Disclaimers - Nope, none. My characters, my hometown, my pseudo company. Dar and Kerry are (amazingly) copyrighted people belonging to themselves, who are renting their lives to me for reasons beyond my understanding. This is the sequel to Hurricane Watch.


Eye of the Storm Part 5

By Melissa Good

"Tell me again, chica… who had this idea?" Ray ducked, as a rubber ball went flying over his head, and the lights started to dance. "This a circus."

"Eh…" Colleen grinned, and motioned over a skating waitress. "It’s cute…. There are a lot of company groups here…look, there’s the guys from Fedex."

Ray moved his head, then laughed. "In those tight blue shorts… I see them." There were four of them there, Ray and Colleen, and two others from Synergenics who had worked with Kerry before her promotion. "You want something to drink, Susan?"

The programmer nodded. "Hell, yes… a beer, please." She leaned back in her chair and put her feet up on the one next to her. "Feels good not to be in front of a screen.. that last project nearly killed me." She rolled her head towards Colleen. "What time’s Ker getting here… eight?"

"Supposedly, yep." Colleen glanced up at the door, some distance away, then chuckled. "Right on time.. .just like always. You can set your watch by the woman."

Their eyes turned that way, and watched as Kerry opened the door and slipped inside. She was alone, and she paused for a moment, letting her eyes adjust before she spotted them and waved.

"Good god." Susan sat up. "I can’t believe that’s the same person.. would you look at her?" The programmer ran her hand through her silvered auburn hair and shook her head.

Kerry headed towards them, trotting down the short series of stairs and dodging the busy crowd. She was dressed in faded jeans and a snug fitting aqua colored tank top which exposed a good portion of her upper body to the watching eyes.

"Mi Madre." Ray shook his head. "I remember her all frills and lace, and being so quiet… she has changed so much." The support manager of Synergenics, who had taken Kerry's position, hadn't seen his ex boss in over four months.

"She sure has." Colleen mused, observing the self assured figure moving towards them, seemingly oblivious to the appreciative looks from the people she brushed by.

"Hey guys." Kerry dropped into the nearest chair, and let out a breath. "Just made it… we had a wild day at work." She watched the eyes flick over her shoulder, and smiled. "Dar’ll be here in a bit.. she was just finishing up a call when I left." Her gaze turned towards her former coworkers. "So.. how are you guys doing? Sal.. I got your email with those jokes.. I hope you know they’re floating around hq now."

The programmer chuckled. "That’s okay… things are fine by us. We just finished up remapping that IRS website program.. put them on IIS with some custom scripting. They like it."

"I know." The green eyes twinkled. "I keep track of stuff coming from you all…it’s been fun watching everything come together." She looked up as the waitress rolled back up, and delivered drinks. "Oo.. what's that.. draft beer? Can I have one?"

The lights dimmed, and the strobes started up, throwing patterns of balls and beams around the bowling alley. Tacky music added to the atmosphere, as teams started moving towards their assigned alleys. "Do they really expect you to… um.. bowl… in this?" Kerry peered around, with a wry grin.

"Nah.. it's more of a gag than anything…" Susan waved a hand at it. "The proceeds go to the United Way, so…" She held up a ticket. " You'd better go get a pair of ugly shoes, and we'll claim our spot. They'll bring the beer over there for ya." She pointed. "Lane 32."

"Good idea." Kerry stood up, and Ray joined her. "We'll meet you guys over there." She edged around the table and walked towards the control desk, with the slim latin man right at her heels. "This is just goofy enough to be fun, Ray."

Ray laughed. "Si, you got that right, jefa." He patted her back, a touch gingerly. "Kerry, I have to say this to you,.. I think you look fantastic."

The friendly smile, and the warm green eyes were the same. "Thanks, Ray.. you look great yourself… is that a new haircut?" Ray's dark hair was almost shaved in back, and the front wasn't much longer. She reached over and ruffled it.

"I hate to tell you what happened." He lowered his voice, as they waited their turn at the desk. "I was under the sink, you know? Fixing the pipes and I turned that little torch on."

Kerry cocked her head. "For the copper things?"

"Si..si… only the dog, she's so cute, but she put her nose… I was not wearing… " Ray stopped, and cleared his throat. "Anyway, I jumped up, and forgot the torch, and burned my hairs off."

She clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from bursting out laughing." I'm sorry.. that's not funny…"

"Oh honey.. of course, yes, it is." Ray smiled sheepishly. "But it does not look so bad, does it?"

Kerry smiled back. "No.. not at all… you just look different." She paused. "Younger, I think."

"You too." The dark eyes flickered beneath even darker lashes. "Look at all those muscles."

She glanced down, then spread her arms a little and shrugged. "Yeah.. I know…all that wall climbing, and diving, and…" Kerry exhaled. "Took me a little while to get used to it.. but it doesn't look too bad, huh?"

"Tch." Ray bit his lip, and given this permission, indulged in a long look. "Honey, you look gorgeous… and so happy." He leaned closer. "I am so glad for you, jefa… the chupa.. she did good for you, no?"

Kerry nodded slowly. "Better than good, Ray." She turned around as they reached the desk and handed the ticket over, ordering shoes for herself and Dar, and paying for them. "It's the best thing that's ever happened to me."


"Okay.. okay, okay." Dar finally checked off the last box in the form she was filling out, carefully writing in several notes near the bottom of it. "Can we beta or not?"

An aggrieved sigh came through the speakerphone. "Dar…we have just gotten the routers in place… willya give me a damn week to get them programmed, and tested before you start tossing packets at them?"

"A week?" Dar protested, leaning over her work and writing a long paragraph, in her strong, but confusing handwriting. "Jesus, Byron.. I got twenty of the damn things programmed in one night… what do you mean, a week?"


Another scribble, and a pause for thought. "Shows exceptional grasp of business cases, and acts with solid responsibility." She muttered.

"Excuse me?"

"Not you, Byron." Dar chewed the end of her pen. "All right.. I'm tired of arguing.. and I gotta go. You've got a week… but when that's over, I want a clearance to bring the system up."

A grumble. "Okay.. I think I can do that."

"You think?" Dar's voice dropped an octave.

"We'll do it."

"Night, Byron… tell Sandra I said hello."

"Tell her yourself." Byron grumbled. "She's right here.. laughing her ass off. She loves watching me squirm."

Dar smiled. "Hey, Sandy."

A low, melodic voice answered, full of the musical quality common in the East. "Hello, Dar… long time…. I've been enjoying every minute of this." Sandra chuckled. "I keep picturing this eighteen year old punk sitting in the CIO's office though… it's making my brain hurt."

Sandra Weing had been Dar's first supervisor, after the company had bought out the tiny programming group she'd joined as a summer job. Dar was fairly certain she'd driven the lovely, talented, patient, and serene Dr. Weing to banging her head against the wall, and she was always surprised the woman remembered her fondly.

She'd also been Dar's first crush, and a medium of startling revelation. Sandra had married Byron, a well thought of systems engineer, and decided to settle down at home and have kids, though.. and Dar had always wondered how that'd worked out for her. "Well, I'm certainly not eighteen anymore." She remarked, filling in another line on her form.. "But I'm glad you're having fun. "

"No.. I realized that when they posted those pictures of you on line." Sandra chuckled. "Well, dinner's calling.. nice talking to you, Dar."

"Same here… next week, Byron." Dar warned.

"Yeah yeah.." He sighed. "You'll have it."

"Night." Dar hit the phone button with her pen and finished a last entry, her real reason for staying late.

Kerry's evaluation, which would be a touch difficult to do during the chaotic day, or at home with the very tangible reminder of her lover's presence so close by. She glanced at her watch. "Only 8:30.. not bad. " She added her recommendations for Kerry's future, and signed the review, with a strong scribbling, smiling as she sat back and let the pen drop on the desk.

The sound of footsteps didn't surprise her. She'd known Ankow was still in the building, based on little security pop ups that had been helpfully tracking him for her for the last few hours. 'Well." She stood up and locked her pc, sliding Kerry's evaluation into her top desk drawer and locking that too. "It's not going to be a repeat of last night, that's for sure."

She already had her gym bag over her shoulder as he walked in, and she peered briefly, and uninterestedly at him as she picked up her keys. "Just leaving." A pause. "Sorry."

He leaned against the doorframe, regarding her sourly. Maybe he doesn't like parrots. She had two of them in a snuggly pose on her left breast, embroidered into a faded blue denim shirt tucked into natural stone washed jeans.

"Slumming tonight?"

Dar moved towards the door. "Disco bowling." She answered, with strict truthfulness, as she stopped in front of him and gestured towards the outer office. "Bar's closed."

For a minute, she thought he was going to remain standing there, then he eased out ahead of her. "I'm surprised.. .someone who lives out on a ritzy island… spends her evenings bowling?'

Dar didn't react. "Better than spending my time digging through public records in the Dade County Courthouse."

He got to the door first, and leaned against it, holding it shut and smiling at her. "But you find out such facinating things… leafing through those microfilmed titles." A pause. "I've got you, Roberts."

"With an inherited condo?" Dar glanced at her watch. "Get out of my way, I've got a lot more important things to do than this."

"With your co owner."

Uh oh. Dar exhaled inwardly, but kept her composure. "Who… Kerry?" She managed a completely bland look. "Why? She pays her half of the taxes."

A moment's doubt in his eyes. "You live together." He'd obviously expected a different reaction from her.

"Yep.. sure do." Dar agreed amiably. "Best roommate I ever had. Now.. is there a point to this conversation? Because otherwise, I'm leaving." She shouldered the gym bag and moved several steps closer.

Slowly, he moved away from the door, and opened it, watching her face intently. "Roommate, hmm?"

