiting for.

Tessa hesitated, but in the end spoke up because Bridget did not seem to be willing of letting her off the hook. "Okay, okay, calm down. There's a man, yes."

"And?" Bridget asked when Tessa paused, looking ready to drag the truth out of her with a hammer if she needed to.

She finally gave in, muttering, "And he's my partner."

It took a moment for Bridget to realise who she was talking about, and then all she could say was, "Oh." Tessa gave her a look, almost regretting telling her, but her friend spoke up again, "And that is a problem? He's gorgeous!"

Fighting the urge to scream, Tessa only sighed resignedly and put her head in her hands. For a moment, she felt like crying for some reason, feeling such hopelessness, but she reined in her emotions and looked up at the other woman.

"We can't get together, Bridget, because of the job."

Job. On call. Detective. Homicide. Damned words in a relationship; it has brought nothing but splits and disputes.

Her mind wandered back to Brett, of the strained affair with her being on call and working almost around the clock. She wondered how a relationship with Steve would be. Similar or the opposite, seeing as they were both detectives? No private life, almost. It would be a rare relationship indeed.

"Oh," Bridget said, eyes sad, "I'm sorry."

Tessa let out a melancholy laugh. "Yeah, me too."

It was not until two days after her visit to Bridget, the day when they were going to call off the case that things finally got into motion. It was a coincidence, really. A couple had seen someone drop a purse on the street, and when they tried to return it, they had found the apartment empty and had therefore turned it in to a Lost Items office, who in turn had given the purse to the local police when seen the picture on the ID card. And then it had come into Lance Fisk's capable hands, which immediately had the woman pegged and identified.

The witnesses were rolling in. Apparently, none had reported Ms Mary Jennings missing because she had left for a trip with her boyfriend, Daniel Tow, as celebration of their long relationship. They had been scheduled to return in the beginning of next week. Today was Friday.

While Tessa handled the witnesses, Steve tried fervently to track down the now also-missing boyfriend. Only when the victim's friends started talking about the true happenings between Jennings and Tow, did Tessa begin to think the case was still lost. From the observations of the victim's friends, Daniel Tow was a volatile man when triggered, and he had often beat Mary. However, Steve doubted he was the killer.

"The gag, the binds, the burial – this is a cold-headed, planned murder, not a crime of passion. And the killer wanted to make her suffer. According to the witnesses, Tow was very gentle and loving when not triggered, which was rarely and scarce in between. I think they just wanted someone to blame it on."

"Which means we need to look at this from another perspective," Tessa finished. "Do we have any past records of her? We might look into that as well."

Steve nodded and they set to work. As the day came to a close, they had narrowed it down to three possible suspects: the boyfriend, a colleague at the restaurant she worked in (Gino's in fact) and one of the friends. However, they could not go forward with the interviews until Fish had finished his research, so they called it a day and headed home.

"Drive you home?" Steve asked when they arrived in the car park. Tessa had gone to work this morning in hope of him asking that question. She needed to speak with him.

"Thanks," she replied and they got inside.

The ride started in comfortable silence until they were half-way to her street. Then Tessa spoke up, hesitantly, "Steve, I was wondering…" She drifted off, unsure of herself.

"Yes?" the man replied, sounding casual but Tessa knew his muscles had tensed ever so slightly. Perhaps he was just as apprehensible about their friendship as her.

"What are you doing tomorrow night?"

Silence, then he said, "Probably watching soccer and having a beer." Steve looked over at her, quickly adding, "But I can always drop it."

Tessa grinned, knowing she was pretty obvious. Geez, she felt like a schoolgirl again, having to ask a boy up to dance with her.

He might do it if you asked him.
Shut up.

"I was thinking a movie and takeaway."

"Sounds good. Your place or mine?"

"Mine, if you have no objections. I do not think I want to experience your messy, dangled house yet." Her eyes were twinkling, and her stomach unclenched. So it was settled then, now she could calm down.

The evening started uneasy silent, before they sat down to watch an action movie starring some top-notch American in the role of efficient policeman who'd just lost his family and wanted revenge. Lots of morale problems, and though it was completely different from their own situation, Tessa couldn't help but think there were similarities.

To be or not to be, as Hamlet said, or something like that. To do or not to do. To be lovers or not.

Half-way into the evening, Tessa sure got the impression she was not the only one with underlying emotions in the room. Stray fingers which brushed across her thigh as they fetched the glass of wine on the table. Long looks which she saw from the corner of her eye. Knees touching now and then as they moved in their seat. She felt all warm and cuddly inside. It was too tempting to reach over and place herself in the crook of his arm. Instead, she settled for giving him as good as she got. It certainly made him – and her – smile wide and more often.

