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

They kinda like each other.

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

Whoops. Never mind that…    


Hurricane Watch - Part 5

By Melissa Good

Kerry stifled a yawn, as she trudged across the kitchen, headed for the coffee machine. She mechanically portioned the Irish crème flavored grounds into the basket, and started the coffee going, blinking at little as she leaned against the counter.

She could hear Dar's voice as a low murmur coming from her office, and she guessed her lover was making the promised phone calls to their stubbornly missing staff.  "Any luck?" She called in, as she heard the phone disconnect.

"Oh yeah." Dar moved to the doorway of the office, stretching and catching the edges of the sill with her fingers as she rocked her head back and forth to loosen her neck muscles. "I got Mark.. he cursed me out because he was planning on working over one of his bikes, but he said he'd be in, and that he'd call the rest of his staff in so I didn't have to do it." The tall, dark haired women released the door, and walked across to where Kerry was standing. "Now I have to do the tough one.. Maria."

"Ouch." Kerry slid a hand up Dar's belly, feeling the warmth of her skin under the fabric. "You're hardly limping." She commented.

"Mm… yeah, it feels a lot better." Dar agreed, with a smile. "I think I'll use the crutches to get away with dressing down again today, though."

Kerry snorted. "Dar, after having the CEO come and beg you to reconsider last night, you think anyone would say a word if you came dressed in shorts and a t-shirt?" She paused. "Wait a minute… forget I suggested that. They'd say words, all right, and I'd have to slap them all silly."

Dar laughed. "Thank you for flattering my ego." She gently kissed Kerry's head. "Excuse me." She moved past the blond haired woman and into the kitchen, retrieving a bowl and her Frosted Flakes from the cabinet. "Want some?"

A sigh. "Dar, do you think you could make me feel better by at least putting a little banana in that?" Kerry asked, mournfully. "And no thanks.. they crunch too loud and hurt my ears this early in the morning." She bumped Dar out of the way and opened the refrigerator, snagging a fruit and cheese danish from a neatly packed box. "I prefer a quieter, gentler breakfast."

Dar grinned, munching away noisily, and pressed a key on the kitchen console.

"Dar Roberts, 656 new messages, 234 Urgent." The computer responded promptly.

"Oh, Jesus." Dar almost inhaled a flake. "Delete all unmarked." She told the computer. "Forget it.. they can resend the damn things."

"Deleted. Dar Roberts. 234 new messages, 234 Urgent."

"Delete all messages, duplicate subjects." Dar instructed. "That also have same sender."  She glanced at Kerry who was chewing her danish and had padded over to pull out two large mugs. "That should get rid of half of those."

"Deleted. Dar Roberts 155 new messages, 155 Urgent."

Dar sighed. "Well, that's better than 600 plus, I guess." She examined the list. "Let's see…oh.. read 143."

Sookis, Mariana  Sent 7:32am

Dar -

I just got this cryptic note from Les, which basically states:

"She's back, she's got something, she's got the authority to do whatever she's doing."

What is he talking about? I'm assuming he's referring to you, because he left your resignation letter marked "Rescinded'" on my desk.. I tried calling you last night, but there wasn't any answer.. I'd like to talk to you. I know we've got some issues to discuss."


"He's such a pain in my ass sometimes." Dar rolled her eyes, and picked up the phone, dialing a number. She waited. "Good morning, Mari." She remarked into the receiver, keeping her voice more or less neutral.

A pause. "Oh… Dar…. God.. yes, good morning." The Personnel VP answered, somewhat hesitantly. "I just sent you that email, I didn't know if you were picking up, or… "

"I didn't until this morning." Dar replied. "Les was here last night."

Longer pause. "Oh." Mariana thought about that. "So.. you're back with us, I take it?" She asked hopefully.

"I kind of assumed from his note."

"Looks like it." Dar responded. "I had a few conditions, and he met them, so…" She shrugged, then smiled at Kerry as the blond woman handed her a cup. "I just called Mark.. he's calling his staff, and I'll see if I can get the rest of operations back in." She sipped her coffee contentedly. "I'm going to have them put their time in as worked."

Mari hesitated. "Okay." She murmured. "What about the whole situation with Fabricini… I inferred from Les that you're handling it?" She asked, cautiously.

"Yep" Dar informed her. "I'll forward you the documentation, but I'm going to resolve that all when I get there."

"Okay." Mariana said again. "So you're coming in? I thought Kerry told me the doctor sent you home to rest?" She gingerly asked. "I mean, Dar… this can wait a day or two… I really don't want to see you hurt yourself."

The dark haired woman smiled wryly. "It's okay.. I promised Kerry I'd make it a half day, and take her out sailing for dinner." She told her. "And I don't break promises like that." She ran a hand through Kerry's disheveled hair and scratched the back of her neck gently, causing the smaller woman to close her eyes and hum blissfully.

A soft sigh. "All right… I guess I'll see you in a little while… and, Dar?"

"Mm?" Dar took a swallow of coffee.

"I'm sorry."

"For what?" Dar asked quietly.

"You were right… we did all stand back and let you get hit." Mari replied, just as quietly. "I don't feel very good about that."

Dar let her eyes flick to Kerry's face, as the shorter woman regarded her, the sun coming in the window dusting her face with golden light. "It's all right." She finally answered, lifting her hand to gently stroke the soft skin. "It wouldn't have mattered before.. I wouldn't have cared.. but I think I've been just a little off balance lately.. and you had no way of knowing that." She told Mariana. "You assumed I'd just react like I always did before."

"Mm." Mari murmured. "Well, it's not going to happen again." She vowed. "I've set up meetings with both Jose and Eleanor today, and we're going to have some straight talk here."

Kerry turned her head, and kissed the palm brushing her cheek. "I'm going to go take a shower." She mouthed, rubbing Dar's belly.

Dar smiled and nodded. "All right.. let me finish making my calls, Mari.. and "I'll see you in a little while." She paused. "How's Duks?"

"Grumpy." Mari chucked ruefully. "I woke him up and told him you were coming back, and now he has to get out of his bathing suit and actually come to work. "  She paused. "That was quite a tribute to you, by the way." She added. "It's the first day he called in sick in five years." She sighed. "All right…let's get this place back to normal… drive safely, my friend."

"I'm not driving, but I'll pass that on." Dar told her dryly. "See you, Mari… listen, we'll have dinner… talk things out, all right?"

"All right." Mariana sounded relieved. "See you, Dar."

Dar put the phone down and wandered over to the sliding glass door, pushing it back and moving out onto the stone balcony, letting the early morning sun warm her skin after the cool of the air conditioning inside. The sea was at low tide, and very green to her eyes, and she leaned on the railing, gazing out as the breeze blew her hair back.

She had, she realized, mixing feelings about going back to work. Part of her was glad, needing the excitement and the challenge, but there was another part, a guilty, hidden part that had been secretly hoping the resignation would stick… hoping that she and Kerry could then take a few weeks off and just…

Dar's eyes found the horizon. She'd found herself wanting very much to take time out of life, and spend it getting to know her lover better, taking her places Dar liked.. maybe even out skiing… down to Key West.. all the things they didn't have time to do now.

She sighed, and nibbled her lip. Well, one thing, if Les knew about them, and they decided to take off the same week, it would be all right. In fact, she decided, that's exactly what we're going to do. She straightened and went back inside. Pick a week, and take off. To hell with the company.  She exhaled, and headed for her own shower.

Hearing the sound of water running as she entered her bedroom, and spotting the naked, patiently waiting figure leaning against the door, arms crossed, darkened green eyes watching her with seductive intent.

Oh yeah. Dar sucked in a breath as a sensual jolt hit her right in the groin. To hell with the company.  "Well well.. what do we have here?" She inquired, moving closer and sweeping her across the lithe body in front of her. Kerry's appearance had changed quite a bit since she'd met her three months prior. Her indoor pallor had deepened into a golden tan, and the painful thinness had disappeared, replaced by an addition of a solid twenty five pounds of smoothly sculpted muscle covered by a comfortable layer of softness. Dar had always found her attractive, but the changes had also brought Kerry a new self confidence that seemed to glow inside her, rendering her almost mesmerizing in Dar's appreciative eyes.

"Gotta make sure you don't slip and fall in the shower, Dar." Kerry informed her cheerfully, reaching up and unbuttoning the top button on her shirt. "I just got my boss back.. I don't want to lose her again." She unbuttoned the second button. "Do you mind sharing a shower?"

"Heh." Dar slid both hands down her sides, and traced the now barely visible ribs with gentle thumbs. "Oh, I think I could suffer through that all right." She ducked her head and kissed her. "Somehow.. "

"Mm.. " Kerry unbuttoned the third and fourth button, sliding the shirt up and over Dar's shoulders and letting it fall to the ground. Then she traced a gentle pattern down the tall body and got to the shorts, sliding those down as well. "I bet you could" She nibbled the soft skin over Dar's jugular and stepped forward, brushing their bodies together. "You taste so good." She murmured.

Dar felt her heart jerk, and start pounding. "Do I?" She moved closer and slipped her arms around Kerry, feeling her shoulderblades move as she reciprocated and the warmth of the contact between them surged. She ducked her head and captured an ear, tracing it's curve with the tip of her tongue. "So do you." She purred softly, hearing the gentle intake of air as Kerry's breathing caught.

Slowly they moved into the shower, trading the chill air for warm mist, and the spicy scent of the soap Dar preferred flowed around them. Dar squeezed a little of the gel onto her hands and began to lather Kerry's back, moving her fingers over the strong shoulders and down across her hips.

A soft sound escaped the blond woman, who had started spreading soap down Dar's sides. She pushed away a little, allowing the taller woman's hands to continue their motion up her belly as she let her fingers trail down along Dar's thighs. "My pastor always taught me.. " She murmured, moving back against Dar's soapy body. "That cleanliness is next to godliness.."

