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Standard Disclaimers - I don't need any for this story. All the characters are mine. (laugh) I should probably disclaimer my use of my own company, but I won't, unless temptation gets too great, and I name the big boss "Les." Whoops.. I did that, but any resemblance to anyone real is coincidental. (the real one is one of the nicest people I've ever met, honestly)

What this is: This is an Uber story. (Oooo... that Uber stuff!) You get a general physical description likeness of the two gals in the story that will remind you of two old friends we all know well, but that's about it. The time period of this Uber is right now, and the place is Miami, Florida.

Why Miami? Well, I live here. Not only do I live here, but I've lived here for thirty years. That means I know all the stupid little quirks of the area, and since I'm going to give this Uber a stab, I might as well not overstress myself with doing research on an area I don't know. (Right? Right.)

The world my Uber darlings inhabit is my personal world - not that I'm a dungeon master or anything silly like that, but I do work for a company called EDS, and we do Information Technologies - we outsource IS to other companies, and absorb their own IS facilities and staff. In other words, we are the EDS Borg - you will be assimilated - Resistance is Futile. (I'm not making this up) The two characters will work and play in an area that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole however - so they're not autobiographical. I do technical and network support - I stay away from the business end of EDS, because that's the end you get stuck with, and not in a friendly place, if you know what I mean.

This isn't specifically EDS, but I've tried to maintain the flavor of our hierarchy though...and the goofiness that sometimes goes on behind the running of a megalithic corporation. The descriptions of our mainframes, however, are fictitious, along with any names of persons involved, and the various office locations with the exception of Plano. EDS does have it's corporate hq there.

Fisher Island, the place where Dar Roberts lives, is a real place. I used to work there. The descriptions of it are circa 1990 though - it's been built up a lot since then with more condos and stuff. All the places, and restaurants, and streets, and causeways are real. I didn't see any need to make them up, when Miami is a colorful enough place in real life without me doing that. It's kind of a tribute to my hometown - because I happen to really like it here.

Dar and Kerry are not super spies, or undercover agents, or renegades of any kind. They're not running from the law, or taking over third world countries (EDS runs a few, though) or anything like that. You might find their lives boring... I can't help that.. there's not going to be a lot of car chases, or gun battles, though this is Miami, and we're a pretty tough city, so anything can happen.

It's just a story about two people, who meet under very usual circumstances, and happen to change each other's lives.


Tropical Storm - Part 5

By Melissa Good

It had to be a dream, Dar fuzzily realized. She was in a large, open field, with the buzz of crickets all around her, and only the hiss of the wind beyond that. No traffic sounds, no airplanes.. just this awesome, beautiful silence that filled her soul with peace.

She was lying down with her eyes closed, absorbing the sunlight, and enjoying the soft, cool breeze that stirred the stalks of grass around her. She was naked, but that didn't bother her, and she could feel the solid, warm weight of another human being draped over her, softly breathing against the skin of her neck.

It was peaceful. She was happy, and contented.

It was perfect.

And, as dreams do, it slowly faded, allowing the real world to nudge at her, and she reluctantly obeyed, dragging her consciousness back to the present, which forced her to open her eyes and see the soft light of her bedside clock, which told her it was eight o clock, and very dark.

Dark, she realized, as her ears caught a howl of wind and the patter of rain against the window. And stormy. She rolled slowly over, gingerly moving her head, relieved at the lack of pain. Her mouth felt dry, and she blinked a the ceiling, then stiffened as her subliminal senses made her aware that she was not alone in the apartment.

Then she remembered. "Ah." A faint, worried frown edged her face, and she blearily remembered Kerry's gentle touch on her as she went to sleep. For some reason, that called up the memory of her dream, and she shoved it back in irritation. Aw, chill out, Dar.. the kid was just trying to help...she was probably uncomfortable as hell doing that, so remember to thank her.

She rolled out of bed with a yawn, and trudged to the bathroom, blinking at her disheveled look with a scowl. She raked her fingers through her hair to order it a little, then gave up and walked quietly into the living room, where she stopped suddenly.

A faint smile touched her lips as she surveyed Kerry's sleeping form, tucked into the corner of one of the couches, her hand resting on a pile of papers. Her head was resting on the soft, padded arm, and she'd thrown her jacket over her shoulders for warmth. Asleep, her face was open, and innocent as a child's, and Dar felt an irresistible affection brewing in her for the blond woman. Silently, she padded back into the bedroom, and pulled a soft blanket from the closet, returning to settle it gently over Kerry's sleeping body before she continued on into the kitchen.

The weather here was lashing against the seaside windows, and Dar glanced out, surprised to see whitecaps traveling up and down the usually calm coastline. The barely visible buoys were bobbing right and left, their red and green signals waving wildly over the sea's surface. "Huh." She reached behind her and turned on the small, cabinet mounted television, flipping the channels rapidly. "Let's see.. sensational local news... must be Channel Seven." She let the changer rest there, seeing a weather map and a concerned looking badly toupeed weatherman. "Uh oh." She turned the sound up a little.

"Rising suddenly in the straits of Florida, the low that had settled just north of Cuba has intensified, and a hurricane hunter plane from NOAA confirms a center of circulation and tropical storm force winds."

"Goddamnpieceofcrapstupid.." Dar cursed. "It's November, damn it!"

"The National Weather Service in Miami has issued tropical storm warnings for the entire southern coast of Florida, from Cape Sable all the way around up to West Palm Beach. Interests in the area should be making preparations for tropical storm conditions within the next twelve to twenty four hours."

"Aw..nuts." Dar sighed in exasperation. "I thought we were over this for this year." A soft sound behind her made her turn, to see Kerry entering the kitchen, the blanket wrapped around her shoulders, and a puzzled, somewhat concerned look on her face.

"What's wrong?"

Dar gestured to the television. "Tropical storm." She exhaled. "Out of nowwhere!"

Kerry peered at the screen, then up at her. "What does that mean?"

A dark brow cocked. "Well.. for one thing, it means you're stuck here." She picked up the phone and dialed, waiting with drumming fingers until someone picked up. "Hello, Rocky... this is Dar Roberts... what's going on?" She listened. "I figured. Thanks." She hung up. "Yep.. the ferries are locked down for the duration.. only emergency runs are being made with the boats if people have to get off or on."

Kerry considered this. "Hm... sorry.. I guess I should have left when I had the chance.. I just wanted to get those reports done, then I... I guess I was tired, so I just lay down for a minute..." She gave Dar an apologetic look. "How are you feeling?"

A flutter of quiet worry crossed Dar's face. "I'm fine." She answered shortly. "That stuff worked great." She glanced around. "I'd better get candles and flashlights out... no telling how long we might lose power for." She stepped to the edge of the window, and pressed a hidden switch. "Better get the shutters down now."

With a mechanical hum, aluminum protective shutters slid down over the huge, ocean view windows, clanking down with a rattle and whining to a halt. Dar did the same to the kitchen window, then showed Kerry where the switches were for the other rooms. She left the blond woman to do that, while she entered the laundry room, and pulled out a covered basket, putting it on the island in the middle of the room and opening it. Inside were neatly packed flashlights, candles, sterno cans, and other supplies.

"Okay.. all done." Kerry reported, as she came back into the kitchen. "What else can I do?"

Dar gazed at her, then ducked back into the laundry room and came out, tossing her a pair of shorts and T-shirt. "They'll be big on you, but a whole lot more comfortable than what you're wearing if the lights go out." She explained wryly. "It gets pretty warm in here without air conditioning."

Kerry had caught the garments, and glanced at them, then she gave Dar a wry grin. "Makes sense." She took the clothing with her into the small half bathroom near the study, and quickly changed, stifling a giggle at the ungainly size that made her feel like child. "Good grief." She removed the belt from her skirt and belted the long tshirt, then folded her clothing up and returned to the kitchen in her bare feet. The marble tile felt cold and the terra cotta of the living room wasn't much better.

Dar was still in the kitchen, leaning against the counter and looking quietly at her hands, which were folded in front of her. Kerry could see the concern on her face, and she leaned next to her, with a smile. "So... is this a hurricane party?"

The dark haired woman turned her head, and regarded her. "I guess it's going to be... " She forced s smile. "I... there's canned stuff in the closet for storms.. I donít' have much around here otherwise." She indicated the refrigerator. "I mostly order in from the island restaurants."

Kerry leaned back on her elbows. "What kind of canned stuff?"

Dar indicated the closet. "I have no idea... I had someone bring an assortment in.. I was too busy to do it myself."

"Uh huh." Kerry pushed off from the counter, and explored the closet. "Well.. I think I can make something interesting out of this." She looked over her shoulder. "You don't cook much, do you?"

Dar shook her head. "Not at all.. I have cereal for breakfast, and I can make coffee... that's about it." She noticed neither of them were mentioning what had happened before she fell asleep, and she was relieved.

