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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 4

by Sandakat

The greeting card warehouse was fully engulfed in flames. The paper and inks burned with enough fiercely toxic smoke and dancing fire to delight any arsonist.

On the roof, the nozzle of the two inch hose tight in her grasp, Dina was desperately spraying water on a jet of flame arching skyward through a charred hole in the wood and tarpaper at her feet. Through the steam and smoke, she could barely see others dousing similar burning geysers across the expanse.

The flashing red of the lights atop the multitude of ladder trucks and engines surrounding the building, and the arcing plumes of water from the larger hoses created a perfect backdrop for this Halloween midnight.

She was sweating heavily in the full turnouts, Nomex hood, helmet, and heavy breather apparatus, despite the cool night air. Dragging the hose, she aimed for another hot spot near the box-like structure of the stairway that lead from the first floor to the roof. The firefighter on the back of the hose angled to follow.

A flash of white caught her. Instinctively, she braced herself as the man tackled her. She lost her grip on the nozzle as they fell through the open door of the stairwell. Together, they tumbled down the stairs into the smoke filled building.

Dina landed on her back, the wind knocked out of her from the pain of her full body weight coming down on the scuba-like breather tank. She was again stunned as the man landed on top of her.

"Let it burn! Let it burn! Leave my fire alone!," he screamed as he sat on her and flailed with his fists.

Years of martial arts training took over as she grabbed both of his hands and, ignoring the pain, quickly arched her back, flipping him over her head.

Eyes and throat already burning from the smoke, she struggled to role over. Straightening slowly, fighting to maintain her balance under her heavy equipment and bulky clothes, she gained her feet. A hacking cough almost knocked her back to her knees.

Breather mask, gotta get my mask, she thought as the smoke and heat seared into her throat. She reached up to where she'd hung it around her neck. It was useless. The glass had been knocked out of it as she'd fallen down the stairs. A quick check of her pockets showed that her walkie talkie had also been smashed.

Fighting panic, she looked around her. The heat was overpowering. Flames were devouring the building to her left, but not immediately near her. Thick smoke filled the warehouse, making any exits invisible. Even the stairs, just a few steps away could barely be seen. There was no sign of any of the other firefighters on this side of the building.

Turning toward the stairs, she was suddenly tackled around the knees by the man in the white tee shirt. They slid across the concrete floor, away from the stairs and came to rest near a row of printing presses.

For moments, all either could do was gasp and choke. Dina recovered first, and kicking him away, started crawling as fast as possible to the staircase, trying to stay under the smoke.

She hit the floor hard as he launched himself onto her back. He tried to get a grip on her neck, but couldn't find a way around the back of her helmet's protective brim.

She rocked back and forth, dislodging him. He jumped at her again. Dina rolled out of the way and got up as far as her knees before a coughing fit stopped her.

As he came at her another time, she grabbed his arms and, from her kneeling position, flung him over her shoulder. Over the roar of the flames, she heard a sickening crunch as he hit the press behind them.

Not waiting to see whether he was still moving, she rapidly dropped to hands and knees and crawled about ten feet before she stopped again.

Tears streamed down her face. Trying to wipe her eyes with her filthy, gloved hands didn't help.

It was getting hotter.

Where are the stairs? Can't see them! She thought in mounting desperation. The fire was definitely closer.

I can't breathe! It's too hot! She tried pulling the neck protector up over her mouth, but the Nomex weave was too thick to breathe through.

Another paroxysm of coughing left her retching and wheezing. Gotta find the stairs. Gotta move.

She started crawling again, moving away from the heat of the approaching flames. Sweat mingled with smoke and tears in her eyes. Her breath was coming in great wracking gasps.

Maybe if I rested for just a minute, she thought, unable to go any further. Too exhausted to hold up her head any more, she let it rest on the floor. No, I have to find the stairs. Leaden limbs refused to respond. Gotta move. She moved one arm forward and fell, sprawling onto the ground. Can't see, can't breathe. Move! Arms and legs made vague movements. Move!


Rene really didn't mind working Halloween night. Usually it was pretty quiet, as holidays went. It wasn't a huge drinking holiday, like July 4th or New Year's Eve. The kids, sick from candy, wouldn't start showing up until the next day.

She wandered toward the nurses' lounge hoping for a relatively fresh cup of coffee.