"Oh yeah?" Dar inclined her head and nipped a the skin on Kerry's shoulder.

"Mm… I gotta send him a card sometime and let him know how right he was." Kerry uttered, starting a slow, tantalizing progression right down the center of Dar's body, with a few east and west detours.

Dar just chuckled.


 It was a very weird experience. Kerry paced quietly alongside Dar's crutch assisted steps, carrying her lover's briefcase along with her own. Usually they split up when they entered the building, but today… no. Today she kept her head up, and regarded the people around them, knowing they were without a doubt, the center of attention.

"Morning, Ms. Roberts, Ms. Stuart." The guard greeted them, giving Kerry a wink.

"Morning." Dar answered, as she moved past him and towards the elevator. Fortunately, everyone else seemed to have gone upstairs already, and they were alone in the elevator. "So." Dar eyed her. "You ready?"

Kerry studied the mirrored doors of the elevator and took a deep breath. "More or less… I'm going to go to my office and just see what I have on my desk… you going to call a meeting?"

"Of operations?" Dar inquired. "I'd better…probably around ten or so.. you want to send out a note?" Dar eased out the door as they got to their floor, and waited for Kerry to join her. "That should give me enough time to get a few things settled." They walked down the corridor and Kerry opened the door for her, waiting for the taller woman to enter.

Dar paused in the doorway, and looked back at her, a gentle smile crossing her face. "Thanks." She commented simply, before she turned and continued on into the room.

Maria was there, seated precisely behind her desk, her hands folded on the top of it. She stood when Dar entered and took a breath. "Buenos Dios, Dar."

The executive stopped and leaned on her crutches. "Good morning, Maria.. thanks for coming in." She gave the secretary a smile. "Did you have a nice day off?"

Maria beamed back at her. "Si.. si… my daughter took me out on the Sea Escape.. I play the arm machines, and win fifty dollars." She stated. "But I am glad you called me.. glad you come back."

Dar laughed. "Now, that's the way to spend your time…" She looked at Kerry. "We've got to try that one weekend." Her eyes went back to Maria's, seeing the faint look of startlement. "I'm glad you agreed to come back… I'd really hated to have had to replace you, Maria." She moved into her office, leaving her secretary and her lover looking at each other.

Kerry felt herself blushing, as Maria gave her a knowing smile. "Um. I think I'd better go get some work done." She cleared her throat. "I'm… going to.. uh.. get some coffee.. you want any?" She asked, rubbing the side of her face and feeling the heat against her fingertips.

Maria walked over, and took her hands. "Kerrisita."

Sea green eyes peeked at her uncertainly. "Yes?"

"You have been such a gift to her." Maria told her softly. "God bless you."

Kerry dropped her eyes, and felt her blush intensify, almost making her light headed. She sucked in a few breaths and finally looked back up.  "Thanks." She whispered. "I think this feeling is God's greatest gift to anyone."  She managed to get out. ""I'm glad I was in the right place at the right time."

"Si." Maria smiled. "Go to your office.. I am going to the downstairs.. I will bring up you some coffee, and some of the little pastries." She released Kerry's hands and gave her a little push. "Go… I make faces like this.. " She poked her tongue out. "At all the other secretaritias."

Kerry laughed. "Okay…" She surrendered. "Thank you." She ducked out into the hallway and started towards her office, only to be stopped by Mark. "Oh.. hey.. "

"Hey." He cuffed her lightly on the arm. "I hear you kicked ass yesterday… way to go." His face was tinged with sunburn, and he bore a faintly smug look. "I take it the boss is here?"

She exhaled. "Yep.. just got to her office… I'm sure we'll be a week just straightening out the email bombs." This sudden, casual recognition of her and Dar's attachment was, she had to admit, a little unsettling.

But kind of nice, too. It sort of relaxed a tension she'd hardly been aware of. "Thanks for coming in so fast."

Mark chuckled. "Yeah.. well… I guess the bike'll have to wait on the weekend…I've got so much crap piled up on my desk, I have to go hire Mel Fisher to find it." He patted Kerry's arm again. "See you later."

Kerry lifted a hand in goodbye, and walked down the hallway, going into her office and dropping into her chair, as she flipped the power switch on her computer and waited for it to boot.

What would Dar do, she wondered. She knew it would end up with Steve Fabricini leaving, but… how? Was Dar going to simply threaten him, or did she have something else up her sleeve? Her boss wouldn't go into the details, stating only that she'd told Les she had a way to fire him for cause, that would absolve the company from any litigation.

Kerry drummed her fingers on the desk. The lack of forthcoming information was aggravating. Dar had assured her she wasn't worried about Kerry telling anyone, it was just that she hadn't worked out in her head exactly how she was going to do things, so…. But it was frustrating, because she was so curious as to what Dar had found.

Was Steve really a felon, and Mark had unearthed a long criminal record on him?

Maybe he was really a spy from IBM?

An undercover operative for the CIA, just pretending to be a disgusting slimeball? Nah. She decided. He wasn’t' that good an actor. He really was a slimeball.

Maybe Dar's father had discovered he was really a Cuban terrorist.. sent here to disrupt the American economy?

Hmm. She turned her attention to her email, which had spawned frighteningly overnight. Parent email now had multiple child email, some of which had died and left the original subjects lonely orphans. "Jesus." She paged through them. "I wonder if I could just kill them all?"

Her phone buzzed, and she hit the answer button. "Operations, Stuart."

A panicked voice answered. "Oh…great… uh… Ms. Stuart.. this is Roger, in Charlotte.. uh… we've got a problem?"

"Okay." Kerry leaned forward, kicking her problem solving brain cells into gear. "What is it?"

A loud sound of splashing came through the phone. "Uh… ow!" Roger yelped. "Um.. the sprinkler system went off over here.. and umm. Yeeoww!" The phone fumbled and clattered, then was picked up. "Damn chair hit me in the.. uh… well, anyway, we're flooded."

"Flooded." Kerry repeated carefully. "As in underwater?"

"Shit!" He yelped. "Uh.. sorry.. yeah.. the control room's three feet deep.. and it's not getting any…wow!" A loud popping and snapping was heard. "Yow.. I think that was the main breaker panel going… "

"Roger?" Kerry spoke loudly into the phone.

"Yeah??" He answered. "Oh.. wait I gotta get up onto the desk.. "

"Get out of there!" Kerry yelled, then put him on hold and dialed Dar's extension, waiting for her boss to pick up. "Help!" She barked into the phone, then switched back to the other line. "Roger?"

"Uh… I've got a problem, Ms. Stuart." The man answered nervously.

"More than one." Kerry told him. "What is it?"

"I can't swim." He answered. "And I think I just saw a 3270 float by." The phone suddenly disconnected.

"Shit." Kerry glanced up as she heard running steps, then half stood as her inner door burst open, and Dar pounced inside, her pale blue eyes snapping, and every inch of her bristling with unreleased energy.

"What's wrong?" She snapped.

The blond woman drew in a breath. "God, you look sexy when you do that."

Dar was obviously knocked off stride. "Wh… buh… " She exhaled. "Kerry! You yelled for help.. what in the hell's going on?"

"Oh.. right… Charlotte's been flooded out." Kerry quickly explained. "Sorry about that.. they're in big trouble." She walked over and put an arm around her lover. "Sorry, Dar.. I didn't mean for you to think that I was.. um… " She rooted around for a phrase.

"In mortal danger?" Dar relaxed a little. "You know I just knocked a Xerox repairman so far back onto his butt they're probably going to have to remove the toner drum from his throat surgically." She sighed, and rubbed her face. "Okay.. so we've got a potential disaster, right?"

"Mm… the guy from Netops just told me he thought he saw a 3270 mainframe floating in the control room." Kerry advised her.

"Anyone check to see if they're burning hemp around there again?" Dar snorted. "3270's don’t float." She exhaled. "Okay.. let me go start working the problem… try to get them back on the phone, or call the cells… " She muttered, as she walked back out, shaking her head.

Kerry smiled a little, as she heard the interested, but muted excitement in Dar's tone. She loves this, the blond woman realized. She loves when things are really tough and hard, and she can go in and fix them. With a soft chuckle, she turned back to her desk and called up a network schematic, wincing at the flashing red dots that indicated down sections. "Oh.. that bites." She started dialing emergency numbers.


"Look.. I don't give a damn about what you have to do to release that." Dar growled into the phone. "I need your damn president on this phone in five minutes, or the next call is from our legal department. Your choice."  She glanced up as Maria stuck her head in, and waved a small cardboard tray. One hand lifted and waved her forward. "I'll hold."

Maria came over with the pastalitos and offered them to her. "I have three of those little queso ones." The secretary whispered. "I know you like them."

Dar's eyes twinkled gently as she nodded, and put her hand over the receiver. "Thanks." She mouthed, as she accepted the pastries and the steaming cup of creamy looking coffee, glancing up and meeting Maria's eyes.

It was an odd feeling, somewhat naked, somewhat embarrassing, and Dar found herself blushing a little. She was glad her tan hid most of it, but she knew that probably the tips of her ears had turned red by the little chuckle Maria gave before she backed mercifully out of the room.

Not that Maria hadn't known before, but…  Dar sighed, and took a bite out of one of the pastries. She was used to keeping her private life private, even her brief interlude with Elana had been under wraps, until that last, very public, scathingly sarcastic encounter.

Maybe that's why she was feeling a little skittish, hmm? It had taken her a long time to get to the point where she could think about that, and not cringe inside, though outwardly she'd shown as much emotion as if Elana had merely been turning over a report.

Stoneface. Duks had told her later that it had pretty well cemented her reputation as the company's premier iceberg, the way she'd brushed off Elana's pointed rending with a mere lift of a brow, and a twitch of the lips.

Oh god if they'd only known.

Dar regarded her desktop for a moment in silence, then looked up as a voice came back on the line. "Well?" She snapped.

