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


Eye of the Storm Part 6

By Melissa Good

Kerry pushed the door open cautiously, peeking inside before entering. She spotted her lover curled up on the couch and tiptoed into the room, closing the door quietly behind her. Even Chino was asleep, sprawled next to Dar and twitching in some kind of bizarre Labrador dream. She put her briefcase down on the loveseat and moved forward, kneeling at Dar's side and studying the sick woman's face.

Dark lashes fluttered, and Dar looked up, a little disoriented.

"Hey." Kerry put a hand on her forehead. "Mm… you're warm."

"Ungh." Dar pursed her lips and swallowed painfully. "Time?"

"Just past noon." Kerry reviewed the open boxes on the table. "Tried everything, hmm?"

A groan answered her.

"That sounds bad." She pushed a bit of dark hair out of Dar's face. "I have some good news for you."

Dar caught her hand and held it, pulling it closer as if in comfort. "Mm?? Did you run over Ankow in the parking lot? Good girl." She mumbled. "I'll tell em you were here all day."

"No.. " Kerry chuckled, using her other hand to rub Dar's neck. "Your father called…. Looks like things are working out fine up there."

Both of Dar's eyes opened, and she lifted her head. "Yeah?" She forgot about being sick for a minute, and pulled herself up, running a hand through her hair and blinking at Kerry. "What'd he say?"

"Just that things were good." Kerry picked up a cup of water Dar had been sucking at, and offered it to her. "Here.. take a sip. You don’t want to get dehydrated." She stood up. "Let me get this stuff off, and we can give them a call… okay?"

Dar got a quarter of a mouthful down, then stopped, and grimaced, concentrating and trying really hard not to allow it to come right back up. She put the cup down and gave Kerry an unhappy look, too miserable even to dredge up a smidge of her usual attitude. "Maybe he can tell me where he's cached a gun and I can shoot myself."

Kerry grimaced. "Hang in there.. I'll be right back." She trotted upstairs and changed quickly, glad to exchange the restrictive linen for a pair of shorts and a t-shirt as she unclipped her hair, and let it loose around her shoulders.

Still thinking, she made her way back down the stairs and rejoined her lover, who was again huddled near the end of the couch, curled up in a ball. Damn, Dar…. You're making me hurt just to look at you. Kerry reached over and rubbed the tense calf next to her. "Hey…. Listen, you want me to give Dr. Steve a call?"

Woebegone blue eyes peeked out from over the fist Dar had curled near her chin. She thought seriously about the question for a moment, then shook her head. "All he's gonna do is give me a shot of Dramamine." She managed to straighten up a little. "Damn stuff makes me break out in hives."

"Oo." Kerry winced, then settled back and patted her lap. "Want to come over here, and put your head down? It's not medical, but at least I can keep you company."

Meekly, Dar did so, reversing her position and putting her head down on Kerry's thigh. "You cancel the marketing meeting?" She asked, as Kerry started a light massage down her back and shoulders.

"Nope.. just moved it to the morning." Kerry could feel the cold sweat that had gathered on Dar's neck, and she wiped it away with a bit of her shirt. "Eleanor and Jose are entertaining Ankow…oh, and Dar? Someone dumped a loop into the system from Houston this morning… I had a ton of complaints."

"Mmph." Dar dredged up a semblance of interest. "Let me guess.. you think our friend did it?"

"Don’t' know." Kerry felt the tension slowly leaving Dar's body, and she kept up her kneading. "Probably though.. wanted to see if he could catch us."

"How long'd it take you t'find it."

"About thirty… maybe forty five seconds." Kerry smirked, proud of herself. "You should have seen his face." She reached over and snagged the phone. "Want to give your folks a call before you snooze off?"

Dar had curled an arm around her knee, and was stroking it with her thumb idly. "Okay." It was amazing, really, how just having Kerry there made her feel so much better.. or at least, so much more relaxed, which helped ease the spasms. "Ker?"

The blond woman paused, and leaned over. "Hmm?"

"Glad you're here."

"Me too."

Dar took a breath to continue, then bit her tongue, as her body cramped, forcing a gasp of pain from her. She doubled over and held her breath, barely conscious of the firm, steady grip that kept her from falling.

Kerry held on to Dar with one arm, and dialed the phone with the other, retrieving Dr. Steve's number from the phone's memory. "Hey.. Dr, Steve? Hi. It's Kerry Stuart.. yeah.. " She felt Dar's chest move as the pain lessened, and she started breathing again. "Listen.. Dar's been sick since last night.. we thought it was just a bug or something, but.. she's in a lot of pain here, and I'm getting worried." A pause. "I don't know… might be tough." Another pause. "Okay.. that would be great.. I'll clear you on the ferry… thanks. I really appreciate it."

She hung up the phone and put it down, then started rubbing her lover's back. "Easy there… Dr. Steve's going to come out here and check you out, okay?"

Dar knew she was in deep trouble, because the thought of that actually sounded good to her. "Mph." She clamped her jaw shut, not wanting to lose her mouthful of water and wished primarily that someone would hit her over the head with a very large two by four.


"What do you think?" Kerry hovered nervously as Dr. Steve, in a garish pink guyabera and blue Bermuda shorts knelt by the couch.

"I think you have a very sick friend." The gray haired man answered, peering into Dar's eyes with a pinpoint light. "What have you been doing there, Miss Dar?"

"Nothing." Dar closed her eye in annoyance, watching spots dance across her inner eyelid with sickening rhythm. The doctor had taken a vial of blood and probed her belly, which had gotten him a yelp of pain, and an accidental kick in the side. "What the hell is wrong with me? I've never had a bug this bad before."

Dr. Steve removed a couple of small bottles, and a syringe from his actual, for real, no kidding, little black bag. "Well… I'm not sure honey, but let me give you something to relax those spasms, and a little something for the nausea, okay?"

A blue eyeball popped open, and regarded the syringe nervously. "Dramamine makes me itch."

"Yeah, yeah.. I remember." Dr. Steve carefully drew a measure of some clear liquid from one of the bottles, and picked up a swab full of alchohol. "This is something else… now hold still." He swabbed Dar's upper arm and inserted the needle, with only a small jerk from his patient, then injected the medication.


"Big baby."

Kerry perched on the couch arm. "You don't know what's wrong then?" She asked, then sighed, as the phone rang. She turned and picked it up. "Hello?"

"Hey there." Andrew's growly tones tickled her ear.

"Oh, hi.. sorry we didn't call you.. I had to call Dr. Steve out here for Dar." Kerry told him. "She's really sick."

"Yeah?" Dar's father's voice grew anxious. "What's he say's wrong with her?"

"He doesn’t know." Kerry stroked her friend's hair. "He's giving her some shots of something."

Dr. Steve glanced up at her curiously, but kept working, removing a second bottle and syringe and preparing it. "What did you have to eat yesterday?" This he directed to Dar.

Dar blinked, as the first medication started to work. "Um.. nothing much… cuban toast and jelly for breakfast… with coffee." She thought a moment. "Mm… chocolate chip cookies for lunch… and I didn't have dinner."

Steve looked at her. "Chocolate chip cookies for lunch?" He sighed. "Some things never change… nothing after dinner?"

"No.. " Dar shook her head. "Something happened… I got caught up in it."

"You had that Kailua milkshake at the bowling alley." Kerry supplied helpfully. "Do you think it's food poisoning?"

"Not with that menu." Steve shook his head. "I don't know.. we'll run some tests on the red stuff here.. this'll let her relax and sleep.. that's the best thing."

"Did you hear that?" Kerry spoke into the phone.

"Yeap… " Andrew cleared his throat. "Should be all right… just not too much. She can't take it."

"Other arm." Dr. Steve injected the medicine, then sat back. "Now, you listen to me, okay?" He wagged a finger at her. "Soon as your stomach settles, get some water into you… at least two glasses."

Dar nodded mutely.

"You get any more dehydrated, and we're going to have to start using the dirty H word, okay?" Dr. Steve packed up his back, and carefully labeled the blood sample. "If I didn't know better.. I'd say you'd been drinking antifreeze, Dar… it's those kind of symptoms. Is this the first time you've been sick?"

"In a long time, yeah." Dar told him. "Antifreeze? That's nuts."

"Well.. you've got something in you that ain't supposed to be there." Dr. Steve stood, and glanced at Kerry. "Keep an eye on her… make sure she drinks that water… or Gatorade stuff if you've got it."

"We do." Kerry nibbled her lip. "Could it have been the drink last night? That's the only place we were at that's strange."

"Timing's about right." Steve acknowledged. "Maybe something got in there…weirder things have happened." He ruffled Dar's hair gently. "You're going to be okay, sugarplum…give that stuff a chance to work, and just take it easy."

Whatever he'd given her was hitting hard, Dar realized, as a sense of displacement put distance between her, and the rest of the room. It wasn't entirely a pleasant feeling, but along with it came a soothing lethargy that coursed through her body, relaxing muscles tense and sore from the day's battle with her rebellious stomach.

Even better was the ebbing of the nausea, and the ability to breathe normally without worrying about starting to throw up. She was vaguely aware of the door closing, and Kerry's quiet tones, then warmth surrounded her as she was lifted up a little, while Kerry resumed her pillow duty.

Having someone in your life, she decided fuzzily, really rocked.


Kerry let herself drift in and out of a light sleep, the sound of the television in the background, along with the soft hiss of the surf just audible through the glass windows lulling her into a peaceful somnolence.

The golden light of sunset was coming in the window next to the front door, spilling across the living room where they were and painting stripes all over everything. Dar had been sleeping peacefully since Dr. Steve left, and Kerry was content to stay right where she was, with her lover half sprawled over her body.

She'd gotten one cell phone call, from Mayte telling her Ankow had come sniffing around, but had been distracted by Duks, who dumped a pile of reports the size of a hippo on him with the Accounting VP's typical deadpan manner. No other crises had happened, and the Newark mess had been sorted out by the networking office, so it looked like they'd gotten away with her disappearing.

Kerry stroked the dark hair spilling over her lap. Not that she would have made a different decision, even if all hell had been breaking loose, and Ankow had been sitting on her desk. She'd have gotten up, and walked out, and that was just that. She put her arms around Dar and hugged her, and wondered, just for a moment, what it would be like if she couldn’t do that anymore.

She had only known Dar for all of what.. eight months? So much of her life had changed when she'd met her, too. Her job.. her future.

Her family.

She hadn't really thought twice about it, either. She'd just followed her heart.

A stripe of sunlight chose that moment to impudently paint itself across Dar's face, turning her tanned skin a burnished gold. Kerry wound a bit of the hair it caught into her fingers, noting the faint mahogany highlights seldom visible

The muscles under the sunlight moved, then tensed, and Dar's eyes opened, and blinked., appearing dazed and a little confused.

"Hey." Kerry put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "How are you feeling?"

Dar rolled over onto her back, and peered straight up at Kerry, a good sign, since a cramped fetal position had been all she'd been able to manage earlier. "Better."

