She slid the key into the door with a sigh.

"Home, sweet, home." Her voice was quiet and held a distinct note of amusement.

With one hand she groped for the lights, while shouldering the duffel bag with the other. She entered the hallway and took a deep breath. It was home. And, God help her, she was happy to be back.

She dropped the keys, her set as well as Bo's, onto the table and let the duffel slip to the floor with a thump. She looked around, as though seeing her quarters for the first time. The only word that came to mind was sterile. Nice enough, but devoid of any real warmth.

She crossed to the window; the light was beginning to wane, but she could still see the breeze riffling the leaves of the oaks in the courtyard. The place was stale, and some fresh air would be nice. As she fumbled with the window latch it occurs to her she'd never opened the windows before.

She used to love sleeping with the sounds and smells of night filtering through an open window, but these past five years Lauren has perfected the art of denying herself even the smallest comforts. Well, for at least the first three and a half years, anyway.

The plain white sheers adorning the window billowed around her as the warm breeze gusted in. She breathed in, smiled, closed her eyes. She was glad to have the last five years behind her.

She fingered the necklace around her neck; measured the weight of it. Funny, even though it represented a lifetime of service ahead of her, it felt lighter than just a month ago. When she threw it against the door of a cell in the basement of this very building.

Bo had been right. Nadia coming back had changed everything.

Time had seemed to speed up and slow down all at once when Nadia sat up and whispered her name that wonderfully awful day. Even as she kissed her, with all of the gratitude she felt at this finally having come to pass, Lauren knew it was over. Her heart still ached with the guilt of wanting another in that moment—for almost feeling the presence of Bo in the room with them.

Yes, she knew even then it was over; she'd given herself to Bo—but even if she hadn't, the years had been too much.

She could never be the Lauren she was before the fae. Too much had happened. She'd become too clinical, too cool, too reserved for the woman that Nadia still was.

Nadia realized it too when she teased Lauren about her almost paranoid driving tendencies.

"Since when do you keep your hands in the ten and two position instead of one elbow on the door and the other hand on my knee?" And Lauren had responded with a barrage of gruesome statistics on vehicular deaths that left Nadia blinking.

"Why are you always checking the rear view mirror?" And Lauren had patiently explained that they lived in a world where bad people could follow them. It was always good to keep an eye on your back and be aware of your surroundings. Nadia had responded by turning up the volume on the stereo.

"Why don't you go a little faster?" And Lauren grinned when she responded that brake failure was almost a certainty over 60 clicks. Nadia just snorted in exasperation.

She didn't care that Nadia saw her as a little older and a little more boring with each of those answers. It didn't really matter. Because she knew when she turned the car around and headed home that Nadia wouldn't be sitting beside her.

Now, looking out the window—her window, Lauren's face lit up with a broad smile.

Nadia not coming back would change everything.