Title: Scent of Comfort
Fandom: Murder Call
Characters: Tessa Vance, Steve Hayden, Dee Suzeraine, Lance Fisk, Imogen 'Tootsie' Soames
Prompt: 036. Smell
Word Count: 2945
Rating: PG (K+)
Summary: After a traumatic experience a friend is in need of comfort.
Author's Note: Coda to "Scent of Evil" (3x17) SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! Do not read if you do not wish to be spoiled. Also a small mention of Brett, Tessa's ex-boyfriend from novel Deadline / Suspect by Jennifer Rowe.
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters. They belong to Jennifer Rowe, Hal McElroy and Southern Star. I make no profit out of this.


Emma Chambers: They can smell your fear.
Tessa: Vance Open the gate! (Chambers sprays the communicative scent on Tessa) No! (Chambers walks away)
(Steve arrives at the kennel. Chambers meet him in the hallway.)
Emma Chambers: The dogs've gone crazy – I can't control them!
Steve Hayden: Where's Detective Vance?
Emma Chambers: I'm gonna get help! (Steve is suspicious, runs off in the direction Chambers came from)
Steve Hayden: Tessa! Tessa!
Tessa Vance: (Lying on the ground trying to reach her gun under the fence door) I'm here! Over here, Steve! Open the gate! Get me the gun! (Steve manage to get her out)

(From 'Scent of Evil', Murder Call, 3x17)

Detective Senior Constable Tessa Vance shut the door behind her with a loud click as the deadlock slid in place. For a moment she fingered with the chain, before leaving it hanging limply along the frame of the door. It was a silly notion to lock everything behind her. It would not bring any more comfort or security than she already had.

She turned on a small lamp by the grey couch, ignoring the red blinking light of the answering machine as she threw the handbag on top of the dining table. Shirking out of the high heels, Tessa felt cool surface touch the soles of her feet and fleetingly wondered if she should put some socks on. She never made it into the bedroom, however, as she drifted back towards the couch and slumped heavily into the cushions.

It was as if the smell was still on her even if she couldn't sense it herself. That fact made it all worse. Not being able to sense the thing that made her a walking target for four-legged beings with snapping jaws...How lucky she had been to know about it rather than be taken by surprise. A very deadly surprise. The thought gave her no comfort either.

Standing up on her feet Tessa made her way into the bathroom, shedding the replacement jacket she had picked up before returning to the office. Following the jacket into the hamper was the white sweater and black pants, then the stockings. The underwear landed on the bathroom floor and the next moment she had hot water streaming down her face and body. With a good handful of soap she started rubbing it in, never bothering to turn the water off in the meantime, scrubbing and scrubbing until she felt hot and prickly all over.

Her chest started heaving as she saw the skin redden and she imagined the blood running all over her stomach and arms... Burning eyes unleashed tears that were swallowed by the hot water splashing on her face. She didn't care about being careful lest her skin dry up. She didn't care about washing her hair nurturingly once or twice. All she could see behind closed lids and hear beyond the water clouding her ears was the malicious grin through thin-wired fence and the voice dripping with taunting venom as the dogs growled behind her.

"They can smell your fear."

Tessa slid down to the floor of the shower, wrapping her arms around her legs as the water still sprayed down on her. It was still there. That scent. She couldn't shake it off. She couldn't wash it off. It had ingrained itself into her skin.

Her throat constricted brokenly.

Watching the spunky redhead down the last ball, Detective Senior Constable Steve Hayden did the obligatory downcast chin as he acknowledged her victory.

"That's three beers you owe me!" said Constable Dee Suzeraine with a wide smirk, to which Steve only shrugged with an acquiescing smile. "Another game?"

"Nah, not tonight," said Steve. "I think I'm gonna take off." He laid the cue down on the empty pool table. Dee only shrugged, not one to be easily down.

"Hey, it's your loss. Don't think you can skip out on those beers though!" Dee flashed him a grin and Steve chuckled.

"Wouldn't dream of it," he said.

Moving away from the pool table he found Fisk and Tootsie in another of their heated discussions, and, by the sound of it, the medical examiner still hadn't gotten over the fact that their dear forensic expert owned a hermit crab called Howard. Neither had Steve for the matter of fact, but he was saving the ribbing for another day. His head was filled with other thoughts right now.

"I'm calling it a night," he told them during a break of their discussion, picking up his jacket from a nearby chair. Fisk only nodded but Tootsie gave him a penetrable look.

"You dropping by Tessa's?" she asked. Steve nodded. Tootsie didn't say anything else, however, only inclining her head thoughtfully.

"See ya," he said, feeling a bit of tension return to his neck underneath the stare of the medical examiner. Getting out of the crowded bar and into fresh air did wonders, and he breathed in the crisp night air deeply, feeling the tension leave as he strode back towards the Central.

