Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Seasons Series and the Murder Mystery Series are the creation of the author.
As always, my gratitude and thanks to Lisa, Inga and Susan for their support as beta readers. And special thanks to Sharon and Pat for their technical assistance.
Note: The Seasons Series and the stories in the Murder Mystery Series all interrelate. It is best to start at the beginning.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Special Warning: These stories deal with the practice of forensics in a fairly accurate manner, more sensitive readers might find some of the scenes upsetting.
Visit Anne Azel's World at < http://www.jes.com.au/~azel/ > or write Anne at <email@example.com> The Anne Azel Murder Mysteries Book 1 can be ordered through Amazon.com or Openbookltd.
Dawn had been off the bed in an instant, gun in hand. She had, with Janet's help, rounded the children together. Reb was barely awake and acting fretful in Janet's arms. Ryan and Mac looked blurry-eyed and exhausted.
"Where's Thomas?" Janet asked, above the ringing alarm. All the lights in the house had come on with the alarm and Dawn felt slightly disorientated by the glare and racket.
"Downstairs, I think," Dawn responded, edging forward to look down the stairwell. "Dr. Bates?" she called.
"Coming!" Bates responded, from the back of the house, raising his voice over the alarm and Rufus's barking. "Quiet boy, all is well." Through the window, he could see the throbbing red lights of a squad car as it pulled into Aliki's driveway.
Bates appeared at the bottom of the stairs. "Stay up there until we have ascertained that everything is secure. I'm going to turn off the alarm and let the police in," he organized.
"Okay," Dawn agreed, and moved back to stand with the others again. "It looks like we are okay," she reassured the others.
Bates turned off the alarm system, making a mental note to tease Aliki about her house's defense systems. He hoped he got that chance. He hadn't said anything to the ladies, but the Fire Clown's modus operandi was to kill quickly. It seemed to be the burning and arranging of the remains that was the important part of the killer's obsessive behaviour.
The police checked the house, yard and neighbourhood carefully. Once the house had been searched, the others came down stairs. Janet got the coffee on and fed the sleepy children bowls of cereal. Mac and Ryan ate quietly and then joined the others in the dining-room to get on with their research. No one had voiced any concerns but there was now a renewed feeling of urgency in the air. Time was running out.
Dr. Bates returned with the police. "He cut out a glass panel in the side door window. Did a very expert job too. As soon as he reached his hand in to undo the lock, the alarm went off. We believe he escaped over the fence in the backyard. I'll get a piece of plywood from Aliki's workshop in her garage and board the frame up."
There were nods of agreement and a few preoccupied okays as the others absorbed the information as they stayed at their jobs. Bates headed out to the garage and found a scrap piece of wood that would suffice. Like the rest of Aliki's world, the workshop was neat and organized. By the tools on display on a shelf and the cans of stain and varnish, it was clear that she must have repaired and refinished a lot of the beautiful antiques that adorned her house.
Bates shivered. It was like she was already dead. Here he was violating her private world, going through her stuff as if she no longer could lay claim to it. He picked up a hammer, imagining it being held in Aliki's strong, graceful fingers. "I'm sorry for this intrusion, Aliki," he whispered, and then shook off the depression and found some nails to get the job done.
"I've got something!" Janet announced some hours later. "Look here, Aliki's lab reports indicate trace particles of phosphates on the bones of Helen Rose. Aliki made a note that it might have been from the surrounding grass where the remains were found because the lawn company had sprayed fertilizer the day before. That was High Park. And on Lily Chan's lab reports too, phosphate was noted. Aliki's circled it so she must have thought it was important. Lily's remains were found in a rose bed in the garden of The Grange."
"Wait, that rings a bell," Bates cut in. "Ryan, pass me the sheet of places I called yesterday." Ryan searched through the stack of papers and handed Dr. Bates the detailed list that she and Mac had compiled. "It was something, someone said in passing...Yes, here it is. I talked to the foreman of maintenance at St. Mark's College. He told me that they did have a furnace in an old coal-power house on the College grounds but that now the building was just used for storage for the lawn equipment. He told me he didn't know if it was still useable but he'd ask the guy in charge when he got back. It appears the lawns' keeper had phoned in with a back injury from laying sod earlier in the week."
Everyone stopped and looked at Bates. There was a heart beat of silence and then Janet said, "It's him. Thomas, it's almost eight thirty, someone should be at the College maintenance office. Do you think we could phone and ask for a description?"
Bates frowned. "We might be tipping our hand...and we will certainly be stepping on Volenni's territory...yet time is of the essence...I'll phone. It might be a blind lead but it is the only one we have found to follow."
