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Disclaimer: First, this story is copyrighted to the author as of 4/22/99. This story is an uber story of sorts with characters resembling Xena and Gabrielle in personality only. If I've infringed on Xena and Gabrielle, then let me say that those two belong to MCA. However, Rowan and Jessie belong to me.
|» Chapter 1-6 «||Chapter 7-11||Chapter 12-18||Chapter 19-24|
In her dream she could see her own body, naked and covered with a sheen of sweat, looking strange to her and not at all familiar. Raising her head, she saw a crowd of people, all staring at her, eyes wide, a look of fear on their faces. How she got here or what she was doing, she didn't know.
"Jessie?" A familiar voice that came from behind wafted to her ears, her own name being called.
A hand touched her arm, causing her to flinch even though the soft touch was familiar and usually welcomed. A face came into frame, Rowan's beautiful face, obscuring the image of the terrified people around her. The face was rounded, without sharp edges. The short, blunt nose was slightly turned up in a perky manner. Beautiful dark brown hair formed a natural frame for the face, corkscrew curls giving the hair a wild sense of disorder. All so familiar to Jessie. What caught her attention first though was the sight of those large blue eyes that had always seemed to penetrate to her very soul.
"Rowan?" Jessie whispered, reaching out with a trembling hand to touch the face that so often haunted her dreams.
"Jessie, what are you doing?" Her voice was soft as she approached the disturbed woman.
Suddenly, her mission became clear again. "These people...these people are all criminals. They need to be brought to justice. They need to be punished for their crimes."
Still not able to understand, Rowan looked at the people crowded around them. "Jessie, what have they done? What crime have they committed?"
Indignant that her best friend couldn't see the criminals that surrounded them, she tried to explain. "They're killers! All of them!"
Taking Jessie's hand in hers, Rowan tried to lead her friend away from the crowd, taking off her own jacket to cover Jessie's naked body. "Come on back home, we'll try to find out what's happened here."
Jessie's body suddenly felt drained, as though she had just finished with some tremendous physical exertion. Her legs heavy, she could barely lift them up the stairs to the fourth floor apartment they shared. Rowan continued to encourage her with soft comments, never letting go of her hand.
Finally getting to the scarred door of their apartment, Rowan led them inside, moving through the living room to the bedroom. With soft pressure from her small hands, Rowan forced Jessie to rest on the bed. Helping Jessie swing her legs up so that she could comfortably lay down, Rowan held a look of concern in her eyes.
Watching as Jessie's eyes shut in exhaustion, Rowan moved toward the door.
"NO! Don't leave me!" A strangled voice came from Jessie.
Awaking suddenly, Rowan rubbed at her eyes, trying to get the dream image of a giant, friendly tiger out of her mind.
Looking out the window, seeing the still dark sky not yet being lit by the sun, Rowan wondered what had awakened her so early.
"NO! Don't leave me!" Jessie's voice broke through the silence of night.
Another nightmare, Rowan thought. Swinging her legs till her feet touched the cold wooden floor, she padded out of her room, instinctively moving to the left into the apartment's other bedroom.
Jessie was tangled in her bed sheets, twisting and turning, her shoulder length blond hair matted to her damp face. "Please, don't leave me, please stay with me." Her normally deep voice had taken on the sound of someone terribly scared, unusual for Jessie.
Concern clouding her face, Rowan immediately went to the bed, sat on the edge and took her friend's hand.
"Shhh...Jess, it's okay. Shhhh...just relax, it's okay." Stroking the long hand with her own smaller hand, Rowan tried to calm the sleeping woman. She knew from experience that waking Jessie up in the middle of a dream was not a good idea.
At the sound of her friend's voice, Jessie's body immediately relaxed, her hand curled around Rowan's, holding it tightly. In a whisper, she spoke again. "Please don't leave. Stay with me."
Making a quick decision, Rowan laid herself down on the bed along side of Jessie, thankful that her friend had a queen-size bed. Inching closer to Jessie, she carefully put her arms around her, holding her tightly, trying to comfort the woman.
Time passed as Jessie's body finally relaxed fully and started to cool from the sweat her nightmare had caused. Her breathing became steady and Rowan wondered if she should leave now. After giving Jessie a few more minutes to make sure that she was resting comfortably, Rowan started to untangle herself so that she could leave.
"Please stay Ro, I don't want to be alone." Rowan was surprised to see two eyes staring at her. She hadn't realized that Jessie was awake.
"Sure, I don't have anywhere to be right now." Mouth quirking into a gentle grin, Rowan settled back into the bed, her arms still around Jessie's larger frame. Brushing hair off her friend's forehead, Rowan was unsure whether or not she should ask what the dream was about. Jessie's dreams were frequent enough, but tonight's was worse. Most of the time, the only way Rowan was aware of the nightmares was from the dark circles under Jessie's eyes in the morning. Rarely did Rowan hear Jessie cry out in the night, and never had she heard the cries as intense as they were tonight.
"I...I was going to hurt innocent people." Jessie whispered into the dark room, finally seeing what she couldn't see in the dream. The crowd hadn't been one of criminals, but one of innocent people who thought that Jessie herself was going to hurt them.
"It was only a dream. It wasn't real." Fear was evident in Jessie's voice, and Rowan wanted to jolt her out of it, make her realize that reality was usually much different from the dream world.
"But, there was a time, Ro, when it was my reality."
Rowan could hear Jessie taking a deep, ragged breath, aware of how Jessie's past could affect her. Jessie had once been on the road to destruction, bent at hurting all of those who had hurt her. Eventually, Jessie just set out to hurt everyone who crossed paths with her, and in the end, the one she hurt the most was herself. Dealing and using drugs, leading those who followed her into more and more dangerous situations, uncaring of who got hurt as long as she got what she wanted. Soon the goals became blurred and she headed in a downward spiral to the ground. What threw her over the edge was when her men, without her direction, hijacked a school bus, and killed two children.
Those two children haunted Jessie every day of her life. After that incident, she made the decision to kill herself. In a haze of smack, she waited for her heart to stop, for her body to shut down. But it didn't happen. She lived. Jessie saw it as a sign, and rather than repeat her attempt she decided to try to start a new life. Hooking up with a cop that she had met, she'd given him some incriminating evidence about gang activity in the city, making it clear that she was leaving that life behind. This was her way of paying for the crimes she had committed.
"Yea, it could've been your reality, but not any more. You've changed your life! You're no longer that person!" Rowan spoke vehemently; knowing perhaps as well as anyone that Jessie's past wasn't filled with happy memories.
Jessie turned her tear-filled eyes to look at Rowan, again finding herself thanking whatever power brought the woman into her life. Rowan always had the ability to keep Jessie from a suicidal desperation. She knew she didn't deserve a friend like Rowan. "Thank you." she whispered, trying not to let the emotion show in her voice, but she knew the little effort wasn't going to work.
"Don't cry, Jess!" Her voice was filled with worry and concern, having never seen her stoic friend cry before. Tightening her hold around Jessie, Rowan rocked her as best she could.
Again, the silence took precedence, leaving them in their own thoughts as they just enjoyed the physical contact, both taking comfort in Jessie's presence. Jessie's breathing eventually grew deeper as she fell back to sleep.
Stroking Jessie's soft hair the wide-awake Rowan had a feeling she wasn't going to get much sleep tonight.
"Rowan?" A sleep laden voice softly broke through the silence.
"Still here. You haven't scared me off yet."
A soft chuckle was the response. "I love you, Rowan."
Bringing her lips gently to Jessie's forehead, Rowan tried to ignore the rush she got at those words. Without a doubt, she was probably in love with her best friend, but Rowan knew that she wasn't really what Jessie would normally pursue for a intimate encounter. Jessie tended to go for women who were at least as tall as she was and usually at least half as strong. Rowan was neither of those things. Then there was the small fact that Jessie assumed Rowan was completely straight. She knew that would put a "Don't Touch" sign on Rowan. Even so, Rowan recognized that Jessie wouldn't even broach the subject if it meant it could ruin their friendship. No, the only love Jessie had for her was that of friendship, and rather than getting her hopes up, Rowan knew she should accept it and move on. Moments like these however made it hard.
"Jessie, you're my best friend; I love you too," she replied carefully.
Struggling to fight the cloud of sleep that covered her brain, Jessie attempted to tell Rowan what she meant with those three words. All she could get out before sleep overcame her was "No."
Carefully stroking Jessie's arm, Rowan smiled sadly at her friend's sleeping face. So beautiful, Jessie's face was a series of contrasts and contradictions. Her face was perfectly defined, high cheekbones, a square jaw, and naturally sculpted eyebrows. That's where the perfection of her face was obvious. However, this beautiful face was marred by a scar that ran from her right eyebrow to the right corner of her mouth, a reminder of her former life. Soft, yet strong, her face could look sweet and gentle one moment and then hard and cold the next. Rowan remembered when she had first seen this face, looking down at her in concern.