Kerry produced a warm smile, and reached for the bottle of Gatorade she'd parked their earlier. "Good." She offered Dar the bottle, much like she would have a baby, and bit her lip to keep from laughing as Dar sleepily complied, sucking at the nozzle and folding her hands over her stomach. "See? You're not so bad when you're sick."

A couple of mouthfuls was all she could manage, then Dar closed her eyes and rested her cheek against Kerry's stomach. "Must be the quality of the care." She mumbled, feeling totally wiped out, but not too bad otherwise. "I had a dream about you."

"Oh yeah?" Kerry put the bottle down and ran her fingers idly through Dar's hair. "What about?"

Dar's body moved as she shrugged a bit. "Hard to say.. you were riding a horse and reciting poetry."

"Oo." A chuckle. "Sounds more like a nightmare. Tell you what… why don't we get you into bed, and I'll bring you in some broth… how does that sound?" She scratched Dar's scalp, concentrating on the spot just behind her ears.

"You sure you weren't someone's mom in a past life?" Her lover mumbled, a faint smile appearing. "Because you're really good at this."

Kerry considered the question seriously. "Maybe." She finally replied. "God knows, I didn't learn it at home." Surprising, really, how those bits of bitterness surfaced sometimes. She looked down to see Dar gazing back at her and put a fingertip on her lover's nose. "So I guess you get to be the object of all my maternal instincts."

Their eyes met, and held, and Kerry felt a tiny shiver go down her back. "Well, you and Chino, anyway."

"Right." Dar exhaled, shaking off the weird sensation of almost memory. "I'm not sure if I can handle broth., though, and I'll only go to bed if you join me there." She bargained.

"Well… you get some soup down, and I'll see what I can do."

The blue eyes closed contentedly. "Deal."


Cecilia paused, as she put a last container in the basket on the counter, and glanced outside, glad to see the bright, sunny weather. She went to the door and slid her head around it, spending a moment just looking at the tall figure slouched in a chair nearby.

Andrew was working at fixing her can opener. He'd taken it apart already, and was reassembling the mechanism with deft, confident movements. Ceci sighed, leaning her head against the wall as she realized it was going to take some getting used to having the other half of her life back. She'd have just bought a new one. "Andy?"

Sharp blue eyes looked over, and blinked in acknowledgement.

"There's a nice spot up by the lake… would you like to take a walk up there?"

"All right." He agreed, standing up and bringing her appliance back over. He pressed the button, and the battery powered item started whirring. "There you go."

He'd always been like that. Ceci let him take the basket as they left the apartment, cutting through the back path and heading up a small slope just behind her building. He had an innate knowledge of how things worked, and a talent for fixing them. That had come in very useful when they'd lived on base, she remembered, having to cope with changes in her life that had started with going from rich to definitely not rich, and progressed from there.

It hadn't been easy, not for her, and not for Andy, whose ship assignments kept him away for six months at a time. He'd gone AWOL in fact, when she was pregnant, and ended up hiding out in their quarters the last month before she gave birth, just helping her live through one of the toughest times of her life.

Maybe she'd never forgiven Dar for that. Cecilia mused, as she felt Andrew take her hand in his as they walked along. Certainly, she'd hated being pregnant, and resented the restrictions she'd suddenly found herself under. But that wasn't Dar's fault, any more than it was her fault that she'd inherited the genes for height, and dark hair, and blue eyes, and the fighting nature from the daddy she'd adored since the moment she was born.

Ceci sighed. No, it hadn't been easy. Dar had been a very tough child to raise, hyperactive and wild, headstrong and by the age of twelve, already larger and stronger than the mother who was trying to rein her in. And possessing a powerful, significant intellect that made her so much more difficult to interact with than Andy was.

Not that her husband was stupid, by any means. He had a core of good, solid common sense and an orderly mind well suited to everyday problem solving. But Dar, who had always tested years ahead of her age, had developed an edgy, restless brilliance that she hadn't had the patience or discipline to cope with.

Maybe that was what frustrated her so. Dar had so much potential… she was so intelligent, and could have gone into so many different fields, that her single minded, narrow focused goal of the Navy just drove Cecilia out of her mind. She had silently celebrated when they'd said no, the last time, and had cheered Dar's stubbornness for the first time, when her daughter refused to accept anything less than following in her father's footsteps.

Well. So she turned out to be the CIO of the largest computer services company in the world. Guess I just had to wait long enough. Ceci felt a smile emerge. Life was so strange sometimes. She also hadn't been immune to a bit of unexpected parental pride, surfacing between the layers of grief, and awkwardness on seeing Dar again, all grown up in ways she'd never anticipated.

Watching her family's jaws drop, on seeing the family member they all considered a poor country bumpkin morph into this tall, sophisticated woman who handled herself with poise, and reserved grace, who entered their cultured world bearing Andy's very distinctive stamp.

Yeah. She couldn’t take credit for any of it, but she'd still acknowledged what she saw.

"Whatcha thinking about?" Andy asked, as they climbed up the wooded slope.

"Just memories." Ceci led him towards a grassy area, full of sun and overlooking the water. "Our child, when she was little."

"Ungh." Andrew dropped his gaze to the ground, thoughtfully regarding a small patch of tiny purple flowers before stepping carefully around them. "She was a handful." He admitted. "Wild little thing… member that time she jumped out that treehouse and damn near broke an arm?"

Ceci shook her head. "Oh yes… I certainly do… thank everything you were home or I'd never have gotten her in for those xrays.. she almost took out three nurses as it was."

"Lord… that's the truth." Andy chuckled. "That little Kerry's got her wrapped round her finger, though… you'd never believe it."

"She seems nice." Cecilia ventured.

"Good kid." He agreed. "Got a good heart….and she's damn gone on Dar."

"Roger Stuart's kid, isn't she?"

"Half assed bastard. Yeah."

Her pale eyebrows lifted. "Didn't know you knew him."

Andy didn't answer for a moment. "Threw her out the house when she done told him bout her and Dardar."

"Mm…. " Ceci pursed her lips. "He's pretty conservative.. I know it was a little hard for us to.. " She paused. "It was an adjustment.. must have been quite a shock."

"Mm." They sat down in the grass, and Andy stretched his long legs out, leaning back against a jutting rock and looking out over the water pensively. "More than that… he tried to put her butt in the nuthouse cause of it."

Ceci felt like she'd been hit in the chest. "What?"

Andy nodded soberly. "Yeap… took her out the house and locked her up." His nostrils flared a little, and he peeked at her. "Dar flew up there and busted her out."

She blinked in shock. "She did?"

Her husband pulled at his lower lip, trying to mask the look of intense pride. "Yeap."

A soft sigh. "She's definitely your daughter."

His blue eyes took on shadows. "I know you two always wrassled." He acknowledged softly. "She turned out okay though." He turned his head towards her. "Think maybe you two'd get on better now."

Cecilia considered the statement. "Maybe." She responded with a sigh, then opened the basket and removed a wine bottle and two glasses, uncorking the bottle and pouring them each a portion. "So much has changed."

Andy took his, and studied it. "Yeap."

They were both quiet for a bit, just watching the flocks of birds circle the lake, some landing to feed, other wheeling over them in intricate patterns.

Finally Ceci rested her cheek against his arm. "Where do we go from here?" She felt the shift and knew if she tilted her head back she'd see him looking at her. 'Now that I can start my life going forward again, instead of just letting it drift past me."

It was curious. She could feel the minute shifts in her husband's body, as he collected his thoughts and prepared to answer the question, but she also got an undeniable sense that he was holding back a surprise, in the way that he used to unpredictably show up in her bedroom window, one hand firmly behind his back, and a tiny sparkle in his eyes.

"You like it here?" He sorted out his questions and asked the first one first.

Ceci shrugged. "It was the furthest away I could get from where I was."

He just looked at her, and didn't answer that for a minute. "Been living out of the VA hostels down south… bunks and a blanket when I could get em. Not something you'd be wanting, I don't think."

"As long as they've got an extra blanket." She gazed peacefully at him. "That sounds great."

"Cec… "

"Listen to me!" She reached up and caught his jaw, forcing eye contact. "You are my life." Inhale. Exhale. "I don't care if you live under a bridge… wherever you go, I'll go."

His eyes smiled at her. "Honey, I know that." Andrew answered softly. "I wasn't gonna say you can't… I was gonna say I was damn tired of living that way, and I'd got a hankering to find me a little place… out near the water…. Fer just you and me."

A sense of vivid relief splashed over her, and turned the colors nearby far more intense. "I'd like that very much." Ceci took in a happy breath. "In fact, with the paintings and all, I've got a little money put by. We could.." She hushed, as a large finger covered her lips. She grasped it. "It's all right, Andy… that apartment belongs to Charles…I just pay him rent for it. There's nothing holding me here, in fact… " Now she had to be quiet, because the finger had turned into an entire hand, which was larger than half her face.

"Shh." Andy removed his hand. "When Dar was up here, she had to sign some paper stuff had to do with May's trust, and.."

"OH." Ceci felt herself flush. "Goddess… please. Don't… I'm so sorry about that."

He paused. "Huh?"

Cecilia sighed. "It was my fault. I should have checked… I should have… that stupid trust… " She paused. "I'm sorry… I told her I was."

"Ceci… what are you talking about?"

She blinked. "The trust… when the family found out I was… that I'd asked Dar to come up for the funeral, they asked me to talk to her about it."


A shrug. "It never occurred to them… or to me, honestly, that she'd have been as successful as she is… " Ceci looked up to see honest hurt facing her. "I know. I know, Andrew… I fell into that trap."

He looked down at the ground.

"Richard had mentioned that Dar had recently changed all her legal papers… and had named a new heir.. I guess the concern was… "Cecilia stopped, and took a breath. "No.. I'll be honest. We… me included, were worried someone was taking advantage of her, and she didn't have the sense to realize it."

Andrew sighed. "Lord."

Ceci exhaled, and closed her eyes. "I don't blame her for being upset. When I realized… it was so hard, Andy.. I didn't even really know what to say… what to do… I felt like a fool." She rested her head against one hand. "What a mess."

"Well." Andy put his arm around her. "That musta stung, right nuff… but I think Dar figgered out a way t'get her own back." He chewed his lip. "Put it somewhere yer family'd go nuts with."

"Mm?" Ceci lifted her head. "What did she do.. give it to the Humane Society?" She half joked, watching as he slowly reached back and tugged something out of his back pocket, and handed it to her. "What's this?"

"What she done."

She unfolded the paper on to her thigh and read it.

Then she read it again.

Then she looked up at her husband.

"Didn't even give me a chance t'say no." Andy smiled wistfully. "I damn near almost fell over."



Ceci finger the paper. "I feel pretty damn small." She had a bitter taste in her mouth. "She's so outgrown me."

Andy pulled her closer, and she felt a tiny thrill as his lips pressed against her hair, despite the shame that covered her. "We all made mistakes, Cec." He murmured. 'Let's just tie our shorts tight, and move on." He felt her collapse against him. "We got all sorts of new chances now."

