Disclaimers - Nope, none. My characters, my hometown, my pseudo company. This is an Uber Fiction - featuring two characters from a previous story called Tropical Storm. Dar Roberts is the vice president of operations for an internationally known Information Services corporation. Kerry Stuart is her assistant and protégé.

They kinda like each other.

There is mild violence, mild bad language, mild sexual activity, and mild salsa, with chips.

Whoops. Never mind that…    


Hurricane Watch - Part 3

By Melissa Good

"Now what?" Jose turned, and put his hands on his hips. He was wearing a pair of coach's shorts and a polo shirt with the name "Marelito Bowling League" on it, with black socks and sneakers. "We go back, si?"

"Hell yes… " Steve agreed. "That's it…no way, no how am I messing around with a god damned snake."

Eleanor was seated on a nearby log, fanning herself, and the rest of them were peering at the snake uncomfortably. They turned to look at Dar when she edged closer. "To hell with them." Jose decided. "We don't have to put up with this."

The tall, dark haired executive put a hand on either rope, and her hiking boots on the very edge of the bridge. "Well… hold on." She murmured, taking a step forward and letting the rope take her weight.

"Dar.. " Kerry's voice objected instinctively.

"Hey.. crazy woman.. get the hell back here!" Jose yelped.

"Ah.. my friend.. " Duks went to the edge of the bridge. "You don't need to go over there."

"Shit." Mark cursed.

"Shh." Dar turned her head and glared at them. "Just…let me check the situation out, all right? "

"You're going to end up with your ass in that creek, and I'm going to laugh my head off." Steve sniped.

Dar ignored him, and continued slowly moving forward, holding the two ropes on either side of her as she approached the snake, and feeling the rope bridge sway under her movement, and the wind. The creek chuckled by below her, and she could hear the ominous creaking of the hemp fibers, which seemed impossibly loud to her.

A bird called out overhead, almost making her jump, and she glared up at it, before she continued forward a few more steps. She was almost to where the snake was now, and she could feel her heart starting to pound, and her knees shake under the strain of keeping level. "Nice snakey." She murmured. "Easy now.. "

Snakes were deaf. She knew that. But it made her feel better to say it anyway. Ten feet away, and she could see the soft, glistening surface of the animal as it rested contentedly in the sun, it's large, square head spread out on the top rope.

Dar took another step forward, then held on as a breeze made the entire bridge sway, causing the snake to shift a little. Dar ducked her head forward, then took two more steps which brought her even with the large creature's head.

She reached out, hearing a collective gasp from the other shore, and picked the head up, examining it curiously. With an utterly cool expression, she turned her head, and regarded her co workers.

They stared at her in awe.

"Made in China." Dar held the head up. "It's rubber."

A moment of shock, then everyone started moving again. "Son of a bitch!" Mark breathed, shaking his head. "These people are nuts!"

Dar set the rubber head back down, and patted the snake, then she regarded the rest of the bridge. "I'm going on across…it's not that hard, just take it slow, and hold on." She advised the group, as she continued on her way, placing her feet carefully one after the other until she reached the other side and hopped down. There was a small machine that looked like a timecard stamper there, and she pulled out her little card, and stuck it in.

It made a very satisifying clunking noise, and stamped a tiny cobra on her card in the number one slot. She put the card away, and glanced back across the creek, not surprised to see Kerry making her way across the bridge, a determined look of concentration on the smaller woman's face. Steve was standing impatiently on the edge, waiting his turn. Everyone else was trying to convince Eleanor to give it a go, and Dar was exceedingly glad she was on this side of the bridge and not the other.

Part of her felt quite satisfied, having removed an obstacle from the groups path, but the other part was still annoyed that they were doing this at all. She watched Kerry stop at the snake and look at it, examining the head thoughtfully before she edged past, gripping the ropes tightly on either side.

The blond woman looked a little uneasy, Dar thought, and she put her own hands casually on the guide ropes as Kerry paused, taking a deep breath, then swallowing, before she continued on. The wind came thorugh, swaying the bridge and Dar saw her lover's face tense up and her knuckles whiten on the ropes. "You okay?" She called out, a little concerned.

Kerry waited for the swaying to stop then she risked prying her eyes open, to see Dar's blue ones fastened on her. C'mon, Kerry… if she can face down a huge man eating snake, you can get past this. She forced a foot forward, keeping her gaze fixed on Dar instead of looking down. Six steps, seven, and she was close enough to see the faint wrinkle in the dark haired woman's forehead. Then she was stepping on the last bit, where a wooden plank anchored the bridge, and Dar's hands were on her waist lifting her down.

"Thanks." She closed her eyes and appreciated the solid ground under her feet. "I'm not really thrilled about heights." Kerry explained, apologetically. "That climbing wall is okay, because it's so close to the ground, and all.. but that.. " She shook her head and pushed a faintly shaking hand through her hair. "Whoo… haven't' had a reaction like that in a while."

It took all of Dar's willpower not to hug her, even with everyone over there watching them. Instead, she put a hand on Kerry's shoulder and patted it. "Take it easy… why don't you sit down on that bench over there? You're kind of pale."

"In a minute." The blond woman stated, tugging her card out of her pack with grim determination. "I want my stamp." She watched the machine impact the heavy cardboard. "Dar, that was amazing… everyone thought you'd lost your mind." She looked up at her boss. "Mariana was freaking."

A shrug. "Nah… it's cold out." She held up a hand in the cool breeze. "Snake'd be sleepy.. they're cold blooded." She reminded her lover. "I just wanted to see if it was sleepy enough for us to squeeze by.. I didn't expect it to be fake." She glanced back to where Steve was clamboring rapidly across. "It was pretty cool though, huh?" A rakish grin edged her face.

Kerry laughed gently. "Yeah." She walked over and sat down on the bench, willing her legs to stop shaking and merely watched as Steve brushed by Dar without a word and stalked to the stamper, then wandered off down the path a little. Duks was headed across next, and she could see that Mariana had convinced Eleanor to cross ahead of her. She wondered briefly what argument the Personnel chief had used, then she contented herself with just watching Dar, who was standing by the exit to the bridge, one hand resting on the rope.

Oh, boy.. had that ever rocked. She grinned to herself. The guys had gotten their macho egos kicked right in the balls with that one…she'd been so proud of Dar she could hardly stop herself from cheering as the taller woman made her way fearlessly towards the ominously coiled snake. She watched Duks get across, exchanging a few words with Dar and giving her a light slap on the side, which got him a modest shrug and a chuckle. Dar was pleased with herself though, Kerry could tell, and she grinned at her as they both walked back to where Kerry was sitting.

"Well.. well. " Duks took a seat next to her after getting his card stamped. "That was the first, I wonder what the rest will be like?"

Dar put a boot up on the edge of the bench and leaned against her knee. "They can't get too bad… I mean, after all, this isn't a military course, they have to gear it for us soft, lazy executives." She commented. "So I doubt we'll be facing staked pits or anything like that."

"That's true enough." Duks allowed, peeking past Dar and observing as Eleanor squeaked across, with Mark going just in front of her coaxing, and Mariana bringing up the rear. The ropes creaked at the triple weight, but seemed to be holding all right. "I still haven't forgiven you for causing me to be woken up like that this morning, Dar… that was not a nice thing to do to a poor, inoffensive sleeping man."

"Wasn't my fault." The dark haired woman responded. "You guys looked pretty damn funny standing there in your boxers, though, I'll give you that."

"Mm… I am going to pretend you didn't say that, just to preserve my tattered dignity." Duks replied. "And, by the way, Mr. I have a Hoover stuck up my rear over there suspects you two are more than friends." He warned softly. "He was making some very crude, but completely in character comments after he finally scraped all the goop off himself this morning."

Dar and Kerry exchanged glances. "That's been said before." Dar shrugged. "Most everyone's over that, I think."

"True.. true.. but disappearing from the group on the walk was probably not a good idea." Duks remarked, as the three travelers reached their side of the creek. "And Kerry, my young friend, do not take any offense, but your eyes give you quite the bit away." He gave Kerry a wry grin, as the blond woman crossed her arms and glanced at the dirt trail. "It's quite becoming, but you would do as well to watch the birdies or something else, hmm?"

Kerry sighed. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize." Dar said, suddenly, as the other three came up. "To hell with them.. let them think whatever the hell they want." She shook herself, then she walked back to the bridge and leaned on the railing, staring intently at the water below.

Kerry gave Duks an wry look, then she glanced up at the newcomers. "Hey.. that was fun, right?"

"Disgusting." Eleanor was carefully wiping off her hands, muddy from the rope. "Just disgusting." She stole a glance at the brooding Dar, and then turned her attention back to them. "I can't belive they expected us to go past that horrible thing…you can be sure I'm lodging an official complaint as soon as we get back to Miami."

"That was pretty wild." Mark agreed, dusting his hands off. "Good thing we had Dar along…man, she'd give Tarzan a run for the money for guts, you gotta say that." He walked over and got a drink of water from the coral fountain that had been tucked into an alcove, and got his card stamped. "This is kinda cool, though."

Eleanor snorted. "I didn't think you'd enjoy anything that didn't have a computer attached to it." She sniped. "What's your hobby, by the way, internet surfing?"

"No.. that's my job." Mark laughed. "My hobby's restoring bikes… that one I came in on's my favorite."

Kerry smiled at him ."Can I get a ride later?" She inquired teasingly "I always wanted to say I'd gotten to ride on a Hog."

He grinned back. "Absolfriggenlutely." He agreed "So long as someone takes a pic for me… or nobody'd believe it."

Everyone else made it across with no further incident, and they moved up along the trail, though this time Kerry was careful to separate herself from Dar who remained at the back. She strolled along with Mark instead, listening as he described what he'd done for the Hong Kong problem. Steve was forging on ahead, searching for the next obstacle, and the rest were strung out in a reluctant string.

Duks fell back, to where Dar was pacing along in silence. "Didn't mean to get you angry, my friend." He commented quietly.

"I know." The dark haired woman replied tersely.

"Just a friendly warning… you know what kind of trouble that crap can lead to." The Finance VP went on. "And you don't need any more crap to deal with than what we already throw on you."

Dar's jaw bunched, then she reached out and broke off a dead branch as they passed it, whipping the shards off into the underbrush. "To be honest, I'm not sure I care anymore." She admitted. "It's all so stupid… I feel like saying to hell with it, and just… " She stopped, and exhaled.

"That puts Mari in a very tough place." Duks remarked quietly. "You know that… come now, Dar.. surely you know the consequences."

She gazed off into the trees. "Of course I know….it's just…this is much more than I ever expected it to be, Duks….it might be more than I can handle." Her eyes flicked to his. "And if I have to chose, the company's not going to even be in the running."

Duks blew out a breath. "Ah." His lips pursed. "Hadn't expected that…all right.. what if we moved Kerry to another division?" He reasoned. "Then it wouldn't matter…it's just the direct reporting that causes the issue."

"I'd thought about that." Dar told him quietly. "But the pressure'd been finally getting to me before I brought Kerry in.. I don't know if I could go back to that…and finding another assistant.. forget it." She raked her dark hair back. "No… maybe this whole thing with Steve's just putting me on edge… I'll get over it." She brushed the subject off. "Sorry about that… I think I need some chocolate."

Duks gave her a look, then chuckled in relief. "You and your chocolate…" He watched Dar dig in her belt pack and tug out a few silver wrapped items. "If you tell me you are carrying around little chocolate kisses, I'm going to have to lose my very meager breakfast over there by they wayside, Dar."

