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 6

By Melissa Good

Kerry stood back and watched the group disperse inside the large, ill lit warehouse, scattering out from the door and trying to avoid the tumbleweed size dust bunnies that were rolling languidly across the stained carpet. It smelled like a cross between a dirty shed and a mildewed garage, and Kerry wrinkled her nose in pure reaction.

But at least it was warm, sort of, and not raining inside. Dar was standing in the center of the room, her hands on her hips and her eyes regarding the space they had to work with, and Kerry noticed the rain dripping off her jacket with a frown.

"All right." The tall, dark haired woman finally said. "Truck here yet?" She turned to the facility manager. "Thought I heard the engine outside."

He nodded. "Just got here… I'll have them stack the boxes over there, and start unpacking things."

"Right… there should be racks with them, and a spool of Cat 5." Dar told him. "Better start having people make the jumper cables.. I'll work with telco to get the lines dropped in."

"Okay." He rubbed his eyes. "Damn… wish we had an urn of coffee in here." He moved off towards a clump of grumpy looking technicians.

Coffee. Dar wished he hadn't said that. She could feel the day's exhaustion catching up with her, and she had to make a conscious effort to jump start her brain, turning it to the stuff still undone. The cold had stiffened up her muscles as well, and her half healed knee had been aching for hours, since she'd been standing and walking on it. With a sigh, she turned, almost slamming right into Kerry. "Wh.. oh.. sorry."

The blond woman pushed a bundle of cloth into her hands. "Here… go change you're making my teeth chatter."

Dar put her hands up in reflex, and found them filled with warm, dry clothes. "Whe…um… thanks." She gave Kerry a grateful smile. "Where's yours?"

Kerry showed her the bag slung over her shoulder. "I'm going to make a quick run out with Mary…" She indicated the day manager who had called in the staff. "When I get back, I'll change…they're offloading the routers now."

Dar nodded. "I know…okay, I'm going to start getting the T1's punched down."

"After you change." Kerry persisted. "Right?"

A soft chuckle. "Right." Dar followed the hastily lettered signs which indicated the rest rooms, and ducked inside the one marked Women, wincing at the smell of rotted grout. "Oh god." She debated holding her breath, then decided passing out would be a bad idea and simply turned her mind to more pleasant thoughts as she quickly stripped out of her soaked clothing. It was almost a sensual experience pulling on the clean, dry denim over her chilled legs, and she quickly tucked the flannel shirt Kerry had retrieved into them, buttoning the jeans closed and tugging on her sweatshirt as well. "Damn, that feels good." She commented to the empty room, gathering up her dripping shirt and pants, and draping them over a stall divider, tucking her drenched underthings into the pants pockets.

Then she sat on the edge of a water basin, tugging on a pair of thick, warm socks and her dry sneakers, letting her hands fall as she finished and reveling in the simple pleasure of being warm and dry after so many hours of damp misery. She wondered briefly how long it would have taken her to do this on her own, feeling a little guilty about having Kerry have to nudge her into it.  With a sigh, she stood, wishing she'd thought to bring some analgesic for her knee, and gazed at her damp reflection, flicking her fingers through her hair to order it somewhat. "Drowned rat." She told the reflection, which looked wryly back at her. "No wonder everyone thinks you're nuts." 

She trudged back out into the open warehouse, only then wondering where Kerry had scooted off to.


"Okay.. " Kerry peered out of the windshield. "We need to find a place to get sandwiches or something for everyone… they must be hungry." Of course, she had a personal motive for asking, but it seemed much nobler to think of the group first. "Any 24 hour groceries around here?"

Mary looked at her. "You're joking, right?"

"Come on.. we even had one in Saugatuck." Kerry eyed her. "Okay.. a Seven Eleven.. a Wal Mart.. anything?"

"How about a Big Fat Boy's Eat Em All?" Mary asked, with a perfectly serious face. "They've got some good pie."

Kerry held her breath to keep from giggling nervously. "Oh.. okay.. sure.. "

"And there's a Stop and Shop.. if you want." The woman added.

"Both." Kerry nodded firmly. "Um… the restaurant first… do they take credit cards?"

Mary just laughed.

"Okay then.. the stop and shop first.. maybe they have an ATM." Kerry sighed.

The other woman put the car in gear and headed out, driving the dark back roads for twenty minutes before pulling into a lonely looking, but fairly well lit convenience store. They got out and entered, and Kerry wasn't surprised to find they were the only patrons. She went to the obviously brand new ATM, standing in a place of pride near the slurpee machine and selected her corporate card, swiping it and keying in her id number. She considered a moment, then entered an amount, idly imagining an electronic gasp from the machine as it thought about her request. Finally it grudgingly gave up the cash, and she tucked her card away, turning around and prowling the aisles thoughtfully.

What a selection. She sighed, going up to the cashier, who was watching her with sleepy eyes. "May I have a box, please?" The man gave her a puzzled look, but went into a back room and came out with a cardboard carton, which he handed to her wordlessly. "Thank you." Kerry took it over to the shelf and scooped the meager choices of Twinkies and other goods into it. She stuck to recognizable items, leaving some dubiously packaged sweet rolls behind, and lugged the box up to the front. "Ring that up, please." She told the man, before she went to the freezer case and studied it. A brief grin crossed her lips, and she tugged the case open, retrieving an item and bringing it back to the cashier. "Okay." She paid the man, then claimed her box and followed Mary outside.

"I can't believe you're doing this." The woman commented, opening the trunk for her and watching as she put the box inside.

Kerry was about to answer, when  a shadowy figure wandered over.

"Hey there cute stuff." His bearded face was slightly flushed, and he walked with a tiny stagger. "You look all wet.. lemme dry you off." He put a hand out, but Kerry evaded him. "Hey.."

"No thanks.. I'm fine.. but thank you for offering." The blond woman backed off, moving around to the side of the car.

"Aw.. c'mon.. " The man staggered after her, surrounded by a queasy cloud of alcoholic stench. "Nice little thing like you… c'mere… I won't hurtcha… "

"No.. really. .I'm fine.. " Kerry waited, as Mary unlocked her side and reached inside to unlock Kerry's door. "No.. stop.. "

He grabbed her jacket, and pulled her closer, bloodshot eyes eagerly looking at her face.

Kerry sighed. "I'm just not in the mood for this." She wrenched her arm free, then grabbed his hand, swiveling around and pulling him over her shoulder in a well practiced move that landed him on his butt in the freezing mud. Then she yanked the door to the car open and dropped into the seat, slamming the door shut and shaking her head with a muttered comment. "Jerk."

Mary started the car without a word, and pulled out.


"Did they send an Ethernet hub?" Dar leaned on the newly assembled racks, and watched as yet another box was unpacked. The musty smell of the warehouse was almost completely overrun with the scent of newly opened electronics, and the worn and dirty carpet was covered with tired looking techs busy making cables and assembling wiring harnesses.

"Yeah.. it's over there." The man she was addressing pointed without looking up, busy on his task and oblivious to the asker.

Dar didn't mind. She went over to the box he'd indicate and stuck her head inside, spotting the item she was looking for and tugging it out, pulling it free of the bubble wrap packing and dusting the top off. "Great."  She limped over to a hastily set up table and set the box down, pulling a small pocket knife out of her jeans pocket and slitting the tape on the top of the container. Her eyes scanned the device, then she lifted it from it's nest of packing and carried it over to the first rack, sliding it into place above the first of the routers and screwing it down. "There… if the patches are ready, we can start hooking these damn things up."

"Right." The facility manager agreed wearily, plugging the hub into power. "At least they sent surge suppressors.. but I'm glad we found those extension cords in the basement here."

"Mm.' Dar agreed, flipping the switches on the installed routers. "Oh shit… " She rubbed her temples. "I need a damn straight through serial cable and 9pin to program these damn things."

John cursed softly. "Christ.. all right.. let me see what we have.. maybe I can have someone wire a piece of Cat 5 in serial."

Dar leaned against the rack for a moment, the straightened and moved over to where the telco technicians were screwing down two huge blocks and wiring. "How's it going?" She asked, examining the jacks. "Nice."

The nearer tech looked up. "Just about done.. ya got lucky, lady.. this is the only multi jack in this part of the Carolinas.. I got no idea how you got inventory to give it up to us."

Dar's nostrils flared. "I'd tell you, but I'd have to kill you." She joked faintly, recalling a twenty minute, top of her lungs, cursing in two languages conversation with a mid level infrastructure manager at the phone company. "Can we start plugging in?"

He finished one last screw into the peeling paint on the punch down board. "Yeah…you got drop cables?" He looked up as Dar lifted a handful of the requested items. "Oh.. right." He took the handful and started plugging them in while Dar connected the other end to the equipment. "What time is it, anyhow?"

Dar checked her watch. "Four thirty." She winced. "All right.. is the fiber drop in?"

"Almost." The man remarked, moving towards the door.

Dar finished her task, the she stepped back, and regarded the assembly of equipment. "What a mess." There were wires everywhere, connecting the routers, and the interconnecting hubs, not to mention the power cables running everywhere. Green and red leds were beginning to blink on the routers, and she ran a hand through her hair, trying to shove back the exhaustion as she figured out what needed to happen next. Oh. Right. She pulled her cell phone out and dialed.

"MIS." The voice answered.

"Mark… okay.. we've got the.. " Dar started.

"Circuits up.. yeah, I see them.. but they aren't terminated yet." Mark replied, amidst a rattle of keys. "Shit, that was fast, Dar.. what did you do, coerce the entire phone company?"

Dar sighed. "We got lucky.. there were already terminator blocks in this damn warehouse… they just had to assign the pairs." She found a box to sit down on and took a deep breath. "That was the easy part.. now I have to configure the routers, and get the fiber line in… and hope to god those damn mainframes  are still running off the generator, or we're doing this for shit."

"You sound beat." Mark commented quietly.

"Been a long day." Dar acknowledged, letting her elbows rest on her knees and allowing her eyes to close momentarily. "Wish I had some.. " She stopped talking, and looked up as the smell of fresh coffee hit her nose, and found warm green eyes gazing back at her. "Oh, are you a sight for sore eyes." She murmured.

Mark chuckled in her ear. "Tell Kerry I said hi." He remarked wryly

Kerry handed her the large cup of coffee and took the phone from her. "Hi Mark.. can we call you back?" She waited for the answer, then hung up. "Sorry it took so long.. you have no idea how hard it is to find open places up here at this time of day."  She looked around. "Wow."