Dar felt like punching him. She really, really did, and maybe he realized that, and it excited him. "Yeah… " Then she smiled with feral intensity. "What'd you think.. we were screwing like squirrels on the coffee table?" She almost laughed at the look on his face. "Get your head out of your groin, Ankow.. and your ass out of my office." Dar brushed by him and strode towards the elevator, leaving him behind her in dangerous silence.

At the last minute as the doors opened and she stepped inside, he joined her, the elevator doors closing them both into a charged stillness.

They stared at each other in the oppressive atmosphere, the floors seeming to crawl by. At last the trip was over, and Dar escaped into the cool peace of the lobby, trying to ignore the stalking figure at her side.

He waited until they were past the doors, and past the security guard, before he reached out and grabbed her arm.

Dar stopped.

And turned ice cold eyes on him. 'Take your hands off me." She kept her voice down, but it rumbled with intent.

He let go of her biceps, then pointed a finger at her chest. "I'm going to find out the truth." He promised softly. "And bury you with it."

Then he turned and walked away, heading for his rental car that was parked near the front of the building.

Dar took a deep breath, and turned, then almost yelped when she came close to crashing headlong into a tall, menacing figure. "Hey!"

"Easy thar, Dardar." Andrew peered over her shoulder, his eyes mere slits in the lamplight. "Whointhehell was that?"

"An asshole." Dar felt like hugging him in pathetic gratitude. "Just a real asshole, who's got it out for me." A hand patted her arm awkwardly. "What brings you here?" She nodded her head towards the Lexus. "Don't worry about him."

Andrew turned his attention from the car Ankow was driving back to his daughter. "I need yer help." He muttered, embarrassed. "Got a minute?"

"Are you kidding?" Dar unlocked the car and motioned him into the passenger side. "What is it?"

Andrew climbed in and shut the door, waiting for her to start up the engine before he blew a breath out, and peered sideways at her. "Been trying to figure out… good lord, all the clock round the past few days how I could get… get my butt in a place where I could… um… "

"Contact mom?" Dar paused at the stoplight, then turned when it changed.

"Yeah." Her father blinked, and rubbed his eyes. Dar recognized the gesture with a faint smile. "And I want to… damn, I do.. but I can't figger a way." He studied his scarred hands. "Picked up the phone a dozen hundred times, started to dial… just couldn't." He looked up at her. "What do I say? What kin I say?"

"Hello?" Dar joked faintly, as she drove. "I know what you mean, though… I remember how shocked I was… she's gonna lose it."

He remained silent, just twisting his fingers.

Dar thought, turning her mind to the puzzle as did throughout the day on less personal.. less vital matters. Her father was counting on her. Finally, she exhaled. "Let the Navy do it."

He looked up. "What?"

"Let the Navy do it… have them contact her, say there was a mistake. You know it happens." Dar responded quietly. "It's damn close to the truth."

Andrew considered the words. "Doesn't explain the months I been here."

Dar had stopped at a red light, and now she turned. "No." She searched his face. "That's gonna be the tough part… your tough part."

The light turned green, and she drove on, trying not to hear the audible sounds as he swallowed a few times.

"Damn it." Andrew finally whispered. "I want to have the guts to just call up and do this.. and I don't, Dardar. That's a damn tough thing for someone's stared down death as many times as I have.. and not cared." He dropped his head against one hand. "Don't wanta get the Navy into it."

Dar pulled into the parking lot and turned off the Lexus, then pulled her cell phone out and checked the charge. "I understand being scared." She leaned her forearms against the wheel. "It's like being in a dark pit… and there's no way out.. and you only go deeper into it, the longer you stay."

They looked somberly at each other.

Dar keyed in her phone's memory, and dialed a number, then held the instrument to her ear, until it was answered. "It's Dar." Hesitation, then a quiet response. "I've got someone here that want's to talk to you." She handed the phone to her father, who took it purely by reflex. "Here. Say hello to mom."

Then she opened the door and tossed him the keys, closing it and walking towards the building, without looking back.

Crossing her fingers.


"Okay… ow, watch where you're swinging that, Col.." Kerry ducked around the heavy blue ball Colleen was swinging. "I have no idea where.. ah. There she is." She'd spotted her lover enter, and stop, her ears visibly twitching at the assault of noise around her. Dar had a strained expression on her face, though, and Kerry set her own ball down on the tray. "Uh oh… be right back, guys."

She trotted up the stairs and dodged around moving waitresses, relieved when the roving blue eyes fell on her and softened in perceptible relief. "Hey… " She got up next to Dar and tugged her into a corner. "What's the matter?"

Dar chewed her lip. "What do you want to hear about first… Ankow figuring out we live together, or me calling my mother and handing the cell phone to my father?"

Kerry's jaw dropped. "Dar.. I only left you alone for forty five minutes." She spluttered in protest. "Jesus… wh…bu.. " She rubbed her head in shock.

The tall, dark haired woman managed a faint smile. "Everyone here? Let's… just… I um.. I need a distraction." She put a hand on Kerry's back. "We can talk about it all later… the Ankow thing wasn't that big a deal.. I just told him we were roommates."

"Yeah.. yeah, sure." Kerry took her arm and guided her back to the lane, where their friends were waiting, watching with interested faces. "Well, we are roommates." She replied reasonably, then stopped. "Wait.. where is dad?"

"Outside." Dar replied quietly. "I didn't know what to do.. .I.. he was so frustrated, and I… so I just… I.."

"Dialed her number and said here." Kerry winced. "Honey… "

"Tactless, huh?"

Kerry sighed. "Well, it's direct, and straightforward.. and both you and your daddy are certainly that." She exhaled again and smiled as they reached the lane. "Hey guys.. sorry about that.. Dar had some problems before she left the office."

"And after." Her lover muttered.

"Mm…. Would you like a drink?" Kerry signaled the waitress.

"Oh.. yeah." Dar ordered a Kahlua milkshake, then paused. "On second thought.. make that a double."

The waitress popped her bubble gum , and smiled. "Shawer." Then she rolled happily off.


Cecelia stared at the phone, deeply puzzled. Getting called out of the blue like that from Dar was shocking enough, but… who in Miami would want to talk to her? Unless Dar wasn't in Miami, of course. Impatiently, she put the phone to her ear. "Hello?"

All she could hear was the faintest sound of breathing.

For no reason she could detect, a chill passed over her. "Hello?" She asked again, softer. "Is there someone there?"

A soft rasp of indrawn air, then an almost inaudible sound came through the phone and touched her ears.


No. She was frozen in place, unmoving. Unbreathing. No… no, that voice couldn’t be what she'd heard. Her chest moved, pulling in air audibly.

"Ceci?" The sound again, a little stronger.

It couldn’t be. It was just another dream.

Just another nightmare. She should hang up. That's what she should do, hang up and forget about it.


Her hand moved.

Her heart spoke. "Andy?"


Her world collapsed around her, becoming a small space filled with only that voice. "Andy." She curled around the phone, cradling it with both hands.

"Ceci, it's me."

She gasped softly. "Oh."


She closed her eyes. "Yes?"

The voice took on an aching sadness. "I'm sorry."

Her chest suddenly erupted in a sob. "Where are you?" She managed to get the words out. "Andy… where are you?" She started crying helplessly, hugging the phone to her so tightly it creaked.

"Cec… there's so damn much I.. have to say I.. ."

"I don’t care." Cecilia whispered. "I don’t care where you've been or what you've done… just come here… come home.. please…"She stopped, as the tears choked her. "Please…"

He was curled up in the front seat, shaking so badly he could hardly hold the phone. "All right." He finally choked out.

"When?" Came back, a barely audible whisper.

Andrew opened his fist, seeing the blood where his hand had clenched down over the set of keys his daughter had given him.

Cast bread up on the waters… and it came back to you, didn't it? God bless you, Dar. "Now." He answered the question, hearing the almost hysterical sob on the other end.

God bless you.


"You okay?" Kerry leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees as she sat next to a very quiet, and very pensive Dar. The taller woman was sucking on her milkshake, cradling it in both hands and trying to ignore the chaotic sounds and sights around them. "Worried about your dad?"

Dar nodded slightly.

"Well.. " Kerry glanced up as Colleen announced they were ready to start. Everyone was furtively watching Dar, and she realized her friends knew something was wrong. "Listen.. I've been thinking. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea, you know?" She patted Dar's knee. "Sometimes, when you think about something too much, you get too scared to do it."

"Mm.. I know." Dar sucked on her straw. "Kissing you on the beach comes to mind."

Kerry felt her train of thought run right off it's track and wander down Biscayne Boulevard. "Uh… what?"

"That was a major scared witless moment for me." Dar remarked.

"It was? " Kerry sounded totally amazed.

A slight cock of Dar's head. "Would have been an ugly moment if I'd have been wrong, wouldn't it?"

"Tch… you knew you weren't"

"No, I didn't." Dar replied seriously. "Sure.. I was hoping, but… " She sighed. "I'd been wrong so many times before."

"Not this time."

Dar smiled, and leaned against her. "No. I got it right this time."

They both watched Colleen grasp her ball firmly, and face the alley, flashes of disco light flicking over her sturdy form. Then she walked up to the line with a dignified air, and spread her legs, tossing the ball down the alley with a distinct crashing thump.

"Nice technique." Dar muttered.

"She got two of them." Kerry protested mildly. "I'm not much better."

"You're going to look a lot cuter with your butt up in the air."

Outraged green eyes peered at her. "Oh great.. forget it.. I'll crawl up to the line."

Dar smiled.

"Can you bowl?" Kerry asked, suddenly suspicious. She never got an answer because at that very moment, her cell phone went off, and scared the heck out of her. "Jesus!" She grabbed at the device, which she'd set to vibrate and was pressing against her side. She glanced at the caller id, then hesitated, before showing Dar. "It's you."