On the telly, the policeman was in a heavy battle with the enemy, but Tessa could not care less. She was too aware of her thigh laying next to Steve's, sharing warmth and making her body prickle all over.

You're being a silly schoolgirl! Snap out of it!

They locked eyes for a brief moment, watching the emotions flickering there before she broke away and stared fixedly on the TV screen.

No, I'm not. This is no ordinary crush.

The rest of the movie was spent in utter silence. Only when the ending credits began did they start to speak, unfortunately at once. They chuckled.

"You first," Steve said gently, Tessa moving over to remove the tape from the video player, carefully replacing it in its cover. She spoke over her shoulder.

"I just remembered the wine is not one of my non-alcoholic bottles. I'm afraid you will need to call a cab." She laid the cover on the table, reseating herself beside Steve on the sofa. He was staring at the bookcase, but it did not look as if he was studying the books there. More likely, he was thinking.

"Or I could stay here for the night," he said suddenly. Tessa felt immediately as if a thousand butterflies had sprung loose in her stomach, tingling throughout her body. The possibility had crossed her mind, but she didn't dare to… She stared pointedly at her hands, almost squirming like a four-year-old.

"On the couch, of course," she heard him add after a pause. She looked up then to stare him in the eyes. The air was tight with anticipation, crackling almost with the sparks that flew between them. It was suddenly difficult to breathe. His eyes flashed with emotions.

"Unless," Steve started, but Tessa put her hand up. She nodded quietly, nearly bouncing off the couch.

"You can sleep on the sofa. I'll get you some blankets and pillows. The bathroom's through my bedroom and to the right." And she disappeared before he could say anything else.

Safe in her room, she let out a deep breath, urging the fleeting emotions inside her to still.

He's definitely interested. Admit it; he's been hanging over you almost since you came here months ago.
He has.
As they say, this could be your golden chance, what's holding you back?

A pause.

Bull. You haven't cared about regulations since you were out of uniform. That's his and Thorne's department. You are the one who bends them.

She had nothing to reply to that, but forced back the temptation to go back and jump on him. It was not the time, and not appropriate. Digging out the spare blankets and pillow to him, Tessa returned to the living room.

Steve had cleared out the mess on the table, and also cleaned the glasses and cutlery. Smiling gratefully at him, she dumped the items on a kitchen chair and started making the bed. Steve disappeared into the bathroom. Finishing up, she stood to find him staring at her in the doorway to her bedroom.

"I could have done that myself, you know," he says easily, nodding towards the couch.

"But that would make me a bad hostess, wouldn't it?" Tessa put the pillow down on the head of the couch. "Although, I should perhaps have offered my bed instead."

Steve chuckled. "Nah, the couch is alright. And I don't think you have it in you to be bad. You're too good for that."

"Right, tell my dorm mate from school the same, and she would say you have gone bonkers." She laughed with him, moving to the bedroom. She turned in the doorway and looked at him with a smile.

"Goodnight," he said.

"Goodnight." And she closed the door behind her, wondering why the hell she wasn't just letting him into her bed. It would at least quell the emotions rushing through her every time he stared at her.

Monday was the big break in their case. The colleague at Gino's had made a beeline for the countryside after a confrontation with the boyfriend, who had shown up seriously injured in a small hospital.

Apparently, the man – Edward Killongue– and Mary had been involved sometime, and the man had then been high up the ranks and the suitable substitute for the manager when she retired. However, Mary had entered life, bringing both bad memories from a deceitful relationship and competition for the manager job. According to the boyfriend's last statements, Edward had been following Mary for a time, but she had not dared to mention it to anyone apart from her boyfriend.

On the day of their departure for the little vacation, Edward had shown up and knocked them out cold. Next thing Daniel had known, he was being beaten to a pulp while tortured by verbal statements of how Mary had been killed. And then he had blackened out until he woke up in the hospital Sunday night.

Tessa and Steve immediately headed out to Gino's, looking for the same waiter who had served them the evening more than a week ago. She had been stressed to learn the very same man was Edward Killongue. To think of having spent their evening in company of a killer… For a moment, she was suddenly afraid of Killongue going to tell on them, but she forced it out of her mind as soon as it entered.

When it turned out Killongue had run off, they started a wide search, calling in reports from local railway stations and the airport. None had seen him. Not until he was sighted at the crime scene.

The evening was descending on them when the car pulled up at the beach parking lot. Parting ways, Steve headed one way and directed a team of police officers with him.

Hurrying down the path, eyes on the lookout for Killongue, Tessa didn't notice she was all alone; the rest of the officers had spread out. It was just her and the beach, moonlight filtering down on her. Suddenly wary of shadows, she strode through the sand until she reached the crime scene. The markings fencing it in were gone, but the deep hole where the body had lain was still there.