Dar sucked on her coffee without comment, feeling some life come back into her as the warm, sweet liquid hit her stomach. "I was about to send out a search party." She advised her lover. "We've got the circuits up, but… " Dar let a tendril of doubt in. "Damn, Kerry.. I don't know if we can do this… there's just so much to get done." She cast a glance over her shoulder at the half assembled system. "Maybe I was crazy to try."

Kerry gazed at her in concern.. Dar's face and her arms were covered with smudges of dust and dirt from the equipment, and there were dark circles under her eyes, visible even in the dim light. "Dar… if you didn't belive this was going to work.. you wouldn't have done it."  She sat down next to her boss. "I brought back food for everyone… that should help… and I can program the routers, if you give me a chance to change first."

The bloodshot blue eyes lifted and regarded her. "That's right..you are Cisco certified, aren't you?" Dar let a reluctant smile tug her lips. "Go change.. I have the making up cables for the laptops… if we both work on it, we can get enough done so that the other techs can get in and start downloading the routing tables."

"You got it." Kerry slung her bag over her shoulders and headed for the rest room, changing quickly and hanging her wet clothing next to Dar's. She returned to find her boss hunched over a box, studying the screen on her laptop. The silvery reflection flickered over her tanned features, which shifted as Kerry put her own laptop down next to her. "Okay." The blond woman smiled as a tech handed her a cable. "Thanks." She plugged it in, then ran the other end to one of the routers. "Oh. I'll be right back."

Dar nodded, absorbed in her screen. "Let's hope I remember how to do this." She muttered, shoving down her annoyance that they'd been unable to locate the hardware group for the facility, meaning that only she and Kerry really knew how to get in and program the complicated devices. "It's been a while."  The scent of cooked food spread through the room and most of the techs had wandered over to where Kerry had left the boxes, leaving Dar in relative isolation as she puzzled through the software.

The screen started to fuzz out, and she stopped after what seemed like the twentieth screen, leaning back and rubbing her eyes, as her back protested against her hunched posture. "I think that's it.'" She commented to Kerry, who knelt at her side. "Wh.. "

"Open wide." Kerry instructed, capturing her gaze.

Dar stared, uncomprehending, then hesitantly opened her mouth, startled when a spoonful of cold, chocolate ice cream was deposited into it. She blinked a few times. "Mm." She swallowed the rich cream. "Was that Haagen Daz?"

"Yes." Kerry informed her, offering up another spoonful. "And don't you ask me where I found chocolate Haagen Daz in the middle of backwoods North Carolina, okay?" She watched Dar's whole attitude perk up, and was convinced if the dark haired woman had possessed a tail, it would have wagged enthusiastically. "It's amazing what ice cream does to you, did you know that?"

Dar licked her lips. "Hey.. it beats recreational drugs." She remarked wryly. "What did you bring the rest of these guys?"

Kerry glanced over her shoulder. "The best of 'Big Fat Boy's All U Kin Eat buffet." She told her boss, taking a spoon of ice cream for herself. "And a box of Twinkies, Snowballs, Ring Dings, and Mallomars."

The dark haired woman covered her mouth quickly, and stifled an almost hysterical laugh. "Did you get some buffet?" She managed to ask. "Damn.. I thought it was more.. uh… "

"You're joking, right?" Kerry fed her more ice cream. "I'd like to live to get back to Miami, thanks.. and I got the lecture that yes, during the day, it's much more sophisticated around here… but those places roll up the sidewalks at night, because all the workers go home."

"Well.. " Dar accepted another spoon and chewed it contentedly. "It was a good idea, though.. it might give everyone enough energy to get through the morning." She paused, and regarded her lover. "So, no buffet for you?"

Kerry sucked on the spoon. "Um.. no.. actually.. I… " She made a tiny face. "I have a weakness for Snowballs." She admitted, a touch embarrassed. "That was enough sugar to get me going."

Dar laughed. "Ah! I see…. " She teased gently. "Those white ones, with the chocolate insides?"

Green eyes batted their golden lashes at her. "Yeah." She confessed, a little shamefacedly.

"Wanna share a pack?" Dar inquired, one brow lifting.

Kerry cleared her throat. "Oh.. no, I'm okay.. I… " Then she glanced up. 'Well, maybe one."

Dar grinned, finding the energy to stand up, and stretch. She could feel her own determination returning, and she glanced out over the room, planning her next move.


Dawn broke, turning the darkness outside to a dull gray as the rain continued. Inside the warehouse, it was marked only by a break for coffee, from the multitude of thermos bottles that littered the worktable.

"All right, Mark." Dar leaned against the wall, crossing her ankles and taking the weight off her knee. "Can you see them?"

Clicking. "No.. no.. wait." More clicking. "Ah.. yep.. there they are…"

Dar closed her eyes in utter relief. "All of them?"

"Wait.. I'm getting Unicenter booted." The MIS chief muttered. "Hang on.. hang on… okay.. yeah." He confirmed. "I'm seeing all the gateways, and both backbones." A beat. "Wow… tremendous work, boss… that kicks ass."

Dar let her head rest against the wall. "I had a lot of help." She muttered. "Okay… now.. I'm going to boot the fiber hub." She reached over, and flipped a switch.

Across the room, bodies were slumped on the carpet, or leaning against the far walls, and the door kept opening fitfully, letting in cold, damp air.

"I don’t' see it." Mark's voice cut through her exhaustion.

"Shit." Dar shoved her body off the wall and examined the piece of equipment. "I don’t.. it's connected… let me.. "

"Did you set the IP?" Mark asked, gently.

Dar thought about it. "I don't remember." She glanced up as Kerry came over. "Mark sees the backbones and the routers.. but not this box.. did we program it?"

Kerry brought the laptop over, and connected it, then ran through a few screens. "Nope." She typed in a few commands, then reset the unit. 'Try now."

Mark clicked a bit, then grunted. "Got it." He entered several commands rapidly. "Needs the secondary table though.. hang on.. I'm in there… I can download it from here.. wait.. okay." He sighed. "Got it.. got it… you're going to have to IPL the mainframes, though."

Dar and Kerry exchanged glances. "What?" Dar asked. "I thought they were up?"

"They are." Mark said. "But the ports shut down when you don’t' have activity after a certain point… it's a bug or something.. you need to reset them."

Dar let out an explosive breath. "Son of a fucking bitch.. Mark, we can't get in there." She told him. "Cant' you remote IPL?"

"Has to be a hardware reset." The MIS chief responded. "God, Dar… I'm sorry.. I knew that, in the back of my head, I should have told you before.. I didn't realize… "

No. Dar let her head smack against the wall, and she cursed softly under her breath.

Kerry chewed her lip in thought, watching her lover anxiously. "What if we cut the building generator off and on?" She asked suddenly. "It's outside."

Dar stared at her, then dropped the phone onto the fiber rack and took hold of the blond woman, kissing her soundly in full view of the room. "I love you." She patted Kerry's cheek, as she headed past her towards the door.

Kerry stood rooted in place, stunned beyond speech. She had her back to everyone and could almost feel the eyes beating against the back of her head. Finally, she picked up the cell phone and cleared her throat. "Um.. hi."

Mark also cleared his throat. "Hi." He responded. "Guess she liked that idea, huh?"

"Uh.. yeah." Kerry winced, as she slowly turned, relieved to see most of the techs still passed out and paying no attention to her. There were a handful of bemused faces, though, and she mustered a weak smile for them. "I just hope it works."

"Hey… that sure beats Q bucks." One tech laughed. "I think I'll move down to Miami.. they got a better bonus plan."  A round of tired laughter followed.

Kerry scrubbed a hand across her reddening face, and sighed. "I'm gonna kill her for that." She muttered, then glanced up as Dar reentered the building.

"All right folks.. we've got fifteen minutes, and we'll know if this all has been worth it." The dark haired woman announced. "And if it is, or isn't… I'd like to say thanks to all of you who hung in there…I know we asked a lot."

A weary silence fell over them, and everyone settled in to watch the routers, whose traffic led's were dark. Dar walked over to where Kerry was standing and slid down the wall, clasping her hands lightly in front of her.


Kerry sat down next to her and fiddled with the phone, sitting cross legged and resting her elbows on her knees.

Fifteen minutes passed, and there was no change in the lights. Dar closed her eyes and let her head drop in defeat, hardly feeling Kerry's hand on her arm. Of all the times to fail, she had to pick this one. She refused the hear the disappointed murmur that echoed around the ill lit room, as the tired waves finally crashed over her.

"It was a damn good try." Kerry rested her head against Dar's shoulder.

"Not good enough." Came the whispered reply.

The blond woman moved closer, accidentally jerking the power plug of the fiber hub from the wall. 'Oh.. crap" She shoved it back in with an annoyed grimace. "For all the good that'll do." She muttered, turning her attention to her lover. "Hey.. c'mon.. no one could have done any more, Dar."

"Hey!" A tinny voice distracted her, and she lifted  the phone.

"What is it, Mark? It didn't work." Kerry admitted.

"Bullshit.. yes it did!" The MIS chief yelled. "I'm getting packets!!"

Dar's head jerked up on hearing that, and they both stared at the router racks, where led's were coming alive in an electronic dance. "Son of a bitch."

Yells were now coming from the techs, who were pointing at the routers.

"Wow!" Kerry let out a surprised, and delighted laugh. "I guess it just took a few minutes longer… "

"No.. " Dar looked up at the hub over her head. "You did it.. you reset the optics hub." She grabbed Kerry and hugged her. "You did it!"

Dumbfounded, Kerry stared at her. "I did it?" She jerked around and looked at the plug. "It was an accident!"

"Waaahoo!" Mark yodeled through the phone. "Infriggingcredible, Dar! Give that woman a kiss for me."

Blue eyes now alive with mischief fastened on Kerry's face. "Oh.. I think I can do that." She stood up and pulled Kerry up with her, as  a round of tired cheers went up around the room.

"Uh.. Dar?" Kerry whispered frantically. "Um.. you know, I love when you kiss me.. I really, really do, but um… could we just kinda… " She jerked her head in the direction of the watching technicians. "I feel like a video game."

Dar chuckled. "All right.." She relented, draping an arm over Kerry's shoulder instead, and walking towards the now excitedly talking group. She took the phone from Kerry. "So.. everything coming online?"