Dar bit her lip, then took the phone very gingerly and opened it, pressing it to her ear. "Hello?"

A low, raspy voice answered. "Git out here."

Dar swallowed. "Yes, sir." She folded the phone carefully and handed it to Kerry, then stood. "Excuse me." It was like being an adolescent again, she realized. The years peeled back and she was twelve… or fourteen, and knowing she'd done something that rated a first class dressing down for. "Be right back."

Kerry caught the edge of her jeans and held it. "You okay? You need some backup?"

An exhale. "No.. I got myself into this.. lemee go pay my dues… it's my father, remember? The worst he's gonna do is chew my head off."

"Well, remind him I have a real fondness for your head.. and I like it where it is." Her lover gave the fabric a gentle tug. "Okay?"

That got a faint smile out of Dar. "Okay." She tweaked a bit of Kerry's hair, then turned and started making her way through the crowd.

Kerry immediately got a pod of bodies attached to her. "What's going on?" Colleen whispered. "Are you guys okay?"

"We're fine.. it's… just… complicated." Kerry tried to find a place to start.


The air outside was humid, and Dar could smell a distinct tang of rain on it. She let the door close behind her and headed towards the car, trying to convince her guts to stop quaking. Her father was standing outside the Lexus, leaning against it's tall side, his face hidden in the shadows of his hood, and she swallowed hard more than once as she forced herself to keep walking.

Finally, she was there, finding it very hard not to hang her head, and stare at her sneakers as she stopped a few paces away and waited. It wasn't a physical fear. Andrew had never so much as laid a hand on her, ever, even in times where Dar now felt he probably should have.

He hadn't had to. His disappointment in her had been enough.


Hesitantly, she took a few more steps, until she was almost even with him, his height topping hers by a mere inch or two as he straightened up. "Everything okay?" She murmured, still unable to distinguish his features in the dark.

She wasn't expecting the hug, and it took her a moment to throw off her shock and respond. "Dad?" She whispered, as she felt the rare pleasure of enfolding her father in her arms. He was solid, and warm, but she could feel the faint shaking as he breathed. "Daddy?"

The arms squeezed her. "Thanks."

Dar's knees almost gave out as she felt the tension drain from her in a startling flood. She released her held breath and let her head rest on his shoulder until he released her, but didn't let go. They backed off a little and looked at each other. Dar risked a tiny smile. "So… I was right, huh?"

Her father nodded slightly.

"Sorry I did it that way." Now Dar did hang her head, studying the ground between them. "She want you to come up there?"

A long, shaky breath. "Yeah."

Dar shifted her energy away from the intense emotion and towards the practical. "Want me to take care of getting you there?" She peeked up at him. "I think I can get you a flight out tonight, yet."

He let his grip on her go, and leaned back against the car, either dazed or exhausted, it was hard for Dar to tell. "Lord… I can't believe this is happening." He raised his head with an obvious effort. "If'n that's t'only way.. yeah, I guess.."

Dar took the keys of the Lexus and unlocked it, then opened the door and grasped his arm gently. "C'mere.. siddown."

"She… wanted t'come here…. "Andrew murmured. "Wasn't fair…case things don't work out."

"They'll work out." Dar glanced around, then realized her father had taken the cell phone, and tucked it under one arm, where he had it pressed against his body. "I need… " She looked over at the building, and found worried green eyes in the doorway, looking back at her. "Ah. Yeah.. that's what I need."

She gave Kerry a smile, and a jerk of her head, and the blond woman practically flew out of the alley and bounded across the parking lot.

"Let me borrow your cell.. I've got to get some tickets to Connecticut." Dar announced, as her lover reached them.

"Really?" Kerry handed it over, then got in closer. "Awesome!" Her face lit up with a delighted grin.

Andrew lifted his head at that, and regarded her, a faint smile tugging at the very corners of his lips.

She threw her arms around him and squeezed. "Wow.. I'm so glad." She whispered in his ear. "I had fingers and toes and everything else crossed for you." She felt him return the hug, and pat her on the side. "Can you get a flight?" This was to Dar.

"Yeah.. " Her lover held up a finger, the pressed the phone to her ear. "Yes… open return… my card's on file."

Andrew stirred, but found it difficult to stand with Kerry wrapped around him. "Ah.. "

"Don't argue with her." Kerry advised softly, hanging on. "Just let her do her thing, and get her back later."

"Yeah.. that's right." Dar was saying. "E-ticket it… we're on the way over now." A pause. "Thanks.. no, that's fine.. right. Bye." Dar closed the phone and nodded. "All set." Then she put a hand on her father's knee. "You got ID?"

He nodded.

"Do you have something to wear other than that?" Kerry inquired.

He shook his head.

"Okay." Kerry released him and exhaled. "I'll stop and pick something up, and meet you there?"

"Right." Dar agreed. "Let's go." She glanced behind her. "What about.."

"Rain check."

"Right." Dar considered. "Men's extra large, he likes blue."

"Right." Kerry agreed, making a note on her palm pilot. "See you there." She patted Andrew's arm and trotted off.

Finally regaining a little equilibrium, Dar's father stared bemusedly after her. "You two always just take over stuff?"

"The occasional multi billion dollar company, sure.." Dar replied. "C"mon… we haven't got that much time…"

"Good." He sighed. "Less time for me to chuck up my guts with."

Dar got in and started the engine, then shifted the Lexus into gear. She spared a glance sideways, catching the reflection of her father's face in the passenger side window, where silent tears made glittering tracks from scared, haunted eyes.


For a long while, she merely sat there, curled up on the couch, the phone cradled against her chest. Every so often she would press the caller id button, watching the familiar name blink at her, just to prove it had really happened.

D Roberts. 305 930 1101

She traced the letters and numbers with a trembling fingertip. It was like being inside a dream, really. She didn't feel like moving, or thinking.

She just wanted to savor the simple pleasure of lying here outside the cloud of despair that had cloaked her for so very long. It hadn't really sunk in yet.. not really. She was just caught between a wild hysteria, and a need to hold this feeling to her and breathe in it's rare and special fragrance.

Andy. Her lips shaped the name, for so long banned from her speech. She curled around the phone again and started crying helplessly.

She had no idea how long she laid there, before the phone sent shocks through her as it rang softly again.

Cecilia's eyes went anxiously to the display, not wanting it to change.

And, as though obedient to her heart, it didn't.

She pressed the button. "He… hello?" Greedily, she wanted to hear him again.



It was noisy, where he was. "Bout to get on an airplane.. I.. "

She started counting the hours. "Which one?" She was aware, suddenly, of Dar's voice in the background, and a warmer, lighter, tone answering. "I'll meet you."

A rustling of papers. "All right.. won't be there till damn near midnight.."

"I don’t' care."

"Ceci.. I.. something I need to tell you.. I'm not.."


He stopped speaking.

"Whatever it is… can wait." Cecilia wished she could simply crawl through the phone, and out the other end. "I just want you here."

"I… I want to be there." His voice was rough and strained. "I gotta go on."

A fumbling sound, and soft, muffled voices. Cecilia simply closed her eyes and waited. Then a lighter, richer tone came down the line.


She had to breathe a few times before she could answer. "Yes."

"I have his flight number.. if you.. "

Oh, Of course. "He's really there?"

Dar got very quiet. "He's really here."

The hot tears spilled over her eyes again, and she stifled a sob. "What flight?"

"Continental…1822." Dar murmured. "Mother… he's had a tough time. He got messed up pretty badly. There're a lot of scars."

She had to run that through her wildly scattered mind a few times before she understood what her daughter was saying. "You think I care what he looks like?" She gasped.

"No." Dar's voice came back, warm, and positive. "But I think he does."

"Oh." Cecilia moaned. "No… no… I just want him here." She started crying again.

"I know." Dar sighed audibly. "Plane just pushed back from the gate." A pause. "If you need anything… let us know."

Ceci quieted a bit. "All right." She closed her eyes for a long moment, tasting the bittersweet irony. "Thank you, Dar."

There was a very lengthy silence. "You're welcome." The words finally came back to her, low and subdued.


Dar slowly closed the phone, and leaned her head against the cold glass, staring out into the darkness at the retreating running lights of a Boeing 757. Kerry leaned next to her, the blond woman's sigh fogging the glass lightly.

"Boy. What a night." She turned and regarded her lover. "Are you okay?"

"Still in shock, I think." Dar murmured. " I can't believe what just happened."

Kerry rubbed her eyes and stifled a yawn. "I think your dad's in total shock…I put a blanket around him on the plane, and told the steward to keep an eye on him." She smiled up at Dar. "I'm so glad for them, though."

"Yeah." Dar watched the plane disappear with a faintly wistful look.

"Wish we could be there to see them get together." Kerry sighed. "It makes me feel great thinking about dad being happy."

Dar watched the tears well up in Kerry's eyes, to be quickly brushed away, and she reached out to capture one of the blond woman's hands. "You know he really likes you."

Kerry didn't answer, visibly holding back her emotions. Finally she cleared her throat. "You and he have taught me so much… " She had to stop, putting a hand to her mouth, then went on. "About what love is."

Dar stepped closer and pulled Kerry's head into her shoulder, sliding an arm around her back. "We.. taught you that?" She whispered, in an amazed tone, as she stroked the soft hair. "C'mon… let's go home." They started down the long, almost empty concourse side by side.

Outside, a rumbled of man made thunder rolled overhead as a plane shot it self skyward, heading north.


He was twenty minutes into the flight before he remembered, way too late, that he hated flying. He clutched the soft, blue blanket around his shoulders and slowly turned his head, regarding his surroundings with some surprise.

"Sir, can I get you something to drink?" The steward smiled kindly at him across the empty first class seat next to him.

"You got any warm milk?" He muttered, surprised at how cold it was in the plane.