Kerry sighed, selecting some items and putting them on the counter. "Well, I've gotten myself stuck here, in your face, so I might as well make myself useful. " She went to the refrigerator and studied the contents. "Hmm..I like challenges.. ah... " She pawed in the freezer, and retrieved several frosty looking boxes, which she also set on the counter. "Do you have anything... um.. like a pot?"

Silently, Dar pointed to the cupboard. "What are you doing?"

Sea green eyes regarded her in mild amusement. "I'm cooking. I can do that, you know." She grinned at Dar's expression. Then she turned to the cabinet. "Let's see.. you said you had cereal.. " She opened the door, then turned, and put her hands on her hips. "Dar Roberts.. I am not seeing Tony the Tiger in your closet, am I?"

Dar hung her head, then looked up at Kerry through dark lashes, with a sheepish grin. "Corn and sugar are two of the food groups, right?" She inquired, hopefully. "Let me guess.. you do Grape Nuts."

Kerry glanced around, then tiptoed over to her, and whispered. "Cocoa Krispies, but don't you tell ANYONE."

They shared a conspiratorial grin, then both realized, almost at the same time, that something had changed. They looked at each other quietly, searchingly...Dar let out a breath, and nodded, just a little. Kerry nodded back, and subtly, a connection was made, a foundation of friendship was laid that they both felt, and accepted.

"Right... well, let me get too it... you must be hungry, I know I am." Kerry finally said, glancing at her choices.

"All right.. I'm going to log in, and make sure they're prepping the building." Dar replied, still gazing at her. "I'll be in the study if you need anything."

Green eyes lifted, and met hers for a long, searching moment, then dropped away. "Okay... I finished up a bunch of stuff.. and I reprinted those reports you were looking for."

Dar nodded, and slipped out of the kitchen, leaving her to her thoughts, and the seldom used range.

**********************************************************

The page on the screen was surely an important email. Dar ran her eyes over it for the sixth time, and still didn't read it, her thoughts drifting off into some other realm with disgusting ease. Enticing scents from the kitchen kept distracting her, and she tried to remember the last time someone actually cooked something specifically for her, without her paying for it one way or the other.

Her father cooking eggs and bacon, his one and only specialty, on the morning she'd come home, to find him saucily sitting in the living room, his freshly pressed fatigues almost blending into her furniture. Just stopping through.. he'd said. On my way out.

Out to Saudi Arabia, he meant. Out of life was what it had been. Dar glanced at the picture, and felt a hand clench her heart. It wasn't that they'd even spent that much time with each other, the last years. It was that he, alone among all the people she'd ever known, understood her.

Understood the competitiveness, and the fierce will, and the desire to conquer that seemed to have been transmitted directly from father to daughter in equal measures. And she had understood him, in all his complexity. His had been the only approval she'd ever needed, and when that picture had been taken.. " Her eyes flicked to the frame. He'd strode up after she'd won the tournament, and put his arm around her, and told anyone who cared to listen that "this is my kid." It had filled her with a sense of belonging that nothing, and no one had ever equaled.

Then he was gone. And she'd sworn at his graveside she would never let anyone touch her heart like that again.

Never.

But now, softly, gently, someone was scratching at the door to that. Someone who was as different from her as anyone she'd ever met. Her mind told her she was crazy to let it happen. Her heart told her she was helpless to prevent it. Her conscience reminded her that time... was no longer without limits.

The wind rattled against the shutters, sounding like dried bones clattering together. Dar nodded quietly to herself, and this time, read the email.

*********************************************************

Kerry took a last taste, then gave her creation a satisfied look. She'd managed to find some frozen chicken strips, frozen shrimp, and two packages of frozen snow peas, all of which she stir fried, adding spices whose seals she had to break. Then she made a sauce with peanut butter, milk, a little sugar, more spices, and some ginger. She'd steamed a pot of rice from the bag in the cupboard, and found Dar's stash of plum wine. "All right... " She took out two plates, and washed the dust off them, then went to the study door, and peered in.

Dar was studying the screen, the light from it washing her tanned complexion and sparkling off her pale eyes. After a moment, those eyes turned and met hers, and a dark brow edged up in question.

"Dinner's ready?"

She got a genuine smile back. "Smells interesting." Dar stood and stretched, then came around the desk and followed Kerry into the kitchen like a curious puppy dog. She peered over the smaller woman's shoulder at the pot, and sniffed appreciatively. "Mm."

They carried their plates into the living room, and rather than use the big table, settled on the couch in front of the television. Dar had lit a candle and put it in the center of the coffee table just for the hell of it, and they ate by the flickering light in addition to the tv screen, which Dar flicked on.

Quickdraw McGraw was just winning another battle, and she blushed a little. "Um... "

Kerry chuckled. "Don't worry about it.. I like Space Ghost." She watched as Dar moved through to the Weather Channel, and left it there, as warnings and other information scrolled across the screen. She watched it for a moment, making a mental note to call Colleen and make sure her apartment door was closed tight, then turned to see Dar looking quietly at her plate, eating slowly and absently.

Okay, so we're stuck here, with each other, for I don't know how long. Something's bugging her, and she's a very private person. I should keep my nose out of her business. Right? Right. She ate a few more bites, then eyed Dar's silent profile.

And bowed to the inevitable. "Do you want to talk about it?" She felt comfortable saying the words, for some reason.

Dar paused in mid chew, and looked up at her, startled. "Talk about what?"

"About whatever it is that's bothering you?" Kerry replied softly. "Look, I know it's none of my business, but here we are, and I'm a pretty good listener." She paused, then went on. "Sometimes it's easier to talk to someone you don't know that well."

Dar chewed slowly, and swallowed, considering the offer. Then she took a breath, and released it, surrendering quietly and without much regret. "It is actually your business." She stated evenly. "I... won't be at work on Tuesday.. you'll need to attend the staff meeting for me at ten." She ate another piece of chicken. "I have to check in to the hospital. They're running a bunch of tests on me." She considered. "On my heart."

Kerry was at a loss for words. She hadn't expected this at all. "Well.. " She hesitated. "They're just tests. Maybe they won't find anything, you know?"

"I know what they're going to find." Dar replied quietly. "They're going to find that I have a... malfunctioning valve." She kept her eyes on her hands, which rested together. "My father had it." She picked up her fork and took another bite, outwardly very composed.

The blond woman took her cue from that. "They can do something about that, right? I know I heard about some stuff they've been doing lately it's incredible."

Dar pressed her lips together and nodded an acknowledgement. "Probably."

Kerry looked at her. "How can you be so calm? I'd be a nervous wreck."

A slight shrug. "Nothing I can do about it.. I'm going to drive down there early on Tuesday.. probably have to stay overnight."

"Dar?"

"Mm?"

"I donít want to go to that staff meeting." Kerry said. "I'd rather take the day off and go down there with you."

Dar stared at her in honest surprise. "Why?"

"No one should have to go through that alone." Came the quiet answer. "Not even vice presidents who are secretly heroes on the side."

With a sputter, the lights went out. They were left staring at each other in the low, golden light of the candle, which painted them in tones of ochre and black. Dar finally dropped her gaze to her plate. "All right." She agreed softly. "It's a long day of mostly waiting.. I'd appreciate someone intelligent to talk to."

Kerry felt a quiet, satisfying acceptance. "You're welcome." She turned her attention back to her plate, watching Dar do the same, this time with more enthusiasm. 'Is the dinner okay?"

A pause, and a pair of blinking blue eyes, gone almost hazel in the candlelight. "It's great.. didn't I say that before?" She took a big mouthful of rice. "How did you do this with the stuff I had in there? Magic?"

"Imagination." Kerry smiled, then ducked as the building shuddered. "Dar.. are we safe in here?"

"Huh? Oh.. sure.. I went through Andrew in this place." Dar waved her fork, her mood improving markedly. "This is just a little tropical storm."

Something slammed against the shutters, and Kerry jumped, with a little yelp. "Yow!"

Dar chuckled softly. 'Here.. come over on this side of me, okay?" They switched places, putting Dar closer to the window. "Better?"

Another bang, and Kerry jumped again, this time right up against her taller companion. "Sorry." She muttered, drawing away. "I hate storms... we were snowed in for two weeks, once, and I..." She hesitated. "I just don't like them." She finished awkwardly.

Dar leaned over, and bumped the smaller woman with an elbow. "Donít worry about it."

Kerry eyed her, and timidly, bumped her back. "Easy for you to say."

They smiled at each other, and returned to their plates. Dar had been right, Kerry realized. The condo certainly did seem to be getting pretty warm, pretty quickly now that the air conditioning was off. At least she was starting to feel warm.

After they finished, Dar suggested they go into the study, where she'd left the shutters off the north facing window, a small one, and could open it to get some air in the place. She put a large, faintly cinnamon scented candle on the desk, and sat behind it, while Kerry settled on the small couch against the wall. Dar opened the window, and a cool, humid breeze blew in, ruffling the dark hair on her head, and stirring the papers on the desk.

It was very quiet, only the wind's howling and the rattle of the shutters came through, over the ceaseless pounding of the surf outside.