"OH.. yes… " Mark chuckled. "Oh wait.. there's the hotline.. figures, sun just started coming up." He rustled around. "MIS Ops, Polenti." A pause. "Hmm? Oh.. yeah, we're up.. no problem." Another pause. "Yep.. that too.. .the whole network's online." A longer pause. "Yeah, I've got her on the other line.. wh…ok…I'll relay that.. thanks." He hung up. "Hey, Dar?"

"Yeah?" Dar replied, accepting the cries of congratulations from the crowd.

"Les said to tell you he slept like a baby." The MIS chief related. "He said you'd understand."

She let a brief, humorless smile cross her face. "Yeah.. I understand." She replied. "All right.. let me get off this thing… I'm going to make sure this is stable, then go get some sleep." The thought of a warm bed, and snuggling with Kerry was suddenly overwhelmingly attractive. "Later." She hung up and tucked the phone into her pocket.

Fresh staff was entering the building, cautiously peering around the doorframe until they spotted familiar faces. A supervisor was busy making a schedule, and two other new faces were pulling out monitoring consoles from boxes and setting them up. "We did it." Dar stated, in a wondering tone. "I don't believe it."

Kerry exhaled. "We sure did." She confirmed.

They both looked up as someone called Dar's name out. A man trotted towards them, pulling up as he reached their sides.

"Ms. Roberts?" He asked. "There's some people outside… I think it's the environmental people.. they want to see you."

Dar went very still. "Same people as last night?" She asked cautiously.

He nodded. "Yeah.. that same doctor.. but she said her boss is here.. wants to talk to you." He made a face. "They were kinda rude about it." He added, then turned as someone called him, and moved off.

Kerry looked up at Dar's face, seeing the confusion and reluctance there. "You want me to take care of this?" She asked bluntly.

Pale blue eyes flicked to hers. "Thanks.. but.. um.. I'd better go." Dar told her heavily. "You wait here.. it shouldn't take long.. since I don’t' really care when they clear the other building now.. as long as we keep the generators going."

Kerry didn't back off. "Sure you don't want company?" She had no idea what was spooking Dar so badly, but she was damned if she wasn't going to find out. "Two of them.. only fair if there are two of us."

Dar hesitated. "Her boss and I have a history." She finally admitted.

"I gathered." The blond woman answered quietly. "That was the old history, right?"

A nod. "Yes."

"Dar, it's been a really long night.. you're tired… let me go take care of them for you." Kerry pleaded gently, seeing the stark indecision in Dar's eyes. "Or at least let me come, too."

She gave in. "All right." Dar ran a hand through her hair. "Let's get it over with… I want to get out of here." She picked up Kerry's duffel, and slung it over her shoulder. "We can just go after that."

They walked out, side by side, into a gray drizzle.


It was almost like her stomach was twisting into knots. Kerry paced along side her boss, watching the jaw muscles bunch and relax on the side of her face as they moved around to where the networking office was.  Two figures were standing under the overhang out of the rain, and Kerry almost felt Dar bristle as she spotted them.

This was potentially very ugly, she realized, studying toe two people. One was Dr. Simmonds, she knew. The other, a taller, stocker woman with sun streaked chestnut hair was standing quietly, watching Dar like a hawk as they approached. Kerry had an immediate, very visceral desire to kick her in the shins, and had to wonder about her newly found physical nature.

"Hey, Dar!" A voice interrupted them, and they stopped, turning to let a jogging figure catch up. It was the Bellsouth regional manager, who held a hand out to Dar as he came up to them. "Hear it worked.. congratulations!"

Dar mustered a smile, and took his hand. "You made it happen." She amiably told him. "You guys really came through for us.. don't think I'll forget that."

They were close enough for the two women to overhear, Kerry realized, and she saw their faces fall. A grin worked it's way onto her face. "Yes.. it really was great working with you." She added, shaking his hand as well. "Your techs were wonderful… they got us back up with no problem." She made sure her voice was a little louder than necessary.

"Well, thanks.. " He grinned. "Can I treat you ladies to an old fashioned country breakfast?"

Dar regretfully declined. "We've got things to take care of.. but thanks for the offer." She nodded towards the waiting women. "I think the scientists have something to tell us."

"Right.. well, you take care." He waved, then trotted off, hailing one of the techs nearby.

"You know, Dar.. " Kerry fell into step beside her as they resumed their stroll. "If I didn’t know better. I'd say those people were disappointed to hear things worked out." Her eyes flicked to their targets.

"Mm." Dar murmured. "You could be right." She swallowed, to get the cotton out of her mouth, and tried to ignore the pounding of her heartbeat, very aware of Shari's eyes on her. She summoned her coldest, fiercest outer persona, and wrestled it into place.

"Dar?" Kerry's voice dropped to a low murmur.

"Hmm?" She ducked her head a little, nervously clenching and unclenching her fists.

"I love you."

Dar blinked, then looked up as they came even with the two women. Shari who? "You needed to speak with me?" She asked amiably, feeling the dread fall away, nudged aside by the living, breathing acknowledgement that Shari had been wrong, all those years ago. Her eyes met her old lover's, and she gave her a small nod of acknowledgement. "Hello, Shari."

"Dar." The woman answered, in a low, musical voice. Her eyes flicked to Kerry's face, then an eyebrow rose.

"Sorry.. " Dar felt a smile edging her lips. "This is my associate, Kerrison Stuart.. Kerry, this is Shari Englewood. "

"Pleased to meet you." Kerry responded politely, extending a hand, and returning the firm grip with one of her own.

An awkward silence fell. "Would you two please excuse us." Shari finally said. "I'd like to speak with Ms. Roberts in private."

Dr. Simmonds ducked away immediately, seemingly glad to get out of the situation, but Kerry paused for a long moment, gazing at the  chestnut haired woman steadily before she took the duffle from Dar and gave her boss a quick grin. "See you at the car."

Dar half turned her face, and winked at her. "Won't be long."  She watched Kerry stride off towards the vehicle, ducking her head against the still falling rain. Then she turned back and folded her arms over her chest.

And waited. The cool gray eyes studied her, and she returned the look without flinching, keeping her expression noncommittal. Shari hadn't changed much, save that she'd gotten a bit heavier, and her face had taken on a colder, more predatory expression. She was, Dar acknowledged, still very attractive, and the look of those familiar eyes brought up old, and painful memories she tried to shove back down.

"You haven't changed much." Shari finally said. "You still running around doing their dirty work?"

Dar refused to take offense. "Sure." She drawled. "Only now they pay me more to do it., and I've got an office in the penthouse." It gave her quite a bit of satisfaction to say that, and a tiny smirk caught the edge of her lip as the jibe registered. "And incidentally, if the chemical team finds no trace of your dangerous substance, you'll find the bill for this sitting on your desk."

"Oh, they'll find it." She responded. "I wouldn't have bothered making that up.. I was just so happy to hear it was going to screw you up, that I had to come see for myself." Her eyes wandered over Dar's body. "But you pulled out the fucking rabbit out of your ass again, didn't you?" She snorted. "That sucks, Dar.. I should have come over last night, when Anne told me you were tearing your hair out."

"Sorry to disappoint you." Dar replied. "Now, unless you actually have something to say, I have a Jacuzzi and a nice warm bed waiting." She let a frank grin shape her lips, watching the minute reaction in Shari's pale eyes.

A tiny shake of her head followed. "I'd forgotten how different you look when you smile." The other woman mused. "You going to be in town long, Dar?"

Uh oh. "Just until tonight… then I'm heading up into the mountains for a few days." She replied, cautiously. "Why?"

A shrug. "Thought maybe we could  just sit down and talk for a few minutes." She paused. "You seeing anyone?"

Dar could hardly believe what she was hearing, and she felt a cool anger start to brew. "Yes." She answered quietly. "Despite your prediction."

A soft snort. "I'd love to meet… her?" She wrinkled her nose in question.

Dar caught her balance. "You just did." She answered mildly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to be going." She gave Shari a nod, then turned and started back towards the car.

"I hope she knows what she's getting into." Shari yelled after her.

Dar stopped, and turned. "You were right about something." She gazed at her through the icy drizzle. "I had no idea what love was." She watched in savage satisfaction as the comment was understood, then she turned her back and walked off.


Kerry was glad it was light out, at least. She was tired, and she knew her reflexes were suffering, but the traffic was very light. "Right turn up there?" She asked softly, her eyes flicking to her companion.

Dar nodded.

Kerry was worried. Dar had been withdrawn since she'd gotten back into the car, allowing her head to rest against the glass of the window, her reflection bleakly evident to Kerry's watching eyes. A little hesitantly, she reached over and folded her hand over her lover's, encouraged when the long fingers tightened over hers immediately. "You okay?"

"Yeah." Dar sighed. "Just tired." She turned her head and studied Kerry's profile. "I think I need a nap."

Kerry glanced at her. "Me too." She confessed. "My hand's aching from this cold.. how's your knee?"

Dar waggled her free hand and grimaced.

The blond woman waited a beat, then took a breath. "That woman still bothering you?"

The jaw muscles along Dar's face clenched, the relaxed. "It… she just brought up some old, bad memories… that's all."

"Mm… " Kerry waited, but nothing else came. "Anything you want to share?'

Dar thought about that a long time, as rows of damp, gray shadowed trees went past them. "I.." She stopped, then cleared her throat. "I never…I've never really talked about any of that with anyone before…maybe a pair of friendly ears would help." It was, she acknowledged privately, a huge chasm she'd just leapt over, but Kerry couldn’t know that.

The corners of Kerry's mouth crinkled up, as she guided the car carefully across the slick road and up a long driveway, where a sign announced the presence of the hotel they were staying at. "I think that could be arranged."  She pulled the car up under the valet parking overhang, and put it in park. "C'mon."

Dar willingly followed her up the stairs, shouldering her overnight bag and giving the valet a brief smile as Kerry turned the keys over to him. They approached the desk, and Dar gave her name quietly to the desk clerk. 'We were supposed to check in last night, but… "

"Yes, Ms. Roberts.. your office called and told us." The woman smiled at her. "We held the room.. it's no problem.. and um.. " She chuckled a little. "I think you have a little surprise waiting up there."

Dar and Kerry exchanged wary glances. "A surprise?" Dar asked. "What kind of surprise?"

The woman smiled cheerfully at her. "Now.. if I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise… but don’t' worry. It's nothing bad." She handed over the room keys. "Here you go… we have room service available twenty four hours, and you're on the concierge floor, so you can just ask as you get off the elevator if you need anything."