"Sure." The steward disappeared

Andrew peered out of the window at the darkness, then let his head fall back against the leather seat. Least there was room up here. He stretched his long legs out towards the bulkhead and tried not to think about exactly what he was doing.

"Here you go." The steward put a napkin down at his elbow, and settled a steaming cup into the holder between the seats. "We're working on a little snack right now.. it'll be out shortly."

"Mhm." Andrew decided on a grunt, as he picked up the cup and sucked gingerly at the warm milk. Tucked under his knees he could feel the soft warmth of the leather bag Kerry had given him, full of god only knew what stuff the sweet little kid had picked out.

Frankly, he was scared to look.

Andrew sighed. Hell. He was scared, period. But like in battle, now that he was committed to the action at hand, the fear was fading, replaced by an odd mix of fatalistic acceptance, and anticipation.

After all this time, in less than three hours he'd walk off this damn plane, and she'd be there. She might not like what she found, but she'd be there, and he'd get to see her and…"

He sipped at his milk shakily. The voice on that phone haunted him.

Hadn't known whether to spank his kid, or kiss her for that. Andrew found a tiny smile somewhere. Based on Dar's expression when she'd come outside, she hadn't known either. Well, better to act now, and apologize later, wasn't that what you taught her? Got that whacked up side your head this time, boy.

Maybe it'd been the right thing… hell, maybe that's what he'd been hoping for when he went looking for his kid, trusting her judgement more than his own.

And wouldn't it just kick her butt to know that?

"Sir, if you' d let me put this down for you?" The steward was holding out a piece of linen, and a tray.

Chow was not an option. Andrew started to protest, then just pulled the arm tray out, figuring it was better to let the damn thing go. He could ignore it until they got the picture and…

The smell of warm chocolate hit him.

He blinked. "What is that?"

"It's a warm brownie, with some vanilla ice cream, and hot fudge drizzled over it." The steward responded efficiently. "Here's your silverware.. if you need anything, give me a buzz."

"This what you people consider a snack?" He rasped.

The man smiled. "No sir.. but it was requested by the young lady who came down the jetway with you." He glanced over his shoulder. "Everyone else is getting pasta salad."

Why that little green eyed son of a biscuit. "Thanks." He locked his jaw as that tiny, offhand but so characteristic bit of kindness caught him by surprise, and started him off again. He picked up his spoon, and tasted a bit of the fudge, then rubbed his eyes.

Damn kids.


The phone rang, just as she was about to leave. Cecilia hesitated, then picked it up, checking the number and frowning. "Yes?"

"Ceci.. hello… how are you darling?" Elli's voice sounded cheerful and pleasant as usual. "Don’t' forget our card game tonight, hmm?"

Ceci looked at her watch. "I won't be there." She replied quietly. "I've got something I need to do."

"What? But darling… you promised… when did this come up? We spoke yesterday."

"I know. I'm sorry." A pause. "I got a call earlier… it's just something I have to take care of."


"Elli… good bye." Cecilia put the phone down and picked up her keys, smoothing the soft, blue fabric of her shirt down and gazing at herself in the mirror before she closed her eyes, and turned, going to the door and through it, into the dark night that brought exciting scents of night blooming flowers to her as she moved through the heavy air.

Strange. She'd never noticed them before.

The drive to the airport was a dream, of oncoming headlights, and streetlamps, until she'd reached the parking lot and got out, her legs already shivering and weak.

She closed the door and leaned against it, waiting for her heart to settle. Then she straightened and made her way towards the terminal. It was quiet inside, only a few flights still waiting to come in, and most of the shops and stands were closed.

Cecilia got herself a bottle of ice tea from the one snack shop open, and found the gate, settling into a chair right next to the window. Outside, she could see a long expanse of mostly deserted tarmac, only the occasional working truck speeding past, it's lights blinking as it made it's way around the landing areas.

After a minute, she got up, and went to the desk. "Excuse me."

The clerk looked up. "Yes, ma'am?"

"Is this flight coming in on time?"

A smile "Yes ma'am.. it's ten minutes early, as a matter of fact."

Ceci took in a breath, and released it. "I'm waiting for someone… could you possibly tell me if… if they're on the plane?"

The clerk glanced around. "Ma'am.. we're not really supp.. "

"It's my husband."

The terminal was almost empty. "Sure… " The clerk looked around again. "What's his name?"

Her tongue felt numb. "Roberts." She managed to force the sound out ."Andrew.. Roberts."

A clattering of keystrokes, and the clerk scanned the monitor, the greenish reflection showing against his glasses. Then he smiled. "Yes, ma'am. He's there.. .seat 2A. "

Ceci held on to the counter, afraid she'd fall if she let go. "Thank you." She waited a moment, then walked back to her seat, and sank down into it, leaning her head against the window. Her eyes focused on a spot nearby, where the nose of an airplane would surely soon come.

The only thing left to do now was wait.


His ears started to pop. Andrew tore his eyes away from the passing clouds, outlined eerily against the running lights of the plane, and swallowed, recognizing the decent. Sure enough, a few minutes later the fasten seat belts light went on, and he felt his breathing start to increase.

"Ladies and gentlemen. .we've begun our initial decent into the greater New Haven area.. we estimate being on the ground in about fifteen minutes or so.. and another ten minutes for taxing, so that puts us at the gate about ten minutes early. Please fasten your seat belts, and enjoy the rest of your flight."

Twenty five minutes. Andrew closed his eyes, and folded his arms across his chest. All these damn years, and it comes down to twenty five damn minutes. He fastened his safety belt, and tried to take deep breaths, hard when his guts were tensing up as though he were thinking of jumping out the damn plane before it landed.

He thought it would last forever, but before he realized it, the loud grinding noise of the gear being lowered sent shivers through him, and he looked outside to see the lights of the city flashing by past the plane's long wings.

A thump, then the engines reversed, whirling up to full speed in order to slow the big plane down. Andrew found himself staring out the window, his eyes finding the terminal lights and fastening on them.

It took minutes of a slightly bouncy motion, then the plane turned it's nose towards the welcoming bays of the terminal, and selected one, where dark figures were standing, guiding it in with flourescent wands.

And then the plane stopped.

Andrew unhooked his belt, and reached between his knees, pulling the soft leather bag up and into his lap. He waited a bit for his heart to stop racing, but it didn't, so he pushed himself to his feet and held onto the seat back, hoping his knees wouldn't give way and send him sprawling over the carpet.

He went on automatic then, as the airplane door opened inward, allowing a gust of damp, musty smelling air to enter. The steward gave him a smile as he walked past, turning the corner and heading up the jetway, his heartbeat pounding so hard he couldn’t even hear the conversations around him.

He could see the terminal ahead, through the door.

Just a few steps away.


Ceci stood, as the plane bounced to a halt, and the jetway extended, cupping it's end around the doorway of the craft. She pressed her hands against the window, and watched the airport staff get themselves ready, then the aircraft door opened. She could see only a small square of light there, but her eyes never left that, as first uniformed bodies passed.

Then, for a split second, an outline flashed through that single square of light, and her breathing stopped.

Just that one glimpse.

Just that one second.

And she knew.

Hand over hand she moved down the line of chairs until she was near the entrance, gripping a pillar just to hold herself up as she heard footsteps approaching.

And then, he was there.

Filling the doorway, a dark blue sweatshirt draping the tall, broad shouldered body, it's hood framing a scarred face whose eyes flicked over the room, then found hers.

She was lost all over again. She never remembered walking those last few steps, only that his eyes never left hers, and she only stopped when her hands touched a warm, living body that had existed only in her dreams for seven long years.

A soft gasp left her lips. "Andy."

The gentle blue eyes searching hers teared up. "Hey there, pretty lady."

It was too much. Her knees buckled, and he caught her, and she fell into an embrace whose feel, and scents overwhelmed all of her defenses.

She was so small, and so light. Andrew kept his eyes closed, and just savored the feel of her against him, her heartbeat thrumming against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her and let his heart come home.

At last.

He realized, unknown moments later, that they were blocking the passage, as the other passengers has to edge around them, giving them looks ranging from amusement to annoyance. Ceci had her head buried in his chest, and was holding onto him for dear life, her body racked with sobs, so he took the short route and simply lifted her up, cradling her as he walked over to a secluded area that was quiet, and empty.

Then he sat down, and dropped his head down until he could breathe in her scent. Her hands stroked his chest through the fabric and he pulled her closer, letting his sense of time drift away as he felt his face tense into a strange, and unpracticed expression.

A smile.


Kerry was just finishing putting up some coffee in the kitchen when the phone rang. She reached over and snagged it from the worktable. "Hello?"

"Hey, Ker."

She blinked in surprise. "Hey, Angie.. what's up?" She'd last spoken to her sister on the weekend, and she hardly expected another call so soon.

A pensive sigh. "Nothing good."

"Yeah?" Kerry wiped her hands off and walked into the living room, which was empty since Dar was in the study working on part of her inbox. "You feeling okay? It's not the baby, is it?" She turned the volume down on the television and sat down on the loveseat, leaning back and propping one leg up against the side of the couch.

"No…it's more about the hearings."

Oh. Kerry leaned her head against her fist. "Yeah… I'm not looking forward to that."

There was an awkward pause. "No.. I… listen, Ker? You're my sister, and I love you… you know that, right?"

She took a breath. "Yeah.. same here."

"Right… well… dad put the word out… he doesn't want anyone talking to you during the whole thing." Angie hesitated. "And Richard came down on me pretty hard about it. I… "

"So you'll be going along with it." Kerry finished quietly, swallowing a lump in her throat.

"Kerry, you don't have to live here with him." Her sister sighed unhappily. "It's just..like for show. It's not like I mean it.. you know me better than that."

"Yeah, sure."


She rubbed her eyes. Too much stress tonight. "Sorry, Angie.. it's really all right. I understand." She exhaled. "We just have a lot going on here… I'm a little strung."

