Author's Note - Thank you very much for the reviews!
"Nikki." Harry's voice was low and concerned. He pulled away from her a little, catching the back of her neck and looking into her eyes. "I need to check the extent of your injuries, okay?"
She seemed reluctant to let go of the solid, familiarity of his body but eventually nodded mutely. Quietly, Harry performed a quick examination of her body. His deft fingers skimmed beneath her blouse and found the bloody welts which carved ugly lines into her otherwise perfect, porcelain skin. Instinctively, he let out a hiss of anger and disgust but cursed internally when Nikki flinched from the noise. He had to be more careful, especially when she was this fragile, this hurting. There were numerous finger shaped bruises on her arms from where she'd been pinned down and there were mild burns all down her back, undoubtedly from the fierce heat of the radiator. The burns on her wrists were the worst, thick and raw. She whimpered whenever his touch gently brushed them, tears springing to her eyes.
"Oh god…sorry, Nikki, sorry," he whispered, quickly, apologetically, leaning over and kissing her forehead, stroking her hair. His eyes were soft with guilt. "I'm nearly done."
On her head he found a large, partially healed wound and realised that this was probably where she'd been initially struck when she'd been kidnapped. His gut clenched furiously at the thought. However, he had to remind himself that he had her back. She was here and she was safe. It just remained to be seen how much she would be affected by her ordeal.
And finally he found the massively swollen ankle. It was so mottled and disfigured that you could hardly tell it was a limb anymore. Vivid purple bruising formed strange patterns on her skin. The colour was so bright and unnatural that it looked like a child had spilt violet paint on Nikki's leg, complimenting the shocking shade with dashes of fluorescent yellow and primrose pink. As soon as he touched it, Nikki let out a squeaking whimper and dug her fingernails into his bicep, halting him.
"Please…" she murmured, eyes creased shut.
"That's a pretty serious break, Nikki," Harry managed to choke out around the lump of emotion which had caught in his throat.
"I know," she whispered, "But it hurts so much. Could you just…"
"I'll leave it for now. You're going to need surgery though. Speaking of which, I should probably get you out of here."
Nikki nodded, obviously rather eager to leave the dank, dark basement that had been her prison for the last week and potentially her tomb. She was trembling quite a lot but she still went to stand up. Harry stopped her immediately.
"Whoa!" he yelped, catching her arm as it collapsed beneath her weight, supporting her, "There's no way you're walking on that. I'll carry you."
In any other circumstance, the often defiant, independent Nikki would have protested at his gallant, perhaps over-protective, behaviour; declaring it extravagant and unnecessary but she didn't seem to have the energy to do so this time. She meekly allowed him to gingerly, so not to aggravate her injuries, slide one arm beneath the crook of her slender knees and then snake the other behind her shoulder blades, before slowly raising her off the floor. She moaned a little but tucked her head into his broad chest and seemed to find comfort and relief in that. Harry did his best to quell the continuous shaking of her small frame, holding her tightly against him. However, she must still be in shock as his actions didn't have much affect.
When he had reached the top of the stairs, he suddenly became aware of sounds coming from the front of the house. The front door banged open, noisily, and footsteps could be heard tramping through the hallway. Harry nudged open the door that lead into the kitchen with his foot and waited for them to find him. Moments later several police officers burst into the room followed by DCI Tarrant and an ashen-faced Leo. As soon as their colleague caught sight of the two of them, Nikki curled up in Harry's arms, he stopped dead.
"Is she….?" he tailed off, his cheeks bone-white, referring to the quiet body in Harry's arms.
"She's alive, Leo," Harry replied, feeling the relief course through his veins like a tidal wave upon the reality of that statement. Leo obviously experienced the same rush of emotion as his face lost its tautness and regained some colour. He exhaled deeply, striding over to them.
Towards the back of the group were a couple of fluorescent paramedics. They followed Leo quickly, ready to remove Nikki from Harry's arms and onto a stretcher. However, she was having none of it. She had a vice-like grip around Harry's neck and she was not letting go for anything, like a desperate limpet clinging to a rock in raging sea of confusion.
