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DISCLAIMERS: Xena, Gabrielle, Janice, and Melinda are property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I'm borrowing them for fun with no intention or expectation of monetary profit. The other characters are mine, and are covered under the poor man's copyright.

SUBTEXT: Maintext, as far as I'm concerned. In fact, that's the whole point. This story concerns two women in a romantic relationship, and is mildly graphic (probably an R at the movies). If you are under 18, or this bothers you, or is illegal where you live, please leave now.

I would love feedback. (This is my first time, and I'm pretty nervous.) Please contact me with comments or suggestions at Homophobic vitriol, however, will be jettisoned into electronic oblivion.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

part 2

by Sandakat

"Dinner?" asked the doctor, not wanting the day to end yet.

"Sure, I know a nice little place on Sunset, not far from here." I can't believe I've spent the whole day with her and still want some more, mused Dina as they drove. It just feels so comfortable, like we've known each other forever. A touch on her hand made her jump, then smile happily as Rene's hand slid over and grasped hers, staying there until they reached the restaurant, and reclaiming it after.

Rene pulled the car up in front of Dina's apartment and turned off the engine. They'd reached that most awkward part of a first date, saying goodnight. A twitchy silence filled the car. Rene held the steering wheel in both hands and stared straight ahead. A heartbeat passed, then two

The firefighter reached over and gently turned Rene's face toward her. "I had a wonderful time. Thanks for inviting me. If I didn't have to get up at 5am, we could talk all night." Leaning over, she kissed the doctor. Soft lips touching, hands caressing faces, communicating so much more than simple attraction, completing a connection grounded through all time. A third heartbeat, a fourth. They pulled apart.

"I'll call you soon. I, uh, want to see you again. And here's my number." Dina hastily pressed folded piece of paper into the blonde's hand, amazed at her own forwardness. "Goodnight." She started to open the door.

"Wait." Rene placed a warm hand on Dina's arm, freezing her in place. "I had a great time with you, too. Thanks for coming. Let's find some time together soon." She kissed the taller woman's cheek. "Goodnight." Grateful for Dina's first move, she released the firefighter into the night.

Driving back down the freeway toward home, she rubbed the back of her neck and felt a sense of loss as the familiar tingling receded.

Dina flipped and flopped in bed like a landed fish, for what seemed like hours. She finally got up, making a circuit of the apartment, checking all window and door locks, then went back to bed, mysteriously calmed.

She was sitting waiting for someone to come. "Must be students." She was in her gi, holding a ceremonial sword. "Forget it, they're late." She rose and stepped through the door.

Her broadsword was filthy with gore. Worn out as she was, it had to be cleaned. Settling herself on a rock, she started polishing it with a rag.

After a few minutes, Gabrielle lifted her quill and looked up from her scroll. "I bet that sword is pretty clean now." She touched Xena's knee. "After beating 12 of those thugs, I think you could probably use a back rub." The bard knew that suggesting that the warrior was tired or sore would only make her stubborn. But she seemed to like the back rubs. "But, gods know, it's an excuse for me to touch her."

A thankful light lit the blue eyes. "I'd like that."

Gabrielle came behind her friend and started kneading the powerful neck and shoulders. "Gods, you're tight. Why don't you take off your leathers and lie down and let me do this properly?" There was a hitch in the warrior's breathing and, under her hands, the bard could feel her pounding heart.

Xena hesitated, then nodded. She pulled off her leathers, and wearing only her breeches, lay on the blanket, by the fire, head pillowed in her arms.

The bard sat straddling the taller woman, and started gently working out the knots in her neck and shoulders, moving slowly down her back. She ran a thumb lightly up her spine and massaged the base of her skull. Light, fluttery touches traced the length of her sides and ran back up to her shoulders. Xena's breathing quickened, but the prone woman didn't move.

"Your arms are so strong." Gabrielle used both hands to massage one shoulder, moving out onto Xena's arm and forearm, and ran a finger, like a breath, over her hand, before replacing it under the ebony tresses. "I'm envious." She started up the other one. "I really enjoy touching them." "There, I said it." She kissed Xena on the cheek and moved to sit next to her on the blanket.

One blue eye peered up, as if seeing her for the first time. An eyebrow rose and lowered. The warrior lifted her head. "Thanks, Gabrielle, that felt so good, I'd like to do the same for you."

Gabrielle gulped, her body suddenly leaden. An unrecognizable look lit Xena's face. It wasn't threatening or predatory. It was gentle, but hungry. The bard trembled slightly. "Be careful what you wish for "

The warrior propped herself up on one elbow, as Gabrielle tried not to stare, and patted the blanket. "Take off your top and lie down." Wordlessly, the blonde complied.

Xena sat on her heels, kneeling next to her bard, and spread her large hands over her back. They rested there momentarily, then began to roll and push, loosening and relaxing the muscles. ""She's gotten so much stronger in the past two years, Xena thought, admiring the smaller woman under her hands.

She worked her way from her back to Gabrielle's shoulders and neck, then stopped and placed a small kiss between her shoulder blades. The bard twitched.

"Don't move, not done yet." Xena turned around and moved lower. She gently started massaging one of Gabrielle's muscular calves, kneading down toward her feet. Using her thumbs, she lovingly explored her arch.

"Like this?" She started on the other one.


"This OK?" She lightly caressed a thigh.

"Feels very good." Gabrielle mumbled, amazed that the blanket hadn't caught fire with her heat.

Xena tickled the other thigh.

Too late to turn back. She'd wanted so long, waited so long. "Might as well jump into the deep end of the lake". "Xena, it always feels so good when you touch me."

"Turn over."

It took two tries, she was trembling so hard.