Dar sighed. "Thanks." She took the key and gave Kerry hers, then followed the smaller woman as they went to the elevator. "I hate surprises." She groused.

Kerry patted her belly tolerantly. "C'mon, Dar.. it's probably a fruit basket." She scolded her boss. "Would you relax? All the hotels do that for VIP's nowadays."

"Mmph." Dar leaned back against the elevator wall and tried to stifle a yawn. "Yeah.. I guess." She waited for the doors to open then pushed off the back wall and trudged through them, giving the pink and wide eyed concierge a nod before moving past his desk.

Their room was on a corner, and Dar pushed the keycard in, then pulled it out, turning the handle when the light flashed on and shoving the door open.

The scent of chocolate hit them and stopped them both in their tracks. "Whoa." Dar got out, as she flipped the lights on.

It was a large room, with a wide window and one big, comfortable looking bed. A door to one side led to a bathroom, and one on the other side to a tiled Jacuzzi. In front of them was a round table, which was currently covered with a huge, completely stuffed, overflowing basket of assorted things of the species chocolate. Dar found herself staring at it with a stupid grin. "Oo."

Kerry peeked past her. "Thought you didn't like surprises?" She commented, giving her boss a slap on the behind as she moved past her to put her bag down.

"Tell you what.. anytime you want to surprise me with fifty pounds of chocolate, you go right ahead." Dar responded, plucking the card from the ornate holder and examining it. "It's from Les."

"Gee." Kerry grinned. "What a surprise." She came over and peeked at the card. "That's really sweet of him."

"Well." Dar poked into the basket's contents. "Considering we just saved his gray flannel butt, it's not unprecedented." She glanced at Kerry. "There were twelve major accounts on the line if we hadn't gotten that stuff working this morning."

Kerry stopped dead, and stared at her. "Why didn't you tell me that?" She asked, stung.

Dar glanced at the table top, and fiddled with the card. "No sense in both of us being worried sick.. I guess.. I don't know… I should have."  She gave Kerry a contrite look. "Not that you could have done more than you were doing." She paused awkwardly. "I'm sorry."

Kerry gave her a vexed look. "No.. but it would explain why you were so damned tense." She started to go on, then saw the almost imperceptible flinch in Dar's face. Not now, Kerry. Her mind warned her. Not now.. she's tired, you're tired, and she apologized for not saying anything. Just drop it. "Jesus, Dar.. .tell me next time, huh? So I can chew my nails along with you?" She gave her boss a lopsided grin.

Dar relaxed a little. "I will." She promised, stripping off her jacket and hanging it up in the small closet. "Wonder how long it'll take us to get through that basket." She turned a grin of her own on Kerry.

The blond woman gazed at the huge thing in trepidation. "I think we'll get sick to our stomachs if we try." She commented wryly, taking off her own jacket and tugging her shirt out from her jeans. "He must have worked pretty fast… it's not even nine o clock."

"Well.." Dar pulled off her sneakers and tossed them near her bag, then slipped her sweatshirt over her head, dropping it neatly on the chair before unbuttoning her flannel shirt and removing it. "If I could get seventy T1 circuits and routers installed before dawn, I guess he could handle a basket of chocolate." She leaned back and stretched, wincing as both shoulders popped before she straightened and ran her fingers through her hair, rubbing the back of her neck. "God, I'm tired." She admitted. "I'm glad that's over…we can rest here until dinnertime, then drive up to the cabin. It's about an hour from here.. and it looked like the weather's clearing a little."

"Sounds good to me." Kerry ambled over to her, already having shed her pants and half unbuttoned her shirt, while she worked on unfastening Dar's jeans. Her fingers slid easily under the waistband, and she unhooked the first button, letting her thumbs trace the ripple of muscles just under the skin. She leaned forward and gently kissed the soft skin, feeling the ribs move under her lips in an uneven breath.

Then the room's air was cool against her skin as Dar peeled her shirt off, the taller woman's hands sliding slowly down her arms, then releasing them and moving across her ribcage, causing a jolt of pure sensation as the wandering fingers brushed over her breasts. "Thought you were tired. " Kerry burred, nuzzling her face against a soft curve.

"The smell of all that chocolate must have woken me up." Dar replied, catching a thin fold of skin between her teeth and nibbling it gently. "Thought you were tired?"

Kerry undid the second button and moved lower, tracing the edge of her lover's navel, then working up to the tip of her breastbone. "I wish I could blame it on the chocolate." She murmured, inhaling greedily. "But it's not that smell that's giving me these goosebumps."

"Mm.. yeah.. lookit that." Dar's fingertip made a lazy trail across her shoulder, then her lips traced the same path, as her body woke fully, forgetting about the long night and the frustrations of the day. Even the last, haunting echoes of the past caused by Shari's appearance faded, replaced by the solid, comforting present now wrapped around her body. She stepped out of her jeans, finding herself being tugged towards the bed, and she gladly tumbled into it, her arms full of warm, bare skin.

Kerry rolled her over, and pounced on top of her, ending up with Dar's earlobe lightly caught between neat white teeth. " You let me know.. " She whispered in a muffled tone. "When I start squashing you, okay?"

Dar chuckled low in her throat, and gave her a pat on the butt. "Not a problem…I hardly feel it." Which wasn't quite true, but close enough. She stretched and wrapped her legs around Kerry's, and surrendered herself to a pleasant wave of passion.


The phone rang, dragging Kerry out of a sound sleep, and she fumbled the receiver off the hook, managing to get it somewhere near her ear. "Yeah?" She cleared her throat. "I'm sorry.. I mean hello?"

"Hey.." Mark's voice echoed weirdly. "Kerry?"

She pulled her wits around her, gently moving away from Dar's warm body. "Eyah. I'm here…. Go on." She paused. "Mark?" A glance at the clock told her it was close to four pm, and she rubbed her eyes, having been startled out of a weird, but interesting dream.

"Dar there?" Mark inquired.

Kerry glanced down at the long, powerful arm circling her stomach and grinned quirkily. "She's here.. she's sleeping.. what's up?"

"Oh.. nothing really… um… she should probably.. uh.. check her email when she gets a chance. "Mark said, innocently. "You know… nothing urgent."

"Actually. .I was going to ship the laptops back to Miami… I was hoping for a few days without them." Kerry admitted. "Is it something important, Mark?"

He chuckled softly  "Nah.. Sunday night'll be fine… she'd just might want to check it before Monday morning, though." A rattle of keystrokes. "By the way, you guys are furking big time no shit heroes around here today."

"I bet." Kerry let herself back down onto the pillow, and snuggled back against Dar, who immediately hugged her closer. "Mm."

"What was that?" Mark asked.

"Uh.. I was just agreeing." Kerry mentally slapped herself. "Well, I'm glad everyone's happy about it… I guess there'll one huge meeting on Monday, though, huh?" She sighed. "That'll be a trip…I can just imagine the arguments."

Mark chuckled. "Uh… well, yeah.. it's certainly going to be quite a Monday." He agreed. "Listen.. you guys have a great time up there, okay? Relax, take it easy… unwind a little."

Kerry yawned. "Will do… I'll bring you back some maple syrup or pecans or whatever the heck they have up here." She listened to the laughter, then hung up, and allowed her body to sink back down into the warm pit she'd been resting in, while she sleepily regarded the quiet, peaceful room.

Dar was really out, she knew, glancing back over her shoulder. The taller woman had fallen asleep after they'd made love, and had hardly moved an inch in the intervening hours. Kerry debated going back to sleep herself, then realized they'd have to start moving around shortly if they wanted to get up to the cabin.

"First things first." She decided, reaching for the phone. "The only thing we've both eaten in the last twenty four hours just about is a half dozen Snowballs and a gallon of coffee. Even Dar can't live on that."

"Sure I can." The soft mumble tickled her ear. "That's.. what.. two of the food groups, right?"

"Shh." Kerry dialed the phone, after checking a card on the dresser. "Hi, this is..oh, you know what my room number is, great." She said, as someone answered. "I see you've got pizzas? Okay.. can I have two small.. " She got a poke in the ribs. "Um.. sorry.. two medium pizzas.. one a vegetable combo, the other with.. " She gave Dar a look. "sausage, and pepperoni on it." Another poke. Kerry sighed. "And extra cheese."

Dar grinned, and nuzzled the back of her neck.

"Thanks.. and a pitcher of ice tea, please… excuse me? Oh.. yes, no… that'll be fine." Kerry finished ordering and hung up, then squirmed around in Dar's arms and regarded her fondly. "Mark says we're heroes."

"I bet." The dark haired woman responded sleepily, her eyes still closed. "Guess we gotta get moving, huh?"

"Mm.." Kerry idly traced a tiny scar on her lover's chin. "You said you wanted to get up there before dark." She watched as Dar's eyelids fluttered open, revealing her startlingly blue eyes, and allowing Kerry to gaze into them.

To drown in them.  Slowly, she leaned forward and kissed Dar lightly on the forehead, then hugged her, unable to either define, nor explain the suddenly overwhelming sense of devotion and connection she felt.

This was just so precious, she wanted to cradle it gently in her hands, and never let it go. Dar's hand smoothed the back of her hair in a familiar gesture, and she let herself sink into the embrace, feeling a resonance chime deep inside her.

"Hey." Dar whispered softly, a worried tone in her voice. "You all right?"

Kerry nodded mutely, breathing in the scent of the dark haired woman's skin. The feeling subsided, leaving her only conscious of a pervasive warmth, that she could almost feel running between them, leaving her body and entering Dar's, and coming back again. "Yeah… yeah.. I'm fine… " She took a deep breath and let it out, aware of the beating heart under her ear. "Just felt like hugging you.. that's all."

The long fingers slid down the side of her neck and lifted her chin, and she had no choice but to look up at Dar, knowing she was wide open to her, and helpless, tears edging wetly around her eyes.

"What's wrong?" Her lover asked softly, capturing a tear with one thumb, and gazing at her anxiously. "Did.. something happen? Did…wh… " 

She felt Dar's heartbeat pick up, under the fingers she had pressed against her chest. "N…nothing…. I.. I don't know.. I just.. it got really intense there for a minute.. I'm not really sure why.. maybe I'm just overtired."  She put her head back down and stroked Dar's side gently, needing the touch. "Felt so weird."