"I guess it was a lot worse during Andrew, huh?" Kerry asked, quietly, tucking her legs up under her and leaning on the arm of the couch.

Dar nodded. "Oh yeah...they evacuated the island, but a few of us stayed.. and a few security.. they'd always told us how sturdy these places were, so... and it was true, surprisingly. We had very little damage.. mostly surf damage to the seawalls, and some boats that got slammed up against the dock because their owners were either too stupid to secure them or too lazy."

"Mm." Kerry put her chin down on her arm. "Do you have a boat here?"

"Yeah... a thirty six footer...nothing major. It was my aunts.. it kind of came with this place." The dark haired woman answered, leaning back in her chair and putting her bare feet up on the desk. "Every once in a long while I take it out.. just cruise around the artificial reefs a little, do some shallow diving, that kind of thing."

A slow nod. "I like boating... we used to take sailboats, the really big ones, out on Lake Michigan in the summer.. I learned to run one of the racing kind.. that was a lot of fun." She considered. "You don't do much swimming, though.. it's kinda cold up there." She looked up. "Do you enjoy the diving and stuff?"

"I do...very much so, in fact." Dar replied, fiddling with a pencil that had been on the desktop. "It's not smart to go out by yourself, though, and I.." She hesitated. "I donít have much time nowadays."

Kerry soaked it all in, the spoken words and the unspoken ones. "I've always wanted to see what that was like... I used to watch the Jacques Cousteau specials all the time and wonder."

A quick smile chased itself on and off Dar's face. "We can probably arrange that." She commented offhandedly. 'It's beautiful out there, on a nice, sunny day... when it's calm.. the sun filters down through the water, and you can see all kinds of fish.. in every color." She leaned down and pulled open a desk drawer, tugging out a folder and leafing through it's contents.. then handing it over to Kerry. "Here... see for yourself."

Kerry got up and perched on the desk, tilting the folder towards the candle to get the light. She poured slowly through the pictures, examining them in fascination. Most were of fantastically shaped coral formations, with clouds of fish over them. Kerry wished it was daylight, so she could see the colors better, but one picture was a huge, flat, striped fish that seemed to be staring right into the camera lens. "Oh.. wow... " She looked up at the quietly watching Dar. "Did you take these?"

"Mmhmm..most of them at John Pennekamp Park down in the Keys.. but this one.. and these two were off Bermuda.". Dar put a fingertip on the striped fish. "He didn't like me taking his picture.. right after I snapped this, he got right in my face, and whacked me with his tail."

Kerry leaned closer to the light, peering at the fish. "Mm... I bet that hurt."

A hand lifted and gently pushed her hair back. "Careful.. don't want you catching on fire." Dar replied. "You can't imagine the paperwork I'd have to fill out."

She put the endangered locks back behind her ear and smiled. "Yikes.. you're right." She turned to the next picture, this one of Dar, in a sleek black one piece swimsuit, a scuba tank propping up one elbow and a huge lobster in her other hand. "Good grief... how much did that thing weigh?"

Dar peered over her arm. "Me or the lobster?" She chuckled. "Ten pounds.. it was huge.. the damn thing dragged me half across the reef before he tired out and I could bag him."

"Mm." Kerry studied the picture, a faint, curious smile twitching her lips. "Did you have him for dinner?"

"Nah." The dark haired woman cheerfully told her. "That big... well, after four pounds or so, the taste starts to go down.. no, I took the picture, then let him go."

"Oh.. I did that too.. when we went fishing." Kerry admitted. "It got everyone so mad at me.. I'd catch these nice big fish, and the guys would fight them for an hour, finally drag them onboard, and I'd let them go." She lingered over the photo for a moment more, then went on to the next.

"You have a big family?" Dar asked, gently.

Kerry kept her focus on the pictures. "Oh.. well, not really.. my mother and father, of course... I have a younger brother Michael, he's in law school, and a younger sister Susan, who's married and has one child, and another on the way."

"What's it like having siblings?"

Kerry felt her chest tighten. "It's... all right, I guess... there's always some competition... " She glanced aside. "You donít' have any?"

Dar shook her head. "No... I always wondered what it would be like... thought it would be nice to have a sister, or something." She paused, and probed delicately. "Your father's a senator, right?"

The blond head inclined once. "Yes."

Hmm. Dar's dogged curiosity was sparked. "That must be a little strange.. everything's kind of public record, huh?"

Kerry's eyes fastened on her hands, clenched lightly around the folder. "More or less.. yeah."

A silence fell. Dar cleared her throat. "You...want to talk about it?"

Green eyes jerked up and met hers, startled, and.. a little afraid. The flickering candlelight threw her shadow against the far wall with menacing size, and she studied Dar's face for an endless moment, before letting her gaze drop to the desk. "Not really, no."

Dar felt a little stung, but she shrugged quietly. "All right."

Kerry dragged her eyes back up at the words, her jaw working a little. "I.. um... I guess that sounds so harsh.. coming from someone who was asking you to do the same thing just a little while ago, huh?"

"It's your life." Dar replied, evenly. "You have the right to keep it to yourself."

The silence settled again, and went on longer. Kerry closed her eyes, and listened to the wind whipping the surf outside, and the trees which slapped against the outer wall. "My parents are very...they have very high expectations of us." She slipped off the desk, and went back to the couch, curling up into a ball against one end of it "My father believes it's his duty to... for his family to be the perfect example of America."

Dar remained silent, keeping her opinion of both the policy, and Kerry's father to herself. They'd run headlong into the senator more than once, and he was currently trying to oust them from several government contracts in favor of his own choice, a competitor who was, in all likelihood, paying him off. "That's a tough thing to deal with." She said, very quietly. "But he shouldn't have any complaint about you, surely."

A short, bitter laugh. "I'm not married, and barefoot in the kitchen with two kids." Kerry stared at the wall. "I had to pretend to be majoring in something... 'fit for me' in college... they didn't want to hear the word 'career' at all."

A realization clicked. "So that explains the English double major." Dar commented softly.

Kerry glanced at her, surprised, then she rubbed her temples. "I forgot you had my resume." She managed a thin smile. "Yes.. by the time I graduated, it was too late for them to protest, and I had my degree." She took a breath. "I took an entry level job with Sperry... god, how they hated that...it was a fight just about every day.. the only thing that saved me was that Brian was still going to school."

Knowing that Kerry had spent some years in the IS field, Dar was puzzled. "What happened?"

A wry, cynical smile crossed the younger woman's face. "Bill Clinton happened. Or.. more specifically, Al Gore happened." She lifted her chin. "All of a sudden, it was a 'prudent precaution' to have someone in the family who 'knew how those people thought' and was into the technology end."

"Ah." Dar digested this. "But they still give you a hard time." She hazarded a guess.

"Yeah." Kerry sighed, resting her chin on her arm.

"Who's Brian?"

Green eyes lifted to hers. "My so called fiancé."

Both of Dar's dark brows shot up to her hairline, giving the taller woman almost a comical air of startlement. After a moment, she schooled her face into a more casual expression. "I... um.. what do you mean, so called?"

Kerry sighed. "We grew up together... we've been friends forever, since we were in strollers, practically.. he's a really sweet guy, nice looking, just graduating from law school... he likes me... "

"But?"

"But.. when I look at him, he's just a friend." Kerry replied ruefully.

"Ah.. no pitter patter of the heart?" Dar joked gently. "No.. getting swallowed up in his eyes.. that kind of thing?"

Kerry stared at her in silence for a few heartbeats. "N.. no." She finally stammered. "Not.. it's not like that with him... at... at all." She paused. "What do you mean, pitter patter?"

Dar examined her interlaced fingers. "I wouldn't know personally.. ." She glanced up, with a wry grin. "But I'm told when you meet your true love, something like that happens." She chuckled a little. "You know...um... it's like your body knows, even before you do."

"Mm... oh, yeah.. right.. I've heard of that." Kerry pushed her hair back behind an ear. "God.. you were right... it is getting pretty warm in here, isn't it?" She glanced up, to find hooded blue eyes watching her, and a slight, almost puzzled little smile on Dar's face. "So.. that's my story I guess...my folks give me a hard time over living down here.. they think it's decadent, and licentious." She sighed. "When I go home for Christmas, all I hear is plans for the wedding, and where I'll live, and... "

Dar got up and circled the desk, then crouched down next to her, her features almost wholly in shadow as she blocked the light from the candle. "You don't have to do what they want, you know that, right?"

Kerry's eyes held a quiet, shuttered sorrow. "It's easy for you to say that." She laid her cheek against her forearm. "I have a responsibility to my family."

Dar sat down, and leaned back against the couch, facing away from her younger companion. "I used to believe that, too." She murmured. "After my father died, I thought my responsibility was taking care of my mother.. I was... going to give up this job.. move to Richmond..."

Kerry gazed at the dark, sleek head inches from her face. Almost hypnotically, she watched her fingers reach out, and tangle themselves in an errant lock. "Why didn't you?" She asked softly.