Xena placed her hands by Gabrielle's shoulders, and lowering herself, kissed the bard on the lips. Softness, gentleness, protection and love. The bard's body jerked when she felt the timidly questing tongue run over her lips, but, holding the warrior tightly, she answered in kind.

Xena's hands started to move again. Gabrielle would've sworn that she couldn't get any hotter. But she did. The flames built higher and higher until they exploded in a cry she didn't know was her own.

After, they held each other. "I love you," they said in unison.

"My turn," whispered Gabrielle into her love's ear, and gently rolled Xena onto her back. Momentarily distracted by a frightened young doe crashing through their camp, she turned to pull a blanket over them

Dr. Covington pulled the sheet up over the woman's abdomen.

"We're going to need some xrays," she told the patient. "Wait here, the tech will come to get you." She turned and stepped through the curtain, out of the room.

Rene wasn't exactly sure what had awakened her, but, after staring around the room, decided it was nothing. Snuggling the blanket up around her neck, she fell back asleep.

They watched Channel 4 that night before Rene went to work because Erin thought the permatanned weatherman was cute. Footage of the latest fire filled the local news. Eight engines and four hook-and-ladder trucks showered water down on the fully engulfed building. Firefighters pulling hoses seemed to be everywhere. Police strained to hold back the crowd of onlookers.

"What engine is your friend on?" Erin asked as they slouched on the couch.

"Dina, 145," replied Rene, searching for the numbers on the engines. "Can't tell if she's there. If I see her tonight I'll ask."

"Tonight? Didn't she work today?"

"They work 24 hour shifts."

"Oh." Erin frowned in distaste.

"Police still have no suspects," droned the poorly coifed newsman. "The accelerant has been identified as a simple fuel known as white gas, easily available from any sporting goods store. Next up, cat rescues owner from drowning."

"On that happy note, I'm going to work. I've got three nights in a row. See you in a few days." She threw on a black sweatshirt, ominously silk screened with "Detroit Receiving Hospital, the Bullet Stops Here" in red, and grabbing her lab coat and stethoscope, ran out.

It was a busy shift, six people from two car accidents, a heart attack, multiple sick babies, a kidney stone, a miscarriage, pneumonia, Rene didn't have time to realize she hadn't seen Dina until 5am. Over a quick sandwich, eaten while filling out charts at the doctors' desk, she had a fleeting flashback of their goodnight kiss. Something besides the sandwich fluttered in her stomach, and escalated into a full gut clench as she suddenly remembered last night's dream.

Subconscious on overtime, humph. Her face felt warm. Wonder when she's working again? Ah ha, she'd know. The doctor's gaze had fallen on a nurse who was famous for her appreciation of the men of the fire department. She got up.

"Mary Lou, got a minute?" The nurse nodded and came over. "Can you explain how the fire department schedule works to me?"

May Lou smiled a prettily dimpled smile at her. "Oh, Dr. Covington, who you got your eyes on?" she asked, in her slight southern drawl. "I haven't seen you paying no one no particular mind. Anyone I know?"

Rene crossed her arms and tried to look like an authority figure. "Now that would be telling, wouldn't it? Actually, it was just a thought. I was curious."

Mary Lou looked dubious, but proceeded to explain how to read the LAFD calendar to Rene.

Dina would be off tomorrow, then work the next 24 hours. She'd be off for four days after that.

"Thanks." Hmm. She sat back down to her charts.

"Anytime, Doc, good luck."

The blonde looked up at the nurse and gave an uninterpretable, closed-lipped smirk.

Ring. Ring. "Hello, you've reached the home of Rene and Erin, please leave a message."

"Hi Rene, this is Dina, just saying hi. I guess you're still asleep. Hope I didn't wake you. Bye."

Ring. Ring. "Hello, you've reached the Pakadios residence, please leave a message."

"Hi Dina, this is Rene. I got your message. I was asleep. No, you didn't wake me up. I sleep with earplugs. I guess you're out. Call me if you get a chance. I'll be at work tonight and tomorrow. Hope you're doing something fun. Bye."

Bzzz, bzzz. "Rats, it's busy. Well, gotta go to work. I'll try tomorrow."

Bzzz, bzzz. "Oh well, it's busy. Too late to call again. She has to go to work. I'll try tomorrow."

Dina was not having a good day. Here it was, midnight, and they were getting back from their eighth call of the day. No fires, just EMS calls: engine dispatched with the ambulance for manpower. She didn't mind those calls like a lot of firefighters. It was kind of interesting watching the paramedics sort out some of the medical situations, and trauma was always a kick, but it made for a long, tiring day.

To make matters worse, the phone had been tied up all day. One guy was having simultaneous wife and girlfriend problems that seemed to require multiple phone calls to each. A few others were working on big plans for the weekend. Hence, no open phones. When one would become free, invariably, they'd get another call.

She took off her headphones, stepped down, out of the engine, and walked over to the long line of hooks on the wall. Her coat hung, she stepped out of her turnout pants and rubber boots into some pull on sneakers. More comfortable now, in shorts and her work tee, she came around the engine, deep in thought, wondering when she would see Rene again.

Ray Bowen was hopping around, lewdly re-enacting his last date to an appreciative audience of a few of the guys. Dina's sudden appearance caught him by surprise. Whirling around, he caught one foot on the other and lost his balance.

He crumbled to the ground, screaming and clutching his ankle. The others stood, momentarily unsure as to whether or not this was a joke. When he continued to scream, they rushed over and pulled off his boot, evoking another howl.

Dina came over and looked. The ankle was obviously deformed, either dislocated or broken. Pointing to one firefighter, she commanded, "You go get the captain," and to another "Get an ice pack. "We'll have to get you to the hospital", she told Ray, who'd finally quieted.

"Now what? Oh, just great." The captain stood, hands on hips, staring down at the whimpering man. He looked over the apparatus floor. "The ambulance is out on a call, we'll have to call one from another station."