Blue eyes now alert flicked over her, as Dar took in a careful breath and released it. "Well…I mean.. it felt kinda nice." She offered, hesitantly. "Kinda.. warm." She started stroking Kerry's hair again, and felt the smaller woman relax against her completely, her body going totally limp. They stayed like that for almost a half an hour more, until Dar glanced at the clock and stirred, regretfully. "Better put a shirt on… don't want to shock the room service person when they get here."

Kerry's eyes drifted open, pale green in the late afternoon light. "Hmm.. you're right." She agreed peacefully, rolling onto her back and stretching her body out lazily, humming low in her throat as Dar took the opportunity to trace a gentle path from her neck to her groin. 'Thought you said we have to get up." She drawled softly, giving Dar a look from half closed eyes.

The dark haired woman released a half grin, and inclined her head in agreement. "We'll have plenty of time later." She conceded, then she planted a hand on either side of Kerry, and pressed her body over her lover's, landing neatly on the carpeted floor, straightening with a fluid motion. "Guess I get to open the door." She commented, as a soft knock was heard.

Kerry was too busy getting her eyeballs around her lover's sunset lit body to hear. "Uh.. what?" She blinked, then tugged the covers up as Dar slipped into her shirt, buttoning it up and managing to be decent by about two inches. "Uh.. Dar.. don't bend over to pick anything up, okay?"

Pale blue eyes glanced over one tanned shoulder at her, and one of them winked. "Okay."

"Unless you're facing away from me, of course." Kerry added impishly, just as Dar opened the door.

That got her an over the shoulder of the short, tow haired, frazzled looking room service waiter look, complete with an elegantly raised eyebrow.  "Hi." Kerry smiled at the boy. "You can just put that down next to the fifty pounds of chocolate we're going to have for dessert, thanks."

Muddy brown eyes went to her, then to the table, then back to her. The scraggly moustache drooped as he chewed it nervously. "Uhm…ma'am… ah don't think I can put this tray down."

"Here." Dar slipped up behind him and lifted the basket out of the way, coming perilously close to breaking several county ordinances. "G'wan… put it down." She drawled, low in her throat.

He would have been all right if he hadn't tried to pull up his trousers and put down his tray at the same time. Dar managed to save the pizza, by hastily dropping the basket and making a grab, but the ice tea evaded her, and it smacked the hapless waiter in the chest, sending ice cubes flying across the room. The waiter juggled the carafe, sending himself off balance until Dar braced a muscular thigh up against the chair and pinned him in place with her knee.

"You all right?" The executive demanded, setting the pizza trays down.

The man's eyes dropped slowly down her to where the long, sinewy length of her leg was braced against him, then they rolled peacefully back up into his head as he dropped like a rock.

Stunned silence fell for an instant. "What in the hell???" Dar complained.

Kerry pulled the covers up over her head and burst into laughter.


It was just getting dark when they pulled up a long, sloping road to the quiet retreat Dar had chosen. It was off the main streets, and up into the mountains away from city lights. Dar pulled the car up to the low roofed main building, and turned the engine off. "Well, we made it."

Kerry was peering out the window, studying the peaceful scene with interest. Scattered up and down the hilly ground, tucked into alcoves and shrouded with trees were small cabins, neatly cedared paths leading the way towards each one. "Yep.. we sure did.. though I was wondering there for a minute, after we had to revive your liveried friend at the hotel."

"Hey..it's not my fault he couldn't take the sight of a little skin." Dar objected ,mildly.

"A little?" Kerry giggled. "Your leg was longer than his body, Dar… I'm glad we tipped him all right, though." She returned her attention to the outside. "Mm… "

In the distance, she could see larger buildings, and the lodge they were parked in front of, where yellow light poured from the windows, and painted gilded stripes across the lightly frosted ground. "Wow… this is nice." She finally said, giving her companion a smile. "C'mon." She opened the car door, starting a little as the cold, pine laden air hit her in the face. "Brr."

Dar smiled, and popped the trunk, then exited the driver's side and closed the door, walking around to the back to get their bags. A warmly jacketed valet appeared, and she tossed the keys to him, then shouldered the two bags and evaded Kerry's attempt to retrieve hers. "Ah ah… I got it." She waved Kerry on and chuckled as the blond woman swept the door open, and bowed her inside. "Why thank you, ma'am."

They entered the lodge, which was a long building that dog legged to the right past the reception desk. Sounds from the other side of the building indicated some kind of restaurant, and Kerry could see a dimly lit bar just ahead, half filled with shadowy forms. They walked up to the desk, and Dar quietly gave her name to the clerk.

"Ah yes, Ms. Roberts… my goodness, we haven't seen you here in a long time." The clerk smiled and looked up, pushing a pair of half glasses up onto her nose. "I swear, you havn't changed a bit."

Dar smiled politely at the compliment. "Thanks, Milly…hard to believe you remembered me."

A salt and pepper eyebrow lifted at her. "You're pretty memorable, I'll have you know…we reserved the far cabin for you.. since you said you wanted some quiet space." She glanced up at Kerry. "And you've brought a guest this time… how wonderful. Welcome.. Ms. Stuart, is it?"

"Kerry." The blond woman extended a hand across the counter. "Nice to meet you.. this place looks fantastic."

Millie laughed. "Well, we like to think so.. we've been here for over fifty years." She folded a packet together, then handed Dar a pair of keys. "Here you go… do you remember the way, or do you want me to have Charles take you over?"

Dar paused, then exhaled. "I remember the way.. thanks Millie." She looked over towards the back of the room. "What's the special tonight?"

The gray haired woman laughed. "Just your luck.. it's roast beef."

Dar chuckled. "Just my luck." She repeated, then gently bumped Kerry. "C'mon… let's go change, then I'll show you around… they've got a nice fireplace just inside."

"Lead on." Kerry remarked, cheerfully, as she followed, her eyes watching everything with interest. This, she considered, was going to be great. Dar knew the place, and it held some good memories, Kerry decided, just from the childlike grin that kept trying to break through on her companion's face. They'd have time to relax, and just talk.. something that had been rare since… Jesus. Kerry thought about it. They hadn't really had time away without any distractions since that trip to Disney World.  Even at home, there was always work, and the calls in the middle of the night, and complications. But not here. They'd left their laptops locked in the trunk, and after a bit of convincing on her part, both pagers as well. "Colleen has the number up here in an emergency." She'd argued. "And so does Mark.. but they both know not to use it unless the world is coming to an end."

Dar had thought a moment, then shrugged, and relinquished the electronic device. "Okay."

Now, Kerry tugged up her collar as she followed Dar out the front door, and down a path which sloped a little downward, her sneakers crunching softly on the cedar chips that lined it. "Mm." The air was sweet, and rich with the scent of cold, and pine, and the wood she was walking on. "This is great."

In the semi darkness, the sudden glitter of Dar's eyes was startling. "Glad you like it." She drawled. "I used to spend semester breaks up here..it's not an expensive place, but it's family run… Millie's husband is ex navy."

Kerry nodded, looking around. "It looks like it's well cared for." She commented. "They seem to know you pretty well." She glanced up, seeing the quiet smile on Dar's face. "When was the last time you were here?"

The smile vanished. "Christmas, a few years back." Cam the quiet answer. "I'd… I'd just broken up with Elana.. I guess I needed some.. time out."

Kerry tucked a hand around her arm as the walked along. "Well, I hope you'll have better memories from this visit." She commented mildly. "We…  we had a place out off the lake we used to go to in the summers, it was a little like this." She took a breath, aware of Dar's intent concentration on her words. "It was supposed to be a family vacation.. but it was usually a circus.. I mean, people coming and going… deals.. the press..you know."

"Mm." Dar agreed, leaded her down a fork in the path.

"Sailing was my favorite thing to do… but as we got older, my mother made sure there really wasn't much time for that… she had parties and whatever… kept us going from summer estate to summer estate.. talking to people I didn’t' have much in common with, even then." She sighed. "And dressing up… that was always a trial.. me and Angie paraded in front of her and usually my aunt, to make sure we looked all right."

"Doesn't sound like much fun. " Dar remarked, as they came up to a small, tree shrouded cabin with a wooden porch. "Closest I ever came to that was my mother making sure the rips in my jeans weren't going to get me arrested in some of the more rural counties down there." She put a hand on Kerry's back as they mounted the three low stairs, the wood echoing lightly under their steps. "I always liked this one." She turned and nodded. "Nice view."

Kerry also turned, and gasped a little, faced with a beautiful moonlit lake, reflecting a canopy of brilliant stars. "Oh my god, yes." She let out a delighted laugh. "It's wonderful, Dar." She turned and poked her companion. "Very romantic… is this where you always bring special friends?"

Dar gazed at her, a little sadly. "No… you're the first." She turned and continued across the porch, opening the door and gesturing her inside. "I always used this as a very private retreat…I never considered bringing anyone else here before."

"Mm." Kerry ducked inside without further comment, flipping on the light just inside the door. "Oh." She blinked in surprise. "This is really nice."  The cabin was mostly one large room, with a neatly made bed against the far wall under a window, covered in a thick comforter in shades of crimson and navy. There were Indian patterned throw rugs on the floor, and one, a thick sheepskin, resided in front of the small fireplace.  A garment press stood against the wall, and a doorway led to a luxurious bathroom, complete with a sunken hot tub surrounded by warmly weathered wood. "Oh.. I think I like this."

Dar chuckled softly. "Oh yeah.. that comes in handy after a day of horsebackriding, especially if you're not used to it. Trust me." She put their bags down on the bed, and looked around. Hadn't changed.  She mused, walking over to the window and peering out at the silent, gently murmuring lake.

"Ah… " Kerry was exploring the counter against the back wall. "I see we have the essentials… coffee, cookies, and hot chocolate. " She investigated the supplies. "Cups and..let's see.. tea bags… oh.. and little muffins.. this is really cute, Dar."

The dark haired woman tossed a stuffed bag down next to her. "Well, we can add our little stash here." She grinned, her good humor restored. "Never thought we'd fit all that chocolate in there."

Kerry snorted, and lifted the bag up. "I can't believe we brought it all.. we're going to get sick  on it." She sniffed at the bag. "Mm…. On the other hand… " The rich scent was alluring, and she sighed. "Later… dinner first?"

"Sounds good to me." Dar agreed. "Those pizzas were tiny."

"What pizzas..oh, those. Right." Kerry slipped out of her sweatshirt and pulled a heaveier sweater over her head, settling the edge over her jeans. "Yeah… good thing I didn't order smalls.. we could have used them as drink coasters."

"Could have used them as that anyway." Dar complained, changing into a thick sweater of her own, and rubbing her hands. "It's cold here, Kerry."

