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 4

By Melissa Good

"This is going to be a circus." Dar made her way up towards the office, with Kerry pacing alongside. "I think I'll make a sign saying what happened, and hang it around my damn neck to save me some time." The cold wind accompanying a weather front that had come through that morning fluttered against her leather jacket, which she was wearing over a pleated, cotton shirt tucked into very comfortable cargo pants. It had been one of the few bright spots of the morning, aside from Kerry's insistence on 'helping' her shower, and she was actually looking forward to appearing in the executive committee meeting as she watched her co workers fidget in their wool suits.

They went past the security guard, who waved, then did a double take at Dar, who just rolled her eyes, and headed for the elevator. "I'm damn glad it's early." The executive commented dryly. The trip up was quiet, as Dar leaned against the wall, and Kerry fussed a bit with her lapel, which bore a pretty, filigreed rose pin, with delicately traced leaves. "Did I mention how much I like this?" She murmured.

"About six times." Dar allowed a grin to cross her face. "You're welcome." They'd encountered one of the wandering artists down on the boardwalk after lunch the previous day, and gotten each other one or two of the pretty trinkets.. Dar's had been a rearing pony, which she'd saved to wear after she was off crutches. They exited the elevator and proceeded down the hall, with Kerry getting a pace a head to open the door as they reached Dar's office. "Well, here we go."

Maria glanced up as they entered. "Buenos Dias….Dios Mio, Dar!" The secretary stood up and stared at her boss as the taller woman maneuvered into the office. "What happened?"

Kerry walked ahead and opened the inner office door, leaving it open. "Rough weekend." She joked faintly, holding her casted hand up. "Ended up shorter than expected, as a matter of fact."

Dar exhaled. "Long story, Maria… let's just say be ready for all kinds of crap to hit all kinds of rotary air movement devices today."  She paused in the doorway and half turned. "In addition to the usual Monday disasters… I'm sure Mariana will be in here as soon as she gets in… we made a mess of things."  She turned back around and moved towards her desk, sitting down in her comfortable chair with a sense of relief and setting her crutches down on the floor next to her. She flipped on the computer and leaned back, hearing Kerry's low voice in the outer room as she filled in Maria on the weekend. Her mail program came up, and she winced, watching the new messages scroll rapidly down the screen.

It used to be fun, she recalled. She used to even look forward to Mondays, when most of the really interesting disasters lifted their ugly heads. Now… one ear focused on Kerry and she sighed. Now, she had other priorities. Her phone rang, and she punched the button. "Yeah?"


"Mariana. Good morning." Dar replied, lacing her fingers together and leaning back.

"Not very, it isn't. We've got real trouble." The personnel VP stated quietly. "The police are on their way here. Fabricini pressed charges."

Dar sat up and leaned on her elbows. "Pressed charges?? For what? I didn't touch him!"

"Not against you." Mariana replied. "Against Kerry. For assault. She broke his nose."

"Oh, you've got to be kidding." Dar snapped back disgustedly. "He can't be serious."

"Dar, I'm not kidding, and he is serious.. I've already talked to him, and he's not backing down. He's going to press charges for assault, and file suit against her for pain and suffering." Mariana's voice was very tense. "I don't know what he's after, but.. "

Dar gazed across the office quietly. "I do." She answered. "I know what he's after." She exhaled, then nodded once. "All right.. thanks Mari… I'll tell Kerry what's coming."  She disconnected the call, holding the knowledge inside her as Kerry poked her head into the office.

"I'm going to run downstairs for coffee… want some?" The blond woman asked.

"Sure." Dar mustered a smile. "I'd love some." She watched Kerry leave, then she studied the top of her desk for a few moments.  Fifteen years. Her eyes strayed to the gilded clock resting on the shelf across the room, her ten year marker. Fifteen years.  She took a breath, and dialed a number, waiting for an answer. "Get up here."  She stated quietly when it was, then hung up, and simply waited.

It didn't take long. Fabricini walked into her office, his face half obscured by a white bandage, and his skin covered with blotches, and smears of lotion. He sat down without being asked, and tossed a folder on her desk, with a quietly triumphant air.

Dar opened it, regarding the contents with an expressionless face, then glanced at him. "What do you want?"

He didn't even pretend not to understand her. "You out of here." He answered with vicious satisfaction.

Dar gazed quietly at him. "All right." She answered, very simply. "You call the cops, and withdraw your charges, and you've got it."

"Oh no, Dar… I want my pound of flesh out of that whore of yours." Steve replied, with a smile.

"You withdraw the charges, or no deal." Dar answered. "And you get counter suited for sexual harassment."

He kept her waiting for a long moment. "Do you know how sweet this is?" He purred. "It's perfect.. you're sitting there, completely helpless, and I'm loving every second of it." He paused. "All right, Dar… I'll leave your little piece alone…but I want you out of here today."

Dar glanced aside at her mail, which had just finished downloading four hundred new messages. "All right." She agreed, handing him the handset of her phone. "Call."

She listened to him speak charmingly to the police, then hang up. "Goodbye, Dar… it's been a pleasure working with you." He got up and left.

Dar closed her eyes briefly. Now came the hard part. She picked up the phone and dialed Mari's extension. The personnel VP answered immediately. "Mari."

"Dar…oh, good.. glad it's you.. listen, I was brainstorming with Duks, maybe we can find a way to.. "

"I fixed it." Dar interrupted her. "He dropped the charges."

Silence. "Oh.." Mari was obviously startled. "Well… I… I didn't think he'd back down, Dar.. I.."

"He didn't." The dark haired woman stated quietly. "I just gave him what he wanted." She took a breath. "I'm resigning."  A soft sound made her look up, to see Kerry standing in the doorway, staring at her in shock. "I'm going to put through the paperwork.. just get it thorugh, Mari." Dar finished, then hung up. "Shut the door."

Kerry did, then she came right around the desk and put the coffee down, kneeling at Dar's side and putting a hand on her arm. "What do you mean you're resigning?" She asked in utter confusion. "Dar, what's going on?"

Sad blue eyes regarded her. "The police were coming here, Kerry.. he filed charges against you for assault and battery, and filed a lawsuit for pain and suffering against you."

"So?" Kerry sputtered. "Let him! Dar, don't you tell me you resigned because of that… I'll… I'll…. How much trouble would I get into for punching him anyway? What are they going to do.. sentence me to  prison time for that? In Dade County? I don't think so… you have to kill someone to even be booked in jail here."

"Kerry.. I'm not going to have that on your record, have you go through all that crap with the police, and being charged, and taken down there… and go to court.. god knows he could probably get a jury to award him who knows what in damages….." She cupped the blond woman's cheek. "No… I can't stand by and watch that, knowing it was my fault… and I could have stopped it."

"Dar, you can't let him win like this." Kerry argued fiercely. "I'm not going to let you do it."

Dar sighed, and pushed the folder over to her. "We don't have a choice." She nudged the folder. "One of us would have had to leave anyway."

Kerry stared at her, then she opened the folder, her eyes falling on a stack of 8 by `10 pictures. Her and Dar. Walking, shopping… standing on the boardwalk with their arms around each other. Her feeding Dar crawfish. One striking photo that had caught her looking at her lover, with an expression even Kerry couldn't explain away as anything other than adoration. "Oh." She closed the folder. "Well, then, I'll leave, Dar… come on now, you're a lot more important to the company than I am… that's ridiculous." She looked up at Dar. "Cant' you call Les? Cant' you do anything?"

Dar studied her interlaced fingertips. "I'm not sure I want to do anything." She admitted.

Kerry stared at her. "So you're giving up?" She waved a hand. "After fifteen years, just like that?" She shook her head. "I don't believe it."

"C'mon, Kerry… I don't regret my time here, but maybe it's time to move on….it's getting harder and harder for me to keep the hard edge I need to do this." Dar pleaded with her for understanding. "Not without carrying that over into my personal life, and I really don't want to do that."

Kerry remained silent for a moment. "What am I supposed to do?" She asked, finally. "You don't think I'm going to stay in this hell hole without you, do you?" She stood and raked a hand through her hair. "I can't believe you're giving up and letting him win." She repeated softly. "I… "She shook her head and walked to the inner door, opening it, and passing through without another word.

Dar was quietly stunned. Here she'd been, being rather noble, she'd thought, in putting herself between Kerry and a bad situation. But Kerry didn't see it that way at all…. And rather than be grateful, she was disappointed.  Dar felt very confused, but didn't have time to consider her options before her door slammed open and Mariana came in, her face upset and angry. "You coming in here to yell too?" She snapped defensively.

Mariana stopped, and looked at her. "I'm here to try and talk some sense in to you… Dar, you can't just leave."

"Why not?" Dar propped her chin up on one hand. "Am I indentured?"

"Not… no, Dar, you know what I mean. " Mariana took a seat.

"No, I don't." The taller woman shook her head. "This is an at will state, I have no signed contract, the company doesn’t own me, and there is no reason why I can't just walk out that damn door." Dar stood, grabbing her crutches and pacing around. "It's what he wants, it 's what Jose wants, it's what Eleanor wants… god knows maybe I am standing in their way."

"What? Of course you are, you.. " Mariana spluttered. "Someone has to stand up to them, Dar, or else they'd wreck the company, you and I both know that."

"Why me?" Dar whirled, and poked a thumb at her chest. "That's all I do is be a target, Mari… no matter what I do, no matter how many fucking rabbits I pull out of my ass, no matter how many accounts I save, or how many points I made the stock rise, it's always still that damn bitch Dar Roberts… don't you think I get sick and fucking tired of it sometimes? " Her voice rose to a yell. "Now I've got this buttfuck asshole you hired who does nothing but give me a damn hard time, and I don't hear you saying a god damned word to him, now do I?"

Mariana stared at her.

"No no.. let's leaving to that bitch… she'll just give as good as he does, and shut him up… right?" Dar rounded on her. "Right? I have to stand by and put up with a blatant, personal attack by another employee, and you're telling me I can't walk away? Screw you, Mari!" Now Dar's temper snapped. "Why the hell didn't you bring him up on harassment charges? Or fucking insubordination?" She leaned over her desk. "Let me tell you something.. he's god damned lucky it was Kerry that hit him, because if it'd been me, he'd have more than a broken fucking nose for it."

"Okay… okay.. Dar.. calm down." Mariana held her hands out cautiously. "You have a good point there."

The dark haired woman turned and went to the window, leanign against it with one hand. "I know I do… I've been fighting all the battles here for so long, everyone else has forgotten how." She stated softly. "Well, you'll have to find someone else to fight for you."  She let her head rest against the sun warmed glass. "I'm tired of it."

Silence. "So.. this is just an excuse, isn't it?" Mariana asked, quietly.

Dar regarded the blue and green waves. "Maybe."

A soft exhalation. "What happened to you, Dar?"

It was almost funny. "I found out there was more to life than the next email, Mari." Dar snorted softly. "Unfortunately for the company." She turned. "I'm not going to stand by while that bastard attacks Kerry.. and since you wont' do anything about it, I will." A pause. "I have." Even if Kerry herself objected to her doing it. She just hoped the blond woman would forgive her.

Mariana leaned back in her chair and exhaled. "I know you think this is all my fault, Dar.. and I'm sorry you think that." She looked up but the taller woman wouldn't meet her eyes. "Maybe you have a point… I should have jumped on him sooner.. stopped some of that stuff when it first started.. I just thought you had it under control, and if I interfered, it'd just get worse." She paused, to give Dar a chance to speak. When the other woman didn't, she sighed. "By that gauge, I should have also stepped in and separated you and Kerry when I found out you were seeing each other."