A short silence. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah.. yeah.. I'm fine.. we just… um.. " Kerry shifted the phone a little, and patted Chino, who had jumped up next to her and laid down. "You remember I told you about Dar's parents?"

"Mm.. yeah.. yeah, I do… that was really sad.. and kind of awful."

"Uh huh.. well, we got them back together tonight."

"Really?" Angie's voice perked up. "My god, Ker.. that's wonderful!..wow!" A muffled sound came through the receiver, and Angie sighed. "Gotta go.. I just wanted to give you some warning… don’t' hold it against me, okay?"

"I won't." Kerry responded quietly. "How's Mike?"

"Dad pulled him out of school… he's got him working in his office. I… he's been really quiet lately."

"Tell him I said hi, if you see him, okay?"

A pause. "Okay." Angie cleared her throat. "Goodbye."

Kerry thumbed the button and let the phone fall to her lap. She looked up as soft footfalls sounded from the study, and Dar appeared, scrubbing her fingers through disheveled dark hair. The taller woman ambled over and perched on the back of the couch,

"Trouble?" Dar gauged her expression.

"Sort of." Kerry let her head rest against the cool leather, and stroked Chinos' soft fur. "That was my sister."


The green eyes took on an almost gray hue. "She was just… giving me fair warning. I'm.. being shunned during the hearings." Kerry was surprised at how much that hurt. "Even by her."

Dar snorted in surprise, making Chino jump. "And here I liked her."

"I… I don’t blame her, Dar.. she's… I mean, she's got to deal with them all the time. I don't." Long fingers scratched her neck comfortingly and she closed her tired eyes. "It stings, though."

The phone rang again, startling both of them, and this time Dar slipped the receiver out of Kerry's hands and answered it. "Hello?"

"Hey, Dardar."

Her father sounded exhausted, but peaceful. Dar felt a wave of relieve crash over her. "Hi."

"Damn plane made it." Andrew rasped.

"So I gathered…mom there?"

A long silence. "Yeah."

Dar nodded to herself. "You okay?" She found fingers lacing with hers, and looked over to see Kerry's anxious gaze on her.

Even longer silence. "I'm all right." Andrew finally muttered. "We're gonna.. " He stopped speaking for a few heartbeats.

Must be the 'we', Dar tensed her lips.

"Get going.. I um.. listen, is Kerry there? "

"Sure.. she's right here." Dar gave her puzzled lover a faint shrug.

"Wouldya… just tell her I said thanks." Her father muttered. "I owe her one."

Dar's brows knit. "All right.. I'll tell her… listen, if you need anything, you call, okay?" She responded. "Thanks for letting us know you got there in one piece."

"Wouldn't say that." Andrew muttered. "Night."

Dar put the phone down slowly, and smiled at her lover. "He said to say thank you."

"To me?" Kerry looked confused, then her expression cleared. "Oh."

"Oh?" Dar stretched out along the back of the loveseat, jungle cat style.

'I.. um… arranged for some ice cream… I figured he wouldn't like a vinaigrette pasta salad… just going on what I know about his daughter…"

Dar smiled. "He said he owes you one." She curled a hand over Kerry's shoulder. "Thanks… that was incredibly thoughtful of you, Ker."

Kerry glanced down, then back up, and squared her shoulders. "Hey… you guys are the only family I've got… gotta make sure you're taken care of." She managed to hold her composure until Dar's lips tensed, and she lifted a hand to touch Kerry's cheek. Then she turned and rested her head against her lover's chest. "Ohh… god, Dar… I never even talk to them.. why does this hurt so much?"

"Cause you love them." Was the quiet, truthful response. "And having that turned away does hurt."

They rested quietly together, with only the soft whisper of the television behind them. Then Kerry shifted slightly. "Dar?"


"I think I understand why your dad was afraid to go home." Kerry rubbed her thumb against the short, fine hairs on Dar's arm. Her eyes slowly lifted to meet the serious blue ones above her. "It's a very.. scary… very vulnerable feeling."

"I know." Dar leaned forward and touched foreheads with her. "But I knew my father was going to be all right."

Kerry could almost taste her, she was that close. "You did?"

"Yeah… " Dar's voice dropped to a whisper. "Because my mother feels about him the way I feel about you."

"Oh." Kerry found herself smiling as the ache in her guts eased. She closed her eyes as Dar tilted her head and they kissed.

Guess that's all right, then.


There was a faint rumble of thunder overhead as they left the airport, moving from the bland fluorescent glare out into a stark landscape outlined briefly in periodic lightning. Andrew shifted his overnight bag and blinked, feeling unsure and awkward, not really convinced he was here or that the whole thing was happening.

A hand slipped into his, warm and unexpected, and curled around his fingers in a strong grip. "This way." Ceci murmured, as she lead him towards the car.

"All right." Andrew altered his steps to match hers, slowing down and trying to concentrate on just how damn nice holding someone’s hand was.

She unlocked the doors remotely, and hesitantly let go of him before walking around to the driver’s side and getting in. Ceci settled into place and closed the door, then paused, and turned her head. She felt like closing her eyes, then opening them, closing, then opening… just to prove to herself this was no dream. He looked back quietly, the lamplight sending glints of reflection off his pale eyes. "I’m… not really sure I can drive."

He looked down, then back up. "Slept in worse places." The voice was huskier than she remembered, but still held that faint, wry tone. The scars were vivid, and cruel.. but did nothing to remove the rugged nobility that was as much a part of him as the drawl, and the strength, and the character.

And the eyes hadn’t changed at all. Ceci reached over and very gently touched his jaw, running her fingers along the side of his face as he stayed absolutely still, the dark lashes dropping to cover his eyes. Her hand touched the still dark hair, lightly frosted with silver and she tugged, just a tiny bit of it. "Have to get you a haircut."

The eyes opened, and his soul looked out at her timidly, the fear of rejection so obvious to her it made the tears well up in her eyes yet again. His jaw tensed and she cupped it, all the things needing to be said piling up and leaving her mute.

Maybe she didn’t need to say them. Maybe he knew.. like he had always seemed to with her. His body relaxed a bit, and he exhaled, warming her arm and sending goosebumps traveling up it. "Want me t’drive?"

Memories long buried stirred. "Have you gotten any better at it?" Ceci asked, with shy humor.

"Nope." Andrew admitted.

"I guess I’d better get on with it then." She took a deep breath, then straightened, and started the car, turning on the wiper blades against the newly started rain. The light obligingly turned green as she exited, and she entered the highway, resting her arm on the center console as she watched the road.

After a moment, fingers tangled with hers, and the world seemed to float peacefully by, enclosing them in a bubble of timeless wonder.


Andrew sat quietly on the couch, only his head swiveling back and forth as he regarded the painfully neat apartment surrounding him. Kid was right. He let a breath out slowly, running his fingers over the oatmeal colored cloth that covered the sofa. Place looks like a damn hospital, only the chairs aren't half as nice to sit in.

His eyes lifted to the picture on the wall, whose form and shape he recognized as Ceci's work, one he'd never seen before. It seemed to add color to the room, but to his knowing gaze, the somber shades and bleak lines painted an entirely different scene.

Well. He wished this part was over. This was the part where they both had to pony up the truth, and maybe go past it, and maybe not. Andrew stared at the opposing wall. He'd already gotten further than he'd allowed himself to dream of and now…

Now he was in damned uncharted waters, with no damn lifejacket and fins poking up through the whitecaps.

"Here." Cecilia had come in from the kitchen, and now she handed him a mug. "You look like you could use this." She sat down next to him with her own cup and cradled it in both hands, sipping at it's contents in silence.

Andrew tasted the liquid. Coffee, double strength with a ton of sugar. He had to pause a bit before he swallowed, to let the tightness in his throat relax. "Nobody ever made this like you." He looked over at her, watching her hands tighten on the cup she held. "Cec…"

"You know… " Cecilia interrupted him softly. "Part of me wants to know… what happened.. where you've been… "

He lowered his gaze.

"But there's another part of me that doesn't… that part of me just wants to sit here… and look at you.. and touch you .. and…" She had to stop and breathe. "And somehow make myself believe you're here.. " Her voice cracked. "And it doesn't have to hurt anymore."

Somehow, he got his cup and her cup on the table before a drop spilled, then captured her hands.

Still in silence.

What could he say?

Ceci took a moment, then bit her trembling lip. "After they came and told me… " She paused, and swallowed. "I didn't know what to do… I felt like I was breaking apart into a thousand different pieces… everything I did.. everything I saw… " Her eyes closed. "It was like laying my heart on glass shards." The tears started down her face again, and Andrew moved closer, sliding one arm around her for support.

She caught her breath. "I finally realized… that the only way I'd survive it is to… " She looked around mutely.

"Ditch the memories?" Andrew supplied.

"No… " She scrubbed away fresh tears. "Just hide them." A sigh. "Take away everything I'd known before.. just… lock out that part of me."

"Even Dar?"

The gray eyes went bleak. "Especially Dar." Ceci whispered. "Andy.. I'm sorry… I know I was wrong to do that.. I know… how much it must have hurt." She cradled her head. "How much it hurt me knowing how you'd feel about me doing that.. I knew how you felt about her." A gasp. "I just didn't have a choice… I couldn’t… stand the pain.. and it was the only w….way."

Andrew gently pulled her head over and tucked it against his chest, stroking the silver blond hair in silent grief. "Ceci.. I'm sorry." He finally rasped. "I'da torn my guts out before I'd have done that to you… "

She huddled against him. "Then why did you?" Ceci whispered.

Andrew closed his eyes. "That thing I had to go for…wasn't for what you thought it was.. wasn't for what everybody knew." He drew a breath in. "Was a place… had a squad of twenty two men stuck in it… place I"d been to way back…. Team I was with, I was the only one still kicking."