Going to the hospital. Ah. An idea hit Dina. "Captain, we have to go out of service anyway, since we're one man down now. Why don't we ride him over? It'll probably be faster. Ray, think you can ride in the engine if it'll get you there faster?"

"Sure, anything, just fix it."

The captain nodded. "OK let's go. I'll call Dispatch and put us out of service."

Six of them boosted Ray up into the engine. The engineer, captain and Dina climbed in. The truck company guys went back to bed as the engine left for the ER.

Wheee!, thought Dina, hiding a grin as she fidgeted with her turnout suspenders, better than the telephone. She was really looking forward to seeing Rene. While she didn't like to see even Ray in pain, her day had suddenly improved immensely. Yep, she's here, she thought when the electric sensation crept up her neck, as they pulled into the hospital.

Dr. Rene Covington was sitting, explaining very carefully to an elderly gentleman why it was so important to take his blood pressure and heart medicines every day and not just when he felt bad. He was pretending to listen. They both knew that the minute he left, he was going back to his old habits.

The tingling started at the base of her neck. She unconsciously reached back and rubbed, then realized the source of the feeling. She's here.

Rene had been semi-grouchy all day. She'd really wanted to talk to Dina yesterday, but they'd played phone tag. Today, the fire station telephone had been interminably busy. But, she was here now.

"Well, Mr. Anayo, you didn't have a heart attack tonight. But please start taking your medicine. We'll get you signed out in a minute." She turned and barely resisted the urge to run instead of walk, out of the room.

The firefighters and the nurses were grouped around Ray's gurney, except for Dina, who leaned against the wall of the room, arms crossed.

The doctor walked over, hands in lab coat pockets. She spared a quick grin for Dina, who smirked and nodded. "What happened here?"

"He hurt his ankle stepping off of the engine," answered the captain, code words for "this is a work comp injury".

"Gotcha." She walked up to Ray and started to examine the ankle as a nurse took vital signs. "Does this hurt? Wiggle your toes. Feel this?" I think it's probably dislocated, but we'll get an xray. Any allergies?"

He shook his head.

"Good." To the nurse she said, "Please start an IV and give him 10 mg of morphine." In full "doctor mode" now, she surveyed the room. The brass were starting to show up for the injured firefighter. Already, an assistant chief had arrived.

"I need to know the exact mechanism of injury. Ms. Pakadios, could you show me exactly what happened?"

"Doctor, he stepped off the running board and twisted his ankle." Dina tried to appear serious, although she had a suspicion of where this was going.

"Is the engine outside?"


"Why don't we go out and you show me?"
They went out through the ambulance doors and around to the side of the engine that was shielded from view. Rene reached up and grabbed Dina's shoulder, pulled her down and solidly kissed her on the lips. The firefighter enfolded the blonde in her arms and kissed back.

They broke apart, but didn't completely let go.

"Great demo, I understand totally now."

"My pleasure, Doctor." They beamed at each other. "Uh, Rene, want to have dinner tomorrow? Have you been to Alice's in Malibu?"

"I haven't been there. I'd like that. What time should I pick you up? No reason for you to drive all the way down and back."

"Six thirty?"

"Good. We better head back in."

"Rene? Maybe you should let go of my hand."

"Right." She sheepishly shoved her hands back into the coat pockets.

Ray was almost asleep from the pain medication and was being wheeled to xray. The crowd in the room laughed and pointed at Dina as they came back in.

She raised an eyebrow. "What?"

Jose Saavedra came over and patted her arm. "I was telling them about getting Ray out of the engine." He looked at Rene. "He couldn't climb down. He was moaning and being a wus. So Dina, she just climbed up into his seat, braced herself and lifted him down. He was so surprised, he forgot to moan."

As the doctor turned to stare at her, the firefighter shrugged. "I wanted to get him in here."

I bet you did, Rene thought, remembering her excitement at the prospect of seeing her friend.

The xray revealed only a dislocation. It was quickly put back in place and splinted. Still groggy, but awake, Ray was rolled into a chief's car for return to the station.

"He'll be out of work for a few weeks. Here's the specialist he needs to follow up with and some instructions." Rene handed everything to the chief.

"Tomorrow", she mouthed at Dina, as they all left.

Back to work. What a great night this has turned out to be. The doctor picked up the next chart.

Legs stretched out, arms crossed, head back, Dina let Rene's warmth carry her back to the station.

With a commanding view of the perfectly breaking waves, surfers and coastline, Alice's Restaurant sits on the pier at Malibu. Never one of "the places" to go in LA, it was a place where the locals could still bring out of town visitors so that they could brag that they'd eaten in Malibu, or go to have good food, and a great view, on their own, and not be overwhelmed by stargazing tourists.

The parking lot was full, so they had to park the Honda on the street, about a block down. A cool breeze blew over the sunset beach as they made their way in and were shown to a prime table overlooking the water.

Shortly after they were seated, Rene shyly took Dina's hand. Rubbing her thumb over the callused knuckles, she said, "I don't know how you got the engine to the ER, but I'm really glad you did. I had tried to call that day and the day before and couldn't get through."

Very distracted by what the feelings in her hand were doing to the rest of her body, Dina managed to say, "I'd been trying to get to the phone all day. I finally had to kidnap the engine. No", she held up her free hand, "I didn't assault Ray. He did that on his own. I owe him one, but he'll never know that."

"Menus?" came a voice above them.

Startled, they quickly pulled their hands apart and blushed.

"Uh, yeah, sure, menus," stammered Rene.

"Look, girls, far be it from me to disturb you," smiled the waitress. "Give me a wave when you're ready for drinks or a menu."