Still no answer.

"But then, you should have done that yourself." Mariana continued. "And if you had, we wouldn't be sitting here."

Dar's face didn't change expression. "Go on. Put the blame all on me." The dark haired woman muttered quietly. "I already do.. and now, I'm doing something about it. So what's your problem?"

She didn't get a chance to answer, because the door opened and Jose barged in. "What is this I hear? You are quitting?" Jose asked, his voice incredulous.

"Yeah:" Dar answered. "You can cater the party, Jose.. congratulations. You won."  She typed a message into her mail program and sent it. "There.. I just told Les… that should make it final." She stood picked up her briefcase, slidng her laptop out and leaving it on the desk.. "I don't have much personal here. "She picked up her dolphins, and glanced at her fighting fish. "I'll see if Maria wants those." She dropped her badge on the laptop, and her pager with it.

"Wait.. wait.. " Jose held up a hand. "What do you mean, I won?"

Dar gazed at him. "Isn't this what you wanted? You hired a man you knew was an old enemy of mine, and gave him explicit instructions to find my weaknesses, and exploit them. He did. I'm gone, you won." Her tone was cold and mocking. "Congratulations, and good luck.. I hope you screw up the company so badly, they have to recall the entire office."

"I did not do.. "

"You certainly did." Dar shot back  "Want to see the email you sent him?" 

The phone beeped. "Dar, Mark on line numero uno." Maria's voice floated in.

"Thanks, Maria..can you call a cab for me, please." Dar asked, crisply.

"Si." The secretary sounded puzzled.

"Thanks. " Dar hit the button. "What is it, Mark."

"Northeastern backbone's down." The MIS chief stated. "They can't locate the problem."

Dar drew in a breath. "Find someone else to deal with it, Mark. It's not my problem anymore." She replied evenly. "Give em about an hour to choose someone to replace me."

Silence for almost thirty whole seconds. "Gotcha." Mark finally replied, then hung up.

Dar shouldered her briefcase, and glanced around. "Well, I'm going home." She stated flatly. "Have fun."  She limped over to the door and opened it, then went through. Maria was standing near her desk, her face rumpled in concern. "Maria… "

The Cuban woman came around the desk and approached her. "You are leaving? For good?" She asked, visibly upset.

"Fraid so." Dar replied gently. "Thank you, for everything, Maria… you're a good person… and I appreciate all you did."

Maria wrung her hands, then she stepped forward and gave Dar a hug. "God bless you, Dar… this place doesn’t' deserve you." She glared at Jose, who was just coming out of Dar's former office. "And you are a piece of caca. I hope God strikes you outside with a bus." She went to her desk and picked up her purse, then walked out, slamming the door behind her.

Dar quietly followed, moving down the silent corridor towards the elevator, which slid open as she approached. She got in, and turned, leaning against the back wall as the doors closed and it started to move.


Kerry got back to her office and sat down, staring at her desk for a long time without moving. "I can't believe she did that." She finally sighed. "I can't believe she did it without even talking to me about it.. like I was some kind of kid that needed protection or something."  She stood and began pacing back and forth.

"I can't let her do that."

Pace pace pace.

"I know she think she's doing it for the right reasons." Kerry sighed. "I know she wants to protect me from all that legal crap.. but what she doesn't realize is that I'm a lot more politically savvy than she thinks I am.. she forgets who my father is."

Green eyes regarded the window. "Right… so what in the hell am I going to do?" She drummed her fingers on her desk. "The first thing I need is allies." She regarded the phone, then dialed a number. It rang several times, then went into voice mail. "Damn it, Mark.. where are you?"

She was answered in a very unexpected way, when her door opened and Polenti slipped in, an angry look on his face. "Oh… you heard."

"What the hell is going on?" Mark asked, putting his hands on his hips. "Did she just quit?"

Kerry sat on her desk. "It's complicated, but essentially, yes… she did." She crossed her arms. "The question is, what are we going to do about it?"

"Hold on.. can we start with why?" Mark held up a hand. "Not that I'm not with you in doing something, but I'd kinda like to know what book I'm reading, much less what page we're on."

Kerry pursed her lips. "Bottom line? She did it because Steve Fabricini was going to make big trouble for me, and she traded that, for her job."

Mark looked at her curiously.

"I know… but I'm not going to let her get away with it." Kerry acknowledged. "So… first off, how much trouble can you cause him?"

Mark sat down and put his hands between his knees. "Trouble? Well.. I can boot him off the network, or reroute his mapping so he can't find his files."

Kerry leaned forward and caught his gaze. "No, Mark… not that kind of trouble. The real kind." Her green eyes glinted. "The kind I know you're really good at."

He cleared his throat, blinking at her in surprise. "I didn't think you…. Well, okay, I can cause him a lot of trouble, why?"

Kerry smiled. "I would like you to cause him as much trouble as you humanly can, okay?" She ticked off points on her fingers. "I'm talking credit cards, taxes, driver's license, legal, utilities.. everything."

Mark's jaw dropped. "You're serious."

She nodded. "I'm serious."

"Wow." He rubbed his nose. "You're nasty." He glanced up with a rakish grin. "I like that." He got up. "What are you going to do?"

Kerry's face hardened, and her eyes went cool and calculating. "I'm going to make them understand just how indispensable she really is." The blond woman told him, as she circled her desk and looked something up on her screen. "Let's see, where was..oh, okay.. yeah, there it is." She dialed a number on the phone, which was answered on two rings. "Yes, this is Kerry Stuart in Miami Ops..I need to speak with Les Roesenthal, please." She paused. "It's urgent." She put the call on mute. "Start with turning off his electricity, Mark…I like the idea of him walking into sentient mildew."

Mark grinned. "Yes, ma'am." He trotted out the door, closing it behind him.

Kerry nodded at the door grimly. "Mess with me, will you? You pitiful little excuse for a half baked dog poo."

"Excuse me?" A male voice asked, from the phone. "Didn't quite catch that… is this Ms. Stuart?"

"Sorry… I was talking to someone else." Kerry bit off an embarrassed grin. "Yes, it is.. Mr. Roesenthal? I think we need to talk."


A lone seagull circled over the beach, riding the warm air drafts. The soft hush and whisper of the waves was the only sound that cam to Dar's ears, as she sat quietly on the porch with her knee elevated on the nearby chair. Her head was resting against the glass, as she gazed, eyes half lidded at the gull.

On the table, a half finished bottle of sweet wine rested, a glass next to it. Dar lifted an arm and filled the glass again, then took a sip, rolling it around in her mouth before she swallowed it. Chino was sleeping on the tile near her feet, the puppy exhausted from her delighted antics at Dar's unexpected arrival.

The phone had run several times inside, but Dar had decided to ignore it, preferring instead to gaze across the horizon, and evaluate her options.

It felt strange not to be working. It felt even stranger not to be sure that the decision she'd made had been a good one, and not just based on a knee jerk reaction to a perceived attack on Kerry. She knew she owed Mariana an apology as well, but figured she could always call the Personnel VP at home later, off company time. She took another sip of wine and swallowed it, then glanced up as her cell phone rang. "Ah… I wonder who that is, Chino." She picked up the phone and flipped it open. "Yes.?"


Dar felt a gentle wave of relief pass over her. "Hi." Kerry's voice was quiet, and lacking the angry snap it had earlier.  "Sorry I took off without talking to you."

"Mm.. yeah, that was kinda disappointing." Kerry told her gently.

Dar didn't know what to say to that, so she kept silent.

"You at home?" Kerry asked.


"You're not answering the phone there."

"I know.. I'm outside on the porch with Chino." The dark haired woman replied. "So…they give you my office yet?"

A soft laugh answered her. "Well, since I just got  out of a meeting where I told two senior VP's to kiss my ass, probably that's not in my cards today."

"Mm." Obscurely, that pleased Dar. "Which two?"

"Jose and Eleanor… Mariana went home." Kerry replied. "And I'm out of here too.. since the entire division's on strike.. there's no real need for me to be here."

"Mm… that's nice… wait." Dar sat up. "What?"

"Must have been something in the cafeteria… fifty two people in operations, coincidentally, all got sick and had to go home." Kerry told her, blithely.

Dar sighed. "Kerry.. it's a nice gesture, but that's just going to get everyone in trouble." She informed her lover.

"Dar, I didn't ask them to do that." Kerry's voice came back. "I don't think you quite realize just how much these people respect you… Maria tendered her resignation, there are ten more of those pending including Mark's, and Personnel's been bombarded with official letters of censure against Fabricini alluding to everything from pick pocketing to attempted rape."

"Oh." Dar murmured.

"And his car got keyed."

"Oh." A different emphasis.

"And his tires got slashed."

"Ah.. Kerry… "

"And his electricity, phones, gas, and water got turned off."

"Kerry… ." Alarm now.

"And his credit cards got canceled."


"His auto deposit got rerouted into the Women's and Children's fund."


"Just kidding about that one." Kerry chuckled.

"Come on now.. you're going to get yourself in a lot of trouble." Dar told her, in an aggravated tone.

"Yes.. and I'm perfectly capable of getting myself in and out of that, Dar… I don't need you throwing yourself in front of situations for me." Kerry responded, just as seriously.  "I'm really pissed off that you quit because of me, you know that?"

She had no answer for that.


"Yeah." Dar replied quietly. "I'm sorry.. I guess I managed to screw this up pretty badly." She regarded the gull glumly. "Maybe I should have just stayed home today."



"I love you."

A faint smile twitched at Dar's lips. "I love you too." She paused. "Sorry if I overreacted."

"Apology accepted, if you forgive me in advance for trying to get you to change your mind."

Dar smiled a little sadly. "I don’t' think it's my choice now, love."

Kerry chuckled.

"What was that for?" Dar inquired, curiously.

"I'll see you in a few minutes." Her lover replied. "Bye."

Dar regarded the phone. "Now, what's she up to?" She asked a sleepy Chino, who wagged her tail.


Kerry keyed herself into the door, and shut it after her, hearing a scramble of tiny paws on the tile and smiling as Chino waddled over to attack her feet. "Hey honey… " She knelt and picked the puppy up. "Oo.. you're getting big, huh? Did you like having mommy Dar home today?"

"She discovered mommy Kerry's avocado on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator." Dar commented, leaning against the doorway in the kitchen. "I had to scrape guacamole off some interesting places."

Kerry laughed, and rubbed the puppy's stomach. "Ooo.. bad girl."  She stood and stepped over Chino, then put her briefcase down and walked over to Dar, sliding her arms around her and hugging her. "What a rotten day."

Dar hugged her back. "I would have agreed with you up until about five seconds ago." She felt  a quiet sense of relief. "Listen… I ordered some stuff up from the club… I figured it was a bad night to cook."

"Mmmmmmm.." Kerry buried her face into the fabric of the soft cotton shirt Dar had changed into "As long as I can eat it right here, that's great." She ran a hand up and down Dar's side, then hugged her again.

Dar basked happily in the warmth, the roiling chaos in her guts easing for the first time that day. She folded her arms around the smaller woman and buried her face in the soft blond hair, surrendering to a guilty need for her. "I'm glad you're not still mad at me." She commented softly.