"I think she's staying put," Leo commented, a little dryly, as he placed one hand on Harry's shoulder and the other on Nikki's blonde head. His dark blue eyes met the younger pathologist's and the two of them shared an indescribable moment of shared relief and joy. They had got her back. Against the odds they'd got her back.
"What happened, Dr. Cunningham?" DCI Tarrant intervened, urgently, "Where's Webster?"
"Down there." Harry jerked his head in the direction of the basement. "He's unconscious." Leo shot him a questioning look but his colleague didn't supply any more information than that. "He'll come round at some point." There was an icy coldness to Harry's voice that sent a shiver down his friend's spine.
"Okay, Harry, we'll deal with him. Why don't you take Nikki to the ambulance and get her to hospital? She looks like she needs it," Tarrant stated, waving him away from the crime scene that he was just itching to investigate. "Professor Dalton? Are you going to stay here or go with your colleagues?"
Leo looked torn. On the one hand, he obviously wanted to make sure that Nikki was okay but he knew that Harry could do a perfectly good job of that on his own and on the other hand, he wanted to ensure that the crime scene was properly investigated so that there was no way this guy would ever get out of prison once he was sent down. Leo wanted to personally make sure that the bastard got sentenced for life. In the end, he elected to stay and help Tarrant.
"You'll be all right won't you, Harry?" he asked, concernedly.
Harry offered him a weak smile. "We'll be fine, Leo. I promise. After all, I'm never letting her out of my sight again for as long as I live."
"In all honesty, Harry, I really don't doubt that. I'm thinking of pledging the same thing," Leo smiled back. "I'll see you soon."
Sitting quietly in a chair beside the metal hospital bed, Harry studiously read Nikki's chart, checking every detail to make sure she received the best care possible but also to make sure he knew exactly what she'd been through. It was perhaps a little selfish and a little morbid but he couldn't help feel that Nikki would probably never share with him exactly what occurred in that week down in the basement of a murderer so if he was to have any idea of what happened then he would have to see her chart. At each injury or ailment listed he felt his heart thump a bit faster both in anger and sympathy for her.
First degree burns covering 70 percent of back. Some second degree superficial thickness.
Second degree - deep partial thickness - to both wrists.
Scalp laceration. Minor skull fracture which caused minor cerebral contusion – monitor closely.
Deep lacerations to chest.
Trimalleolar fracture – surgery required.
They were notes dashed in scrawling handwriting but they gave Harry a small insight into what Nikki had experienced – the pain she'd been subject to. It made his blood boil to see what that bastard had done to her. Occasionally, looking back, he wished he'd killed Isaac Webster there and then when he lay vulnerable and unconscious on the hard basement floor. He could have made it look like self-defense – after all, he knew exactly how. However, he never could have. No matter how much his temper flared and no matter how much he hated this man for what he put Nikki through, Harry knew he never would have forgiven himself had he actually gone through with his threat and killed him. The guilt would have weighed on his conscience forever. If he had done it Isaac would have won. He would have ruined their lives completely.
Still, he couldn't help but fantasize about smashing the dick's head into an unforgiving brick wall…
Suddenly Nikki shifted beneath her covers and let out a cry of fear and pain.
"Nikki?" Harry was on his feet immediately, ready to do whatever she needed. However, he soon realised she wasn't even awake. Her eyes were scrunched tightly closed as she writhed and cried out, her face contorted in pain.
"Please don't….please…" she sobbed.
"Hey, hey, Nikki!" He dithered for a moment, not sure whether to touch her because that could make her worse. In the end, he couldn't help it; he couldn't stand to see her in pain or upset. "Shh…Nikki….shh…"
He gently pressed down on her shoulders, effectively holding her still so she wouldn't pull out her IV or dislodge her heart monitor, and spoke soft, comforting words to her, trying to wake her from the nightmare. Unfortunately, this forceful pressure on her body only seemed to increase her blind panic and she lashed out, catching Harry on the nose. He stumbled back, dazed, his vision reduced to a multitude of fizzing white stars. Blinking slowly, he managed to bring himself back into the room at which point he realised that Nikki had woken up and was staring at him in horror.