"She told me she didn't want anything to do with me." Dar's voice was quite, but matter of fact. "I reminded her too much of what she'd lost." She turned her head, feeling a slight tug on her hair and glanced at Kerry. "That's when I figured out the only person I was ever going to be responsible for was myself." She held the younger woman's eyes. "Follow your heart, Kerry.. don't live for someone else's dreams."

It was the closest they'd ever been to each other, mere inches separating them, so close they were breathing the same air. So close Kerry could see the faint, almost invisible scar just above Dar's right eye, and the crystal clarity, even in the low light, of her pale blue irises. She became aware of a sound, that she only later realized was her own heartbeat, hammering in her ears. "I... I'll try to.. keep that in mind." She stuttered.

Dar turned her eyes towards the door, and broke the tension. "Can I interest you in more of that peanut stuff?"

Kerry swallowed a few times. "Um.. sure... they were small plates."

They exchanged wry glances, then laughed in thinly veiled relief.

******************************************************

Dar leaned her head out of the window, studying the worsening weather. The trees outside were almost obscured with rain, and the wind was pulling branches from them, slapping the leaves against the building and leaving dark green streaks against the walls surface.

A wet, cool breeze blew her hair back and she turned her face into it for some relief. She'd opened a window on the opposite side of the apartment to get a cross breeze, but it was still very stuffy inside, and scarfing down the spicy stir fry hadn't helped matters. Dar glanced behind her to where Kerry was lying on the floor, her hands folded over her slim waist and her eyes closed. Even from where she was, in the flickering light Dar could see the sheen of sweat on the younger woman's face and she felt a twinge of sympathy as a droplet trickled down from her own temple.

It was well past midnight, but sleeping was almost impossible, at least for Dar, who was used to the air conditioned peace of her water bed equipped room. She enjoyed her comforts, and didn't mind admitting that... roughing it in the outdoors with bugs and snakes was not her idea of a good time. With a sigh, she rested her chin on the windowsill, and put up with the soft mist of water which drenched her skin.

Still, she was glad Kerry was there. The younger woman's presence distracted her, and kept her mind off her own problems. She was getting to feel comfortable with her, too, a slow, insidious relaxation of her usually very stiff, and very prickly outer shell that she only half heartedly was trying to stop.

"Anything interesting out there?" Kerry's voice floated softly up.

"Rain and wind." Dar replied in a mumble. "It's just a little cooler." A warmth at her back, and instinctively, she moved over to make room as Kerry sidled up next to her, poking her nose out into the darkness. "See?"

Kerry hitched herself up and leaned out, shaking her blond head as rain dripped on it. "Mm... god, you can't even see a thing...not even lights from the city." She tipped further forward, and felt a sudden, warm pressure against her back as Dar stuck a hand out to make sure she didn't fall over .Despite her overheated state, it still felt good, a comfortingly safe sensation that made her bold enough to lean a little further out, to see what she could see.

"Hey.. careful." Dar warned, moving a little closer just in case. Kerry now had her entire head out in the rain, and she was peering around with interest. The wind was blowing her dampened hair back and she looked, for a moment, very much like a cocker spaniel enjoying a drive.

"Wow.. look at those palm trees, Dar!" Kerry lifted one hand, and pointed, then grabbed the sill again. "They're almost going sideways!"

"You're almost going sideways." Dar protested, tucking her arm around the smaller woman's waist securely, and leaning out on one elbow. "Oh.. yeah, I see them... hey..watch it!" She pulled herself backwards, dragging Kerry with her as a coconut slammed against the windowsill, leaving a brown scuff. She could feel laughter under her tensed arm, and she released her companion with a light snort. "You could have gotten beaned in the head, Kerry!"

"What a great story that would have made... " Kerry giggled. "Can you imagine? I come in Monday with a bandage on my head.. and have to tell everyone I got smacked by a flying coconut whizzing by your window?"

Dar chuckled in reaction. "That would be a little hard to explain." She admitted. "This freak storm's going to be hard enough to recover from - Mark had to spend six hours just doing unplanned backups, not to mention transferring operations up to Charlotte."

Kerry shook herself rapidly, scattering droplets of water all over Dar and the carpet. "Oh.. " She lifted a hand to her mouth in embarrassment. "Sorry, Dar."

The older woman started laughing. "You're more fun than a puppy, you know that?" She shook her head and went to a closet just outside the study, coming back with a fluffy, pale blue towel and handing it to her. "Here.."

The towel was soft, and smelled clean and freshly laundered. Kerry buried her face in it, and dried herself off with quiet contentment. She then looked up at Dar, from under damp eyelashes and even damper bangs. "More fun than a puppy, huh?" There was, she was alert enough to recognize, definitely some chemistry going on between them. A dynamic, shifting feeling that was half playfulness, and half something deeper, and more serious.

Dar was her boss. She knew she couldn't forget that. But she also knew the tall, dark haired woman was becoming a friend, and she had no intention of putting a stop to that. Dar was too interesting... too... complex a challenge for her to pass up. She wanted to know more about her, to know why she did what she did... so many people were shallow, so easy for Kerry to read that they were almost boring. Dar...

Facinated her. She felt a thrill of adventure, just being around the woman.

Kerry liked that. Just like she adored roller coasters, and fast racing boats, and steep downhill skiiing. She glanced up at Dar through her bangs and grinned.

Then she barked like a dog.

Dar just put a hand over her eyes, and laughed. "I think this weather's bringing out an unexpected side to you." She picked up the candle and motioned Kerry towards the door. "C'mon... no sense in letting a perfectly good half gallon of ice cream melt."

"Ice cream?" Kerry finished toweling herself off, and let the terrycloth drape around her neck as she followed Dar into the dark living room. "Let me guess... another of your food groups?" She padded into the kitchen, following the candle and stopped just short of crashing into her companion. Dar had opened the still, quiet freezer and pulled something out, brining a wave of icy cold air with it. "Ooo.. can we just climb in there?"

"No." Dar closed the door, and felt around in a nearby drawer, retrieving two spoons. "Here.. hold this." She handed Kerry the candle and gave her a nudge back towards the study. "Expresso chip... it's great."

They put the container on the floor, and sat down on the carpet facing each other, armed with their spoons. Dar took the first spoonful and sucked on it happily.

Kerry put a bit on her spoon, and tasted it, then grinned. "Oo."

They shared in silence for a few moments, then Kerry shifted a little, resting her elbows on her knees. "So.. um.. the picture up there... is that a karate kind of thing you were doing?"

"Tae kwan do." Dar replied offhandedly. "Yeah.."

"Mm.. you still do it?" Green eyes studied her curiously.

Dar took another spoonful before she answered. "Yes.. among other things.. I tried out a few different disciplines.. I mostly keep to that, with a little judo, and jujitsu mixed in." She chuckled. "They're old fashioned.. and not the trendy stuff.. but I like the traditions."

"Must take a lot of practice...my brother was involved in that for a few years. He got up to a.. " Kerry thought. "A brown belt, but he stopped doing it for a year, then tried to go back.. didn't work."

"Most every night, I meet a trainer over at the island gym." Dar explained. "We work for about two hours.. depends on what's been going on that day." A faint smile chased her lips. "Sometimes I'm more in the mood for the rough stuff."

"Oh.. I get it.. stress relief." Kerry scooped up a spoonful of creamy treat. "That sounds like a good idea."

Dar nodded. "Yeah.. it is.. I get my frustrations out and it's not so tempting to go over the table at someone in one of those damn meetings." She studied Kerry quietly. "It helps clear your mind, too.. and it comes in handy in places like Miami." Her eyes twinkled gravely. "You might want to think about picking up a class around your neck of the woods."

Kerry licked her spoon. " I wanted to, when I was younger. When Mike was taking classes.. I begged, and begged.. but no way, no how would they let me." She considered. "I think I would have been better than he was too.. he's shorter than I am, and he's really clumsy." Her eyes lifted to Dar's. "It's a little late for me to be starting that kind of thing...I walk a lot, roller blade... that sort of stuff. I used to do aerobics, but I got really bored with it."

"Not challenging enough?" Dar inquired, innocently.

"Eyah.. something like that." Kerry admitted.

Horses, water... ah. "Well.. you probably haven't had a chance to look through the global discounts page yet.. but we just got membership benefits at the new gym right across from the office.. I was thinking about using them.. they've got a nice indoor climbing wall, and a good selection of classes... if you want, I could take you through some of the basics, just to see if you're interested in continuing." Dar commented casually, then she stopped, and gazed, unseeing, at the candle. "Once I find out what's going on Tuesday, I mean."

Kerry caught the change in mood and she went with her instincts, putting her spoon down and reaching over to curl her fingers over Dar's hand. "Everything's going to be okay... I really believe that, Dar. And I'd love to learn from you."

Dar felt a quiet peace settle over her, and she nodded. "All right...we'll start on Wednesday then, okay?" How much difference would it make if she confirmed her fears anyway? She'd lived with the possibility for years, and she made a quiet decision that whatever the results, it wouldn't change the way she lived her life.