Kerry patted her side. "I wasn't really mad..  I mean, I was mad about what happened, but.. after all, you did it for me, so… how mad could I get, really?" She tilted her head back and regarded Dar. "And.. um.. .I got to hear a couple of horror stories about the Dade County Jail from Mark's assistant.. who seems to have a really unusual number of stories about that.. and.. um.." She paused, and let out a breath. "What I'm trying to say, really badly, is that I'm glad I was spared that particular experience."

Dar smiled. "I'm glad too." She rested her forearms on Kerry's shoulders. "I didn't plan that.. but when I heard about what he did… " She slowly shook her head. "I just couldn't let him go on with it."

Kerry reached up and ran a hand through her lover's dark hair, enjoying the silky feel. "I know but.. " Abruptly she stopped, and felt gently at the side of Dar's head. "Hey.. "

Dar winced and moved away a little. "Ow."

"You still have a bump there. " Kerry persisted, easing her touch, and just running her fingertips over the lump. "Does it hurt a lot?"

Dar closed her eyes briefly, then opened them. "Aches, a little." She admitted. "Just like the leg… sort of a low grade annoying kind of pain."

Kerry peered closer at her eyes. "Dar, come over here by the window for a minute. "She waited for the dark haired woman to comply, then she stood on tip toe and peered at the clear blue irises. "Close your eyes." Dar did so. "Okay, open them." The lashes fluttered open. "Dar, your pupil on that side is reacting differently than the one on the other side."

"Mm." Dar nodded offhandedly. "Yeah.. I figured I might have rattled something in there."

Kerry cupped her face. "I think you should go get that checked out." She stated firmly, peering closer when Dar started to protest. "Dar, you've been acting weird ever since that happened."

"What?" The dark brows knitted. "What do you mean?"

Kerry sighed, perplexed as to how to explain. "You've just been different.. I thought it was the trip, at first, but even when we were home, you just weren't …I don't know.. just weren't yourself."

Dar considered that, then shrugged. "I feel fine… " She objected. "I just… " She fell silent. "I"ve been a little down, but… " She waved  a hand. "It's been a rough couple of days."

"C'mere." Kerry took her hand, and slipped a supportive arm around Dar, and helped her limp over to the couch where the both sat down. She took Dar's hands in hers and held them, gazing up at her friend, who looked back at her with open, almost anxious blue eyes. "Dar, do you trust me?"

The eyes widened a little. "Of course I do..why?"

"Please, let's call Dr. Steve." Kerry asked quietly. "It would make me feel a lot better if he just took a look, and said it was okay."

Dar studied her, puzzled. "But… " Kerry was serious, she could see that. And to tell the truth, the nagging headache was starting to get to her. "All right." She shrugged a little. "Seems  like a waste of time for a little bump on the head, but if you'd feel better…"


Kerry clasped her hands and studied the painfully clean tile floor in the waiting room at Mount Sinai hospital on the beach.  Their quick run by Dr. Steve's office had resulted in his demand for a CAT scan, against Dar's vehement protests, and it had taken all her considerable powers of persuasion to get her lover over here.

She exhaled, her fingers plucking at a seam in her pants. Dar had been in there for over an hour, and she was starting to get worried. Did it take that long? What were they doing… or was Dar fighting them, and that was why it was taking forever?

Soft footfalls made her look up, from her lonely vigil, it being after business hours in the outpatient radiation lab. A tall figure was moving towards her, with an oddly familiar bouncing gait. The figure was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, and Kerry had only seen him once, but she recognized him immediately. She stood up and took a step forward, stilling when he held a hand up.

"Hey there young lady." The raspy voice drawled, as he came near her.

"Mr. Roberts." Kerry whispered. "God, I'm glad you're here." She impulsively hugged him. "Dar's in there getting her head examined. "

He responded awkwardly to her physical affection. "Bout time… " He joked faintly. "What'd the little rugrat do now?" He glanced around then sat next to her. "Been here picking up some drugs.. spotted you coming in."

Kerry told him. "And I got in the act too." She held up her hand. "I thought she was acting a little weird… she quit her job today."

He coughed in shock. "Weird? That's more'n weird, little girl… that old chip off the block head scrambled her brains up all right.. what'r they doing for her?"

She sighed. "I don't know.. they've been in there forever.. she's probably having a fit." She curled her hand around his scarred one. "I hope she's okay."

"Hey, hey there… takes more'n a bump on the head to mess up my kid, I'll have ya know." Andrew Roberts reassured her awkwardly. "Ah… " He cleared his throat. "You really like her, huh?"

Kerry blinked up at him. "Very much." She exhaled. "She means everything to me."

Pale blue eyes very much like Dar's studied her. "That's good… that's real good… now don’t you worry, she's gonna be fine." He paused. "What'r they doing to her?"

"Cat scan." Kerry told him.

"Aw hell." Andrew fiddled with the strings on his sweatshirt. "When she was a kid, she fell off the roof of the damn house… we were scared she broke her neck or her back or whatever.. they took her in strapped to a backerboard, and when they got to the damn hospital the immobilized her with rods and all kinds of stuff."

Kerry nodded. "To keep her from moving, sure… "

"Yeah, well… it was busy..they kept her strapped down like that for… goddamn musta been sixteen hours or so..she bout went nuts with it.. almost tore the damn board apart trying to get loose." He shook his head. "She's hated hospitals since."

"Oh." Kerry felt a small puzzle piece snap into place. "Yeah.. that makes sense, I guess." She nibbled her lip. "Was there anything wrong with her?"

"Naw." He snorted. "Damn kid was part iron, part rubber."

Kerry smiled a little, then turned to him, searching out his eyes in the ruin of his face. "She loves you very much, you know."

His shoulders drooped as he exhaled. "Yeah, I know… she's my kid… I love her too."

Kerry studied the tiles. "You seem to take it for granted that parents love their children."

He was about to answer her, when the door swung open, and a nurse stuck her head in. "Ms. Stuart?"

Kerry stood up. "That's me." She walked forward at her gestured, then half turned to urge Andrew to join her.

But he was gone. Kerry sighed, and went on toward the woman. "Yes?"

"The doctor wants to talk to you.. and then you can see your friend." The woman told her. "Come this way."

Dr. Steve was in a small examination room, one wall of which was for looking at Xrays and other films, but it also had screens for displaying the cat scans. He was poring over one with another man, and he looked up as Kerry came in. "Ah… Ms. Kerry… good.. good." He motioned her over.

"Hi." Kerry paused and looked over his shoulder at the scan. It meant nothing to her, just a large blob, with lighter blobettes in the center. "So..what's the scoop?" She exhaled. "How's Dar?"

"Ah." Dr. Steve cleared his throat. "We had to give her a little sedative, but she's resting comfortably." He pointed at the screen. "Now… here's the problem.. that little bump there caused a fluid build up inside her head." He traced a small, semicircular area. "That's pressing on her brain, and making things a little fuzzy for her right now."

"Oh." Kerry tucked her hands under her arms. "So.. what do you do for that?"

"Well, we can do two things… we can let it try and subside on it's own, which, I might add, it does seem to be doing.. see here?" He traced a thin, dark gray line. "It was bigger.. now it's smaller." He studied that. "Or we can cut in there and pull the stuff out."

Kerry blinked. "Isn't that dangerous?"

"Honey." Dr. Steve took her hands in his own. "When it comes to the noggin, everything's dangerous,  you understand? Anything that messes with the gray matter can cause all kinds of problems.. from paralysis, to balance problems, to losing language… it's very delicate."

Kerry must have looked terrified, because he released her hands and cupped her face instead. "Hey..whoa..whoa.. none of that is going on here.. so take it easy." He reassured her hastily. "Take it easy.. she's fine, and I think she's going to stay that way, but, and I mean but, you gotta get her to stay in bed for a couple of days, until that goes down." He looked at her. "No bs, now, Kerry… she needs to stay quiet, and not raise her blood pressure up, or do any of that kind of thing."

Kerry took a breath. "Can you keep her in here? It's tough to make her just sit still at home." This changed her plans. Now she knew she'd have to go back into the office, and somehow keep things together long enough for Dar to get well. She'd been hoping a one or two day strike would… well…she'd just have to deal with it.  "If she's here, she kinda has to."

He sighed. "I could… but I think that would cause her more stress than just sending her home.. she's got a real problem with hospitals."

"I know." The blond woman nodded. "Okay.. I'll keep her quiet, somehow." She promised. "Can I see her?"

Dr. Steve nodded. "Sure… I just want that sedative to wear off before she gets up and leaves.. be about twenty, thirty minutes or so." He pointed. "She's in there… "

Kerry squeezed his arm, then she went through the automatic doors to a small antechamber, where she spotted her lover sprawled on a thin transport bed. For a moment, she stood there, just watching her, then she walked over and took Dar's hand in hers and chafed it. "Hey."

Slowly, dazed blue eyes opened, and turned her way. "Oh.. hey." Dar managed to get out. "They had to knock me on my ass with some stuff." She murmured. "Can I get outta here now?"

"In a few minutes." Kerry told her gently. "You have a bump on the inside of your head just like on the outside."

Dar took a minute to digest this. "Bad?"

"Mm…no… I don't think so… Dr. Steve says you just need to rest for a few days… he's going to let you go, but you've got to promise to be good, and take it very easy."

"Bad timing." A faint, wry smile slipped onto Dar's face.

"I think it's great timing." Kerry disagreed. "He said about a week….that should give the company ample time to realize exactly what it is you do for them." She paused. "And why they can't do it without you."

Dar shook her head a little. "Everyone's replaceable, Kerry."

"They can put someone in that office, but they can never replace you, and we both know that." Kerry replied, as she stroked Dar's cheek, then pushed the disheveled hair back off her forehead. "And I think there's part of you that really likes that job, isn't there?" She watched Dar's eyes drop. "Don't give up on it, Dar…we'll work things out… Les hasn't acted on your resignation yet."

Blue eyes blinked slowly. "How do you know that?"

Kerry smiled. "Because he told me so….he wants a chance to talk to you first. He's coming here." She kept up her gentle stroking. "He told me you're the heart of the company, and his most valued employee, and he'd be darned if he was going to sit by and just let you go."

"You talked to him?" Dar tried not to look flattered by the compliment, but couldn't help a tiny grin.

"Oh yeah.. I sure did… I called him and yelled at him for about fifteen minutes, in fact." Kerry told her. "I told him what pigs Jose and Eleanor are, and how I felt about Steve, and what happened over the weekend, and how it was a miracle you hadn't just buried him in a pit and left him there, and how I screwed all that up by not holding my temper."

Dar just stared at her, speechless.

"And that I'd be damned if you were going to be forced into resigning for something that I did." Kerry went on. "That it wasn't fair."

Dar's jaw moved several times before any sound came out. "What'd he say?"

Kerry's brow creased. "I'm not sure if this is a compliment or an insult, but he said we were a perfect match."

Slowly, a grin spread over Dar's face, and she started laughing quietly. "It was a compliment." She assured the blond woman. "Kerry, you're amazing."

"No I'm not.. I was just mad." She sighed. "I was angry, and frustrated, and I just didn't care what happened.. I mean, I was going to resign anyway, so I figured I might as well just get all that out of my system while I was still employed." She looked up, through the tiny, square windows in a pair of doors leading out the back of the small room. "Oh.. " She curled an index finger at the window. "I wondered where he went off to."