"Ms. Roberts, we have a team of people heading out that way… I'm not sure.. " The voice hesitated.

"Look." Dar growled, sending her voice down to it's lowest pitch. "I need to know what chemicals were in that sprinkler mixture and I need to know NOW!" She punched up the volume, feeling the sound reverberate in her chest. "Or you're going to take responsibility for the bill when I have to fly a chemical hazard team in there on a god damned Learjet!" The insurance company was refusing to allow any employees to enter the networking office, until the dangers were evaluated, and they had fully three quarters of the domestic network down, three hours after the accident had happened.

"Dar.. " Maria poked her head in. "Mariana on line numero dos." She called, in a low voice.

"Not now." Dar muted her current call. "I'm in the middle of a disaster." She watched as Maria disappeared, then she propped her head up on one hand and released the mute button with the other. "Do I get that, or do I call my legal department? I'm done screwing around with you people."

Rustling papers, and low mutters. "Where do you need the information sent?" The voice stiffly answered. "We can pass along our usual information, but you have to understand that the composition will vary depending on local water quality, and the types of pipes.. and.. "

"Just send it." Dar interrupted him, and repeated the fax number at their insurance company's branch office in North Carolina. She looked up as Kerry entered, suppressing a smile. "And I'd like to know why that system discharged."

Kerry circled her and picked up a pastry, nibbling it as she perched on the corner of Dar's desk, listening to the agitated muttering coming from the phone. "Everyone's screaming." She mouthed.

Dar lifted her hands and let them drop. "Bite me." She mouthed back. "I didn't set off the god damned sprinklers."

Kerry obligingly put her pastry down and captured Dar's fingers, lifting them and nibbling on a thumb instead. "Okay."

"Ms. Roberts, we just don't know what caused it yet." The hapless voice came through the phone. "It could have been a false heat reading, it could have been a mechanical error.. there's no sense in speculating since we don't really have any data. My team is on their way there.. as soon as they get there and figure out what happened, believe me, I'll call you."

Dar felt an enjoyable tickle as the neat white teeth scraped lightly across the sensitive skin on the side of her finger. "All right." She agreed. "But I have an entire data center down, and they can't even get in there to start cleaning up… so they'd better move their asses."  She hung up, then noticed the other line was still lit. She punched it. "Mari?"

A loud argument filtered through. "Oh.. what? Dar… yes." Mari cleared her throat. "Listen, you said you were going to handle a certain situation.. well, I think.. " Steve's loud voice was heard in the background, demanding something.

"Send him up here." Dar spoke quietly, but forcefully into the phone.

"What?" Mariana asked.

"I'll take care of it. Send him up here." Dar repeated, a slow, dangerous smile crossing her face. "After this morning, I'll enjoy it."

A hesitation. "All right." The Personnel VP agreed, reluctantly. "But… "

"Just do it." Dar overrode her, then disconnected. She leaned back in her chair, and smiled without any humor. "Oh yeah.. I'm going to enjoy this all right."

"Dar." Kerry regarded her quietly. "What are you going to do?"

Pale blue eyes lanced into her. "Fire him."  Dar answered, coolly. "And watch him squirm his little ass right out of this office between two nice, big security guards."

Kerry exhaled, as she studied her lover in silence for a moment. "Dar… listen to me a minute." She slipped off the desk, and knelt, resting her hand on the taller woman's thigh for balance. "He still holds a grudge from ten years ago, right?" She asked. "That’s' what started this whole stupid thing."

Dar's brows knit. "Yeah, so?"

Kerry gently traced  an idle pattern against the cotton fabric. "Isn't there some way you could do this so it didn't perpetuate the hatefulness?"

"What?" The dark haired woman stared at her.

A sigh. "He hates you because of a thing that happened half a lifetime ago.. that's a long time to keep that anger inside.. now this… it's just more anger, and more hate, and more need for revenge."

"Who cares?" Dar asked. "Kerry, there's no way we're going to ever not hate each other.. and frankly, I don't give a damn if he does. I just want him out of here." She told the blond woman. "You'd better scoot before he shows up.. no sense in getting you involved in it."

Kerry took a breath. "Dar, I am involved in it." She told her lover firmly. "If he hates you, then he hates me." She looked right up into Dar's eyes. "And I don't like being hated." A pause. "Even by someone like him.. my family's enough for me to handle right now."

Dar blinked at her.

"You're so smart.. can't you find a way to get him out without escalating this?" The green eyes gazed sadly at her, reading the stunned look on the taller woman's face. "So it doesn't come back at us someday?" Kerry gently brushed the side of Dar's head, where a slight bump could still be felt, then she got up off the desk and gave her a kiss on the cheek. 'Think about it." She whispered in the perfect, curved ear, then turned and left quietly.

Dar sat in a puddle of filtered sunlight, the slanted rays dusting her cotton pants in warm ochre panels as she stared at the empty place where Kerry had knelt mere moments before. Her cheek tingled with the soft pressure, and she could still smell Kerry's distinctive scent lingering in the air that surrounded her.

Her savage resolve of just five minutes prior was gone, dissipated into a somber confusion, that knitted her brow as she slowly turned in her chair, resting her elbows on her desk and surrounding her coffee cup with a pair of loosely interlaced sets of fingers. It.. had been so easy. So cut and dried. What did she care what he thought about it?

Loud, angry voices in her outer office. Maria, moving quickly to stop an advance on her inner door, the secretary's voice sharp with outrage.

"Maria!" Dar called out. "It's all right."

Silence, then the door slammed open, and Steve stalked in, banging it behind him and striding across the floor to where she sat, backlit in sunlight. "What in the hell do you want?" He snarled.

Dar took a sip of her coffee, tasting the richness of the cream on the back of her tongue. "Sit down." She replied quietly.

"Look, I don't have time to play games with you, Dar. " Steve replied, remaining on his feet. "I should have known better than to expect you to keep your end of a bargain… but don't worry. There's plenty more where that came from."

Dar studied him. He wasn't bad looking, or he wouldn’t have been if half of his face hadn't been covered with a bandage, and the other half still red and raw from poison ivy. "I'm going to fire you." She remarked conversationally.

He snorted. "Sure.. go ahead… I'm going to enjoy the hell out of suing your ass for it." He put his hands on his slim hips. "I won't have to work for a few years."

"I'm firing you for cause." Dar pulled a folder out from her desk drawer, and examined the contents. "You falsified your employment application." She reviewed it, her voice mild and thoughtful. "It's not actionable."

He stared at her. "What?"

She slid a copy of the application over to him, with two entries circled. "You stated you graduated from UM with an IS degree. You didn't." She tapped the paper with her pencil. "And you said you worked for Anderson from 96 to 98. You didn't.. you were let go in late 97."  She folded her hands. "The application states any falsification is grounds for immediate termination. "She pointed. "You signed it."

Dead silence.

"You're fucking serious." He half whispered, half screamed. "Everyone puts shit on their resumes, you freaking idiot."

"Mm… " Dar nodded. "Most people do… but if you get caught, that's what happens." She agreed. "And yes, I'm serious." She gazed at him. "You want to sit down, now?"

He stared at the application, then at her. "What about you.. you're screwing your damn assistant.. what does that get you?"

She thought she really should be getting mad. But instead, she almost felt pity for him. "That's not a termination offense." She informed him. "And the penalty for it is up to the individual employee's supervisor." A very brief, very fleeting smile. "And often depends on the relative value of the affected employees."

"You piece of shit." His eyes hated her.

Kerry's voice echoed in her ears, and damped down Dar's sudden, seductive desire to reach across the desk and shatter his jaw. "You know, Steve.. if you'd put half the energy you spend hating me into doing your work, you wouldn't have bounced in and out of three companies in the last two years." She advised him quietly. "You keep blaming me… and frankly, my life's too complicated for me to even give you a passing thought."

"What the hell are you talking about?" He asked, on an irregular breath.

Dar leaned forward. "Look.. I'm sorry I pursued a tired issue way back when and got you in trouble.. if I'd known then what I know now. I'd have just let you rape the system and get away with whatever you could, okay?"

He stared at her.

"That was ten years ago, Steve… I'm not the same person.. and I don't give a rats ass about you anymore… just drop it, and move on." Dar continued. "I'll give you a god damned recommendation if you want… that'll get you into any Fortune 500 you hand it over to…just leave all that crap in the past, all right?"

For a long time, their eyes locked, as the silence drew out in tense, brittle minutes. "You don’t' have to do that." His voice dripped with bitterness. "Just put down on your little, proper form that I quit, all right?"  He stood up and dropped the folder onto her desk. "Congratulations… I hope you take your little victory and stick it up your ass."

Her eyes followed him out, and she sighed. "Asshole." She shook her head, then dialed a number.

"Security, Amos." The gruff, male voice answered.  Dar explained quietly what had happened, and received a brief, understanding response. Then she hung up and dialed Mark.

"MIS…oh, hi, boss." Mark's tone was cheerful, and it put a tiny smile onto her face. "Damn good to hear your voice."

"Lock out Fabricini's access." Dar sighed. "He just quit."

"Ooo ooo..oooo.. "Mark warbled. "Hang on.. " A rapid fire rattling of keys followed. "Shazam! Done." He chuckled. "Way to go, boss.. you rule."

"Yeah." Dar grunted. "I have to call Mari… how's the rerouting coming?"

"It sucks." Mark responded. "We're going to be here all night."

"Mmph." Dar disconnected the line, then sighed. "Well, Ker… I tried. I really did." She muttered to herself, as she dialed the Personnel office. Mariana's secretary answered. "Is she in?"


Kerry found her way out to the back balcony, around the back behind the copier room where there was a tiny patio that overlooked the water. She liked to come out here sometimes and just think, in the quiet peace the that altitude afforded.  It was a beautiful day out, and she wistfully realized that the current crisis was probably going to take precedence over leaving early, which was kind of depressing.