That was what her father had chosen. And it had, in the end, killed him, but it was a kind of death she knew in her heart he wanted. A noble one, in the service of his country.

He'd just forgotten how damn hard it would be on everyone else.

Well, she didn't have to worry about that. No one depended on her, she wasn't responsible for anyone but herself. "C'mon.. this is melting."

Kerry obliged, then helped Dar drag a couple of blankets in to lay on the floor, where it was the coolest, and they settled in to try and sleep. The fat candle, set in it's dish in a safe place, shedding golden flickering light over them, and she sat quietly, awake after Dar had dropped off to an uneasy sleep, thinking.

Watching a profile no longer strange to her outlined in firelight.

**********************************************************

It was a cool, leafy forest she found herself in, conscious of the tickle of grass against her bare thighs as she gazed out over a beautiful lake, it's surface marred with gentle ripples. Mid afternoon, because the sun was slanting towards the west, and it peeked through the leaves, throwing a pattern of light and shadow over her extended legs.

She felt lazy, and relaxed and sublimely conscious of the warm body she was leaning against, whose arm was wrapped securely around her. She let her head rest back, and picked up a pebble, tossing it into the lake and hearing a gentle, low chuckle that rumbled right through her body.

She sucked in a breath of air filled with the tangy scent of moss, and the lake, and the earth around them, and closed her eyes in perfect contentment. Aware of being happy, and relaxed, and surrounded by love.

Kerry jerked awake, her breath catching in her throat as she was thrown out of her dream and into the present, her head pounding as the dim light filtered into the room and revealed Dar's still sleeping form an arm's length from her. With a soft gasp, she let herself back down onto the pillow, curling her arm around it and squeezing it as if that could bring her back into that dreamscape even if only for a moment.

So real. She could almost smell the moss again. She rolled over onto her back and rubbed her eyes, trying to get that wonderful feeling of peace out of her mind. It was raining outside, but the howling wind had stopped, or at least subsided, though the power was still off. Kerry felt clammy and shaken, and she took a few breaths to settle herself down. Then she rolled her head to one side, and froze, as she met pale blue eyes looking back at her. "Yahh!'

The blue eyes widened and Dar struggled to hide a grin. "S'matter..I grow a horn overnight or something?"

Kerry exhaled. "No.. no... um... " She held up a hand. "I was.. I had this dream, and I kind of jumped out of it, and I wasn't... bahhh... my brain's not working yet." She put her arm over her eyes and closed them.

Dar yawned, then stretched her body out, wincing at the stiffness from sleeping on the floor. "People who say sleeping on the floor is good for you are nuts." She commented, getting to her feet and rubbing her eyes. She wandered through the dark living room, and into the kitchen, switching on the battery powered radio to get the latest information.

The storm is dissipating, it's remnants moving out over the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, South Florida wakes up to a half million people without power, and downed trees everywhere.

"Yippee." Dar commented dryly. She grabbed the manual crank from under the sink and unlocked the patio door, poking her head out into the fitful weather with a sniff. The rain was tapering off, and the seas, though choppy, lacked the whitecaps that had stirred them the day before. Dar set the crank into it's catch, and rolled up the shutters, allowing light into the apartment. Then she went back inside, and opened the latched, hardwood lined glass doors, letting in the fresh sea breeze. "Ah. That's better." She walked out onto the porch and put her hands on the balcony, taking in a deep breath of the clean air, tasting salt on the back of her tongue as she did so.

She was surprised at how good she felt, given the uncomfortable night, and she stretched again, feeling the pleasant pull of the muscles across her back as she extended her arms and flexed her fists.

A hand touched her elbow and Kerry ducked under her arm, peering curiously out at the sea, her disheveled blond hair whipping back in the breeze. "Mm... that feels good."

Dar settled her elbows on the railing and leaned on them. "Sure does." She glanced around. "Power's still down in a lot of places..."

Kerry sighed. "I'd better call my place.. see what's happening. " She ducked inside, and picked up one of two analog phones Dar had plugged in the night before, dialing Colleen's number from memory. She'd spoken briefly to her friend last night, reassuring herself that the complex was safe. Colleen had scoffed at the storm, having been through Andrew, and was in the middle of planning a hurricane party when Kerry called.

Her whereabouts were received with a knowing silence, that sent prickles up and down her back, but she hadn't really had time to think about that much. The phone picked up on the third ring.

"Hello?"

"Hey Col... how is everything?"

"Ahh... the mysteriously missing Ms. Stuart... " Colleen answered, smugly. "How are things on your side of the tracks there, eh?"

Kerry rolled her eyes. "Colleen... for heaven's sake... "

The redhead laughed. "Everything's fine and dandy here, my friend... trees are down, and a few power lines.. we donít' have power, and it's uncomfortable as hell here, but we're all staying outside, and we've got a little grill set up. It's not so bad... we can go into our cars if we're in danger of overheating." She paused. "How are you doing?"

"Oh.. well, about the same." Kerry told her. "Power's out here... we've got the doors and windows open... it was pretty bad last night, but... doesn't look like there's much damage, except for a few branches down.. and... "She shaded her eyes to peer outside. "I think a boat's stuck on the eastern tip of the island."

"Mmhm... must have been.. hot and sticky and uncomfortable last night, huh?" Colleen's voice held a hint of playfulness.

"It was.. but we opened a window on the protected side of the apartment.. " Kerry answered the question at face value. "And we had ice cream, so... " She laughed softly. "It worked out okay... I just woke up." She glanced up as the sun made a pale appearance, dusting Dar's shoulders with wan light. "Sun's coming out."

"Is it shining on anything interesting?" Colleen asked, impishly.

Kerry peered at the receiver, her brows knitting. "Are you all right? " She glanced outside. "It's shining on the ocean, and a few boats that I can see.. and the patio.. why?"

The redhead laughed softly. "Never mind, Kerry... you going to spend some time there yet?"

"Um... probably... I think they need the electricity to run the ramps to get on and off the ferry."

"Oh.. right.. " Colleen agreed amiably. "Well, your place survived quite nicely...we didn't get flooded or anything like that, so we'll all be here when you saunter home."

Kerry smiled. "That's great to hear... I'm glad everything was okay." She watched as Dar turned, and leaned on one arm, peering back at her from outside. "I.. um.. I'll talk to you a little later, okay?" She hung up and went to the door, peering out and blinking. "Well, everything's okay at my place." She was still carrying the phone, and held it out to Dar when the older woman motioned for it.

"Might as well find out what the prognosis is for power." Dar explained, dialing quickly. "Then I guess I"d better make sure everything's on track at the office."

Kerry nodded.. "Um... " She bit her lip on a grin. "Want me to get you some frosted flakes?" Her eyes twinkled. "I think that would be better than ice cream for breakfast... though.. " She cleared her throat. "Not by much."

Dar gave her a look as she listened to something on the phone, then hung it up. "Power'll probably be back up after lunchtime...and they've got a generator running down at the beach club, so I think we'll take a ride down there so I don't have to get flack for my choice of breakfast cereals." She paused, and drummed her fingers on the phone, then turned an gazed out at the calming seas. "Matter of fact... you in the mood to take a ride?"

"A ride?" The blond woman followed her gaze. "Oh.. you mean on the boat?" She let out a sigh. "I'd love to...but I'm not exactly dressed for it."

"Oh." Dar grinned. "We can fix that."

"We can?" Kerry inquired. "Well.. okay.. sure... I'd like that.. since we're kinda stuck here, and it'll be cooler out there, I guess."

A half an hour later, they were in, of all things, a golf cart with Dar's apartment number on it, dodging downed branches on the road which circled the island. Other carts were out and about, with sightseers and island staff, the former driving slowly and pointing, the latter dragging debris out of the way.

Kerry sat back and enjoyed the ride, as they went past clusters of apartments, and drove around past a large structure, then circled the marina and ended up in a cluster of shops where the rumble of a generator was evident.

She hopped out and followed her taller companion, who pointed at the doors as they went by. "Video shop, bookstore, health food store, Island Market.. ah.. here we go." She pushed the door open of a small store which held various items of casual and beach apparel. "Think you can find something in here?" Dar inquired.

Kerry made a beeline for a rack which held one piece Speedos, in rich, bold colors. "Oh yeah." She grinned, checking the sizes and selecting a purple one, then choosing a pair of shorts and a tank top to go with it. She handed a credit card to the clerk, surprised when he merely stamped it on her check, then handed it back to her, along with a pen for her signature. "Thank you." She smiled up at him, receiving a shy smile in return. She took her package and followed Dar out, catching up with her as she headed for the door to the Market. "Dar.. he didn't check my credit card."

"No." Dar glanced sideways at her. "Not...well, let me put it to you this way, Kerry.. on this island.. if you're running a scam, it's in the multibillions. You don't bother with little bitty stuff like bathing suits." She held the door to the small grocery store open. "Besides... the only way you could get on the island is with a resident...which he knows I am... he figures if anything comes up bad, I'll take care of it." She paused. "Which, of course, I would."

Kerry stopped short. "You don't have to worry about that."