The dark haired woman stopped, and glanced at her open hand, then grinned a touch sheepishly. "Want one?" She offered weakly. "I um… " She waved ahead of them. "I think Kerry stuck them in there."

"Oh disgusting." Duks clucked. "I am getting slimed by all this mushdom." He did take a kiss though. "I never, ever thought you had it in you, my friend."

Dar sucked happily on her kiss, rolling it around so the chocolate flavor got equally distributed. "Yeah well… wonders never cease." She commented, as a shout from the front of the group indicated the next obstacle had been encountered. "Let's go see what they found this time."


It looked like the next problem was a maze. At least, that’s what Kerry thought it was, seeing the multitude of wooden paths that wound among each other. The paths were about six inches wide, and reminded her of balance beams, which had always been a bane of hers. "Now what?" She glanced at the paths, puzzled.

"We have to get there." Steve pointed, to a low platform about a hundred yards away. "Just a matter of picking the right path." He studied the choices. "I think this is the right one."

"Why?" Jose disagreed, kicking the one nearest him with a toe. "Why not this one?"

"Or this one?" Duks was investigating one that went around the perimeter.

"Look.. this one goes directly across to there…it's closer." Steve argued. "That one there goes all the way over to that side and zig zags, and the other one goes around the edges."

"Well.. but wouldn't they tend to not make the right one the most direct?" Mariana asked, reasonably. "What would be the challenge, otherwise?" She watched Mary Lou approach yet another path. "Not that it's… I mean, we can just try each one until we find the right one, I suppose…"

"Wouldn't it be faster if we each tried one, and whoever figures out the right one first tell everyone, and then everyone else can just get on that path?" Kerry inquired, peering over the paths. Each wooden walkway was suspended over a coral grotto of pits and slopes, filled with impassable bushes and rock walls. "What is this thing, anyway?"

Dar stepped up behind her, and turned in a full circle. "My guess is, it used to be a lake." She stated. "See how the land slopes up around here?" She pointed. "So that used to be the bottom of it.. soft coral and limestone shaped by the water."

"Can you can the Discovery Channel, please." Steve rolled his eyes. "Let's get this over with." He stepped out on his chosen path. "You all can do what you want.. I'm heading over there."

"This is foolish." Eleanor muttered. "They're going to get a huge piece of my mind when I get back to Miami." She put a hesitant foot on a board. "Jesu… if I fall off this, I'm suing."

Dar was the last one to choose. She waited for everyone else to pick a path, then she stood on the edge of the puzzle, and gazed across. Kerry was off to her left, and she considered, then picked a path most likely to intersect with the one the blond woman was on. It wasn't particularly hard, the board being eight inches or so across, you just had to be careful of your step. Falling wouldn't be painful, just embarrassing, unless you were a guy and fell straight down, or you chose to take a dive off the planks and hit your head on the coral.

"See? I told you." Steve yelled in triumph, as his path wound closer to the platform. "You guys better start backtracking… "

Dar bounced on her feet twice, and regarded his planks. "Maybe." She was forced to agree, giving Kerry a wry look as the blond woman glanced her way. "I don’t'… " She stopped, as a faint tremor ran through her legs. "Did you feel that?"

Kerry concentrated. "Feel what?" She looked puzzled.

"Like a… a shudder, or something." Dar waited, but the feeling wasn't repeated. "No? Must be me, then." She shook her head, then continued on a bit, watching Duks and Eleanor's paths come close to each other. Then she felt it again. "There, did you feel that?"

"Feel what?" Mark had circled around away from the perimeter. "Dar, are you all right?"

The tall, dark haired woman stopped still, and concentrated. "Yeah.. I think I… " Now it was stronger. "There… tell me you didn't feel that…like a truck going by on the freeway."

"I felt it." Kerry acknowledged, looking around nervously. "Is it an earthquake?"

"Earthquake!!" Eleanor heard her. "What are you saying? Don't be foolish… there are no earthquakes in Florida."

Dar's brow creased. "She's right… the entire state's built on limestone over a water base.. there's nothing to quake. It'd just turn to sand and…" Abruptly her footing lurched under her. "Hey!!"

"What.. ." Jose wavered back and forth. "This is some piece of shit trick.. god damn these people…. " He flailed his arms for balance. "Jesu!"

Dar saw the crack. "Oh shit." Her eyes went wide in shock. "Hang on!!!!" Instinctively, she dove in Kerry's direction as the entire grotto collapsed under them, in a rumble of rock and splintering wood.

She fell, they all did, with dirt and coral and trees tumbling after them, screams going up as the earth dropped out from under their feet, crumbling and diving down into a sudden, gaping, widening well. Dar covered her head as she dropped, trying to fend off branches with her other hand, and she remained upright until a rock hit her mid fall, knocking her sideways and into the collapsing earth rim.

She grabbed at a limb, but the weight of the earth pressed her onward, and she found herself slipping down a moving slope, with rocks and sticks pelting her painfully. "Kerry!" She yelled, just before a sizable chunk of coral smacked her in the head and knocked her into a dark fog for a long, frightening moment. Then she hit bottom, and felt the impact as what seemed like half the world dropped on top of her.

Kerry had screamed as the wood disintegrated beneath her feet, but she'd managed to grab ahold of the supports as she dropped, and swung over to the side of the falling pit, scraping along the edges and trying to get a grip on anything to stop her slide. Around her, she could hear the other's screaming, and she ducked a branch, then got her feet under her and managed to slow her decent for a moment.

Not long enough, though, as the earth ledge she'd been bracing against collapsed, and she found herself tumbling head over heels towards a pile of coral. "Jesus!" She managed to shove away from them, but got caught by a falling tree, and clung to it as it rushed downward, feeling a tremendous jolt as it hit bottom and she went flying through the air.

Luck put her down in a pile of earth and small rocks, instead of anything harder, and she crawled out of the way of some falling limbs and huddled under a tree trunk as the collapse roared around her. She heard her name called, and she lifted her head, peering through the branches towards the sound. She spotted Dar's falling body, then saw it crumble in mid air, and land, with rocks an dirt on top of her. "Dar!"

Kerry didn't wait for anything else. She dug out from her hiding spot and dashed across the still moving earth, through clouds of dust and shredded leaves, dodging the odd rolling boulder. "D… oh god.. " She saw the arm sticking out from the dirt and scrambled over the last obstacle, jumping down next to where her lover had fallen and frantically throwing debris off her. "Dar?? Hey!!!" She shoved dirt away from the taller woman's head, and was rewarded by a groan. "Hey… hey.. come on… "

"Okay.. okay.. take it easy." Dar mumbled, getting her arms under her and pushing away from the dirt a little. She felt rocks and earth roll off her back, aided by Kerry's hands "Whoa.. watch that last step." She managed to joke faintly, as she succeeded in sitting up, reaching to rub her head with a wince. "God damn it.. "

Kerry got into the dirt next to her and brushed her off gently. "Jesus… are you all right?" She checked Dar's head anxiously. "What happened? I thought you said there were no earthquakes in Florida?"

"Calm down." Dar caught her hands, and chafed them, feeling the tremors. "It wasn't an earthquake.. " She looked around them, as the rumble eased, and the dust settled, hearing the cries of their companions. "It's a sinkhole."

"A sinkhole?" Kerry sank down next to her and leaned against her shoulder, sliding an arm around Dar's waist. "A sinkhole.. okay.. so this is not part of the test, right?"

"No." Dar gazed at her. "Are you okay?"

"What? Oh sure.. I'm fine…absolutely. "Kerry assured her. "Just a few bumps."

"You're sure?" Her lover gently inquired.

"Yes… I am. " The blond woman stated.

"Okay.. well. you might want to let up on my arm, then… I'm losing feeling in my fingers." Dar's eyes twinkled a little.

Kerry stared down at her own hand, clenched around Dar's wrist in a white knuckled death grip. "Oh." She loosened her hold. "Sorry." She took several breaths, then studied her companion. "You're bleeding."

Dar glanced at her shoulder "No. I'm all right… it's just a scratch."

A soft, knowing chuckle. "Where have I heard that before?" Kerry replied, as she checked the wound. "Looks like a branch poked in here." She sighed, and looked over her shoulder. "Guess we'd better go find everyone.

"Yeah." Dar stood, then winced as her weight came down on one knee. "Oh… shit." Her face twisted in pain, and she sat back down, holding her breath until the jolts of pain subsided. "Son of a bitch."

"What.. " Kerry grabbed her anxiously. "Take it easy.." She gently straightened Dar's leg out. "What is it… "

"My knee." The dark haired woman exhaled. "I think the caps dislocated." She gingerly felt the front of her leg. "Yeah.. feel that."

Kerry laid hesitant fingers over the denim covered surface, and felt an ominous bulge. "Ow.. Jesus, Dar.. that must hurt like crazy…"

It was making her nauseous, in fact. "Yeah.. um… " Dar took a deep breath. "Listen… could you just.. um… kind of twist that, and move it towards the inside of my leg?"

Wide green eyes stared at her. "What!!!??" Kerry yelped. "You want me to what?"

"Kerry, come on… stay with me here. "Dar urged. "If you just knock it back in place, it's going to hurt a hell of a lot less."

"I don't think I can… god, Dar… "

"Yes, you can." The other woman's voice dropped. "Come on now. .it'll just take a second.. grab it and twist. " She took a hold of a nearby branch and clenched it, as Kerry's shaking hands fastened over the misplaced bone. "That's it… go on."

Kerry closed her eyes ,and gritted her teeth, feeling the hard surface moving and slipping under her fingers. She fought down a queasy sensation, and took as firm a hold as she could, tentatively twisting the bone out and down, conscious of the unmoving silence from her lover. "Okay… hold on. "She held her breath and pushed, then gasped as she felt the part slide into place. "Did I get it?" Receiving no answer, she forced her eyes open to see a very pale Dar slumped against the debris, out cold. "Oh shit!"


Dar became groggily aware of a dull, throbbing pain in her leg, and a warm tingling on her lips. She spent a moment deciding the two were probably not related, and let her eyelids drift open to see very concerned, very vibrant green eyes inches from her own. "Uh." She blinked, and swallowed, running her tongue over her lips tentatively. "Did you just kiss me?"

Kerry let out a shaky sigh of relief. "Yes…. I was trying to wake you up."

"Mm… you know, shaking me would have done it too, but I'm not complaining. " Dar advised her wryly. "Damn.. sorry about that."

"Wow.. the pain must have been incredible.. Dar, I… "

Her lover sighed. "No…it wasn't that.. I mean, yes.. it hurt, but not enough to knock me out." She cleared her throat a little and struggled to sit up. "It was the feeling of my bones grinding together… I used to pass out whenever they had to set something" She gave Kerry an apologetic look "Should have warned you." Her lips quirked. 'That, and long needles… watch out."

Kerry regarded her in mild surprise. "Oh." She sat back, rubbing Dar's arm gently. "I never would have guessed.. I mean.. you're so.. um… " She lifted a hand. "You know."

"Tough." Dar smiled self deprecatingly, as she eased her arms around her knees. "I know. .it's a good act." She acknowledged, straightening her leg carefully. "That's better." She sighed. "All right.. where were we? Going to check for the others, right?"