Rowan and Jessie had first met five years ago. Rowan was still at the University of Wisconsin Madison finishing graduate school. She had decided to walk home after class rather than take the metro bus. It was only ten blocks and Rowan was in shape, so she didn't figure it would be too arduous. She hadn't considered that it might be dangerous.
A gravelly voice whispered into her ear from behind. "Gimme your purse, lady." She felt him shove a gun into her lower back. Even though she had never had any experience with guns, she knew immediately that the cold steel rammed into her back was the muzzle of a gun.
"I don't have a purse." Which was true, she was carrying a book bag, her usual way of keeping her things together.
"No games, gimme your bag." The man pressed the gun harder into her back, causing her to gasp.
"Okay, okay, fine take the stupid bag." She held the bag by its straps, letting it drop to the ground.
As the mugger reached over to grab the bag's straps, Rowan made the decision that she wasn't going to make it easy for him. The first elbow to his throat caught the mugger off guard. The follow up open handed slap to the underside of his jaw caused his neck to snap up.
"You little bitch..." Blood trickled from where he had bit his lip.
"Oh shit!" Rowan whispered, not figuring that the only move she remembered from selfdefense class wouldn't stop him. Not waiting to see what the mugger would do next, Rowan started to run down the street, realizing that she still had five more blocks till she would reach her apartment complex. Running as fast as she could, Rowan didn't see the dog until it was too late. Rather than slamming into the animal, she dived into the shrubs outside a large building.
Falling into the large bush, she felt herself sinking farther into the sharp branches, her weight being too much to keep her on top. The mugger's deep, harsh voice came from somewhere by the shrubs that hid her view, Rowan knew she was in trouble.
"Now I gotcha, bitch. You can't pull that shit on me." Two large hands came into view from over her. Closing her eyes, Rowan waited to be grabbed by the man.
Instead, she felt a breeze over the top of the shrubs and heard that mugger yell out. Sounds of a scuffle could be heard, and Rowan tried to pull herself out of the shrub, only to fall back and get scratched worse. Laying there, waiting to find out her fate, the next thing she saw was a new face hovering over the top of the shrub, looking at her. Strong arms pulled her out carefully, supporting her until she was able to stand.
"Are you okay?" A deep voice asked her.
Looking up, Rowan finally noticed that the person who pulled her out was a woman. Long blonde hair fell over broad shoulders. The woman had to be at least 6 feet tall, her lean body held with quiet strength. A scar running down one side of her face was the only thing that marred the perfectly formed features. Amazing eyes that looked to be golden got her attention. When Rowan got a chance to examine them closer later, she realized that Jessie's eyes weren't really golden, they were merely brown with gold highlights. Those eyes caught Rowan staring at her as she brushed off her clothing. Realizing that she hadn't taken her eyes off the beautiful woman, Rowan shook her head to break the mesmerizing hold. "I'm...I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I asked if you were okay, but now I'm starting to have doubts." The woman flashed Rowan a grin, nearly blinding her with the power of it.
"Really, I think I'm fine, just a little...shocked, I guess." On auto pilot, Rowan stuck out her hand. "My name's Rowan."
The tall woman took a minute before taking the smaller hand in her large ones, shaking it. "Jessie."
"Jessie," Rowan seemed to let the name roll around in her mouth. "I guess I owe you a thanks for saving my life."
"Are you sure you're okay?" The woman didn't really sound too concerned, more like she was only asking out of formality.
Nodding, Rowan took another look at Jessie. She noticed a bruise forming over one eye, a bit of blood seeping out of a small wound near Jessie's eyebrow. "But, you're not okay."
Touching the wound and shrugging, Jessie looked at Rowan seriously. "I've had worse."
Making a rash decision, Rowan decided that her apartment was the nearest place to go. "Listen, my apartment is about four blocks away, why don't we go there and I'll get you cleaned up."
Shaking her head, Jessie tried not to squirm. "No, really, I shouldn't..."
Placing her hand on her rescuer's arm, Rowan looked up, catching her eyes. "Please? It's the least I can do after you saved my life."
Looking down and then finally looking back into Rowan's eyes, the woman nodded silently. From that day on, they both knew that Jessie would never be able to say no when Rowan said please.At Rowan's insistence, they started getting together on a regular basis. Friends were really scarce for both women. There was something about the mysterious stranger who had saved her that intrigued Rowan. She knew she should let it go and let Jessie get back to her own life, but something in her wouldn't let that happen.
A few weeks after their initial meeting, Rowan found out that Jessie was sleeping on a cot in the back room of the crisis center where she worked. Jessie's friend Suzie owned and ran a crisis center and while Suzie couldn't offer her much money for her work, she could offer the back room for her to sleep in.
Rowan didn't know at that time about Jessie's past. All Jessie would tell her was that she had come to Madison to start a fresh life.
"Why don't you come and live with me?" Rowan blurted out one evening as they drank coffee at a little shop on State Street. Surprising herself with her offer, she continued "I have two bedrooms. It wouldn't be a problem to move my stuff outta there so that you could have it."
Jessie's long hands played with the handle of her coffee mug. "You don't even know me," she said in a soft, clear voice. Bewildered by Rowan's offer, Jessie didn't know what more to say. The past few weeks had left Jessie confused. She tried so hard to move away from this woman, to cut off any contact with her, and yet she always found herself saying yes when Rowan asked her out to coffee, or dinner, or the movies. It was like her mind was divided. As much as she wanted to get away, a part of her wouldn't let her.
Truth of it was that she really did like the graduate student. Rowan's slight features, dark brown hair that hung in ringlets around her face, piercing blue eyes, and pale skin was an attractive package. But, it what was inside that package that got to Jessie. Rowan's heart was so pure, so unselfish. Her mind worked faster, sometimes leaving Jessie behind as she tried to follow. When she got excited about something, her entire body would come alive, moving with the idea, never stilling.
Now she wanted Jessie to move in with her. Jessie, the exdrug lord.
Finally, Jessie lifted her head to look into those cerulean eyes, seeing sincerity there. "You don't know anything about me." There was wonder in her voice.
A slight, attractive blush warmed Rowan's face. "I know." She let her eyes drop for a minute as she gathered her thoughts into a coherent pattern. "I don't know why, but I trust you." Shrugging, she gave Jessie a lopsided grin. "And, if you don't like it, you don't have to stay."
Five years later, Jessie was still there. Rowan had finish graduate school the spring following their first meeting and had gotten a job at the university, first as a part time assistant professor, and then after two years she was offered a full time position in the English Department. She mostly taught Freshman English, but she understood that everyone had to start somewhere.
Suzie, the bull dyke who owned the crisis center, decided to close down because a lot of the local hospitals were funding their own crisis departments. Jessie got a job as head of one of these centers after Suzie left.
Neither woman would change the last five years of their lives. They got closer every day, something inside each of them drawing them together. Rather than questioning this phenomenon, they both accepted it and enjoyed the connection they had.
* * * * *
When morning finally came, Rowan woke up still holding Jessie, the long woman's body mostly on top of Rowan, her head pillowed on Rowan's chest, a blissful smile on her face. Yeah, at least you had a pillow! Rowan directed her thoughts at Jessie's sleeping form, aware of the stiff soreness in her own back and neck. With some maneuvering and squirming, she managed to get herself out from under the bigger woman. Finally free, Rowan stretched, reaching out with her arms toward the ceiling, trying to wake her sleeping body. Rolling her neck a few times and finding that she had quite a few knots, she gave up and decided that she would make Jessie take care of it later. Jessie's large hands gave the best massage Rowan had ever had. Paybacks are a bitch, she thought.
Since she didn't enjoying being up with the birds in the morning, Rowan slowly walked to her room and fell onto her bed, falling asleep within minutes, taking the time to grab her teddy bear from under the covers and stuff him under one arm.
* * * * *
Hands shook her, a voice called to her. Rowan's mind told her not to respond, yelling, Danger Will Robinson, Danger! Her hands mechanically flailed at whatever was shaking her, slapping hard.
"Ro! Relax, it's just me! Come on, wake up!" Jessie was getting mildly frustrated at being ignored. Finally, she stopped trying and just sat down on the corner of Rowan's bed. One hand played with the bottom of her flannel boxers. She looked at Rowan, smiling at the way she had created a cocoon for herself with her covers. The only thing visible was the top of Rowan's head, dark curls fanned out over the pillow. Jessie wondered whether or not Rowan had heard what she had said last night. What a way to blow a friendship, telling her that you love her!
Understandably, they both knew that there was love in their friendship, but last night she had meant a different kind of love. Admit it, you're hot for her body! Jessie thought to herself. Shaking her head with a sigh, Jessie knew she had no chance of fighting the feelings that Rowan provoked in her Ever since this imp of a woman had taken Jessie to her apartment and tenderly cleaned her up, she had fallen further and further in love with her.