The blond woman turned, putting down the brush she'd been pulling through her hair, and walked over, taking Dar's hands into hers and pressing them against her body. "Aw..my poor little hothouse flower." She giggled at the blue eyes widened in outrage. "You southerners…. Talk about thin blooded… we'll have to get you some mittens." She gently kissed Dar's fingers. "Thank you for inviting me up here, by the way."

Dar smiled at her, obviously charmed. "I'm glad you like it."

"Here.. bend down." Kerry released one hand and recaptured her brush, running it through Dar's dark locks to bring some order to them. The silky strands crackled with the dry air, and clung to the brush, winding themselves around her hands as well. "Ack…one nice thing about Miami… you don't get this much." She patiently untangled herself, meeting the watching blue eyes with a grin as she fluffed the usually disheveled bangs.  "Your hair would look pretty in braids.. want to try them tomorrow?"

Dar blinked at her, obviously surprised at the question. "Um.. sure." She straightened as Kerry finished. "If I can do yours.. " She gently tucked the blond hair back into a tail, studying the effect.

Kerry smiled, loving the feel of Dar's fingers in her hair, as they brushed against her sensitive scalp. "You're on." She agreed happily. "It's a vacation, right? We can do whatever we want."

"Yep." Dar put an arm over her shoulder, and nudged her towards the door. "C'mon… they've got some really good roast beef."

"Oh yeah?" Kerry obligingly slipped an arm around her waist. "With gravy?"

"Uh huh… and killer mashed potatoes." Dar promised. "And homemade ice cream for dessert."

Kerry let out a little moan. "Uh oh.. I'm in trouble." She lamented. "I'm a sucker for home made ice cream."
"Yeah.. me too." Dar agreed sheepishly. "But it's vacation, remember?"

"Mm… good point.. how much trouble can we get into in two days, anyway?" 


"Dar?" Kerry's voice floated out of the darkness, as they made their way back after dinner. It had gotten colder, and the sky seemed razor sharp, the inky blackness drenched in pinpoints of light so numerous you could hardly see the constellations.

"Yeah?" The taller woman ambled along contentedly, sucking on a mint.

"If I explode, is that covered under workman's comp?" Kerry asked idly. "God, that was good.. that chef is positively dangerous."

"Don’t' explode." Dar objected. "Do you have any idea the amount of paperwork I'd have to fill out if I had an employee explode on a business trip? I'd have to spend hours and hours in CAS." She paused, and moved her mint from one side of her mouth to the other. "Not to mention having to explain to Mari how I, a responsible corporate officer, allowed such a thing to happen."

"Allowed?" Kerry snorted. "You were feeding me maraschino cherries, you fink… you aided and abetted."

A soft chuckle. "Hmm… that's true… maybe I could claim I was performing research and development." She slipped an arm around Kerry and ducked her head, kissing her gently. "So… we've got a couple of choices… we can take a run up the mountain for some skiing.. or hike.. or go out on the lake.. or do a little riding.. what's your poison?"

"Well." Kerry steered her up the steps to their cabin. "I think we'd better give your knee a rest from skiing." She patted the bodypart in question. "And that kinda goes for hiking too.. so maybe we can ride in the morning, and go out on the lake in the afternoon?"

That would work. Dar opened the door and exhaled. "Sounds good to me." She'd always mostly gone on solitary hikes up here, to small caves just uprange for some pensive solitude. It would be strange to have Kerry along.

They went inside and Dar spent a few minutes in the bathroom before coming out to find Kerry efficiently stacking wood in the fireplace. "Whatcha doing?"

On one knee, Kerry turned and regarded her. "Making  a fire." She put another log in place, then tucked some tinder inside it. "I know that's an alien concept for you, Dar, but it can be very cozy."

"It's not alien." The dark haired woman protested. "I"ve been outside Miami, remember?" She studied what Kerry was doing. "I've just never had to actually.. um… " She waved her hands a bit descriptively. "Make one." She knelt. "What's that?"

"Moss." Kerry packed it between the logs. "It makes the logs burn." She looked around. "Do you see any matches?"

"Um.. no.. but I think you use this." Dar took down a flint and striker from over the mantel, and offered it to her. "Right?"

Kerry giggled. "Not in this century, Dar." She stood, and put her hands on her hips. "I think I've got some…hey!"

Dar had studied the items, then cocked her head, and positioned the striker, smacking the flint against it with devastating efficiency, and sending a shower of sparks down onto the neatly packed tinder. It obligingly caught fire, and started to burn, little tendrils of smoke wafting up. Dar spread her hands out, and looked insufferably pleased with herself. "Like that?"

"Son of a bitch." Kerry marveled. "I've never seen a twentieth century human being actually do that before." She regarded her boss. "What other hidden skills do you have?"

Dar chuckled, returning the tools to their place, and getting out of the way as Kerry gently blew on the flames, and shepherded them into a crackling blaze. It was nice, she decided, regarding the flickering light and holding her hands out to the warmth as it grew. Behind her there was a low couch, covered in colorful throws, and she settled into one corner, wriggling into a comfortable spot and looking up as Kerry joined her, the blond woman tucking one leg under her as she seated herself.

They both watched the fire grow, in a friendly silence that was broken when Kerry shifted, taking a breath and studying her hands, before she looked up at Dar. "I think we're going to have fun this weekend." She started, tentatively, planning her words with care.

A smile pulled Dar's lips. "I hope so… it's been a long week, huh?"

"Yes… yes it has." Her lover agreed quietly. "A lot's happened."

"Mm." A very soft murmur.

"I want to have a fun weekend… I think we both need it…. " Kerry felt the words getting out of her control a little. "I mean..well.. I"ve got something I wanted to talk to you about before we… I.. " She stopped, sensing something, and looked up, seeing an unguarded look of quickly veiled fear in Dar's eyes. Her train of thought derailed in reflex. "Why do you do that?" She asked, instead.

"Do what?" The taller woman replied, with forced nonchalance.

"Expect the worst, all the time?" Kerry asked.

A quick head shake. "I don't…what do you mean?"

"You do.. I saw it in your face just then… you don't know what I'm going to tell you ,but you think it's something bad… why, Dar?" Kerry asked, very gently. "Have I done something that makes you worry about that?"

Dar looked trapped. She turned her head, and knitted her fingers, long digits twisting around each other in upset. She hadn't expected Kerry to ask. Not like this.. not…

Not so soon. "I… you didn't do anything, Kerry."  She finally muttered. "It's my hangup… it has nothing to do with you."

"Of course it does." Kerry felt her way gingerly, putting a casual hand on Dar's knee. "If it's part of you , it has everything to do with me." She could sense Dar withdrawing, and the dark haired woman exhaled unhappily, and folded her arms, tucking her hands against her sides. "Please talk to me." She asked, simply. "I want to understand.. I don't want to hurt you."

It took a long  moment, as Dar stared into the flames, their flickering light outlining her sharply planed features in exotic detail. Then she apparently made a decision, as she nodded slightly. Her head turned, and the ambered blue eyes regarded Kerry seriously. "There's no really simple answer to that, I guess." She sighed. "I'm not very good at discussing myself…I try not to think about why I do what I do most of the time, it just gets too strange."

"Mm." Kerry murmured encouragingly, hoping by the time Dar finished telling her whatever it was, she'd have the guts to go ahead with her own issue.

"I guess you know I… haven't been really successful in relationships." Dar continued, awkwardly. "I don’t know.. it's probably my fault…I get so driven… I get so caught up in work, and … " She stopped, and shrugged a little. "Anyway… I.. I guess I was in my senior year at college.. I'd just figured out my orientation.. that was a shock.. " She exchanged grim little smiles with Kerry. "At any rate…I don’t know, I guess I must have been a dreamer when I was a kid.. always expecting… things to be like the books, I guess I.. " She stopped, trying to find words.

Kerry just stroked her leg, gently.

"I.. um.. I guess I fell in love." Dar said it as thought she wasn't sure. "And.. I was this idealistic kid, and I'd read about… fairy tales, mostly…I guess I thought that's what it was going to be like…  I threw everything I had into it.. I figured I'd found my future." She thought back to that golden fall wistfully. "It was… I remember being deliriously happy." A pause. "Stupid. I know."

Kerry's eyes closed in empathic understanding.

"Anyway… I um.. it went along great for a while.. she was older than I was… really pretty.. successful in school.. I couldn't believe it…I felt like I belonged to something… to someone for the first time ever." Dar's voice was gentle, almost abstract. "I figured she felt the same way I did… so one day.. I remember it was a Saturday… we were supposed to go to the movies."

Kerry picked up a walnut from the dish, and fingered it, her body tensing against what she knew was coming. "Yeah?"

Dar shrugged. "I told her how I felt… how I wanted to spend my life with her."

Kerry looked up, reading a long lost pain in her lover's face. "And?"

The answer was almost spoken casually. "She laughed."

The sharp crack startled them both, making Dar jump a little. She stared at Kerry, who blinked, and looked at her hand, where shards of walnut were tumbling down. She opened her clenched fist to reveal the cracked nut and sighed. "Sorry."

A tense little smile caught Dar's lips. "Anyway… she proceeded to tell me just how deficient I was in all aspects.. and how she wouldn’t have been caught dead with me at any place other than one of our local pool halls. " Dar looked down at her hands. "She said  Iwas unsophisticated, which I was, and uncultured, which was also true, and that I'd never have a relationship based on anything other than mutual bed sports because I just wasn't emotionally capable of it." This last with a wry grimace. "And she was right."

"She was not." Kerry shot back angrily. "She was stuck up piece of horses ass without the sense that god gave a dead hedgehog, Dar."

The taller woman laughed gently. "I know that, now." Dar stated softly. "But the kid I was then didn't." She looked lost, and very bleak. "And I believed her… I think some parts of me still do." She admitted lowly. "SO that's where that reaction comes from, Kerry… there is a part of me that remembers what she said.. and what she told me about nothing being permanent.. and how people really just use each other until they're ready to move on." A pause. "I guess I… intellectually I know better, but emotionally, I'm still waiting for the other shoe to fall." She finished, regarding the flames quietly. She decided she wouldn't tell Kerry about the little prayer she said every night, as they were falling asleep. "So.. what's bugging you?" She asked, quietly, knowing something had been, for some time now. At least she talks about it, Dar mused. At least she'll give me a chance to try and fix things… if that's what's wrong. She watched Kerry pluck at her sleeve, and noticed the slight tremor in her hands. If it's that simple.