The committee sat silently and watched as Bates phoned and eventually made contact with the maintenance supervisor. "Good day, Mr. Polinski. We talked yesterday, this is Dr. Bates of the Toronto Forensics Lab. Yes, that's right. Mr. Polinski, I need your discretion and candour in dealing with a matter we have under investigation. We are very interested in understanding the workings of one of those old furnaces and would like to contact your man. I know he is off with an injury but it is vital for our investigation that we get the data we need. Could you give me his name and address? Yes, I'll hold."
Bates gestured for a pen and paper which Mac quickly handed to him. "Yes?... Yes, I've got that. And just where is this old power house located?... Aha, yes... And what does Nathan look like so I can tell the officer I'm going to send around there to talk to him?" Bates asked casually. "Medium height, a weight lifter, you say. Well, I'm sure you would need to be strong in that line of work. Yes, light brown hair. A good man, you say. Meticulous. Well, he should be able to help us then. No, that's okay, we prefer to handle these things ourselves. Thank you, Mr. Polinski, you and your staff have been very helpful."
Bates put the phone back in its cradle thoughtfully. "It could be him. I'll phone Vollenni." Janet glanced over at Dawn, who sat looking grim across the table from her. Their eyes met and Dawn nodded, getting up. "Janet and I are going there," she stated.
"Wait, no! That wouldn't be wise!" Bates responded, in surprise.
"I'm sorry, Thomas, we have to. Can I ask you to stay with the kids?"
"Yes, of course but..."
"Volenni will get there a lot quicker if he knows we are on the way too," reasoned Dawn, as she slipped Aliki's revolver into her shoulder bag.
"Ladies, don't do anything rash!" Bates cautioned, looking very worried as he walked them to the door.
"Doc Bates, they are our partners. What would you do?" Janet asked him seriously.
Bates looked from one woman to the other. He wanted to tell them to let the professionals handle the situation. It was the right thing to do. But the look on the two women's faces told him that they were going no matter what. He nodded. "Be careful. Let the police do their job unless there is no other way." The two women left, Dawn reaching out to squeeze Dr. Bate's arm reassuringly as she went past.
Bates walked back into the dining room to see three wide-eyed children staring at him. "I am going to phone Volenni and then we'll consider our next course of action," he stated, as he picked up the phone to punch in the numbers.
"We should have gone too," Ryan protested in frustration. "It's my Mom!"
Bates looked at her and frowned. "Don't even think about it!" he cautioned, then turned back to the phone. "Joe? Listen, we might have him. Janet and Dawn are already on their way there now ....Yes, well, I would have liked to but there was no way they were not going to go. Listen, here is the information you need..."
Nathan Garwen had got home without incident. He was very agitated. Things had not gone according to plan. He hated it when things did not go according to plan. His Mama and Tracy had led him to that house and he hadn't been able to get the job done. He knew his Mama would be mad. He could hear her voice in his memory going on and on like she used to when he had messed things up. He could hear Tracy too, laughing.
He parked his car in the garage and wiped the dust off it with the towel that he kept washed and folded for that purpose. Cleaning always helped him to calm down. This had been the worst night he'd had in a long time. It was the fault of the two women he had picked up yesterday. He was going to hurt them so bad! He took the rag into the mud room and dropped it into the washer, setting the machine and adding bleach and softener. Pressing the wash button, he took off his shoes and placed them neatly on the mat by the door leading into the kitchen.
From his pocket, he took a set of keys and unlocked the padlocks on the three straight bolts he had on his door. You couldn't be too careful these days. There were a lot of crazy people out there. He didn't think he could stand it if a stranger came into his house and messed with his stuff.
Going upstairs, he changed, dropping his clothes into a laundry basket to wash after the car rag came out. Then he started to clean the house. It needed a good scrub. He cringed at the sight of the dusty sunbeam slanting through the window and reflecting off the highly polished floor. Not for the first time, he wished he could think of a way to keep the filth of the world out of his home.
Once he had finished cleaning, he would have a short nap and then go and see to sending those women to Tracy. There was a spot on Toronto Island that he had been saving for a special burial. It would be a good place for a double grave. It would be exciting too to carry the bones across on the ferry. Once the grave was found, the press would humiliate the police by asking how it was possible for the Fire Clown to carry the bones of two women through town and across to the island without them knowing. People were always calling the police on him when he was a kid. He hated the police. They were stupid pigs that didn't realize how smart he was. Well, he had shown them!
"Hey, are you okay?" Aliki asked. She had noted a change in her sister's breathing. It was quicker and more raspy. She wished she could make out Robbie's features but so far all she could see were blotches of colour.
