Disclaimer: All the characters you recognise? Not mine.. :(

Oh! Thank you, by the way, to everyone that reviewed the first chapter - I wasn't expecting such a positive response :) I know some of you have posted your relationship preference in reviews, but there is also a poll at the top of my page about the eventual relationship in this story. At the moment, however, I'm going to keep it as both Richard and Ben in the summary, because I think it's fair to say that we'll be seeing a bit of action from both of them.. ;) but let me now how you want this to play out okay? Thanks :)

Sorry this wasn't out earlier, I have meningitis.. not good 2 weeks before exams. But I'm doing this to keep you guys happy! And do you know what'll make me feel better? That's right, you guessed it. Reviews! Aren't you a clever bunch? Thanks in advance ;)

"You can't possibly think that this is suitable for her?"

The room was horribly crowded. Windows had been thrown open in an attempt to overcome the uncomfortable heat, not to mention the increasingly uncomfortable impatience. Occasionally smoke from the porch found its way into the house and drifted through the room like the ghost of an uninvited guest, and women clicked their tongues disapprovingly.

"She has to say goodbye to her, Anna."

"She's only nine, Nick, it's not fair. She's been through enough."

A man wearing a black suit and a solemn face shuffled past, offering his brief condolences. The pair nodded their thanks; practised smiles of gratitude sketched on their faces.

"It's not fair on any of us, but do you want to be the one that tells her she can't go? There's nobody to look after her if she stays here."

A girl with braided hair pushed through the crowd; ducking under elbows and stepping carefully over freshly polished shoes, searching for gaps in the press of bodies. A woman with loud red lips stopped her and cupped her cheek with an icy hand, giving her a sympathetic smile.

"I only want what's best for her."

Forced, uncomfortable laughter echoed through the room from a distant corner as the clouds parted, and light streamed in through the bay window.

"I know. But she's made her own mind up. Besides, I- I need her with me."

"Daddy? When are we leaving?"

Nick bent down to meet his daughter's eyes; placing his large hands on her small shoulders. Her large green eyes blinked innocently under her thick lashes.

"Soon, Ava. Are you still sure you want to come? This will be the last time I ask you." He said slowly, giving her a light squeeze.

She nodded simply, her face remaining blank; her eyes void of any emotion, as if she couldn't quite see him.

"Are you sure, sweetheart? Mummy will forgive you if you don't go." Anna persisted, giving her a small smile.

"Yes, Nana. Will I be able to see her?"

"No, baby." Nick said quickly, "No-one will."

Anna's lip began to tremble and she took an already wet handkerchief out of her pocket, and delicately dabbed her eyes.

The hertz arrived shortly after - a single orchid just visible on the lid of the coffin - and the family filed out of the house. Ava held her father's hand tightly, and followed him without tears to the limousine.

Ava awoke with a start, her fist colliding with the pillow she held to her chest and sending it forcefully off the bed, where it loudly knocked the lamp off her bedside table. The crash made her wince, as the cream shards scattered across her floor and the shade bounced away like a tumbleweed. The sounds from the living room abruptly ceased and she stared at the closed door, her breath hitched in her throat and her body stiff.

The house held the silence of two people desperately trying not to make a sound, but this almost made it more obvious. For Ava, anyway.

"Nick? Is that you?"

Footfalls reached her ears and the light seeping under her door from the hallway was suddenly blocked, like a scene in a horror movie. She could almost hear the music of suspense in her head, getting dramatically louder. Ava leaned slowly sideways and felt blindly with her hand for a lamp shard large enough to become a weapon, her eyes still fixed on the door; and already she could feel the pricks of salty water from the strain.

"What the hell are you doing? Get out of my house!"

Suddenly, and painfully, the repressed memory hit her like a blinding light and gasped sharply as the shard cut into her palm. She dropped it and squinted at her hand, the sight of the blood almost making her scream as she stared at it in horror.

Soon the room became blurry as the tears welled, and her eyes snapped up as the door was thrown open to reveal a tall figure; their body a silhouette in the low light.

She tried to scream out, she really did, but her voice seemed lost in her throat as she crushed her body up against the headboard and brought her knees up against her chest.

"Ava? Are you okay?"

A choked sob left her throat as she tightly closed her eyes in relief, the tears pushed forcefully from under her eyelids and rolling free down her paled cheeks.


She reached down and grabbed the cushion she had knocked to the floor, before flinging it at the man that now stood at the foot of her bed. He brought his arms up protectively.

"Richard! You frightened the hell out of me!"

Ava gasped as she tried to calm her breathing down to a steady rhythm. Richard stood uncertainly, debating whether to step closer. Or would she just throw another pillow at him? He picked up the one she had just flung, only to find it damp with blood.

"Where are you hurt?" He said quickly. The light from the hall illuminated her - her legs seemed to be crossed under the thin bed sheet, and most of her hair had come out of its bun to fall in thin strands around her face. She reluctantly lifted her hand, and under the slow flowing blood he could see a large gash across her palm; her fingers were curled, and the tips were dipped distastefully in red.

