A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.
~Stendhal

It was simple, really, Alesha thought. When you loved someone, you would do anything to keep them safe. And if you were the sort of person DS Matt Devlin was, you became a copper so you could keep everyone safe. When the 4x4 came round the corner, Alesha saw Matt react to the gun pointed out the window. He scrambled to cover their witness, young Kaden Blake, and shots rang out….

~~

Junior Crown Prosecutor Alesha Phillips was unimpressed with DS Devlin when they first met. He's a pretty boy, she thought, and a know-it-all sort of bloke who really didn't know a lot about anything but football and policing. Still, he did have a gorgeous smile.

Alesha had worked hard to escape the council estate in Hackney. She studied harder than anyone else to maintain her scholarships, lest she be forced to leave university. Sometimes she wondered if she had worked so hard that the words "fun" and "friends" had left her vocabulary. But she couldn't let her guard down for an instant, not even after her schooling was done. Four law firms had declined to hire her; what if she lost her job with CPS? Where would she be then?

Working for the Crown Prosecution hadn't been in Alesha's plans, but she came to view it as her destiny. The world needed saving, after all. Not only would she be prosecuting offenders, but she could look out for those who needed some sympathy, those who committed crimes with mitigating circumstances. Maybe bring a bit of humanity to the office as a counter to James Steel's "the law is the law" attitude.

At the conclusion of a particularly difficult case, DS Ronnie Brooks asked Alesha and James if they would like to join him in a round at the pub. "I'm treating Mattie here to a pint, why don't you come with us?"

James had begged off as it was his weekend with his son. Alesha declined as well, which Matt seemed to take as a challenge.

"Can't bear to take a night off from saving the downtrodden, Miss Phillips?" Matt said. Alesha was about to direct a brutal retort his way when she saw the twinkle in his eye, and the retort died on her lips. She shook her head in disbelief. There was an honest-to-God twinkle in his eye. His very lovely blue eyes. Alesha realized he was looking at her, still waiting for an answer to his question, be it a slap or a verbal rebuke. James was already gathering his files, his mind on his son, but Ronnie was looking from Matt to Alesha with a knowing smile.

"Um, yeah, I can take a night off. The downtrodden will be there in the morning," she responded. "That is, assuming you're able to catch them." Alesha looked smug as Ronnie nudged Matt and laughed, but it was all false bravado on her part.

That night in the pub, Ronnie had a coffee while Matt and Alesha each had a pint, and he regaled them with tales of his early days on the police force. Matt contributed stories from his boyhood, but Alesha was largely silent as she felt she had no amusing stories to share. She laughed, though, at Ronnie's description of the man he was attempting to arrest who tore his clothes off, jumped out the first floor window and made a run for freedom.

Ronnie had another round delivered to Matt and Alesha and said his good nights, giving Matt a wink before heading home. They stayed for another hour, chatting in fits and starts, Matt doing his level best to be charming. Alesha was…Alesha. Unsure, self-conscious. But she was enjoying herself, and it had been a very long time since Alesha had allowed herself that.

Matt saw her to a taxi outside the pub, and as he shut the car door behind Alesha he patted the roof as if he were tucking her in for the night. Alesha felt warm and safe, and she held his gaze through the window as the taxi left the kerb.

Soon after that night they became an item, as they say, stealing away for a quick lunch during the workday and having lovely dinners together. Alesha found it difficult to keep their relationship quiet. Every time she and James had a conference with Matt and Ronnie, Alesha was sure the heat she felt in her face was noticeable to all, as were the winks Matt gave her. James seemed unaware, but she often saw Ronnie glancing at her and smiling. She knew Ronnie and Matt shared a father-son bond, and she was honored that Ronnie approved.

Sometimes late at night, lying in her bed or his, Matt would share his fears of being a disappointment to his family, and Alesha told him of her feelings of inadequacy. Matt would put his finger to her lips and kiss her chin and move to her neck, licking and sucking her soft skin before trailing down to her shoulder and then her breast.

"You, Alesha Phillips, are not adequate. You are so, so much more," Matt would murmur against her mouth between kisses and when he entered her, oh God she believed him.

When Alesha was assaulted by Dr. Merrick, she wouldn't…couldn't…accept Matt's comfort. She was that poor black girl from Hackney again, and she pushed Matt away over and over. Matt Devlin was stubborn, though, and he never let Alesha give up on herself or on him. It took a very long while, but with Matt's dogged determination…he really was like a loyal Irish setter sometimes!...and counseling, Alesha and Matt became stronger than ever.

Matt had saved her in so many ways, large and small. She had to return the favor, didn't she? That's what you did for people you love.

When the gun appeared through the car window and Matt pushed Kaden down, Alesha instinctively knocked Matt to the kerb.

~~

So it was simple, really, Alesha thought. You lived, you loved, and hopefully you were loved in return. Alesha looked up at Matt's face and tried to lift her arm to touch him. It was so dreadfully heavy, though, and she couldn't manage it. She tried to say his name but coughed blood instead.

Alesha had lived.

She had loved.

She most definitely was loved in return.

And then, Alesha died.