"Hmmm..." A muffled sound came from within the nest of covers.
"Finally," Jessie muttered. Then, in a clearer voice, "Rowan, you need to get up. Remember, we're going to mom's today." They had promised Jessie's mother that they would come by and help her with inventory at the bookstore she owned downtown. And while she had employees to help, she needed some strong arms to do some heavy lifting.
"That today?" Jessie could barely make out the muffled question.
Sighing, she tugged at the covers at the head of the bed, hoping to uncover her Rowan's face. Finally, after a small tugofwar battle with the other woman, she was able to see Rowan's flushed sleepy face.
"Yes, that's today." Carefully studying the familiar face, Jessie saw dark circles under her blue eyes. Placing her hand under Rowan's chin she lifted the face until they were eye to eye. "Hey, if you really would rather stay here, you can. Mom can make do with just me. It's not a big deal."
Shaking her head, Rowan tried to keep Jessie from worrying. "What would I do here? Nah, I'll come, I just have to get myself out of bed." With that suggestion just out of her mouth, Rowan felt herself lifted completely out of the bed and flung in a wide circle. She hadn't even seen Jessie moved, just felt her arms around her. "Jessssiiii!!!" Giggling as she flew through the air, strong arms acting as anchors, keeping her from harm, she realized it felt good to relax with Jessie again.
Finally, she was put down and she walked, still dizzy from her "ride", unsteadily toward the bathroom. A large hand gripped her elbow just in time to keep her from careening into a wall. Looking over her shoulder, Rowan saw the Cheshire Catlike smile on Jessie's face. "Since it's your fault I'm dizzy, you can walk me to the bathroom!"
Stepping in front of Rowan, Jessie bowed low and answered in a deep voice. "Yes ma'am. This way, ma'am." With that, she proceeded to pick up Rowan and carry her to the threshold of the bathroom. "Are you going to be able to shower okay, or should I help you with that too?"
Grinning lecherously at Rowan, Jessie realized that she wasn't sure if she was kidding or not. She felt ridiculous having said it and then actually putting some hope into the idea. Right eyebrow raised, Rowan answered. "No, I think I'll be okay, thanks."
Once again bowing, Jessie comically tugged her boxers up as she stood, then turned and left Rowan to her morning shower.
Freshly showered and dressed, Rowan and Jessie stood outside of their building admiring the day before them. Wisconsin weather wasn't known for being predictable. Madison often had nice days in Spring, but once Summer hit, it was usually too hot to enjoy. It being July, both women had dressed with as few clothes as possible, figuring that the humidity would already be thick in the air. Surprisingly, the day was rather cool even with the hot sun still beating down on the city, as though the two had been fused together and created this perfect day of enjoyable warmth.
Lighting a cigarette from a pack of Marlboros, Rowan took a long drag and then held the pack to Jessie. "Nah, still can't handle it, thanks." Looking wistfully at the cigarettes, Jessie wished she could have one, but knew that after what happened to her only a few days ago she would get sick as soon as she inhaled.
"Are you sure that you're up to going to your mom's today?" Rowan asked Jessie quietly, not wanting to offend the woman. "I mean, it's only been two days..." She let the sentence drift off, not wanting to complete it aloud. Only two days ago I thought you were dead.
It had been an ordinary car jacking in the north side of Madison. At least that's what the official police report said, but Rowan had known there had to be more. Jessie failed to come home one night and hadn't called, so she knew something had to be preventing Jessie from contacting her.
Turned out she was right.
The kids who jacked her blue Pontiac were working for Nicolas Kosta, the biggest drug lord in Madison. Kosta ran a drug ring that had started in Chicago ten years ago, and had wound its way to Madison over the years. Back in the Windy City, when Jessie had been involved with that scene, she had turned over some vital information about Kosta to the cops which turned into a major investigation of the man's supposedly legitimate import business. The investigation didn't manage to catch Kosta involved with anything, but it had slowed down his drug trafficking for about two years. Having lost a lot of business because of Jessie Blackman, Kosta had put a ransom on her head.
Luckily, the kids were amateurs, just trying to get the money. After they captured the enraged Jessie, they didn't know how to get a hold of Kosta. But they didn't give up right away, keeping Jessie in the back room of their apartment, after injecting her with sedatives to keep her from hurting them.
For almost a week, Rowan used all her connections within the University of Wisconsin and beyond trying to get help. She couldn't accept the fact that Jessie could be dead, she knew she had to be alive. Never having been so frightened in her life, Rowan had spent many nights awake, thinking about life without the woman who had become such a major part of her life. She couldn't face the possibility, which made her examine her feelings more closely, wanting to avoid the thoughts which were causing her pain. The answer was obvious Jane Austin would have seen it right away. Rowan was in love with her best friend!
The thought had shocked Rowan, she hadn't seen it coming. It wasn't like she was new to the idea of a romantic relationship between two women, but she had thought she'd put that behind her. Her feelings for Jessie, although just recently realized, were too strong to ignore. She couldn't deny it. She was in love with her best friend.
Her world already rocking, it got worse when she realized that she might not ever get the chance to expand their relationship. Jessie was missing, maybe dead. Rowan felt out of control, scared, and more alone than ever before. Her life was shrinking and disappearing before her very eyes.
During the five days Jessie was missing, Rowan cancelled all her classes and put all her energy into finding some link to Jessie. Finally, a student of hers came up with some news.
Romero didn't hang out with the best people, most of them into the drug scene. Romero himself didn't have any habits in his life, much less one that involved drugs. When he heard the rumor that some chick had been kidnapped and was holed up in a small apartment off campus, Romero did some digging and found out it was Jessie Blackman, the rather famous exdrug lord. He knew that his English 101 professor was very close to the kidnapped woman. Professor Thies had helped him his freshman year to realize that he had a talent for writing. Without her guidance, he'd probably still be a business major.
He knocked on her apartment door and when the door was finally answered, a surprised Rowan answered the door. Romero told her what he had heard and saw her face go from ash gray to vivid red. Even going so far as to tell Rowan the easiest way to get into the apartment and the habits of the men who were keeping Jessie. Romero made it clear that his name couldn't be involved with this in any way. From that information it didn't take Rowan long to rescue Jessie.
She found her tied to an old bed by lengths of torn sheets, her eyes blindfolded with a towel. Empty syringes littered the floor around the bed and the whole place had a sweet odor. Looking closer, Rowan could see that someone had been using Jessie's body as an ash tray. Burns from cigarettes littered Jessie's skin.
Shaking as she untied the drugged woman, Rowan could see that Jessie had vomited on herself several times. Talking in a soft soothing voice, Rowan struggled to get Jessie to move with her as she tried to get her out of the apartment before anyone came back. Finally they were able to get out of the dingy apartment. Just as they rounded the corner to Rowan's beat up Toyota pickup, Rowan saw two of the kidnappers rounding a corner. Quickly pulling Jessie into an alley, Rowan watched as the men casually walked by their hiding spot. The men continued to their apartment with their backs to Rowan and Jessie. Hauling Jessie into her truck, Rowan sped out of the neighborhood, not looking back until they were far away.
* * * * *
Sighing to herself, Rowan could almost feel the flood of emotions that had washed over her when she realized that Jessie was safe. "What's the sigh for?" Jessie's voice broke into her thoughts.
Walking the half a mile to the bookstore, Rowan had been using the time to rehash what had happened. Jessie respected the silence, but the heartbroken sigh that came from her friend's lips worried her.
"You sighed. I asked what it was for."
"Oh. Just thinking, I guess."
"Funny, you look like someone who just lost her best friend."
Taking a deep breath, Rowan decided to admit the hurt she went through. "I thought I had."
Throwing a long arm over Rowan's slender shoulders as they walked, Jessie pulled her in closer. "I keep doing that, don't I? Disappearing, I mean."
Shrugging, but not bothering to move away from the other woman, Rowan answered quietly. "Yeah. You say that I get into a lot of trouble, but you seem to get into a fair share yourself."
Smirking, the taller woman shook her head. "You manage to get into plenty trouble. Since the first day I met you, as a matter of fact," her face turning serious as she contemplated the idea. "I guess," she paused to find the right words, "trouble has always followed me, but I don't think I deliberately provoke it."
Snorting, Rowan stopped at the front door of Shakespeare's Closet, a broad smile on her face. "And I do? Yeah, right." Opening the door to the store, Rowan continued to protest that statement.
"Rowan! Jess, glad you two could get your butts out of bed for me!" A petite woman with thick hair, gray strands interweaving with ash blonde, walked toward them. Grabbing the smaller woman first, she hugged Rowan tightly to her. Then, turning to her daughter, she gave the tall woman a special smile before wrapping her arms around her and pulling her in closely. "I'm glad you're here." The statement meant more than just having their help. Since Jessie had been 17 Anne had worried about losing her daughter. But in the last five years she had gotten her back. The scare a few days ago made Anne realize that she could be taken away from her again at any time.