She'd been looking forward to some quiet time out on the water, where they could just watch the sunset together, and get in some twilight diving in the shallow, warm waters. Dar really relaxed out there, and sometimes almost got a little giddy, and certainly mischevious, which Kerry found charming to say the least.

Only a few minutes, she promised, knowing she had to go back inside and resume dealing with the problem. Just a few minutes to lean against the heated metal of the railing, and feel  the warm, fresh sea air against her face, and drink in the sunlight.

She wished Dar was beside her, and she wondered what her lover had thought about her request… the stunned look hadn't really indicated if she'd considered it, or if the idea was palatable or not, but Kerry had the feeling she'd at least gotten her to think about it. That had to be good, right? With a sigh, she closed her eyes, and turned her face up to the sun, feeling the brightness against her eyelids.

The door opened behind her, and she turned, blinking in surprise as she recognized Steve's slim figure sauntering out towards her. Warily, she leaned against the railing and watched him approach.

"So." He studied her. "Here we have the Queen bitch's little collared pet… is this your private space?" He walked to the railing and leaned on it. "Oh.. don't worry.. " His eyes raked her. "Your mistress just axed me.. I have the apes inside cleaning out my desk."

Kerry regarded him thoughtfully. "Sorry about your nose." She remarked.

He stared at her. "So, what's it like screwing the boss?"

The blond woman felt a deep jolt of anger erupt in her gut. "Wouldn't you like to know?" She responded. "But she wouldn't give your ugly butt a second glance." Inwardly, she sighed. What was that you were saying to Dar, about not liking being hated? Smooth, Kerry.. very smooth.. what is it about this dork that brings out the hyperbitch from hell in you anyway? "And I take that back.. I’m not sorry at all." She added. "Excuse me." She turned and headed for the door.

"I should have guessed it before. "He yelled after her. "But Dick McMasters is a buddy of mine.. he told me you didn't put out."

Kerry turned, with her hand on the doorknob, and looked back at him, the ugly memories flooding over her.

"Ah.. I see you remember him… " Steve's voice took on a savage satisfaction. "Yeah… he told me all about you… the straight laced, stuck up aristocrat.. he's gonna laugh his ass off when I tell him what a pathetic little loser you turned out to be."

It took several breaths, to force the nausea down, and shove aside the familiar sensation of sickening dread she'd felt for those long, dark months. "You're the one without a paycheck. " She told him finally. "So which one of us is the loser?" She paused. "I hope someday you start taking responsibility for what happens to you.. and not just blame everyone else. Maybe you'll end up a happier person." She opened the door and got through it, closing it behind her and moving away from it as quickly as she could, blindly finding her way towards the break room. She ducked inside, and leaned against the counter, looking up as a hand touched her arm. "Wh.. oh, hi Duks."

The gentle brown eyes regarded her. "Hello there, Kerry… are you doing all right?"

Kerry sucked in a breath and released it. "Yeah.. yeah… " She put a hand over her stomach. "I think that meat pastalito I had didn't agree with me." She forced herself to settle down. "Hey… you got a sunburn."

Duk's face creased into a wry smile. "Yes… yes, I put on my bathing suit, and went down to the pool for the first time since I moved into that damned place." He told her, releasing her arm and walking over to the coffee pot. He poured a cup, then glanced over his shoulder. "I hear we're one AVP lighter?"

Kerry regarded the floor for a moment. "Yep." She finally agreed. "He's being escorted out." She tried to feel bad about it, but the gnawing in her gut wouldn't let her. "I've… got to get back to work." She gave Duks a brief smile. "See you later."

The hall seemed wider than normal, and she was glad to get inside her office with the door shut. She stood for a long moment, leaning back against the cool wood, then she shoved away from it and crossed to her desk, settling into the cool leather of her chair and folding her hands on the wooden surface.  A soft knock came on the inner door, and she sighed. "Come on in."

Dar entered, her blue eyes holding a touch of concern. "Hey."

Kerry gathered herself together and half turned, to gaze up at the taller woman. "Hey." She pursed her lips. "How goes it?"

Dar hitched up her pants leg and settled on the edge of Kerry's desk. "I tried." She gave the smaller woman a wry look. "I even offered a recommendation letter." A shrug. "Nothing doing."

"I know." Kerry let a hand rest on Dar's leg, taking comfort in the warmth. "He bumped into me outside on the balcony." Her voice took on a slightly husky tone. "I tried, too." Her pale green eyes lifted. "Nothing doing."

"Mmph." Dar slid a hand over hers. "You're cold… you feeling okay?" She asked hesitantly, seeing the pallor under her lover's normally golden skin tone. "Ker?" She added softly, when the blond woman didn't answer.

"Yeah.. I'm fine.. I.. " Kerry suddenly had to resist the almost overwhelming urge to simply put her head down on Dar's thigh, and let the taller woman pet her like a cat. "He brought up some unpleasant memories… that's all." She looked up, into the soft blue eyes, and let their benign regard settle over her. "He's such a jerk."

Dar chuckled, a little relieved. "Yeah.. I know.. but he's gone, so we can concentrate on the current disaster." She paused a little awkwardly. "Um…you want to share the memories, or..??"

Kerry's phone rang, and both of their pagers went off simultaneously. "We can talk later. " The blond woman gave her a wry grimace. "Wasn't anything big.. really." She reached for the phone. "Operations, Stuart."

A harried voice answered her. "Kerry, this is John Collins… I've got the New York office breathing down my neck, and I can't get ahold of Dar… you gotta give me something to tell them."

"John?" Dar interrupted smoothly. "Hold on a minute." She put the call on hold, then faced her assistant, placing two fingers on her chin and lifting it up so their eyes met. "We can talk now, if you need to." She offered, tentatively.

A peaceful silence settled over them, as they merely sat and looked at one another. Kerry's lashes finally fluttered closed, and a faint smile twitched the corners of her mouth. "When I first joined Associated, I had a supervisor named Richard McMasters." She stated. "And he didn't quite subscribe to EEOC." That was putting it mildly.

"Ah." Dar's brows contracted, and a gray tone entered her eyes. "Did he mouth off to you?"

Kerry exhaled. "Oh yes.. and he took every opportunity to touch me, and to comment on my appearance, until I couldn’t look at him without my hands shaking, wondering what was coming out of his mouth next." She stopped momentarily. "And then one night he bumped into me at the libarary, and told me he wanted to… get to know me better… and if I didn't cooperate, he'd fire me."

The hum of the computer was very loud in the silence, a soft blooping noise coming from the screen saver which had sprung into life.

"Did.. " Dar hesitated. "I.. I mean, did he… " She was honestly shocked, and a little hurt that Kerry hadn't confided in her before.

"He cornered me in the back room two days later, and I told him if he didn't leave me alone, I'd have my father sic the IRS on him. " Kerry's face tensed into a grim smile. "In a way, that made it worse… he kept after me in other ways, slamming my work, spreading rumors… until one day, some nice person over at Arthur Anderson hired him away." She paused. "He said it was a bosses prerogative to get the most out of his employees.. " Her eyes searched Dar's face. "I think you can see why I never mentioned it." She concluded, a little wistfully.

"B… " Dar could hardly articulate the emotions. "I'd… nev…"

Kerry curled her hand around the suddenly nerveless fingers still resting against her face. "I know that." She replied warmly. "Believe me, I know that, Dar… it's just… I felt strange talking about it with you." She let out a breath, some of the tension dissipating. "I mean,  you are my boss, after all."

Dar was dismayed. She'd never thought to ask Kerry if staying in her current position was what she wanted to do… she'd only thought of herself, and how she felt about it. But when she opened her mouth to do just that, nothing came out.

She cleared her throat and tried again. "Are you …  Kerry, if you're not comfortable with this, we could… I mean, there are plenty of places in the company.. I just… I.."

Kerry felt the tension build under her casually draped arm, resting against Dar's thigh. "You said you needed me where I was." She stated softly.

"I did.. I do… Kerry.. I.. I mean, of course I do, but if it's going to make you upset.. I.." Dar felt herself stuttering, which hadn't happened to her since the fourth grade. She clamped her jaw shut, and swallowed a few times. "We can make arrangements if you're not comfortable with this." That, she managed in a calmer, more even tone. "I survived without an assistant for years.. I can manage on my own again."

"At what price?" Kerry stood, and laid a hand alongside her neck, feeling the rapidly beating pulse under her fingertips. "You said yourself the pressure was getting to you." She reminded her lover, whose eyes dropped to the desk. "I'm fine…I love this job, I love working for you, and I don’t want to go anywhere, okay?" She leaned forward and touched her forehead to Dar's. "I just had some nasty flashbacks, that's all… he's a jerk, and maybe he reminds me of Dick, the way he gets on my nerves all the time." Now was not the time to tell Dar the rest.

Maybe never was the time for that.

Jesus, when did I get this insecure? Dar wondered, as she felt her heartbeat start to calm. What the hell is wrong with me lately, anyway.. it's like I'm a kid again, going back to being a damn teenager. "Okay." She managed a smile. "You can tell me more about it later… if it bothers you, all right?" She sensed there was more, but realized it pushing now was a bad idea. 

Kerry smiled back. "All right." She spared a glance for the phone, still flashing. "Now.. what in blazes do I tell him, Dar?"

"Huh?" Dar's brow creased as she followed Kerry's eyes. "Oh… right." She rubbed her temples. "Um… tell him we're sending an executive team to North Carolina to take charge, and get the systems back up as soon as possible."

Kerry reached for the button, then hesitated. "We are?" She asked, curiously.

A sneaky, seductive grin tugged at one side of Dar's mouth. "Yeah.. I figure eight hours to get their asses in gear, and a couple days for us in a little cabin I happen to know about near there." She hesitated, both brows lifting hopefully ."Sound okay?"

Sea green eyes blinked. "You mean us?" She pointed at Dar's chest, then at her own. "You and me.. we're going up there?"