The firefighter looked at the waitress, with her short, black, spiky hair, multiple ear piercings, and labrys necklace, and relaxed. "We'll take the menus now and a wine list, please."

"Gotcha, sister, carry on." She winked and handed them the menus, eliciting a relieved laugh from the pair.

"I just keep getting reminded that this is LA, not Ohio." Rene resumed her grip on Dina's hand. She checked out the room. "Food looks great."

"They have a really good fried calamar Never mind, I remember, no squid. The fish is nice, too."

"Have you been here a lot?"

The taller woman's expression chilled. Even though she hadn't moved, Rene could feel her withdrawal. "I came a few times with my younger brother." With an effort, she returned and smiled at her companion. "Sorry, tough memory. I always had a good meal here and you can't beat the view."

"You're sure?" Rene touched Dina's arm. "We can leave if you're uncomfortable."

"No, I'm fine. I suggested this place, remember? It reminds me of the good times."

They ordered the food and a bottle of chardonnay and relaxed into the evening. Chatting and gossiping about people they had in common, laughing about the idiosyncrasies of their jobs, dinner passed too quickly.

"You going to finish that?" Rene eyed the last two bites of Dina's dessert.

"God, no, I'm going to explode. How do you do it?"

"Pure willpower," the doctor intoned, demolishing the wayward leftovers.

"Thanks, girls." The waitress gave them a wave as they walked out, arm in arm. "Have a GOOD night." She winked again.

"Now what could she possibly mean by that?" The blonde looked up innocently at her taller companion.

Dina placed her arm around Rene's shoulders. "I'm have no idea," she answered as they walked toward the car.

"Hey, that's my car!" Rene took off at a run.

Three young men, with shaved heads, dressed in white tee shirts and very baggy pants, were working at her car.

"Get away from my car!" She ran up and tackled the closest one.

"Rene, NO! Oh, crap!" Dina started running.

A second thug came around the car to help his buddy, who was wrestling with the furious doctor. He reached into the waistband of his pants.

"No!" The firefighter launched herself through the air, landing feet first on his back before he could pull the gun.

The wind was knocked out of him as he hit the pavement. She kicked him in the head, rendering him unconscious. Pulling the first one off Rene, who had started to lose the battle, she gave him two quick punches to the face, rocking his head back, and heaved him over the car into the third car thief. Both fell to the ground in a tangle of limbs.

Grabbing the gun from the unconscious one, she pointed it at the other two. "Get lost, and take your homey with you," she growled. They looked at her and the gun, came around, grabbed their friend and took off running.

The two women watched them go.

"Are you OK?" Dina touched Rene's face. It was dirty and abraded again.

"I'm fine, but I think I'm well on my way to having that permanent bruise." She sat on the hood of the car and started to tremble as the magnitude of what might have happened struck her. "Can you drive?" She held out her shaking hands. "I'm a little too shook up, I think."

Dina wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and pulled her close. "That was the bravest and stupidest thing I've seen in a while. You could've been shot."

"I didn't think. I just didn't want to lose my car." She clung to Dina. "Thanks for saving me again." Despite her state of shock, this moment, holding, protecting, felt perfect. Always one to stand on her own, relying on someone else was so awkward. Not now, not this. I could turn it over to her and be happy. She snuggled into Dina's chest and gave a small sigh.

Dina rested her cheek on the blonde's head. I never wanted to care for someone. Didn't think I was capable. Too late. How could I feel this way so quickly? She knew she should be nervous, terrified even. Instead she was happy. "Complete" came a thought, as if from elsewhere.

She lifted her head, "Let's go." A pause, "Just a minute." She grabbed the gun from where she'd placed it on the car hood. Jumping the small retaining wall down to the beach, she made her way to the water's edge. She leaned back, then flung the gun as far as she could into the inky, black waters of the night ocean.

"OK, I'll drive." They got into the car, Dina adjusting the seat as her knees hit the dash.

"Dina, where are we going? We only have one car. If we go to my place, you're stuck. If we go to yours, I have to drive home and I really would rather not."

"Is Erin home?"

"I think she had great plans for a night at Stuart's."

"Look, let's go to your place. You'll be more comfortable in your own bed. I I can sleep on the couch. In the morning you can drive me home, OK?"

"Sure, OK." Rene made an effort to lighten up. "You know, I think I have a new toothbrush I bought but haven't used yet. It's yours."

"Such an offer, how can I refuse?" She pulled the car onto the road, taking Rene's hand as soon as she could.

The doctor sat, quietly drawing strength from the contact. Slowly her trembling subsided. She began to feel normal again. Dina, sensing this, relaxed as well.

"Where did you learn to fight like that?" Rene asked.

The hand on hers moved to her arm. "Wait," answered her companion, the odd coldness back in her voice. "I'll tell you, but I want to wait until we're at your place."

Rene nodded, feeling acutely the emptiness and loss in her tone, wanting to make it better, to help. But what could she offer this self-sufficient woman? Somehow she knew, there was something in her that fit Dina's emptiness and more. They were the pieces of a two part puzzle, meant only for each other. How could I know that? It's too soon. That's silly. Subconscious on OT again. It's been a long evening, and it's not even late yet.

As expected, the house was empty. They settled next to each other on the couch, Rene sitting on one leg, facing the firefighter, Dina, hands in her lap, feet on the floor, unfocused eyes pointing straight ahead.

"I have to go back to my parents for this. Mom fell in love with Dad back in college. He was charming and handsome, he was Greek. That's our family background. He swept her off her feet. They married after a whirlwind romance.

What he wasn't was a good provider. He did "economic investment counseling". She raised two fingers in quotation marks. "He was always shooting for the million dollar deal, wouldn't settle for less. Well, those are few and far between. There was very little money, and there were three kids.