"Anne, neither one of us would miss your annual inventory for the world!" Rowan spoke to move them away from the emotion brimming on the edge of everything they did. The three of them had all suffered their own version of the inferno in the last week and it was hard for them to be together without the sentiment associated with the incident overcoming them. Knowing Jessie hated too much of the 'touchyfeely' type of thing, which Rowan secretly believed was because emotion made her feel weak, she tried to steer them to business.
Mouthing a thank you over her mother's head, Jessie watched as Rowan got a tour of the newest additions to Anne's comfortable used bookstore. Anne wasn't as tall as her daughter, but she still had a few inches on Rowan, nor was her body the well toned muscle Jessie was so proud of. No one would call her soft, she just wasn't built either. In her 58 years she had taken good care of her skin and figure, but she wore those wrinkles and rounded edges that she did have as a sign on honor. She'd made it through 58 years and she'd be damned if she wouldn't make it through 58 more!
Watching the two women together, Jessie felt her thoughts pull in a direction she didn't want them to go. Her mother was so comfortable around Rowan, like she was another daughter. Rowan loved Anne, partly because they both shared a love of the written word, but mostly because Anne was just sweet in general. Watching Rowan among the books brought a smile to Jessie's face.
Studying the glowing look on Rowan's face, Jessie admired the way the slight woman carried herself. Rowan knew she looked years younger then she was, placing her at about 18, but she carried herself with an edge. You only needed to get close to her to see that behind the youthful looks was a woman who knew what she wanted in life and went after it with her entire being.
Jessie was proof of that. Five years ago, when she had found Rowan stuck in the shrubs she had felt an immediate reaction to the woman. Not so much a sexual reaction, but just one that left her feeling oddly comfortable in the woman's presence. Comfortable was something that she seldom felt with other people. Most would describe her as intense and unreadable, but there had been something about this woman that made Jessie want to get closer. That, of course, scared Jessie. After they had gone to Rowan's apartment and gotten cleaned up, she made an excuse to leave, but Rowan wouldn't let her. Simple as that, Rowan kept her there with conversation, trying to break down the barrier around the tall, stoic woman's emotions.
Definitely not happy at the way she was betraying herself, Jessie finally was allowed to leave, but only after promising she would meet Rowan for lunch the next day. It was a date that Jessie hadn't intended to keep, but did.
There was a familiarity between them that neither one of them could ignore. It was stronger than they were, and it defeated any attempts to be overthrown. They spent more and more time with each other, mostly talking. Rowan had told Jessie about growing up as an orphan. One day when Jessie was feeling extremely low, she broke down and told Rowan about her life in Chicago. She had stayed away from the subject because she hadn't wanted to scare the younger woman off. She didn't know how this clean cut English professor would handle her stories of crime and drugs.
But Rowan had surprised her. Sitting there, hands clasped, Rowan listened quietly and intently to everything Jessie had said, tears occasionally falling as she related some of the things that had happened to her. When she finished, Jessie couldn't look Rowan in the eyes, afraid that she would see the hatred she'd seen so many times before. Seconds passed before she felt two small hands cup her cheek, guiding her face until she was looking into tear brimmed eyes.
"I am so sorry, Jessie." Was all she said as she put her arms around the other woman and held her tight.
That was the same night Jessie cried for the first time in ten years. Sobbing in the other woman's protective arms, she felt the shame and the guilt come pouring out of her, all onto the willing young woman who had the strength to take them on.
"Yo, Jessie, wake up!" A large man with dark skin waved his beefy hands in front of the woman's face. She looked like she was very far away, only her eyes moving, following Rowan as Anne took her from bookshelf to bookshelf.
"Yeah Mark, I'm here." Her gaze never wavered, never moving from Rowan's form. It was hard for her not to look at the woman she loved when that woman was in the room with her.
"When are you going to do something about this?" Mark asked quietly, his voice not carrying further than was needed.
"Bout what?" She asked absentmindedly. Jessie truly had no idea that Mark realized what was going on.
"About you and the Prof," he explained impatiently. His habit of using nicknames for people came from his days as an informer for the San Francisco Police Department. He felt better about tattling on his friends when he didn't actually use their names, so he had to come up with inventive titles for them that would be easily recognized by the cops. Rowan he either called Prof or Sunshine, both of them fitting the brunette. Jessie, he called only Jessie or Jess, learning a long time ago that she didn't appreciate his nicknames.
"Huh? Don't know what you mean." She spoke slowly, her concentration being on Rowan, loving the way Rowan's clothes rippled over her skin when she moved, betraying the well toned body. It was hypnotic for Jessie, something she could spend hours doing and probably would if she could do it without getting caught.
Mark had reached the bottom of his tolerance level. "Come on woman! You can't keep it to yourself for the rest of your life! Do something about it!" He had raised his voice and was using his hands in wide gestures to emphasize his point.
That finally got Jessie's attention long enough that she actually looked at him. It was the look in Jessie's eyes that made him wonder if he had pushed her too far. Her golden brown eyes darkened, flecks of green coming out in contrast as she glared at him and started to move forward, her blonde hair swaying behind her. Backing up, Mark put his hands up in a meek surrender, but that didn't keep the woman from advancing on him. Two hands came from behind Mark and grabbed his waist stopping his backward movement.
Rowan moved out from behind the large man, keeping her hand on his waist. She looked up at him, her blue eyes shinning. "Hey MarkyMark, haven't seen you in such a long time, and what do you do? You upset my friend here, which let me tell you, is NOT a good idea." Looking up at Jessie, concern written on her fair face, Rowan saw the tension in her face, her hands clenched at either side of her body. Time to break this up.
Again turning to Mark, Rowan pointed to where Anne was standing with a few boxes of books. "Anne needs some help, Mark. And you're just the person for the job!"
"Sure, Sunshine, no problem." One last worried glance at Jessie, the large man moved to where Anne was and began to move the boxes.
Her eyes downcast, Jessie heard rather then saw Rowan moving closer to her. Looking up, she saw a pair of brilliant blue eyes penetrating her own gaze as though trying to read her thoughts. "You okay?" Rowan asked in a soft voice, reaching out and grasping Jessie's tapered hand in her own.
Forcing her eyes away from Rowan's, Jessie looked at their hands together. "Yeah, sure, fine."
"What did Mark mean? What is it he wants you to do something about?" Rowan had almost felt like Mark had been yelling at her, telling her that she needed to tell Jessie how she felt. Of course, right away she realized that Mark wasn't yelling at her, and that what ever he was talking about would be completely different then her own thoughts cause Jessie didn't harbor feelings like that.
What do I tell her? I can't lie to her and I sure as hell am not going to tell her the truth! If I alienate her now, I'll lose everything I've got. Taking a deep breath, Jessie finally spoke. "You wanna go outside for a smoke?"
Shrugging, Rowan agreed, figuring that Jessie needed not only the fresh air, but the space as well. "Mom, we'll be right back, okay?" Jessie yelled to her mom as they walked out the door, not bothering to wait for an answer.
Once outside the two women sat down on the curb, close, but not touching. Rowan reached into her jean shorts pocket and pulled out a dented pack of cigarettes. Searching for a lighter, she almost jumped when a warm hand touched her own.
"Here." Jessie held a lighter up. With a flick of her thumb she produced a flame. Reaching with her other hand to steady Rowan as she inhaled, Jessie fought the urge to just hold on forever.
"Thanks," Rowan said closing her eyes as she took a deep drag on the cigarette.
"State Street's busy this weekend." Jessie spoke matteroffactly. And, she was right, it was busy.
The street was closed to all traffic but the Metro buses and police cars. Bikes flew by in all directions and storefronts were filled with miscellaneous Wisconsin memorabilia. One end of State Street touched the UW campus, housing the Student Union on the lake, a library, the Historical Society building, and the University Bookstore. The street extended for several blocks before it ended near the capital building. Bars and stores lined the street, taking advantage of the university near by. During the summer, while there weren't as many students around, there were plenty of people who visited the town to see the school and to shop on State Street, grabbing up the UW shirts and other mementos.
Shakespeare's Closet was pretty much in the middle, with Exclusive Company on the right and a Pakistani restaurant on the left. Various people were out today, walking their dogs, shopping, riding skateboards and bikes, some in a hurry, others taking their time. A large group of grungy almosttwentysomething kids walked by, laughing loudly, smoking proudly.
Rowan loved to sit on the curb and just watch people going by, enjoying the diversity found within the people who haunted the street. A piece of the Madison pie, a unique location where everyone was welcomed, no one shunned.
