Title: Aftermath
Fandom: Murder Call
Characters: Tessa, Steve
Prompt: 001. Beginnings
Word Count: 1914(Mac Word)
Rating: K+
Summary: Coda to the novel "Deadline"/"Suspect" by Jennifer Rowe. The start of it all.
Author's Notes: The first story I wrote in direct reply to the 100-fic challenge. Also the first gen fic I wrote with Tessa and Steve (i.e. no romance).
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters. They belong to Jennifer Rowe, Hal McElroy and Southern Star. I make no profit out of this.

God, she wanted nothing more than crawl into bed and sleep for a week. Never in her life had she been so physically and mentally exhausted. If this was what she had signed up for, then... Then what? She had signed up for this. Pushed through the ranks, even, just to get the open spot when it became available. Waited for two years stuck in a suburb police station as a general duties detective, reading the ads every day and listening to the grapevine, simply waiting for the day she could get her chance.

It had taken four tries, however. Central Homicide was both an attraction and a curse, and you were either stuck with it or gave up within the first few months. If you managed to get past the first hellish months, you could never let it go. That's what her father had told her once, as an explanation to her naive yet raging demand as to why he left in the middle of dinner again. You couldn't get out once you were in over your head.

Gazing across the car at her week-old partner, Detective Senior Constable Tessa Vance let her tired mind wonder where his feelings on the matter were. Was he already stuck, or was he still able to get out? It struck her how little she actually knew about him. It hadn't taken her this long to get to know her old partner.

Then again, you haven't gotten off to an excellent start either, her mind reminded her wryly.

Tessa agreed silently, withdrawing and settling her eyes on the flashing lights passing by in colourful streaks. They were already in downtown Sydney, fifteen minutes into the departure from the seaside amusement park filled with horrible memories and old ghosts. Being late evening, the city was bustling with the night life so closely related to this part of town. Tessa watched the people on the sidewalks, a sense of melancholy falling over her.

Her partner was driving her home, back to a place that had recently been the epicentre of upheavals in her life. She wondered if it could still be her sanctuary, but now it all depended on whether things had been settled there or not. Were they coming back to flashing blue lights and curious neighbours? She had no idea. She had just gotten into the car, the adrenaline leaving her and replaced by the early stages of shock.

Head raging with the chaos of the past week, Tessa felt a shiver run up her spine and huddled into Steve's jacket, the familiar smell of male calming her down. Apart from a building headache, she felt disgusting and in need of a hot shower. Her shirt was still sticky with orange juice and blood. Orange juice from a clumsy clerk. Blood from a knife held at her throat and making a nick when trying to escape.

A sudden onwash of fresh tears shocked her and Tessa quickly turned her head away lest Steve would see them running down her cheeks. She squeezed her eyes closed, making stars appear in the dull darkness as a sharp thrust ran through her heart.

She was not going to cry! Not here, not in front of him! His first impression of her was probably horrible enough without her adding to it. Tessa swallowed a rising sob, folding her arms around herself tightly beneath the suit jacket, and stared stoically out on the bustling city night life.

This is not the time. Pull yourself together. This is better kept behind doors.

A few minutes later, Tessa felt control slipping back to her and rejoiced silently until the car made a turn and headed down a familiar road. Just a few more blocks and she would be home.


Steve must have given it some thought as well, because as they made the last turn down Adamson Avenue, he spoke up for the first time since he had started up the car.

"You gonna be okay?"

It startled her out of her jumbled thoughts and emotions, nearly making her blurt out 'no' before grabbing a hold of herself. She was silent for a few moments, watching the looming building rise in front of the car and the lack of uniformed cars, finally replying once the car slipped into the parking lot. "Yeah."

She couldn't tell whether he believed her or not, nor understand why she would care about that, but she thought his lips twitched slightly as if to pursue further interrogation. However, he said nothing more, simply nodding and giving off a small smile. It suited him. More than the slightly annoyed look he had been wearing nearly all week.

Still, he sat and watched her as her hand froze on the handle, her chest constricting slightly at the sight of a building that had just hours before been occupied with a face from the past. A face she could have very well done without. But who didn't want to change the past or control the future? It was futile.

Another second ticked by and Tessa snapped out of if, wringing her arms loose from the tight tangle they had wrapped themselves in, starting to pull off the suit jacket and the calming scent. She froze when she spotted a dark splotch on the lapel.

"Oh no!" she exclaimed suddenly, "I got blood on your jacket!"

"It's okay."