"Hey, Doc, come on in," called Kay from her seat. "I've got a few more minutes on my break. Check it out, there's a huge fire not far from here." She pointed to the TV.

Rene decided against the muddy brown, burnt smelling coffee and eyed the TV. The huge warehouse was blazing despite the best efforts of the LAFD.

A strange, heavy feeling turned over in her stomach as she watched. She sank into a chair, searching, but was unable to read any of the engine numbers. Is Dina OK?, flashed through her thoughts.

"Hey Dr. Covington?" One of the EMT's poked his head into the lounge. "You have a new patient."

"Coming." She got up with a last glance at the TV, and tucking some strands of hair behind her ear, went back to work.

"Dina? Dina?! Can you hear me?," the firefighter yelled, voice muffled through his breather, as he came down the stairs, searching with his flashlight. He'd seen the hose go flying, then she disappeared. She had to be down here.

"Dina? Where are you?" His foot hit something soft. "Oh, shit!"

She lay unmoving at his feet.

Grabbing his walkie talkie he called for help.

She never responded as gentle hands lifted and carried her out.

Something was pressing heavily on her face. She tried to breathe. She couldn't. She was choking. Get it off. Her head thrashed back and forth.

Something was holding her down. Gotta get out of here. Can't breathe, can't move.

She strained against the restraining straps of the ambulance gurney.

"Dina, Dina, relax, you're in an ambulance. It's me, Eileen Barker, the paramedic. Relax, I'll stop bagging." The paramedic, seated on the bench seat next to the gurney lifted the Ambu bag off of Dina's face, replacing it with on oxygen mask.

"What happened?" Blue eyes opened and focused from her soot blackened face. "Why am I strapped down?" She picked up her head and looked down her body.

Her helmet and turnout jacket had been removed. She was in her tee shirt and turnout pants. An IV ran into her left arm at the elbow. Three seatbelt straps were buckled across her at her chest, abdomen and legs, and her hands were tied with padded straps to the gurney side rails.

The paramedic gave a short laugh. "Jose warned us that you're very strong. I thought you might wake up a little disoriented and combative, and didn't feel like having my rig trashed. So, you got restrained. I'll let you loose now." She reached over and undid the wrist straps. "The others stay on in case we take a fast curve." She motioned toward the driver.

Dina realized at that point that they were moving. In fact, they were running 'Code 3' - lights and sirens.

"What happened?," she repeated.

"You fell down a flight of stairs and ended up passing out from smoke inhalation." The paramedic checked her IV fluids.

"I didn't fall," she replied, turning her head to look at Eileen, as her mind cleared. "I was attacked on the roof. Some white guy in a white shirt. We fell down the stairs together. He might still be in there."

Eileen frowned. "That kind of sounds like the guy they're looking for, the arsonist. I'll relay that to the incident commander." She keyed the mic on the ambulance radio and repeated Dina's story.

"Lucky for you, you didn't break anything," she told Dina when she was done. "Tough chick, huh?" She smiled and winked at the firefighter.

Dina had to smile back. " 'Spose so." She lay her head back on the gurney. "Still hard to breathe, though."

"We're here." The ambulance slowed and stopped. The door opened as the driver came around to the back of the rig.

"Rene," Dina whispered to herself. The electric tingle ran up her neck as she was wheeled through the emergency department doors.

2am. The ring of the paramedic radio blared through the ER. Rene had a sudden jolt of directionless dread as she heard it.

"Dr. Covington," the nurse came straight to her after the call. "We've got an injured firefighter coming in. Bad smoke inhalation, was unconscious, now awake and oriented, but in some respiratory distress," Rene was informed in the verbal shorthand of the ER.

The dread returned. "OK, thanks, call Respiratory to get here now and get the intubation equipment ready." Dina? Please, no. She thrust her hands into the pockets of her lab coat to hide their trembling. Turning away, she walked into the room to await her patient and to cover her rising panic.

Two nurses and the respiratory therapist joined her as the ambulance siren was heard, approaching rapidly.

The familiar thrill ran up the back of her arms and into her neck as the ambulance pulled up. Oh, Dina, no!

Her worst fears realized, Rene fought hard to stay on her feet as the room swam before her eyes. Painfully aware of how bad it was to try to be the doctor for your own loved ones, she was also even more aware that she was the only doctor in the ER. She had no choice.