Kerry sat back. "Dar.. why don't you stay here? I'll go check on everyone." She got up, ducking under the branch they were sheltering beneath. "Maybe I can find something for you to wrap around that… "

Dar reached over her head and grabbed the branch, pulling herself to her feet. "No.. I'd better find out now how.. ouch." She sucked in a breath, then exhaled it, as she slowly put weight on her leg. It hurt, but it held, and she eased it up, flexing it a few times then putting her foot back down again. "Okay… I think that's going to be all right." She glanced out over the rubble. "Jesus."

The ground they'd been crossing had turned into a bowl like pit, with walls over fifty feet high all around them. The bottom was littered with rocks and shattered trees, and a muddy seeping of water that Dar could feel chilling her soles.

A yell drifted over. Her name, and they turned to see Mark climbing up on a half submerged tree trunk, waving at them. "Come on." Dar looked around, then picked up a broken limb to use as a support. "We could be in trouble here."

They slowly made their way across the rubble, with Kerry managing to resist the urge to take Dar's arm an entire five minutes before she gave in, gently tucking a hand inside the taller woman's elbow as they went over uncertain footing. "I know." She started talking nervously, as she felt Dar take a breath. "I know.. and I don't care, Dar. I'll quit… I just…I don't care if they know."

Long pause. "Um.. actually, I was just going remind you to watch out for those soft, white areas." Dar replied gently. "They're limestone, and probably slippery." She paused, thinking. "As for whether or not they know.. I'm not going to worry about that right now. The important thing is for us to all get out of here."

"Oh." Kerry glanced down, and nodded a little. "Okay. Sorry." She felt a little silly. Of course Dar was right.. no one would even be thinking about that now, and she shouldn't either. Duks comment had shaken her up a little, that was all.

Then she felt Dar's arm shift, and warm fingers curl around her own as she looked up, startled. Blue eyes gazed steadily back at her, a faint hint of challenge in the lilt of Dar's eyebrows. Kerry smiled, and gave the fingers a squeeze, then turned her attention back to finding a way across the slippery ground.


"Hey… give me a hand here." Mark called over to where Duks was standing. "Hold still, Mary Lou.. let me get this branch off you." He gave Duks a nod as the Finance VP joined him, and put a hand on the heavy limb. "Thanks."

"Take it easy Mary Lou…" Duks told the young woman, as he and Mark pushed against the limb, trying to force it away from her body. "Argh… " They shoved harder and managed to move the tree off Mary Lou's trapped leg. "There you go.."

"Augh." The young woman crawled free and pulled herself to her feet. "Thank you… thank you.. " She gave Mark a grateful look as he took her arm, leading her over to where the rest of the group was gathering.

Dar was off a little ways, poking in the debris with her stick, while Kerry crouched next to Mariana, who had gotten a nasty cut on her arm. Other than that, and some bangs and bruises, they'd all survived intact, and now were standing or sitting in a rough circle, dazedly looking around them.

"Now what, Sherlock?" Steve came up behind Dar, and glared at the fifty foot walls blocking them in. "You going to wave your damn broom and fly us all out of here." He spat disgustedly. "I can't believe you got us into this… I think I'm going to URP." The end of Dar's stick was pinning him to a tree trunk, and he struggled to breath.

"You." Dar pressed harder. "Are." She leaned closer. "GETTING" Her voice dropped, but somehow became more penetrating. "On my nerves!!!" She paused, glaring. "So SHUT UP.. or I'm gonna shove this stick right UP YOUR ASS." A deathly silence. "GOT ME???"

Steve nodded once, then slumped as the stick was removed, and he could breath again. "Bitch." He rubbed his throat.

The tanned face creased into a feral smile. "Jackass." She responded, then turned and resumed her study of the wall.

"Oh… boy." Mariana whispered, as Kerry finished tying a bit of shirt sleeve over her cut. "DR's on the ragged edge, I see."

Kerry glanced up at her boss, then exhaled. "Yeah… but it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't pushed her… he's been doing that all weekend… I was sort of surprised she hadn't said anything before." Truculent green eyes regarded Mariana. "It's not her fault."

The Personnel VP allowed a weary smile to cross her face. "Whose fault it is doesn't impact the amount of paperwork I'm going to have to do for this little trip." She nudged Kerry with her knee. "Go see if you can settle her down a little.. we don't need police reports on top of everything else."

Kerry blinked. "Oh… no, Dar wouldn't…." She paused, remembering Kyle. "Okay.. I see your point." She stood, buckling her belt pack back around her waist and picked her way over to where Dar was standing. Steve gave her a cold stare as she passed, and she returned it with a charming smile, which seemed to annoy him a lot.

Dar was scanning the wall, her pale blue eyes flicking here and there as she rested her weight on the stick to keep if off her knee. "That's a possibility." She pointed, as Kerry came up next to her. "It'd be tough, but I think we might make it… or at least, a few of us would, and then we could go get help."

Kerry gazed up. "You mean where those trees are hanging down?"

"Mmhmm." Dar's attention was tightly focused. "Yeah, we could get a boost up there.. and use those roots as handholds."

It was a possibility, Kerry reasoned. "That might work, yeah." She put her hand on the stick, covering Dar's fingers, which brought the ice blue eyes down to fasten on her. "You doing all right?"

A faint crease showed in Dar's forehead. "Hmm? Oh… yeah, my knee aches a little.. and I've got a killer headache.. but I'm okay… how about you?"

Kerry let her eyes slide to where Steve was sitting dourly on a log, then move back to Dar's face. One eyebrow rose in question.

The taller woman looked puzzled for a moment, then she rolled her eyes. "Oh… yeah, I'm fine.. I just let him get to me for a minute." She dismissed the incident. "We'd better get started."

The blond woman tightened her fingers on Dar's hand. "Maybe we should have our lunches first.. give everyone a chance to calm down.. hmm?"

Dar considered that. "Maybe." She acknowledged. "Half an hour won't make much of a difference, I guess." She allowed Kerry to lead her back to the group. "Okay." She got their attention effortlessly. "We obviously need to get out of here."

"Yes." Duks agreed. "Quickly.. this is becoming quite slimy, and I suspect water will be making us float shortly." He tapped his foot in a growing puddle of clear, cold water.

"Jesu." Jose dabbed at a raw looking scratch on his head. "We could have been killed."

"But we weren't" Dar told him. "There's a spot over there." She pointed. "I think we could all make it up there, and if not, those of us who can, will go get help."

"From who? That idiotic woman?" Eleanor snapped, obviously upset and frightened. "Don't be stupid, Dar…we can't climb up there.. and I'm not sitting down here in this freezing muck."

"Come now, El. " Mariana forestalled Dar's rising ire. "Either you climb, or you stay here.. you can't say you're not going to climb, AND you don’t' want to stay here. Pick one." She sighed. "I'm going to be all of next week filling out workman's comps on you people, aren't I?"

"We can call for real help when we get up there… " Dar explained. "But everyone should try to make it.. we don't know how long it's going to take, and you don’t' want to be stuck out here when it gets dark."

No one looked like they liked the idea, but reluctant nods went around the group.

"It will be lighter if we eat those lunches they gave us first." Kerry reminded her boss. "I could use the break."

"Oh yeah.. " Mark pawed at his pouch. "That's a good idea." Everyone stirred, pulling out their packages with varying levels of enthusiasm. "What is this?"

Dar had seated herself on a rock, easing her leg out in front of her and turning her pack over in her finger. "They're called MRE's nowadays." She remarked. "Military food." She looked up as Kerry sat down next to her cross legged on a flat piece of limestone. "They won't kill you, but I wont' guarantee anything else."

"Oh.. lovely." Kerry pulled at the package, tugging out small foil wrapped containers. "How does it work?" She glanced up, then put her hand on Dar's knee. "Hey.."

The taller woman had been leaning her head against the rock she was seated against, her eyes closed. Now she forced them open, and regarded her friend. "Yeah?" She felt suddenly exhausted, and the throbbing in her head was getting worse.

"Here.." Kerry tucked something into her hand. "I think you need that more than I do."

Dar peered at the packet. "Oh. " She smiled in reflex at the army issue generic Tylenol. "Yeah… " With a sigh, she put her package on her lap and unwrapped it's parts. "Okay.. this is a self heating pouch." She picked it up and pulled two lurid tabs on either end. "Do that, and whatever's inside gets heated up by chemical action." She glanced up, startled to see the whole group of them, less Steve, gathering around her. "It's not that hard, people. we are a technology company, please remember that."

"Well well… " Duks pulled his tabs, then set the large packet aside. "And what's this? Do not tell me.. this is what you give us atheists on Christmas, no?" He picked up a smaller packet. "Crackers, graham, 2."

"Oh my god.. is this that stuff they feed the soldiers?" Eleanor's eyes widened.

"Mm.. yeah, I saw a special on that the other day." Mark investigated his package. "Silverware too… pretty neat."

Kerry opened her heated package, and sniffed it. "Oh.. " She pulled her head back in surprise. "I think this is lasagna." She poked a spork in, and dug a bit out, tasting it warily. "Hey.. that's not bad."

They sat around mostly in silence, on top of the soft, limestone rocks which were slowly becoming flooded by water, and ate their meals. Dar found herself pushing her food around with her spork, and she glanced to one side, then offered the remainder to Kerry. "Here.. you want to finish this?"

Kerry eyed her. "You don’t like it?"

A shrug. "It's not bad.. I'm just not that hungry." Dar admitted. "Go on.. I saw you thinking about licking out that pouch."

The blond woman blushed, but took the offering and finished it off, then passed Dar her container of apple juice. "Here.. I don’t like it.. why don’t' you take your aspirin?"

Dar took her advice, and swallowed both Kerry's tablets and her own, washing them down with the juice. Then she regarded the group. "Well?"

"Right." Duks slapped his knee. "Let's get going… I can't wait to get back to our charming camp, and the peanut butter sandwiches I'm sure will be there for us." He stood up, balancing carefully on his rock.

Jose joined him. "Son of a bitches… I'm going to have a thing to say when I get back, I'll tell you that." He glanced. "Come on, Eleanor… let's get this over with, eh?"

They moved to the far wall, slipping and sliding over the slick rocks, and started a slow path up. Dar went to the front, discarding her stick as she slowly moved from rock to rock. "Okay.. everyone get up here first."

"I'm not going that way. "Steve stated. "I'll meet you all up at the top." He turned aside and started his own path up, grabbing on to thick vines which trailed down from half dislodged trees.

"He's right.. it's easier there." Eleanor abandoned them, and followed Steve's determined form. "Come on, Jose, Charles.. .no sense in taking the hard way up."

"Si." The Sales VP agreed, as he edged away from them, and followed her. "I'm coming… " Eleanor's thin assistant followed obediently, pushing his glasses up nervously.

Dar gazed after them, as though about to speak, then shrugged and turned back to her task, leaning her head against the cool branches for a moment before she straightened, and looked for the next step up. The throbbing was starting to subside, but she felt an odd kind of distance to her thoughts that made her wonder if she hadn't done more than get her bell rung.

A hand suddenly warmed her back, and she turned to see Kerry next to her, ostensibly looking for a good hold. "Is that a good way up?" The blond woman asked, stepping up next to her and gazing, then turning to watch Steve's progress up the wall. "Or do they have the right idea, much as I hate to admit it?"

Dar smiled wearily. "Well.. that's an easier climb, but I'm not sure it's worth it." She remarked.

"Why?" Kerry asked curiously.

"Those vines are covered with poison ivy." The dark haired woman replied, glancing over as Duks and Mark, who were right behind her, starting chuckling

"Oh..no.. don't say that." Mariana pushed the frazzled hair back out of her eyes. "I'll never hear the end of that, Dar.. you'll have done it on purpose to them.."