"Who?" Dar half sat up, then fell back as she recognized the hooded figure who slipped into the room. "Dad…"

"Shh..shh.. yeah.. hey, Dardar.." Andrew Roberts came over and ruffled her hair gently. "Damn nurses are crawling over this place.. don’t they have coffee breaks or nothing?"

Kerry watched Dar's face as she looked dazedly at the tall man. "Hey… Mr. Roberts, why don’t you come back with us.. and visit for a little bit?"  She offered, seeing a eager sparkle enter her lover's pale blue eyes. "It’s safe, and really private out there."

"Dad.. yeah… just for an hour or so… we could catch up." Dar added urgently. "I"d really like that.. and Kerry's right.. it's private out there."

"Hah." Andrew snorted softly, glancing around. "I know that… been out there twice, just to make sure things were okay by you."

"But.." Kerry looked confused.

"Hell, Dar… haven't you told her yet what the s in seal stands for?" The tall man rasped, hesitating a perceptible moment. Dar reached over and caught his hand.

"Please?" She asked, simply.

He glanced around again. "All right… I'll meet you two downstairs… but just for a bit, mind..I don’t… " he paused. "I don’t' stay in one place a whole lot a time." He squeezed Dar's hand before he released it. "Gotta make sure you get home all right.. what with your little eggs scrambled up in there, Dardar."

Dar grinned a little at the pet name. "Thanks… everyone seems hell bent on taking care of me today for some reason." She lifted a brow at Kerry, who stuck an impudent tongue out at her.

"Hey, watch that tongue before ya lose it, young lady." Andrew scolded her. "Allright… see you downstairs by the ambulance entrance." He gave Dar a pat on the shoulder and slipped out, looking both ways before he let the swinging door close behind him.

Kerry folded her arms. "He's really sweet." She remarked to Dar, who was cautiously sitting up.

"Ungh.. don’t' let him hear you say that." Dar replied, rubbing her forehead. "He'll have a fit…you'll wreck his image."

Kerry giggled, and put a hand on her hip. "Well.. " She drawled thickly. "The chestnut doesn't fall far from that there tree, does it, Dardar?"

Dar gave her a look from under lowered, dark brows, then she started laughing. "No… no it doesn't" She replied sheepishly. "Can we get out of here, now?"

They picked up Dar's father right where he'd said he'd be, and he slid into the back seat of the Lexus quickly, shutting the door after himself. "Damnation."

"What?" Dar asked, half turning in the passenger seat.

"Lived in quarters smaller than this damn thing." Andrew snorted. "It got a shower, too?"  He extended his long legs out and leaned against the door, letting one hand drape over the seat Dar was sitting in. "You get this from May?"

Dar cleared her throat. "No… bought this one myself." She admitted. "It was kind of a compromise between what I wanted, and what the company expected me to drive."

"Huh." He grunted. "What they got you doing now, anyway?" He paused. "Or did…lil kumquat up there says you quit today?"

Kerry almost steered into a tree. "What did you call me?" She asked, in a startled voice.

"It's a native fruit, Kerry. " Dar reassured her. "Sort of like an oval, miniature orange." She regarded her father speculatively. "As for what I do.. or did… " She shrugged. "I was involved in operations."

Kerry laughed. "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.. " She sang melodically.

"Kerry." Dar gave her a look.

The blond woman drove onto the ferry and parked, then half turned to look at Andrew. "She's the senior vice president of operations." She advised him. "And the CEO of the company is on his way here to beg her to stay."

"Heh  heh.." Andrew slapped his daughter on the arm. "You little cuss….I knew you'd kick ass at whatever you ended up in."

Dar sighed.

Kerry just grinned at her, glad to see a tiny sparkle returning to Dar's very blue eyes.


"Jesus Christ on a crutch.. what was that damn woman thinking of?" Andrew peered around the condo. "Last time I saw this much marble was in a damn mausoleum." He walked over and peered up at the space scape. "Bet that ain't hers." He turned to watch as Dar edged her way across the living room on her crutches and collapsed on the couch. "Tired, rugrat?"

Dar sighed. "Damned long day." She leaned back against the couch, glancing up as Kerry returned with a wriggling Chino. "Hey..."

Kerry let the puppy go and she swarmed up Dar's leg, whining  and squeaking until the dark haired woman picked her up. "All right..all right… "

Andrew gazed at her, the hood shifting as he moved his head. "Finally got you a dog, huh?"

Dar was vainly trying to keep Chino from licking the inside of her mouth. "She's Kerry's." She mumbled.

"Oh yeah, I can see that." Her father snorted. "I know you always wanted one." He sat down on the loveseat, patting the surface. "This is damn nice, rugrat… I'm glad you got a good place to hang your hat up at."

Kerry had gone into the kitchen, and now returned with the portable phone. "Mr. Roberts, can I get you something for dinner? We had something on order before we went to the hospital."

Blue eyes framed in the forest green hood focused on her. "Whointhehell are you talking to, kumquat?"

Kerry blinked at him. "Um… you?"

"There ain't no such person as Mr. Roberts. " He told her. "There's Commander Roberts, or Andy, or shithead." He paused. "Take yer pick."

Dar snickered at Kerry's expression.

But the blond woman rallied. "How about dad?" She countered quietly, meeting his eyes with gentle acceptance.

Now it was Andrew's turn to blink. He turned to his daughter. "Gutsy little thing, ain't she?" He marveled. "All right, kumquat… that'll do." He exhaled. "And if they got something normal as a hamburger, I'll have one of those."

Kerry smiled at him. "Okay, dad. " Her green eyes twinkled. "One hamburger, coming up."

"Hm." He grunted, then he looked up. "They got any ice cream?" Bewildered, he stared as Kerry burst into laughter, and had to hold onto the chair for support. "What in hell's wrong with her?" He asked plaintively.

Dar just shook her head.


Kerry beat the clock awake, and she carefully reached over and turned the alarm off before she half turned and regarded her lover.  Dar was normally a very light sleeper, but this morning she was still deeply asleep, her face totally relaxed and unresponsive. It had been the same the day before, and Kerry wondered if her injury had anything to do with it.

Well, Kerry had a few minutes, so she indulged herself in merely watching Dar doze peacefully, her face outlined faintly in the early morning gloom, only a faint, irregular twitching moving the soft, tanned skin Kerry twirled a lock of dark hair idly around her fingers and brushed it against her lips, absorbing the peace of the moment. It was hard to pull herself away, and she found herself fighting against the urge to remain here at Dar's side, to hell with the company.

Finally she sighed, and edged carefully out of bed, tucking the comforter back around Dar's body before she padded out into the living room, heading for her bedroom upstairs. She stopped short when she almost collided with a seated form on the floor. "Oh."

"Hey there, kumquat." Andrew Roberts uttered, in a low voice. He had Chino between his knees, and was playing with her, the delighted puppy rolling around on her back as he rubbed her belly. "Thought I'd catch a ride out early with ya."

They'd eaten dinner last night, and then Kerry had filled Dar's father in on what had been going on, and by that time it had been near midnight, so he'd reluctantly bunked over, sleeping in the spare room upstairs.

She'd wondered, briefly, where he stayed otherwise. He didn't seem to have a permanent home, not one he'd identify to them, at any rate, more like he lived in the shadows, appearing at odd intervals and crossing into their lives unexpectedly.

Kerry knew Dar wanted to ask him to stay for a while. She could read it in her lover's face, and in the wistful look as she regarded her father, but she kept silent, as though she were afraid if she pushed him, he'd just vanish again. Well. Kerry regarded the dim form before her. Maybe I can help that.

She settled herself cross legged on the cold tiles next to him, and pushed her hair behind one ear absently. "Um… I don't suppose I could convince you to stick around here today, huh?"

He glanced up and scowled at her. "Naw, c'mon now Kerry..  last night was nice, but I've got to get going.. and I.. " He paused, pinned by the soft green eyes. "Why?" He asked, warily. 

The blond woman exhaled. "Well…I have to go into work." She stated quietly. "I don't want to… it's going to be a mess, and I'm not sure I can deal with all of it, but I have to."

"Uh huh."

"And if I leave Dar here all alone, she's going to go crazy between being bored, and wondering what's going on." Kerry continued. "And that's not good for her… the doctor said she shouldn't get upset."

"Uh huh."

"And I'll be a nervous wreck all day, wondering what's going on with her." Came the soft words. "But if you're here, she won't be bored, and I won't have to worry." Kerry finished, her eyes settling on him in silent appeal.

"Y'all ever think of going into diplomacy, young lady?" Andrew Roberts queried wryly.

"It's the truth…I mean, you know Dar better than I do.. isn't it?" Kerry replied, reasonably. 

He looked down at his hands, the edges of the hood obscuring his ruined face. "All right." He finally responded, reluctantly. "I'll do yer babysitting for ya."

Kerry squeezed his hand. "Thank you.. I won't be all day.. I promise."

"Yeap.. that's a good idea.. you don't know what kinda hoohaw me and my kid can get into, we put our minds to it." Andrew warned.

"Hmm." Kerry's eyes crinkled up as she smiled. "I'll keep that in mind."

He nodded, and tickled the puppy. "She's a cute little thing." He commented.

"Mm… yes, she is." Kerry replied. "I think she likes you." She laughed softly as the puppy squirmed happily against his foot.

He scowled at her. "Don't you have to get dressed to go on into that place, or do you work in yer jammies?"

Kerry stood up and grinned at him. "I get the hint." She trotted towards the stairs, trying to psych herself up for the day to come.


A hand on her shoulder. Dar felt the shake, but her body didn't want to budge.


Part of her brain acknowledged the deep, raspy voice, and recognized it, but there was still a dark, heavy pall over her consciousness, and she fought the desire to slip back down into peaceful oblivion.

"Paladar, get yer butt up or I'm gonna slap it."

Uh oh. One blue eye slid open in startlement, and regarded him, then the other joined it as Dar rolled half onto her back, her heart pumping in erratic rhythm. "Dad?" She cleared her throat of it's hoarseness, and rubbed her eyes, trying to push the fog back. "Wh.."

"C'mon now… it's past ten hundred, and I've about cleaned every inch of this place." Andrew reached out a hand and gently tipped her chin back, regarding her face intently. "That damn stuff he gave you messed you up."

Dar felt her thoughts go skittering off and she took several deep breaths. "Think so?"

"Yeap… gets me the same way." Her father informed her. "Never could take drugs worth a damn." He patted her cheek gently. "C'mon, rugrat.. let me get some brekkers and java into you."

"Wh… okay." The dark haired woman struggled to sit up. "What are you doing here? I thought you were going to get a ride out this morning?"

Andrew sat down on the waterbed railing and folded his arms across his chest. "I was.. until your little kumquat turned those pretty eyes of her on me and asked me to stick around for a bit." He snorted. "Damn tricky kid."

Dar grinned a little, as she stifled a yawn. "Yeah.. well, she has the same effect on me. Don't feel bad."

Her father chuckled softly. "I noticed."

Dar found a smile winding it's way onto her face. "All right… let me go dump some water on my head… " She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and reached for the brace. "Stupid thing.. "

"Here.. gimee that." Andrew took the brace and slipped it on with experienced hands. "Think I still remember how, seeing as how I spent half yer damn childhood sticking some kinda bandaid on you." He adjusted the straps.