"What? No! It's not okay! I—I... Look, I'll take it to the dry cleaners. You'll get it back tomorrow, I swear."

"It's okay," Steve said firmly, stopping her nervous ramble with a warm hand upon hers. It stopped her instantaneously. She looked at the hand as it brought back the same shot of warmth she had felt at the stake-out earlier. "I'll take care of it," Steve added, meeting her eyes. She swallowed, her heartbeat coming down from the sudden rush.

"Are you sure? I mean, it's my fault—I should—"

"Tessa..." Steve started warningly and she paused again, shocked by the firmness in his voice. It reminded her how stubborn he could be. It also reminded her how stubborn she could be. And in the midst of that, she liked the way he spoke her name.

Her fingers relinquished the white-knuckled hold they had had on the jacket.

"Thank you," Steve said, taking the jacket and holding it in his hands as he let out a small breath. He then met her eyes again. "Are you sure you're going to be all right?"

"Yes," Tessa replied immediately, a bit rushed, and he rose an eyebrow in doubt. "Yes, I'll be fine," she said again, a bit more convincing, plastering a smile on her face that hurt as it stretched sore throat muscles. She grimaced only briefly, already putting her hands on the seatbelt and unbuckling. "Thank you for the ride."

She climbed out into the hot but fresh night air, her eyes tearing up by the breeze hitting her face, and closed the door. Seconds later, the other door opened and Steve's voice sounded through the darkness.

"You don't have to stay here tonight." Tessa's eyes widened as she turned to meet his above the roof of the car. "I mean, I've got a spare room if you..." He drifted off, obviously uncomfortable. However, it sent a warm sensation to her stomach and her smile was a little more real this time.

"Thank you," she said honestly, "but I'll be fine." He gave her an uncertain look and she crumbled slightly. "Okay, maybe not exactly fine, but I'll be all right. In the end," she added in a mumble.

"Right," Steve said finally. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow then. You want me to pick you up?"

"That'd be nice," Tessa smiled.

"Okay, I'll drop by in the morning. Don't forget the doctor's orders." His words were warm and amused, and Tessa chuckled lightly.

"I won't. Thank you. I'll..." She paused, stealing a glance at the looming three-story building. She let out a sigh. "I'll see you tomorrow. Good night."

"Night," Steve replied as she walked away from the car towards the entrance. She heard the door slam and the engine fire up again, and then the car was reversing into the street and speeding off into the bustling Friday night.

Just like that. No more argument, no more obvious concern. Brett would have been relentless, at least until he got fed up and left her alone to go brood somewhere else. Tessa shook her head quickly, trying to get her thoughts off track. Brett was gone and her partner had nothing to do with him. He was just a guy in the right place at the wrong time. If things had been different... No, she couldn't afford to go down that road. It would not do her any good moaning for any male wandering by because she was simply lonely and desperate.

Tessa wiped off the stray tears that had somehow wound their way down her cheeks and went inside the large apartment building. Once she closed the apartment door behind her, the trashed living room glaring at her in the darkness, she was reminded yet again that he was gone and she was all alone. It took a very long moment before she reacted.

A piece of red police sealing tape was stuck in her hand from being ripped off the doorway; she slung it into the garbage bin along with a broken vase and some other items. Fixing the pillows and blankets on the couch, an overturned chair, tidying up the mess her past had created. Then she went to the house phone, plugging it back in. Seconds later she was calling the name on the card that had been left behind on the door frame. A detective Jack Simmons.

The detective wanted her to come in tomorrow for her statement. Initially, he wanted to talk to her tonight, as well as get some photograps taken of the injuries she had gotten, but she told him the photos had already been taken (courtesy of constable Dee Suzeraine) and he relented. The place had already been looked at by the forensics, so she was welcome to stay, though he did ask whether there was someplace else she could spend the night. His voice was calm, warm and reassuring, and Tessa felt her shoulders relax.

After hanging up, Tessa sent another look around the apartment. Even with the small clean-up she had just done, there was still marks of where the blood had been, and where the struggle had made tears in furniture. She could still smell him. The breath on her neck. The whisper into her ear, instructing her what lies to tell Steve, chuckling. The knife on her neck...

The phone was once more in her hands and she stared at it uncertainly, biting her lip. Two possibilities. One certain and the other uncertain. Both bringing security in some way. Either sensible or desperate, it was her choice.

She punched the numbers and waited for someone to pick it up. A few beeps and a voice at the other end answered.

"Hi Bridget, it's me."