Sighing for the millionth time that day she turned to look at the face of the woman who was sitting on her right. Jessie was watching the people passing by, her face impassive. As though she could feel the eyes on her, Jessie slowly turned her head and looked back at Rowan.
"There's a, uh...situation that Mark seems to know about, something I'm dealing with, and he thinks that I should stop sitting on my ass and do something about it." As she spoke, Jessie turned her head away from Rowan's eyes, now staring off into the street before her.
This little gesture, a small sign, made Rowan's heart leap into her throat. For a minute, she thought she was going to choke, she couldn't breathe. Her biggest fear for the last five years was that Jessie was going to get tired of her company and leave her. While it was true that they were best friends, their friendship went beyond the normal. The chemistry between them was electric, felt by those around them. She knew now that Jessie held a large piece of her heart and soul in her hands, and if she were ever to leave, she would take that piece with her and she would never be whole again.
Unable to stop them, tears welled up in Rowan's eyes. Trying not to let the other woman see her crying, Rowan jumped up and face away, smoking with furious wrenching actions.
She's mad cause she thinks I'm keeping something from her. Jessie realized as she watched Rowan. To be honest, she was keeping something from Rowan, but it was for her own good.
Not knowing how to handle the situation, Jessie sat there miserably torn. How could she tell Rowan anything? How could she just ignore the strain it would put on their friendship? She was ready to sit there all day, but then she saw Rowan's shoulders shaking and realized that something was wrong.
Getting up, Jessie took two steps until she was behind the other woman. One hand went to Rowan's shoulder. "Hey, what's wrong?"
The soft voice and gentle touch almost made Rowan jump. Taking a deep breath, afraid to let it out, Rowan blurted out what she was thinking. "Are you going to leave?" Her voice held so much fear that it made her cringe.
Stunned, Jessie spun her around until they were face to face. Seeing the tears and the woebegone look on the beautiful face, she immediately realized what was going on. Pulling Rowan into a tight embrace, she cradled the woman against her body, marveling for a second at the way their bodies fit so perfectly together. Pressing Rowan's head into her chest, stroking the soft hair, she whispered softly as Rowan continued to cry.
"No, no, sweetie, I'm not going anywhere. That's not what's going on here, it's something...something I haven't told you cause I'm...I'm.." dammit, why can't you just admit it you idiot! "I'm afraid."
"Heradfradiddt?" Came the muffled reply. Long arms loosened their hold on the slim woman, but didn't let go. Raising her head, Rowan looked questioningly at Jessie. "You're afraid?" Fear was something that just wasn't associated with the exdrug lord.
Bringing one hand up to wipe at the tears on Rowan's chin Jessie gave her a little smile. "Yeah, I am." What she didn't say aloud was that she was afraid of losing Rowan. That scared her desperately. "But, I assure you, I'm not leaving. It's just something I need to work out with myself. I promise that when I get it figured out, I'll tell you, okay?"
Staring at Jessie, Rowan was drawn in, physically and spiritually. Her body seemed to move on its own accord as she leaned up and placed her lips on the other woman's. Just a brief touch before Rowan realized what she was doing and pulled back. For a split second they looked at each other until Rowan put her arms around Jessie's waist and hugged her tightly.
As they stood there, arms around each other, they both relaxed against the other's body. Neither wanted to let go of the reassurance they gained from the contact. The tears had stopped, but Rowan wasn't willing to let Jessie go just yet. Before she could stop herself, her mind wandered back to the night before, when she had been the one doing the comforting. She hadn't slept at all, she just laid there, watching Jessie sleep. I wonder if she remembers anything that happened, Rowan mused. Sighing, she realized that it didn't matter if Jessie did remember anything she had said was out of sleepy delusion, not truth. Taking it to heart would only leave her wishing for something that would never happen.
Absorbing the feeling of being close to the woman she truly loved, Jessie took in the smell she always associated with Rowan. A light scent of roses always drifted off the woman. Rowan laughingly called it her signature scent, and anytime Jessie thought of Rowan the distinct scent came wafting through her mind with the thoughts.
Pulling back, Jessie looked at Rowan with a hesitant smile. "I suppose we should get back inside before mom wonders if we've taken off."
Nodding, Rowan knew that they had work to do before they could really be alone again. "Let's get to work, then." Taking Jessie's hand in her own, she led the way inside.
At the sound of the bell on the door, Anne turned away from the computer behind the counter. "It's about time, you two. I was beginning to think you'd run off!"
Rolling her eyes, Jessie bent her head and whispered "I told you so" in Rowan's ear, causing her to laugh.
Looking suspiciously from one woman to the other, Anne decided not to mention anything about the tear streaks on Rowan's face or the fact that they were holding hands and standing very close. She didn't want to ask because she was afraid she'd be disappointed. For two years now, Anne had known that Rowan and Jessie were deeply emotionally enmeshed in each other. She had hoped they would explore that further, but it never seemed to happen.
Putting the two women to work, Anne paid close attention to the way they acted with each other. Gentle touches, almost caresses were used instead of words. She'd never seen her daughter so gentle with anyone or anything. It was obvious what was happening. Anne wasn't blind. But, she did wonder if Jessie was.
Her daughter tended to ignore herself. As a child, Jessie had lived an amazingly normal, suburban life with her mother. Jessie's dad had left them soon after Jessie's birth. Anne didn't blame him, a child was a big responsibility. Truth be told, Anne didn't really care for her husband all that much, she just married him because it was expected of her. In the end, he gave her a beautiful daughter. But, he also left behind a daughter who always thought she had done something to make her father go away. Anne believed it was that pain which caused Jessie to turn to the life she did. Doing drugs, selling drugsit was an escape for Jessie. However, Anne saw something that Jessie didn't. Jessie was too smart to be led. She was a natural born leader. That was Jessie's best and worst quality; a blessing and a curse all in one. Sighing, Anne shook herself out of the daydream. She'd always loved her daughter and now she was just glad to have her back.
Hours sped by as the four workers pulled books from the shelves, checking the books against what they had on printouts. Jessie would narrow her eyes and glare at him everytime they came face to face while Mark tried to stay clear of Jessie, not wanting to piss her off further.
Finally, Anne decided to go out for some food for everyone and told Jessie that she was coming too. Having learned not to argue with her mother, Jessie brushed her dusty hands off on her jeans and followed her mother out the door.
Late afternoon, the air was a bit heavier, but still pretty decent; not too hot or humid. Walking up State Street to Rocky Racoco's, Anne was quiet as she enjoyed the outside air, letting the calm help her organize her thoughts before she said what she was meaning to say.
Jessie, on the other hand, was getting her defenses ready, knowing her mother was going to say something about the tension between her and Mark. She didn't have a lot of patience, but because it was her mother, she tried to wait. It wasn't easy.
"You love her, don't you?" Anne spoke quietly, not looking at her daughter.
Jessie opened her mouth about to say, "He started it!" when she understood what her mother had actually said. She didn't need to ask who it was Anne meant it was the person who was most on her heart and mind. God, does everyone know? She thought to herself. Aloud she spoke with more calm. "It shows?" There was a sort of defeat in her voice, knowing she couldn't carry off the charade with her mother she had with Mark.
"Oh yes, quiet plainly. I can see it in your eyes when you talk to her, look at her."
"I didn't know I was that easy to read," the younger woman said simply, a fact stated.
Patting her daughter's broad shoulder, Anne was quick to dismiss that idea. "I don't think you're easy to read, but you have to remember that I'm your mother, and I know you better than you realize. The general populace of Madison is still unaware, I think." No response came from Jessie who was wondering how this had gone so far. It had just been something in her head, just something in her heart, and now, people were seeing it. How had that happened?
"When are you going to tell her how you feel?" They'd reached the door for Rocky's, but Anne had blocked Jessie's attempted to open the door, forcing her to look into her mother's gray eyes, demanding an answer.
"Mom, I can't tell her!" Jessie was getting very frustrated, wanting to put the idea back into her head and leave it there, rather then having her emotions spread out in front of her.
"Why not? You know she loves you too."
Jessie had never entertained that thought. "She does?" Her voice was unbelieving, not able to comprehend the possibility.
Laying her hand on Jessie's, Anne smiled. "Yes honey, she does. But, she's scared like you. One of you has to have the guts to admit what you're both feeling."
"But, she's...I mean, she's never shown any interest in other women before..."
"That's because the only woman she's interested in is you, and you can't see that." Finally opening the door to the pizzeria, Anne triumphantly entered Rocky's leaving her bewildered daughter outside.
As Anne and Jessie carried two bags of hot food back to the bookstore, they chatted lightly. For Anne, just having a daughter again was a treasure and she tried to take advantage of it when she could.
The front door of Shakespeare's Closet was wide open as they approached. Anne flashed her daughter a curious look and then started to proceed toward the door. Before she could go through the door way, a long arm caught her by the waist, pulling her back.