"Dar." Kerry picked up her hand, feeling the chill in it, and kissed it gently. "I guess that brings me to my… little problem."  She cleared her throat nervously. "I..um… I"ve been really thinking.. about things.. and about what I…about what I need in order for me to live… my life, I guess."

Dar gazed at her, with an open, haunted expression. "Yeah?" Her voice cracked, and she wondered what was coming.

"And… see, I've got this… I'm not really sure what you would call it.. maybe it was the way I was brought up.. I don't really know…. " She sucked in a breath again. "God, I'm having such a problem with this.. I don't know what's wrong with me.. you'd think I could just spit it out." She stood, and paced back and forth, visibly trying to relax. "Okay." She turned and saw blue eyes round with apprehension. "Oh Dar.. don't look at me like that.. you'd think I was going to tell you I was a cross dresser, or something. "

It broke the tension, and Dar muffled a relieved laugh. "Sorry… but the way you're pacing… Jesus, Kerry.. you're putting me all in knots just watching you… what is it?" She swallowed once. "I thought maybe…I thought you were maybe still mad about last week.. or.. "

"Last we…oh." Kerry exhaled, thinking about that. "Do you know what I was upset about?" She asked, seriously. "You didn't ask me."

Dar blinked. "Didn't ask you.. about what?"

"You quit… you just quit.. and you did because of me, and you didn't ask me about that." Kerry told her, poking her in the chest with each word. "That pissed me off."

"It did?"

"Yeah, it sure did." Kerry assured her. "We're partners, right?"

A nod.

"Stuff you do affects me, Dar… that surely affected me… I should have had a part in the decision." Kerry told her. "Or.. at least.. you could have given me a chance to try and talk you out of it."

Dar remained silent, thinking about her lover's words. Bringing Kerry into the decision had truthfully never even crossed her mind. She'd considered it hers to make, just like it had always been every time before. It was her job, and her career, after all, right? She couldn't be expected to make decisions by committee, even by as close, and as intimate a committee between herself and Kerry.

That would be unthinkable. She looked up at the serious green eyes regarding her. "It was a spur of the moment decision, Kerry… I had the facts, I knew my options…and I made it." She watched the hint of disappointment color the blond woman's gaze. "I can't guarantee I won't do the same thing again, given the same circumstances." She paused a moment, then exhaled. "But I'll try to keep in mind that I have a responsibility to you…and that you've got a right to a say in what happens to me." Another pause. "To us."

I can live with that, for now. Kerry decided. "Okay." She rearranged the unruly hair scattered over Dar's forehead. "That's hard for you, isn't it?"

Dar nodded. "Very." She exhaled. "But I'll try." A pause. "So.. was that what was bothering you?" She felt a little proud of herself for figuring it out… communication never having been one of her strong points, and she knew that.

"Um..no." Kerry stopped, and turned, facing her. Now or never.. just suck it up, Kerry, and do it!  She hesitated, then she took two steps forward, and knelt at Dar's feet, resting one hand on the taller woman's knee for balance. "I have this thing about commitment."

A double thump of the heart. Jesus.. she knows I've never been in a long term relationship… maybe she…god. Dar's eyes scanned her face alertly, then a brow edged up a little. "You do?" She murmured softly. "Um.. I mean.. well… yeah, I know you're a very.. um… you seem to be a very loyal, and committed kind of p… Kerry, what exactly is this about?" If her lover was having a problem with her, she wanted to know right now. "Just level with me."

The blond woman scratched her jaw. "Um." Now that she was right down to it, the whole thing started to seem really silly to her, and she hesitated, torn between continuing and just…"This is going to sound maybe a little crazy to you… " She temporized. "And.. I just want you to know it's… it's just something that I…" She stopped, and dug in her pocket, pulling something out and focusing her attention on the tiny, embroidered fir trees that were dancing across Dar's chest. "Okay… look…" She put her closed fist against Dar's stomach, still staring intently at her sweater. "I tried to find a way just to let you know…how important you are to me.. and how important our relationship is to me."

"Okay." Dar responded, obviously deeply at sea. "Well, Kerry.. it's very important to me, too.. I hope you know that…it's changed my whole life."

Kerry regarded the sweater. "Is it a good change?" She whispered.

Long fingers gently grasped her chin and tilted her head back, so that she had no choice but to meet Dar's now very serious eyes. "Is that an honest question?" Dar replied. "I hope not…I hope you know the answer to that already." She paused. "Yes… it's been the best thing that's ever happened to me."

Kerry managed a nod. "Good." She stammered softly, folding Dar's fingers around the small box she'd taken from her pocket. "Because for me.. it's this all my life thing.. and  I want you to know that.. I want you to understand that even if we can't go into a clerks office and say this, I want this to be forever, Dar… that whole.. in sickness and in heath, for richer and for poorer, in good times, and bad.. and have death never part us.. " Her words fell into a shocked silence. "Kind of thing. " A long pause. "Okay?" Well. That was the stupidest proposal in the history of the lesbian world, wasn't it? Maybe I should have downloaded those practice scripts form the internet….  She eyed her lover unhappily.

There was a soft, almost incoherent sound as Dar started breathing again. "K.." Her voice disappeared into a soundless squeak, and she self consciously cleared her throat and tried again. . "K..Kerry did… did you just… " Another sucking in of air. "p..propose  to me?"

Kerry chewed her lip, trying desperately to gauge the response. "Um.. yeah.. I did." She glanced down. "On the bended knee thing and all." At least she realized that's what it was.. there's a point, Kerry. She watched her lover's face trying to process several different emotions at once. "I.. what I really wanted you to know, Dar.. is that… you're not going to roll over one morning and find me not there."

Dar very slowly lifted a hand, and slid it across Kerry's cheek, cupping the back of her head in an almost hesitant gentleness. "I'm not sure what in the hell I ever did to deserve this, but I can't think of any single thing in the world that would make me happier than to accept it." She pulled Kerry towards her. "C'mere." She wrapped her arms around the utterly relieved woman, who practically climbed up into her lap and threw a bear hug around her. "You know you didn't have to do that…"

"Yes, I did." Kerry mumbled into the wool of her sweater. "Yes, I did… because I want you to understand you're stuck with me, Dar… you're not going to be able to get rid of me, okay? Not unless you… I don't know.. toss me off a cliff or something."

Dar let out a pained laugh, trying to ignore the tear that tracked it's way down her face. "There aren't any cliffs in Miami, Kerry." She replied softly. "But if there were, and you fell… I jump right off after you." She cradled the younger woman's head , stroking her hair and pressing her cheek against it's softness. "Thank god you had the guts to do this.. it would have taken me either half a lifetime, or half a bottle to have done it."

Kerry peeked up at her, seeing the dampness glinting in the firelight. "Really?"

A hesitant nod. "I made myself a promise… that I'd never let myself risk what I felt when I was that poor, stupid kid back then ever again. " Another tear spilled out. "I never realized that when it happened… I wouldn't have a choice." Dar regarded her wistfully. "I"ve never been so scared in my life."

Kerry gently wiped away the tears, feeling a sense of almost overwhelming relief go through her. It was what she'd been scared of.. that Dar wouldn't.. or couldn’t… allow herself to accept the risk of the commitment Kerry was offering. But maybe she was right.. maybe she didn't even have a choice.

Maybe Kerry didn't either.

She wasn't sure she wanted one. "Are you going to even look at it?" She asked, shyly. "It took me forever to pick out.. I kinda wanted one like that old one I have, but they don't make those anymore."

Dar slipped her hand around in front of her, and offered it. "Open?"

Kerry leaned against her, her legs sprawled over Dar's, as she sat quietly in her lap. "Okay.. " She took the box and opened it, watching Dar's eyes pick up the glints of the fire off the ring. " It was kinda… I mean.. you're sort of tough to pick a ring out for, you know that?"

Dar gazed at the item, her eyes following the Celtic interlace that surrounded a square cut, understated diamond. "It's beautiful." She managed to get out. "Dear god, Kerry…. You didn't have to… that must have cost a… "

"I have no idea." Kerry replied, simply. "I didn't look at the prices… and it hasn't hit my credit card statement yet. "

Dar stared at her, her jaw dropping a little.

"Well, it was less than the card's limit, Dar." She replied, putting a finger on her lover's chin and closing her mouth. "Stop looking like I bought Pro Player stadium."

"W… what was the limit on that card?" Dar spluttered. "Good grief… "

"Um…. " Kerry was enjoying herself, now that she knew Dar's feelings. "Well. I don't really know.. it might have been the platinum… I'll have to check." She almost giggled when the blue eyes widened even further. "Oh… calm down." She leaned over and gave Dar a light kiss on the lips. "It wasn't that bad." A pause, while a hesitant smile claimed the dark haired woman's mouth. "I think."

"Kerry." Dar realized she was being tweaked. "Well… " She drawled softly. "At least you won't have anything to say when I give you yours, then." A slow, sexy smile appeared. "Because I didn't look at price tags either, but I know I got a bouquet of twenty four red roses from the guy who sold it to me at the office the next day."

Kerry's mouth dropped open. "Uh." She glanced up guiltily. "So that's where those came from."

"Yeah, I guess he… " Dar stopped, and stared closely at her lover, who was showing a slow flush up along her neck. "Were you … wondering?"

Kerry didn't know where to look, so she just dropped her head and didn't answer.

"Kerrison." The gentle voice recalled her, and she peeked up, reluctantly. "You could have asked me."

The blond woman sighed. "Jealousy is a very embarrassing, not to mention generally icky emotion." She admitted. "I wasn’t' very proud of how I felt."

Dar lifted their linked hands, and brushed her lips across Kerry's knuckles. "No.. I know.. but.. it's um… " She rubbed the unresisting hand against her cheek. "It's very flattering." She offered. "From my perspective, I mean."

Kerry's eyes softened, and misted over. "So you were thinking of making this more formal, huh?"

Dar dropped her gaze, her fingers tracing a light, idle pattern "I have this thing about commitment, too." She finally answered, her throat working. "I think I discovered I really like being a part of someone else's life." She paused, then indicated her carry sack. "Hand me that?"

Kerry handed it over, watching her as she dug inside and pulled out a small, velvet bag. "You carry it…… " She stumbled. "W.. with you?"