Dar leaned back and watched him. "Swelling's almost gone.. at least that's working out." She sighed, lifting her leg as he finished and pushing herself upright. "Thanks."  She stood up, and almost fell as a wave of dizziness washed over her. "Damn… "

"Aw hell." Andrew grabbed her hastily. "Hang on.. " He got an arm around her and lifted her up, cradling her like a child. "All right.. take it easy, rugrat."

Dar blinked, as her head finally cleared, and she sucked in a breath. "Okay… I'm all right." She rubbed her temples irritatedly. "You can put me down."

Her father snorted. "Yeah, yeah… " He walked out of her bedroom ignoring her protests, and finally let her down on the couch. "Quit yer bitchin, will ya? I've had to carry a lot heavier things'n you a hell of a lot farther than that." He reminded her. "You remember Moose?"

Dar settled back against the couch and caught her breath. "Yeah… I sure do…I used to think he was an alien.. never saw a human being eat as much as he did."

"Yeah, well… I had to carry his butt out three miles a couple years back.. damn near killed me. I made him eat Christly granola bars for three months after that." He sat down next to her and patted her thigh. "So don't you fuss at me."

Dar smiled again, and ran her hands through her hair. "All right." She capitulated. "Jesus.. What time is it? I wonder how Kerry's doing.. I'd better.. "

"Ah ah.. " Her father waved a scarred hand at her. "She done called about an hour ago.. she said, and I quote. "This sucks, but I'm surviving." 

The dark haired woman nodded slowly. "Damn." She chewed her lip. "I wish she didn't have to do this."

"Chill your jets, rugrat… that's one sharp little cookie you've got there… she'll do just fine." Andrew advised her. "I got you some eggs and hockey pucks inside." He stood up. "Sit yer butt there, I'll bring em in."

Dar stifled a yawn, and nodded, pensively staring at the table as he disappeared.


Kerry felt like she had a huge, red white and black target painted right on her chest as she walked into the building. She already had a stomach ache, and she hadn't even hit the elevator yet. She nodded nervously at the guard as she moved past him.

"Ms. Stuart?" The man said, leaning towards her a little.

"Yes?" She paused, wondering if he had orders to stop her or something.

He walked around the desk and came closer. "Is Ms. Roberts doing okay?" He shuffled his feet nervously, and looked around. "I know you guys usually come in together, so.. "

Kerry smiled warmly at him. "She's fine… thanks for asking." She reassured him. "Did anyone else from fourteen come through here yet?"

He knew what she was asking. "No, ma'am.. you're the very first. "

Kerry nodded. "Okay.. thanks.. I'll tell Dar you were asking for her." Her green eyes twinkled. "Wish me luck today."

He licked his lips. "Are you …" He left the statement unfinished.

"Oh no. " Kerry shook her head firmly. "But someone has to hold the paper bag up while everyone else jumps through it, you know?"  She knew the word would spread within minutes. "Dar asked me to."

He nodded. "Gotcha." He sketched a salute at her. "Good luck, ma'am."

Kerry continued on, riding in solitary splendor up to her floor, and exiting into a very empty corridor. Her steps took her to Dar's office first, and she used her key for the first time, letting herself in to where Maria would usually already be working. The outer office was somberly silent, the secretary's desk was neat as a pin, but missing the usual personal items Maria had kept there. Her cube of pictures, for instance, and the intriguing prism that scattered light over the room, a gift from Dar.

Kerry felt irrationally sad at the sight, and she ran a hand over the wood of the desk, swallowing down a surge of frustration. "This is so senseless." She picked up the contents of the in box, then she moved into the inner office, feeling her lover's absence like a physical blow. She noticed that Dar had left everything the way it was, even the fish were sitting forlornly on the clean surface of the desk, the light from the window catching them in flashes of blue and crimson. The only thing she'd taken, Kerry realized, were the dolphins she'd given her.

"Oh, Dar." Kerry exhaled, feeling sick. The laptop sat in silence, giving mute testimony of it's owner's abandonment. She wondered what had gone through Dar's mind as she'd given that up? It was the tangible badge of her office, really, giving her access into the heart of the company.  Giving her the authority, which now, albeit briefly, rested in Kerry's hands. With a sigh, she collected what was in Dar's inbox as well, and then stepped around the desk, and headed for the back entrance to her own office.

She could, she knew, boot up the computer in Dar's office and work from there, but she had no intention of sending that particular message. She even had Dar's passwords.. the ultimate expression of her lover's trust in her, and if she'd wanted to, she could have brought down mainframes all across the world with Dar's top clearance and access. But she had no intention of sending that message either.

She entered her office and put the papers down, reaching over and booting up her computer, then grabbing her coffee cup and trudging across the hallway to get some coffee.

Her back was to the door, and she didn't see who entered, but it also gave her a moment to decide on her response when the newcomer greeted her.

"Kerry." Mariana's voice sounded very tired.

The blond woman turned, and took a breath. "Hi."

"I didn't expect to see you here." The Personnel VP told her honestly. "How's Dar?"

Kerry took a sip of her coffee. "She's all right… taking it easy at home." She paused. "She tried to call you last night."

The other woman sighed, and leaned back against the wall. "I went out and got drunk." Mariana admitted. "I saw her number on the caller id.. I was going to call her back today." She looked at Kerry. "You know Les has put a hold on her resignation."

"Yes, I know." Kerry answered quietly. "I spoke to him." She exhaled, "Let's go into my office a minute." She followed Mari into the room and closed the door. "Look.. I don't know what's going to happen… " She began.

"He's on his way here, Kerry." Mariana told her wearily. "And he's very upset."

"I know." Kerry responded. "I talked to him for about an hour yesterday.. I told him everything… about Jose.. about Eleanor.. and about that pig bastard." She sat on the edge of her desk. "And I told him it was all my fault."

"Your fault?" Mariana started forward. "Kerry, what in blazes are you talking about? What do you mean it's your fault?"

"I lost it." The blond woman gazed at her. "I… lost… it… Dar went all that time without giving in to his harassment… not a word from her.. and she could have wiped the camp with him." She told Mari. "And I blew it… I blew it, because I couldn't keep the lid on when he needled me." She put her coffee down and got up to pace. "Without that, he's got nothing, nothing, Mari.. even with those stupid pictures, he still has nothing.. but with that… he had enough to.. " She stopped, and leaned on the window's cool glass. "He hit Dar in her one weak spot." She concluded softly. "Me."

Mariana slowly sat down in one of the visitor's chairs. "No." She disagreed quietly. "Oh, yes, I mean sure.. you're right, but he never should have gotten that far, Kerry." She leaned on her elbows. "Dar was right…I should have stopped it."

The woman looked like a truck had driven over her. Kerry sighed. "Well, no sense crying over spilt milk, they always say. " She turned and regarded her mail, wincing at the pages and pages of urgent marked messages. "Let's see what happens when Les gets here…I know he considers Dar a very valuable employee."

"That he does." Mariana agreed. "She's really come through for him on a number of occasions…she's really come through for all of us, and that's why this whole thing is so.. disgusting."

Kerry regarded her hands, folded on the desk. "You said you should have stopped it.. why didn’t you?"

The older woman glanced at the carpet. "I spent half the night thinking about that." She admitted. "And the conclusion I came to was that we're all so used to Dar doing the dirty work.. taking the hits and drawing the fire to herself that we've all gotten to be… " She paused. "It was easier just to stand back and let her go at him…I never thought for a minute he'd ever get even a step up on her… he's so out of her league."

Kerry nodded, accepting that. "I was hoping that was the case… " She said softly. "I was hoping it wasn't just that everyone was standing back and letting her take a fall." She glanced up at Mariana's startled expression. "She once told me.. that everyone she'd ever trusted in business had turned on her…and last night, before we went to sleep, she told me if I… if it turned out that I saw everyone here….celebrating… her leaving, that I shouldn't feel bad about it."

A soft exhale. "Kerry, I think you know that's not true." Mari spread her hand out. "You've got a dozen empty offices to prove it." She stated. "You've got a division in pieces,  the CEO headed out on the first flight… Duks wouldn’t even come in today, hell.. I only came in because I can't avoid it.. all the stuff that's going to hit the fan is going to hit MY fan…for god's sake, most people don’t hate her."

"I know." The blond woman acknowledged  softly. "But, I guess.. the few that do are so much more vocal, it seems that way sometimes."  She turned a pencil over in her hands. "When I started.. that's all I heard for the first few weeks.. was what a horrible bitch she was."

Mariana sucked on her lower lip.

"I had to find out for myself how wrong they were." Kerry sighed. "But most people don’t get that chance."

"She doesn't make it easy." Mari stated quietly. "She keeps everyone at arm's length, Kerry.. even Duks and I, and we've been friends for years." She sighed. "Even Mark…whom everyone knows is hopelessly in love with her."

Kerry's lips tensed into a faint smile. "You know, I never saw her like that, so…I mean, I knew she had a tough side, because I saw that right off,  but there was always something… I don't know.. I could always just see there was more to her than the alpha bitch."

"Well." Mariana gave her a wry look. "You had a mitigating circumstance, as the lawyers like to say." She pondered that. "But I see your point.. if this does work out all right, I think we need to change the way some things are handled.. do some workgroup things to try and reduce some of the stress and the infighting." 

Kerry accepted that. "Well, we'll see…and even if she does reconsider, she won't be back this week."

Mari's eyebrows knit. "Her leg that bad? I thought… "

Kerry sighed and played with her pencil.  "No… I had to take her to the hospital last night… she has a concussion.. and internal swelling inside her skull." She admitted.

"Good god… is she okay?" Mari was genuinely concerned. "That could be.. "

"Dangerous.. yeah." The blond woman nodded quietly. "She's all right… she's taking it easy.. I've got someone there to keep her company. " She glanced up. "So.. it's just me. I've got no support staff, I don’t' have her experience, and if I get one bit of crap from across the hall  I'm going to walk out of here."

Mari stood. "I'll go talk to them." She stated quietly. "I think they'll be so glad to see you, they wont' say peep one, but I'll make sure of that."

Kerry's phone rang, and she watched the keypad indicating it was a forwarded call from Dar's office. "Here we go." She punched the button. "Operations, Stuart."

"This is John Adams in Providence… we've had an order pending for a new circuit for a week.. what the hell's going on down there!"

Kerry sighed inwardly, giving Mariana a look. "Just a moment.. what's your account ID?" She typed in a number and started to work.


They were both a little nervous, and a little tongue tied, Dar realized, as they sat quietly, her stretched out on the couch with Chino on her stomach, and him on the love seat, his back to the window and his face thrown into shadows by his sweat suit hood. Well, neither of them were real conversationalists… but someone had to start things. "You.. have a place to stay?" She asked, quietly, nursing a tall glass of chocolate milk.

"Couple of em." Her father answered. "This place, that place.. you know." He regarded her in silence for a moment. "I do a few little things here and there.. they give me this card.. " He pulled a small folder from his waist pocket and displayed an innocuous looking silver plate that looked like a credit card. "I just put everything on that.. they take care of it."

Dar nodded slowly. "Because of mom?" She hazarded a guess, remembering the sometimes obscure, sometimes unfathomable ways of the government.

"Yeap." He tucked the folder away. "She's got my pension.. the benefits...that's how I want it. They take care of me." His voice seemed to end that line of questioning.

All right, round two. Ding ding.  Dar nodded again, playing with one of Chino's soft ears. Then she looked up and studied his face, regarding the scars that twisted the flesh into an almost unrecognizable mask thoughtfully. "What happened?" She paused. "If you can say." Then she just waited.