I can do this. Gotta maintain, can't fall apart. I hope it's just smoke. Please, don't be burned.

The "doctor" took over as the ER doors opened and the paramedics wheeled Dina in.

"Doc, we don't know how long she was down. She was unconscious when the firefighters pulled her out of the building," the paramedic reported to the deceptively calm appearing Rene. "She woke up with oxygen and fluids in the ambulance. No other signs of injury."

"Thanks, Eileen." Rene reached over to help the paramedics move Dina to the ER gurney and found her and clasped in Dina's strong grip.

"Hi, Hon. Sorry to come in this way. I'll be OK. It's just a little hard to breathe, that's all." She lifted her head to meet Rene's eyes.

The doctor took in the soot and tear streaked face, the slight bluish tinge to the firefighter's lips, despite the oxygen, and the deep, labored breathing. But, the lover caught the spark of fear underlying the bravado.

Oblivious to everyone else, she clung to Dina's hand and stared into her eyes. Tears ran down her face.

"Oh, Dina "

"Hey, Doc, can we talk to Firefighter Pakadios?," came a voice behind her. A fire chief and an LAPD captain had walked, unnoticed, into the room.

With great effort, she pulled herself together, wiped her face with one hand, then turned to the men. "Give me just a minute to check her first," she answered, pulling her stethoscope from her pocket.

"Vitals?," she asked the nurse.

"BP 120/80, heart rate 120, respiratory rate 40, pulse ox 85% on 10 liters of oxygen," she answered.

Rene gazed back at her lover. "Dina, I've got to look in your nose and mouth for soot and listen to your lungs. Ready?"

Dina nodded.

Using the otoscope light, Rene looked in. God, there's soot everywhere. She listened, and heard both wheezing and the crackling of impending fluid build up in both lungs.

Ignoring both men, she took Dina's hand again and looked directly into her eyes.

"Love, do you trust me?," she asked softly.

A scared look crept over Dina's face. She nodded again. "With my life," she replied, eyes fixed on Rene.

"You've had a significant smoke inhalation. You've got soot in your mouth, you're wheezing. You're breathing too fast.

You see that clip on your finger? That measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. It should be 100% on room air. It's only 85% with oxygen. It's going to get worse as the tissues swell and fluid collects in your lungs.

I'm going to have to intubate you." Tears flowed again.

Dina raised an eyebrow in question.

"I'm going to have to put a tube down your nose into your lungs and put you on a ventilator. It's miserably uncomfortable. I don't want to do this. But, it's better than suffocating."

"Do it," Dina croaked.

"I'm giving you two minutes to talk to these guys, then I'm gonna sedate the hell out of you and do it."

"You have two minutes," she told the men. "I'll be right back," she said to Dina.

Releasing her hand, she walked out to the nurses station as the chief and captain stepped up to Dina.

"Kay," called Rene, approaching the charge nurse. "Which doctor comes in at 7am?"

"Doctor Talvin," she answered efficiently.

"Call him, see if he'll come in now. If he won't, please call everyone until you can get someone."

Kay looked at Rene, who was standing there stiffly, hands in pockets, green eyes staring intensely. She opened her mouth but couldn't get out a word before Rene bent down and whispered fiercely in her ear, "That is my lover in there." She gestured toward Dina's room. "I will be damned if I'm going to keep working once she goes to the ICU. So, please find someone if you want a doctor for the rest of the night."

Kay shut her mouth abruptly, blinked twice, and picked up the phone. "Yes, Doctor. Of course. I wouldn't expect you to keep working. I'll find someone."

Rene let out a long breath and relaxed. "Thanks, Kay. I'm going back to her now."

The police captain was getting the last of the details of the fight from Dina as the doctor returned.

"Did you catch him?," Dina was finally able to ask.

"That was our man. He was in the warehouse, dead, smashed his head against a press. Guess he fell. Right?" He looked at her appraisingly.

"Yes, Captain, he must've fallen. I couldn't see in the smoke."

"Good. I guess we're done," he concluded, looking at Rene. Placing his hand on the firefighter's shoulder, he wished her good luck before he turned and left with the fire chief.

The doctor met the firefighter's eyes, trying to send her strength and love.

"Ready, Love?"