Mild blue eyes regarded her. "I wasn't." She replied quietly. "Let's pick up a couple of things to take on the boat with us... might as well make an afternoon of it."

They walked out with a cute little basket, which held, Dar discovered, a set of plates and silverware, and was large enough for sandwich fixings and savory side orders. She flipped open her cell phone and dialed, getting Mark Polenti's cell phone in two rings. "Hey."

"Hey." Mark replied, over the faint sound of a rattling keyboard. "Everything survived.. no problems.. just no power... it's going to be mildewy as hell in there on Monday."

"Good." Dar murmured.

"You like mildew?" Mark answered, confused.

"No no.. I mean, good, that everything survived." Dar explained. "All the processing get shifted up in time?"

"Yeah.. except Bank of New Zealand.. I went in and kicked their processors onto the generator and got them going. " The MIS chief muttered. "I'm dialed in now, remotely administering them... they had a payroll transfer due yesterday, and according to them, you don't pay those guys, they get real ugly."

Dar smiled. "Good work, Mark.. thanks for taking care of that for me."

"Mmph." Mark cleared his throat. "Heard you weren't feeling great... you okay?"

A faint smile crossed the dark haired woman's face. "Yeah.. I'm fine... just had one hell of a headache.. the weather probably brought it on." She paused. "Poor old Kerry here volunteered to give me a ride home, then got stuck when the weather hit."

"Um... that explains her logging on from your terminal, I guess. " Mark commented. "And why her car's still in the parking lot... we moved it, along with about a half dozen others under the covered area in the back."

"Thanks.. I'm sure she'll be glad to hear it." Dar chuckled. "Well, I gotta go.. I'll have the cell phone on if you need me." She hung up and steered the cart along the marina. "How about I drop you and this stuff off here, then go grab some muffins or something for breakfast?" She suggested. "They took care of your car at work, by the way."

Kerry nodded. "I know..I spoke to Andreas in security last night... that was really nice of them." She hopped out as Dar slowed the cart to a halt at a particular slip, which had a nicely proportioned boat docked in it. "This it?"

Dar nodded. "Yep...here.. " She handed Kerry a set of keys. "The cabin should be stocked with towels and all that...and I had it filled with gas last week. "

"Great." A gentle smile. "Thanks for trying to keep me amused, Dar.. you know you don't have to.. I don't blame you for getting me stuck here."

Blue eyes regarded her enigmatically. "I know... but we've got nothing better to do, so.. " She waved, and started off down the dock, leaving Kerry to make her way carefully onto the gently rolling deck of the boat.

***********************************************

"Stocked, she says." Kerry muffled a giggle, as she explored the neatly made cabin of the cruiser. It had a small bathroom complete with salt water shower, and a tiny bedroom with a bed just large enough, maybe, for two people.

Though, she suspected, Dar would probably have trouble with the length. The interior was warm polished wood, with blues and greens in the curtains that covered the portholes, and the bedding on the bed. It felt... she brushed her fingers against the fabric.

She liked it. It felt comfortable here, and she moved with the boat's motion from long experience. "Well, onto the next area.. the kitchen." She put her bag down, and ducked into the small galley, which had a compact refrigerator. She opened it, surprised to feel a residual coolness, then realized the boat must have been hooked up to dock power. She put the lunch fixings inside, and closed the door, confident it would keep them cool enough until Dar started the engines up.

To one side was a microwave, and range, and a sink with taps for both salt water, and a limited tank of fresh water. A cupboard held nesting pots and two pans, and unbreakable cups which were clipped in place and dangled softly as the boat moved. "This is pretty darn cool." She commented to herself, turning around and surveying the area.

Outside the galley was a compact sitting space, with a wooden table surrounded by two built in benches at catty corner to each other. A soft, comfortable looking chair was bolted along the open end of the table, and there was a television, and a stereo in closed, watertight cabinets overhead.

Kerry grinned, then ducked into the bedroom and changed into her new suit, checking her reflection in the mirror and scowling at it a little. Then she threw her shorts and tank top over it, and tucked her borrowed T-shirt and shorts into a drawer, before she trotted up the stairs and onto the deck.

It was in two levels, one, which held the bridge and controls, and the lower level which had thick cushioned seats on the long sides and across the back of the stern. She lifted one up, and found safety gear in one, floatation devices, flares, safety rings.. and in the other, two full sets of scuba gear, including two tanks nestled into clips on the bottom. "And you never use this." She chastised her absent boss. "Dar, what are we going to do with you?" She sat down on a cushion for a moment, and just shook her head. "Boy.. if I had a place like this.. and a boat.. I'd be..." She imagined her friends over, and what great parties they could have.

Then she stopped and considered Dar's words the previous evening. "You shouldn't do this alone, and I...donít have time, anymore."

Donít have time? Or was it that all these nice things were pretty useless if you didn't have anyone to share them with? "C'mon, Dar.. with your looks.. donít' tell me you can't get and keep a boyfriend." She muttered. "They'd have to be out of their cotton picking minds not to want to spend time with you."

She swung her feet a little, thumping her heels against the fiberglass. Thinking.

The soft whine of the cart approaching broke her reverie, and she turned, to see Dar parking the vehicle in the small spot that seemed to be designed for it near the boat's bow. She was carrying a pair of bags, and hopped onto the deck with negligent grace, dropping down into the lower area with a chuckle. "They're doing one hell of a brisk business..." She set the bags down. "Everything all right?"

"Looks great." Kerry stated, noting that her companion had stopped back at the apartment to change into a bathing suit, which she was wearing under a long T-shirt. "This is like a regular floating hotel room."

Dar snorted softly. "Yeah... Aunt May had rich tastes... took me a while to get used to it. I was more inclined to a fifteen foot dive boat with a single back deck and one chair as an amenity."

Kerry grinned. "But you did get used to it, eventually. "

The taller woman chuckled self deprecatingly. "Eyah.. as I got older, I developed a disgusting tendency towards creature comforts." She walked around the perimeter of the boat, casting off the lines. "Hang on, now."

Kerry chuckled. "I learned how to hang on crewing a racing yacht going thirty knots.. thanks." She leaned back on her hands and soaked in the sun. "You get tossed from one of those, you remember it."

Dar seated herself at the controls, and started the engines, adjusting the throttles until she heard an even tone. Then she skillfully backed the boat out, swinging around and nudging the motors into a speed just past idling to get them out of the marina.

The breeze picked up as soon as they cleared the outer buoy, and Dar swung the bow towards the southeast, arcing smoothly over the still choppy waves towards a hazy horizon. Kerry perched next to her, enjoying the salt air and the sunshine, and the cool spray that jutted up from the boat when they hit the waves. "Wow, it's nice out here." She murmured.

Dar closed her eyes briefly, and took in a lungful of the air, letting memories wash over her for a long, aching moment. "Yeah, it is." She finally said quietly, swallowing a lump in her throat.

They anchored off one of the small islands that dotted the coastline, and felt the boat settle down into a quiet bobbing. With the engines shut off, the waves became rhythmically heard, along with the gentle clank of the boat's rigging. The sun was fully out, and only high, wispy clouds disturbed the perfect blue of the sky.

"I'm going in for a swim." Dar commented, stripping of her T-shirt, and tucking it neatly on the console. "You interested?"

Kerry strolled to the railing and peered over. The water was a rich blue green, and smelled of salt and mystery. "Depends... are there sharks down there?" She peered over her shoulder at the taller woman, who was leaning casually against the curve of the cabin door.

Dar, she decided, looked really good in a bathing suit. She had one of those long, swimmer's builds, with just enough softness covering her muscles so that she didn't look like a body builder or anything. Just... strong, and solid. "The lake didn't have sharks." She explained, apologetically.

Dar chuckled. "Well... there might be a few, but I've been in these waters since I was four years old... and I haven't been nibbled yet." She walked to the rail and hopped up onto it, then dove into the water cleanly, surfacing several yards away from the boat.

Kerry watched her for a moment, as she dove down again, then popped up and began to stroke lazily around the boat. "I suppose it's a little early for shark lunch, so.. " She shrugged, then tugged off her shirt and shorts, and left them folded on the cushion, moving to a more prudent spot in the stern before stepping up onto the fiberglass railing and jumping in.

"Oh." She surfaced with a splutter. "It's warm." She ducked her head under water, and opened her eyes, blinking against the painful salt. The sun penetrated the green for quite a ways down, outlining waves of golden particles that disappeared into the depths. She could only do it for a moment, though, before it stung her eyes too badly, and she surfaced. "Whoa."

Dar was there, treading water, her wet, dark hair slicked back. She held out a mask with a mild grin. "Here.. this works better."

"Thanks." She adjusted the mask, having a bit of difficulty treading water at the same time, then put her face back down, peering into the depths with interest. A school of tiny fish swam by under her, looking for all the world like a flock of birds, even to their splitting and rejoining to some mysterious pattern. Kerry lifted her head up. "Wow... it must be so interesting down there."