Dar merely shook her head, and continued her way up, finding easy holds for the rest of her group. "Easy there.. " She warned. "Grab that root, yeah.. there." They moved slowly up the slope, using the handholds to keep their balance. Fortunately, the walls weren't directly vertical, and they made fair time, stopping halfway to catch their breaths and take a rest.

Steve, Jose, Charles and Eleanor had already reached the top and disappeared, and Dar found herself glad of their absence, realizing the constant strain of their irritating presence had really been wearing her down. Duks and Mariana seemed to be glad too, as they leaned against each other and wiped muddy sweat off their brows. Mark engaged Mary Lou into a conversation about the Marlins, which left Dar and Kerry standing next to each other against the slope.

"How's the knee?" Kerry asked.

Dar shrugged, and flexed the leg in question. "It's all right…" She leaned back against the dirt, feeling the coolness through the fabric of her shirt. The joint had stiffened up, but was more a nagging ache than a sharp pain, for which she was grateful. The climb wasn't helping, though she'd been able to use her arms and shoulders to pull herself up most of the way. "Come on… " She exhaled. "I vote we commandeer the damn bus, and get the hell out of here the minute we get back."

They all looked at Mariana, who stuck her tongue out at Dar. "Only if you stop at the first blessed Dairy Queen we find, DR… I have to get the taste of that mint jelly out of my mouth."

Dar brightened a little. "Dairy Queen… hey, yeah.. they do have those up here, don't they." Ice cream… that would just hit the spot. She mused, as she resumed her hunt for roots to grab onto. Her stomach still felt queasy, but she knew she'd never, ever been too nauseous to eat ice cream.

"You had to mention that." Kerry sighed, as she climbed up next to her lover. "Now we'll be hearing about chocolate bonnets until we get there."

"What's that?" Duks inquired, offering Mary Lou a hand up next to him.

"It's a hardened chocolate shell." Dar answered, with a half grin. "They dip the cones in it, and let it harden. " She pulled herself up one more level. "It's messy as hell, but it tastes great."

"I take it you've been subjected to that, Kerry?" Mary Lou asked, as she edged up the rocks.

"Oh yeah.. " Kerry answered, then realized how that sounded. "Um… one of the last Dairy Queens in Miami is just down the road from our Kendall office.. we have to pass by there to and from meetings."

"Ah..huh.. I see." Mary Lou nodded.

They continued to climb, until Dar, in the lead, was almost at the top. She slid over one final bit, and grabbed a tree hanging off the edge, pulling herself up and over, onto the rough path they'd come in on.

No one else was there. "Bastards." Dar muttered, as she turned to put a hand under Kerry's elbow to haul her up. "Went on without us."

"Those pigs." Kerry's brow creased. "I can't believe they did that.. we would have waited."

The rest of the group came up, and sat down on the path. "Well." Mariana exhaled. "That's more exercise than I've gotten since I was in the Girl Scouts."

"You have that correct," Duks agreed, sprawling with his legs outstretched, and leaning back on his hands. "But we have made it.. and as such, I proclaim this part of our little seminar a success."

Dar got to her feet. "I'll vote for that." She agreed. "But then, we never had a cooperation issue between us anyway."

Mariana sighed, and got up as well. "All right.. all right.. so it was a bad idea…" She brushed herself off. "Although, if this hadn't happened, it might have been more valuable… "

"Yeah." Kerry agreed softly, as they trudged off down the path, as the late afternoon sun slanted through the trees. "Well… maybe we can work out something on a smaller scale back there…like… in a hotel, or something."

" A comfortable hotel." Mary Lou agreed.

"A comfortable hotel with beds, air conditioning, and televisions." Mark added.

"Don't forget modem jacks." Dar gave them a half grin. "And room service."

"Room service.. oh yes.." Duks agreed.

They all laughed a little, as they came to a bend in the path, walking around it almost abreast, stopping as they reached the overlook to the rope bridge.

They stopped, staring at the strands in puzzlement.

Clothing hung off the railing, and loud, angry, frustrated voices were heard below.

"Uh oh." Mariana peeked over, then hid her eyes. "I don’t' think I have a personnel report to cover this, Dar."

"What?" The executive peered over. "Oh boy."

Kerry balanced on her shoulder. "Oh my god, they're naked."


"Throw the goddamn clothes down, you idiots!" Steve screamed, his head just poking out of the water.

Dar leaned against the railing. "Say please." She called out, tauntingly.

"Dar… " Kerry gave her a slap. "C'mon now." She picked up the shirts and pants and balled them up, then hesitated. "If I throw them, they'll fall in the water." She yelled down.

"What in the heck are you people doing, anyway?" Mark leaned next to Dar. "Lousy time to go swimming, you know?"

Jose stood up, the water draining off his belly. "Some bastards came with guns, and made us!"

Dar sighed. "It was funny, right up till now." She backed up and glanced around, then her eyes fell on the snake. "Hold on.. " She made her way along the bridge until she got to it, then she carefully untangled it's length from the ropes and slung it around her neck. "Here.. " She edged back to where Kerry was waiting. "Tie it on to it's tail." She turned to Mark. "Keep an eye out for anyone coming… musta been some hunters or something who decided to play a joke on them."

Mark backed up and looked around. "What am I supposed to be looking for? Morons with rifles? My job description doesn't cover this, Dar." He muttered.

Kerry finished tying the clothes to the snake's tail, then watched as Dar lowered it down to where Jose was standing, having to crouch all the way down and extend her arm to get it low enough. She kept one hand on the end platform, and the other hovering, in case her boss lost her balance, though if Dar did, and she grabbed her, for sure they were both going creekward.

"Okay… you got it?" Dar yelled, wincing as the strain pulled against her leg. She watched Jose reach up, then closed her eyes in reflex. "Oh..god.. I didn't need to see that." She muttered, hearing Eleanor scream.

"Shut up.. I'm getting the god damn clothes." Jose snapped, finally working them free. "Here… " He released the snake's tail. "Done… aiiieee!!" He yelped as the snake, freed from Dar's hand, dropped in rubbery coils around him. "Jesu, Dar.. I'm gonna kick your ass when I get up there."

Dar straightened slowly, conscious of Kerry's hand on her elbow. "You couldn't kick my ass if I were a desk chair and you had brass boots. " She yelled back down.

"Would you two just shut up!" Eleanor screamed. "Oh my god.. I'm itching all over…"

"So am I." Steve chattered, tugging his long sleeve shirt on. "Oh shit…. Augh!"

"On second thought, clothes were probably a bad idea." Dar commented with mild interest to Kerry. "That fabric rubbed up all over the poison ivy."

"Ouch." Kerry winced, looking at her hands. "Thanks for telling me."

Dar smiled. "I'm sure you'll be fine. " She chuckled, then exhaled, as the four complaining, blotchy, muddy, wet, angry people closed in on them. "All right… enough!" She raised her voice. "Let's just get the hell out of here, and scream at each other later, all right?"

"That's the smartest thing you've said since we've been here. " Eleanor snapped. "Get out of my way. "She shoved Dar aside, and stomped across the rope bridge, seemingly oblivious of it's height, and unsteadiness, scratching frantically at her arm as she did so.

"Okay.. " Dar leaned back against the ropes. "Guess we're going back to camp." They all filed past her one at a time, and she watched them cross, waiting for Kerry to get part of the way over before she brought up the rear, placing her feet carefully on the rope.

"God damn it all to hell.. I'm going to sue until I've gotten every single cent out of this god damned company.. " Jose was stomping along. "Irresponsible, danger to it's customers… putas!"

Dar sighed, and tried to filter his voice out, concentrating on the pain in her leg instead. That worked, but it got her preoccupied, so much so that she didn't realize everyone stopped, and she thumped into Kerry's back with a jolt, knocking the breath out of both of them. "Wh.. oh.. sorry." She steadied herself on Kerry's shoulder and exhaled. "What's up?"

Silently, Mark pointed into the camp. Dar stepped up next to him and peered through the leaves, to where she could see the main hall. Their bus was parked off to one side, and in front of the structure were two pickup trucks, with various camping style items in the back, and prominent shotgun racks. Two men were sprawled in the back of one truck, chugging beer, and two others were on the porch, one pinning a hapless Skippy against the wall as he tried to kiss her. The guide was squirming frantically, trying to escape.

"It's those bastards that made us strip." Steve snarled. "Let me at their ugly butts…" He scratched his arms frantically. "Auggghghh.."

Dar felt a cold wave wash over her, leaching the color from the vibrant foliage, and draining the exhaustion that had been plaguing her since the accident. She felt her attention focus on the men, and a faint, grim smile played about her lips. "All right, that's it. I've had enough. Those boys don't know what kind of trouble they just ran into." She purred, as she pushed her way past Jose and Steve, and stalked into the open clearing.

"Where in the hell do you think you're going?" Steve hissed, grabbing at her arm.

She shook him off like his touch was nothing. "I'm going to go work out some repressed frustration." She growled, then started moving again.

"Dar!" Kerry's voice was low, but anxious. "Wait… "

For a long moment, she was alone, then she heard steps behind her, and a hand grabbed the back of her shirt. She pulled free. "Stay here. "She told Kerry, as she headed towards the two men on the porch. "Hey!"

She was up on the platform before they could react, then one belched. "Hey… you're pretty!" He lurched towards her, reaching out a hand. "C'mere, pretty lady… "

Dar felt the motion before it happened, a reaction buried deep in her body, that twisted her shoulders and sent an elbow into his jaw, slamming him back against the wall with a startled yelp. She turned as the other one came for her, and nailed him with an overhand right, almost exulting in the sharp sting of impact, that traveled up her arm and through her shoulders. He staggered back, and she followed, grabbing him by the dirty fabric of his flannel shirt and lifting him up as she shoved him against the door of the main hall.

He opened his mouth, then looked into her eyes, and fell silent, his lip quivering.

"You." Dar sent her voice as low as it would go. "Are between me… " She kneed him in the groin, and watched his eyes roll up into his head. "And Dairy Queen."

She let him drop, and he collapsed, grabbing his parts and making a low, whining sound. Dar turned and glared at the two beer guzzlers, who had picked up their rifles, and started to hop over the side of the truck. She leveled her gaze on them and stalked towards them, her hands flexing and unflexing into fists.

They stopped in mid motion, one falling over and landing on his head, and the other falling back on his ass in the truck bed. The one who had fallen out of the truck scrambled to the driver's side, got the door open, and got inside, then hastily started the truck and threw it into gear. He stepped on the gas and it took off, it's tires bumping in the dirt and tossing the man in back up and down like a frog on a hot car roof, his desperate yells following the trucks' engine sound out of the camp.

Dar turned, and looked at the man she'd hit first. He crawled out of her sight and off the porch, rolling under it and startling the camp dog, who scooted out barking in outrage. Then her eyes slowly swept up and pinned themselves on Skippy. "Where's the bus driver?"

The girl opened her mouth and closed it several times before any sound came out. "Oh.. uh… I.. he's … um… I …"

"Find him." Dar growled.

"Yyyyes ma'am." Skippy fled.

It was quiet, then, only the sound of Kerry's hiking boots scuffing across the sandy ground broke the silence, as the blond woman crossed the area, and hopped up on the porch. "Well." She murmured, putting her hands on her hips.

Dar regarded her wryly. "Sorry I took off like that… you okay?"