She moved her hand to unfasten the pistol when someone suddenly pushed her forward. Stumbled, she lost ground beneath her and fell down, down into the darkness. Her body landed heavily on the humid sand, and she was sure her ankle had sprained. There was dirt in her hair, inside her shirt and in her eyes and mouth. Tessa spit it out, heart beating fast.

A shadow stood up and above her on the edge of the hole. It was Killongue; she recognised the tall, lanky form and fair hair. Her voice immediately sprang out to call for help when the man jumped down in the hole together with her and closed his hand over her mouth. Only a muffled 'helf' managed to come past her lips. Fear entered her. Malicious eyes looked down at her.

"Bloody copper," the man muttered darkly, "Always gettin' in the way." He held her tightly around the neck with his arm, carefully making sure she could not escape as he dug forth a gag. "You should be lucky you've such a nice face, or I would have ruined it."

She wanted to cry. The bonds were tugged around her forcibly, digging into her skin until they drew blood. Once tied up, she was flung down onto the ground, kicked in the stomach for sure measurements. Tears burned in her eyes, but Tessa forced to take control of her emotions.

"You were such a nice pair when you came into the restaurant, all flirting and that," Killongue continued, unfastening her pistol as his voice rose. "But I'll bet you're just as deceitful as the bitch was! Women always are! You deserve what's coming to you!"

And then he kicked her again before climbing out of the hole. Letting the tears loose, wincing at the pain when she moved, Tessa tried to get loose. However, she was stuck. And to her horror, sand was beginning to fill up in the hole. Killongue was humming as he went along.

So this is how I'm going to die.
You're not going to die! Get yourself together and think!
And I haven't even told Steve…
He'll come and rescue you. Just wait and see.

But the minutes passed, spent in painful wriggling and losing hope for every second. The sand was almost covering her completely; he must be using a spade instead of the bulldozer he had used last time. She cried.

I should have told him when I got the chance.
You didn't know this would happen.
Still, I should have told him! And now it's—

Shouting ensued above her as the sand poured over her head, blocking out the oxygen and all sounds. Seconds passed; she felt faint, still struggling to hold on. Then, something dumped down beside her, and soon her head was above the sand.

Hands struggled with her bonds and gag, ripping it off her as she tried to win back her breath. Coughs wracked her body, pain shooting through her as the bonds disappeared. The sprained ankle made her cry out. Arms enfolded her, hugging her tightly as she let the last tears fall.

"Tess, Tess, Tess." Someone was chanting her name, whispering. The arms were warm, safe, and smelled familiar.

It's Steve. He came. He rescued me.

The coughing dwindled, the tears stilled, and the arms were urging her up. "Ankle," she gasped, and instead of being just supported, she was lifted off the ground and given to arms above the hole that dragged her up.

Lying on the sand, blinking furiously the sand out of her eyes, Tessa's mind turned to Steve. She had believed herself to be dead, but he had come for her, as he always did. Her knight in shining armour.

"Steve," she croaked. Her partner was at her side in seconds, his dark eyes looking down at her in worry. It was the first time she had looked him in the eyes since the night at her place. The emotions were exposed in his look, in the lines of his face. She wanted to tell him…

"Did you catch him?" Her question seemed to have disappointed him, for his eyes clouded before he nodded grimly, his face set. Before she could say more, paramedics had arrived and was taking care of her, and Steve had disappeared from her view.

When Tessa came home the same night, supporting herself on crutches, the apartment was eerily silent and dark. It felt empty. She had a hunch about why. Since Brett had moved out, the apartment had always felt empty, with the exception of the few times Steve had been there.

Dropping down on the couch, which she had not bothered to tidy up since his sleepover, Tessa found the pillow he had used and clutched it tightly to her. It smelt just like him. Tears wound their way down her cheeks again, until exhaustion overcame her and she drifted off to sleep.

Knocks on the door drew her out of her fitful sleep. The time was eleven o'clock. She sat up sleepily, mind fogged but remembering the nightmare of the early evening. Discarding the crutches, she jumped on one leg towards the door and twisted the key in the deadlock.

The face outside the door surprised her.

"Can I come in?" Steve asked. He looked worn; the tie was loose around his neck, and his shoulders were slumped. Her heart reached out to him, and she nodded silently.

Tessa closed the door behind him, one hand on the handle for support. He stood right inside the door, only a metre away from her, studying the apartment without interest.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, drawing his gaze from the unmade couch and the crutches and to her slightly swaying form.

"Good." She didn't know what else to say. It was so abrupt; she had given up hope. They stood in silence, uneasy and wary of the other.

Then, suddenly, Steve raced to her, hugging her tight to him. She hung onto him as if he was going to disappear any minute, feeling the warm emotions in her mix with the residing fear and fright. Drawing on his feelings for strength and safety, Tessa felt the burn in her eyes return. Her ankle was not able to support her, and she slumped against him. Before she knew it, she had been lifted off the floor yet again and carried over to the couch.