"Yeah. It's getting harder to breathe." She was panting now.

"OK. 10 mg of Valium, IV," she told the nurse.

"When she gets the Valium, I want you to bag her for a few seconds, then I'll intubate," she informed the respiratory therapist. She took a deep breath, "OK, let's go."

"I love you," she whispered into Dina's ear as she became sleepy from the medication.

"Love you, too," she slurred back as the Ambu bag was lowered to her face.

Through a haze of tears, Rene pushed the tube into the unconscious woman's nose, then down into her trachea.

She held herself together long enough to check for breath sounds, order the xray, give the ventilator settings, and order the labs.

Stepping out of the room, the gravity of the situation overwhelmed her. Trembling uncontrollably, she collapsed against a wall and slid down to the floor. Wrapping her arms around her knees, she gave herself over to sob stricken grief.

An arm wrapped itself comfortingly around her shoulder. Peeking through the tears, she saw Kay crouching beside her.

"Rene, let's take a walk." She helped the doctor to her feet. With her arm still draped over Rene's shoulder, they walked out of the back of the ER and down a hallway in the main hospital.

Rene slouched, head hanging, against the wall, hiccuping from her crying.

Kay stood in front of her, arms crossed. "Look, Rene, you've got to pull it together. You're still the doctor," she informed her succinctly, but not unkindly. "Your friend needs you to be strong now, right?"

Rene nodded, not lifting her head.

"Dr. Talvin is coming in. he'll be here in about 20 minutes. I told him you had a family emergency. You can deal with the details when he gets here.

When we go back in, I'm putting in a call to Dr. Mkembe, she's our best intensivist. She's not on call, but she owes me one.

You are going to get your shit together right now, got it?"

Rene picked up her head and met Kay's eyes. The nurse was still standing with her arms crossed but she was smiling and her eyes were kind. Pushing herself off the wall, Rene stood straight and smiled back. "Thanks, Kay. You're right."

"Good." Surprisingly, Kay stepped forward and enfolded Rene in a hug. "I wouldn't want to have to do that to someone I care for and then have to come out to half the ER. That's pretty brave."

"Especially since the other half of the ER will know tomorrow and all of the hospital, LAFD and LAPD the day after," added Rene with a short laugh, wiping her face with one hand.

"Yeah, it's going to break the hearts of half the police and fire departments." Kay turned her up the hall back toward the ER.

"Really?" The doctor was amazed.

"Sure, didn't you realize that all of those guys were hanging around drooling after you? It's just that none of them had the nerve to ask out THE DOCTOR," Kay informed the clueless woman. "Of course," she added as a second thought, "It's going to inspire the other half."

"Well, I'm taken," Rene said with a laugh, returning to Dina's room. "You're calling Dr. Mkembe now?"

"Yes, Doctor." All business once again, Kay took her seat."

Dina was awakening as Rene arrived at her side. She thrashed confusedly for a minute, then unconsciously reached up toward her nose.

Rene grabbed her hands, stopping her. "Dina," she called softly, "Don't touch the tube, please."

Hearing Rene, Dina opened her eyes. OK, she mouthed, then looked surprised.

"You can't speak with that tube. I'll get you a pad and pen."

She found an empty clipboard and some scrap paper and brought them, with a pen back to Dina. Her lover looked miserably uncomfortable, but her pulse oximeter was reading much more oxygen in her blood.

"Breathing feel better?" she asked.

Dina nodded.


The firefighter pointed to her throat.

"OK," the doctor responded, reaching into a cabinet for a small spray can. "I can help you with that. Open your mouth, I'm gonna spray some anesthetic. It tastes terrible, but swallow it. You're throat will go numb."

As she sprayed, she filled Dina in on what would happen next. "Dr. Vivian Mkembe is the intensivist, that's the doctor that takes care of ICU patients, to take care of you. You know I can't do that, right?"

Dina nodded.

"I would rather be holding your hand than looking at your numbers, anyway. So, then you'll go up to the ICU. I'll be with you as long as they'll let me."

Dina pointed to the tube and raised her eyebrows.

"Oh, it'll probably be in 2 or 3 days, until the swelling in your lungs goes down." Rene leaned over and kissed Dina's soot covered forehead. "I love you. You're going to be fine," she said, hoping that Dina wouldn't detect the falsity in her cheerfulness. There were, she knew, so many things that could still go wrong.