"It's like the prison, this place," Robbie responded, the emotion she was feeling barely hidden by her voice. Aliki had first come into her life when Robbie had been wrongfully arrested and held for the murder of her father.
Robbie gave a short, bitter laugh. "I'd have killed myself rather than having to spend my life in there! It's like living like an abused animal. You have no privacy, no personal space. The guards keep control by intimidation and the inmates live by a cruel law of the jungle. Sometimes, I still get nightmares about it," she admitted.
"I'm sorry it happened. The police are pretty good but if they make a mistake that individual can pay a very high price," observed Aliki, who found her loyalties divided.
"Yeah," Robbie agreed. "I still see, in the tabloids, articles wondering if I am really guilty and just got off because I'm rich and famous."
"That must be hard to take. We tend to be envious of the rich and famous but I guess it opens you to a lot of problems that regular citizens don't have to worry about."
"Oh yeah," Robbie snorted bitterly. "The fucking obsessed fans that think they own you, the press camped outside your door ...shit, they even kidnaped my daughters! I don't want my family growing up in fear, yet the first thing I have to teach them is to be afraid."
"Ryan and Reb seem pretty good kids," Aliki observed.
"Yeah, they are, but they sure have had to live through a lot of shit because of who I am. It is one of the reasons that I don't want to act anymore. I want to be behind the scenes so my family feels safer."
"Yeah, I can understand that. Ahhhhh....how does Janet handle your wealth?"
"It's never been a real issue, although she wasn't really comfortable with me paying off her mortgage and other debts. Now we work together and head a joint business things are better. She didn't want to feel like a kept woman."
Aliki sighed but said nothing.
"Why did you ask about the money?" Robbie pushed.
"Dawn's rich. Aaah, we sort of drifted apart. You know, I was busy with work and she and Mac were away a lot promoting her first adult book. She's been on talk shows and radio. She's becoming a big name author."
Aliki snorted angrily. "Oh course not! I'm proud of her...I...I just wish it hadn't happened right now."
"Things not going too well between the two of you?"
Aliki shrugged. "We lost touch with each other for a while. This case brought us together again.....I....I think we need to move slow. You know, get to know each other and..."
"You chickened out again!" accused Robbie in disgust.
"I did not! I went back out west to propose and she and Mac weren't there!"
"So you sulked," Robbie sneered.
"I can take a hint!" snapped Aliki, her patience fraying.
"Obviously not, because they are back with you now," countered Robbie. "Are you two sleeping together?"
Aliki wiggled uncomfortably. "Sort of."
"What?" Robbie exploded in disbelief.
"We did once. Just before this mess. Christ, I hope they are safe! He'll go after Mac, you know."
"Yeah, I know. We just got to trust that Janet and Dawn will be able to handle it. We got enough problems..." The metal door to their prison clanged as the bolt on the other side was shot back.
Volenni hadn't gone home. He'd stayed at the station all night, pouring over the data with Phil Koo, dreading a phone call that would tell him that more charred bones had been found. This had got personal now, Pateas was one of their own. Robbie Williams was just another queer, but Aliki was a hard working woman, who was trying to fill the shoes of her dead Mama. He hoped that Pateas was not really related to Williams. Pateas had enough on her plate without having to have a sister involved in all that money and fame shit. Hell, you do a few movies and show your tits and you're rich and famous. You solve crimes and protect the public and you are a nobody. Society had its priorities all wrong! Goes back to not having good family ties anymore, he figured.
"Here's the list," Koo cut into his thoughts. They had been compiling the names of suspects that had a childhood history of setting fires. "There are five possibles but looking at their profiles I would suggest these two are the most likely. Shawn Seedler grew up in the Mount Pleasant area. Set at least six fires that we know of. The last gutted a good part of his highschool.
"He was known to be a bit of a comic at school and wrote in his year book that he was going to be the next Jim Carey and make millions making people die laughing. He spent five years in the Whitby mental institution after the school fire. He's got a job working as a bar bouncer at an exotic dancer club on Young Street. He does some stand up comedy between the girls' routines. He's a good possibility. He is known as having a mean streak."
"Yeah, I've heard the name. The patrol guys have charged him a few times with assault. I investigated a death by beating that we thought might involve him but couldn't get enough evidence to lay a charge."
"He's in the running then, but this one I've got a feeling about. His names Nathan Garwen, grew up in a house on the Lakeshore. Again a childhood history of setting fires, including one that his sister died in. He started therapy sessions at age five. Mother always refused to consider institutionalizing him even after the fire he set in their own home that killed his sister, Tracy. Since that incident, he has been a model citizen, has steady employment at the St. Mark's College maintenance crew and lives at home. No debts and no vices that we know of. His mother died this spring and that was when the killings started. That makes me suspicious. So does the fact that he has clearly repressed his compulsions for a very long time."