"Let me go first," her daughter's voice hissed into her ear, sending a chill down her back.
Jessie's eye's narrowed as she looked through the door way. She could see Rowan staring back at her from inside, her eyes wide. Taking a step into the store, Jessie froze when she felt the barrel of a gun poke into her back. Eyes darting to where her mother had been, she saw a large man holding a gun to her as well. Looking back at Rowan, two additional men were now standing near her, guns drawn. Continuing to look around the room she saw that Mark was on the floor, his temple bloodied, but Jessie's discerning eyes caught the movement of his chest, indicating that he was still alive.
A body closed in from behind, pressing into Jessie's back. Revulsion swept through her as she smelled the sweet smell of pot wafting off whomever was behind her.
"Come in JB, come in! We've only been here at few minutes, you didn't miss much!" A high pitched male voice whispered into her ear as a hairy arm snaked around her waist in a familiar way.
Looking at Rowan, seeing the fear in her friend's eyes, anger welled up through Jessie's body. A faint pounding started in her head as the anger consumed her. I've got to get control, I can't lose it now. If she were alone, she would have already fought back against the man holding her, but she wasn't alone. Rowan was here, and she wouldn't let them get Rowan. Then, there was her mother, her mind reminded her. Can't let anything happen to her either. Thinking in more logical thoughts, Jessie was able to reign her anger, saving it for later when she could use it. Right now, she had too much to lose.
Taking a deep breath, Jessie put on a fake smile even though the man behind her couldn't see it. "Nick!" Her voice was sickeningly sweet. "I'd have thought you'd have forgotten my name by now!"
Understanding the game, Nicolas Kosta released his arm from her waist, sliding into view, his gun now aimed at her chest. Grinning back at her, he swept a hand through his longish black hair. "JB, you're worth remembering. I remember everyone who cheats me."
Faking a look of shock, Jessie moved her hand to her chest. "Me? Cheat you?"
Smile turning to snarl, Nick moved forward and shoved the tip of his gun under her chin. "You think that there's something special about you that you can get away with shit like that?" Spittle formed on his lips as his rage consumed him. "I'm here to show you that you're no different then any other scum bag!" Drops of wet saliva hit Jessie in the face, but she didn't blink at all, her smile mirthful, her eyes cold and menacing.
"What do you want Nick?" Her voice was even, despite the gun pressed forcefully against her throat.
Drawing in a deep breath, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand, Nick glared with beady eyes at the calm woman before him. She used to scare him, that cold gleam in her eyes like razor sharp objects being projected through the look, catching whomever had displeased her.
"You gave me my start, and for that I wanted to thank you." He drew back, giving a little mocking bow in her direction. She took advantage of his dramatics, grabbing the hand that held the gun.
As Nick cried out in pain, his fingers held in a rock tight grip, three more armed men came from the back room, all aiming for Jessie's head. Snarling in their direction, she put the drug lord's body in front of her. A cry of pain from the other side of the store caught her attention.
No! Her mind screamed as she saw Rowan's gunman grab her hair forcing the smaller woman to her knees. No choice left, Jessie let go of Nick.
No sooner had she let the man loose then one of the men from the back room brought his fist painfully to her temple.
"NO!" This time the word was said aloud, screamed in fact. Rowan watched as Jessie's body crumpled to the floor. Struggling against her attacker's hold, she tried vainly to get loose.
Snickering, Nick watched the young woman valiantly try to come to Jessie's rescue. Casually walking around waist high bookshelves, trailing a finger over the bindings, he approached the woman. "Awwww...did we hurt your little girlfriend?" Bending down so that they were face to face, he ran his finger over Rowan's pale skin. "Poor thing! But," he outlined her quivering lips with his fingertip, "maybe I'll take you with me and show you what you're missing out on being with her."
About to touch her lips with his, Nick's head jerked up as he heard the sound of fighting. The big man they had knocked out earlier was up, coming straight for Nick. His men tried to stop the big man, but were knocked out of the way with one swipe of a trunklike arm.
Instinct first, Nick raised his 9 mm and fired.
"Mark, no!" Rowan cried out but was too late. Mark's body jerked back when the speeding bullet struck it. Managing to catch his balance for a split second saved Mark from falling backwards, but the shocking pain forced him to his knees. A growing red stain grew just above his stomach.
"I'm....sorrry.." He spoke only seconds before blood started to stream from his mouth. Choking on the liquid in his lungs, Mark fell forward with a sickening thud.
Tears streaming from her eyes, Rowan waited for Mark to get up, not able to comprehend what had happened. The armed men around her backed away, noticing the wild look in the woman's eyes.
With a look of disgust, Nick looked away, deciding that maybe this woman wouldn't be the one to take. Remembering something, Nick looked to one of his men. "Ralf, wasn't there another one? Came back with Blackman?"
"Yeah Nick, the older broad. Smithy took her outside to the car till you decided what to do with her."
Smiling, Nick pounded Ralf on the back. "Wonderful, wonderful! Then I'd say it's time to get going. Tie both women up. Make sure the ropes are tight." Looking at Mark's body and the steadily growing pool of blood, he gave a little laugh. "I don't think you're going to have to worry about tying him up!" His laughing continued as he walked out the front door to the waiting car.
* * * * *
Sensations came slowly back, flooding her brain. She was lying on her side and whatever she was lying on was hard. Temple throbbing with short blasts of intense pain, she tried to move her arms, but couldn't. Finding the same thing true about her legs, she made the decision to open her eyes. That was easier said than done. The pain in her head didn't help as she tried to get her eyes to open. Finally, they cracked, opening onto a spinning world.
"Agggghh..." Jessie moaned, quickly closing her eyes again, hoping to stop the spinning.
"Jessie!!" A worried, familiar voice cried out, causing the pounding in her head to get more intense. Then, the feeling of soft skin against her cheek, skin that smelled of rose soap. A voice murmured over and over again, something about being happy and loving...something, Jessie's brain couldn't pick up the words or register what was being said. Soft kisses were placed on her cheek.
Despite the fact that she had only felt those lips on hers once, Jessie knew instantly who's lips they were. "Rowan?" Her voice sounded funny, cracked.
A cheek once again rested against hers, a voice spoke softly into her ear. "Jessie, I thought you were dead!"
"I'm dead?" She whispered back, still not registering what was being said.
"If you're dead, how come you're talking to me?" Rowan's logic stumped her.
"Must be a dream. How'd I get to heaven?" She mumbled as she felt herself lose consciousness again, but not before a set of extremely soft lips found hers.
Jessie was in a very strange place. Looked like any other street corner in any city, except for the fact that there was no one on the street. No cars. No people. She was completely alone.
Taking in the sight of the buildings, Jessie stopped and held her breath. No sounds whatsoever. None of the usual city noises that were created from the massive amounts of people, cars, busses, crime.
She started walking up the street, looking into windows. Peering through one, she saw a familiar body. Running into the building, she fell on her knees in front of the body, and, with strong arms, she lifted the person into her lap.
Rowan's eyes opened slowly as she realized that someone was holding her. The corners of her mouth crinkled as she saw Jessie's concerned face. Opening her mouth, she started to speak, but once again, Jessie couldn't hear anything. Rowan's mouth kept forming words, not realizing that Jessie couldn't hear the words she was saying.
"Rowan! Rowan, I can't hear anything!" Rowan starred at Jessie, eyes wide. She had seen Jessie's mouth move, but no sound had pierced the air.
Moving her arms, Rowan tried to tell Jessie what she had said with gestures, only to confuse her more.
Finally, after Rowan was almost in tears with effort, and Jessie felt a deep pang in her stomach, Rowan leaned into Jessie, full lips moving with sureness towards Jessie's mouth.
All Jessie could do was sit there, eyes wide, as Rowan kissed her with heated passion. Frozen, Jessie finally tightened her grip on the woman she was holding and returned the kiss.
Tongues performed an intricate dance, moving in and out of both mouths, competing for space. Melting into Jessie, Rowan almost seemed to be a part of her as the heat between them grew.
Finally, Rowan pulled away, her eyes almost glowing with passion. "Jessie," she said, and they both heard it. With an excited move, Rowan repeated the name over and over.
* * * * *
"Jessie? Come on, Jessie! Please wake up. Come on!" Rowan looked at the pale face, blood that had finally dried on the noble temple. Her arms having been tied behind her back, Rowan used her own face to caress Jessie's cheek, trying to wake her up. "Dammit Jessie!" She almost yelled at the still woman, then in a much softer voice she finished, "I need you."
Jessie couldn't die on her. Not now, not before she told her. Rowan did need herin her life, not just in this situation. Placing small kisses on the comatose woman's face, Rowan marveled at the soft skin her lips glided over.
Without realizing it, she had drifted to Jessie's mouth and was now kissing the woman's lips with her own. Shocked and a bit disgruntled, Rowan almost pulled back, but then she felt it. A response. It had been weak, but it had been there nevertheless. Jessie's lips had kissed her back.