Kerry pursed her lips, and regarded the moaning man on the floor. "Um.. yeah.. I guess." She waved the rest of their group forward. "You all right?"

The taller woman leaned back against the wall as their group arrived, giving her wary, respectful looks. "Yeah, I'm fine, actually." She remarked. "I just want some ice cream." She walked to the bench outside the door and sat down on it, stretching her legs out before her and exhaling.

Skippy came back, eyeing Dar nervously. "He's on his way."

"Good." The dark haired woman said, her eyes closed. "Do you have first aid stuff here?" She turned her head. "A sinkhole opened up underneath us, and we've had one bitch of a day. Those four got tangled in poison ivy." She nodded towards Steve, Eleanor, Charles and Jose, who glared at her.

"Uh." Skippy glanced between them, "Maybe I'd better call the paramedics."

Eleanor gave her an evil look. "Will they keep us here?"

"I… I don't know.. um.. probably.. " The guide responded weakly.

"Just put us on the damn bus." The Marketing VP snarled. "My lawyer will do the rest of the talking."

"Mine too." Jose chimed in.

"I am a lawyer." Steve added. "And boy, I hope you guys have insurance." He snapped at her. "This was disgraceful, not to mention dangerous.. "

"Yeah!" Jose grunted.

"Hold it." Kerry stood up, and walked between them, seeing that Skippy was about to burst into tears. "Stop yelling at her. It's not her fault." She gave the guide a quietly sympathetic look. "She's just doing her job."

Skippy gave her a tremulous smile. "Thanks."

Kerry grinned warmly back.

"Shut up, you whore." Steve spat disgustedly.

The blond woman turned to look at him, aware of the sudden motion on the peripherals of her vision. "Excuse me?"

"Your Dar's whore.. we all know it.. so just shut up, and go lick her or some.. " He never even saw the fist that hit his face, sending a sharp crack across the porch. Steve's body slid down onto the ground bonelessly.

Kerry shook her hand out. "Ouch." She winced. "That hurt like heck." Everyone was looking at her, including Dar, who had stood and started to walk over. "And for the record. I'm not anyone's whore."

An awkward silence fell. Finally, Skippy cleared her throat. "Um… would.. anyone like some cookies?" She offered with desperate cheerfulness. "We've got three kinds, and some juice.. while we wait for the bus, I mean.. I've.. asked the camp manager to get your things from the cabin, and I.. you know, we've never had anything like this happen before, and we're really sorry.. really, really sorry.. can I get you all some juice?"

Long pause. "Cookies?" Her voice cracked a little.

Mariana, mercifully, came to her rescue. "That would be great… and if you have Calamine lotion… I'm sure it wasn't your fault.. let's see if we can find some band aides, too." She ushered Skippy inside the hall, as Kerry walked back over and sat down next to Dar, somewhat self consciously. Her hand hurt like hell, and she cradled it in her other one, staring down at the swelling knuckles as though they belonged to someone else.

Jesus. She'd hit someone. Worse, she'd hit the assistant vice president of marketing for the company she worked for. All over a couple of words. Ashamed, she glanced up at Dar.

Warm, proud blue eyes gazed back at her, over lips that held a definite, gentle smile.

"I shouldn't have done that." Kerry whispered.

"No.. but it's all right." Dar told her, reaching deliberately over and taking her hand, examining the bruises carefully. "That's going to hurt for a few days."

"Mm." Kerry absorbed the warmth of her lover's fingers around hers. "Looks like yours did that night." She murmured, glancing around at the rest of the group, who were studiously looking elsewhere. "This is really messed up."

"Don't worry about it." The dark haired woman told her. "We'll get through this… trust me."

Liquid green eyes gazed up at her. "I do."

Dar nodded a little reassuringly, then sat back, and exhaled, willing that driver to hurry.


It was dark by the time they headed back, after two stops on the road to pick up medical supplies and a stop at Dairy Queen, which gave up not only Dar's ice cream, but burgers and the trimmings to the exhausted group. Even Skippy left her perky manner at the camp and joined in, munching her burger in silence, and trying to avoid the baleful stares from the three riders most suffering.

Steve had remained quiet after he'd woken up, nursing his grievances in moody silence and scratching ceaselessly. Most of his exposed skin, like Eleanor's, Charles's and Jose's, was a patchy red, and they each took possession of a large bottle of lotion, applying it so thickly they began to resemble creatures from science fiction.

Mark had reclaimed his Harley, and headed back ahead of them, taking Mary Lou with him on the back of the bike. Duks and Mariana were both snoozing, having finished their dinner.

Dar was sprawled in a seat near the back, biting off pieces of chocolate and licking melting drops of vanilla ice cream with an absorbed expression on her face. Kerry was in the seat across from her, nursing a large hot fudge sundae with extra cherries.

"You know something, Dar?" She looked up, sucking on a stem.

"Mm?" Blue eyes looked up over the half eaten chocolate bonnet.

"Ice cream does make you feel better." Kerry admitted. "Why is that?"

The dark haired woman nibbled a bit more chocolate. "I have no idea." She chewed contentedly. "And I don't much care.. I just know whenever I've felt really lousy, an ice cream cone always makes me feel better."

"Mm." Kerry worked around a mouthful of hot fudge. "Probably because it's so bad for you."

"Probably." Dar agreed, mildly.

They munched in silence for a moment. "What's going to happen Monday?" Kerry finally asked, quietly.

"Don't worry about it." Her lover replied.

"He's going to make a lot of trouble." Kerry indicated the front rows of the bus. "They all are."

"I know. Don't worry about it." Dar repeated. "Let me handle things." She caught an errant drip of ice cream with an agile tongue. "I've got some trouble up my sleeve too."

Kerry absorbed that. "Dar… I… I'd rather just resign, than see you go through all that." She uttered, very softly.

"I don't want you to do that." Dar objected instantly. "Just let me work things out, Kerry… you said you trusted me."

"W.. well yeah, I do.. I just… " The blond sighed. "I don't want to see you get hurt."

A faint smile edged Dar's lips. "I'll be fine.. let's just forget about it until Monday, all right?"

Kerry exhaled. "All right." She agreed reluctantly. But saying it was easier than doing anything of the kind.


"Hey Col." Kerry watched the traffic carefully as she steered the Lexus down the Rickenbacker causeway. "We're back."

"Good grief, girl.. what happened?" Colleen burbled, from the phone's receiver. "You weren't due back until tomorrow afternoon."

"I know." Kerry glanced at Dar, who was leaning against the door with half closed eyes. "We had a little trouble." Dar had wanted to drive, but Kerry had insisted, and now she was very glad. The trip home had been uneventful, with most of them snoozing through the drive, and dispersing rapidly as they got to the parking lot of the office.

"Oh boy." The redhead clucked. "Well, things are fine here.. your puppy's been an angel, and I've just been lounging around watching football on this lovely television." She told her. "Did you guys get to eat?"

"Well… not really." Kerry responded. "Hang out.. we'll get something when we get there… or at least I will." She added. "Dar's not really feeling well."

"I'm fine." The dark haired woman mumbled. "I just have a headache."

"Oh? Okay… I'll turn on the lights in her room, then…" Colleen's voice faded a bit as she walked. "And turn the comforter down… you want me to put up some coffee or something?"

"That sounds great." Kerry agreed. "We're about to get on the ferry.. see you in fifteen minutes." She hung up the phone and tucked it away, then steered the car onto the boat and parked it, reaching over and covering Dar's hand with her own. "Almost home."

"Kerry.. I'm fine." Blue eyes turned her way. "Honestly."

"Dar, look.. we both know you hate people making a fuss over you, but you're limping, and I know you're hurting….would you please save the "I'm so tough I could chew circuit boards" attitude for everyone else?" Kerry scolded her. "It's okay not to feel well, for Christ's sake."

Dar slumped against the seat, poking her lower lip out a little.

"That's a very adorable pout, Dar.. but it doesn't fool me." The blond woman felt a grin tugging her lips anyway. "I think it'd be a good idea for you to change, and lie down.. is that too much to ask?"

The taller woman sighed. "No…no, you're right… " She rubbed her temples. "I need some asprin, and an ice pack for this damn knee, and… " She scowled a little. "More ice cream."

Kerry started up the Lexus as the ferry docked, and drove up the ramp, turning at the first turn and heading towards the condo. "I think we have some mocha chip in the freezer." She commented wryly. "Though you might want to think about at least having a grilled cheese sandwich or something with that."

"Ugh." Dar winced. "No.. I.. my stomach's just not in the mood for that…I just want some ice cream."

Kerry parked the car and got out, popping the trunk and grabbing both of their bags. She was a little worried about her lover, but she knew pushing Dar on how she felt wasn't going to get her anywhere. Tomorrow, however…. "C'mon… " She waited for Dar to join her at the steps, and just kept herself from grabbing the taller woman's arm as she limped up them. "Got a little stiff, huh?" She commented offhandedly.

"Yeah." Dar admitted, reluctantly. It was, to be honest, more than a little stiff. The joint had swollen up, and walking now caused bolts of pain to travel up her leg and into her groin. It was the pain that was upsetting her stomach, and she had to keep herself from grabbing onto Kerry for support.

They both paused at the landing, before going up the last set of steps, and looked at each other. Kerry wasn't sure later which one of them moved first, but somehow she'd gotten her arm around Dar's back, and Dar had put her longer arm across Kerry's shoulders, in a quiet surrender that surprised both of them.

"Thanks." Dar said.

"Anytime." Kerry replied, as she helped her up the stairs. The door opened as they got to it, and Colleen's friendly greeting cut off in a spate of outraged Irish tainted expletives when she saw her friend's condition.

"Good Mary and Joseph, Kerry.. what in the hell did you two do to yourselves?" Colleen held on to the wriggling Chino and backed up to let them in. "What happened to your hand? And you're limping, Dar?"

"It's a long story." Kerry sighed, as she helped Dar into her room. "Let me get things settled, and I'll tell you the sordid tale."

Dar leaned against the wall, and let her head thump back, shifting her weight onto her good leg and working at her belt buckle.

Kerry gently brushed her hands away, and took care of that, freeing the belt then unbuttoning the soft, faded jeans. "That coffee smells good." She murmured, sliding the fabric down over Dar's hips and letting it fall, then tangling her fingers in the soft cotton shirt and leaning forward to nuzzle Dar's chest. "But you smell better."

A soft chuckle. "Good thing we showered before we left." The dark haired woman remarked wryly, as she nibbled an ear. "Or you certainly wouldn't have said that."

Kerry smiled, kissing her lightly on the lips before she turned her attention to the injured woman's leg. "Oh.. shit, Dar."

Dar exhaled. "Yeah.. swelled up a little, I guess." She regarded her knee in irritation. The skin was swollen and tight over the injury, and colored a lurid collection of reds, blues, and purples. She pulled her shirt off over her head and draped it over the chair nearby. "Can you hand me my shorts?"

Kerry retrieved her pajamas, and handed them over, then knelt and gently touched her lover's knee, which was slightly flexed as Dar kept her weight off of it. "Dar, this looks really bad." She glanced up, irrelevantly enjoying the view. "I think you should get it checked out."

"Nah." Dar disagreed. "It'll be okay tomorrow.. just needs a little rest." She winced as she bent her leg enough to get her shorts on over the bad leg, then almost went down as she put her weight on it to get the other shorts leg on.