"Hello," came a faintly accented voice from the door, "I am Dr. Mkembe." She was a stunningly beautiful woman, with skin the color of dark chocolate and hair that was cut in close, tight curls, that leaned to the salt side of salt and pepper. Her eyes were a dark brown that seemed to radiate warmth and compassion. She wasn't tall, but she had a presence that left no doubt that she was in charge the minute she arrived.

"Rene Covington." Rene stepped forward and shook her hand. "This is Dina Pakadios."

Dina held up her hand and the doctor shook it as well.

Rene gave the other doctor a short run down on what had been done and then, seeing her replacement walk in, excused herself.

Dr. Mkembe found her, a few minutes later, sitting and fidgeting at the nurses' station, trying to keep herself from running back into the room.

"Thank you for giving me a few minutes alone with my patient." The black woman smiled as she seated herself, acknowledging Rene's concern. "She seems to be fairly stable now. But she's had a serious smoke inhalation injury."

"I know." Rene could feel her eyes misting up again.

"She tells me you're her lover," the doctor stated without inflection.

"Yes." Rene braced herself.

"OK. I'll make you a deal." Dr. Mkembe smiled again. "You let me do the doctoring and I'll arrange it so that you can spend as much time as you want in the ICU. Visiting hours be damned."

Barely suppressing the urge to leap up and hug this woman, Rene smiled broadly and agreed. "It's a deal."

"Good, she's going up in a few moments. Give them a little time to get her settled, won't you?" She pulled out a pen and started to write the admission orders.

45 minutes later, Rene joined Dina in the ICU. Her face had been cleaned and her clothes had been exchanged for a hospital gown. She'd obviously been sedated again.

Two red rimmed blue eyes rolled blearily open when the blonde walked in. The firefighter lazily patted the bed next to her and Rene obediently sat down and took her hand.

She ran her fingers through the dark hair and asked, "Think you can sleep?"

Dina gave a slight nod.

"OK. I'll be here 'til they throw me out."

At 7am the nurses doing change of shift rounds found both women asleep. Rene had pulled over a chair. Her feet were propped on the bed. They were still holding hands.

"Doc Dr. Covington." One of the nurses shook Rene gently awake.

"Huh?" Rene tried to orient herself.

"Look, Doc, Dr. Mkembe arranged for you to be able to stay, but do us a favor? We have to get vitals, bathe her, check the lines, get xrays, etcetera. How about going home for a few hours. Then you can have all day and all night."

Rene rubbed her face, still trying to wake up. "OK. I'll be back about 10 or 11. If there's any problem, please call me. She has no local family. I guess I'm her emergency contact."

The nurse smiled. "We heard."

"Oh, God," groaned Rene, "I figured it would be tomorrow before the whole hospital knew. The only thing faster than the speed of light is the speed of gossip. All right. I'm leaving now."

She kissed the hand she was holding and felt it tighten weakly in response. "See you in a few, Love."

At home she caught a few hours sleep, then arranged to get the whole week off. It meant promising a lot of favors to people, but it was worth it.

Dina's condition had visibly worsened in the few hours she was gone. Her breathing was more labored again, despite the ventilator and her pulse oximeter had dropped.

"This is to be expected," Dr. Mkembe had informed her. "She should start improving in 24 to 48 hours."

By mid afternoon, both women were exhausted; Dina from fighting to breathe, and fighting the ventilator, and from trying not to go crazy staring at the same four walls, despite Rene's comforting presence.

I am terrible at being sick and helpless, she thought to herself while staring at the ceiling.

Rene was worn out from trying to keep Dina from fighting the ventilator, and from trying to keep from going crazy herself as the firefighter's condition worsened and she fought to breathe, and from trying to find things to distract Dina from the situation.

By 3pm, the nurses took pity on them both and sedated Dina again so that both women could rest.

A few people from the fire department dropped by in the late afternoon, including the fire chief. Jose Saavedra brought a dozen roses. That distracted them both for a while, but by evening Dina was even more restless, and required another dose of sedation.

The 7am shift change again found both women asleep. This time, though, Rene had skipped the chair and had snuggled into the small bed with Dina.

It was the most comfortable the firefighter had been in 24 hours.