Mom worked odd jobs, she hadn't finished college. But it wasn't enough. So we moved a lot, in the middle of the night, to avoid bill collectors.

When you move so much, you're always an outsider. Outsiders are the enemy. Kids are so cruel. So, you grow up fighting." Even now, after so long, she still had to tell it in the third person, had to separate herself from the raw edges. "If you do anything enough, you get good at it, whether you like it or not. After a while, you learn to just come in and start the fight and get it over with. If you have to fight anyway, you might as well be top dog from the start. So you learn to win."

So it had become a pattern: move in, fight, move again, fight, move again with no expectation of anything different, except for that one summer with Aunt Melinda.

"A lot of things you learn. Don't get attached to any person or place because you're going to leave " She drifted into silence. You learn not to trust, or love or rely on anyone. Expect to leave any friends you may have. No one stays with you after you go, even if they say they will.

Rene took her hand, feeling the loneliness, the disappointment of those years, the insecurity of such an unstable foundation.

"Sorry, got off track. Anyhow, as we got older, my younger brother and I saw our older brother drift off into gangs and drugs and jail. We knew that wasn't for us, but what could we do?

Things changed for us one summer. It was a whole summer that we actually lived in one place. Mom had put my younger brother, Larry, and I into a YMCA day camp to try to keep us out of trouble. We tried all sorts of things, you know, sports and crafts, that stuff. Among them, we got to try karate.

I guess we both showed an aptitude for it. We were both certainly used to pain. Anyhow, the teacher loved us and talked Mom into enrolling us in his regular classes.

We were so excited about it that we were regular angels at home, did our chores, cleaned our rooms. We even did odd jobs to help pay for the lessons.

Mom and Dad saw us keeping ourselves on the straight and narrow, and realized that this was the reason. So, after that, no matter where we lived or how much it cost, they managed to find the money to keep us in lessons.

We kept getting better, winning competitions, and learning all we could. Finally, we had a plan for our lives.

Eventually, we opened our own studio." She remembered the joy that she and Larry had shared, the hope that maybe they'd salvaged something positive from the wreckage of their childhood. This was the promise of a change. They could create their own lives, their own stability.

"What happened?" Rene knew there was something more, something important that Dina hadn't said yet.

"It went well for four years," Dina continued, as if she hadn't heard. "We lived above the studio, paid our bills, made some money. It was a normal life.

Then one night, we heard noise downstairs after we'd locked up. We were being burglarized. When we went down, we found four of them. Larry was ahead of me. I heard a shot and he screamed.

I, I don't know exactly what happened next. It was like something took over my body. When I came around, I was sitting, holding my brother's body. Three of them were dead. The other will never walk again.

The police questioned me for hours. They couldn't believe that I killed them. I couldn't give any details. Eventually they decided it was self defense.

I closed the studio the next day."

Rene wiped off the tear that rolled down Dina's cheek. Dina looked in surprise. She would've sworn that there were no more tears left.

"I kind of existed in a fog for a few years, living off of the small amount we'd saved. Then I saw an ad, I don't remember where, looking for women to join the fire department. That was a little over three years ago. You know the rest."

She sighed. "I've never told anyone the story before. But, tonight, it was just too close. This'll probably sound stupid to you, it's so soon, but I realized that I care what happens to you. Really care. I didn't think I was capable of caring So many years teaching myself not to But I do. I wanted you to know, to understand." She closed her eyes. Everyone I've ever truly cared about has died. "I'll take a cab home if you want."

The doctor lifted Dina's hand and gently kissed the tip of each finger. "Thank you for telling me. I'm glad you told me." Where were the words she needed? "Too soon? No, not too soon. Me, too. Listen to me, I'm not making much sense, and I'm usually the talker." She stood, still holding the firefighter's hand. "Let me show you how I feel." She bent over and kissed the other woman lightly over both eyes, then pulled her to her feet and led her, without another word, to her room.

Closing the door behind them, she sat the taller woman down on the bed and stood in front of her. Rene took Dina's face gently in her hands and, tipping it up, kissed her softly on the lips.

"Take a cab home? I don't think so." She ran her fingers lightly down Dina's neck, stopping at the first closed button on her shirt. "How do I feel? Like I've known you forever." She kissed her briefly again, starting to worry the button with one hand, finally opening it. "Like I've found a missing part of me." Her fingers trailed down to the next button. "Like I've been waiting just for you, and now I've found you. And I'm not letting go." The next button came open. Using two hands, now, she undid the last three buttons. "Silly, huh?" she whispered into the stunned woman's ear.

Clear blue eyes slowly focused. I'm not being thrown out, not being rejected for what I was, and who I'm not. What did she say? Comprehension crept slowly into her awareness. A tear rolled down her face, its' path interrupted by the timid smile that had quietly appeared.

"Silly? No, not silly. Beyond my wildest dreams, maybe. Silly, never," she answered soberly.

Lips met again, tongues communicating unsaid volumes.

"You," the doctor spoke quietly into Dina's ear, sucking gently on its' delicate lobe, "have on," she nuzzled her way down Dina's neck, stopping to kiss the hollow at base, "too many," running her fingers ever so lightly along one exquisite collar bone, "clothes." She slid the woman's shirt back off her shoulders and onto the bed.

"Me, too." She stepped back, undid her top button, then peeled her blouse off over her head. Her bra quickly followed, landing in a heap on the floor.

Dina reached back to take off her bra as well.

"Here, let me." Rene rubbed her thumb over the silky material, feeling Dina's nipple stiffen at her touch, a small moan escaping from her mouth. She undid the clasp and let the bra join the shirt.

Dina pulled Rene down so that she was sitting, straddling her lap and reclaimed her lips, hugging her close. Both gasped as bare breasts and bellies met for the first time.