Within seconds, the feather soft kisses that Rowan had been placing turned to more passion filled, openmouth kisses. Jessie's tongue first entered Rowan's mouth surprising the woman who was quick to return the deed.
It wasn't until Jessie moaned against Rowan's lips that she got a grasp on her emotions. Pulling away from the other woman, Rowan looked carefully at the face before her. Slowly, two golden colored semicircles appeared, and after a few more seconds, they opened fully, to focus on the passion filled blue ones watching her.
"Hi," Jessie spoke, her voice a bit raspy, dry from lack of moisture. She knew how she'd been awakened, up, the idea putting a sly smile on her face.
Blushing at being caught, Rowan gave her a shy smile in return. "Hi. How do you feel?"
"Come closer and I'll tell you."
Awkward because of her tied hands and feet, Rowan moved closer, expecting Jessie to whisper into her ear when the other woman's lips caught her own. Pulling back slightly, Jessie looked deep into the other woman's eyes.
"I've wanted to do that for so long." Whispering as a result of all the emotion running through her, Jessie tried to reach for Rowan with her arms, only to find that she couldn't move them.
With a groan, Jessie tested the strength of the bonds holding her arms behind her back. Scooting her backside around, she managed to get where she could brace herself on the wall and sit up.
"Man, I thought this part was the dream!" Muttering as she looked around her, Jessie finally remembered something. "Rowan, I think I can get us outta here, but I need your help."
"Anything Jess, just tell me what to do."
"Anything?" Jessie gave Rowan a wicked grin.
Attempting to raise an eyebrow, Rowan looked back at her without smiling. "Anything."
That caught Jessie off guard as she tried to remember what it was that she was talking about in the first place. Rowan was right in front of her, and Jessie could feel her presence without looking. As her eyes traveled over the woman's body, she remembered what she had been getting at. "My knife, it's in my boot. Do you think you can get it?"
"I can think of much better things to have in my mouth, but sure." Moving till she was close enough to Jessie's booted feet, Rowan leaned forward. Carefully moving the bottom of Jessie's jeans with her face and nose, Rowan felt cold steel against her skin. Maneuvering her head, she managed to grasp the handle of the knife with her teeth, carefully pulling it out.
"Ow wat?" Rowan spoke with the knife still in her mouth.
"Um, go ahead and drop it. I can get it with my hands and cut through the rope." Rowan did as she was told, dropping the knife with a clatter onto the tiled floor.
All business now, Jessie scooted to turn herself around, and carefully picked up the knife. "Okay, now turn around so that your hands are facing mine." The smaller woman complied. "Rowan, just don't move. This is going to be hard enough as it is, I don't want to cut you." With careful precision, she brought the blade down onto the rope, cutting through fibers with slow and deliberate strokes. Her hands were sweaty and as the blade made its way through the rope, Jessie felt it slip out of her hand once. Catching it before it fell, she knew that the knife had cut Rowan because of the woman's quick intake of breath. "Ro, I'm so sorry."
"I know, it's okay. Just finish up so that I can get you untied."
Quickly, Jessie cut through the rest of the rope. Rowan sighed in relief when her hands came free, then turned and took the knife out of Jessie's hands, and cut through the rope around her friend's wrists.
Not wasting a minute, Jessie got her feet free and stood up. Legs cramped from being on the floor for so long, she hobbled over to where Mark's body lay. Congealed blood coated the floor in a sprawling pattern. Without checking his pulse, Jessie knew the man was dead.
Taking a deep breath, she turned and looked at Rowan, surprised to see the quiet strength found there.
"Jess, we've got to get going. He took your mom," Rowan said quietly.
Jessie's pale face got paler as she felt the emotional blow. "He...he...took her?"
With two swift strides, Rowan was at her side, touching her arm. "I'm sorry...he...he...wanted to take me, but..." tears streamed down her eyes, realizing that she could have taken Anne's place.
Pulling Rowan closer, Jessie whispered into her ear. "No, don't wish it had been you. You know my mother wouldn't have let that happen." Stroking the dark hair, feeling its silky strands, Jessie immediately began formulating a plan. "We're going to find her, don't worry about it."
Taking Rowan's small hand in her own, the blonde turned it over to look at where she knew there would be a cut. "Damn," she muttered when she saw the long thin slice on Rowan's palm.
Seeing a dark cloud pass over Jessie's features, Rowan tried to pull her hand back. "It's nothing, really Jessie. Doesn't hurt at all."
With a toss of her long blonde hair, Jessie ignored her friend, motioning towards the bathroom. "Come on, we need to get this cleaned and bandaged."
After getting the wound cleaned, Jessie saw that while the cut was long, it wasn't very deep. "It doesn't look too bad, but I want to bandage it to keep it clean." Jessie opened the cupboard under the sink, routing around for a few seconds before standing up triumphant, first aid kit in hand. Rowan was quiet as Jessie bandaged her hand.
"Are you okay?" Almost shyly, Jessie looked at the beautiful face she'd recently kissed.
"Jess, we need to find your mom, that's most important." Rowan spoke her head down. She enjoyed the attention from Jessie, but felt guilty at the same time. Mark's dead, Anne's been abducted, and here I am getting turned on by a woman who thinks of me as her little sister! No, her feelings weren't right at all. She couldn't set herself up like this, the fall would hurt too much, like it did last time.
"Hey, look at me!" The touch of a warm hand under her chin brought Rowan out of thought. Golden brown eyes discovered blue as they looked at each other. "We will find her, but we need to take care of ourselves too, okay?" She watched as a reluctant dark head nodded consent. "First, we need to call Mike in Homicide, tell him what happened and let him handle everything here. Then, gather some stuff we need and go hunting for mom."
Again, Rowan nodded, only smiling when Jessie put a large hand on her cheek, caressing it lightly.
Because she had helped the police in the past, Jessie knew most of the local force. The Crisis Center also made her known as someone who wasn't afraid to jump into a car and single handedly end a domestic fight turned nasty.
During one of her first hero attempts, Jessie was shot by an angry, drunk boyfriend. Before the police got there, the man turned the gun on himself, dying from a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
New to Madison and to the Crisis Center, Jessie was immediately questioned after she woke up from surgery. Doctors and nurses shooed at the police in the background, but they did nothing to lessen the determination the homicide detective.
Firing off question after question, the police officer began to have a better understanding of what happened. "Why did you go into the situation knowing that the boyfriend was armed?" Shock wasn't strong enough to describe the emotion Detective Michael Moore felt.
Pale from loss of blood, Jessie tried to explain her motivation. "I...I...just couldn't let him hurt her." Giving a weak, one shoulder shrug, Jessie knew that couldn't begin to cover her anger at domestic abuse.
It didn't answer all the questions, but it made Mike respect the beautiful woman who'd risked her life. Looking at her now, he saw the shiny mane of blond hair, the finely sculpted face. And a scar. Standing on her left, he hadn't seen the scar until she turned his way.
Running from the corner of her right eyebrow, it made its way to the right side of her mouth, stopping at lusciously full lips. Judging from the color, Mike guessed that the wound that had caused the scar happened a few years back. This skin around the scar was still puckered, causing the skin to tighten on that part of her face. Catching him starring, a corner of Jessie's mouth lifted in a sardonic half smile. "Not pretty, huh?" Her hand moved up as she gently felt the raised skin.
"Why..." Mike didn't finish, unsure if he should take liberty here.
"Why didn't I get plastic surgery?" Looking off past Mike at the hospital wall, her eyes unfocused, she seemed to be starring into the past for her answer. Minutes went by as he waited for what ever came next, never taking his eyes off the woman's face. Without warning, Jessie's hand fell back to the bed, her eyes instantly focusing. "I need this to remind me of who I was, and why I don't want to go back to that."
Finally moving his eyes off of Jessie's face, Mike reached into the breast pocket of his shirt. "I'm leaving my card if you need anything." Placing the business card on the stand next to the bed, he smiled. "Or if you just want to go for a cup of coffee or something."
The detective was almost haunted by Jessie after he left. Keeping tabs on her condition, Mike waited until after she was released from the hospital before calling her for that cup of coffee.
They spent a good 45 minutes talking and having a good time before he got the courage to ask her out on a more serious level. She was quick to put a damper on his idea. He should have known when she paid more attention to the red head behind the counter than to him, but Mike decided that his hormones had blinded him.
"So, can I see you again sometime?" Sincerity coated Mike's words as he looked at the woman next to him.
"Mike, I thought you knew."
Oh shit, Mike thought, she's involved with someone.
"I'm a lesbian."
"Huh?" Dumbfounded, Mike's mind went blank, making it difficult to process what Jessie had just said.
"You know, I like other women?" Her voice was kind enough, but he still felt the blood rush to his head, pounding in his ears.