Dar simply nodded.

"Awesome." Kerry pronounced, then hit the button. "Hello, John?" She muted the mic for a moment. "They don't have any horseback riding up there, do they?" She released the mic. "John, we know it's really bad.. you can tell them that Dar's going up there to take charge personally."

Pause. "No shit?" The man replied, clearly impressed. "That'll get them off my ass.. thanks Kerry… you're the best."

"It's my pleasure." The blond woman assured him cheerfully, all thoughts of Steve dissolved. She disconnected the line and turned to Dar. "Now.. we were discussing horses, right?"

A chuckle. "Yeah.. they've got some trail riding.. figured we could do a little hiking while we're up there." She offered. "If we leave tonight, we'll have tomorrow and Friday to get the network office back up, then the whole weekend to play." The idea had come to her right before she'd started over, and she'd put the plan in action before she'd left her office. "I've got Maria making reservations."

Kerry smiled. "Want me to go home and pick up our bags?" She offered. "When's the flight?"

"Seven, and that would be a great idea." Dar praised her. "Make sure you pack some warm stuff.. it's chilly up there." Her brows lifted seductively. "A little too much for any scanty lingerie, unfortunately."

Kerry stood and slid a fingertip down the buttoned closure of Dar's silk shirt. "I don't know.. I think you look really sexy in just that old jersey of yours." She whispered.

A soft chuckle. "Oh, you do, do you?"

"Mmhmm… " The blond woman lowered her voice even more. "But then.. you're gorgeous, Dar.. you'd look sexy in a burlap sack." She confided, brushing her lips against her lover's. "I'm going to go get our stuff.. I need some fresh air anyway."  She patted Dar's leg, then stepped around her desk, pulling her jacket off her chair and swinging it over her shoulders as she headed for the door.

Dar watched her go, then let out a long, slow breath. "Wow." She ran a hand through her hair. "I think I need a little fresh air myself."

The sunlight winked merrily at her feet in cheerful agreement.


"Yeah, that's right, Col." Kerry stretched her legs out and closed her eyes, sucking in a deep breath of the sun warmed air coming in the window of the Mustang. "We're going to North Carolina…we've got a big mess there to take care of."

"OH.. right… yeah, I heard about that." Colleen advised her. "My boss was screaming… the interbank transfers won't go through." She cleared her throat. "No problem, Ker…staying out there isn't any kinda hardship, you know? Breakfast on the ocean… little tuxedoed manikins puttering about… no problem at all."

"Great." The blond woman sighed. "I never thought I'd be glad of a disaster.. but I can't say I regret this one." She stifled a yawn. "After we fix things, we're going up to a place Dar knows near there… for a little R and R."

"Oh?" Colleen sounded more interested. "Well now, me lassie.. you didn't tell me that…so you and the tall dark one are finally taking some time off together… that's great." She'd been properly outraged by the events of the past week, and startled when Kerry had told her of Dar's quitting.

"Yeah." Kerry smiled at the convertible's roof. "That'll be a first for us.. even over Christmas we had so much going on, we hardly had time to breathe, much less relax.. I'm really looking forward to a few days alone with her." And wasn't that the truth. Kerry found herself impatiently wishing the crisis was well over and solved, freeing them to leave the technical problems behind and concentrate on each other.

She knew instinctively that after the past few days, they needed that. There were too many thorn pricks in both of them. Too many tiny, loose ends caused by the trauma and the tension.. she felt a little shaky, and she suspected Dar did as well. A weekend hiking up in the quiet of the wilderness was very, very appealing, and it would give Dar time to really recuperate from her bumps and bruises. "You think they'll have a hot tub?" She mused.

Colleen laughed. "Well, if it's the kinda place I think Dar likes, I'm sure it will have… you can do some lovely skiing up in the mountains y'know." She commented. "Get yourself a nice fireplace, and toast you up some marshmallows, girl."

"Mm." Kerry could taste the warm, slightly burned morsels in her imagination. Then she imagined sharing them messily with Dar, and grinned, feeling the skin around her eyes crinkling up in amusement.  "Sounds good to me."

"Heh… your eating habits surely have changed." Colleen teased. "And then there's the food, as well."

Kerry almost swallowed her tongue. "Colleen!!!!"

"Ah ah.. don't you be Colleening me, little Miss Michigan snowballs wouldn't melt in me mouth." Her friend laughed. "I'm just joshing, Kerry…honestly, I think Dar's the best thing that ever happened to you."

"Oh yeah.. she's turning me into a pleasure loving little butterball, that's what." Kerry laughed. "But thanks… " She added quietly. "I'm glad you ended up liking her." She put her car into gear as the ferry docked.  "I'm going to get our stuff packed… talk to you later, Col.. thanks for staying over again."

She hung up the phone, and steered carefully onto the island, pausing for the spraydown before she turned onto the perimeter road and headed to the condo. The sprinklers were on in the center of the island, making an interesting chatter, and sending a whiff of mineral laden moist air to Kerry's nose. She pulled into her parking spot, then paused, backing up a little. "Aww.." She found herself grinning stupidly. The maintenance department had painted her name on the concrete bumper.  "K. Stuart… check that out." She got out of the car and examined it, the neat black letters crisp against the white concrete, matching the "D. Roberts" right next to it half hidden behind Dar's tires.

It was such a tiny, insignificant thing, but it touched something deep inside Kerry, reinforcing her sense that this was, indeed, home. She gave the Lexus a little pat, then shouldered her briefcase and headed up the stairs, plucking the mail from the mailbox before keying in the lock code. Chino started whining the minute the door opened, and she dropped her case on the loveseat as she headed towards the kitchen. "Okay.. okay honey.. I hear you." She ambled across the tile floor and opened the gate, letting the puppy out to attack her feet fiercely. "Hey… hey.. careful… " She put the mail down and crouched, petting Chino's soft fur. "Okay… okay… I know.. I'm glad to see you too."

Chino whined ecstatically, her whole body wriggling with joy as she chewed on Kerry's fingers. Then she cocked her head, and looked past the blond woman expectantly. Kerry laughed. "Sorry, kiddo… she's not with me." She scratched the puppy's ears. "I know she's your buddy, huh?"

Chino blinked, then apparently gave up on Dar, and concentrated on attacking Kerry's shoes. "Raowr." The puppy tugged on a lace, dropping it and barking in outrage when the thing persisted in remaining attached to Kerry, and all the animal's pulling couldn't budge her.

"Okay… why don't you go out while I get some stuff done, huh?" Kerry opened the back door, allowing the puppy to scamper down into the tiny, walled garden. It was safe for her there, since Dar had spent most of one weekend puppy proofing it, which included making sure there were no gaps under the fence, and taking out the tiny pebbles the animal would surely try to consume.  She watched Chino sniff around for a minute, then she went inside, and started getting together two bags, starting with Dar's.

Which was easy. Jeans, soft, neatly pressed polos, two sweaters which were all she owned, her one flannel shirt, the sweatshirt Kerry loved on her, and nice warm socks. And underwear, of course. Kerry had fun picking out her favorite ones of those, including the really cute ones with tiny pictures of Dogbert on them. Oh, and the baseball jersey and shorts, and her bathroom kit, which held shampoo, soap, her toothbrush and the small bottle of interestingly spicy smelling talc powder Kerry loved to sprinkle over her.  She sniffed it and closed her eyes, a tiny humming noise erupting from her throat that almost startled her.

"Jesus." She clapped a hand on her forehead. "I'm turning into such a hedonist." She muttered, putting the bag away and zipping up the carry on duffel Dar always used. But that's how Dar made her feel, she reflected.. all sexy and sensual, like she was taking a bath in pheromones most of the time. Everything seemed more intense.. the smell of her.. the deep, rich color of her eyes…

"Oh boy." Kerry stopped and took several breaths. "Okay… I think I need a drink of water." She carried the bag to the couch and let it drop, then continued on into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of peach flavored ice tea, which slid down her throat in a cool, nicely sweetened wave. She leaned against the counter and sipped it, thinking about TCP/IP routing tables until her body had settled down again, and she could head upstairs to her own room.

Her bag was a little tougher, mostly because she actually had winter clothes to choose from. She threw in a few pairs of jeans, though, since they were more comfortable than the heavy corduroy that were her other choice, Dar's having informed her she really liked the way Kerry looked in jeans having nothing to do with the decision of course.

Of course. Kerry smiled, as she flipped through her collection of soft wool sweaters, selecting two that were favorites of hers, and one whose color reminded her of Dar's eyes. That one was a gift from her brother, and it hugged her curves, bringing out an appreciative smile on Dar's face the last time she'd had the occasion to wear it.  She tucked inside her tan leather bag, alongside a couple of long sleeved shirts she could wear under them. She also added a pair of mittens, and her own warm socks and bath kit, glad she wasn't due for her period until late the week after.

Once she had everything packed, she started to go down, then stopped, setting the bag on her bed and going to the dresser where she tugged the drawer open, and pulled out a small, velvet case.  Pensively she opened it, her eyes tracing the now familiar outlines of the beautifully made, filigreed ring inside. Was it time?

Kerry sighed, and closed the case, putting it back in the drawer. Part of her wanted to just push through the insecurities, and go ahead with the gift… but another part of her hesitated, caught between the fear that Dar wouldn't want that kind of commitment, and the inner knowledge that she, Kerry… needed it in some deep, almost uncomfortable way.

Maybe… She chewed her lip. Maybe on Valentines' day? It was only two weeks… a nervous ball formed in her stomach. Maybe she could sort of feel Dar out this weekend.. just to make sure she wasn't going to make a total fool out of herself when she did it.

Oh, come on, Kerry… you know she loves you. She chastised herself. Jesus…she's not going to laugh or anything.