"Nikki," he said, hurrying forward, "Are you okay?"
"What do you mean am I okay? You're bleeding!" she replied, her brown eyes wide and round. "Did I do that to you?"
"Well, I think you took it upon yourself to knock a bit of sense into me," Harry joked, trying to make her feel better, whilst grabbing a tissue and quickly wiping away the thick red trail of blood that was oozing from his nose. "About time too probably."
"But…" Nikki still looked awfully guilty.
Harry grinned at her. "Oh Christ, Nikki! A little knock on the nose isn't going to kill me….well, unless you knock a bit of bone into my brain but that would just be very unfortunate. I'm much more concerned about you." His fingers grazed her arm, feeling the soft dusting of hairs there. His eyes caught hers, trapping her with the intensity of his gaze. "In fact, I wouldn't mind being hit in the face a million times just as long as you promise never to get kidnapped again."
She offered him a weak smile in return but it didn't quite reach her eyes. He realised she wasn't quite ready to joke about this yet. It was just unfortunate that his way of coping with traumatic events was through humour. However, he still didn't really know what Nikki had been through down in that cellar. He knew the physical pain she'd endured but he didn't know what mental pain and anguish she'd experienced. He didn't know what mind games that Webster had used on her. In fact, he knew that mental and emotional wounds were often the hardest to heal and left the biggest scars.
"I'll try and bear that in mind," she said, softly.
"Seriously, Nikki, I'm probably never going to let you go out again," Harry said, earnestly. Another smile twitched his lips. "And neither will Leo if he has anything to do with it."
Nikki paled, her expression tormented. "I never though I was going to leave that place." Her words hitched in her throat. "I thought I'd never see the sky again…or the sun…or you…or Leo. I thought….I was so certain I was going to die…"
"Oh god, Nikki, there I go, putting my bloody great foot in it again!" Harry sighed, moving closer to her. "Come here." He stood up and sat next to her on the bed, curling his arm around her. She leant against him.
"It's all right. You wouldn't be Harry if you didn't make jokes at the worst moments imaginable. That's one of the reasons why I love you so much."
Harry felt his heart beat a little faster at her words. He hoped she couldn't feel it but it would be pretty difficult not to notice considering she was so close. He chuckled, trying to distract her. "I'm glad that charms you rather than offends you."
"You always charm me, Harry," Nikki muttered into his shoulder but before he could pluck up the courage to question the statement, he realised she'd drifted off to sleep. The painkillers she was drugged up on sent her in and out of consciousness constantly. Therefore Harry had to sit beside her small, warm, wonderfully solid body and try not to feel too frustrated.
When Leo finally managed to leave the crime scene and make his way to the hospital, he couldn't help but feel a warm glow in his stomach. It was hard to describe but it definitely felt like all his worries had been lifted away; he felt lighter than he had in a long time. On his way, he had called Janet and told her the good news. She had cried with joy and promised to come join them at the hospital later that evening.
He supposed he was still in a slight state of disbelief. Of course it was hardly surprising considering they had all began to believe they would never see Nikki again. However unconsciously it was, he knew he'd been preparing himself for the worst.
After a short stop off at a florist to buy some flowers, Leo arrived at the hospital and found his way to Nikki's private room. He gently knocked on the door but when he received no reply, he decided to slip in anyway; he couldn't wait to see Nikki alive and fairly well any longer. The room was dim – one of the nurses having considerately turned off all the lights except the lamp on the side table – and it took Leo a moment to see his colleagues. When he did, however, his heart melted a little.
They sat side by side on the bed, fast asleep, Nikki tucked carefully under the covers, whilst Harry was above, propped up against the backboard. One muscular arm was wrapped around her shoulders and the other rested protectively on her stomach, keeping her surrounded by familiarity. Nikki's blonde head was tucked under Harry's stubble-shadowed chin. They fitted so perfectly together, Leo couldn't help but smile. He sincerely hoped that they didn't waste this second chance they'd been given.