"I'm...I'm..." Stammering, he looked at his hands resting on the small table they shared.
"Don't apologize," she said with ease. "I thought you knew."
The noise of whirling cappuccino makers suddenly grew louder as both wondered what to say.
"So," Jessie finally broke in. Leaning closer, she whispered, "What do you think of that redhead?"
After Mike got past his initial embarrassment, they cultivated a solid friendship. Both were reserved with emotion, something that made it easier for them to trust one another. They never had to worry about misunderstandings or hurt feelings that often occurred with those people who put great faith in emotion. Their friendship was soaked in mutual respect and a significant understanding of how the other one dealt with life.
* * * * *
Within 15 minutes of Jessie's call, there was a knock on the back door of the bookstore. Showing Mike in, Jessie's serious face warned the detective. He would need to keep it on a professional level.
All business, Mike pulled out a pad of paper, fishing a pen from his pocket. "Alright, let's hear it." It was a simple statement, without pretense, direct and to the point. But, despite the simplicity of the question, the answer, they all knew, would be much more complicated.
Running a hand slowly through her blonde hair, Jessie let a long breath out before she spoke. "A man...from my past..." It wasn't easy to finish. Guilt flowed through her body, causing an ache Jessie was unfamiliar with. "He decided to use those I love against me."
"Who." Mike clipped the word off without a question mark, not looking up from his pad of paper.
"The drug lord?" Seeing a nod from the corner of his eye, he finally raised his head, eyebrow inching up.
"He killed Mark....and....and..." She couldn't finish, a feeling of helplessness overwhelming her. Just as she felt herself ready to break, an arm snaked around her waist, infusing her with new strength.
"They took Anne," a soft but strong voice finished for Jessie. Jessie allowed herself to momentarily take refuge in Rowan's arm around her.
Realization crossed Mike's face, but he didn't press Jessie with words of comfort or sympathy. He knew her well enough to know the effort wouldn't be appreciated. Swinging his gaze to Rowan's large eyes, he gave her a small sympathetic raise of his mouth. A ghostly mirrored motion appeared on Rowan's face.
Leaving the two friends to console each other, Mike pulled a pair of latex gloves out of his jacket pocket as he moved toward the center of the store. As he approached the still form on the floor, his body went on automatic, kneeling near the corpse, noting everything he saw. After recording his initial findings in his notebook, he thought of the two women in back.
He had already met Jessie before she saved Rowan. In a way, he was one of the few people who knew the "before and after Jessie" before Rowan and after Rowan. The difference over time had been huge. Jessie was still Jessie, but parts of her personality that she'd kept buried were uncovered. Her sensitive nature surfaced more often now, although she still tried to gruffly hide it if it were pointed out.
Mike attributed this change to Rowan. He had thought at first that they were lovers, especially after Jessie moved in with Rowan. But, Jessie was quick to change that assumption. Only, instead of convincing him that "Nothing was going on with Rowan", Jessie's vehemence only convinced him that she definitely had specific feelings for Rowan. He never pushed it though. Instead, he watched in silence, as the two friends grew closer. He knew love when he saw it.
Finished with his onsite investigation, Mike got up and went to find Jessie.
He found Rowan and Jessie standing quietly in the back room. "Can I use the phone?" was all he asked; a nod from Jessie was the only response.
Reaching his department, Mike gave his assessment and asked for a squad from Homicide to come to the scene. Hanging up, he went to update Jessie and Rowan.
The Madison morgue would be sending a team over to deal with the body. Homicide would come in and record their findings. Overall, it was going to be a bit of a madhouse, but they could leave if they wanted.
"I'll take your statements later. Trust me to make sure that everything goes smoothly here, and you go and take care of yourselves."
Looking at Rowan and realizing that they had to get moving if they were going to find Anne, Jessie nodded in agreement. "Let me do one more thing," she said quietly.
Walking toward the front of the store, Jessie stopped when she reached Mark's body. Bending at the waist she placed two fingers on her own lips and kissed them. Pressing them to Mark's forehead, she spoke softly. "I'm sorry my friend. I promise you that he will be found and he will pay for what he did to you." With that, she got up and quickly wiped the tears that were welling in her eyes.
"Ready?" She looked at Rowan as she approached the woman.
"Ready," Rowan replied with a sigh.
* * * * *
Silence reigned as they quickly walked back to their apartment. Jessie's mind worked quickly as she planned her next step. One thing she'd decided she wanted Rowan to stay behind. As soon as she verbalized her decision, Rowan reacted.
"If you think I'm going to wait here while you go after that asshole, you are more crazy than he is!" Scarlet splotches highlighted Rowan's face as anger welled up. How dare Jessie try to leave me behind! Rowan thought, her mouth unable to form the words.
Mentally rolling her eyes, Jessie realized she'd have to tie Rowan up to make sure she didn't follow. No, she couldn't treat Rowan like that, at least not under these circumstances. A grin formed unknowingly on her face.
"What the hell are you grinning for, I'm serious!" Voice raised another notch, Rowan snapped Jessie out of her brief fantasy.
"Ro, sit down." Seeing the woman wasn't going to budge, she added, "Please?" Jessie pointed to a spot on the edge of her bed. As the other woman sat grudgingly sat down, Jessie kneeled on the floor in front of her.
Filling her lungs with air, Jessie held it for a count of ten before exhaling. Finding Rowan's eyes with her own, she saw them clouded with emotion. She came close to allowing herself to be pulled into her own emotions, Jessie shook her head before speaking.
"Rowan, it's not that I don't want you with me. With your kick boxing skills, you'd be welcome. There's no one I'd rather have by my side," she paused as she let her own words register, finding it to be the truth in more ways than one. "Nicholas Kosta is a man who is ruled by greed and power. I used to be just like him, but in some ways, worse." Rowan couldn't imagine her Jessie, the Jessie who just this morning she held in her arms, could be anything like the man who took Anne. With chagrin she recalled the cold gleam in Jessie's eyes when the drug lord had held a gun to her throat.
"I have to go back into a world that I've spent the last six years trying to forget. I don't know how I'm going to react." Pausing, Jessie broke eye contact, letting her head hang forward so that it almost touched Rowan's thighs, she sighed. "I...I don't want you to be disappointed in what you see in me. It's not exactly something I'm proud of." Bringing her eyes back up, she took Rowan's smaller hand in her own. "I also don't want you to get hurt. I'm not willing to risk that."
Being that Rowan usually went through life with her heart on her sleeve, it was difficult for her not to grab Jessie and confess her feelings. For the first time in her 30 years she bit back the urge to share what she was feeling. If she were to lose Jessie she'd never be able to live with herself. It would be like losing a piece of herself. The tears freely filled her eyes as she thought about it, fear filling her heart with a stabbing pain.
"I...appreciate how you feel, but I will not let you go alone." Placing shaky fingers on Jessie's lips, Rowan stopped the words of protest. "Jessie, nothing I learn, nothing I see, will change how I see you. I know your past is horrible, but I also know you've worked hard to change that." Removing her finger, resisting the urge to caress the face in front of her, Rowan gave a small smile. "Plus, I know something you don't." Jessie's eyebrows shifted together in question. "I can see the light in you," she finished simply.
Acceptance was reached by both women. Jessie wouldn't be leaving Rowan behind and in turn, Rowan was aware that this wouldn't be a clean and easy task.
Standing, Jessie grabbed a black Nike sports bag from her closet. "We need to pack a few things, then we're leaving."
Kneeling in front of the closet, Jessie pushed clothing and blankets out of the way until a small safe was revealed.
Reaching deep into the closet, Jessie pulled out a box of tampons. Grinning when she saw Rowan's eyes narrow in question, Jessie emptied the box out. After the last tampon hit the carpet, Jessie reached into the box and Rowan heard the sound of the cardboard box ripping. Pulling her hand back out of the box, Jessie opened her hand to reveal a small brass key. Fitting the key into the lock on the safe, she turned the key and carefully pulled the door on the safe open.
Watching curiously, Rowan's eyes widened when Jessie pulled out a sleek black handled gun.
"Whoa, didn't know THAT was there!" A light humor belied the apprehension Rowan felt.
With a wiry smile, Jessie looked at Rowan. "Just a little something I picked up in the Girl Scouts."
Pulling out several prefilled clips, Jessie slid one into the base of the handle, snapping it into place. Putting the other clips into the bag, she grabbed a few more before shutting the lid of the box. Standing, she tucked the gun into the waist of her jeans, pulling her shirt out to conceal the weapon.
"What can I do?" Rowan's voice was soft, having never seen Jessie's proficiency with weapons first hand. She found it surreal.
"Uh, you probably should grab us both an extra change of clothes. Put them into a separate bag."
"Okay," Rowan replied as she rose from the bed, grateful to actually have something specific to do.
Continues in Chapter Seven
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