Right? Kerry drummed her fingers on one thigh, then snatched the case up and tucked it into her bag, zipping it up and hitching the strap up onto her shoulder. Maybe she'd practice, she decided, going downstairs and putting her bag on the couch next to Dar's, then sitting down and leafing through the mail. "Oh." She pulled out the three or four pieces that were hers, forwarded from the Kendall address. Two were bills, a third was an offer to beta test the new Microsoft applications suite, and the fourth… "Haven't heard from her in a while." Kerry turned the letter from her great aunt over in her fingers before she lifted the flap and pulled out the creamy, soft stationary, faintly scented with the smell of dust and memories.  She opened it, and spread the paper out on her knees, studying the thin, spidery script.

Dear Kerrison, 

My dear, word has come to me that you are estranged from your parents - and this troubles me greatly. Not for their sake, as you know well that I never did get on with your father, but for your sake, as I know how much family means to you.

Your sister tells me you are well, and living there in Miami, with a person she tells me you are quite fond of. With her usual feckless nattering, she managed to talk all around the subject, but I am going to assume this person is another woman, and while you think my aged nerves can't take this, I will gladly inform you that this is not the case.

Splendid for you, my dear. I would love to meet this person, and I want to assure you that regardless of what your parents seem to think, your extended family is not cut off from you in anyway. You are welcome in my home, and I know Mitchell would love to see you. Please do call me, when you get a chance, since I also would like to get the real story, as opposed to the bowdlerized version your sister saw fit to grace my supposedly tender ears with.

With great affection,

Aunt Penny.

Kerry grinned, as she reread the letter. "Good old Aunt Penny. " She shook her head, remembering the old, but sharp woman who she'd last seen before she'd moved to Miami.

When she'd given her the ring, and laughed, making Kerry turn around in the light, watching her with twinkling eyes the same shade as Kerry's own.

Who had been one of the only people in Kerry's life who had told her, point blank, that she was pretty, displacing years of her mother's continual harping on her looks. Kerry would have cherished her for that alone, but she'd always gotten a sense of warm affection from her aunt and she was glad even this latest disaster hadn't broken that tie. She made a mental note to call her aunt after the weekend, and, on a whim, went back up to her room and got a small box of writing paper, tucking it inside her bag along with a couple of her favorite pens. "That's what I'll do, Chino.. I'll write her a note.. she'd like that." She told the puppy, who had curled up contentedly at her feet. "I bet she'd like you… she had a Scottish terror. I mean, terrier who used to eat my shoes when I went over there."

Chino looked up, then settled her chin on Kerry's foot, and sighed.

Kerry sighed too, and leaned back against the couch's soft leather, drinking in the peace of the place. She picked up Chino and cuddled her, smiling when the puppy sprawled across her chest, the warm breath sneaking between the buttons on her shirt.

She'd just relax here for a minute, then head on back to the office.


"Here you go, Dar." Maria bustled in, handing over two sets of airline ticket folders. "I have you both booked on the plane, and your hotel room is okay." The secretary gave her an impish smile. "They have only rooms with… how you say, a jaguar in them."

Dar stopped what she was doing, and looked up, startled. "What?" She glanced at the tickets. "A jaguar?"

"Si… with the bubbles.." Maria made a circling motion with her hand. "In the water."

"Oh..oh.. a jacuzzi." Dar chuckled, and gave her a stern look. "It's strictly business, Maria."

"Si.. si.. but you know how important is it to stay very clean, Dar." Maria replied, virtuously. "You know, it is bad if you come back with the germs."

Slowly, pale blue eyes lifted and regarded her, a mischevious grin tugging at Dar's lips. "Maria.. if I didn't know better, I'd say you were encouraging me to do something against company policy with my very talented assistant."

Maria blinked at her. "Oh, si." She nodded seriously. "I will see you Monday, Dar… have a good time." She trotted out, leaving a very bemused, and somewhat taken aback boss sitting behind her desk.  "A jaguar, huh?" She tucked the folders inside her jacket and glanced at her watch. "And speaking of my lovely and talented assistant… " She picked up the phone and dialed Kerry's cellular number.

It took four rings before there was an answer, and the voice sounded a little dazed. "Oh shit."

Dar regarded the phone with some amusement. "And a good afternoon to you, too, Kerrison." She drawled. "What's up?"

"Shit, shit shit… " Kerry sighed. "I'm sorry, Dar… I got things packed, then sat down and played with Chino for a minute and I fell asleep."  Sounds of rustling came from the phone. "I'm on my way back… I don't know what in the heck came over me." She sounded disgusted. "God…"

"Hey.. take it easy." Dar laughed. "We got up early, we didn't get too much sleep last night, and if you're tired, it makes sense to take a damn nap.. you didn't miss anything. " She reached over and took a sip of coffee from her cup. "The center's still down, they still need our help, I've got our tickets, and Maria booked us in a hotel room complete with a Jacuzzi."

Momentary silence. "Oh really?" Kerry had closed the car door, and the sound of the engine starting up was heard. "A Jacuzzi, huh? She's subtle." A pause. "Sounds good, though… Colleen was tempting me with visions of you, me, a fire and some marshmallows."

"Oo." Dar purred. "I could go for that…I love marshmallows." She stood up and started packing up her laptop. "I'll be waiting downstairs… we can pick up a quick snack at the airport before we get on the plane."

"Okay." Kerry stifled a yawn. "See you in a few minutes."


The plane was quiet, being only half full, and Dar took the opportunity to relax in her comfortable seat, a glass of white wine balanced on the console between herself and Kerry. The blond woman was curled up half on her side, a soft, blue blanket tucked around her as she idly watched Dar's profile. "We'll have to go out to the office as soon as we get there." Dar commented, laying a casual hand over Kerry's. "It's going to be a long night."

"Okay." Kerry mumbled, shifting over and curling her fingers around Dar's. "As long as I can spend it with you, I don’t' care how long  it is." She closed her eyes and exhaled.

Dar gazed at her quietly, absorbing the unexpected compliment. "Thanks." She finally said, softly. A sea green orb appeared, and studied her. "That was a really sweet thing to say."

Kerry blushed gently, and closed her eye again, giving the fingers held in hers a little squeeze. "You bring out the poet in me." She admitted softly. "It's the weirdest thing."

"Oh really?" Dar rolled half onto her side, facing the blond woman. "Got any handy?"

Alarmed green eyeball. "Any what handy?"

"Poems." Her lover replied, a wicked twinkle in her eyes. "You said I brought that out in you.. I know you're writing them.. I'd love to hear one."

"B.." Kerry's brain ran around in circles for a minute. "I.. b…"

"Well, that sort of rhymes, yeah." Dar mused. "Doesn’t have much emotional impact, though." She took a sip of her wine. "Is that one of those haiku things?"

Kerry burst out giggling. "Dar!" She chastised her boss. "I.. um… you know I…that kind of thing sort of embarrasses me." She looked up to see a look of veiled disappointment on Dar's face. "Well, maybe one." She relented, hesitantly. "But I'll have to drag my notebook out when we get there… I don’t memorize them."

The blue eyes continued to regard her.

"Come on, Dar.. I can't just make one up on command, you know." Kerry tried to avoid looking at the soulful expression. "It just doesn't work like that."

Dar sighed. "Okay." She let her head drop down onto the seat's surface and lowered her gaze.

Kerry chewed her lip, her brows knitting as she regarded the angular profile facing her.

In the darkness of the world we walk,

Unwilling pawns, and victims of the night,

With no guidance save that of false prophets.

But I walk the shadows and fear not their dangers,

For my heart shielded by the shining defense

That is the armor of your love.

She felt very awkward, and could hardly look at Dar's face as she finished, a solid, dark blush coloring her cheeks. "I know it's really kind of corny.. and I have no idea what made me…oh."

Lips very gently brushed against hers, and she tasted their sweetness.

"It's not corny." Dar rumbled into her ear. "I think it's incredible." She kissed Kerry again, glad of the dimmed cabin lighting. "Just like you."

"Mm… " The blond woman found her hands moving irresistibly towards the warm body next to her. "Now.. which one of us is the poet??"


It was a dark and stormy night. Kerry rolled the words around inside her head, as she peered through the darkness surrounding them. They'd gotten to the airport safely, and retrieved a rental car, then headed out to the networking office.

"Pretty remote out here." Dar commented, the small muscles on the sides of her face tensing as she tried to see through the rain. The road was a two lane blacktop, bordered by trees and rolling up and down hills. Only the very occasional street lamp appeared out of the gloom, and the rain was so hard, it reflected Dar's headlights into a blurring glare.

"You said it." Kerry agreed. "Something like the area I'm from.. but more hilly." She hung onto the strap as Dar took an unexpected curve, then blinked as the road banked down and to the left. "Whoa."

"Yeah." Dar nibbled her lower lip. "I don't do hills very much.. sorry." She consciously slowed down, and ran a hand through her hair, wishing it was light out. "It's not that much further, though… whoa!" The car slid out from under her control, and she instinctively steered with it, resisting the desire to slam on the breaks. They did a three hundred sixty degree turn, and almost went off the road before the taller woman wrestled the car around straight, and slowed down almost to a crawl. "What in the hell was that?"

Kerry put a gentle hand on her arm. "Ice." She exhaled. "Um.. you want me to drive? I think I'm a lot more used to it than you are.. they probably don't have icy roads much in Miami."

Dar considered that, then prudently pulled off the road and stopped, tugging her jacket up before she opened the door. "Okay… yeah.. we get rain slicks, but nothing like this." She exited out into the frosty rain tinged with sleet, and exchanged places, settling into a cloth seat still warm from Kerry's body.

It was a surprisingly sensual moment, especially since she caught her lover's scent still clinging to the fabric. She sat back, a little bemused, and watched Kerry adjust the seat so her booted toes could reach the pedals. "Sorry.. I should have moved that."

Sea green eyes suddenly glanced up, a hint of mischief in them. "Or you could have just stayed there, and I could have sat in your lap."