"Let me see you." The firefighter leaned back. Holding Rene around the waist, her eyes feasted on her pale, creamy skin, with its' soft blonde downy hair, the firm, round breasts, with their rosy-pink nipples and the softly outlined muscles of her abdomen. "Perfect."

She cupped a breast in her hand, then brought her lips back to Rene's. Cupping became stroking. Two fingers played over her nipple.

The blonde moaned deep in her throat and pulled closer, arms around Dina's neck, crushing her chest against Dina's. She slid her hips tighter up against the firefighter's. Her kiss deepening with the igniting flames inside her, losing herself in the feeling.

Dina's hands moved down Rene's sides to buttocks, pulling them even tighter together. Giving a small growl, she stood, lifting the smaller woman with her. She turned and slowly, gently lowered them to the bed.

Pants quickly joined the growing pile of clothing on the floor.

For a long time after that, all coherent speech was gone, lost in the intensity of a desire and a bond that transcended just this one night.

Afterward, they slept, cuddled up together, Rene with one arm and leg draped across Dina. Her head lay on the taller woman's shoulder, while the firefighter's arm was curled protectively around the blonde's side. It was the best that either had slept in a long time. They'd come home.

The firefighter awoke at dawn to the realization that she couldn't feel her right arm. Rene's head lay on the arm, a peaceful smile gracing her features. She was still on her side, limbs sprawled lazily over the taller woman's body.

Feeling your arm is overrated, anyway, she thought and went back to sleep without moving.

A few hours later, she was awakened again by the tickly-tingly feeling of a finger drawing curly cues around her bare navel, the covers having been pushed down to their hips. She slowly opened her eyes and turned to Rene, who was lying on her side, facing Dina, head propped up on her hand. Sea green eyes studied her intensely.

" 'Morning." Dina smiled at Rene and stretched luxuriously, giving the blonde a wonderful view and an electric jolt through her body. "That's a very nice way to wake up, much better than a blaring alarm."

A grin lit the blonde's face. "Hi. I couldn't keep my hands off you anymore. I've been up for a little while." Her fingers still moved, tracing delicate patterns on the dark haired woman's taut abdomen.

"Mmm. This may be great for waking up, but I don't think it's very good for getting out of bed."

"No?" Rene put on her most innocent look. "I can't see why not." The fingers swept up, circling one breast, then the other before running back down to lightly stroke her inner thigh, just brushing the verge of the curly, dark hair at the base of her belly.

"Maybe I can show you why not." Wrapping her arms around the smaller woman, Dina rolled them both over, ending up on top of Rene, while simultaneously knocking the covers completely off the bed.

"This is nice." The doctor placed her arms around her lover's neck. Bringing their mouths together, soft lips touched. Tongues met and danced, no longer shy with each other, leaving them out of breath and very warm.

"So's that," sighed Rene, arching involuntarily as Dina slid down and nibbled and sucked unhurriedly at one breast. Turning to the other, she lightly ran her teeth over the very sensitive nipple. Rene moaned.

Dina grinned wickedly up, "Do you see, now?"

"See what? Oh. Yes, this is not good for getting out of bed. Oh, no it's not .mmm." Words gave out as Dina blew a small breath across her nipple, then ran a warm, wet tongue around the ever so delicious breast.

She stopped again. "I could try to convince you some more." She kissed her way down the doc's body, stopping above her small thatch of blonde. Planting another kiss, she looked up.

Rene ran her hands through the firefighter's hair. "Oh, definitely," she arched again as Dina lowered her mouth again and reached out with her soft tongue, "conVINCE ME!".

It was a while later before they did emerge, Rene's stomach finally managing to demand their attention.

Erin literally ran into Dina as the firefighter came out of the bathroom after her shower. The much shorter woman looked up at the taller one, dressed in an extra large Ohio State tank top and a pair of Rene's sweat pants that were much too short, her hair wrapped in a towel. Putting her hands on her hips she proclaimed, "Well, now."

Dina crossed her arms, leaned on the door frame and smirked down, saying nothing.

"I told her you were interested."

"Erin!," Rene shrieked at her roommate from her bedroom door.

Erin spun around, both she and Dina breaking into immediate laughter at the sight of the blonde.

"What?" The doctor looked down and realized that her hastily donned tee shirt was not only inside out but backwards as well. "Just a minute." She ducked back into the room and came out again, shirt righted.

"Erin," she placed an arm around her shoulders, leading her toward the kitchen. "How about making a pot of coffee and throwing in some toast for us, hmm?"

"Breakfast, dear?" An evil gleam shone from her eyes. "Rene, it's 2pm. She must've been very interested."

"Go." The doctor gave her roommate a friendly shove in the direction of the kitchen. "Forget the toast."

"My turn in the shower." Indignantly, Rene shouldered Dina out of the way and went onto the bathroom, as the taller woman laughed again.

Over the coffee, the two women decided to have their breakfast/lunch/dinner meal at another place Dina knew, close to her apartment, after they dropped off Rene's bike at the shop.

Halfway out of the door, Dina stopped, touching Rene on the arm stopping her as well. "Do you have to work tonight?" she asked hesitantly. Inside her, alarms were ringing. Too much, too fast, what am I doing? Slow down. She ignored them, listening instead to the silent voice that spoke through all time, that said, "This is the one, the only one. Before, now, always."

"No. Tomorrow night I do." The doctor looked at her questioningly.

"Uh, mmm, well What do you think about bringing a change of clothes and a toothbrush?" She looked away, expecting rejection, some excuse about things to do or just "it's too much too soon."

"Good idea. I was hoping you'd ask." Kissing the stunned firefighter on the cheek, she zipped back onto the house.

"Should I wait up for you?" called Erin as Rene streaked by, carrying a small backpack filled with her clothes.

"No, Mom," the blonde called from the door, giving a small wave as it closed.