"You think we are looking at a serial killer here?" Volenni asked.
Koo shrugged. "I've been in the business long enough to know not to expect the unexpected with human nature but, yes. He would be my number one suspect."
"Then, I think I'll go pay him a visit," Volenni murmured, checking his watch for time.
"Joe?" came a voice from outside his small cubicle.
"You got Dr. Bates from the Forensic Labs on line two."
The two women stood, Robbie holding the knife clumsily in her hand. "Don't be nice," Aliki warned, "Just try to hurt him as bad as you can to scare him off. And tell me what is going on," she ordered quickly as an afterthought.
"I have never been accused of being nice," Robbie started and then added, with a note of fear in her voice, "Oh shit, Aliki, he has got a knife and it is much bigger than mine!"
"Keep out of his way! Look for an opening," Aliki instructed, keeping a hand out and on Robbie's back so she was sure where she was.
"What do you think I'm going to do? Stand here and look like a target?!" Robbie growled back at Aliki, as she backed up away from the killer.
Nathan Garwen had entered the room cautiously. This was the first time he had held captives and he wasn't sure how they would react. Tracy and his Mama always surprised him. They just didn't see things as clearly as he did and they would get angry at him for no reason. He should have killed the women right away like he normally did, but he had been anxious to get the girl. That had been a mistake. Patience is a virtue, his Mama had always said. He hadn't been patient and so things had gone badly.
His eyes widened in surprise. The two women were on their feet in the centre of the room. One stood in front of the other holding a knife in her handcuffed hands. The other one stood slightly behind carrying a short piece of hose that used to be on the wall faucet.
"Hey! What are you doing? I put that hose there for a purpose. You had no right to move it!" he snarled angrily. "You two have been trouble since the very beginning. I don't know why Tracy wants you but she led me too you so I'm sending you to her. Then you can't bother me. Tracy will keep you two out of trouble!"
"Who's Tracy?" Aliki asked quietly, trying to keep the man talking.
The man made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a cry and charged at Robbie. Robbie lashed back then cried out in pain as a knife blade cut along the side of her head. Blood poured down her neck and shoulder. The man grabbed her and spun her around to slit her throat, but Aliki had moved forward and with a powerful swing brought her hose across the two blurry faces in front of her.
The man gave a scream of rage and let go of the figure that slumped in his arms. He charged at Aliki, grabbing her by the throat and stabbing with his knife. The crack of a gun shot exploded in the small brick room and echoed loudly. Nathan froze and Aliki dropped to the ground.
Janet and Dawn drove through the heavy Toronto traffic with mounting frustration. Every second's delay could be the one in which their partner died. Perhaps, already they were going to find only the burnt remains of the women they had loved. Arriving at the College grounds, they ignored the parking attendant's warning that the lot was full and pulled up and parked by the booth.
"Watch ya doin? Ya can't park there!" the attendant growled, coming out of his booth and waving them back angrily.
Janet ducked under his arm and kept going and Dawn swerved around him. "Police business", she barked, as she hurried on. Over her shoulder, she continued. "When the squads get here, direct them to the old power plant."
"Yes, ma'am," the guard responded, looking confused and worried. The women tried the front door first, to find it boarded up and locked. They worked their way around the old, red brick structure, trying every door and window. Finally, behind some bushes at the back, they found a door that was obviously still used regularly. The knob was clean and the hinges well oiled.
Dawn drew Aliki's gun from her purse and slipped the safety off. She nodded at Janet, who carefully turned the knob and opened the door enough to look inside. The hall was deserted. They entered a small, clean landing. In front of them, one metal flight of stairs lead up and the other down towards a basement.
Slowly and nervously, they started up the stairs to the landing above. Half way up they heard the metal clang of a door below that froze them mid-step. Then there was a scream of pain. Turning, they ran down the stairs, turned the corner and leapt down the basement stairs as sounds of a struggle echoed towards them.
Dawn charged through the door and saw the man bring his knife down into Aliki's neck . She lifted the gun and fired at the ceiling and the murderous scene froze, except for Aliki's limp body sliding to the ground. "Move back from them!" Dawn ordered, the gun held in her two hands and its barrel now aimed at the centre of the man's chest. "Move back, or I'll shoot!" she yelled.
Nathan dropped the knife and backed off, looking afraid and confused. Dawn could hear heavy boots behind her. "It's the police," Janet informed her, as she slipped past and ran to the two bodies that lay still and bleeding on the floor.