A dark eyebrow crawled up Dar's face almost into her hairline. "Oh really?" She was tempted, then sighed. "Maybe after we get outta there.. it'd be a little conspicuous pulling up to the site like that."

Kerry finished her adjustments, then put the car in drive and slowly pulled out. "Mm… yeah, I guess." She studied the road. "Straight ahead?"

Dar nodded. "Yeah…turn right onto the next major cross road.. it has a state highway sign." She let her head rest against the seat back and stretched her legs out, giving Kerry a look as she reached down and adjusted the passenger seat all the way back. She decided she liked being a passenger, because it gave her the opportunity to study her lover's profile at her leisure, admiring the slightly upturned nose, and the smooth line of her jaw, the muscles shifting a little as she concentrated on the road.

Kerry was painfully aware of the eyes on her, and she fought the instinct to fuss with her hair nervously, which was a habit of hers. "Um… " She tried to think of something to distract Dar. "So, what are we going to do when we get there?"

"Well." Dar folded her arms across her chest, pulling the leather of her jacket tight around her body. "It depends on what the situation is…probably we'll have to push a few people around, kick a little ass, get nasty… hey, Kerry?"

"Kick ass.. take names.. be nasty… huh?" Kerry flicked a glance her way. "What?"

"You're really cute." Dar grinned.

The car slid sideways, with Kerry hanging on and cursing for several minutes before she regained control of it. "Dar, don't do that." She pleaded, willing her blush to recede. "We're going to end up in a ditch."

Dar chuckled softly. "Sorry." She fell silent, and let her companion concentrate on navigating the slick roads.

The dark countryside passed slowly, broken only by the occasional car or truck going in the other direction. It was another hour before Dar nodded towards a half hidden driveway. "In there… see where the arc lights are set up?"

Kerry nodded. "Yeah.. wait.. oh, yeah, I see the road.. okay." She steered the car into the parking lot, seeing several trucks hazily in view through the rain. "Looks like a circus." Groups of people were milling around, and she parked near a large clump of them, putting on the parking break carefully and unbuckling her seat belt. "Well boss… now it's your turn." She glanced at Dar, who was watching the activity with sharp, shifting eyes.

"Right." Dar murmured, letting the warmer side of her personality slip away, and calling up the cool aggressiveness she knew she'd need to deal with the situation. "Okay… you got your cell and the laptop, right?"

Kerry nodded, watching her in uneasy fascination. "Yes."

"Right. Let's go." The dark haired woman zipped up her jacket and opened the car door, slipping outside into the rain and closing it behind her.

"Okay then." Kerry murmured, tucking her phone into the pocket of her jacket and picking up her briefcase. She ducked out the driver side door and closed it, keying the lock and striding after her boss, who was already halfway to the building.


"All right, so when can we get in there." Dar said, standing under a dripping tarp in the very center of the building's front lawn. Two men were opposite her, clearly uncomfortable.

"Ms. Roberts.. ." One said, with a sigh. "Look, the environmental people won't clear us, because that chemical has been confirmed to be toxic." He gave her a look that indicated the last thing he'd expected was to have a VP Ops drop into his tent, where they'd been having a pizza and beer.

Dar's face tensed. "How long?" She snapped.

He shook his head. "I don’t know.. the regulator told me an hour ago she wouldn't even have a team here until tomorrow noon."

Pale eyes almost silver in the glaring lights studied him thoughtfully. "Where is she?" Dar's voice dropped a bit, taking on a predatory burr.

The man glanced at her nervously. "Well, she's over there.. by that van of theirs, but let me tell you, ma'am, she doesn't take any bullshit.. I've worked with her before. "

"What's her name?" The burr deepened.

"Anne Simmonds." The man answered. "But… I mean, really ma'am… if she decides to get tough on us, we could be here for weeks."

Dar turned and stalked out without a word, letting the rain drive against her in freezing darts, conscious of Kerry's quiet form a pace behind her.  She was met by a young man as she approached the van, who was dressed in a white coverall. "I'd like to see whoever is in charge. "She told him quietly.

He cleared his throat and pushed  pair of glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Well.. Dr. Simmonds is inside.. but she's busy.. can I help you?"

Dar stepped up closer, and stared him down, her eyes inches above his own. She let the silence grow for a moment, watching him swallow a few times in reflex. "No." She finally told him. "I'd like to speak to Dr. Simmonds, please."

"Uh…. " He looked past her, to Kerry's damp head. She smiled briefly at him. "Uh.. well, I.. I can ask her.. but.. um.. okay, are you from this company or.. "

Dar cocked her head and pinned him with a stare. "I'd appreciate that…my name's Dar Roberts.. and I'm from our Miami office."

"Okay." He nodded. "Okay.. um.. wait here.. I'll be right back." He turned and walked towards the van, startled to find Dar pacing next to him. "Oh.. we.. we're doing some experiments.. I.. "

"I'd like to get out of the rain. "Dar overrode him. "I won't break anything, I promise."

He looked past her.

"Me either." Kerry smiled kindly at him. "Really.. my mother used to take me into china shops when I was a child."

Dar hurriedly wiped a hand across her face, muffling a laugh, then cleared her throat as they approached the van, which had a tarp extending from it's passenger side, shielding several work tables with people busy over them. The young man went over to a figure bent over a microscope and touched her arm.

"What?" The woman snapped, not looking up. "You just shook this whole slide.. I'm trying to take pictures, Michael." She was very short, shorter than Kerry even, and slim, with dark auburn hair that was pulled tightly back under a close fitting cap. Her bearing was powerful though, and exuded impatience. 

"Um.. yes.. doctor, I know.. but there are two people here from Miami.. they wanted to talk to you.. and I.. "

"Tell em to go the hell back to Miami.. I'm not having some stuffed suits smelling of Cuban cigars hanging around my neck asking stupid questions." The doctor snapped back. "Nothing doing, Michael, so you march your lily white butt back out there and.. " She glanced past his shoulder, where two shadowy, strange forms were standing. "Get rid of them."

"Actually." Dar's low voice spoke clearly, and concisely, as she strode forward, coming into the light with startling impact. "I don't think I'm going anywhere." She stopped precisely in the center of the tent, letting the garish light outline her in stark detail. "And I've never been partial to cigars."

The doctor was… surprised. Kerry decided, watching the smaller woman's eyes flick over her bosses truculent form warily.

An uncomfortable silence dropped over them, until Dar took a step forward, and offered a hand. "Dr Simmonds? My name is Dar Roberts." She waited impassively as the doctor studied her for a long time before extending her own hand. "I need some answers."

It was the charisma. Kerry gave the doctor a brief smile, as Dar released her hand and half turned. "This is my assistant, Kerry Stuart." 

"I don’t have answers." The smaller woman recovered her composure and scowled, giving Kerry a brisk nod. "I told you people that hours ago.. that damn extinguisher company put so much toxin in that system, it's a damn good thing your folks evacuated, or they'd have been glowing like fireflies."

Dar exhaled. "What is it?"

"I have no god damned clue.. and those people won't say." The doctor stated, disgustedly. "So damn scared of a lawsuit they won't even admit to having first and last names."

Dar glanced at Kerry, who handed her the cell phone without a word. She dialed a number and waited. "Evening, Les."

"Jesus, Dar… it's.. " A yawn. "Midnight.. what in bl.. are you in North Carolina?" He cleared his throat. "Listen.. we've got twelve accounts set to cancel if we're not back up by tomorrow morning."

"Now you tell me?" Dar barked. "Good god, Les!"

"I wasn't worried… I heard you were on your way.. in fact, I went to bed." The CEO told her cheerfully. "You know I've got all the confidence in the world in you, Dar."

The responsibility slammed down on her shoulders with an almost audible crunch. "How much business are we talking about?" Dar asked, cautiously. "It doesn't look good here, Les."

"Well… " He paused. "It's not good, Dar." His cheerfulness vanished. "In fact, it's not very good at all… we can't lose them.. not like this, and remain competitive."

Dar's eyes drifted out to the rainy ground. "I see." A dull throbbing started in the back of her skull. "Wish you'd told me that earlier."

"Didn't know until after six, you'd already left for the airport." Les told her. "And anyway.. what more could I do? You're the best we have, Dar.. if you can't solve it, no one can."

Dar rubbed her temples. "All right.. I need someone from Legal to call whoever's in charge of that damn extinguisher company, and threaten them with a full liability lawsuit, naming the officers as personal respondents if they don't give the people here the name of the stuff they put in that god damned system."

"Hell with Legal.. I'll call him.. I know him.. he's my second wife's third ex husband's brother in law." Les advised her. "Call you right back."

"Right." Dar disconnected, studying the building thoughtfully. Then she dialed again, glancing over her shoulder "Call Bellsouth.. I'm going to need someone very high up in their provisioning department." Her voice had taken on a grim tone.

"Okay." Kerry got out  her own phone, and her palmtop, and checked the number, then dialed, sensing the sudden change in her lover, and feeling a sick gnawing in her guts.

Dar listened for a minute, then heard Mark's voice. "Evening."

"Ah.. Dar.. hi." Mark's voice sounded blurry. "Um… I was just… uh.. "

"Sleeping at your desk." Dar remarked dryly. " Listen.. I need an inventory check.. can we duplicate the setup in NC?"

Momentary silence. "You're kidding, right?" Mark answered, faintly. "You know we can't do that."

"Thought so.. call up Cisco, and find out what they have on hand." Dar sighed. "We're locked out of here."  She hung up and faced the doctor. "I need to get in there and get equipment out."

"No way." The woman answered instantly.

"Look.. " Dar started.

"Hey.. I said, no way." Anne put a hand up. "So don’t' try it, lady.. I've said no to a lot worse than you."

Kerry put her hand over the mic on her phone and stepped artfully between the two women, seeing the sudden icy glare settle over her bosses face. "Here.. Dar.. it's some Executive VP of something or other.. was that high enough?" She passed her the phone, watching the flare of Dar's nostrils as she took the instrument.