Ceci lifted her head and looked at him. His face tensed in pain. "Twenty two of em, Ceci… "His voice held a helpless, lost note. "Came to me, and I … traded them twenty two souls for mine." He stopped for a long moment. "And I did… cept they caught on coming out… and somebody had to hold em.."

He blinked, and an errant bit of water emerged. "And I thought… " The pitch dropped very low. "There weren't nothing for me to go back to."

Cecilia went still.

"So they got me."

A soft moan.

"And.. they tried their damndest on me, but a man's gotta care about somethin for you t'do that.. and I didn't." Andy's whole face twitched. "I cursed em for not trying harder." A pause. "Five and some damn years…. Bout the only thing kept me half sane was thinking of you." Softer. "Wishin things were different. " A whisper. "Hurtin that we parted mad."

A shuddering gasp. "Andy.. I'm so sorry.. I didn't mean what I said."

"Yeah. Me neither." He sighed. "Anyhow… guess I was just too damn stubborn in the end… one day stuff got loud, next thing I knew, I was on a boat headed home." An awkward pause. "They patched me up.. best they could… set me loose."

She lifted her head and looked him in the eye. "I told you I wouldn't be there if you came back."

He nodded silently.

"You believed me."

Hesitantly, he blinked. "Didn't have the guts to find out one way or t'other." He stopped, and closed his eyes. "Didn't want to know if you hadn't."

"I was… just trying to get you to stay." Ceci whispered. "I would have waited my whole life for you." She buried her face in his sweatshirt. "I've missed you so much."

Andrew let his chin rest against her soft hair. "Same here."

They were both quiet for a while, as the tension eased, and the air cleared. "Andy?" Cecilia murmured, after a bit.


"I'm… very tired… of hurting." She spoke slowly. "And I can't change what happened."


"Can we just start again?" She searched his face intently. "Please?"

His head tilted slightly as he thought, intense blue eyes drinking her in with characteristic seriousness. "I do think I'd like that." He finally said, lacing his fingers in hers. "Let's do it."

So. Ceci felt numb, and a little nauseous from the stress, and she had a headache that would fell Picasso at forty paces.

It felt wonderful. But she was totally exhausted, and she suspected Andy probably was too. "I don't think I can remember the last time I stayed up this late." She murmured, eyeing the clock on the mantel.

Andrew regarded her soberly. "Why doncha g'wan… " He nodded towards the bedroom. "I'll be fine out here.. I.. um.. " He stopped awkwardly. "Go on."

Maybe it was best. Ceci reflected. They had time… and it would take time to readjust to… everything. To each other. Andy was right not to push things.

She didn't budge.

They eyed each other, and suddenly, shy smiles appeared on both their faces. "You know something, Andy?"


"Seven years is long enough to sleep alone… come keep me company." She squeezed the hand still tangled with hers. "Or I'll be up and peeking out here all night to see if you're still around."

His lips twitched. "All right." Andy drawled softly. "Hope I don't move round too much on yer."

Cecilia stood, and very gently pulled at him. "I'm so tired you could do calisthenics and it probably wouldn't bother me."

"Not hardly." He muttered, as he stood and lifted the bag Kerry had gotten him, following Ceci into the bedroom . He set the bag down and regarded it. "S'pose that green eyed gal remembered some jammies." He glanced around, at the almost painfully neat room, with it's austere fabric and crisply made bed.

Ceci tilted her head. "That's not yours?"

"Didn't have time to pack." Andrew unlatched the bag and pulled the zipper open, poking inside curiously. "Lord." He pulled out a pair of pale blue pajama shorts with a darker blue pattern.

"What..are… oh." Ceci muffled a laugh. "They're seals." She fingered the fabric, which did, indeed, have little dark blue seals on it. "Would that be Dar's friend Kerry?"

He scowled a little. "Yeah… got some kinda sense of humor, I'll tell ya that." He investigated further, finding a small shaving kit, and other bathroom articles, a towel, several neatly folded sweatshirts, and two pairs of jeans.

And underwear. Andrew felt his eyebrows lifting as he removed a pair of burgundy silk boxers. "Jesus H. Christ."

Ceci clapped a hand over her mouth, as a burst of hysterical laughter threatened to escape. "Well.. she's got good taste."

Andrew muttered something under his breath and pulled the pajamas out, then turned towards the bathroom, stopping when a hand touched his arm. "Yeah?"

"Since when are you shy?" Ceci tugged at the sweatshirt.

The low light in the bedroom turned his pale eyes a dim gray. He studied her for a long set of heartbeats. "Lotta marks on me.. aren't real nice to look at." Andrew told her honestly.

"And you point would be… what.. exactly?" Cecilia inquired.

He was silent, then handed her the pajamas and pulled his sweatshirt off, folding it with automatic precision and tucking it into the side pocked of the bag.

Cecilia bit the inside of her lip, but made no comment, looking with pained eyes at the burn marks, and criss crossing scars that covered his chest. A jagged tear ran from the point of one shoulder down to his hip, so recently healed she could see the still visible marks of the suture scars. She handed him the pajama shirt, then ran her fingertips over his ribs.

He put the shirt on without comment, then finished undressing as she did the same, ending up face to face with her in front of the bed. They linked hands and pulled the blankets down together in comfortable silence, then crawled under them.

Ceci lay curled on her side, her eyes watching the strong profile outlined in the faint light from the window, too tired even to cry anymore. There would be tomorrow for that, and the day after, and the day after… until her mind readjusted to this wonderful new reality, and the feeling of bleak emptiness she'd felt for so long became as distantly remembered as the sense of peaceful joy she now felt had been before tonight.

She closed her eyes, then opened them after a moment, to see him looking back at her. She squeezed his hand and smiled, and even in the dark, saw the movement as he smiled back. Ceci closed her eyes again and left them shut, finding herself in the unfamiliar position of looking forward to the morning.


"I did not jinx you." Kerry brought the bottle of medicine into the living room, lit with the first rosy tint of dawn. "So don't you blame me." She sat down next to the grumpy, miserable figure on the couch, who was cradling her head in her hands. "It's not like I wanted to see you sick, Dar."

A sigh. "I know." Dar swallowed, trying to tame a rebellious stomach that had kept her up all night, in bouts of nauseous spasms. "God, I hate being sick."

"Well.. I don’t think many people enjoy it." Kerry poured a spoonful of the medication and held it up. "C'mon… "

Dar gave her a pathetic look, then winced and accepted the offering, swallowing it with a grimace. "Jesus."

Kerry reached over and pushed the dark, disheveled hair out of her lover's eyes, then felt her forehead. "I don't think you have a fever.. it's probably just a bug." She'd woken to find Dar huddled miserably in the bathroom, and tried to find a way to make the poor thing more comfortable. "You're definitely staying home today."

"C'mon.. you know I can't do that." Dar muttered.

"Dar! You most certainly can." Kerry protested. "Don't be goofy… you are not in any condition to go to work.. so just get over it." She rubbed the terrycloth covered back. "Curl up here with Chino, and watch cartoons, okay?"

Dar briefly considered ignoring the suggestion, then held her breath as another spasm hit her. Well, she could always go in and throw up all over Ankow. That might be satisfying, at least for the moment, but she knew Kerry was right. "You'll have to sit in on the Marketing meeting for me."

"Ew." Kerry made a face. "Can I call in sick too? I'd rather hang out here and watch Space Ghost, and take care of you."

Dar looked at her.

Kerry sighed. "Okay.. okay.. it was just an idea."

"I appreciate the thought." The blue eyes flicked to her face, and a bit of a grin appeared for a second. "Don't stay too late, huh?"

That was better. Kerry smiled. "I'll see if I can get out of there after the meeting… I don't have anything scheduled for later on." She stood up and tugged her jacket straight, then she walked into the bedroom, and pulled open a drawer, removing a soft, fluffy blue blanket and bringing it back with her. "Here." She tucked the blanket around her sick friend. "Keep the phone by you, okay?"

Dar exhaled, then gave up and curled up on the couch on her side, bringing her knees up to ease the cramping in her guts. "Okay." She glanced up to see Kerry gazing at her, the torn emotions very evident. "What?"

Kerry scowled unhappily. "I think I hate you being sick more than you do." She muttered. "I feel like such a turd for leaving you here."

The cool leather felt good against her skin, as Dar let her head rest on the couch arm. "It's all right." She felt absurdly contented with the reaction. "Go on… you're going to hit traffic."

"Mmph." The blond woman still wasn't pleased. "Chino, you take care of mommy Dar, okay?"

The puppy was curled up at Dar's feet, her pale head resting on one bare foot, and she blinked at Kerry's words. "Call me if you need anything."

"Sure." Dar agreed, biting the inside of her lip.

Reluctantly, Kerry retrieved her keys and briefcase and left, not without several aggravated backwards glances. She locked the door and headed down the steps, surprised at how much she had to force herself not to turn right around and go back. "Jesus, Kerry… .would you chill out? She's just got a stomach virus… calm your butt down already."

She got into the Mustang and started it, then leaned on the steering wheel and gazed at the condo. Long fingers drummed on the wheel, then she sighed, and put the car into gear and backed out of her parking spot, starting towards the ferry as she punched a number into her cell phone.

"Good Morning, Dar Robert's Office."

"Morning, Maria." Kerry smiled, as she realized she'd unconsciously modeled her tone after Dar's.

"Aye… Buenos Dias, Kerrisita… how are you?"

"Well.. " Kerry glanced in the rearview mirror. "I'm fine.. but Dar's not going to make it in today."

Maria's voice took on a concerned tone immediately. "What is wrong? She is not feeling well?"