He thought for a long time. "Just a gig that went bad." he finally said, almost emotionlessly. "We went in to check out some stuff we'd heard about a chemical weapon... it was a setup... three guys died, and I ended up wishing I'd been one of em."

Dar considered that. Talking about emotions and feelings was something they were both just plain bad at, and she knew it, but.. "I'm only going to say this one time." She stated, softly. "Mom wouldn't give a damn about what you look like."

He studied his hands in the silence. "I know that." He admitted, falling silent for  a bit. "She didn't want me to go this time." He finally added quietly. 

"I remember." Dar quietly exhaled. "But I thought... " They'd worked things out.. at least, that was how it had appeared to Dar… her mother upset, yes, but supportive as always.

"Yeap, well... she done told me if I went, she wouldn't be there when I got back." Andrew replied, flatly. "Said that was my choice." He blinked a few times, his eyes moving restlessly in his scarred face.

Dar was truly shocked. "She wouldn't have left you."

Pained blue orbs lifted to hers. "Wasn't her leaving.. it was me, the way she looked at it."  He swallowed. 'She was right, rugrat.. it was my choice... and I chose to go." He took a breath. "Thought I could work things out when I got back. "

Dar absorbed it. "She was just trying to get you to stay." She finally said. "She was afraid for you.. she was afraid of losing you." She protested. "She would have been there when you got back, and you know it."

His eyes closed. "I like to think that." His voice was quiet and sad. "It's this little game I play with my head.. keeps me from going nuts and just takin a dive off a bridge somewhere." His voice was lightly ragged.

"Dad.. why don't you call her?" Dar leaned forward, willing him to listen. "You can go home… she'd understand… I know it."

A very tired sigh. "I can't." He answered softly. "Cause then I'd know.. y'see? And if she didn't...if she meant that, or if she... " An agonizing pause. "I can't face it, Dar...I can't live with that.. you understand me?" He pleaded softly. "I can't face knowing that she doesn't.." He just stopped, his throat working audibly.

Dar let out her held breath in a pained trickle. "Oh, daddy." She murmured.

He sighed. "Doesn't make much sense to you, I reckon." He rubbed an impatient hand over his eyes. "Damn."

She gazed at him in bleak understanding. "Yes it does."

Andrew absorbed this for a long, pensive moment, then he looked up at his daughter. "Somebody hurt my little girl?" A hint of cool danger entered his voice. He waited a beat, watching her jaw clench and relax.

Dar shook her head in long remembered pain. "Water under the bridge, daddy…let's just say I went after what you and mom had, and I thought I'd found it." She told him quietly. "And I was wrong." Her first time.. all bright eyed, and bushy tailed.. and so sure she'd put her heart in the right place.

Her senior year in college, and everything had looked wonderful… good grades, good prospects in the company she'd been working for then for four years, and a delirious, exciting dive into love that had left her giddy, and sure she'd found her one and only.


Four months of happiness, followed by two of hell as it all unraveled, and her nightmares were filled with a mocking voice which told her just how inadequate she was. She had no real recollection of even graduating, though brute, raw talent and intelligence had allowed her to maintain an honors grade level. "You're an uncultured, crude, mediocre person who'll spend their whole life as a middle manager dreaming about would have beens."

And a raw, newly exposed part of her had almost believed that.

A nightmare of depression, and alcohol and hopelessness  had followed that, leading to a night under a bridge, and a gun, and a moment of self hatred so intense she could still feel it.

She still didn't know what had stopped her. Only that she'd woken up under the bridge the next morning, and looked out onto a new day, and decided she wasn't quite finished with living yet.

There was revenge to be had.

It had taken a few years, but she'd felt oh, so very satisfied when all the pieces had fallen into place, and the company had acquired a prestigious consulting firm. And newly made regional manager Dar Roberts had wielded the decision knife and neatly sliced off the design and research wing, calling it…


Headed up by her former lover.

Dar had signed the termination papers personally, and she'd enjoyed it immensely. Just like she had the expression on Shari's face when she handed them over.

Along with her card.

Have a nice day.

"I… kinda gave up on it after that." Dar dismissed her memories.

"Um." Her father grunted. "Till now." He glanced up shrewdly at her. "Cause I don't know how you feel about her, but that little green eyed gal's lost her mind gone for you, rugrat."

Dar smiled, wistfully. "Until now." She acknowledged. "When I met Kerry, I realized I finally really had found the real thing." Her eyes found her father's. "So I do understand, daddy."

He walked over and sat down next to her, and they regarded each other in comfortable silence.


The phone buzzed, for the thousandth time it seemed, and Kerry looked up at it, as she rested her head on one hand. "No, no, I don't know, no, it's not ready yet, I have no idea, no, she didn't tell me, no, and no." She muttered, then pressed it. "Operations, Stuart."


It was like a tongueful of ambrosia. Kerry found s smile working it's way onto her face before the syllables even faded and she let out a soft sigh. "You have no idea how good it feels to hear a friendly voice."

"Mm.. rough, huh?" Dar rumbled softly through the speaker. "How's it going?"

"Sucks." Kerry rubbed her eyes. "I feel like I've been dragged behind a dump truck hauling chicken poop all day." She replied. "Les is here…he's been in meetings with Mari, and the others for a couple of hours."  She paused. "How are you feeling?"

"Eh." Dar answered. "I slept late.. felt washed out all day. Dad and I talked for a while.. then we had some lunch… now we're watching Crocodile Hunter." She hesitated. "Thanks.. by the way.. for asking him to stick around."

Kerry smiled, and tapped a pencil against her upper lip. "Thought you might like the company." She replied quietly, then glanced up as her phone buzzed. "Hold on a minute. " She put Dar on hold, and picked up her other line. "Operations."

"Ms. Stuart." Les's voice sounded quiet, and rather grim.

"Yes, that's me." Kerry answered, feeling her stomach drop. "What can I do for you?"

"We're having a meeting in the executive conference room.. could you come over, please?"

"Sure." Kerry replied evenly. "Be right there." She hung up, then took a breath before she picked up the other line. 'Hi."

"Bad news?" Dar inquired.

"Don't know… that was Les… they want me up in the big conference room." Kerry told her. "Look.. the worst they could do is fire me, Dar… and like… whoop, you know?" She shook her head a little. "After today, I'd probably thank him."

"Mm." Dar considered that. "Relax, be honest, don't let him rattle you." She instructed Kerry gently. "Keep your head up.. you've only ever done good for the company, Kerry."

She felt herself calm with the words. "All right.. I think I can do that." She answered. "But if he or anyone else starts trashing you, they're toast."

A soft chuckle answered her. "That's my Kerry."

The blond woman grinned. "You bet your boots I am." She stood up and straightened her collar, then donned her jacket. "Wish me luck." She sighed. "I'll call you one way or the other when I get out of there."

"Good luck." Dar answered, obediently. "I'm with you."

Green eyes twinkled gently in the afternoon sunlight. "I know." She replied. "Talk to you later." She hung up, and ran a hand through her hair. "All right…let's go."

It was a short walk to the conference room, and she gathered her wits, along with the knowledge of Dar's confidence in her as she reached the door, and knocked lightly on it.

"Come." The voice inside sounded, and she pushed the handle down, pulling the door towards her and walking inside, to a room where the hostility was so think, it was almost like a smoke pall. Jose, Eleanor, and Steve were there, as was Mariana, and of course, Les.  Kerry lifted her chin a bit, then walked across the carpet to the end chair, directly across from the CEO, resting her hands on the back of it and regarding them coolly.

"Sit down, Ms. Stuart." Les told her, courteously, his eyes regarding her with interest.

Kerry took the end chair, the one Dar usually sat in, and settled into it, folding her hands on the table and cocking her head in a listening attitude.

She waited, patiently. Make them talk first, Dar had advised her. Let them lay their end on the line before you do.

"Well. We've got quite a mess here." Les cleared his throat and started.

"Yes, we do." Kerry agreed mildly. "I've done pretty much all I can, considering the circumstances."

'That's bullshit!" Steve stood up. "You haven't done squat except for screw things.."

"Shut up." Kerry snapped at him. "You clueless, spineless, useless piece of wannabee macho pissant." She caught the Les' gray eyebrow rising across the table, and she stood up, feeling the blood pump through her. "I haven't seen a more useless collection of people in my life."

"Hey, you can't." Jose stood and challenged her.

"Sure I can." Kerry responded hotly. "You people couldn’t find your way out of a paper bag unless Dar wrote directions on the inside of it, and you've got the balls to be in here criticizing a situation that's your DAMN FAULT." Her voice rose to a yell, all the anger she'd been holding in for two days boiling out.

"We didn’t ask her to quit!" Jose responded.

"Oh, but is that what you were after?" Kerry countered, leaning forward on her hands. "Or else why hire someone with the specific intent to go against her?" She pointed at Steve, who was seething at his side. "Someone who had written instructions from YOU" She pointed at Jose. "To "find that bitch's weak spot and put a knife into it.".. wasn't that the quote?"


"Well. You got what you wanted." Kerry continued. "And now the problem is everyone knows the only thing that kept the damn company running was her. You sure can't." A long pause. "I can't… after one day, I can't imagine how in the hell she managed to put up with all this for so long."

Jose stared at Mariana, who was chewing on a pencil. " You're going to let her get away with that?"

The Personnel VP shrugged. "EEOC, Jose.. I let Mr. Fabricini get away with saying worse about Dar to her face… I have no leg to stand on to stop Ms. Stuart from speaking her mind."

"That's just because you and she are thick as thieves.. " Eleanor stated hotly. "No wonder we can't get anything done…"

"Excuse me." Les barked.

Everyone looked at him in silence. "Thank you." He adjusted his tie. "I would like everyone to excuse themselves with the exception of Ms. Stuart." He paused. "Now."

In silence they filed out, avoiding Kerry's gaze with the exception of Mariana, who patted her shoulder as she passed. 

The sound of the door closing behind them sounded unbelievably loud to Kerry, but she didn't react to it, sitting down instead and folding her hands on the table.

Les regarded her across the entire length of the conference table, then he stood up, and walked around to where she was, perching on the edge of the wooden surface and crossing his arms over his chest. "That was gross insubordination, Ms. Stuart." He remarked coolly.

"I know." Kerry replied, looking up at him. "I hear that runs in my department."

Les Roesenthal had grayish blue eyes, almost as striking as Dar's. Right now, they were regarding her with the faintest hint of… something. "Your former boss was not known for a being a team player."

Former. Kerry felt a little sad. "No.. it's just that she refuses to play on a losing team." She  replied.

He nodded a little. "I have her position to fill, Ms. Stuart… you're smart, you're sharp.. I think you'd do well in it." 

Kerry gazed at him. "Respectfully, sir… I wouldn't work for someone who allowed someone like her leave without just cause."

He cocked his head. "I belive that's the most politely put 'kiss my ass' I've ever heard, Ms. Stuart." Les remarked. "So you don't want the job? It comes with a nice raise.. good perks.. a big advancement for someone your age and experience level."

The green eyes glinted dangerously. "I guess I didn't explain myself." Kerry cleared her throat. "Kiss my ass." She paused. "Sir."

The CEO rubbed his jaw, then got up off the desk and pulled the chair next to her out, sitting down in it so they were knee to knee. "You know, Ms. Stuart… when you first got brought on board, I thought Dar was nuts." He twiddled his fingers together. 'I had no idea what she was up to, but I let her go ahead with it because I trust her judgment." He paused reflectively. "She's earned that trust."