Dar hung onto the anchor line, and grinned. "We're pretty shallow right now.. only about thirty feet. She explained. "There's a coral ridge that goes up and down the coastline here... so... if we were down there, we'd be seeing all kinds of fish."

Kerry swam over to her, with efficient strokes and grabbed the line as well. "You're making me jealous.. now I know I have to get certified... I tried coaxing some of the guys at Associated into doing it, but they were all scared. I bet I can get at least one or two people at the office join in, though."

Dar studied her in silence for a long moment, then gave a slight nod. "Wait here." She reached up and grabbed the gunwale, pulling herself up right out of the water and pressing her body up and over the railing.

Kerry blinked. "Wow.. I couldnít do that even when I was doing gymnastics six times a week. " She murmured, impressed. "Heck, I don't think the guys who did rings could do that."

Dar came back and unhitched a section of the railing, pulling it back and seating herself on it. "Okay.. we can do a really quick, really easy short dive with just the stuff I have here." She handed Kerry a vest like garment. "Put that on."

Kerry did, buckling it around her chest and tightening the straps so it fit snugly. "Okay." She felt a thrill of excitement. "What's next?"

Dar handed her a pair of booties. "Now these." She waited. "Okay, now slip these on over the booties, and tighten them around your heels." She gave Kerry a pair of swim fins.

"That's a little...oh, okay.. I got it." Kerry nodded, biting her lip a little as she concentrated. The vest provided some buoyancy, fortunately, and after a moment she looked up. "Okay." She waved her feet, feeling the powerful surge against the water, and grinned. "Oh.. that feels neat."

Dar handed her down a snorkel. "Put that through the loop in the mask.. yeah, that's right... now turn around, and hold onto that anchor line."

Kerry did so, facing out towards the horizon. She felt the splash as Dar entered the water behind her, then experienced a moment of jostling as something was attached to her back. She felt the weight difference immediately. "Oh.. is that the tank?"

"Yep." Dar's hand suddenly appeared beside her ear, holding a round object with a mouthpiece. "Okay..this is how this works."

Her voice was right up next to Kerry's ear, and it took a moment for the words to register. "Um... okay, that's a regulator." She repeated.

"Right." Dar agreed. "See this button?" She pointed to a round spot on top of the piece of gear. "That's a forced expel." She put the mouthpiece under water. "Water cant get in, but if you press this.." She did so, and a stream of bubbles erupted. "Got it? You put that in your mouth, and just breath in normally."

Kerry fit the mouthpiece between her teeth, and sucked in, mildly surprised when air happened. "fowfh."

Dar patted her. "Okay.. I'm not going to go into the dive computer or anything - because we're just going down a few feet today.. hang on while I get my gear."

"Owflk." Kerry nodded, looking around and getting used to having the regulator in her mouth. What seemed like moments later, Dar was back, with similar equipment. She put her flippers on, then swam closer, and Kerry felt a touch at her waist as the taller woman's arms circled her.

She stopped breathing. "Uf..."

"Weight belt." Dar said, matter of factly. "You need it to compensate for the air in here." She patted the vest and smiled.

"Of." Kerry nodded in understanding, as her lungs started working again. Dar put her own belt on, adjusting it a little, and scowling, then she set her mask in place.

"Okay... just do what I do. You're going to let go, and let yourself sink. Just breath normally."

It was the oddest sensation, Kerry decided, as she obeyed, and let herself start to fall through the water. The regulator's bubbles kept a steady stream of sound around her, but she looked around, seeing the sun's rays bend and lose their color, as she went.

Not far, as Dar had said, and in fact, if she looked up, she could see the solid bottom of the boat just above her.

But down here... She leveled out, and floated, just above the bottom, which was covered with a thick, coral formation.

Her eyes widened, as a school of small, brightly painted yellow and blue fish went right past her, their fins brushing her skin lightly, like butterflies. Past them swam larger, more solitary fish, their bodies undulating back and forth as they surveyed the reef in regal splendor.

A tiny, darting red fish zig zagged past her, and fled, followed by a larger, flat, black fish with an eye on each side of it's body.

She glanced down, and pointed. A lobster was making it's way across the bottom, it's spiny shell flexing as it moved.

Dar nodded, just watching her. The older woman was floating, her arms folded over her stomach and her legs half bent. She lifted one hand and made an okay sign with her fingers, then raised an eyebrow in question.

Kerry nodded vigorously, almost unseating her regulator.

Dar nodded back, then moved off very slowly, motioning her to follow.

They stayed down for about twenty minutes, while Dar gave her a little tour, and pointed out things not to touch. The reef, for one, every touch on the coral was a death sentence to it. Fire coral for another, which could sting human skin badly. Puffer fish, which had spikes.. eels, which she wouldn't have come within a hundred yards of anyway, and other various creatures.

Then Dar gently lead her up to the surface, swimming up the anchor line until they both broke through the waves, and removed their regulators.

"Oh my god.. that was amazing!" Kerry blurted immediately. "Did you see those silver fish? They were making faces at me!" She pulled her mask off, and pushed her wet hair back. "And those purple things.. what were those purple things? There were these little translucent squiddy things too..what were they??"

Dar held up a hand, laughing. "Whoa... take it easy.. let's get back on the boat and we can talk about it, okay?" She had Kerry hand her the gear, and she put it onto the deck, then lifted herself up and extended hand to the smaller woman. "Here.. grab on."

Kerry felt herself be pulled up and she grabbed the railing, getting onto the deck far more easily than she had anticipated. "Wow." She smiled at Dar in delight. "Thank you..I really, really mean that."

The dark haired woman smiled back. "Always like to see another convert." She chuckled, ducking into the cabin and coming back out with two towels. " Let's get dried off.. and I bet you're hungry."

Kerry felt her stomach growl. "Okay.. I give.. how did you know that?"

A wave of Dar's tanned fingers. "Diving does it... I am too."

They sat in the sun, drying off and sharing lunch, as Kerry peppered her companion with questions about sea life. Dar stretched out on one of the cushioned benches, putting her hands behind her head and closing her eyes as she answered.

Kerry eventually ran out of queries, and took the other bench, relaxing against it's slightly rough surface with a contented sigh. "Ill wind blows nobody whatever, huh?" She commented wryly.

"Mm." Dar turned her head slightly and regarded the younger woman. "You could say that." She studied the slim frame, sleek in it's purple fabric, then her eyes closed again, as the sun bathed them in rich golden light. "Glad we remembered sunscreen."

"Uh huh.. I'd turn the color of a lobster otherwise." The blond woman agreed.

A silence fell, and Kerry mused thoughtfully to herself for a bit, then she turned to ask Dar a question, and bit it back, seeing the other woman peacefully asleep.

With a gentle smile, she shifted to get a little more comfortable, then let her own eyes close as well.

***************************************************

A seagull, arching over head and complaining, nudged Dar awake, and she reluctantly opened her eyes, slightly startled by the low arc of the sun. Oh damn... She yawned, and stretched, rubbing her face with one hand as she sat up.

The boat was bobbing gently, and she glanced around, not seeing her companion until she half stood, and spotted her on the very front of the bow, her knees tucked up against her chest as she gazed out at the horizon. The sun was hitting her from the back, and brought out gentle red highlights in her otherwise blond hair, and Dar felt a smile on her lips she really had little control over.

"Hey." She climbed up onto the bow, and settled down at Kerry's side. "You shouldn't have let me sleep so long."

Eyes the color of the sea around them peered at her from under sun lightened brows. "I just woke up myself... and you looked so peaceful, I didn't have the heart to wake you up." Kerry smiled. "I know last night wasn't very comfortable, so..." She shrugged. "It was kinda like catching up."

Dar leaned back against the cabin wall and nodded. "That's true... guess we'd better get going on in, though... power should be back on and I can get you home."

"Yeah." Kerry murmured, resting her chin on her knee.

Silence settled, save the soft rippling of the waves. Dar finally cleared her throat a little. "Listen.. I.. um.. I wanted to apologize."

Kerry's brows knitted and she turned her head. "For what? Dar, it's not your fault a storm came up.."

"No." The dark haired woman held up a hand. "For what happened with Associated."

"Mmph " A pause. "Well.. it's all right, I mean.. it worked out."

Dar sighed. "But it wouldn't have." She admitted. "If you hadn't decided to stand up to me, and make me take a second look at what I was doing, it wouldn't have." She fell silent for a moment. "I've been doing this for a long time, and I never stopped to think about how the people I was doing it to felt."

"Oh." Kerry absorbed this. "It was hard." She acknowledged. "I felt like it was so hopeless sometimes... and then when you called... boy." She looked out at the water and shook her head. "It hurt." She glanced sideways and watched Dar's eyes narrow, as she kept her sight on the horizon. "But you were doing your job."

"Yes." Dar murmured. "I know...that's why it puzzled me when you wanted to come help me do it after all that."

"Maybe the next time something like that comes up, I can get you to think twice, again." Kerry answered, simply.

Blue eyes looked directly into hers. "What if you can't?"