The next day was an unhappy repeat of the first day. Rene tried interesting Dina in TV and stories. She even tried cards. But, the firefighter was too agitated and uncomfortable to concentrate on anything.

Rene lay down with her early since it seemed to calm the dark haired woman.

She was in her gi, but couldn't remember why. She felt so weak. "I'll just go lie down on a mat. I don't think I can make the stairs."

Another bout of coughing rattled Lady Catherine's bones. She could barely feel the cool, wet sheets and ice packs around her as she lay in the bed.

Margaret sat, exhausted and dark eyed next to her. "The fever will break, you'll be OK. I promise," she told her as she changed the compress on the Lady's forehead.

She reached for more ice, but the bucket was empty. Jumping to her feet, she carried it to the door and handed it to a maid.

"More ice, hurry please. The Lady Catherine is burning up. We need more ice."

Dr. Covington stepped out of the patient's room and took off her lab coat. 'Why is it so hot in here tonight?,' she wondered as she draped it over a chair.

Hot. It was very hot. Rene awoke with a start. It was Dina that was hot. She felt the firefighter's forehead. It was sticky with a feverish sweat. Her hair clung in damp strings to her face.

No! Rene bolted out of the room and grabbed Dina's nurse.

"She's running a fever, please come now."

Her temperature was 103.

The nurse got on the phone immediately to Dr. Mkembe. "Doctor, this is Patti, the nurse from the ICU. Your patient has a temp of 103, her BP is dropping and she's unresponsive. We've given Tylenol, yes. You'll come in? Good. Yes, I'll get the blood work and xray. Which antibiotic do you want?" She scribbled a note. "Fine, thank you, see you soon."

Rene was pacing in front of the nurses' station.

"Dr. Covington," the nurse called, "Dr. Mkembe is coming in."

"Great, thanks." Rene was only somewhat relieved.

She sat back down on the bed. "Dina, Hon, please open your eyes." She shook the strong shoulder, but it only rolled limply under the touch.

No response.

"Please." Rene lowered her head to the firefighter's. Tears flowed down her face, dripping onto the bed. "Please."

The monitor over the bed showed a blood pressure of 60/40. Too low, she's septic, she realized grimly.

Two nurses came into the room, adjusting the IV and starting the antibiotics. The xray tech showed up with the portable xray machine, followed shortly by Dr. Mkembe.

The doctor came and examined Dina, then pulled Rene out to show her the xray.

"Rene, she has pneumonia and she's septic. I'm going to start a central line and we'll start Dopamine."

Rene nodded, fighting the urge to scream, 'DON'T TALK, JUST HELP HER. SHE CAN'T DIE.'

As the nurses prepared the line and the medication, she kneeled next to the head of the bed, and placing her hand on Dina's cheek, explained to her unconscious lover, "Hon, you've got pneumonia. Dr. Mkembe is going to put an IV in your neck so we can watch your blood pressure more closely and you're going to get medication to keep your pressure up. It's way too low." She kissed her cheek. "You're going to be OK." She was crying again.

One of the nurses pulled Rene gently to her feet. "Doc, step out while she does this, please?"

Realizing that she was begging, Rene let herself be led out of the room.

"Want coffee?," the nurse asked.

Rene slumped into a chair at the nurses' station and, elbows on the table, put her head in her hands. "No thanks. Just tell me when I can be with her."

Dr. Mkembe, herself came to get Rene. "You really like to see me at 3am, don't you?,'" she asked, trying to lighten her mood. Seeing that it didn't work, she added, "You can go back in. I'll be here for the rest of the night if I'm needed."

Raising her head, Rene smiled wanly at her. "Thank you," she said and rose to rejoin Dina.

She stayed in the chair, afraid to disturb the central line, but refusing to relinquish the firefighter's hand.

Patti came in every half hour to check Dina's vitals and to adjust the medication.

Despite herself, Rene dosed fitfully, exhaustion and stress taking their toll.

She was asleep at 6am when Patti got Dr. Mkembe.

"Doctor, she's not responding to fluids or Dopamine. Her pressure is still around 60/40 after three hours. We have finally gotten her temperature down, though."

The doctor sighed and rubbed her neck. "There's not much more we can do. We'll keep supporting her as best we can. Is she still unconscious?"