Yes they did, didn't they? Cecilia put her hands against her husband's chest, feeling the powerful beat of his heart under her fingers. Dreams were possible now.. though the only one that had ever meant anything to her was real, and breathing, and surrounding her with strong arms…

Anything was possible.


The sky outside slowly turned from black to purple, to gray, and the birds outside started piping, just barely heard through the closed window. Kerry watched their shadows through the blinds as she lay curled up in the waterbed, her arms wrapped snugly around Dar's sleeping body.

It had been a very quiet, very peaceful night. Dar had fufilled her part of the bargain, and managed to get most of a bowl of soup down and keep it there, along with a half bottle of Gatorade, then Kerry had done her part by forgetting about all the things she had to do and crawling into bed for a very long evening of pleasant cuddling.

They'd talked for a little while, then Dar had dozed off with her head resting on Kerry's shoulder, feeling much better. Kerry wondered how much of that was the medicine, how much was her lover's own sturdy physiology, and how much was the TLC, but in the end, it didn't really matter, did it? She was content to think her care had helped, at least emotionally, and that was enough.

The hand resting on her waist moved, and she turned her head slightly, not surprised to see Dar looking back at her. "Morning."

"Mm." Dar nodded in acknowledgment.

"How are you feeling?" Kerry inquired, smiling as she felt the tall body next to her uncoil and stretch out to it's full length, then relax. "Better?"

Dar nodded again.

"And the aftereffect of this is laryngitis?"

A chuckle. "No.. " Dar's voice was husky with sleep, but otherwise normal. "Just kick starting my brain… still a little fuzzy around the edges." Though, to be honest, Dar mused, as she snuggled back into her warm nest of Kerry, she wasn't sure if it was the medicine, or the aftereffect of being doused in solicitous affection all night. Boy, that felt good. Her stomach was still a little tender, but she wasn't nauseous any more, and her reactions seemed to have returned to a more normal alertness.

She stroked Kerry's side and nuzzled her, receiving a low, pleased murmur in return. 'Thanks for taking care of me " Dar turned her head and peered up at her lover's chin. "You did a great job."

Kerry tilted her head down, and smiled. "Glad to hear it."

A dark eyebrow waggled. "You went to bed early last night… bet you're hungry."

"Mm….yeah. How'd you know?"

Dar lifted her head and tapped the flat surface she'd been resting on. "That's some serious growling going on down there." She winked, and gave Kerry a tickle.

"Aruum." Kerry cleared her throat, a little embarrassed. "Yeah, well… I kinda forgot lunch, too."

"Tch." Dar rolled over, and glanced down off the side of the bed, where Chino was tucked in her basket. The Labrador had tried their waterbed once or twice, but decided it wasn't to her taste, so they'd gotten her a comfortable, fleece lined bed to sleep in. "Tell ya what.. I'll get breakfast ready."

Kerry snorted in laughter, then hastily covered her mouth with one hand as she got a wounded look from her lover. "Sorry… you don't deserve that. You made me the best eggs I ever had once."

Dar rested her chin on her arm. "You remember that, huh?"

"I sure do." Kerry squirmed over to her. "You don’t have to get breakfast though… " She closed her eyes against the scarily adorable pout. "Oooo.. Dardar… not that face…. Nooooo…" She peeked, then rolled over and covered her face with her pillow. "Nononono…eeekk!!!!"

Chino yelped, and scrambled up to see.

"Gotcha." Dar pounced on her, tickling her belly unmercifully. "Hahaha…"

"Eeeeee!!!!! " Kerry smacked her with the pillow, then wriggled out of the way, rolling herself up in the comforter. "No fair!!"

Dar was up on her knees and elbows, and now she started slinking forward, a look of maniacal glee on her face. "Make fun of my breakfast will you… "

"Yeeoo!!!" Kerry scrabbled to escape, but couldn’t move fast enough and got caught in mid lunge, finding long arms wrapping around her and pulling her down. She gurgled and tried to twist free, but found herself getting more and more tangled in sheets, blankets, and lots and lots of Dar. "Frisfigffifng." She squealed, as a nibble tickled up her ribcage. "Darrrr!!!!!"

"Arrggghhh." Dar growled happily, making Chino bark. She rolled them both over, then yelped as she forgot where she was, and felt nothing but air under her back. "Oh shit…"

"Yeooww!!" Kerry responded, as they both tumbled out of the waterbed and onto the floor with a double thump. "Ow."

Dar, who had landed first, and was now providing a resting spot for her lover, sneezed. "Dusty down here." She closed her eyes as Chino rambled over and started licking her face.

Kerry straddled her, and sat up, folding her arms. "Oh boy..do I ever have you where I want you now." She grinned with neatly evil intent.

Dar liberated an eyeball, and turned it on her. "Uh."


"Okay. I surrender." Dar tried to fend off the puppy, who was now lovingly cleaning her nose. "Hey.."

Kerry had unbuttoned her lover's shirt, and now started her own licking. "Mmm…. Chino.. good idea." She felt Dar jerk as she nibbled her navel. "This beats eggs for breakfast hands down."

"H..hey.." Dar swallowed, her body's reaction sending colorful jolts up and down her spine. "I don't think I… " She paused as the gentle touch traveled up the slope of her belly, with the tiniest nibble on a rib." Uh….Ker.. I'm still a little.. um.. "

"Um what?" Kerry advanced, treating Dar's skin like an ear of corn. "Hmm?" She slid up and braced her arms, peering straight down at the pale blue eyes.

Dar gave her a wry look. "A little knocked out." She stroked the soft, fine hair on Kerry's arms. "That tussle did me in."

Kerry leaned down and kissed her forehead lightly, then rubbed noses. "Okay." She sat up and helped her lover to do the same, watching in a little concern as Dar leaned against the wall, looking a bit shaky. "You okay?"

Dar took a breath, and ran her fingers through her hair. "Yeah… combination of that stuff wearing off, and not eating for two days, I think." She exhaled. "Nothing a biscuit or something won't cure."

"Woof." Chino heard biscuit, and got excited.

"Let me guess… with butter and honey on it." Kerry got up and offered Dar a hand. "C'mon… I could use something solid myself." She pulled and put her other hand on Dar's chest to steady her as she rose. "Okay?"

"Fine." Dar nodded, and followed her towards the kitchen, with the sound of two sets of bare feet, and a collection of puppy pattering.


"Morning, Maria." Dar ducked inside her office and closed the door.

The secretary looked up, a little surprised. "Oh… Dar! Buenas Dias… I did not think you would be here today.. Kerrisita said you felt so bad yesterday."

A grin. "Nothing a good night sleep couldn’t cure." Dar's blue eyes twinkled. "But thanks for being concerned." She continued on into her inner office and put her briefcase down, then turned on her PC and unlocked her desk drawer. "You guys hungry?"

The two Siamese fighting fish swam guardedly past each other, eyeing her suspiciously. Dar took a pinch of the fish food and opened the acrylic case, sprinkling it inside. The fish eagerly snapped at it, and she put the cover on, tucking the box away and folding her hands as she watched her two pets eat.

She hadn't liked them at first. But as the months wore on, she'd gotten used to their colorful presence, and now she liked to spend a few minutes in the morning just watching them, as the water collected the sunlight filtering in from behind her.

The door opened and Maria walked in, carrying several folders. "You look very nice today, jefa… that is new for you, I think."

Dar glanced down at the embroidered lace shirt and crisply pressed black slacks. "Um.. yeah, as a matter of fact… thanks." A surprise from Kerry, materializing that morning while she showered, coming out to find the pretty things laid out on the dresser without comment. I don’t' think I'll ever get used to that. She reflected, then sat back, oblivious to Maria's busy presence by her outbox, distracted by a sudden realization.

She ran through days in her mind, then exhaled. Her relationship with Kerry had just become the longest one she'd ever had.

And it was only just beginning.

"Dar?" Maria's voice sounded concerned.

"Hum?" She blinked and drummed her fingers on the desk. "Sorry.. I was just thinking of something… what 's up?"

"I was saying you have the lunch meeting on Key Biscayne today, and a briefing at two oclock.. do you want me to try to move that a little? Traffic will be terrible coming back from that construction."

"Um.. yeah." Dar collected herself and turned her attention to the business at hand. She'd have time later to figure out a way to mark, at least privately in her own mind, the milestone. "That'd be fine… tell Mark I need him and his team to get me the projected traffic patterns before lunch, and schedule a conference call with the overseas group after four."


"Oh." Dar pulled open her drawer, and tugged out a manilla folder, with a name printed neatly on the outside in black magic marker. "Give this… personally… to Mariana, will you? I don't want it floating around in the interoffice mail."

"I will do that now.." Maria took the envelope and smiled, then left, but paused before the door closed. "Oh.. Dar? I thought you would like to know this - Mr. Ankow left yesterday, he said you would hear from him later."

Hot damn. Dar grinned. "What a shame… sorry I missed him yesterday." Guess he didn’t' find what he was looking for… shucks. "Thanks, Maria." She went back to her mail, deleting whole strings of it with piratical gusto.


Kerry released the phone button, and exhaled, feeling her shoulder slump as she stared at the desktop under her folded hands. It had been a great morning until that last call, too. She'd gotten a lot done, and had to put up with a tiny, mischevious little gopher that somehow kept popping up on her screen and munching her windows.

She named it Dar, and it snickered.

A rap came at her inner door, and she looked up as it opened, and a dark head poked itself in. "Hi there." Kerry smiled a little, glad to see the relaxed look on Dar's face. "How are you feeling?"

"Not bad." Her boss sauntered into the room and perched on the desk. "Not up to Thai food, but I've been working on a bottle of juice all morning.. hasn't come back up." She cocked her head. "What's up with you?"

"What makes you think something is?" Kerry asked.

Dar reached out a hand and put a fingertip right between Kerry's eyes, just over her brow. " You get a little wrinkle right there when something's bothering you."

The pale brows twitched. "I do?"


Kerry tilted her head. "Well, I just got a call from my father's lawyer." The words brought a bad taste to her mouth. "Or should I say, one of his stable of lawyers." She paused. "He um… made it official that I wasn't to approach any of the family… that I was considered a hostile witness."

Dar made a face, then patted Kerry's hand. "Sorry about that." She took in the dejected set of Kerry's shoulders and racked her brains, thinking of some kind of treat to perk her up. "Hey.. you owe me a trip to the leather store."


"Didn't you say you'd be my date for my high school reunion?" Dar teased. "Need to get you into some leather for that, remember?"

"Errrw…. " Kerry bit her lip, a grin attempting to escape "Well, yeah, I did say I'd do that, huh?"

"Yeeesss.. you did."

"You.. um… have some place in mind?"

"Yeeesss… I do." Dar chuckled softly, a definite wicked twinkle in her eyes.

"Uuuuhhhh… I am sooo in trouble, aren't I?" Kerry squeaked.

"Yeess… you are." The taller woman ran a light touch down her cheek. "You talked me into this, Ms. Debating Champion, and I'm gonna hold you to it." A grin. "Besides.. I bet you look great in something in nice, snug leather."