"D.. " Kerry stood quickly, and grabbed her, supporting her until she could manage to stand upright. "Now you look here." She snapped, reaching down and pulling her lover's shorts up, then snapping the waistband to get her attention. "That is not going to be okay… and tomorrow, you're going to call Dr. Steve."

"C'mon, Kerry.. it's not… " Dar stopped, as a white hot bolt of pain ran through her, and her jaw clenched. All right, maybe it was. She waited a moment for the stars to stop spinning around her head and sighed. "Okay."

A gentle hand patted her belly. "Good girl."

"I’m not going to the hospital." Dar warned. "I hate them."

"I know." Kerry quirked a grin. "Let's see what Dr. Steve says.. maybe he can take you first thing Monday morning at his office, hm?"

"Monday's out of the question.. we've got too much stuff going on." Dar countered.

"Dar." Kerry gave her a look. "All right, we'll talk him into meeting us at the office tomorrow then." She gave her lover a triumphant smirk. "I'm sure he'll do that for you."

Yeah, he probably would. Dar grumpily concurred. "Well, we'll see." She twitched her shirt a little straighter. "Maybe it'll be okay tomorrow."

Just like a little kid. Kerry put an arm around her waist, and hugged her gently. "Come on.. into bed. "

Dar resisted the tug. "I'd rather sit out in the living room for a bit… just to relax." She objected. "Besides, it's hard to eat ice cream lying down."

Kerry started laughing. "You do have a one track mind sometimes, you know that?" She relented. "Okay… you can listen to me tell our sad story…and I'll get you some darn ice cream."

The taller woman allowed herself to be assisted into the living room, one long arm draped over Kerry's shoulder. "I like listening to you tell stories." She commented. "You know that."

"Huh?" The blond woman glanced up. "What do you mean?"

Dar fell silent, considering her words. "I don’t know.. I think I need that coffee." She finally muttered in consternation, glancing over to see Colleen reappearing from the kitchen. "Thanks, Colleen." She sat down on the couch, and Chino stumbled over, climbing onto her feet and whining. "Okay.. okay…" She leaned over and picked the puppy up, suffering the tiny claws and enthusiastic tongue.

Colleen put a tray of coffee cups down and stared at Dar's knee. "Jesus Mary, you look like you were playing rugby or something." She sat down and handed cups around. "So..what happened?"

Chino wriggled loose and went over to greet Kerry, nuzzling her arm until she picked the puppy up, and cuddled it. "Hey puppy… did you miss us?"

Chino yawned, making a squeaking noise, then nibbled on Kerry's arm, as the blond woman tickled her tummy.

Dar settled back into the comfortingly soft leather and propped her leg up on the coffee table, sipping at her coffee and trying to make her body unwind. She'd gotten a little sleep on the bus, but that had mostly been riddled with strange images, and haunting scenes, that had left her more tired than anything else.

"Wait.. I'll be right back." Kerry said, heading off into the kitchen, depositing Chino on Dar's lap as she went. "Here… hang onto her for a second." She grinned when the puppy immediately settled down on Dar's stomach, and the dark haired woman shifted her position, stretching out on the couch and resting her head on the arm. "Been quiet here?" She asked Colleen, more to fill the silence than anything else.

"Pretty much, yes." Colleen answered, pushing her crimson hair back with a freckled hand. "She was a good girl.. except she managed to get ahold of a banana somehow and I had to chase her half way round the earth to get it back."

Dar smiled, and rubbed the puppy's head. "Did you do that?" She watched Chino cock her head, the soft ears flopping over. "Bananas are probably bad for puppies, huh?"

"Oh yeah." Colleen laughed. "Ours got into a bunch when she was a pup… and ended up nonstop pooping for a week." She glanced up as Kerry reentered, carrying a bowl, and something in her other hand.

The blond woman knelt next to where Dar was sprawled and handed her the bowl. "Here you go." She offered her the other hand. "And here's some asprin for the knee."

Dar balanced the bowl on her chest and took the aspirin, throwing them in the back of her mouth and washing them down with a mouthful of coffee. "Thanks." She set the cup down and rescued the ice cream from the interestedly sniffing Chino. "Hold on there.. that's mine."

Kerry chuckled and stood up. "You want an ice pack?"

Dar shook her head. "Nope." She mumbled around a mouthful of ice cream, watching Kerry as she returned to the kitchen, coming back with a steaming bowlful of something and a fork. "Col, there's more of this if you want." Kerry commented, waving the fork at her.

"Nope… had something just before you called, thanks." The redhead responded, with a grin. "Now, tell your tale, and I'll be on my way…the cats'll be glad to see me."

Kerry sighed. "Where do I start…." She gave her a brief explanation of what the trip was supposed to be for.

"Oh.. lord… they sent our management away on one of those, and a branch manager came back pregnant." Colleen responded. "Hasn't been another one since."

Dar chuckled. "I have a feeling we won't be having many after this either."

"Probably not." Kerry gave her a look, then chewed a forkful of her leftover sechzuan chicken. "Anyway, so we got there, and.. "

There was something soothing about Kerry's voice, Dar decided, as she sucked on her ice cream. Even if she didn't listen to all the words, the tone, rising and falling, getting louder to make a point, then dropping off, was as easy on her ears as Kerry's adorable good looks were easy on her eyes.

Monday, she knew, was going to be an absolute disaster. She almost wished she could just call in sick, but that would leave Kerry to deal with it, and that wasn't fair. Dar scooped up the last of the frozen treat and was about to lick the spoon, when the beseaching brown eyes gazing up between her breasts got the better of her. "Oh.. all right." She held up the spoon and watched Chino lick it clean, a tiny smudge of ice cream splotching her jet black nose. "You like ice cream too, huh?"

The puppy made an eager noise, and scrambled up, sticking her entire face in the empty bowl and smearing the chocolate all over her creamy fur. "Hey… hey.. "

"Dar, are you feeding that puppy ice cream?" Kerry sounded humorously outraged. "I can't believe it."

"Well, no.. that wasn't my intention." Dar protested, trying to get the puppy out of the bowl. "Hey.. get out of there..."

Chino finally gave up, pulling her head out of the bowl and licking her chops, then scramblng up and starting to clean Dar's face. "Aww… c'mon.. "

Kerry laughed. "I know you gave her to me, Dar.. but I gotta tell you.. I think that's your dog."

"No.. " Dar finally got the puppy to settle back down on her stomach. "It's not my dog, it's your dog.. she just likes to sit on me."

"If you say so." Kerry grinned, and went back to her story.

Dar listened for a minute, then put the bowl aside, and wriggled into a more comfortable position. She felt her body finally start to relax, settling deeper in the soft leather, and she decided to close her eyes, so she could concentrate on hearing the story.

"So then Dar just kind of cleared the decks with all of them, and we... " Kerry looked up as Colleen poked her. "What?"

The redhead pointed and grinned.

Kerry glanced over and saw her lover fast asleep on the couch, the puppy snoozing on top of her, both looking contented as could be. "Awww… " She couldn’t help grinning. "Wait.. I have to get a camera… shh.. " She got up and dashed upstairs, picking up the 35 millimeter camera on the dresser, and heading back down.

"Shh… she'll hear you.." Colleen whispered, watching her sneak forward and get into position.

"Okay.. okay.. " Kerry focused the lens expertly, wanting to get a perfect shot because she knew the flash would probably wake Dar up. She framed the taller woman's head and chest in the picture, along with the sleeping puppy, and pressed the shutter, hearing a click and seeing the bright pop of the flash go off.

Sure enough, sleepy blue eyes blinked at her, as she lowered the camera, then glanced around the room dazedly. "Oh… you didn't." Dar groaned pitiously.

"Yes, I did." Kerry grinned, clasping the camera to her. "You looked sooooo cute, I couldn’t resist."

Dar covered her eyes with an arm and sighed.

Colleen laughed. "Well, that's me signal to leave anyway.. it's getting late, and I can get the bits and pieces of the rest from you tomorrow." She stood and hugged Kerry. "Take it easy, you two.. and I hope the knee feels better for you tomorrow, Dar."

"Thanks." Dar gave her a smile. "And thanks for taking care of Chino."

The redhead waved, and trotted out the door, leaving them looking at each other. "You took my picture?" Dar whined. "Keerrryyyy."

"Oh, come on… the camera loves you, and you know it.. you could be covered in mud with a pig on your head and you'd still look fantastic, so be quiet, Dar Roberts." Kerry put the camera on the table and crossed to her lover, kneeling down and scratching the sleepy Chino's ears. "You ready for bed?"

"Is that a question or an invitation?" Dar responded, with a sly grin.

Kerry leaned forward and kissed her. "Does that answer your question?"

Dar curled an arm around her and tugged her down, returning the kiss with enthusiasm. "Oh yeah."

Chino yawned, then burped, putting her head down along side Dar's leg and hiding her eyes.


Kerry woke as the sunlight hit her face, and she blinked sleepily at the clock. "Mm… it's Sunday, and I'm not in some bug infested cabin in north nowhere… this is good." She was on her side, facing the door, and a long arm was draped over her, attached to the sleeping woman snuggled up behind her.

She lifted her hand and flexed it, making a face at the stiff soreness in her fingers. "Jesus… no one tells you doing that hurts. How do those guys on TV do it all the time?" She let her hand drop and put her head back down on the pillow, allowing the clean smell of the sun warmed linen enter her lungs.

It was funny. Most of the time, she still thought of herself as this young kid, especially at work, when she would walk into that huge office, and have to slap herself and say. This is mine. And then, here she was, waking up in this beautiful place with this beautiful woman wrapped around her, and damn it if she still didn't have to slap herself, and say.. "This is mine."

She curled her fingers around Dar's, and enjoyed the warm, living feel of them as they twitched against the bare skin of her stomach, and the gentle pressure of Dar's breathing pressed lightly against her back. This is mine. How did I luck into this? She turned her head and gazed at her lover's face, open and relaxed in sleep.

Trusting. The faintest hint of a smile there. Dark hair disheveled, and half obscuring one closed eye.

Which opened and collected sunlight into it's pale blue depths as she watched, and the slim, perfectly arched brow above it lifted up. "Something wrong?"

Kerry shook her head silently.

Dar snuggled a little closer, and shrugged, then let her eyes close again. "Good…I don't feel like moving." She muttered.

Kerry pressed back against her gently, letting her own eyes drift closed. Dar almost never slept in, and she suspected the previous day had taken more out of her than she was willing to admit, but if it gave her an excuse to laze around in bed all morning, was she going to complain?

Nu uh. No way. She loved sleeping in, and did it whenever she could get away with it. She wrapped her fingers more firmly around Dar's, and dozed back off.


Dar was very reluctant to move. She'd finally found a really comfortable spot, where her knee was gently supported by Kerry's muscular legs, and the aching had subsided a little, allowing her to sleep.

But an open eyelid showed that it was late morning, and she knew that at the very least, poor Chino needed to be taken care of. She eyed the still sleeping Kerry and grinned a little, enjoying the look of childlike pleasure she always had when she was dreaming. Slowly, Dar slid away from her lover and rolled onto her back,  straightening her leg out cautiously.

Ow. She exhaled in disgust. I really did it this time.  She eased the comforter back and regarded her knee with a jaundiced eye, noting the extended bruising, and the continued swelling of the affected joint. Hesitantly she drew it up, encouraged a bit when she found she could bend it a little more than the previous night, and the sharp pains seemed to have subsided to a continuous, dull ache.

With a sigh, she rolled over and got to the edge of the water bed, levering herself up and out of the warm comfort mostly using her arms. Then she cautiously put a little weight on the leg, and winced, sucking in a breath and grabbing the dresser.