Kerry remained quiet, merely watching his face intently.

"You think you can get me an audience with her?" Now the blue gray eyes took on the faintest hint of a twinkle.

The blond woman glanced down at the table, hiding a smile, then looked up. "Yes.. I can do that." She answered softly. "She's at home."

Les smiled at her. "Good."

Kerry took a breath. "That was a test, wasn't it?" She hazarded warily. "Offering me her job?"

The eyes twinkled visibly now.

"Did I pass?" She dared.

"Like a champ." He replied, with a chuckle. "You've proven a true disciple of Dar, Ms. Stuart…so take it easy."

Kerry exhaled. "Sorry.. it's been a really long day." She admitted, as she got up and walked across to where a phone rested on a wall side credenza. "Hang on." She dialed a number, unsurprised when it was picked up before it even rang once. "Hi."

"Hey." Dar's voice was worried. "Everything okay?"

"I think so." Kerry told her, in a low voice. "Les wants to come see you."

"Ah." Her lover mulled this over. "Yeah.. sure.. why not?" She replied. "If you can bring him over then run dad back over to the mainland…give us a few minutes to duke it out."

"Gotcha." Kerry felt a quiet sense of relief flood over her. "See you in a few." She hung up and returned to the conference table. "I'll give you a ride over there if you want." She told the CEO.

"Best offer I've had all day." Les replied, cheerfully. "Let's go."


 Dar put the phone down, and glanced at her father. "Well." She scrubbed her face. "I guess I'd better go take a shower and put some clothes on… my boss is coming over."

Andrew put his hands behind his head and stretched out his body, stiff from a long afternoon of crocodile watching. "He all right?"

"More or less.. yeah." Dar hoisted herself to her feet and grabbed her crutches, moving towards her bedroom. "Be right back."

Her father scratched Chino's head and crossed his ankles. "Be careful, now, Dardar.. don't be slipping up in there."

The dark haired woman stopped, unseen, at the doorway and gazed at him with quiet affection. Then she shook her head and moved into the bathroom, stripping off her pajamas and starting the water running.  She waited for a moment as she removed the leg brace, then carefully moved into the stall shower. Her leg hurt a little, but nothing like it had the other day, and she was cautiously optimistic as she limped under the warm water.

It felt great. She gingerly scrubbed her body, avoiding the scratches from the trip, and carefully washed her hair around the still tender bump above her ear. It seemed to have gone down, though, and she stood under the force of the water for several minutes, just letting the pressure ease some of the tension out of her.

Then she reluctantly shut the water off, and stepped out of the shower, grabbing one of the long, fluffy beach towels she kept in the bathroom for drying off. She wrapped it around her, then took a second and roughly dried her hair before she exited the bathroom and moved gingerly through the bedroom without her crutches.

Hmm. She tested the leg cautiously, pleased with the response. Not bad.  She considered, then shrugged and pulled on a polo shirt and a pair of jeans, tucking the shirt inside and giving herself a cursory glance in the mirror. "Gonna have to do." She made a wry face at herself, running a brush through her hair quickly.

"Hey, Dardar?" Her father called from the other room.

"Yeah?" She limped to the door and went through it, finding him near the sliding glass doors. "What's up?"

He turned. "Hey.. where's them damn crutches?"

"In the room.. it's okay. Leg feels a lot better." Dar remarked, putting a hand against the glass.

"Uh huh." He sounded skeptical. "I'd believe you cept that if it were me saying that, I'd be lying a blue streak."

Dar glanced at him, then chuckled wryly, waggling her hand. "It hurts, but my back is killing me from using those damn things.. I need a break." She admitted. "I'm gonna go sit down anyway… did you want to show me something?"

Andrew seemed nervous all of a sudden. "Naw.. well.. " He cleared his throat. "You still go out there?" His head indicated the sea.

Dar nodded. "I stopped for a while." She admitted quietly. "But Kerry loves it… she got certified and we go out almost every weekend."

"Good fer her." Andrew stated.

A soft chuckle. "She's got me back involved in a lot of things.. ." The dark haired woman sighed. "I was… " She hesitated. "Considering getting back into competition."

Her father's eyes lit up. "Were ya?" He studied her seriously. "Looks like you could." He poked her experimentally. "Bettern some of the pups they sent out with me the last time, I tell ya that."

Dar laughed, a touch embarrassed. "Yeah.. I kept that up… " She murmured. "You're responsible for that…I always thought you'd be disappointed if I hadn't."

Andrew remained silent for a moment, then he put a gentle hand on her arm. "Rugrat, I could never be disappointed with you." His voice was sincere. "Doesn't matter what you ended up doing… who you ended up being.. you're my kid, and ain't nothing's gonna ever change that."

Dar found herself unable to answer, and she swallowed a lump in her throat.

"Nuff of that mushy stuff." Andrew cleared his throat. "You go back into that stuff, you let me know, hear?" He fumbled a white card from his pocket and handed it to her. "That'll get me."

A pager number. Dar smiled at it, and tucked it into her shirt pocket. Then she limped over to her briefcase, resting on a chair nearby and removed one of her own cards. She scribbled the home phone at the condo on the back and handed it to him. "Fair's fair." She told him. "Give us a call sometimes."

He stared at the card, turning it over in his fingers. Then he tucked it away carefully without a word.

They both heard the sound of a car outside. "Guess that's them." Dar stated quietly. "Thanks for sticking around today."

"You can thank the kumquat for that… was her idea." Andrew mumbled. "Well.. I'll go round back and wait for her… you take care of yourself, you hear, rugrat?"

Dar hugged him, feeling him tense for a moment, then relax and return the hug. "I love you, daddy." She whispered. "I missed you."

He took a shaky breath, and patted her side. "Same here." He broke off and cleared his throat. "Be good." He gave her arm another pat, then slipped out the back door and into the darkness..

Dar watched until his shadow blended into the foliage, not turning until she heard footsteps outside the front door.


Kerry parked the Mustang next to Dar's Lexus, and glanced at her passenger. Les had been looking around with great interest, and it gave her a chance to study him in return. He was in his sixties, of medium height and stocky, with gray hair and intelligent eyes. He had a round face with a snub nose and thick eyebrows, which moved her way as he turned to address her.

"Nice place." He'd chatted amiably about the area as they drove, avoiding any mention of work.

Kerry nodded. "Okay… well, that's the condo, so.. " She opened the door and got out, waiting for him to join her before she led the way down the walk and up the stairs. As she approached the door she hesitated, lifting her hand to knock, then made a quiet decision and let her fingers drop to the keypad instead, keying in her code and unlocking the door.

Les made no comment.

"After you." The blond woman opened the door and held it, gesturing with the other hand. A quick peek inside showed her Dar leaning casually against the back of the love seat, regarding them. There was no sign of Andrew, but she hadn't expected there to be. "Hi."

Dar's eyes flicked to hers, and she gave her a tiny wink. "Hi."  Then her attention turned to Les. "Hello, Les… c'mon in."

Kerry lifted a hand and moved a step back. "Later."

Dar lifted a hand in response, and watched the door  close behind her lover, then she turned her gaze on her boss.

They regarded each other in silence for a moment, then Dar exhaled and stood up. "Siddown.. you want a drink?"

"I think I need one." Les replied wryly, as he took the invitation and settled on the couch, leaning back and glancing around. "Nice place, Dar."

The dark haired woman nodded. "Thanks." She limped over to the cabinet against the wall and took out a bottle, pulling the top off and pouring a portion of honey golden liquor into two glasses. Then she put the top back on and made her way back, handing Les his, and settling in the easy chair across from him.

"So." He took a sip, eyebrows raising at the taste. "Very nice." He added approvingly.

"Thought I remembered you liked scotch." Dar commented, taking a sip of her own glass. The smooth twenty year old alcohol burned warmly on the way down.

"That I do." Les agreed. "That I do." He looked around. "You know, Dar… not that I spent a whole lot of time thinking about it, but I never pictured you in a place like this." His eyes fell on the space scape. "High tech apartment in a high rise off Brickell, sure.. but.."

Dar smiled briefly. "An aunt of mine willed it to me."

An awkward silence fell.

"So." Les said again. "Where do we go from here, Dar?" He sipped his scotch and watched her over the rim of his glass. "I think you probably realize I've got someone real hefty sitting on that resignation request of yours."

Dar considered that. "Flattering." She commented briefly.

"Let's not bullshit each other." Les advised her. "We both know I consider you an essential part of my management team, and it would kill me to lose you." He paused. "Especially over something as ridiculous as this." He waited, but she didn't comment. "So what really happened her, Dar? I've heard Mari's side, and Jose's side, and I  just don't get it. What made you up and decide to throw up your hands and walk out?"

Dar regarded him in silence for a moment, then she exhaled. "Good question." She paused, and gave a little shake of her head. "It's gotten to the point in the last month where I've been attacked more by my own company than any of our competitors.. and maybe I started to wonder what in the hell I was doing here."

Les thought about that, sipping his drink slowly "You're a high profile kinda gal, Dar… you've always attracted slings and arrows, you know that." He ventured. "Was this guy really that much of a needle in your shorts?"

A shrug. "Maybe." Dar regarded the table. "Maybe because it was personal, not professional.. maybe because I knew a colleague had brought him in deliberately to attack me… " She shifted the glass in her hands. "But I think I could have dealt with that."

Les nodded twice. "But?"

"But he went after my people." Dar concluded. "And I'd just had enough." She looked up at Les. "I'd had enough of being the whore bitch from hell until you needed something."

Les leaned forward. "Dar, the fact that most of the operation is at a complete standstill, and I have over fifty empty desks should tell you not everyone feels that way." He replied, seriously. "And I think you know that I don’t' feel that way either, or I wouldn't be sitting here right now. I'd be home in Plano, watching a ball game, considering who I was going to promote to VP Ops."

Dar cleared her throat a little. "I should have called you first." She admitted. "I owed you that."

A tiny smile crossed Les' face. "An apology from Dar Roberts.. thank god I'm sitting down." He kidded her gently. "But I’m glad I came anyway… just to see things first hand." He leaned back. "You have problems here, I'll grant you. And I wanted to meet this mysterious assistant of yours who seems to be causing problems far out of proportion to her size."

"She doesn’t cause problems." Dar snapped. "She solves them."

Les chuckled softly. "I realize that… it's why I offered her your job."

It took all Dar's self control to keep a look of mild interest on her face, and to not tense up. "And?" She asked, forcing a lazy smile onto her face. "She'd be good at it."

The CEO watched her intently, then he nodded a little. "That's what I told her.. and I got told to kiss her ass." He remarked dryly. "Which seems to be a departmental tradition of yours."

The sense of relief almost choked her. Dar had to take a few breaths, masking it by sipping her drink, before she could answer. "Part of the orientation." She drawled. "She picked it up faster than most." Bless you, Kerry…I followed my heart when it came to you, and you're the first person who didn't stab me in it. "So who's your second choice?"

Les exhaled, regarding his hands thoughtfully. "I have none.. I was hoping I could convince you to stay." He paused. "I just wanted to see what Ms. Stuart would say, and she basically said exactly what I expected her to." He paused again, and looked up at her. "I knew you trusted her, and I wanted to see why."

Dar's expression softened a little. "And did you?"