Kerry felt her mouth go dry for a second, and she was suddenly short of air. She cleared her throat. "Okay… ah.. we could go right after work… get something light for dinner… how's that?"

"Sounds great." Dar smiled. "And.. Ker?"

She tore her thoughts away from Dar and leather and looked up. "Mm?"

"I'd kinda like to be there at the hearing with you, if you don't mind."

The green eyes widened and fixed on her, as Kerry sat, struck dumb for a very long moment. "But… how can you just… " She stopped, as Dar merely sat, watching her. "You can't… bu.. " A long breath escaped her. "God, I love you.." Her eyes closed. "Of course I don't mind."

Dar ruffled her hair. "Good. I've got a couple of meetings this afternoon.. I'll catch up with you on the way out, okay?"

Kerry nodded mutely.

"Clear some time on Monday or Tuesday… I've got an eval to go over with you."

Another silent nod.

"You okay?" Dar held back a laugh, at the wistful look on her lover's face.

Kerry reached over and hit her intercom button. "Mayte?"

"Yes, Ms. Kerry?" The girl's voice came back promptly.

"I'm in a confidential meeting, okay?"

A puzzled pause. "Okay… for how long?"

"I'll call you." Kerry clicked the button off, then stood up and put her arms around Dar, hugging her fiercely.

Bewildered, but pleased, Dar returned the hug, giving Kerry's back a gentle pat. She heard a soft sniffle near her ear, and felt Kerry bury her face into the soft cotton shirt she was wearing. "Sorry about the lawyer, Ker… that was a lousy thing for them to do."

"Just hit home, I guess." Her lover whispered. "I did this to them, Dar… I am a hostile witness."

There was, really, nothing Dar could refute that with. "You did the right thing, Kerry."

"Did I?" Softly. "No one cares, Dar… you saw the papers. It's like, oh.. look.. another one who took bribes. Ho hum." She sighed. "I guess I want to have my cake and eat it, Dar… I want justice, and I want them to still love me anyway."


"I can't have both."


Kerry leaned against her, needing the security, glad beyond measure she could look forward to Dar's presence in what promised to be a very cold place.

Justice was fine, she acknowledged sadly, but it sure gave lousy hugs.


The hands on her shoulders surprised her, but Ceci recognized the touch before she had a chance to jump. She turned her head from where she'd been gazing out the front window, and regarded her husband quietly. "I really enjoyed today." She commented, unable to keep herself from leaning back a little against him. They'd gone into town that morning, just walking quietly around the quaint, small shops, then she'd taken him through the countryside, through the rolling hills and dew soaked fields that surrounded the area she lived in.

Just talking, a little.

Or, mostly, she talked, and Andy listened, about what she'd been doing, her art, the shows… being with her family again after so long. How they'd been more than glad to accept her back into their casually sophisticated circle, and she'd let them, returning to a world she'd willingly left so many years before. It was the world she lived in now, centered around the art gallery, and her small studio, where she sat alone and painted, surrounded by tubes and pallets of dreams she resisted experiencing.

Andy told her a tiny bit about what he'd been doing since his return. How he'd spent his days doing volunteer work at the VA, and his nights in the local library, indulging in a lifelong passion for reading that had always surprised her.

And how he'd been out walking on the beach one night, very late, looking out at the stars when he'd come upon a lone figure sitting in the sand, whose profile had shocked him with familiarity.

He hadn't intended on seeking Dar out, he'd told her. But God had up and decided the matter for him, and once he'd seen his beloved child, it had only been a matter of time before he'd been drawn back into her life.

Which, in a very real sense, had drawn him back into Ceci's, because, Andy had told her, Dar had nudging him in that direction the whole dang time.

She'd had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, of course, she was grateful to her daughter. On the other hand, she hurt inside knowing her cold rejection of her child had been repaid with mature compassion. She suspected, deep in her heart, that the relationship between her and Dar had been fractured beyond repair, and there was a part of her that regretted that.

"Yeap." Andy agreed. "Some pretty trees up here."

Cecilia turned all the way around and put her hands against his chest. "You know what I miss, though?"

His head inclined a bit in question.

"The sea."

He laced his fingers behind her head, and nodded.

"That beautiful light in the mornings… and the sunsets after the storms in summer." She murmured wistfully, then smiled. "Wild parrots."

That got a short, unexpected laugh. "Damn things… you never did let me chase their feathered butts outta that mango tree outside." He paused, "Not too bad a place here, though.. if you'd rather stay by your folks.. I kin live with it."

Ceci exhaled, surprised by the offer. Born and raised in the far South, a beach rat by nature and by inclination, she knew Andy would be totally miserable in Connecticut, away from his beloved hometown, and far from his equally beloved daughter. Guilt, she knew, was making him offer, but she wouldn't have accepted even if she'd had even a tiny inclination to stick around the place. "No way." A smile. "Take me a few days to arrange things with the gallery, pack things up here… and we can go find that little beach house of yours." She flexed her fingers, scratching him gently. "Maybe some place close to Dar's?"

He liked the idea. She could tell. His eyes brightened perceptibly, and a slow, half grin appeared. "See what I can do." They found themselves gazing into each other's eyes, and Andy lifted a hand to brush her cheek, the rough texture of his skin raising goosebumps on hers. "You gonna be able to stand me being round all the time?"

"Does that mean you're really retiring?" Ceci asked, on an uneven breath.

"Yeap.. that's what it does surely mean." He replied. "They been keeping me on the books just for…" He hesitated. "They made sure I had a roof, that kinda thing… least until I met up with Dar again."

Of course. She exhaled. I had his benefits. "You let her take care of you?" Ceci winced at the perceptible, to her, touch of jealousy in her tone.

But Andy snorted. "Let er? Yer joking, aren't ya? Damn kid's like a force of nature….jest rams right over every damn thing like a runaway Amram." He shook his head. "Kept things damn quiet where I was staying by, but the next thing I know, stuffs getting dropped off there, Lord knows how she found the damn address out."

"She knew you'd never take it otherwise." Ceci smiled thinly. "Or.. maybe she just didn't want to risk being turned away." Her eyes dropped. "Especially by you."

"Cec.." He tweaked one of her ears, an old habit of his.

"I know." A sigh. "One step at a time." She leaned forward and closed her eyes, abandoning the bad memories up to the peace of just being there with him. They'd work things out, she was sure of it.

The phone warbled, surprising her. She picked it up without looking, still keeping her body pressed against Andrew's. "Hello?"

"Ceci?" Elli's voice sounded a touch hesitant. "Are you feeling better today, my dear?"

"I feel wonderful." She mumbled. "Why?"

A definite pause. "Well, you sounded so strange the other day.. I wasn't sure.. I thought perhaps you had one of your migraines." Elli told her. "I was just wondering if you wanted to pick up something for dinner, before the gallery party tonight."

Oh… rats. "I'd forgotten completely about that." Cecilia admitted. "What time is it again?"

"Cecilia… " Elli sounded concerned. "What is going on? You've been acting so odd since the funeral… I'm quite concerned for you. I mentioned it to Charles just yesterday.. he said he was going to stop by to see if something was the matter."

"Nothing 's wrong." Ceci answered. "As a matter of fact… everything' right, for a change." She looked up, to see Andy looking back down at her, a wry expression on his scarred face. "Andy came home."

It didn't really matter that there was now total silence at the other end of the phone. It was much more peaceful that way.

"Wh… Ceci, what did you say?" Elli spluttered. "I'm sure you just said… "

"That Andy came home. I did." She traced a line up his sweatshirt.


"Mmhmm.. my husband. You remember him, don't you, Elli? Tall, dark hair.. beautiful blue eyes?" She gave up a little impish grin as he blushed visibly.

"He's there?" Elli sounded completely shocked.

"Right here… you want to talk to him?" She held the phone up. "Say hello to Elli."

"'Lo, Elli." Andrew drawled obligingly. Of all his wife's relatives, he'd liked Elli the best, though that hadn't been saying much. At least she'd been the least outwardly nasty to him.

"There… heard that?" It was strange, in a way. Telling other people suddenly made it real, in a way it hadn't been before. "So.. I've been a little distracted, El… I'm sorry. I did forget completely about the party tonight"

"Ceci." Elli was audibly collecting her wits. "My god… I have no idea what to say."

"Congratulations is a good start."

"Well, of course, my dear, of course..that goes without saying, but I mean…I don’t' understand… I thought…"

"They made a mistake." Ceci told her quietly. "What every serviceman's widow in the history of the world wanted to have happen to them, just happened to me." She looked up and searched Andy's somber face. "I'm not sure why I lucked out, but I'm not complaining."

Elli sighed. "I'm glad for you, Ceci..I truly am… it's quite remarkable…I'm sure we'd all love to know what happened. Shall I tell Mark you won't be at the party tonight, or… I mean, it is in your honor.. the new exhibit and all."

"Hold on." She pressed the mute button on the phone. "I was supposed to do a party tonight."

"Mm?" Andrew looked noncommittal.

"At the gallery… they put up a new exhibit of mine. I'm not really fond of it, but… they paid for it, so there you are."

"Don't let me stop you.. .g'wan." Andy told her.

"I don't want you to stop me.. I want you to go with me." Ceci replied. "Please?"

Son of a biscuit. Andy was caught between a boat and a dock and he knew it. "Honey… teacup parties and me don’t mix."

"I know." Ceci agreed. "But my whole family'll be there."

"They will, huh?"


Well. Andy felt that bitty little rebel inside him come climbing out. "Kin I go like this?" He plucked his sweatshirt, a really soft, comfortable one Kerry had sent. "Don't got much else."

Ceci smiled, and let her held breath out. "I've got something else you can wear." She whispered, then unmuted the phone. "Elli? No… tell him I'll be there."

"You will? Oh.. all right… I'll tell him. Listen, Ceci, maybe we can come over, say tomorrow? I know I'd love to see Andy, and hear what happened."

"We'll arrange something."

"All right.. I'll see you later, dear."

She hung up the phone and put it on the counter, then looked up for those vivid blue eyes. "Thank you."

"You sure you want me to do this?" Andy asked, quizzically. "Gonna stir them up like a bear in a honeybee nest."

Cecilia nodded firmly. "They've been telling me for seven years I should put my past behind me, and move on. I never could. Maybe part of me knew…certainly, a big part of me never stopped watching that front walk, expecting you to come up it one day." She stroked his face very gently, brushing back the soft, salt and pepper locks. "I want them to see what I was waiting for." She was a little surprised to find her breathing irregular as she traced the faint smile on his face.

"All right." Andy drawled, returning the touch, and sending a definite tingle down her spine. "Glad you waited." He inclined his head and found her lips, kissing her with an almost bashful gentleness.

Ceci slid both arms around his neck and pulled herself up and closer, craving the contact as though she were thirsting after water. She felt his hands slip around her waist after a moment of surprise, then she was lifted up into a much more comfortable position, and snugged tight in a powerful grip. "Mmm." She explored delicately, finding an unmistakable response that started a welcome fire deep in her guts.

Ceci let her eyes drift open for a moment, finding darkened, almost periwinkle ones watching her.