"Kids these days, they grow up so fast," Erin mumbled to herself with a smile as she took the TV remote and searched for her favorite weatherman.

Rene had never realized how enjoyable getting caught in traffic could be. There was only one problem.



"I like where your hand is. It feels very nice, but it's making it really hard to concentrate on driving."

"OK. Later then." She withdrew the distracting limb.

"Oh, definitely later."

Dinner was an affair of food, lots of food, especially on the doctor's part, "Hey, a girl has to keep up her strength doesn't she?" Laughter and stolen touches complimented the meal. They lingered, deciding to have dessert, and having nothing more important in the entire world to do than just to be together.

Dina's apartment, the downstairs of the duplex, was a model of Spartan existence. A few Navajo pattern rugs were scattered over the highly polished hardwood floors. There was a spotless kitchen, whose empty counters were done in 1940's tiles and linoleum. A small oak table, with two chairs, sat in a nook off the kitchen. There were two bedrooms, one set up as the workout room, the other had one dresser, one small bedside table and the bed on which lay a plain, pale blue blanket. One picture, of Dina and her brother, Larry, dressed in gis, smiling and holding a trophy between them hung on the wall. A bookcase, half filled with books stood against another wall.

In the living room was the only sign of excess. A large multicolored couch faced an entertainment center holding a huge TV with a VCR and a state of the art stereo. A floor to ceiling bookcase crammed with CDs and cassettes sat kitty corner to it. Videos lay stacked in a second, equally large case on the third wall.

"Wow." Rene walked over and started examining the musical selection.

Dina shrugged, embarrassed. "I, uh, spend a lot of time alone. It keeps me from going crazy."

"You're not alone anymore." Rene crossed the room and hugged Dina tightly as a door opened into the past, drawing through centuries of seeking and finding and becoming one. Home, thought Rene as their lips sought and found each other.

How can she know the exact words, exactly what I've dreamed, what I want, no, what I need? The answer was unimportant. The fact that she did know, that was the important part.

Neither could say later how they got to the bedroom. It was another night of discovery and closeness, talking and heat, ecstasy and blissful sleep.

Dr. Covington looked up wearily from her charts as the paramedics ran the gurney into the ER. "Doc, she's 15 and appears to be full term. No prenatal care. Her water hasn't broken yet, but she's pushing."

"Room 3, now," directed Kay, the charge nurse, a severe, white haired woman, known to all as "Sarge". But only behind her back.

Rene stood up and sighed. Grabbing a pair of sterile gloves, she stepped through the curtain into Lady Catherine's bedroom.

"I found the brush, Kate, it was in the drawing room." Margaret came up behind the Lady, as she sat at her mirrored vanity, and started to brush her soft, midnight hued hair.

Glancing up, she marveled at her own reflection. "Amazing change." The past year and a half had been very good to her. She had cleaned up remarkably well, and to the surprise and delight of both, had discovered that she was only three years younger than the Lady.

Although starting out as a scullery maid, she'd endeared herself to everyone, even Robert, with her cheery disposition, quick smile and endless imaginative tales. Quickly, she had gone from the kitchen, to housemaid, to her mistress" personal servant.

Now, she was less Catherine's servant than constant companion, confidant, and best friend. On nice days, they could be found strolling arm in arm through the park, or window shopping at the finest establishments. They would brush and braid each others' hair for hours or just sit, talking and laughing. Most meals she ate at the main table, retiring to the servants' only when Sir James, Catherine's brother came to dinner.

"Can't believe it's me." Shiny strawberry blonde hair framed a face whose hollows had filled out with a few healthy pounds gained from regular meals. Meals of a size that were famous among the staff. Green eyes shone with the promise of a happy future. The ivory hued gown she wore was of a quality equal to any peers.

"What, Kate?" She caught a smile in the reflection of her friend's face on the mirror. Piercing blue eyes, squinting slightly with the grin, twinkled at her.

"I have something for you." The taller woman stood and, taking Margaret by the hand, pulled her across the room. Snatching a small box from her dresser, she seated them both on the side of he bed. "Open it, please."

The blonde turned the small, carefully wrapped present over in her hands. "What, why " She'd never gotten a surprise gift before.

Catherine touched Margaret's arm and looked into her eyes. "Open it, please," she asked gently.

Margaret peeled off the colorful paper and opened a small jewelry case. Inside sat a gold locket, on a finely wrought gold chain. She opened it. Inscribed inside was "To M, with love, C".

"Happy birthday, Margaret Covington." Lady Catherine took the locket from her friend's numb hands and clasped it around her neck. "Wear it always in good health and happiness." She kissed her cheek.

The younger woman jumped up and stared, again, at her reflection in the mirror. She whirled back to the bed and, grabbing Catherine's hands, sat. Tears flowed freely down her face.

"Oh Lady, Catherine, Kate, how did you know? I've never, ever had such a gift. Oh Thank you I love you." She threw her arms around the woman and held her close.

The Lady laughed. "You mentioned it to Sally, the maid a few months ago. She knows how fond I am of you and told me." She hugged back.

A heartbeat. Two. Blue eyes met green. Three, four.

Catherine let go first. Turning away, she arose and started to pace the room, hugging her arms across her chest.

Margaret, perplexed at the sudden change, stared in silence.

She started to speak as she walked, not looking at her still seated companion. "James is coming to dinner tonight."

Margaret nodded. "Of course, I shall eat with the servants."

"It's not just that, he's bringing Francis Hutchinson with him. He plans to propose."

The blonde felt her stomach drop, all earlier gaiety forgotten. "He seems nice enough," she stated neutrally.

Her distraught friend stopped pacing and sat back down, taking Margaret's hands, again, in her own. "Yes, he would like to see me wed, his strong willed, independent, spinster sister. Such a disgrace." Her eyes burned into Margaret's.