"Yeah. That's fine." She muttered, taking a breath before half turning away to talk.

"So." Kerry gave the doctor a grim smile. "Any coffee around here?"


"Well, that's it." Anne Simmonds closed up her cell phone. "All right, guys.. pack it up." She yelled to her team, then turned to a waiting Dar. "Sorry. They're going to have to bring in a team to scrub the place. Thanks for getting me an answer, though."

Kerry shot a glance at her boss. "What does that mean?" She asked.

"Means the stuff is so toxic, we can't go in there without environmental suits." The doctor answered succinctly. "And I'll be glad to get out of this weather.. you might as well do the same."

"How long?" Dar spoke for the first time, her voice sharp.

The doctor shrugged. "Who knows? Take the team a day.. maybe two to get here.. then probably a week or so."  She packed up her kit.

"I can't keep this facility closed a week." Dar stated flatly.

"Well, that's just too bad." Simmonds replied. "Because I'm leaving a trooper there to keep everyone out." She gave Dar a grim smile. "Have a nice day." She shouldered her bag. "Oh, and Ms. Roberts?"

Cold blue eyes watched her silently.

"My boss, Shari, says have a nice day too." She turned, and walked off, joining her group as they got into their van and closed the door, driving off and leaving them in the fitful, freezing weather.

Kerry watched them, then turned and studied her bosses face, which had gone dark, and cold, with a glittering anger in the pale blue eyes that sent a chill down her back. "What was that all about?"

Dar felt the sour taste in the back of her mouth. "Old history." She replied, then returned her attention to the building. "All right. C'mon… we're going to have to do this the hard way." She started towards the tarp the rest of their assembled group was huddled under, at a brisk pace.

"But.. " Kerry caught up to her, tugging her collar up a little. "Dar.. I don't.. um.. "

"Okay, folks." Dar stated, as she ducked under the blue plastic. "Bad news. We don’t' get in for a week, at the least." She pointed to the Bellsouth regional service coordinator who had just arrived. "I need all the circuits in that building stripped, and redropped.. and I need them tonight."

His jaw dropped. "You're joking, right?"

"No." Dar stared him down. "Just get started.. I'll let you know where I need them dropped.." She turned and faced the building manager. "I have seventy Cisco 7200's headed here on a charter… find someone to go pick them up."

His jaw dropped too. "What in the hell are you doing, Dar? You make it sound like we're rebuilding the goddamn complex."

A dark brow lifted. "We are."

"That's impossible." He told her flatly. "There is no way this facility is going to be duplicated overnight."

"Have you ever tried it?" Dar countered, her temper building. "No? Then how do you know it can't be done?" She pointed "Just get moving.. and get me someone here with a truck, who knows the area…and you.. " She pointed at another woman who was muffled in a large macinaw. "Start getting your people back in here. " The staff had been sent home earlier.

"Look.. Dar.. " The regional manager objected.

She whirled on him, and jabbed a finger into his chest. "You want a job tomorrow morning?"


"Then start moving your ass." She snarled. "All of you!"

A low muttering sprang up as people started to move, more than one whisper of  "crazy" leaking back to Dar's ears. She turned her back on them and walked to the edge of the tarp, staring out into the darkness and trying to calm the churning tension ion her guts.

Kerry took a breath, then stepped up next to her. "Hey..look, Dar… I think he's right.. this is really crazy."

The back facing her stiffened, and it was a long moment before Dar turned her head and looked right at Kerry. Her face was an unreadable mask, but the turmoil in her eyes was unmistakable. "If you don’t' want to help out.. just go back to the car and wait." The taller woman spoke with low intensity. " But don’t stand here and tell me what I can't do.. I don't need that from you."

Kerry felt her knees start to shake, and she sucked in a shocked breath, having not expected the response. She tried to think of something to say, but before she could, Dar simply turned and walked away, out into the darkness. Alone.


The freezing rain now matched her mood completely. Dar stared into it, hardly even feeling the sting against her face as the last warm spot inside her dissolved, replaced by a damp bleakness that already regretted her words to Kerry.

Damn it.  She tucked her hands under her arms, ignoring the pain the cold was inserting in her joints, and took a quick glance over her shoulder. Kerry had disappeared. The knowledge sank into Dar's guts, and she felt a long moment of just wishing she could scrap the entire night, and go after her.

And say what? Sorry for being an asshole.. it's just something you have to get used to?  Wasn't it good old Shari who had told her she'd never have a successful relationship, because she always put everything else ahead of it?

Yeah. Funny she should turn up right at the moment. She let the freezing rain drive against her, numbing her face until heavy footsteps ran up and she turned, to see the Bellsouth supervisor pulling his yellow rain suit tight against him.

"All right.. we've got the pairs pulled out." He told her, scrubbing his face. "Now what? I can't keep those guys up on those poles, Ms. Roberts.. you need to give us some direction here.. we're pulling all the stops out, but I'm not putting my guys in danger, and it's icing up."

More than you know. Dar rubbed her arms, then exhaled. "Okay.. let's see where everyone else is." She led him back to the tarp, ignoring the angry looks she was getting by the rest of the team, channeling her focus only on the goal.  "What's the status?'

"Plane just landed with the routers." One man grudgingly admitted, blowing on his hands. "I got a truck… we were about to leave to go pick them up."

"Good." Dar nodded. "Take off."

"Staff's headed back in.. those I could reach." The older woman told her. "But I had to get pretty tough.. no one's happy.. and a few flat out refused."

"Fine." The dark haired woman told her. "Okay, now we just need a.."

"The warehouse next door is empty." Kerry's voice quietly interrupted her. "They have a telco punchdown, and the landlord's on his way with a key."

The flapping of the tarp was suddenly loud, as everyone turned to look at her, and Dar felt an irrational jolt deep in her guts. She studied the set, serious face for a moment. "Thank you, Kerry… good work."

Kerry nodded, and glanced down at the churned, half frozen mud they were standing in.

"All right.. let's move everything over there.. we'll get inside as soon as they open it up.. it'll be warmer and drier at least." Dar stated quietly. "John… that's where we'll need the lines dropped.. I think I spotted a block on the back end of that building."

"Right you are." The Bellsouth manager nodded briskly, pulling out a walkie talkie and speaking into it. "That's an easy swing… they might even be wired for it already.. that used to be a telemarketing operation."

Kerry listened to the conversation, letting it roll over her, until she was aware of footsteps leaving, and then silence. With a sigh, she lifted her head, almost jumping when pale blue eyes met hers. "Oh." She'd thought Dar had gone with them.

They studied each other for a long, pensive moment.

"Sorry about that I.." Kerry started.

"Sorry I snapped at you. .I " Dar rumbled at the same time.

Silence fell again, then Dar released a breath and wiped a weary hand across her face. "You didn't deserve that."

Kerry stepped closer. "No.. I shouldn't have questioned you, Dar." She put out a hesitant hand, and touched Dar's arm, as though reassuring herself. "You needed my support right then, and I blew it."

Dar dropped her eyes to the ground. "I don’t want you think that." She said, after a moment's thought. "Sometimes you need to question me, Kerry.. I don’t' know all the answers, and sometimes I push too hard… and the result doesn't end up justifying the means." Her eye swept up, in startling honesty. "You should know that."  She sighed and looked around. "I don't know if this is the right thing to do… but I don't know what else to try.. and I have to try something."

Kerry nodded, and moved another step closer. "I know… I went over to the truck there and sat down.. and I thought about it.." She paused. "That's why I called about that warehouse.. I knew that's where you had to go next."

Dar lifted a hand and gently laid it alongside her cheek. "Thank you." She murmured, sincerely. "That really was well done…how'd you know about the punch down?"

Kerry smiled, feeling her cold stiffened facial muscles protest. "Modern technology.. I linked up to the local real estate page and did a search on available commercial property in this area.. listed my specifications, and it popped right up." Her eyes twinkled gravely at the widening of Dar's eyes. "Even had the landlord's number there." She added. "He wasn't happy about me calling him at two am, but since I offered twenty percent more than what he was asking, he made an exception, and said he'd get right over here. He lives about ten minutes away."

Dar gave a little shake of the head, then she impulsively pulled Kerry into a hug, reveling in the warmth as the smaller woman wound her arms around her and squeezed really hard. "You're the best."

Kerry smiled in pure relief, ignoring the dampness of Dar's jacket. Then she released her boss, and patted her gently on the side. "And.. hey, Dar?"

"Mm?" The now warm blue eyes regarded her.

Kerry lifted her chin. "If and when you want to talk about the old history.. I'm here."

Dar's eyelids fluttered as she ducked her head for a moment, then raised it. "Thanks." She replied quietly. "Maybe we'll have time this weekend." For a lot of things, she mused.

"Okay." Kerry exhaled. "Well, I think that's our landlord over there… I guess we'd better get started…but Dar, I have to ask you.. we're replacing the routers, but what about the mainframes? We can't duplicate those.. not even if you commandeer half the air force."

Dar slipped an arm over her shoulders and started to walk towards the now lit building behind the operations center. "No… but the mainframes are in a separate room.. they connect over a fiber optic LAN bridge." She pointed. "And the access block is on the roof."

Kerry stared at the roof, then her eyes shifted to a new truck that had just pulled up, bearing the fiber optics division insignia of the telephone company. "Oh.. you're just too good." She turned an admiring gaze on her boss. "That's slick, Dar.. but do we know they have power and are turned on in there? I thought those environmental people turned everything off."

Dar let out a breath. "We'll find out… but we've got a lot to do before then.. and it's going to be a race."

Kerry lifted her head and regarded the growing crowd they were heading towards. "I have a feeling I'm going to be present at yet another Dar Roberts legend in the making."

"Hmm.. let's just hope it's not my swan song." Dar muttered.


Continued in Part 6