It was the alarm on the monitor over the bed that rocketed the blonde to her feet, its' screeching signaling a change in Dina's heart rhythm. The heart tracing running across the screen showed a bizarre, irregular pattern. Her BP was 50/30.

Nurses came flying into the room, pushing the "crash cart", followed by Dr. Mkembe. Two orderlies arrived right on their heels.

"NO!," Rene screamed, shocking everyone to a halt. Miraculously, Dina's rhythm improved. Her BP was now 65/40. The alarm silenced.

"No!," the blonde repeated. "You are not going to die!"

As everyone watched, she bent over the prostrate form, grabbing Dina's upper arms in a viselike grip.

"You can't do that. You promised. Remember? You wouldn't die on me again. You Xena promised .Gab me. Catherine, she came back. She you promised." Blinded by the tears that were falling onto Dina's chest, she continued, oblivious to the others. "Melinda, after she fell and hit her head, she kept her promise. Remember? You have always kept your promises. You can't die on me again."

Collapsing across her lover's limp form, she whispered up to the pale face, "I've just found you again, after all this time. You can't go."

Utter silence. Broken only by Rene's quiet sobs.

"Dr. Mkembe, look," the day shift charge nurse grabbed the doctor's arm and pointed at the monitor.

Her rhythm had completely normalized, and her BP read 80/65.

"Umm, well, looks like the emergency is over here. Everyone should go back to work." The doctor shooed them all away.

As they melted out of the room and the "crash cart" was rolled back to its' usual position, Dr. Mkembe squatted next to Rene. Putting her hand on the blonde's back, she motioned for her to look at the monitor.

"Child, I don't know how, but I think she heard you."

Straightening up, she started to walk out. Giving a quick glance back, she saw Rene sitting by Dina's side, a look of unmistakable love on her face. The BP read 95/70.

Rene had fallen asleep on the bed again, her head tucked onto Dina's shoulder. The noise of clinking IV bottles awakened her.

"How long have I been asleep?," she inquired drowsily.

"About two hours, it's 11am," answered the nurse, still rearranging the bottles.

"What's happening?"

"I'm taking down the Dopamine, she doesn't need it anymore. Look." She tucked the bottle under her arm and left.

115/75 read the monitor. Her heart rate was down to almost normal and her pulse oximeter had improved as well.

Rene pushed herself to a sitting position and tucked some unruly hair behind her ear. Dina's breathing seemed to be easier. She was still on the ventilator, but the machine wasn't registering as high a pressure to fill her lungs.

"Thank you." Bringing Dina's hand to her lips, she kissed it, and felt a small answering squeeze in return.

The tube was removed 24 hours later and she was discharged three days after that.

Dr. Mkembe came to the room as Rene was helping a weak, but recovering Dina dress and get into the wheelchair to leave.

Shaking their hands, she wished them good luck. She turned to leave, but then stopped. A funny look came over her face and she sat down on the bed.

"Can I ask you something?," the woman asked Dina.

"Sure." She shrugged.

"That night..," she gestured vaguely. Both women nodded, understanding exactly which night. "What did you hear? What do you remember?"

"Well," her voice was still hoarse from the tube, "It was getting darker and harder to breathe. There was a door. I was headed toward it. AS I was about to open it I heard Rene yell from behind me about a promise. I looked, but didn't see her. When I turned back, Xena, Catherine and Melinda were between me and the door, reminding me about keeping promises.

I knew they were right. I, they, we had promised. So, I turned back."

The firefighter looked at her physician. "Did that help?" A small, lopsided grin played across her features.

"No," she shook her head. "I guess not." She stood again. "Good luck to you both. You certainly have something special.

Dr. Covington, I am sure that I will see you again in the ER. Please try to make it before 3am if you can. Good bye."

They rode the elevator in silence down to the first floor of the hospital. Rene wheeled Dina out to her car. They got in, but Dina took Rene's hands before she could start the car.

Clear blue eyes held emerald green.

"Did I thank you?"

"For what?" Rene was confused.

"That night, calling me back, reminding me."

Rene squeezed the firefighter's hand. "I think so."

A single tear trailed slowly down Dina's face. "I wanted to remember to thank you. I love you. Always, and forever, that's a promise. And I always keep my promises."

They leaned together. Lips met, sealing the promise throughout time.

"Oh, and I love you," sighed the blonde.

They both sat back.

"Now, let's go home."



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