The smaller woman was rocked by their intensity. "I thought it was just me. Now I see."

Catherine continued. "But, I'm not interested in Francis. I'm not interested in any man. Do you understand?" She dropped the other woman's hands and covered her face. "You must think me awful and perverted."

It was Margaret's turn to pace. She stopped and fell to her knees in front of the Lady. "No. No, I don't. I love you. I understand. Completely."

She put her hands on Catherine's knees. "Listen, when my family split up, when my parents died, my brothers and I were thrown out onto the street. I don't know what happened to them. But, I begged and slept out in the cold a lot. Sometimes I was taken in by people. Sometimes out of kindness, sometimes in exchange for work or favors. You know what I mean. But, it was better than starving or freezing to death.

For a time, I stayed with two prostitutes. They had sex with men for money, but they saved their love for each other.

It was a tiny flat, with only one mattress, which I shared with them. Do you understand? I learned I learned that that is my way of loving, too." She stood, looking down at the seated woman. "And I love you."

"I love you, too," came the reply, without hesitation, "Since even before we met, I think. Since the dreams When I saw you on the street, ragged as you were, I knew you were the one."

Margaret touched Catherine's cheek and, bending slowly, lowered her face down to her love's. "Forever." She kissed her lips.

The Lady drew in a sharp breath, sure she was going to faint. But, she managed to rally, and holding Margaret close, kissed back with her entire being.

They finally separated, gasping for air, both faces flushed.

"Warm in this room, eh, Mum?" asked the former street urchin with a grin. "There's much more where that came from, if the Lady wants." She sobered. "I would never hurt you or do other than what makes you happy or force myself on you."

At that thought, the taller woman laughed. "I doubt that would be possible." She pushed some wayward hair out of Margaret's face. "Ah, well, I do believe I am resigned to a happy spinsterhood." She winked. "With your help, a very happy spinsterhood."

The kiss that followed was interrupted by a knock on the bedroom door.

"Lady Catherine? Sir James and Mr. Hutchinson have arrived," came the call through the door.

"Tell them I'll be right there," she called back. "Well, my love, I shall have a talk with my brother. This is the last night you will ever have to eat at the servants' table."

She rose, hugged the blonde again, and walked to the door.

Dina closed the studio door as the last of the students left. Turning off the lights, she stepped out into the hallway that lead to the stairs up to her apartment.

"Dr. Covington, oh, Dr. Covington. The labs are back on Bed 6." Mary Lou set the chart down in front of the doctor, who was sitting, staring into the middle distance.

"Uh huh, thanks." I just can't get my mind off of her. I gotta start thinking here and paying attention. But, it just felt so so right. We fit. More than just our bodies. How could it be? So fast?

"Oh, Doc, the xrays are done on Bed 2."

"Uh huh, thanks." She didn't move. A flashback from the night before raced across her thoughts, leaving some of its' warmth in its' wake. We should slow down. It's got to be only lust. Who am I kidding? It's not just lust. But, the lust is nice Don't go there. I don't want to slow down. Does she?

The nurse put her hands on her hips, grinning broadly. "Oh Doc, the patient in Bed 3's head just turned completely around and now she's spitting fire and calling on the devil in voices." Two other nurses had come up behind Mary Lou on hearing this. Dr. Rene Covington's distraction had been quite the topic of conversation in the lounge tonight. Always very attentive to the patients and nurses, the doctor's attention had definitely been elsewhere tonight.

"Uh huh, thanks what?!" Rene jumped to her feet. "What did you say?" She felt her face grow red as the three nurses burst into laughter.

Mary Lou's dimples threatened to overwhelm her face. She patted the doctor's arm fondly. "Dearie, I see y'all had a good couple of days off, but tonight you've gotta be with us. Just a few more hours, hmm? Then you can go back where you've been. OK?"

Rene stared down at her shoes, hands thrust deep into her lab coat pockets, her deepening blush inciting further laughter. Busted, big time. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. What did you say about Bed 3?" She looked back at the nurses.

"Nothing, Hon, but the labs are back on 6 and the xrays are done on 2. Was my explanation of the fire department calendar helpful?"

Oh no you don't. May Lou was far and away the biggest gossip in the ER. Rene grinned evilly at the nurse, green eyes glinting, "Why I don't know, it might've been. I haven't thought about it." She gathered the charts and walked away, leaving the frustrated woman standing in her place.

Rene had left Dina's early that afternoon, having spent the morning cuddling, talking, touching, laughing and loving. She'd finally torn herself away when she remembered that she didn't have any clean lab coats to wear tonight.

Wrapped around each other, they had stood in the entryway to the apartment, loathe to let go.

"I guess I don't have to tell you I had a wonderful time being with you. Right?" Rene asked.

"Right." Dina held her close, resting her cheek on the blonde's head. Don't want you to go now. Can something feel too good?

She was safe and at peace, her ubiquitous inner turbulence stilled. The subterranean rage that was a constant part of her daily existence had calmed, leaving only an unfamiliar contentment.

"Feels so good," the firefighter murmured quietly, closing her eyes and absorbing the softness and warmth around her, hoping to hold enough that it would last until next time.

"You, too." Rene leaning her head against the taller woman's chest. She felt protected, like a ship that's finally found harbor after being lost alone at sea. Too long alone.

But, they'd somehow managed to tear themselves apart, and here she was now, at work. Sort of.

I really don't want to slow down. Forget want, it's too late, can't stop a runaway train. I wonder if it's too late to call her tonight?

"Hey, Covington, snap out of it. There are patients to see," Kay barked at her.

Rene realized that she'd been phasing out again. I gotta get a grip. You'd think I was a lovesick teenager or something.

Continued, part 3

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

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