As he walked along the half-empty pavement, Steve suddenly heard the bark of dogs in the distance. His head whipped up, half expecting to see his partner close to being mauled by frenzied dogs. Only dark streets barely illuminated by lamp posts and the usual noise of a sleepless city met his senses. No fences, no frightened voice calling out to him...

He shook his head. It wasn't often he experienced these things and he wanted nothing more than to rid himself of them. The loss of control was eerily uncomfortable and he felt slightly lonely where he strode along the pavement, only passed once in a while by dark cabs and cars.

Turning at an intersection, Steve walked up to the garage door leading to the underground parking lot below the Central. He found his card and swiped it before punching the code. The door next to the wide carport opened and he stepped inside, closing it firmly behind him. Every city noise immediately silenced and there was only him and his footsteps.

The car was parked exactly where he had left it, a dark blue sedan most commonly used by civilian-clad officers. Without further ado he unlocked it and got in, moments later firing up the engine. Soon he was back at the carport, which opened with the push of a button installed next to the wheel, and rolled onto the street.

Joining the scarce line of cars out on the city streets, Steve couldn't help but drift off again into thought. He looked at the phone he had fastened next to the stereo. No messages, no replies. It had been silent all night. No response to the many calls he had made to her cell phone and home phone. He wondered what she was doing; if going by her place would only be a dead end.

Though they had known each other for little more than two years now, Steve had started to get to know the enigma he had for a partner. Tessa Vance may be brilliant and obsessed, but when dealing with traumatic experiences she sought to familiar surroundings, whatever they may be. Occasionally he found her at home, other times she had been elsewhere. She hid, it was as easy as that. It was understandable, though. She had never been one for drinking and thus didn't exactly share his and the others' way of unwinding. Still, Steve had no idea what she usually did, but today seemed like one of those days he ought to find out.

Tessa had managed to pick herself off the shower floor once the water ran cold and get into some warm clothes. As if having regained some control, she towel-dried her curly hair and combed it back behind her ears, before finding soft flannel pants and t-shirt from her wardrobe to wear. She now lay on top of the covers of the bed; the windows were open but not offering very cool air. The sound of cars and distant voices reached her ears as she stared unseeingly on the wall, faintly registering the sounds before they vanished from her mind the next second.

She hugged her legs in the foetal-like position she had implemented, her throat sore and her eyes dry but burning still. She was so tired, but sleep eluded her as always. Nights had always been her worst moments and today's events had certainly done nothing to improve the situation. It had in fact made it worse. At least that was her current hypothesis. All the clues were there right in front of her, taunting her, hounding her, never going to disappear. No matter how hard she tried, no sleep would come to her tonight.

Even a long, hot shower couldn't rid her of the indiscernible scent.

The sudden knock on her door startled her, making her shoot up in bed and look around in frenzy, her heart pulsing wildly in her throat. The bark of a dog from somewhere impacted on her senses and Tessa jumped again, grasping the bed covers tightly in her hands, gasping as the familiar sense of dread penetrated her perception.

The dogs were there, staring at her. She had ignored the rule of not staring back into their eyes, thus instigating them to further action. It had been her fault. She hadn't even checked if someone was around before she approached the fenced-in dog house! And now that face was staring at her again—

The knocking persisted, pulling her out of her thoughts, grounding her, reminding her she was not at the kennel. Not at the mercy of a malicious grin and growling dogs...

Tessa slid out of bed, her bare feet stumbling quickly towards the door as the raps became impatient. She twisted the deadlock and wrenched the door open, startled once again when she saw who was on the other side.


Indeed, there he stood, her partner, looking very concerned above his loosened tie and open jacket.

"Tessa, are you okay?" he asked, eyebrows knitting together. Not knowing quite what to say she only pushed the door open. He strode through, pausing as he looked around the dark apartment only lit by the small lamp next to the couch. His eyes stopped by the still blinking answering machine.

"I called you several times," he said, turning to look at her. Tessa stared dumbfounded at the blinking red light, still at a loss for words. "Hey." He was suddenly next to her, hands on her shoulders. Those wonderful gentle eyes goaded her to look at him again.

Tessa felt her lower lip start to tremble and squeezed her eyes shut, knowing that any minute the tears would return if he continued staring at her like that. It didn't help; it only brought them on in full force. The next thing she knew she was crumbling and then something warm was wrapped around her and a chin was nuzzling her hair as distinctive male smell permeated her senses.

Steve held the sleeping woman in his arms, reeling in everything that had happened. The broken woman meeting him at the door had been a shock, but somehow he got over it and set his mind on a different track. It had been instinct that drove him towards her and when she had started to cry he couldn't help hugging her.