"No.. some kind of stomach bug." Kerry sighed. "She was up all night sick… anyway, I've got to sit in a meeting for her this afternoon.. could you call Eleanor's admin and sniff out the chances of moving the meeting to this morning?" She knew Maria would have a better chance at that then her newly commissioned Mayte.

"Si.. si… " Maria was writing something. "I will do that… is there anything that Dar needs?"

A nanny? Kerry swallowed the comment. "No.. she's just going to take it easy… I'm sure she'll sign on from here later." True, knowing Dar. "At least I hope so." She added, wondering if there was enough medicine in the house. Should she have some Dramamine sent? What about..


"Oh.. sorry.. did you say something?" Kerry drove onto the ferry carefully, putting the Mustang into park for the short trip to the mainland.

"I was saying to drive carefully.. there was terrible traffic this morning."

"Thanks… I'll see you in a few minutes." She hung up the phone and nibbled her fingernail. "Now.. what did we always take for an upset stomach… Pepto.. Kaopectate… Dramamine.. warm cola… " She dialed another number, and waited for it to be answered. "Hi.. yes, this is Kerry Stuart… oh, hi, Mrs. Eveans.. yes.. listen, can you have some stuff sent up to the apartment?" She spent a few minutes listing things, then hung up. "Okay.. I feel a little better now." She drummed her fingers again. "Wonder if the marina store has those seasickness bands… maybe they'd help… " Tones sounded over the roar of the ferry's engines.


Kerry pulled into the parking lot, and sat for a moment, leaning on the steering wheel and collecting her composure. "Jesus.. that was close." She muttered, clearing her mind of the driver bearing down on her from the wrong side of the street, whom she'd only just missed crashing into. She got out and grabbed her briefcase, then straightened her jacket with an automatic twitch and headed towards the building.

"Morning, Ms. Stuart." The guard greeted her cheerfully.

"Good morning." Kerry replied, suppressing a soft curse when she saw who was bearing down on her from across the lobby. "Then again.. maybe not." She arranged a neutral look on her face as David Ankow joined her.

"Well… you are the early bird, aren't you?" He asked mildly.

"Best time of the day to get things done." Kerry answered, shifting her briefcase. "Before all the distractions show up… I mean, crop up." He wasn't sure it was an insult, Kerry knew, but he suspected. She kept an open, inquiring look on her face just in case. "Something I can do for you?"

"Just thought I'd spend the day following you around.. get a feel for what it is you do." Ankow smiled pleasantly at her. "Where's your.. bitchy roommate?"

Kerry started walking towards the elevator. "Oh.. probably lying on the rug… chewing some cookies." She replied. "Or maybe chasing flies.. she likes that." She entered the elevator, then turned and waited for him to join her, the look on his face priceless. "What's wrong?"

Ankow stepped past her and eyed her warily. "Having a little joke, hmm?"

Innocent green eyes widened as the doors closed. "Joke?" Kerry asked, puzzled. "You asked me where my dog was… didn't you?" She pressed the button for the fifteenth floor. "Guess you saw her picture on my desk.. she's cute, isn't she?"

"Adorable." Ankow answered, with a slight flare of his nostrils.

The rest of the ride was spent in silence, until the doors opened and they exited, and Kerry turned purposefully right and headed towards her office. Mayte was already there, following her mother's schedule, and Kerry waved. "Morning, Mayte… " Her eyes and the girl's met, and Mayte's shifted fractionally to Ankow, then rolled slightly.

"Good morning, Ms. Kerry… I was going down for some cafecita… would you like some?" Mayte stood up and brushed her plain, but well cut dark blue dress off. She was a tall, slim girl with dark hair and eyes, and a pretty, slightly elfin face.

"I'd love some." Kerry opened her office door. "Any for you?" She inquired, glancing at Ankow.

"No thanks." He muttered, brushing by her. "I'd like to live past forty, thanks."

Mayte stuck her tongue out at his back, and made a gesture, then escaped, leaving Kerry to gather the already shredded edges of her patience and enter her office. Knew I should have stayed home. She sighed inwardly.

Ankow was standing near the window, peering out of it at the sunlit water. Kerry ignored him and sat down at her desk, flipping her PC on and pulling the folder off the top of her inbox. A soft buzz of the intercom alerted her, and she lifted the receiver of her phone instead of allowing the speakerphone to pick up. "Hello?"

"Ah.. Kerrisita." Maria's voice filtered through. "I have gotten them to move your meeting to ten o'clock, if that is okay."

"Perfect." Kerry was relieved.

"And I also rescheduled the conference call with the overseas group… I hope you do not mind. It was to be at four, and I thought you might have something else to do then."

Kerry suppressed a smile. "Thanks, Maria… I really appreciate that." She was aware of the silent, censorious presence at her back. "Anything on the boards this morning?"

"There is nothing, no."

"All right… let me know if anything crops up.. I've got a ton of stuff on my plate here." Kerry hung up the phone and opened her folder, studying the operations reports run an hour before her arrival. "Mr. Ankow.. you can sit down if you like." She checked the usage tallies, and took out a highlighter, marking several spikes that had run their main systems to almost capacity. "Wow."

Ankow moved over to look, peering over her shoulder in a really annoying way. "What is that?"

Kerry dialed a number. "Utilization reports." She answered absently, as it was picked up. "Mark?"

"Who else?"

"Did you see the U report this morning?"

"The one that made me put analyzers on all three big pipes? That one?"

"Let me know what you find… I bet I've got a mailbox full of slowdown complaints." Kerry sighed as she clicked on her email, and watched it open, the fill with line after line of exclamation points. "Oh yeah."

"Will do." Mark hung up, and Kerry went back to studying the report, then bent her head as she spotted something.

"Son of a… " She flipped through another few pages, then went to her pc, opening a session and requesting information from the big database. She pushed back from her desk and jerked to a halt, almost slamming into Ankow. "Excuse me."

"What are you doing?"

"Fixing a problem. That's what I get paid to do." Kerry glanced up at him. "You can go over there and sit down, or you can stand by the window, but I need to be able to do my job."

He moved, but only far enough to sit down on the edge of her desk. "Don't like being watched, hmm?"

"I don't like being hovered over, no." Kerry pulled her fanfold report over and scanned it, then flipped to a center page and tracked a line across the bottom of it. "I knew it." She dialed Mark back. "Mark?"

"Hey.. it takes an hour or so, Kerry."

"Don't bother… check out the job request from Houston.. it's buried in about three layers of subroutines."

"Huh?" The sound of rapid keystrokes came clearly through the intercom. "What the hell's that?"

Kerry sat back and folded her arms. "I don't know… but if I had to give an opinion.. I'd say it looked like someone was dumping load on the system to stress it." Her green eyes found Ankow's face and fastened there. "Why don't you call Brion up at CLIPC and see who made the request… then pull the plug on them."

"Son of a frigging bitch…. "

"And tell CLIPC… I want a filter on Houston… no big requests get through without my personal authorization."

"They're gonna have a fit."

"Let them." Kerry replied. "Make it one way, though.. I don’t' want Mariana to have a problem transmitting the payroll files later on today."

"You got it.. give me a few minutes, and I'll have the checkpoint in place… good catch, Kerry… I"d have had to wait half the morning for the IP analysis."

"No problem." Kerry pressed the button, then waited, her eyes on her unwelcome visitor. "When I find out who requested that, I'm going to file a formal protest." She informed him. "For deliberate and malicious endangerment of ongoing business operations… that impacted a lot of customers."

"Really? Interesting." Ankow didn't rise to the bait. He did rise, however, and stroll over to the wall, studying her certifications idly.

Kerry let out a frustrated but silent breath, then turned her attention to her inbox. "If you want to sit down, I'll just be over here cleaning up that mess." She opened a blank message, and started composing a standard reply to the complaints.

It was going to be a very long morning.


Cecilia held herself in the dream for as long as she could. It was one she'd had countless times over the years… memories really, she knew, ones her mind pulled out of corners and the crevices she'd hid them in when she had no control over things.

And the waking was the worst, because she could still, half in her dream, feel the close warmth, and breathe the scent of him, which would fade as she came closer to waking, fade, and weaken until she opened her eyes.

To nothing. Just an empty spot in the bed next to her, and the bleak sunlight coming in the window, silent and harsh.

Reluctantly, she let the world intrude.

But this time.. this one morning… the dream refused to loose it's clutches on her, and the sense of being surrounded by a strong hold remained, until her confused, sleep fogged mind forced her eyes open into a room overwhelmingly full of her dreams.

Then memory hit with a rush, and she exhaled in pure joy.

It was late, far later than she usually slept, but considering where she woke up, she couldn’t blame herself one bit. Shy they might both be with each other, but after thirty years of marriage… their bodies had merely waited for their pesky upper brains to slip off to sleep, then cuddled with each other in warm familiarity.

Strange. She'd forgotten, of all things, just how big Andrew was. He surrounded her with a living cradle of long arms, and longer legs, and she found herself sleeping with her head on his shoulder, and an arm wrapped snugly around him. It was a nice feeling, and one she'd always enjoyed, watching his chest move under her arm as he breathed.

He was thinner than she remembered, but there was still solid power through the broad shoulders, and in the arms that were loosely wrapped around her. His face held a terrible record of pain though, outside the scars that her eyes hardly saw now, there were creases etched around his eyes and mouth that made her wince to imagine the prolonged agony that had caused them.

Andy had never been pretty… Ceci gazed at the strong, rugged face. Just full of character and strength, and a powerful sense of self that had attracted her from the very moment she'd seen him.

And still did. Ceci sighed soundlessly, unsurprised when a very blue eyeball appeared and focused on her. "Hey sailor." She whispered, watching the look of startled surprise chase itself on and off her husband's face.

His eyebrows twitched, then he relaxed again. "Hey there, pretty lady." He drawled in response, evidently deciding to dispense with any attempt at the half awkward bashfulness of the previous evening.