Damn, damn damn. Considering, she limped heavily over to the dresser, and got into a pair of shorts by sitting on the edge of the bed. Then she rummaged in a lower drawer, and found an old knee brace she'd used back in the old days, when this stuff had been an everyday occurrence practically. "Well… it's better than nothing." She muttered, examining it, then slipping it on and adjusting it over the joint.

Standing, she found she could put a little more pressure on the leg, enough for her to walk, albeit with a limp, and she moved into the living room after slipping into a cutoff half sweatshirt. Chino heard her coming, and she started jumping up and down, whimpering until Dar let her out of the utility room. "C'mon, sweetie." She opened the back door, and let the puppy out, stepping out onto the back porch to watch while the bouncing animal raced around the small, fenced in area, and spent enormous apparent brain energy in picking a spot to relieve herself.

"Another example of human mental superiority." Dar told the puppy. "We don't waste time choosing where to pee." The cool air fluttered her shirt's ragged half sleeves, and brushed against the bare skin of her stomach, and she took a moment to breathe in the salty air as she stretched in the warm sunlight.

Then she ran a hand through her disordered hair and limped inside, followed by the eager puppy, who bounced all over the kitchen until Dar retrieved the scoop and dished out some puppy kibble. "Whoa.. whoa.. take it easy, Chino… chew it, okay? Don't choke." She watched the animal devour the food like an animated vacuum, chuckling as she shook her head.

Then she turned and leaned on the counter as she got some coffee started. "Let's see, Chino… do we have breakfast?" She opened the cabinet, and took down a bright blue box, shaking it gently. "Hmm… we sure do." Then she considered. "Hey..  what if I make your mom some breakfast as a surprise?"

Chino turned and looked at her, then sneezed and went back to her food.

"Everyone's a damn critic." Dar replied, with a snort. "Okay, so I'm not Julia Child… but I can make breakfast." She glanced into the refrigerator. "I'm sure I can.. I run a damn zillion dollar operation.. I can figure out how to use the toaster."

Chino barked at her.

"Are you laughing at me, Miss puppy?" Dar put a hand on her hip and glared at the animal. "We'll see if you get any treats from me today."  She limped around the kitchen and got out the bread and butter, with some jelly for toast. "Okay.. I can handle toast… what do you think, can I do pancakes?"

Chino's gentle brown eyes widened.

"No… you're probably right.. better stick to something easy, like eggs." Dar decided, pulling out a carton of them. "She likes them scrambled.. how many eggs do you put in for that?" She inspected the round, white objects. "Hmm… they look small… five or six, I guess, huh?" She pulled out the eggs and put them on the counter, where they rocked gently. "Okay… do we have.. " She checked the freezer. "Ah.. yes." She pulled out a package of frozen sausage. "Brown and serve.. already cooked.. that's good. I won't give anyone botulism."

The puppy barked, then wagged her tail.

"No comments from the peanut gallery." Dar pointed the box at her. "Okay… I need two pans, a dish for these eggs, and something to mix them up with. She peered in the cabinet. "No.. grits are a bad idea.. last time I tried making them I ended up having to throw the entire pot out." She chuckled wryly at herself, as she got the two frying pans and a bowl out. "Okay.. first, break the eggs."

She cracked the white shells, and emptied their contents in the bowl, careful not to put shards in there. "No.. Kerry gets plenty of calcium.. she doesn't need to get surprised by little crunchy bits of it." She took a fork and mixed the eggs, after piercing the yolks to bleed a sluggish yellow in their depths. "Do I put anything in them?" She looked at the spices doubtfully. "Mm.. maybe just a pinch of salt and pepper." She shook a little of both spices in and continued mixing. "Okay.. that looks good."

She put the flame on two burners, and let the pans heat up. "Are you supposed to put anything in these, I wonder? " She recalled watching a Louisianan cooking show on one of her last flights out, and remembered the chef putting half a stick of butter in a pan. "Oh.. right.. something to keep it from sticking.. okay." She limped to the refrigerator and retrieved the butter, then cut a healthy sized cube off and let it drop into the pan. It sizzled immediately, and spattered her. "Yeow!"

Chino barked, then hid under the table.

"Okay.. okay.. " Dar stirred the butter around, and watched it melt. "They don't warn you about that, do they?" She muttered, pouring the eggs in and turning the flame down. Then she dropped the contents of the sausage box into the other pan.

"I think I've got this under control, Chino. "Dar remarked, stirring the eggs with a wooden spoon. "Yeah.. there they go… out of the liquid stage into the jello stage." She paused and took a fork to the sausages, moving them around when they started to sizzle. "Hey.. that smells pretty good, huh?" She glanced down to see a puppy glued to her foot. "Oh.. yeah, I guess it does."  She stirred the eggs some more. "Ah.. out of the jello stage, into the fluffy stage." Triumphantly, she removed the pan from the fire.. "Yeow!!" She dropped it back down and turned off the fire hastily. "Damn it.. that's hot."

She rummaged for a pot holder, then managed to get the pan off the stove, scooping the eggs off into a plate. "Okay.. so far, so good." She turned her attention to the sausage, poking them hesitantly. "Well, they look hot." She rolled them over. "Oh.. brown.. right, I got it.. brown, and serve. That must be the brown part."

She let them continue to cook for a moment and stuck a few pieces of bread in the toaster, turning it on. "Now this, I can't screw up." She nodded briskly at it. "Kerry fireproofed the controls after that damned bagel set of the fire alarm."  She turned the sausages a few more times as the bread toasted, then added them to the plate of eggs, and caught the bread as it popped out." Hey.. we're doing good here, Chino… doing good… and I didn't even manage to… "

A gentle throat clearing interrupted her monologue, and she glanced up, startled, to see Kerry leaning against the doorway,  a thin t-shirt covering her to her thighs, her hair loosely disheveled around her face. "What are you doing?"

Dar felt a stupid grin crossing her face as she regarded her sleep rumpled lover, who was regarding her from under lazy blond lashes. "Um… "

Kerry entered the kitchen and glanced at the full, gently steaming plate. "Where did this come from?"

Dar held out the plate. "I made it." She announced proudly. "I was going to surprise you in bed, but.. um… "

Kerry broke off a corner of egg and nibbled it. "Mm." She gave Dar a look of delighted surprise. "Very good." She took the plate from her friend's hands and put it down on the counter, as her eyes traveled down Dar's body.

I've closed million dollar deals that haven't felt this good. Dar reflected, in a moment of quiet clarity. "I was just getting some toast." She shifted awkwardly and picked up the bread, feeling a warm hand on her bare side. "Hmm?"

"Tell you what." Kerry leaned over and kissed her belly button gently. "I'll take this outside, and you.. " She handed her the portable phone. "Call Dr. Steve." Her fingers dropped to touch the brace. "Okay?"

"Um.. it feels a lot better today." Dar objected hopefully. "Really.. Kerry.. it does.. this brace really helps."

Sea green eyes lifted and regarded her.

Dar sighed. "All right…" She watched her lover take the plate out to the balcony, and she limped behind her, grateful to settle into one of the bucket chairs in the salty breeze as Kerry returned to get their coffee and some silverware. She thought a minute, then dialed a number, waiting for the service to pick up. "Hello.. yes, please." She waited. "It's for Dr. Steve… I'll leave my number. " She gave it, and her name. "I banged up my knee a little yesterday and I just want to talk to him about it." She listened for a moment. "Okay, thanks." She hung up the phone as Kerry settled into her chair. "Happy now?"

Kerry speared a bit of sausage on her fork and offered it. "Dar, there's no sense in you being miserable, is there?" She watched her lover chew the sausage and swallow it. "What, no grits?"

"I know, and no.. I didn't want to push my luck." Dar informed her. "This was about at my limits."

A soft chuckle. "Well, it's very good.. I'm impressed." She took a forkful of eggs. "Nice and fluffy, and no shells… perfect."

Dar studied her hands. "I used to watch my father make them." She remarked quietly. "One of his few specialties and he didn't make them for everyone.. just people he really, really liked."

Kerry munched contentedly. "Oh.. so is this how I know I've been truly accepted?" Her eyes twinkled. "I get breakfast made for me?"

A pensive smile shaped Dar's lips. "I don’t' know… you're the first person I've ever made anything for." The phone rang, and she picked it up. "Hello?"

Kerry had paused, with the fork in her mouth as she sucked the tines. The eggs took on a new flavor, as she absorbed the words Dar had just said. This has nothing to do with food, and everything to do with Dar's willingness to accept her as a part of her life. As a part of herself.

"Yeah.. hi Dr. Steve." Dar leaned back and braced her foot against the balcony carefully, studying the bruised flesh around the brace. "No.. I… we did a little hiking upstate yesterday, and we had a little accident… I twisted the hell out of my knee, and it's turning all kinds of godawaful colors."  A pause, while the dark haired woman listened. "No.. no, no hospitals… it's not that bad, just a little sore." Another pause. "No…well, yeah." A touch of resignation entered Dar's voice. "Yeah.. it is… well, no, I can't." Much longer pause, during which Dar's shoulders slumped. "Okay… yeah.. no, I'll meet you over there." She exhaled. "Yeah, an hour's good… okay, bye." She hung up and gave Kerry a wry look. 'Well, he wants to x-ray it."

"Good for him." Kerry responded. "I think that's a great idea." She offered Dar a forkful of eggs. "We meet him there in an hour? Good.. I've been looking forward to meeting him."

A reluctant smile found it's way onto Dar's face. "He's been wanting to meet you too." She admitted. "Oh well.. at least it's just his office." She leaned back and let the sun drench her body. "What's the worst he can do, right?"


Dar sat quietly on the examining table, leaning on her hands as she regarded her knee morosely. Dr. Steve had done what seemed like a hundred or so x-rays, and was now off in his inner sanctum, doing whatever it is you did to make sense out of them. At least she didn’t have to wear that damned, stupid gown, since it was her knee, after all, and she was wearing shorts.

Kerry had, at her request, dropped her off and gone to pick up a few things they needed, promising to get Dar a treat for being so good, and to be back shortly to get her. A sound alerted her, and she glanced up as Dr. Steve came in, festive in his robin's egg blue golf shirt and Bermuda shorts. "So… how bad is it?"

"Dar, why do you always think the worst?" Dr. Steve shook a finger at her. "You are such a pessimist.. and where is this lovely paragon of virtue of yours?"

The dark haired woman studied her hands. "If you expect the worst, when less happens, you're pleasantly surprised." She informed the doctor. "And Kerry'll be here any minute."

"Mmhmm… well. " He stuck two of the x-rays up and flicked the light on. "Now.. tell me again how you did this?" He traced the area with his pen. "You have compression on the joint here, and here, and stretched tendons here and here…it looks like you kicked a car. You didn't do that, did you?"

Dar sighed. "No.. we got caught when a sinkhole collapsed… I fell about fifty feet, I guess… and landed wrong." She eased off the couch and limped over. "Anything break?"

The doctor studied the film carefully. "Doesn't look like it, my friend." He patted Dar's arm. "You got lucky… that could have been a bad one.. might have needed reconstruction."

Dar winced. "Mm… so what do I do? Just take aspirin until it stops hurting?" She limped back over to the couch and hoisted herself up onto it, to get her weight off the leg.

"Oh no.. you don't get that lucky, Dar.. " Dr. Steve chuckled. "I'm going to put a restrictive brace on you, and give you a pair of crutches."