They both smiled.


"What… is that?"

Dar peered over Kerry's shoulder. "It's a door."

"Not that." The blond woman gave her a look. "That." She pointed.

"It's a mannequin."

Kerry pulled her partner to a halt out side the small, neon decorated shop. "Thank you, Ms. I am Literal as the day is long. I know that pasty white thing is a mannequin. What is it wearing?"

Dar walked forward and pressed her fingertips against the window, examining the figure in question seriously. "I'm not sure what you call it, but if it was a bull, it'd be a come hither ring."

Kerry covered her eyes. "Oh my god." She muttered. "I'm about to become educated, aren't I?"

"Not with that kind of apparatus." Dar responded mildly. "You don't have the anatomy for it." She opened the door, and gave her friend a little half bow. "After you?"

"Ew." Kerry sighed, and girded her mental loins. "They don't make those for girls then, huh?"

"Oh.. they do." Dar put a hand on her back and nudged her forward, into the neon lit space. "They just use nipple rings."

"Ni…" Kerry shut her mouth so fast she almost bit her tongue. "Ow." She crossed her arms over her chest.

The store was small, and very cluttered. There were three display cases against the walls, mostly lit by pink and yellow neon light, and the ceiling was covered in hanging devices of all shapes, sizes, colors, and various degrees of hide curing. At least, Kerry hoped the ones that smelled rank were badly cured, and not just badly used. She stepped forward cautiously, giving the two salespeople behind the counter a faint smile, aware of Dar's tall, confident presence at her back.

"Hey there." The girl clerk leaned against the glass, almost disgorging her considerable frontal assets out of her leather bustier. "What can I help you babes with tonight?"

Kerry sucked in a breath to answer, then realized she had no clue in the world what to say. "Uh."

"Mm.. just browsing for now… but we're looking for something in leather." Dar answered, over her shoulder.

The male clerk snickered. "Ain't everyone?" He adjusted the complex arrangement of straps and buckles that covered his somewhat unimpressive chest. "Chicks really go for this stuff."

"Oh yeah." Kerry dredged up a smile. "Why don't you check it out, Dar… I'll just.. um… " She waved a hand. "Browse." She edged away from her wickedly smiling partner and put her hands firmly behind her back as she circled the room, peering curiously into the glass cases.

Okay. She wasn't a total innocent. She recognized the vibrators, and the different brands of massage oil, the entertaining variety of rubbers, and the large, latex dildos, some of which with inexplicable appendages with tiny heads that resembled woodchucks. What was up with that? She wondered briefly, before dismissing it, and moving on down the case.

Edible underwear.

Hmm. That had possibilities.. though ice cream was just as tasty, and much more fun to put on as well as take off. Kerry stopped, and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Glad I thought of that… we're out of fudge." She made a mental note to stop at the store.

Rings. Kerry blinked, and cocked her head to one side. Rings? She leaned forward and read the tiny print on a box. "Oh." She bit her lip to keep from giggling. "Right… okay." She muttered. "It's like that Xfiles episode that mentioned autoasphixiation.. sort of the same idea." A pause. "Only lower, and not quite as dangerous."

"Hey, Kerry?"

"Mm?" Kerry turned, to see her beloved bunkmate holding up something to the alleged light. "Um.. what is that?"

"It's perfect… just what you should wear." Dar assured her, with a grin. "Here." She tossed it over.

Kerry caught it, surprised at the weight. "Hey.. it's leather." She sniffed it. Okay.. so it wasn't used.

"Yes, it is."

Kerry glanced up at the decidedly mischevious tone, then examined her outfit. "Oh no." She started shaking her head. "Oh, non no no… no, Dar.. no no…. I am not wearing a leather bikini." She held up the top, which was a creamy, cappuccino colored leather, with intricate stitching all over it.

"It's not a bikini." Dar objected. "That's a skirt."

"It's a mini skirt."

"Skirts a skirt."

Kerry peered at the item. It was a very brief, also cappuccino colored leather bit, with a beautifully tooled leather belt. "Dar… I don't know… "

"Comes with nice boots." Dar held them up. "And some bracelets and stuff.. c'mon, Ker.. you'd look gorgeous in this." She turned towards the girl clerk. "Don't you think?"

The girl chewed her gum reflectively. "You work out?"
Kerry gave her a doubtful look. "Yeah."

"No sweat… it's a hot piece." She waved a hand at her. "Go for it."

Erg. Kerry felt herself caught between a mischevious impulse and her natural modesty. She glanced around the store to give her self a moment's more time, then stopped, and smirked. "Okay.. on one condition."

Dar crossed her arms and lifted a dark brow. "What?"

Green eyes twinkled visibly even in the neon that tinted them almost caramel. "You wear that." She pointed.

Uh. Dar eyed the inky black leather vest doubtfully. There seemed to be more holes than leather, with strategic patches barely providing legal modesty. A fringe of leather strips depended from the shoulders, and the sides were laced with the same stuff, exposing just about everything from armpit to hip.

Well. She exhaled. Daddy had always told her, Dardar, if'n you got it, don't be shy about showin it. "Okay." She flashed a smile at the surprised, and outfoxed Kerrison. "I'll take both of these.. and throw in those wristlets too."

"Hey." Kerry recovered and reached for her wallet. "Hold on a minute."

"Ah ah.. " Dar held up a hand. "Fair's fair.. you get to rent the Harley, remember?"

Mm. Right. Kerry gave in, and handed her leather bikini over. Then she glanced around again, and tilted her head up to examine a hanging contraption. Slowly she tilted her head one way, then the other, then she bent down and looked at it upside down. Finally, she turned to find Dar watching her with an amused look. 'What is that?"

"It's a harness." Dar hefted the shopping bag, and returned her credit card to her wallet. "C'mon."

"What do you use it for?" Kerry held a hand up to stop her.

Dar put an arm around her shoulders, and steered her towards the door. "Have I ever told you the story of Catherine the Great and her horse?"

"Huh?" Kerry's brows knit together. "What does that have to do with a kinky sex store?"



A sigh. "She was into animals."


"You know, Kerry… like all those sheep jokes?"

"What sheep jokes?"

"Or the ones about farmers and their cows?"

"Paladar Roberts.. what in blazes are you talking about?"

Another sigh. "Hungry?"


"I've got a great idea for dinner… it's just a short walk.. how about it?"


"She used to screw her favorite stallion."


"Oh my god.. that is so bullshit."

"No, really."

"Dar, that is so not true. Didn't you take Russian history?"

"I went to school in Dade County. They don't require history."

"Well, let me tell you, it's not true. We did a course in…. wait a minute." Kerry pulled her lover to a halt. "Do you mean to tell me those hanging things were for people to use to have sex with?"


"Jesus, Dar.. why didn't you just say so?" Kerry shook her head. "C"mon. I'm starved."

Dar chuckled, and led the way to a bayside restaurant, tucked between a marina, and the abandoned shell of what had been a theatre. It was a quiet night, and she had no problem obtaining a nice table by a wide window, with a great view of the water, the boats, and tiny, gray clouds chasing each other across the moon lit night sky.

They ordered from the fresh seafood menu, and settled back with a bottle of light, sweet wine. Kerry twirled her glass, and took a sip, then regarded her lover through the warm glow of the table's candlelight. "I don't think I've ever been here."

The shadows across Dar's face shifted. "No.. I haven't either.. not for a very long time." She took a gingerly sip of the wine, hoping her still chancy stomach wouldn't object.

"Hm." Kerry looked around. "It's nice… I'd have thought you'd like a place like this."

A slow nod. "Yeah… yeah, I used to.. I, um.. brought the first person I went out with here all the time." She took a sip of wine. "The last time we came here.. was the night we broke up."

"Oh." Kerry played with her napkin. "Sorry.. we could have gone somewhere else, Dar… I didn't know.."

"No..it's okay." Dar smiled, feeling the truth in that statement with a sense of incredible pleasure. "It was my choice, remember? I thought it was about time I let that part of my past go.. and enjoy coming back to someplace I used to really like."

"Wow.. okay." Kerry was a little confused, but pleased. "Well, I like it here… it's got a great view."

A nod. "Yes, it does." Dar gazed across the table, oblivious of the twinkling lights outside. She smiled as Kerry blushed faintly. "The last time I was here… Shari told me I was such a dysfunctional social moron, I'd never have a relationship that lasted more than six months."

"What a stupid, clueless, jerk." Kerry snorted. "I mean, look.. our relationship's lasted longer than that.. she obviously had no idea what she was talking about."

Dar cupped her chin in one hand, and smiled. "Yes, ours has." She agreed softly. "It's a first for me.. and I just wanted to mark the occasion."

Kerry's jaw just dropped. She stared at her lover in stunned surprise, trying frantically to come up with some kind of response for that. "Buh." She rubbed her face with one hand. "Jesus, Dar."


"You know what I was doing the other day?"

Puzzled, Dar shook her head. "No."

"Planning what to do on our anniversary."

"Oh." A chuckle. "Our first?"

"Our fiftieth." Green eyes met hers with quiet certainty.

Dar just looked at her.

Kerry lifted her glass, and touched Dar's with it. "I was thinking maybe a tour on the Space Station." She took a sip. "They should have weekend packages by then, don'cha think?"

"Yeah." Dar's face creased into a smile. "Sounds great to me."


Charles Bannersley cast a critical eye over the room, reluctantly approving the starched servers who stood patiently behind the buffet, and the newly buffed hardwood floors that gleamed under the soft, carefully calibrated light of the gallery.

"They did a nice job." His twin sister Carolyn eased up next to him, her ginger colored hair reflecting the light. "The exhibit looks good, too."

"Mmhmm." He nodded. "Not bad.. not bad… press got some good shots, and Edgar Evans was making billing and cooing noises over Ceci's last piece down there.. I'd say we've got a budding success on our hands."

"Speaking of.. where is she?" Carolyn asked, glancing around. "Don’t tell me she isn't here yet."

Charles shrugged. "You know her. I was going to stop by there this afternoon, but I got tied up in a meeting. Elli was whining at me the other day over Ceci acting strange."

They exchanged sibling glances. "When doesn't she?" Carolyn inquired, arching a brow. "Did you find her a date for tonight, Chucky? I'm so tired of seeing her wafting around alone like some kind of tumbleweed."

He sighed. "Hey, I do my part, Cary… she just doesn't cooperate. Apparently I can't find the right kind of guy to interest her."

His sister put an errant bit of hair behind one ear. "Have you tried the local trucker bars?" She sniped. "Maybe you're just looking in the wrong places."

They both laughed wryly. "Listen, I feel bad for the poor thing." Carolyn shook her head. "She's never going to leave that nightmare behind her until we can prod her back into some kind of social life.. and you know it."

"I know.. I know… I'll keep try…ah, there she is." Charles turned as he spotted their younger sister entering, dressed in a plain, but classic dress, in a dark aqua color that complimented her fair hair and pale eyes. "Well… she made an effort.. what do you know?"

"Mm… " Carolyn leaned towards him to watch. "Hey… she looks good… got a little color to her cheeks for a change."