He nodded. "Yes, I did." He waited for her to go on, but she remained silent. "So.. how about it, Dar? I'd offer you more money, but I don’t think that's really of interest to you."

The dark haired woman cleared her throat. "No… you're right.. " She lifted a hand and let it fall. "I need two things."

Les leaned forward expectantly. His eyes sharpened, and he waited.

"My organizational structure stays intact." Dar enunciated carefully. "Completely intact."

The CEO pursed his lips. "Policy wise, that's murder."

"I know." Dar responded. "But I need it that way."

He drummed his fingers. "We're going to have to dotted line out the reviews and all that." He murmured. "All right, it's a personnel nightmare, but I'll do it." He paused. "What else?"

"Jose gets a new assistant."

Les laughed. "Saw that coming." He leaned back, obviously relieved. "My problem is, I need a way to bounce him legitimately. " He told Dar. "Otherwise, the little bastard is going to sue for wrongful dismissal, and I don't want the publicity."

A slow, sexy smile crossed Dar's face. "I'll give that to you.. if you let me be the one to ax him." Her eyes glinted dangerously. "Absolutely legit."

Les gazed at her, then let out a breath. "Does that mean you'll stay?" He countered.  "I had a long talk with Mariana…she feels a lot of this is her fault, that things went on she should have put a stop to."

Dar let him wait a minute, then she nodded. "All right… but I'll tell you right now, I'm not putting up with any more bullshit from them." She warned softly. "Not on my behalf, or on anyone in my staff's."

Les nibbled his lip. "It's going to be a rocky few weeks… there's a lot of hard feelings in there."  He replied. "But I have a lot of confidence in you… I’m not worried." He finished off his scotch. "You free for dinner? I never get to see you anymore, Dar… it's been, what.. two years?"

Dar's lips twitched. "Actually, I had plans.. but you're welcome to join us." She stated blandly. "There's a great little Italian place over on the other side of the island… and it's casual."

His eyes twinkled a little. "Well, I did enjoy my conversation with the enigmatic Ms. Stuart… sure she won't mind?"

Dar was outrage to find herself blushing, and she was glad the fading twilight hid it. "I’m sure she'll be fine." She got up and limped towards the kitchen. "In fact, let me page her."

Les relaxed, extending his legs and crossing them at the ankles. "What'd you do to your leg?" He called after her.

"Popped the joint out when we fell into that damn sinkhole." Dar replied, coming back with the portable phone and dialing it. "You owe me big time for that little trip, Les."

He laughed. "I heard about you and the snake… after I had Beatrice call up the president of that half assed company and threw the words negligent and lawsuit around."

Dar chuckled as she put the phone to her ear, listening to it ring. "Hey." She called softly, as it was answered. "Where are you?"

Kerry's voice sounded relieved. "Down by Southpoint… just about to get out and go walking on the beach, why?" She asked. "I just got here…I figured you guys would be a while."

"Nope." Dar informed her. "We're waiting on you for dinner.. so c'mon back over here."

"Really?" Kerry asked.

"Really. " Dar assured her.

A faint pause. "You going back?"


"You still my boss?"


"Awesome." Kerry's voice lightened immensely. "You are just awesome, Dar… you have no idea how glad I am to hear that." Sounds of scuffing. "I was sitting here in my car trying to think of who I wanted to apply to.. see if I could get any decent offers from around here."

"Well, they can't have you." Dar half turned and lowered her voice. "You're mine."

"Oo." Kerry laughed in utter delight. "You just gave me chills."

Dar smiled, feeling her upset world start to settle back down around her. "Besides, I hear you turned down a good offer."  She watched Les as he got up and roamed around the living room, stopping to examine the pictures on the shelves.

"What of… oh." Kerry snorted. "That.. yeah right. As if."  She cleared her throat a little, changing the subject. "Your father is such a sweetheart… he gave me a present for you. Said he was too embarrassed to give it to you directly."

"A present? For what?" Dar queried curiously.

"Um… your birthday?" Kerry reminded her. "You remember.. that party we had?"

"Oh." The dark haired woman  "That." She paused, glancing at Les. "What is it?"

Kerry giggled softly. "A box." She teased.

"Kerrryyyyy.." Dar growled softly.

"Well, it is!" Her lover retorted. "I don’t have x-ray vision, you know."

The dark haired woman sighed, "Just hurry up and get back here." 

"Jesus, Dar.. I'm on the ferry.. you want me to get out and paddle?" Kerry protested. "I will.. but the deckhands are going to have a fit.. you know how they get." She paused, hearing the gentle sound of Dar's breathing against the receiver. "I love you."  She murmured. "You don't have to answer that.. I know Les is right there." She added.

"I love you too." Dar replied, not missing a beat. "See you in a few minutes."  She hung up, and Kerry sat there, staring at the phone for a little while, before she folded it up and tucked it into her purse.

"Wow." She leaned back against the seat and propped her knee up against the dash.


Dar looked at her watch as they entered the condo. "Jesus.. it's past midnight." She commented in surprise. "Didn't think it was that late."

"Uh huh." Kerry yawned, trudging inside and collapsing on the couch. "That was a nice dinner, though… he's sort of an interesting person." She picked up Chino, who had bolted out of the utilty room when Dar opened the door. "Hey honey.. whoa..whoa.. .don't chew up mommy's fingers, okay?"

Dar limped back in with two tall glasses of chocolate milk, one of which she set down on the table. "Here." She eased down on the couch next to her lover, and slid back, extending her legs out and groaning. "Ouch."

"I told you to use those crutches." Kerry scolded, patting the taller woman's leg. "I saw you trying not to limp in front of Les."

"It's not that." Dar took a swallow of milk. "It's the rest of my body trying to compensate for it.. my back's killing me." She complained.

"Ah.. I get it." Kerry slid a hand behind Dar's back and probed gently. "Wow.. you are all tensed up."  She rested her cheek against Dar's upper arm. "How about a few minutes in the hot tub?"

Blue eyes turned to her and brightened. "Now that's a great idea." Dar complimented her. "It's a beautiful night out… c'mon."  She allowed Kerry to support her as they wandered into the bedroom, and exchanged jeans for bathing suits.

"I like that one on you." Dar had snuck up behind Kerry, and now slid both arms around her middle, hugging her gently. "It's the color of your eyes."  Kerry's suit, a shimmering, almost translucent green blue glittered in the low light, accented her toned body. .

Kerry leaned back against her and folded her arms over Dar's. "Thanks."  She turned, picking up a small box. "We almost forgot this.. from your dad." She handed it over.

"Oh.." Dar took it, examining it carefully as though she were afraid it would spring open. She slowly unwrapped the plain paper, and revealed a closed, clamshell container, which she opened gently. "Whoa."

Inside, on the dark gray crushed velvet, nestled two black pearls, opalescenty winking at her. They were the size of dried chickpeas, and were a well matched pair.

"Wow." Kerry breathed, peering at them. "Those are gorgeous."

"Yeah." Dar beathed. "They sure are." She gently closed the box and held it, giving her head a little shake. 'His presents were always like that.. you never knew when one was coming, but when it did.. it was always… " She glanced at the box. "Always something special."

"You could have them made into earrings." Kerry suggested. "They'd look awesome on you."

Dar put the box down on the dresser, and tapped it with one long finger. "Maybe." She agreed. "C'mon.. let's go soak for a little while."

They went outside, taking their glasses with them, and Kerry held them both as Dar eased into the water.

"Ungh. " The dark haired woman stretched her arms out, and took the milk. "This feels great."  She watched as Kerry joined her, nestling up against her immediately. "I'll put these down." Dar advised her, setting them on the coping, then putting an arm around Kerry's shoulders.

For a few minutes they just sat there, absorbing the sensation of the water, a mist of warm, chlorinated water drifting across their faces.  The ocean was at high tide, and beating against the seawall, and off in the distance, they could hear the buoy bells ringing on the inshore wind.

"It's beautiful out here." Kerry murmured, tipping her head back and regarding the starry sky, scattered with the odd, occasionally puffy cloud.

Dar turned her head and regarded the moonlit profile next to her. "It sure is."

Kerry caught the glance and smiled a little, blushing lightly. "So." She cleared her throat. "Everything worked out okay, huh?"

"Mmm." Dar wiggled her toes contentedly. "Les asked me to reconsider, I told him I had two conditions, he met them,  presto. That was it." She stifled a yawn. "You were one condition, Steve was the other."

Kerry mulled that over. "So.. did he know about us, or.. " She left the thought hanging.

"He knew." Dar chuckled softly. "He said he knew when he saw those first sets of pictures.. from Orlando.. but he was content to let that fall in the background."

"Isn't that a problem?" Kerry queried. "I mean.. we've been doing this cat and mouse thing for months, because it was this big rule.. so..??"

Dar shrugged. "It comes down to.. what's more important? Company rules, or profits?" She advised her lover dryly. "He can make exceptions.. and yes, it's a problem, but it's not like it's never happened before, Kerry.. and what the rule is for is mostly to protect the junior of the two employees."

"Protect?" Kerry cocked her head. "Oh.. from harassment, that kind of thing?"

A nod. "Exactly.. it's so bosses don’t' take advantage of their subordinates.. and it's a good rule." She reached over and brushed a droplet of water off Kerry's cheek. "But I told him I needed you.. and he's satisfied you're not being pressured, or coerced in any way, so he's going to just work around it."

"Oh." Kerry thought about that. "Awesome." She kissed Dar's shoulder. "So I can bring you lunch and not feel guilty, right?"

Pale blue eyes shifted her way. "So I can wander down the back corridor a couple times a day and not feel conspicuous." Dar replied dryly. "I mean, it's just like anything else… we treat each other professionally at the office, we just don't have to worry about people finding out what we do outside of it."

"Hmm." Kerry nodded a little. "So.. can I call the rest of the staff and tell them to come back in tomorrow?" She asked, wistfully. "Because I don't think I can handle a few more days like today was."

Dar hesitated. "I.. um.. I could call them in the morning." She ventured.

One sea green eyeball rotated and fixed on her. "You could if you were going into work, which you aren't." Kerry blinked at her. "Are you?"

The dark haired woman drummed her fingers on the coping. "My head feels a lot better." She stated. "Really… and so does the knee.. it'd be a lot more relaxing for me to get started on stuff than sit around here and worry about you."  She pushed the damp hair off Kerry's forehead. "Besides, I've got something to do there tomorrow."

Kerry sighed. "I wish you'd stay home." She ran her fingers along Dar's scalp, and brushed the lightly over the bump. It was, she was forced to admit, almost gone. "But I can see that's not going to happen.. so can we at least make it an early day?"

A slow smile. "I promise you… dinner.. at sunset.. out on the water." Dar offered, one eye brow lifting in invitation. "You, me, the boat… a few seagulls.. how about it?" She leaned over and stole a kiss. "Hmm?"

Kerry nibbled her way up Dar's neck. "All right." She agreed, breathing the words right into the taller woman's ear. "You're on." 

"Good." Dar ducked her head again and found Kerry's wandering lips, and she pulled her over onto her lap, sliding an arm around the blond woman's waist securely.  She felt Kerry's hands glide down her shoulders, and her eyes closed in reflex as their bodies pressed against each other in knowing familiarity.

They'd deal with all that trouble tomorrow. That was another day. Right now, all that mattered was the rich, night breeze, and the stars, and each other.


Continued In Part 5