There, they clung to each other until it passed to a comfortable hug, and then Tessa was snuggled into the crook of his arm, both lying down. Her ankle was forgotten, and she could think of nothing but the safety she felt.

"I was terrified tonight," she said finally, as the sobs had long since stopped. "I thought I was going to die; you were all so far off. I tried to scream, but he put his hand over my mouth. And then he tied me up, kicking me and screaming. I was almost certain of dying. And then you came." Her eyes sought out his. They were staring into the distance again.

"I heard you," Steve answered quietly after a while. "Though it was strange. It was almost like I heard you in my mind, and I felt dread fill me." He paused. Tessa studied his hands, playing idly with his fingers. She didn't know what to say. "So I went down there, and I saw Killongue shovelling sand down in the hole. Immediately, I knew you were down there. I took him out, made the one of the officers hand-cuff him, and then I jumped down to you."

A finger reached up to her chin, tipping her head upwards. Their eyes locked; she felt the warm, giddily sensation in her again.

"I thought I had lost you." His voice was broken, sad, and his eyes were lacking their usual twinkle. Tessa let her hand reach up and cup his cheek. She nearly lost it when he closed his eyes on the sensation and kissed her palm.

Her throat thick, she managed to mumble, "I'm still here."

"Yes, you are." She drowned in his dark orbs and his baritone voice, not noticing how the air had heated up and their faces inching closer. Unconsciously, her other hand found his, intertwining.

Suddenly panicking, she gasped, "It is late," and tried to wrench out of his arms. But he held her firmly in place, his hand cupping her cheek.

"Don't," he whispered, eyes boring into her soul, letting her see the deepest feelings of his being. Tessa's heart beat faster as he came closer. "Don't fight it." His lips were merely an inch away, his hot breath brushing against the soft skin. And she couldn't find it in herself to fight.

"I wanted to tell you," she replied, her breath coming in short gasps. His hands were sneaking into her hair, lightly massaging her scalp. Their lips were brushing against each other, but none wanted to take the shot.

"I know," he said, looking deeply into her eyes. Her breath hitched in anticipation.

Their lips touched experimentally at first, tentatively testing each other. But then they could no longer contain their hunger, and plunged forward, meeting half-way in a passionate, longing kiss.

Her arms flung around his neck, drawing him closer, not getting enough of him. His hands were in her hair, tussling it up, but she didn't care; it felt wonderful. The kisses were long and short in between, rising in fervour until they had to break apart to breathe. The dark lust in Steve's eyes was not lost on Tessa, nor was the moistening between her thighs.

They lunged at each other, pushing the boundaries away one by one, fervently kissing each other as if there was no tomorrow. Hands went underneath clothes, grazing the hot skin with its fingertips, unbuttoning shirts and loosening ties. Only when she moved and felt a stab of pain did Tessa remember her sprained ankle. Steve was off her in a flash, thinking she was having second thoughts.

"I'm sorry," he started, but she gripped the collar of his shirt and kissed him promisingly before drawing back.

"Only my ankle," she replied breathlessly. "And if you do not get me inside that bedroom now, I'm going to throw you off the veranda and wish you Godspeed."

Grinning sheepishly, he was quick to obey.

The sun shone down on her bare skin when she woke around five in the morning. It was nice and warm beneath the covers, probably because of the snoring body beside her. Tessa propped up on an elbow, careful of her ankle, and studied the wonderful creature beside her.

Steve lay on his side, one hand under his pillow, looking very much like a dark-haired angel. A peaceful expression sat on his face, his mouth curving ever so slightly in a secret smile. He was a true wonder. Tessa almost didn't dare touch him, afraid he'd wake up, but in the end could not help herself.

His skin was dark and soft beneath her fingertips, covered here and there in dark patches of hair; even after the passionate love-making last night she could not get enough of it. Often she had imagined him shirtless and muscular, but her images had not done him justice. The round, curvy form of his arms and chest – the only thing visible above the covers – still enticed her.

A finger reached out to trail down his face, starting at the root of his hair, down the forehead and the ridge of his nose, and over the rosy, soft lips. The morning stubble, she decided, did not really suit him. His face should always be hairless and soft.

Seeing him stir, Tessa didn't bother to remove her finger, instead running her whole hand through his hair. Eyelids fluttered, then blinked and dark orbs looked up at her. She smiled happily.


He grinned too. "Morning, sunshine." Oh, he had the most seductive morning voice. She blushed slightly, leaning down to peck him on the lips before snuggling into his arms.

This feels good.
No regrets then?

Tessa looked up at him, smiling lovingly at him which he returned.

No, not one.

The End