"Yeah.. too bad I didn't ask Bob to come tonight.. I've been trying to get them hooked up for mo….oh my god."

Cecilia had glanced behind her, and held a hand out, and tall figure had entered, ducking slightly to clear the low doorframe. Their hands met and she drew her companion forward, turning to greet the tuxedo clad man who hurried forward.

Carolyn clutched her brother's arm. "Chuck.. "

"I see." His voice was flat with shock.

"That can't be Andrew."

His nostrils twitched as he studied the man towering over his sister. Dressed in pristine Navy whites, despite the dark hair more sprinkled with grays than he remembered, and a new set of ugly scars, he surprisingly didn't look too different. "Apparently it is." His voice hardened

"I can't believe it. After all this time? The Navy said he was dead.. where in the hell has he been?" Carolyn hissed.

"I don't know, and frankly, I don't care. But if he thinks he's just going to walk back into Ceci's life like this.. he's got another thing coming." Charles twitched his jacket straight and headed towards the door.


"Cecilia, darling.. so glad I caught you coming in."

Ceci held a hand out. "Hello, Edgar… thanks for being here. It's nice to see you."

The art critic preened a little. "My privelge, as always.. I wanted to tell you how much I love your work in acrylic in there.. the seascape one, you know?'

"Yes, I know the one." Ceci smiled at him. "Would you like to meet the inspiration for that one? She turned and held a hand out towards a diffidently waiting Andrew, who was still standing just outside the door. He entered and took it, and came up beside her. "This is my husband, Andrew."

Edgar tilted his head back and gazed up. "A pleasure sir.. a pleasure… ah.. Commander, is it?"

"That's right." Andy shifted a little inside the dress whites, a bunch looser than they had been, but all in all not too damn bad, considering. Ceci had even given him a trim, though his hair was far from it's usual regulation crew cut. He took the critics hand and returned his tentative grip with a solid one.

"Goodness.. I had no idea you were married, my dear… but I'm so glad to meet someone who can inspire such wonderful art. " Edgar beamed at Andrew, who gave him a dourly reserved smile in return. "Congratulations sir.. congratulations.. on such a lovely, and talented wife."

Andrew decided he liked the little penguin. "Thanks." A motion caught his eye, and he focused his peripheral vision that way. Well well. Cecilia's older brother Charles was headed in their direction, and he didn't look happy. Charles was tall, almost as tall as Andy was, and had red hair liberally peppered with gray, and thinning badly on top. He was about six or seven years Ceci's senior, and had always taken great pleasure in presenting himself as the head of the family, after their father had died some fifteen years back.

He was, in Andy's estimation, a half assed jerkwad with more breeding than sense, and they'd never gotten along. He poked Ceci gently, and jerked his chin towards her brother. "Here comes a man with a bee in his britches." He muttered.

Ceci watched Charles approach, and a tiny, vindictive grin briefly creased her face. "Hope it stings him right in the behind."

"Wall… I kin think of some better places.. but he ain't got none." Andrew drawled, as Charles reached them, his twin right behind him. "Lo, Charles, Carolyn."

Charles stopped, and inhaled, his lips twisting grimly. "Andrew. This is quite a surprise."

"Ah bet."

Ceci eased between them. "Sorry, Chucky.. I didn't really have time to prepare you.. things have been happening pretty quickly. " She glanced behind him. "Hi, Cary."

"Cec." Her sister murmured. "Hello, Andrew." She gave her brother in law a guarded look.

"Ms. Roberts.." A gallery aide came up, looking a little agitated. "Could you come into the display room, please.. the press would like to speak with you."

Ceci hesitated. "I.."

"G'wan." Andrew gave her a little nudge. "Give me a chance to catch your kin up here."

Cecilia gave him a look, recognizing the deliberate, slight exaggeration of his usual drawl for what it was. "I'll be right back." She curled a hand briefly around his wrist, and squeezed it, then followed the aide out, leaving him with her brother and sister in a silent tableau.


A soft knock at the door brought Dar's head up, and she paused in her work. "Yeah?"

Mariana stuck her head in, and smiled. "Got a minute?"

Dar leaned back and rubbed her eyes. "Sure.. c'mon in."

The Personnel VP entered and closed the door, crossing the carpeted floor and seating herself in one of Dar's visitor chairs. "How's it going?"

"Not bad." Dar folded her hands. "We got most of the new boxes in place… and I think we're going to start testing next week. It's going a lot smoother than I'd planned for… nice, for a change."

"Good to hear." Mari nodded. "Listen.. Duks and I, and Mark and Barbara were planning on taking a ride up to the fair tonight.. you and Kerry interested?"

The Youth Fair. Dar was surprised at her tickling of interest. "I don't know. Hang on." She pressed the intercom. "Hey, Kerry?"

"Yeesss?" The blond woman's voice sounded a touch smug, and definitely pleased.

"You up for the youth fair?"

A puzzled silence. "I didn't know you were into cows, Dar.. or is this a continuance of yesterday's conversation?"

Mariana clapped a hand over her mouth and turned pink from laughter.

Dar sighed. "You haven't been to a youth fair down here, I take it." She played with a pen. "Few ducks, few chickens, few rabbits.. mostly rides and the midway."

"Oh." Kerry fell silent for a moment. "Okay.. sure.. that sounds like fun. Maybe I'll win you a huge stuffed pig or something."

"I'd better drive, then, because you, me and a stuffed pig aren't going to fit in your car." Dar advised her dryly. "Mari's doing the invite.. it's us, her and Dukky, and Mark and Barb." She grinned. "You can finally challenge Mark to that slingshot competition." She waited for Kerry to stop laughing. "Okay.. see you later." Dar lifted an eyebrow at Mari. "Sounds like a plan."

"Good." Mari clasped her hands around one knee. "Actually, I didn't come here to ask that. I just finished going over the review you did for Kerry." She watched Dar tilt her head in inquiry. "And I wanted to come over here, and talk to you about it."


"No.. just the opposite." Mari shook her head. "It was a a very well balanced, well thought out review, that seemed objective, and professional." She paused. "Did you get someone to ghost write it? I've been reading reviews from you for five years, Dar… they don’t' usually look like that."

Dar doodled on her scratch pad. "No…I just wanted to be very careful.. I know there's a built in prejudice there, and I bent over backwards to be as fair as I possibly could." Finding negatives, she reflected, had been the most difficult part. No one was perfect, but she tended to mentally downplay Kerry's faults to an almost ludicrous point, and that wasn't fair to either of them professionally. Her biggest issue with her assistant was that Kerry tended to get totally involved in the details of a project.. and sometimes she lost sight of the big picture.

That was something, Dar was sure, that would correct itself with experience, as Kerry learned to watch the impact of her actions on a wider scope. But it had caused a few near misses, and she'd had to bring Kerry in the last time, and sit her down, and give her a lecture.

She wondered who that lecture had stung more.

"Well, you certainly did that. I was very impressed. Good job." Mari smiled. "Now.. do you want to give it to her, or do you want me to?"

Dar took a breath. "I'll do it." She met Mari's eyes. "But she's up for a salary action… I'd rather you handled the details of that." A faint smile twisted her lips.

Mari chuckled. "All right… good point… but give me a guideline.. what do you think she's worth?"

Blue eyes caught hers, as quiet, and serious as she'd ever seen them. "The company couldn't afford what I think she's worth." Dar replied calmly. "That's why I'm asking you to work it out." She flipped her pencil over. "I'm going to talk to her about that open position we have when I give her the eval… I think with some guidance, she'd do all right there."

Mari considered the statement. "We could probably post it, and get someone with more experience, but Kerry's got two things going for her. One, she knows how we work, and two, she can work with you." She gave Dar a frank look. "And of the two, the second is what would concern me the most bringing in an outsider."

Dar propped her chin up on one fist. "Am I such a problem?" She asked, plaintively.

"Dar, don't even go there. You know we're friends, but you also know perfectly well that you're one of the hardest people in the entire corporation to work with." Mari smiled to take the sting out of her words. "Although you have mellowed out a whole lot in the last few months."

"I don’t think I have." Dar disagreed. "It's just that Kerry's taken off so much of the bullshit from my shoulders.. I don't have to be an asshole nearly as often to get things done." She pointed a finger at Mari. "But I haven't forgotten how."

"Warning taken." Mari stood, and brushed her slacks off. "Have we gotten rid of our Houston pest? You know he was busting my chops to get your personnel file." She smirked. "I just loved pulling out my three hundred and seventy two page personnel directive handbook and quoting the privacy regulations to him."

"Yeah.. for now." Dar leaned back and stifled a yawn. "But I've got the feeling he'll be back.. .he gave me the creeps. He's not going to stop until he causes major league trouble, I think." She got up and checked her watch. "I'm going to get some coffee… interested?"

Mari nodded. "Sure… that stomach bug clear up all right for you?"

Dar shrugged, as they headed towards the door. "Yeah, pretty much." She held the door for Mari and followed her out. "Glad it wasn't contagious."


 Andrew resisted the impulse to put his hands in his pockets and merely clasped them in front of him as he returned the veiled, hostile stares from Ceci's siblings. "Nice weather." He drawled, deliberately drawing out the words and injecting as much Southern as he possibly could into his voice and still get the words out round his tongue.

"And here I thought we were rid of you." Charles stated. "But just like a bad Rembrandt, here you are."

"Naice t'see you too, Chuckie… that a new suit?" Andrew let the hostility roll off him without any trouble, having spent far too much time in his life facing people trying to kill him.

Charles glanced around, then indicated a small door. "I've got something to say to you." He turned and walked towards the side room, fully expecting Andrew to follow. With a sigh, and a small shake of his head, the navy officer did.

Charles closed the door behind them and walked across the tiny room, which featured a table, a chair and a lamp set over the table, clearing a space for examining art, or other objects. "I'm not going to waste any time."

"Good t'hear." Andrew settled against the wall.

"If you think you're going to just waltz back into my sister's life, you've got another thing coming." Charles turned, and folded his arms. "I'm not going to allow that."

"And jest what are you gonna to t'stop me?" Andy inquired mildly. "Seven years and you still ain't got the sense God gave a groundhog, d'you? It ain't your choice, Chuck.. never was, never will be.. it's hers, and she's done made it." He paused. "Again."

"You going to take and drag her out into the streets again?" The man taunted. "Can't you see she's better off here?"

Andy studied him. "Nope."

"You always were a selfish pig."

"If'n you think she is better off, then you've got a set of twisted ideas, cause what I see, is a lonely woman half crazed needing someone t'care for her."

"She's perfectly happy here." Charles shot back. "She's got family, and friends, and a decent place to live for a change."

"She tell you that?"


"She's happy?" Andy pushed off the wall and eased towards him. "Dj'a ever ask her?"

"She's my sister. I know she is." Was the answer. "That's why I took that notification they sent last year and burned it."

Andrew's dark brows snapped together, and he moved his head forward, his eyes narrowing. "What?"