Dar stared at the bag, then looked up and nodded. "Yeah… if I ever found the courage to do it.. I wanted to be ready." She held out her hand. "Go on." She added, simply. "I'm not very good at picking things out for other people… shopping for this was… an interesting experience." Her mind remembered the conversation. "Is this for you, ma'am?" "No.. this is for someone as opposite from me as you can get and still be the same species."

Kerry took the bag, startled a little at it's weight, and opened the velvet cord, shaking the bag gently over her hand until a ring tumbled out.

The room went very still. "Oh." Kerry sighed, softly, finding it hard to catch her breath. It was so pretty. It sat in her hand, winking at her, a sturdy, yet elegant band which cupped up into a rose, whose delicate petals framed a brilliant, round cut diamond stone. She tipped it up a little, and looked at the inner band, where she spotted some engraving. "Dar wh.. " She looked up as the skin under her arm grew very warm, and she was shocked to see the profound blush on her lover's face. The blue eyes were fixed firmly on the fire, and Dar's nostrils were flared slightly.  She looked back down at the ring, then bent her head closer.

Yours Forever.

With the words, something clicked home in Kerry's awareness, with a certainty that made her lightheaded. "Dar." She managed to whisper.

"Yes." The response was clearly, and precisely enunciated.
"I think I'm going to pass out." Kerry felt a strong grip take hold of her, and she let herself go limp, one hand closing loosely over the ring. She floated in a pleasant haze for a moment, hearing in the back of her mind a soft, affectionate chuckle. "That is so beautiful."

"The ring?" Dar murmured, into her nearby ear.

"The words." Kerry corrected her.


"The ring's gorgeous too."

"So.. you like it?"

Soft lips were the answer.


It was too quiet. Dar cocked her head as a tree branch brushed against the window, making a soft scraping noise. She'd forgotten how quiet it really was out here, without the ever-present sound of traffic, or airplanes.

Or air conditioning. She glanced at the ceiling in mild amusement. The AC provided a white noise that most Floridians were subliminally used to. It's absence was almost uncomfortable, as the silence beat down on her ears broken only by Kerry's soft breathing.

Her soft, adorable breathing, which was warming the skin right above Dar's heart, since the blond woman was nestled against her right side, with her head pillowed on Dar's shoulder, and one arm wrapped securely around her stomach.

It was nice and cozy, and she'd discovered, much to her own personal amazement, that she really, really enjoyed all this cuddling stuff.

A revelation. Her parents had been anything but physically affectionate, even with each other, Dar had only seen the occasional hug. A pat on the back, sure. A gentle slap on the leg, her father's favorite attention getter, yes. But hugs?

Hell no. In fact, she honestly couldn't remember the last time her mother had touched her…oh, no, maybe she could. Dar reflected quietly. Yeah… the first.. no, second time she'd broken her arm.. the bad one, when the bones had been sticking out of her arm, and had left the thin, straight scars Kerry always liked to trace.

Mom had held her then, while she tried so hard not to scream.

But then her father had come in, and she'd bitten her lip almost through to keep the crying inside, her efforts rewarded by a brief pat on her cheek, and his approving. "That's my tough girl."

Dar chewed her bottom lip reflectively. It had been an ever-present argument between them, she knew…until her mother had just given up, and allowed her to follow in his footsteps as far as she was able.

It couldn't have been easy to watch, she realized. She hadn't been an pleasant child, and going through adolescence had been one long string of fights, and trips to the principals office, and threats of reform school. She'd had one principal who wanted her out in the worst way, with only one thing blocking his case.

She'd been a straight a student.

Musta driven them all nuts. Honors everything, advanced placement, the whole nine yards. She'd gotten into college on an academic scholarship, and frustrated her friends, what few there were, by her ability to breeze through classes with little studying, and less preparation.

She'd graduated in the top two percent of her class, with honors.. but at that point in her life, she hadn't cared. She'd tossed her rolled up diploma into a basket in her room at her parent's house, and spent an entire weekend so drunk she still had no recollection of it.

Then she'd gone out into CAS, and found the first job that would pay her

enough to cover the monthly payments on a car, rather than just her junk food budget, and spent her free hours under water, away from everything.


Kerry stirred, shifting a little, then lifting her head and looking up. "Hey?"

Dar exhaled, and gave her a fond look. "Hmm?"

"Why are you still up?" The blond woman rested her chin on Dar's breastbone. "Do you want some hot milk?" Her dreams had nudged her uneasily awake.

A quiet smile, as Dar rubbed her arm lightly. "No.. I was just thinking.. that's all.."

"Mm… bout what?"

Dar hesitated, then shrugged, pursing her lips a bit. "Nothing really concrete.. my folks.. a little bit about school…" She moved a stray lock of hair out of Kerry's eyes. "Go on back to sleep…you looked so peaceful."

Kerry considered her words. Peaceful. Oh yeah, except for that dream where I wake up and I'm in an empty room… and you're gone.  "I wasn't really fond of school." She commented. "I wasn't that good at it… except stuff like English." She admitted. "I belonged to a lot of clubs.. Key club, Young Republicans, that kind of thing."

Dar smiled. "You were a Young Republican?" She queried. "I think the only club I ever joined was.. um… " She thought. "Some jock club or other.. I was on a lot of sports teams in high school."

"Oh, gee.. there' s a surprise." Kerry grinned at her, then her expression faltered. "Not me.. I wanted to play softball, but…" She paused in memory, then sighed. "I probably would have sucked at it anyway." Her mother's horror at the very thought. "I got stuck with golf."

"I'm sure you wouldn't have." Dar objected, mildly. "You've got good eye hand coordination.. and a nice running style…you'd have been fine." She analyzed. "I never had the damn patience for golf.. how  in the hell did you stand it?"

Kerry peered at her in silence, then she let out a quiet breath. "Do you know something, Dar?" She stated softly. "Do you want to know when the very first time was that I was told I was capable and intelligent?" She had no idea why she was going into this, save that it had been a night of open truths, and this had been weighing on her.

The blue eyes peered at her in puzzlement. "Sure."

"You should know." The blond woman told her. "You wrote it, in an email."

Dar stared at her in shocked silence.

"And you hardly knew me.. you'd met me for what… a half an hour?" Kerry shifted, propping her head up on her fist. "Even the bosses at Associated…I mean, sure.. I was always spoke of as a hard worker… a nice girl… always on time… but despite what Robert said, the only reason I got that job was because the guy in there before me left with the accountant's wife in the middle of the night, and they needed someone real fast, and real accessible."

"That's not true, Kerry.. you were an excellent director.. your personnel record carried the highest recommendations in it." Dar argued. "You're highly skilled, highly motivated, very intelligent, and.. and…."

Kerry gazed at her wistfully.

"And adorable." Dar finished, having run out of professional descriptives. "Don’t tell me that's why you decided to come work for me.. because I stated the obvious????"

A soft sigh. "It might have been obvious to you, but it sure wasn't obvious to me." Kerry admitted. "I had a mental note somewhere to say thank you for that, by the way…I think you were the first person in my life who just took me at face value.. and didn't assume I was some fluffball muffinhead who got the job because of my father." She reflected. "Even Robert, who liked me… when he put me in as manager, he told me he didn't expect much.. just that I should try to keep things going until he could find a real director."

Dar watched her, stunned. "You're serious." She muttered.

A slow nod. "What did you see in me, Dar… that no one else did?" Kerry wondered aloud.  

Dar actually reached up and slapped her own head. "Okay, for starters, you had guts." She spluttered. "And.. and you held yourself together in a very stressful situation.. and…you came up with some very good, and very intelligent plans for the takeover…and… and you told me to go hell, for chrissake… do you know how many people have done that and gotten away with it??"

"Not many, huh?" Kerry was guiltily soaking up the praise like a sponge.

"Try ONE." Dar hitched herself up and regarded her lover. "Listen… I know talent when I see it.. it's part of my job, Kerry.. and belive me, my talent meter went off the scale when I saw you." She sighed, perplexed. "Good grief, Ker.. you'd think I hired you because I had the hots for you or something."

An awkward silence fell, as Kerry's eyes dropped to the comforter, the sudden strike at her own hidden insecurities going home with a vengeance. "I…"  

Dar felt her heart drop. "You didn't think that." She questioned softly. "Kerry? Look at me."

Fearful green eyes slowly lifted to hers.

"Kerry, I hired you because I thought you would be a tremendous asset to me.. and an excellent assistant." Dar told her gently. "And I was very, very right.. what would make you think otherwise?" She felt a little bewildered.

Kerry's eyes dropped again. "I… I don't know." She confessed softly. "Maybe because I've been told all my life that's how things work." Her eyes crept up Dar's still body. "You don’t get things because you work hard, or because you deserve them… you get them because someone pays for them, or because someone wants something from you."

Dar looked stricken. "Kerry… "

"I know… " Kerry let her head fall and rest against Dar's skin. "I know… my head knows, and god.. my heart knows differently, Dar.. but sometimes… sometimes I look in the mirror, and I can't help thinking… why me?" She lifted her head. "It's like I'm in a fairy tale…and one day a wicked witch is going to wave her wand, and I'll be back home…or you'll get t..tired of me.. or… " She blinked her eyes, and tears hit Dar's shoulder. "I can't help it."

Dar exhaled in dismay, understanding a little more about her lover. "Kerry…." She cupped the smaller woman's cheek, seeing the glittering tears. "I meant those words…and I promise you… I promise you, I'll always be here for you…no matter what." She reassured her. "I will never leave you."

"What if I screw up at work?" Kerry asked. "What if I can't do this?"

'Sweetheart, I don't give a damn." The dark haired woman told her. "If you want to quit, and do nothing but sell seashell futures over the internet from the condo, that's more than okay by me…are you really worried about it? You do a fantastic job."

"I don't want to ever disappoint you." Kerry whispered.

Dar tucked the blond head against her chest, and hugged her. "You won't."

Kerry rested there for a moment. "Sorry." She finally muttered. "I'm not sure where that little bout of insecurity came from." She played with the edge of Dar's sleep shirt. "In the middle of the damn night, too.. "

"It's all right." Dar rubbed gentle circles against her back, willing her pounding heart to slow. "We've both been through some rough times."

Kerry nodded. "I know….it makes it very hard to trust this doesn't it?" She gently returned to her position, curling an arm back around Dar's belly.

"Yes, it does." Dar admitted, circling her with both arms and pulling her closer. "But we'll get through it."

Kerry relaxed against her. "Together." She added quietly.

"Always." Dar confirmed.


Continued in Part 7