He looked at the wound uncertainly, before turning and walking briskly out of the room. Ava almost called after him, leaning forward, and lifting her hand away from the pristine sheets. She held it straight above her, so the blood trickled unpleasantly down her forearm, and she angled her head away.

Richard returned with a wet tea towel and handed it to her before taking a step back, he rested his hands nonchalantly on the bars at the foot of her bed.

"I'm sorry," he said eventually. "I didn't mean to alarm you, I was just sorting through some things in the other room and a heard a crash. I just thought I'd check to see if you were.." His voice faded to a uncomfortable murmur as she looked up; her eyes, sparkling green with upset, meeting his.

His mind went pleasantly blank.

"It's my fault," Ava gulped, beginning to wrap the towel around her hand, now free of blood. "Acting so childishly.. I should have known it was you." She hiccuped slightly, a flicker of a smile crossing her lips. "I guess I just forget I'm not on my own in this place."

"No," Richard said confidently And, not caring if she wanted to throw everything she could get her hands on, he came to her in one long stride, and took her uninjured hand in his; his dark eyes smiling. "You're not."

She'd never been to Ben's house before. Then again, she'd never had a reason to. But, there had to be a first time for everything.

The air smelt of freshly cut grass, and Ava breathed in deeply until she felt light headed. The ground was now free of flowers like daisies and buttercups, but some people had beds in front of their houses, and so she admired the wash of colour there instead - almost missing her small garden back home, and the little time she'd spent in it.

In front of Ben's, she noticed, was a patch of orchids.

She climbed the white steps and glanced at the wooden chair next to the door. It all seemed too perfect: the pristine porch, with the tendered garden, placed picturesquely in front of the little yellow house..

After hesitating, and then knocking sharply, the door was opened by a young girl with large eyes and messy hair.

"Oh, hello," Ava stammered, momentarily lost for words. "Is Ben in? Or do I have the wrong house? It wouldn't be the first time." She turned to look behind her, trying to see where the house was in relation to Richard and hers.

"Who is it, Alex?" Ben appeared from what she could only assume was one of the bedrooms: a book he held open with one finger hanging limply from one hand, and his round rimmed glasses grasped in the other. "Ah, hello, Ava."

"Hey," she breathed. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" She felt foolish, standing there on his porch with her hands grasped behind her back, like a student addressing a teacher about a underachieving grade.

His face flashed surprise for a second, but immediately - almost alarmingly so - his face split into that warm smile she had come to associate him with. "Why, of course. Come in."

She crossed the threshold with a smile; firstly at Ben, and then directing it uncertainly at Alex.

"Ava, this is my daughter." He gestured with his glasses, and then at the couch in the living area. "Take a seat, please."

Under his scrutinous gaze, and taking his - albeit not intentional - orders, Ava felt like she was in some kind of bizarre interview. In fact, when Ben placed his glasses back upon his face and took a seat opposite her, leaning forward with his hands on his lap, she felt incredibly out of place.

"And to what do I owe the pleasure?"

She didn't know where to start.

"Well," she stammered, "I was beginning to wonder-"

"What happened to your hand?" He interrupted, looking over the rim of his glasses. She looked down at cloth that wrapped around her palm and down over her wrist, leaving her thumb and fingers free. After she had stopped the relentless stream of blood, Richard had rubbed a leaf or herb of some sort on her palm, and then carefully bandaged it. He'd also woken her up that morning, and offered to do it again before he left the house for the day.

"Oh, it's nothing. I cut myself on a shard o- of my lamp." She muttered, looking down at her knees. She laughed nervously.

He reached forward and took her hand, running his thumb lightly over the heel of her palm; where blood was already beginning to seep through. He stroked it tenderly a few more times, feeling the wound under its cover, and Ava gulped awkwardly. He glanced at her with his hard-to-read eyes and apprehensively asked her if she'd like something to drink.

She nodded and he gently released her hand as he stood up, to which Ava flexed her fingers and released a breath.

"So," Ben said nonchalantly, making his way to the kitchen area, "what was it you wanted to ask me?"

She ignored the fact that she hadn't actually voiced that she wanted to ask him something, and simply took a deep breath.

"I was wondering when you wanted me to start work? And on what I would be working?"

"You won't be starting work," Ben said bluntly, dropping a tea-bag into a mug. "Milk?"

"I'm sorry?" Ava said disbelievingly.

"I said would you like milk?"

"No, I mean, why won't I be starting work?" Her words tumbled over each other, and she turned her body fully to face him, her eyebrows knitted.

Ben didn't answer, and she sighed impatiently.

"And no thank you, no milk."

"Well, that's just say that we weren't entirely honest when we recruited you." He placed her tea on a coaster in front of her, while she continued to stare at him incredulously, her teeth grazing her bottom lip.

She scoffed. "Excuse me?"

"You won't be studying Biochemistry here," he said calmly, "actually, you won't be conducting anything scientific." He sipped his coffee, and looked at her expectantly - almost anxiously.

It took a while for Ava to find her voice. And when it emerged, it was choked with betrayal.

"So.. what do you want me to do?"

I hate this chapter.. but I needed to get something out for you because you've all been so nice :)
If you review, you know how I'll repay you.. this is a M-rated fic after all ;)

Ta my lovelies!