"Oh.. sure. That notice the damn Navy sent.. that youd been found? I burned it." Charles taunted. "It came to our place, and you bet I grabbed it, and had my self a little party making sure my sister never saw a word of it."

Big hands flexed. "You done that." Andy felt his breathing slow, and deepen. "Here, I was thinking she'd done tossed it away." His voice was almost an offhand murmur.

"I wasn't going to let her fall back in that trap." Charles laughed. "She's better off out of that hell, and out of your life, and away from that perverted kid you forced on her."

"Charles?" Andy spoke slowly. "Y'all better shut up now."

"I've just started." The man shot back. "Disgusting… she shows up for a funeral with her little tart in tow, I about died of …blck." The room whirled as he was picked up and slammed onto his back on the table. "Gchk."

Hands twisted in his shirt collar, and air cut off abruptly. He struggled, looking up into a pair of blue eyes so cold, they were almost colorless. Andrew's face had settled into stillness, save a feral twitch running up and down either side of his nose, matching the flaring nostrils. "Now." The voice was much lower, and deeper. "Y'all are gonna shut up."

His chest hurt and he fought to drag air into his lungs.

"Or I'm going to pull yer haid right off yer body, and stuff it up your rear end." Andy leaned on him, sending shooting pain up and down body. "Do you understand me, boy?"

Hysterical, he nodded, and the grip relaxed, just a little. Just enough for him to suck in a tiny bit of air.

"Ah do not like you." Andrew enunciated very carefully. "Ah have never liked you, but I put up with you cause you just happened to share the same mamma and pappa as my wife." He leaned closer. "But ah will not put up with you bad mouthing mah family. You understand me, boy?" Closer. "Or I will surely kill you."

Charles started shaking.

"If you ever try to get between Ceci and me again, I will rip you apart." A pause. "And if you ever speak about mah daughter like that again, I will make you a eunuch in under five seconds." Andrew physically lifted him up and threw him against the wall, pouncing across the floor and grabbing him again as he rebounded, and shoving him up and holding him. "Are we real straight on that, Mister?"

"You're crazy." Charles croaked.

"No sir." Andrew shook his head. "Ah am a very angry man, who knows how to kill people right well." His eyes bored into the shorter man's. "If you have any smarts at all, you will just say yes sir, and shut up."

Ceci's brother stared at him for a long, hateful moment, then lowered his eyes. "Yes, sir."

Andrew held him a second more then released his grip, and stepped back, standing alert and balanced on the balls of his feet as Charles slowly twitched at his clothing, and gathered the shreds of his composure. "We're done now." Andy turned and walked to the door, putting his hand on the knob before turning and facing his adversary. "Asshole."

And he opened the door, walked through it, and closed it behind him firmly. Ceci was just coming back, and she headed his way, a concerned look on her face. "Ready to see yer pictures?"

"Sure." Cecilia glanced at the door. "Everything okay?"

"Yer brother and I just clear the air a little." Andy reassured her. "C'mon."

She tucked her hand around his arm, and paced lightly at his side, watching the signs of rage slowly fade. "Andy?"

"Mm?" His eyes blinked, then met hers.

"You didn't break anything, did you?"

The faintest quirk of his lips. "No, ma'am, I did not."

Ceci exhaled. "All right.. come on. I think they've got those little stuffed chicken things you like on the buffet."

Andy relaxed, releasing the last of his anger out to the ether. No sense in holding it, anyway. He gazed fondly down at his wife. "You looking to spoil me, pretty lady?"

He got an elfin, much missed smile for that. "You betcha." Ceci steered him towards a cluster of people around a large canvas. "See what you think of this one."

Several faces turned as they came up, staring curiously at Andrew. "Cec? Who's your friend?" One of the art gallery's director's called out, too far to read the nameplate on Andy's uniform.

"This is my husband." Cecilia answered, enjoying the surprised looks. "Andrew Roberts." She started introductions as the crowd closed in, chattering in question.


Kerry stood, regarding her reflection in the mirror soberly. She was dressed in her underwear, and laid out neatly on the counter was her little leather outfit, draping saucily over the edge in a fall of slinky hide.

"Well." She met the sea green eyes gazing back at her. "I could pretend I was going as Pocahontas." She paused. "The blond hair's a little off, but…I think I may have a feather around here somewhere."

With a sigh, she finally picked up the skirt, and wrapped it around her waist, adjusting the fit with the convienient velcro closures. "What on earth did the do before velcro, Chino? I can't imagine it."

"Grufw." The Labrador was curled up on the bed, watching her with interest, tired out after a long afternoon's run Kerry had just finished up with.

"It's pretty, huh?" She fingered the leather belt, intricately tooled and stained in several colors, with a knotwork design. The skirt itself was a very soft rusty tan leather, so thin it draped over her hips and thighs almost like cloth. "O…K…" Kerry picked up the top next, and studied it. "Hm. A leather sports bra. This is going to be different."

After a moment's hesitation, she removed her regular bra and slipped the leather one on, fiddling with the fastenings in back then bringing the straps around to her front, and adjusting them. With faint trepidation, she lifted her eyes to the reflection and chewed her lip at what she saw.

God, there was a lot of her showing. She spared a moment of intense gratitude for the months in the gym, as she twisted her body a little, and watched the muscles move just under her tan. "See what she meant about needing to work out to wear this one." She murmured.  "What do you think, Chino?"


Kerry's brain almost exploded, then she realized the voice was Dar's, and coming from the door. "Jesus." She covered her eyes as a laugh escaped. "I thought the dog answered me."

"Woof." Dar replied, easing the rest of the way into the room, still dressed in her workout shorts and cutoff shirt. "Mmm… I like it." She studied Kerry approvingly. "You definitely look natural in that."

"Natural?' Kerry put her hands on her hips. "Dar, it's a leather bikini.. don’t' tell me I look natural in a leather bikini, please, because my brain will dribble out my ears just at the thought."

"But you do." Dar objected gently. "Stand up straight."

With a sigh, Kerry did so, letitng her hands drop to her thighs. In reflex, she lifted her head, and chin as Dar adjusted the straps on her top, the feel of the light fingertips on her bare back striking a chord of faint familiarity. "I look like a fake Native American."

"Nah." Dar pulled her pale hair back and held it. "How bout we put a leather holder on this, and you can put on some of that old jewelry in Aunt May's trunk. You'll look great, Ker. Honest.." She peeked over Kerry's shoulder and examined the mirror's reflection, as Kerry lifted her eyes and met her gaze in it. "What's wrong?"

Kerry's lips tightened, then relaxed. "Sometimes I look in this mirror, and I have no idea who that person is looking back at me is." She gave a slight shake of her head, and lifted her hands a trifle, then let them drop. "I never imagined myself like this."

"Does it bother you?" Dar asked, hesitantly. "You know, Kerry… just because I do the gym and all that, doesn't mean you have to."

"No, I like it." A gentle smile. "It's just that I've never felt good about myself before, and it's a little strange getting used to."She tilted her head back. "You're wonderful for my ego, you know that?"

"Glad to be of service." Dar chuckled in relief.

"Speaking of egos, it's your turn to get dressed." Kerry grinned. "I'm going to finish up getting ready."

"Okay." Dar kissed her bare shoulder. "I'm going to grab a shower, then see if I can squeeze into that vest.. never mind those jeans you dug up from the closet." She gave Kerry a pat on the butt and ambled out, followed by Chino.

Kerry shook her head, and turned her attention back to the mirror. "You know something, Kerrison? For someone once voted most likely to become a republican governor, you didn't turn out so bad."


Dar tousled her hair semi dry, then trudged out into her bedroom wrapped in a towel. Now that it was the day of the reunion, she found herself kind of looking forward to it, in a bizarre sort of way. High school hadn't been a great time for her, dad had been out to sea a lot, and her relationship with her mother had been going downhill.

But she'd had fun, anyway, finding the most outrageous things to wear and do possible, knowing the school was just gnashing it's teeth, since expelling an honor's student bucking for class valedictorian just didn't cut the mustard.

It was, what, eleventh grade when she'd stopped responding to her birth name, and made everyone call her Dar? Yeah. She'd worn sunglasses inside, and leather, and ripped clothes, with chains hanging around her neck, ear cuffs. Oh, and the spurs.

And the boots.

She's sounded like John Wayne going up in assembly that last year, to pick up not one, but four scholastic achievement awards, and she'd thoroughly enjoyed the fact that it drove every single one of the staff, and her mother, completely crazy.

Bite me. In studs, on the back of that leather jacket, too.

"What a punk." She laughed at her reflection. "And they couldn't say a god damned word to me - not with that record, and zero absences, and zero tardies."

Perfect attendance. Straight A student. An excellent athlete who refused to participate in team sports. Cocky. Antisocial.

Dar sighed, meeting her own eyes in the mirror. "What an asshole I was. If I'd have met myself, I'd have kicked my butt from one end of Flagler Street to the other." With a wry chuckle, she shed her towel, and slid into a pair of cotton briefs with little devils all over them. Then she picked up the pair of very faded, artfully ripped jeans Kerry had discovered in this bag shoved way back in the back of the closet, and stepped into them, tugging them up and pausing.

"Hm." They were snug, but she'd expected that. She fastened the worn buttons and studied the result. Well, nothing hung over, and nothing poked out. Better than she'd hoped for, actually. She picked up the vest and examined it, then shrugged it on and started pulling laces.

The leather was soft, and pliable, and readily fitted itself to her body as she finished the side laces, and started up the front. There were sizable gaps in the hide, where her own skin showed, and the neckline was cut low with narrow shoulder straps, exposing quite a bit of her upper body.

"All right." She murmured, tugging the last bit into place and patting the front. "An escapee from a bad Mad Max imitation movie. Nifty."

The door bell rang, and she blinked, then walked out into the living room and tried to imagine who on earth would be dropping by without security calling her. Clemente, probably. She unlocked the door and pulled it back, stopping in startled shock when blue eyes on a level with hers appeared.

"Oh.. hi dad." Dar glanced to one side. "Mother." A totally adolescent panic turned her guts to mush. "Uh.."

Andrew Robert's eyebrows hiked up and he put a hand on one hip as he studied his offspring. "What in the hell?"

"Now, that's the daughter I remember." Cecilia murmured softly, an ironic twist to her lips. "Sorry we surprised you, Dar. We just flew in, and your father wouldn't rest before he showed me where you lived."

"Ah." Yeah.. okay.. jaw closed, brain on straight, Dar, c'mon. "Sure.. sure.. um. C'mon in." She backed up and allowed them to enter. "Mother, we have a dog."

"I heard." Cecilia replied evenly. "I'll live."

Chino came bounding out of Dar's bedroom and spotted Andrew, corkscrewing over to him in utter delight. "Stop that." Andrew scowled at the puppy, then knelt as Chino wriggled against his legs in animal ecstasy. "C'mon you furball.. cut that out."

Dar found herself facing her mother, totally unprepared to do so. She felt very off balance. "Um..you want to sit down.. we're just getting ready for this party we have to go to.. that's why the um.." She tugged at her leather laces. "I don’t' usually dress this way anymore."