"Uh uh.. no crutches. " Dar immediately objected. "I hate those things."


They both turned as a light knock came on the door. "Come on in." Dr. Steve called out, smiling as the door eased open and Kerry poked her fair head in. "Well, hello there." He beamed at her. "Come in.. come in… "

Kerry stepped inside and gave him a tentative smile in return, as her eyes flicked to Dar's face. "How's it going?"

Dar exhaled. "Kerry, this is Dr. Steve." She lifted a hand and waved at the doctor. "Steve, this is Kerry. "

"Nice to meet you." Kerry extended a hand, and returned the doctor's firm grip.

"Ah.. it's nice for me to meet you, Kerry… I cannot tell you how much." The doctor returned her greeting. "Now, perhaps the person who puts a smile on this stubborn cat's face will help me convince her to use a simple pair of crutches, eh?"

"Hey." Dar's brows knit.

"Dar, are you being difficult?" Kerry chuckled softly, and moved over to her lover, leaning against the couch and letting a hand rest on Dar's thigh. "What is it you want her to do?" She asked the doctor.

"Well, there's a lot of swelling in there, and fluid." Dr. Steve explained briskly. "I can get rid of it one of two ways… either we wait, and let Dar here rest and see if her body reabsorbs it, or.. " He held up a long, hollow needle.

Dar's eyes widened, but she didn't say anything.

"So I wanted to put a brace on it, to hold all the bits and pieces together, and convince my good friend here to keep off the darn thing and give it a chance to heal."

Kerry peered at him, then at Dar. "So.. what's the problem with that?"

Her lover sighed. "I hate crutches." She growled. "I had a broken leg when I was in college, and got stuck on the damn things for four months… drove me nuts."

"Ah..well, Dar… we're asking for a week here, hmm?" Dr. Steve coaxed her. "Come on now.. it's either that, or stay in bed."

A faint, elfin smile wrinkled Kerry's face and brought a twinkle to her eyes. "Hmm… " Then she chuckled. "Think of it as a strategic plus, Dar… if you show up on crutches at work, it's going to throw everyone way off their game."

Blue eyes regarded her glumly.

Kerry sighed. "Okay… then look at it this way… if you show up on crutches, and they annoy you, you can bap them over the head with them in the executive meeting." She paused to see the effect her words were having, and saw a grudging grin start to edge Dar's face. "It's just  a week."

Dar exhaled. "Well.. it'll give me an excuse to dress casual at work.. I'm not wearing a damn skirt and jacket with a brace and crutches." She finally relented. "They can just cope with it, since it happened on their damn field trip."

"See? There you go." Kerry turned and winked at Dr. Steve. "Now what?"

The doctor chuckled. "Lay down, Dar… I'm going to get that brace on, and give you a minute to get used to it." He went out, then came back with a sturdy looking white cotton brace, sliding it onto his reluctant patient's leg and positioning it over the injury.  "Lucky thing you keep these in good shape." He thumped his knuckles on her thigh. "I think that's what kept your leg in one piece." He tightened the straps and fastened the Velcro tabs, adjusting tiny laces on the side to make the fit right. "There.. how's that?"

Dar flexed her thigh muscles and lifted the leg up, then let it drop and swung to a seated position, bending the stiff supports with difficulty. "Tight."

"It's supposed to be." Steve told her cheerfully. "All right.. let me get some crutches…you like wood, or aluminum?"

"Wood." Dar replied absently, as she fussed with the brace. She glanced after him as he left, then her eyes met Kerry's. "I'm being an ass, aren't I?"

"Umm… no.. well… " Kerry cleared her throat. "I think admitting to weakness is really tough on you, Dar." She traced a tiny line along the fine, soft hairs on Dar's arm. "I know that bothers you, especially at work, and especially this week, which is going to be tough."

She was right, on all counts, Dar acknowledged silently. "Well, I'd better get used to the damn things a little.. can I interest you in some lunch and a short walk out on the beach?" She offered.

Kerry's eyes lit. "Sure…how about brunch at Joe's, then we can walk on the boardwalk a little." She'd developed a strong preference for fresh seafood since she'd started living with Dar, and now her mouth watered a little, as she imagined the buffet at the brunch. And, she virtuously decided, it was healthy for you.

"Sounds good to me." Dar agreed, as Dr. Steve came back with two wooden crutches, which he handed to his victim. "Let me adjust these first." She reversed the crutches, and loosened the wingnut that held the bolt adjusting their height, and lengthened them. "Okay.." She put the tips on the ground and stood up, fitting them under her arms. "Anything else, Dr. Steve?"

He studied her. "You want something for the pain?" He offered.

Dar thought about it. "No." She finally decided, with a pensive sigh. "I tend to rely on it too much… not a good idea." She replied honestly. "I'll stick with the aspirin."

Steve patted her side. "Good girl."  He then tugged on Kerry's blond hair "You take care of her, okay?" He took her hand, then stopped, peering at it. "And what did you do?" He glanced up . "You fall in that hole too?"

"Um… not exactly." Kerry rubbed her ear. "I..um… hit it on something."

"She slugged someone." Dar supplied helpfully.

Dr. Steve's eyebrows lifted. "Did you ?" He laughed in surprise, tugging her over to the light. "Here…let me take a look."

Dar's direct stare dared Kerry to protest, and the blond woman merely sighed and went along, wincing as the doctor's probing hit very sore spots. "Ow."

"Can you close your hand?" He asked.

"Um.. not really." Kerry confessed, moving her fingers as far as she could. "Just that much…it really hurts past that."  She found herself being led over to the x-ray platform, and heard Dar's soft chuckle. "At least I'm not arguing!" She called back over her shoulder as Dr. Steve positioned the machine.

They finally exited out onto the sunny street, with Dar maneuvering carefully with her crutches, and Kerry cradling a hand that now bore a thin, compression bandage her hand. "I had no idea a bone bruise hurt that much.." The blond woman complained. "It didn't feel that bad."

"It's nothing.. ." Dar mimicked, teasing her with a grin.

"Yeah, yeah yeah… " Kerry sighed, examining the bandage. "You have to wrap it, though.. it's the first one I've ever had." She wiggled her fingers. "I'm glad it was just a little bruise." She dismissed her annoyance, and glanced ahead. "C'mon… there are some nice, big shrimp over there calling my name." 

They moved down the street slowly, evading the Sunday crowds who were strolling up and down, most of the younger ones there to be seen, and most of the older ones there to do the seeing, some appreciatively, some shaking their heads in mock despair over the scandalous dress and demeanor.

Kerry watched the people around her, stepping aside as two very young and very athletic men sped by on roller blades, their short shorts almost revealing what religion they were. Kerry chuckled softly, and shook her head, then excused herself as she almost collided with two women strolling through the crowd. They smiled back at her, then let their eyes linger, and Kerry blushed a little at the approving looks, as she glanced down.

"Something wrong?" Dar inquired glancing at the retreating pair.

"Um.. no, no.. I just… "  Kerry tugged at her snug white t-shirt and adjusted the buckle on her neatly pressed shorts. "They.. um… "

"They were looking at you?" Dar's eyes twinkled, as she lowered her voice. "Don't blame them.. you look very cute." She let her eyes roam over her companion's body, and up to her braided hair, pulled back from her face.

Kerry straightened her shoulders a bit under the regard, and eyed her friend. "So why aren't they all staring at you?" She indicated Dar's faded denim cutoffs, and tucked in crimson polo. The taller woman had also donned a favorite baseball cap, which was holding her dark hair off her forehead, and directing the loosely caught pony tail out the back of it.

"Ah ah.. staring at a cripple's in bad taste." Dar smugly told her. "Relax… looking's a hobby down here.. don't let it bother you."  She maneuvered around a sidewalk café, actually sort of glad she'd gotten off the knee, which had started to really bother her during even the short walk from the car to the doctor's office. And a week really wasn't too bad, not if it avoided that damn, huge, six foot long needle. Dar shivered involuntarily.

"Hey you guys." A strange voice caught their attention, and they both stopped, to avoid crashing into a tall redhead accompanied by a shorter, ash blond woman. "How's it going?"

Ah… Dar shuffled her mental deck and placed them. The choir leader and her friend from the church. "Not bad, and you?" She replied politely. "We got the newsletter the other day.. thanks for sending it."

"No problem. " The redhead grinned. "What happened to you guys?" She pointed  at Dar's leg. "Car accident or something?"

"Or something." Kerry smiled easily. "Hi, Anne… that's a nice shirt."

The blond woman grinned back. "Thanks.. where are you two off to? Just browsing?" She edged out of the stream of traffic. Both women were wearing jeans and t-shirts from the Arts Festival the prior month, and seemed in good spirits.

"We're headed over to Joe's for lunch… then for a walk. Dar's trying to get used to her crutches." Kerry explained, glancing around. "What about you?"

Anne shrugged. "We were just wandering… mind if we join you?" She poked her companion. "Liz here was just saying she was hungry."

Kerry glanced up at Dar's face, trying to judge her feelings on the subject. The taller woman's expression was mildly interested, and she sensed no violent objection. "Sure… that'd be great.. you can tell me about that arts program the newsletter mentioned."

They walked slowly, in deference to Dar's knee until they reached the restaurant, and sat down at a table near the window, with a nice view of the water. "You hang out here." Kerry put a hand on Dar's arm. "I'll get you a plate.. okay?"

It went against Dar's grain, but even she acknowledged that trying to juggle a plate on crutches would be stupid at best. "Okay." She agreed, leaning back and stretching out back muscles strained by the unusual pressure. She gazed out the window until the other three returned, Kerry setting a plate down in front of her, then trotting off to get one for herself. Anne and Liz sat down, and settled napkins on their laps. "So, Dar.. what did happen to your leg?" Anne asked, taking a forkful of shrimp pasta.

"We were hiking.. got into a little problem with a sinkhole." Dar answered briefly, selecting a bit of cold crab and dipping it in mustard sauce. "How's the choir doing?" She asked Liz politely.

"Mm… it'd do better if I could talk you into joining. " Liz remarked, taking a sip of her sweetened tea.

Dar smiled briefly, acknowledging the compliment. "My job prevents me from committing to that kind of thing. " She explained. "And I get sent out of town a lot."  She glanced up as Kerry returned, settling into the chair next to her with a nicely loaded down plate. "Got enough shrimp there?" She teased gently, grinning when Kerry stuck her tongue out briefly at her.

"So.. " Kerry took a bite of garlic bread. "Tell me about this arts program of yours… there were some classes there I'd love to take…that oil painting one, for instance."

Anne launched into an enthusiastic explanation, and Liz threw in comments, leaving Dar to listen and consume the plate Kerry had provided. The blond woman laughed at some of the comments, and reached over to touch Dar's arm frequently as she replied, and Dar was content to offer brief nods, and short answers to the two other women.

"Ah.. Dar, I've got to get you some of these. " Kerry interrupted, waving a crawfish at her. "You'd really like them… here.. "She pulled at tail out, and dipped it in butter, then offered it to her lover. Dar smiled amiably, and leaned over, taking it between her teeth neatly and chewing it judiciously. "Right?"

"Right." Dar agreed, as they all laughed.  A motion caught her eye, and she turned her head, to see a photographer focusing on one of the tables outside, measuring angles and taking a picture. Probably looking for celebrities, the dark haired woman mused, with a silent chuckle, as she dismissed the man in khakis and returned to her lunch.


Continued in Part 4