From the floor to the couch had been an easy enough affair, despite him carrying nearly all of her weight. She was a very small woman, he realised, and without her heels she barely reached his shoulders. And at the moment he could not see that brave and tough face she put on along with her trouser suits, only a woman who was vulnerable and insecure. Somehow the thought troubled him, but he didn't know how or why.

She had cried herself to sleep. He didn't know how long he had sat there, but she must have been exhausted nonetheless. By the looks of it, she had done nothing else either since she got home. No kitchen smell, no clutter, and he was sure he had caught glimpses of discarded clothes along the path into her bedroom. Only the damp hair against his shirt told tales of what she had done.

The thoughts flittering through his mind as he listened to her deep breaths were anything but organised. It was disconcerting, to say the least. He felt like he could barely control what was going on.

Although Tessa had not spoken a word, he knew her distress had to be due to the incident at the kennel today. Frankly, he had to be honest and say he was uncomfortable with the event as well. Seeing her trapped inside that cage, hearing her frenzied voice calling his name... Steve had to admit his hands had been shaking as they pried the gate open, his heart had been pounding and every second he had wondered if the dogs were going to abandon the item they were tearing apart and go for her instead. Then the door was open and she had run off as far as she could from the doghouse, giving him no other choice but to follow.

In hindsight, he wasn't truly surprised. He had gotten used to running after her whenever she got it into her head to take off. He had, however, managed to sit her down while he went after the killer. In her state he hadn't trusted her behind the wheels. He had, though, left her on her own tonight while he went to the bar to unwind.

Steve looked down at her calm features, gazing at the red and sore cheeks that even in her sleep made her look fragile and wounded. He regretted his trip to the bar right now, even if it was useless to think about such things now. What's done was done and he couldn't change that.

With a smirk Steve thought that no matter what he should or shouldn't have done, sitting on his partner's couch and holding her like he would a child wasn't exactly what he had imagined anyway. Sure there had been hugs, but nothing quite like this.

Without thinking, he brushed a stray hair away from her face and was caught off guard when she sought further into his palm. Quickly, he withdrew his hand lest he wake her. He needn't have worried; Tessa slept on without another twitch.

Silently, head swimming with thoughts he thought he had long since suppressed, Steve leaned further into the couch, preparing himself for a long haul.

The next day brought Tessa a major headache along with a kink in her neck. She found herself on the couch, a blanket draped over legs; it seemed to have fallen off her during the night. Confused, it took her befuddled mind a while to think back on what had happened and why she was lying on the couch. Soon her eyes widened as the vague memories filtered back as if in slow motion.

Steve had come last night and she had broken down. Then there had been warmth around her – Steve must have gestured her to the couch and held her – and then only blissful sleep only occasionally disrupted by bad dreams. But whenever she woke, she had taken only a moment to be calmed by another presence before falling asleep again. She had thought she was dreaming when Steve mumbled soft words of comfort to her or when she could sense the wondrous smell that was only his. It had been too surreal to be true. And yet Tessa was very sure it had been all but a dream.

A blush crept up her neck and seeped into her cheeks as Tessa clutched the blanket in her hands and inhaled. It was very faint, but she thought she could smell his scent still. It was musk and that particular scent that was solely his. Not even Brett had smelled so good.

Her eyes flew open as she shut her mind firmly to the thoughts that started to roam freely. Seeking a distraction, she looked around and found the apartment empty, eerily lit up with the rays of an early sun beyond the curtains. One of the rays caught off on something white by the dining table, and Tessa realised it was a piece of paper. As far as she knew, it had not been there yesterday.

Standing up on her feet, rolling her sore shoulders – whatever position she had lain in last night had not been good for her joints – and bending her head sideways to try working out the kink in her neck, Tessa went to the table. The joints felt marginally better, but she forgot all about the dulled pain once the note was in her hands.

It was from Steve.

Good morning!

You must have the worst kink today... Let me know and I'll rub it for you.

Don't bother coming in for work today. I'll chase you home the minute I see you! I'll take care of the remaining paperwork. You just rest up. You seem like you need it.

And if you need to talk to someone, I'm here. There's no reason to hide away. You've got nothing to be ashamed off, and you certainly won't feel better either. Like they say, you can run but you can't hide.

Take care, Tess.


P.S. I'll warn everyone to watch out for you, so don't bother trying to sneak around me to get back to work!

A wide grin accompanied a chuckle, and Tessa felt momentarily better. Actually, when she thought about it and apart from the sore neck and shoulders, she felt loads better.

She read the note one more time, grinned, and laid it down on the table top. She wrapped her arms around herself as she stared back on the couch, imagining how the scene had looked last night.

Last night, no words had been exchanged, but none had been needed. Theirs was a relationship with little words. By his presence he had comforted her and Tessa felt immensely better. As long as she knew he was there for her, she could manage.

She picked up the blanket from the couch and inhaled the faint scent again.