Kerry thought about that. "I'll just keep trying." She answered quietly. "I have a lot of patience."

Dar ducked her head, and chuckled a little. "Fair enough." She stated, then pushed herself to her feet, and made her way back to the console. "Hang on...I'm bringing up the anchor."

Kerry scrambled off the bow, and settled herself onto the cushioned bench again, leaning against the railing and extending her legs into the lowering sunlight. The city was backlight in molten gold and she wished she had a camera, to capture the sight, which she swung around and kept in her view as Dar turned the boat, and headed for shore.

****************************************************

"Morning, Maria." Dar settled back in her seat, as the ferry made it's way towards the causeway.

"Dios Mio, Dar... you cannot believe the smells in her this morning... it is like a thousand cats pee peed on the rug." The secretary informed her. "I have an orange stuck into my nose."

"Did maintenance arrange for a carpet cleaning service?" Dar inquired, wincing at the thought of the stench. "Never mind.. just put me through to Jack Eierdall." She waited a moment, then a gruff voice answered. "Jack? Dar Roberts." She listened. "We need a steam cleaner in there today, Jack.. not two days from now. That's not acceptable." Another wait, and protesting tones. "I don't give a rat's ass about your cousin.. I'll get a commercial crew in and bill you back for it at cost plus if you donít' get em in there today."

Dar inspected a nail, then flexed her hand where the skin was just a little tight from the sunburn she'd gotten on Saturday. "Look.. cut the crap. Bottom line, I see the truck by the time I get there, or I call in Stanley Steamer Corporate. G'bye, Jack." She hung up the line, then dialed again. "Maria?"

"Si." The secretary sneezed. "Oye... excuse me, Dar." She shuffled some papers. "You have a meeting at 8:30, remember.. the executive committee, and you have three client briefings after that."

Dar sighed. "I know... listen, block out my morning tomorrow.. until at least lunchtime, and Kerry's too." She paused. "She's um... she has to drive me to an appointment I have to go to."

A period of shocked silence. "All right.. I will do that." Maria said, slowly. "Is it... a business meeting, I... "

"No." The executive said, quietly. "I'm having some tests done.. it's all right.. nothing major, I just don't know what kind of medication they're going to give me, and didn't want to risk driving myself."

"Dios Mio....all right.. I'll put that down.. I'll have to cancel your account meeting with Travel and Transport, Dar."

"Aw, shucks." Dar drawled. "Reschedule it for sometime extremely inconvenient to them, will you?"

"Tch.. Dar." Maria laughed shortly. "You are so bad." She hesitated. "I have my rosary here.. what kind of tests for you, so I'll know how to pray?"

Dar blinked at the phone, too stunned to answer for a moment, then she exhaled. "It's nothing.. I.. they're not sure, really, Maria... just maybe a leaky valve, or something.. it's really not anything to worry about, but thanks for offering."

"Mi Madre." The older woman sighed. "Aie... good morning. " She held the phone away from her mouth. "Excuse me what?"

Dar heard a muffled exchange, the Maria came back."Dar, they lost some big thing in New York."

"Oh... hellinahandbasket." Dar covered her eyes. "New York down on a Monday morning... what did I do to deserve this?" She angled the Lexus up the ramp, and turned left onto the causeway. "Look.. I'm about five or ten minutes out... have whoever is on duty in the MDF call Netops and find out exactly what's down, and warn Northeast region, especially service recovery, that we've got a problem."

"Okay okay.. ah.. good morning.. thank you, thank you chiquita." Maria's voice warmed, and Dar could hear another voice in the background, which brought a smile to her face. "Dar, Kerry is here, she says she'll take care of it."

"Good morning, Kerry." Dar chuckled. "Thanks... how was the rest of your weekend?"

"Ehh.... " Kerry's voice was noncommittal. "Let's not talk about that... does the term sewer backup mean anything to you?"

"Ouch." Dar winced, as she turned left onto Brickell.

"Yeah.. it's almost as bad as it is in here." Kerry told her. "Well, I'm going to go call Netops.. I'll try to have a status for you by the time you get here." The door closed, and Maria sighed.

"She is such a nice girl, Dar." The secretary told her, approvingly. "That was so sweet of her to take you home on Friday.."

"Yes it was." Dar agreed, as she swung into the parking lot, noting a wildly careening truck just behind her. The truck pulled right up to the service entrance, and four men got out, pulling out carpet cleaning equipment. She grinned ruthlessly. "Be right up." She hung up the line, and got out of the car, grabbing her briefcase before heading for the doors.

************************************************************

Kerry carried a handful of papers with her as she slipped down the back hallway, and tapped on the door to Dar's office, hearing the older woman's voice raised in a growling yell. "Oh.. boy." She muttered, then pushed the door open, and slipped inside.

Dar was pacing back and forth behind her desk, looking for all the world like a well dressed panther. She was yelling at some hapless person in the network operations center, tossing aside his attempts to explain with staccato barks. "Don't give me that crap, I donít want to know about how Sprint had a fiber cut under Newark Airport.. I want that circuit rerouted."

Kerry stopped before she reached the desk, and held the top sheet out, then handed it over as Dar held her hand up . "It's a big problem, Dar.. they had an airport transport vehicle go off the ramp, and crash down through the communications center.. it took out their entire fiber center, including all the internal com at the airport."

"Jesus." Dar's eyes widened. "Are they shut down?"

Kerry nodded. "Yeah.. they're rerouting traffic through Laguardia, but it's a mess."

Dar drummed her fingers on her desk, her eyes shifting rapidly. Then she sat down, and requested information from their database, and drummed her fingers again. "All right.. all right... listen up, netops... "

"We're here." The tired sounding voice came back. "We've been on this since 2am."

"You've got thirty seven T1 lines that come down into Newark for T and T's rescom... that you handle for the Hub site agreement." Dar traced a spiderwork of connections on her screen, motioning Kerry over. The blond woman put a hand on the back of her chair and peered at the screen.

"Yeah.. but that's carrying terminal res traffic." The phone crackled.

"If you shift the endpoint routers at backbone six and seven, to one and two, you can send airport com down those, and get the airport back up.. shunt the res functions to dial backup." Dar said, rapidly. "That'll bring the net back up there, and pass traffic through for the banking centers in New York, who are down right now and breathing fire on my ass."

Dead silence from the phone.

"Did you hear me?" Dar barked, glancing back as Kerry patted her shoulder comfortingly. "Hello?"

"Uh.. yeah.. yeah.. okay... we heard you ... hang on, this is going to .. damn it, John.. get that Tiger frad configured so we can shift res to backup.. someone call the MTC and tell them we're doing this so they don't freak out when the lines go down."

"I'm waiting." Dar called out, impatiently.

"We're working on it.. " The voice responded, hurriedly.

"Work faster." Dar warned. "It's 8:52, if those banks aren't up for transactions by 9, the shit is going to hit the fan in so many directions you won't know where to duck."

"Okay! Okay!"

Dar pulled up a Netview screen, and displayed the down sites. She repeated the command, then again, nervously refreshing the screen.

"I was going to suggest I get you some coffee." Kerry murmured. "But maybe not."

The dark head turned, and blue eyes regarded her, as Dar's lips twitchingly held back a grin. Then she turned her attention back to the screen. "Three minutes left... where are my circuits!"

"Hang on..hang on.. switch that.. no.. NO!!!"

"Two minutes!!!" Dar yelled. "I need that circuit!!!!"

"Okay.. we need the secondary tables loaded in that backbone... serial 1... okay.. okay... try it now!"

Dar refreshed the screen, and smiled. 'Thank you." She purred. "Nice doing business with you guys." She hit the release button. "Not." She barked at the phone, then punched a button and shook her head.

"Elaine Aberman, Service recovery." A nervous, anxious voice answered.

"Good morning, Elaine." Dar said, soothingly.

"No! It's not!" The woman wailed. "It's horrible! It's tragic! We're dying!"

"You're up." The executive stated, calmly.

"You can't believe what kind of a mess it is in here, we've got service reps on standby ready to get up to New York, and.... Excuse me?"

"You're up. We rerouted traffic a bit.. might be a touch slow, but it's all there." Dar informed her.

"OH." The woman squealed. "Guys! Guys! We're up! We're up! Glory be to God we're up!!!"

Kerry put her hand over her mouth and choked back a laugh.

"G'bye, Elaine." Dar hung up, and let herself relax back into her chair with a sigh. "Nice way to start a Monday." She rolled her head and looked up at the still snickering blonde. "Sewer backup, huh?"

Kerry let a hand drop to Dar's shoulder, and squeezed it. "Oh my god, yes... it was awful.. I finally just had to leave, and take a ride down to the little park near my place, and wait for them to finish pumping the sewers out."

"Mm... sounds great." Dar pushed herself to her feet. "I'm supposed to be at an exec meeting... keep an eye on this for me, will you? Call my cell if it gets ugly again." She patted Kerry on the back as she pushed her chair in. "See you later."

Kerry watched her leave, then she collected her papers, and made her way back to her office.


 Continued in Part 6