"Ah." Cecilia kept her response to a minimum, feeling as uncomfortable as Dar looked. "What kind of party?"

"High school reunion."


Andrew stood up. "You are not tellin me you are stepping foot outside this house like that now, are you?"

"Ah. Yes, actually" Dar put her hands behind her back and tried not to breathe too deeply. "It's a come as you were thing."

Her father straightened. "Paladar, you are not goin out there half naked."

"No.. she's not." Kerry's voice interrupted, a wonderful sound to Dar's ears. "But I am."

Eyes went to the stairs as the blond woman trotted down them and appeared in all her scantily leathered, booted glory. "She's kinda overdressed, as a matter of fact."

"Dear Jesus." Andrew covered his eyes.

Cecilia bit the inside of her mouth hard to keep from bursting out in hysterical laughter.

Dar slid an arm around Kerry's shoulders and rubbed her back, as the shorter woman wrapped her in a hug. Over Kerry's head, she looked up, and met her mother's eyes.

And realized they might at last have a common ground to meet on. She managed a half smile. Her mother managed one back.

Just maybe. "Want the nickel tour?" Dar spoke directly to Ceci.



"Maybe this was a bad idea, Andy." Ceci clasped her hands around one knee, as they sat together in the living room. Dar and Kerry had disappeared into the kitchen after their little impromptu tour, and a lull had settled. "I don't think Dar's very comfortable with me here."

"Jest relax." Her husband murmured. "She'll be all right… she just hates surprises. Shoulda called her." He looked around. "Nice place, huh?"

Cecilia let her own eyes roam around the condo. "Gorgeous." She admitted. "But it's so not Dar."

"Yeap." Andy admitted. "Ah think she just fell into it, and was easier just to stay."

Probably true. Ceci found her eyes drawn to a set of pictures on the entertainment center. Two were of Dar, at a young age. Two were of Kerry, also older pictures, and the one in the center was of them together.

Both were looking forward, at the camera. Dar was seated behind Kerry, and had her arms wrapped around her, with a half smile on her face. The blond woman was covering Dar's hands with her own, and the film had captured just the sweetest expression on her, one that almost made Ceci smile just looking at it.

"We need to find a place to stay tonight." She tore her attention from the picture and put it on her husband. "Any suggestions?" It had been years since she'd been in the city, though it hadn't changed really much, and she'd found a thousand memories regaining their color as she left the airport, and felt the tropical heat drop over her. 'Someplace with sand, maybe?"


"Are you okay?" Kerry asked, for the third time, as she assembled some glasses and a large pitcher of fruit juice. Dar was standing at the sink, staring out at the water with a completely unsettled look on her face. "Dar?"

"I wasn't expecting that." The dark head finally turned, and looked at her. "I didn't want it to be like this."

Kerry cocked her head in question. "Like what?"

Dar's face twitched. "So damned… sudden."

Kerry put her glasses down and walked over, laying a hand on Dar's almost leather covered back. "Look.. take it easy." She rubbed gently. "It's not that bad, is it? Your mom's being okay, I thought."

"No. Yeah. I don't know." Dar turned and leaned against the counter, folding her arms tightly over her chest. "It's taken me all this time to get used to having him back. Seeing them together..I'm having a little trouble comprehending that right now." Her hand lifted and rubbed her eyes. "Too big an adjustment."

Yeah, it must be. Kerry thought, as she took Dar's free hand in hers. "I know it must be tough. Hang in there, Dar. Having them back is a good thing for you, I really believe that."

A sigh. "I know."

"But it's weird."

"Yeah." Dar made a face.

"And us being dressed like a post-apocalyptic pair of whacked out Amazons doesn't help." Kerry smiled as she got a chuckle out of her lover. "Though you have to admit seeing the look on your dad's face when I came downstairs was worth it."

"Mm." Dar relaxed a little and rubbed her neck. "Eyah… that's true."

"Kin ah ask what you two are up to?" Andrew's voice growled from the doorway. "Starting to think you went to grow them damn fruits afore you squeezed em."

Kerry picked up the tray and cleared her throat. "Ah.. that's my cue. Bye." She slipped past Dar's father quickly, and was gone, leaving the two of them alone in the kitchen.

Andy stuck his hands into the pockets of the jeans he was wearing and moved inside the room. "Think I owe you an apology, Dardar.. didn't meant to shake up your day like this."

Dar studied her father curiously. "You got a haircut."

Self conciously, he lifted a hand and scrubbed it through the trimmed silvered darkness. "Yeap."

There was something so different about him, and yet familiar. "Went okay up there, I see." Her eyes smiled at him. "I'm glad." A hesitation. "I didn't expect you back so soon."

Andy took a breath. "She wanted to come home." He responded simply. "Figured we'd find a spot, near to the water. Just set down and be quiet for a bit."

"Just like that?"

"Yeap." He scratched his jaw. "You called the right range on it, Dardar.. I owe you." His mouth moved into a smile. "Cept I don’t' think I can pay you back for this one."

Now she realized what it was. He was whole again. Dar slowly moved forward. Oh, the scars were still there, but he'd left behind his hooded shirt, and regained an equilibrium she could see plainly, in the late afternoon light coming in the kitchen window. Hesitantly, she put a hand out and took his. "You don’t owe me a damn thing." She whispered. "If it made you happy, that's all that mattered."

"Aw, Dardar." Andy opened his arms and found himself hugging his daughter's sturdy form. "Aint' nothing you ever done that didn't make me happy, and prouder than all get out to be your daddy."

Mmm. Dar absorbed the infrequent hug greedily and returned it. "Even dressed like this?" She joked faintly, into his nearby ear.

"Lord." He started poking her through the holes. "Would you just look at this?"

She nearly doubled over in laughter at the tickling. "Augh."

"Tch." Andrew released her, but put his hands on her shoulders. "Woudja do one more thing for yer old man?"

"Anything." Dar responded warmly.

He paused. "I know a bucket of stuff's happened, Dar. " He lifted a hand and touched her cheek. "I know you got hurt." Her lashes fluttered closed. "But I'd like it if you'd give yer mama another shot at what's between the two of you."

Oh. Is that all? Dar's eyes opened. "Is that what she wants?"

He nodded.

Dar thought about the request. It would be so hard, she knew already, to work through a lifetime of friction. Just thinking about it exhausted her. Did she really have a choice though? She looked into her father's eyes. "I'll try."

That earned her another smile.


Kerry walked into the living room and set the tray down. "It's fruit juice. " She sat down and pouured a glass, offering it to Dar's mother. "Sort of a mixture."

Ceci leaned forward and took the glass. "Thank you."

She leaned back with the drink and sipped it, as they studied each other. "So." Ceci murmured. "I somehow didn't expect we'd be meeting again so soon."

"No." Kerry agreed. "I guess not." She scratched her nose. "This is sort of awkward."

Ceci took a swallow of the sweet juice. "That's an understatement." She admitted. "It's been a very surprising few days." She regarded Kerry's open, intelligent face curiously. "We could chat about the weather."

A glance outside. "Eighties, thirty percent chance of showers."

Ceci smiled. "Have you lived here long?"

Kerry leaned back. "Well, if you mean in Florida, about two years." She folded her arms over her bare stomach. "If you mean here, as in right here, a little over six months." A pause. "I like it. Miami, I mean. It was a little tough when I first moved down, but after a while, even the heat grows on you."

"Yes, it does." Softly clinking ice. "You're from Michigan originally?"

Kerry nodded. "My family lives there."

"Sorry I made that crack about your father the last time we met." Cecilia murmured. "Andy told me about what happened… that must have been very tough."

"In a way." Kerry admitted. "In a way it was relief, because I'd been living as part of a charade for so long, and after that, I wasn't. I was free to live however I wanted to." She studied the table reflectively. "But I miss my family, sometimes. I miss knowing I'm a part of them." A glance up. "I still love them, in spite of everything, and I always will, even if they never speak to me again."

Cecilia found those steady, penetrating green eyes boring into hers, transmitting a weight of meaning to her words it was difficult to avoid.

I think I like her. Ceci inclined her head a trifle, acknowledging the younger woman's statement. Even if she was raised a Christian Republican. "You really going to a party dressed like that?" She changed the subject, pointing a slim finger at Kerry's outfit.

"It's her own fault." Dar answered the question, reappearing from the kitchen and settling down next to Kerry on the loveseat. "She talked me into going to this reunion."

"Half nekkid?" Andrew neatly stepped around Ceci's knees and dropped onto the couch.

"Uh.. no, actually.. I sort of wanted to um." Kerry regarded Dar's sleek form. "Anyway, we made a deal, if she went, I'd have to dress the part and go too."

"Um." Dar's mother pursed her lips. "What part exactly are you dressing for?"

Kerry glanced down at herself, then up at Dar. "You picked it. You answer."

Dar got caught napping. She felt her jaw open, then close a few times, and sneaked a furtive glance at her mother and father, who were watching in puzzled amusement. "Ah." Oh well. "Actually, it was Kerry's idea."

"It was NOT."

"She wanted to see what I looked like in leather."

"Dar!" Kerry blurted, turning an appealing shade of pink that extended all the way down to her navel.

"Jesus.. woman looks like a damn flamingo." Andrew chuckled.

"Or like one of those squid that change color." Dar remarked, eyeing her companion critically.

"Oh god." Kerry just gave up and buried her face into Dar's chest, pretending the outside world didn't exist for a little while. At least until she stopped glowing like a bad neon sign factory. "Is it time to go yet?" She muttered into the scent of skin and leather.

Dar chuckled and patted her back, then eyed her parents. "What are your plans? Dad said you were looking for a place to stay." The thought occurred to her to offer hospitality, but she wasn't sure if any of them were ready for that much close quarters so soon. However.. "We've got some little cottages here on the island they use as a hotel.. I could book you in one if you're interested."

The older pair exchanged glances. "That would be very nice. Thank you, Dar." Ceci finally answered. "At least until we can have a chance to look around down here a little."

"Sure." Dar was inwardly pleased with the solution. She picked up the phone and dialed the resident services number. "Hello? Yes.. hi, Clemente." A pause. "No, thanks.. I'm feeling much better, really." Another pause "Actually, I need to book one of the cottages." A much longer pause. "All right.. that'll have to do then." A quick smile. "No, it's for my parents." Lengthy listening. "Not on vacation, no. They're looking for a place down here." Short pause. "Um.. sure, that would be fine. Thanks, Clemente." She hung up. "All set. They'll send a cart for you."

Kerry peeked out from her hiding spot. "Everyone's really nice here."

They exchanged a few more words, then stood, and Dar watched as the reservations staff took charge of her parents luggage, and transported them down the road. "They only had the big one left." She commented to Kerry.

"The one with the Cadillac sized hot tub?"

"Uh huh."

"Oo. I'd like to be a fly on that wall."

Dar grinned. "Me too." She nudged Kerry. "C'mon.. let's get this bike revved up and get going."

"Uh uh. I get to accessorize you first." The blond woman wagged a finger. "I saw that bag of old chains and collars."

Dar winced. "Oh boy."