"Think you stole the covers."

Andy scowled. "It's damn small bed."

She smiled. "You're a darn big boy." She patted his side. "And a very, very, very welcome sight to wake up to."

"Same here." He tightened his grip a little. "Do I even wanta know how many bells it is?"


"S'what I thought."

Ceci closed her eyes and let her heart float in a happy, lazy peace.

They had plenty of time.


Dar was curled up in an amazingly small ball for someone her size. She had her eyes closed, and her head resting against the couch arm, and was thoroughly, totally, unbelievably miserable. Rather than better, the nausea and cramping had gotten worse, and she'd finally resorted to simply keeping a container next to the couch, in case the violent dry heaves produced anything further.

So far, all they'd gotten her was a mind splitting headache, and a very sore body. The television was playing softly in the background, but she mostly concentrated on taking short, shallow breaths, and wishing she were dead.

Chino was lying on the couch next to her, unusually quiet for the generally rambunctious puppy, as though she sensed her friend wasn't feeling well. Occasionally, she'd lift her head and give Dar's ankle a lick, then put her muzzle back down and sigh.

A soft knock came at the door, and Dar groaned. Another knock, then a familiar voice. "Ms. Roberts?"

Oh god. Dar uncurled slightly, enough to give her diaphragm room to expand and sucked in a chancy breath. "C'mon in, Clemente."

The door opened, and the resident services manager poked his head in. "Oh my goodness… you are not feeling well, I can see that."

Dar merely rolled an eyeball at him.

"I will just drop off these things and be on my way." Clemente hurried in with a bag, and set it on the coffee table. "Let me take them out for you… is it a stomach virus you have?"

"Yeah." Dar lifted her head a little. "What is that?"

The earnest Cuban settled on one knee, and started unpacking. "Farmaceria… we have the stomach medicine, and for the nausea, and some coca cola… I have some plain broth here, I will put it in the kitchen for you, yes?"

She blinked. "Uh.. sure.. sure.. wh.. Clemente.. where did all this come from?"

Clemente paused, looking puzzled. "Ms. Kerry called the market for you… did you not know?"

Ah. Of course. Stupid me. "Right… right… great. Just leave it.. I'm sure some of it will do something." She felt a tired smile appear as more and more items made their way out of the box, piling up on the glass surface. "She's thorough, huh?" An affectionate thought winged it's way towards her lover.

Clemente looked up. "Yes, ma'am, for sure she most certainly is that." The resident services manager set everything out, then stood and brushed off his trousers. "I hope you feel better.. give us a call if there is something else you need, yes?"

"A harpoon."


"Never mind.. thanks, Clemente." Dar watched him leave, then turned her head and studied the table. Her body chose that moment to cramp up though, and she grabbed the couch arm, leaning over and holding on until the spasm tapered off. A small, unhappy sound escaped her. "Makes up for all the times I don’t' get sick, Chino.. the one time I do… oh boy."

Chino whined.

Dar reached out a hand and poked her new acquisitions. "Trouble with all this stuff is.. I gotta put it on the inside, and it ain't staying there long,." Then she noticed a small package. "Hmm…" She lifted the seasickness bands up and eyed them speculatively. "They don't… can't hurt." She slipped the fabric bands on and settled the beads over the center of her wrists, then pulled her blanked more snugly around her and closed her eyes, hoping sleep would ease the discomfort a little.


"Kerry.. a moment please." Eleanor called to her, as the meeting broke up and Kerry glanced at her watch.

Curses. "Sure." She tapped her pencil on her notepad and considered her strategy. It was almost lunchtime, right? A glance at her watch again. Well, eleven o'clock was someone's lunchtime… and surely if you came in at seven, as she had…"

"Ah.. thank you." Elanor oozed up to her. "I was surprised not to see Dar here… problems?"

Kerry paused, deciding on whether or not to answer truthfully, then shrugged. "She got tied up with something…they're trying to go beta with the new network next week. You know how it is."

"Absolutely." The Marketing VP agreed without hesitation. "And I agree - she should spend all the time she needs to with that… you're much easier to deal with anyway." She gave Kerry a smile that wasn't totally snakelike. They'd come to sort of an understanding over the past few months, and Eleanor had become almost bearable. "How is the project coming?"

A nod. "Good… the structure's in place… now's just the hard part, integration and testing."

"It'll be ready on time, you mean?" The pale gray eyes sharpened.

Kerry looked around carefully, and lowered her voice. Ankow was in the corner chatting with Jose, and she didn't want this little bit of information traveling. "Shh… don't tell anyone, Eleanor.. but I think… "

"Yes?" The VP leaned closer as well.

"I think it's going to be early." She whispered. "Dar was asking me for some baseline projects she could 'borrow' as early as two weeks from now.. I think she's considering migrating them to check for traffic patterns."

"Really?" Eleanor fairly dripped with greedy delight. "I can't wait to sell it… you have no idea how many people have been sniffing around, saying they'd heard we were putting up a new net and wanting the specs on it."

Kerry smiled, and wiggled an eyebrow at her. "Wish we could get that guy to buy into the project... " She nodded towards Ankow. "He just doesn't get it."

Eleanor regarded the tall, good looking man, then tapped one long, impeccably manicured nail against her lip. "I'm sure if he saw it from a sales perspective… " She gave Kerry a smile. "Me and Jose'll take him to lunch.. see what we can do." She picked up her leather appointment book and slapped Kerry lightly on the side with it. Then she sauntered around the table and eased herself skillfully in to the conversation near the wall.

"You go, girl." Kerry murmured under her breath, then picked her notepad up and lifted the conference room phone. After a moment, Maria answered. "Hi."

"Dar has not called in yet, Kerrisita."

Kerry pursed her lips. "I could have been asking for status on the relay outage in Newark."

"Si, you could." The secretary agreed, amiably.

"Thanks… maybe I'll give her a buzz." Kerry disconnected, then tapped the receiver against her chin. She watched Eleanor and Jose maneuver Ankow out of the conference room, then returned the pleasant smiles of the junior marketing people left to clean up.

They liked her. Kerry smiled back at them. Everyone pretty much did, she'd realized, after they'd gotten used to her, and used to the idea of someone else working in Dar's territory, who, while being completely and unshakably loyal to her supervisor, could be approached in a far different way. And since she and Dar kept their relationship strictly out of the office, even those people uneasy at that aspect had grown comfortable in dealing with her.

"Hey, Kerry.. " One of the regional assistants spoke up. "See you at the gym tonight?"

"Not tonight." She responded regretfully. "I've got an offsite meeting this afternoon, then something I've got to take care of later."

"Bummer.. we'll miss you.. can't wait for the next defense class to start." The woman picked up her portfolio and tucked it under her arm. "Thanks for a great meeting…see yah."

Kerry went out with them, and headed for her office, glad of the peace and quiet as she circled her desk and sat down. "Let's see." She checked her mail. "No more exclamation points.. I like that." She riffled through her inbox, mostly depleted. "Looking good." She checked the logon report and saw Dar's name conspicuous by it's absence, and made her decision. "Mayte.." She keyed the intercom.

"Yes, Ms, Kerry?"

"I'm….um… "

"Going home?" Her admin supplied helpfully.

"Yeah.. guess your mom told you, huh?"

"She gave me what to say to people, yes." Mayte agreed. "I have your pager, and your cell…I will call you if there is anything." A soft buzz was heard. "Hold on one moment."

Kerry waited, until Mayte's voice returned. "Ms. Kerry.. it is my mother.. she is looking to see if you are here. She has a call… she is not sure who it is."

"All right.. put her through." Kerry frowned. "Maria?"

"Si.. Kerrisita.. there is someone calling here for Dar.. I think it is her father."

"Oh!" Kerry blurted. "Sure… god.. put him on!" A click, then she leaned forward. "Hello?"

"Morning there, kumquat."

Kerry smiled hugely, and bounced in her chair, making it squeak in protest. He sounded so much better. "Hi, dad.. how's it going?"

"Not bad.. where's mah kid?"

"Ah.. well, she's not doing so great, actually.. she's kinda sick." Kerry explained. "She stayed home today.. was up most of the night throwing up and stuff."

"Damn.. sorry to hear that." Andrew responded. "Well.. I was just callin to let you two know everything's all right here… that's bout all."

"I'm so glad to hear that.. and I know Dar will be too." Kerry started shutting her pc down. "Did you have everything you needed?" An impish grin formed on her face as she waited for the answer.

"Huh.. yeap.. but you and I need to have a chit chat bout boy's unmentionables when ah get back there."

"Did I get the wrong size?" Kerry asked innocently.

"No, you did not."

She could almost see the scowl. "They aren't comfortable?"

"That is not the point, young lady."

Kerry could hear a soft, muffled laugh in the background, and she realized, with a strange sense of wonder, that it was Cecilia. Forgot there's two halves of this… "You didn't like the color?"

"Kerrison." Dar's father's voice dropped low, almost exactly like his daughter's

"Sorry, dad.. I only buy the very best for people I love." She told him, softening her tone.

There was a period of silence on the other end, where she could hear a soft, mechanical sound she identified as an air conditioner cycling on and off. "You fight damn dirty, y'know that, young lady?" Andrew finally sighed. "All right… but you better be watching your back now, y'hear? I don't go by the rules much neither."

"Warning taken." Kerry smiled. "Well, I've got to go.. I've got a sick friend to take care of." She paused. "Hey.. how about I call you from the house… I bet Dar would love to say hi."

A muffled sound. "All right." Andrew agreed. "We were just scrabblin up some breakfast."

"Breakfast, hmm?" The green eyes twinkled.

"Not one word, young lady." He rasped back. "Talk at you later."

Kerry hung up and gathered her things, then slipped out the door.


Continued in Part 6