Volenni ran in, gun out, followed by three other officers. He signaled to the uniformed cops, who walked over and pushed Garwen up against the far wall while they frisked him. "Gimme, that," Volenni said, his voice rough with emotion as he took the gun from Dawn's hands. "Ya know the paper work I'm gonna have to do because you fired this thing?! Who did you shoot?"
"I shot in the air," Dawn explained, as she hurried over to join Janet. Kneeling, she cradled Aliki's head in her lap, using the collar of Aliki's shirt and pressure to try and slow the blood seepage. "Aliki, are you all right?" she asked, her voice shaking with tears.
"I'm okay, glanced off the rostral side of the left clavicle, embedding distal of the acromial facet," Alliki murmured.
"Oh," Dawn laughed weakly.
"How is Robbie?"
"There is lots of blood. It's a head wound. She's unconscious and her face is all swollen on the left side." It was Janet who answered, her voice calm and controlled, masking the fear that made her heart pound wildly.
"It is unlikely he damaged the frontal or parietal bones. The damage to her face was me. I hit her with a hose. Sorry, I think I knocked her out."
Robbie moaned and moved in Janet's arms. "Hi, Olive Oil, how are you doing?" Janet asked, as she tried to keep the scarf she was using to stanch the blood in place as Robbie moved in pain.
"I hurt," Robbie stated, keeping her promise to her soulmate always to tell her if she was hurting.
"What else is new?" Janet laughed, through her tears.
"She said she's okay," Janet told her.
"Not when I get finished with her!" Robbie growled in relief. "That damn sister of mine socked me in the jaw!"
"I saved your miserable life!" Aliki protested, reaching out blindly to touch Robbie.
Robbie hand folded around her sister's. "Like hell. I had the situation under control until you decided to play Mountie," she complained.
"Hush, you two," Janet warned, and let the tears fall gently from her eyes as she and Dawn held the women they loved.
Volenni had called for an ambulance and back up, making sure they understood that there was an officer down. He went over and read Nathan his rights before the uniformed police officers took him upstairs to their waiting squad car.
Volenni came over and squatted down by Aliki, being careful not to get blood on his rumpled suit. "You okay, Pateas?"
"I'll live," Aliki responded, trying to keep the pain out of her voice.
"Yeh, well see that you do. Your family needs you," Volenni ordered gruffly.
"What did he say to you as he was leaving?" Dawn asked, having noted that Garwen had said some something to Volenni before he had been led away.
Volenni shook his head in disbelief. "The crazy son of a bitch asked me why I was doing this. He said he had never even had a parking ticket."
Dr. Bates had kept the three children busy by having them help him sort and clean up some of Aliki's files. Then he had made hot chocolate for them and told them stories about some of his more funny and less gruesome cases. When the cell phone in his pocket rang, his heart nearly jumped from his chest. "Dr. Bates," he said out of habit.
"Hi, It's Aliki," came a strained voice.
"Aliki!" Bates smiled broadly, "How are you? Where are you? Is Robbie Williams all right?" he added, seeing Ryan's worried face as she sat beside a sleepy Reb.
"They're just putting us in an ambulance. We got some minor cuts but we are okay. We'll probably be treated and released."
"They are fine," Bates stopped to tell the girls, then seeing Mac and Ryan's still worried faces he asked, "Are Dawn and Janet with you?"
"Yes, this is Dawn's phone. They had to give a statement to the police. They're fine. They saved our lives. We'll tell you all about it when we get home. Can you stay with the kids?"
"They're all fine, girls." Bates relayed with a smile. Then he asked Aliki with some concern, "What about the Fire Clown?"
"Dawn and Janet caught him and held him for the police. He's under arrest," Aliki said, her voice now betraying her exhaustion and pain.
"You take care, Aliki, we'll see you later," Bates said kindly and hung up.
Bates looked at the girls and beamed. "Well, now I have another story to tell you, ladies, and it involves two heroes by the name of Dawn and Janet..."
Aliki sat in her back garden in total darkness and surrounded by the confusion of family. She had to admit it was a bit disorientating. He eyes were bandaged and would be for a few more days, although Dawn removed the wrappings regularly to flush out her eyes with the wash they had been given. The doctors who had treated Aliki felt her eyes, although seriously irritated and inflamed, would be fine and her neck wound was clean and not deep thanks to the knife hitting the clavicle bone.
Mac sat quietly beside her. The preteen had not handled the injuries to Aliki well. After witnessing her father's, Aliki's brother's, death she had withdrawn into silence and had not spoken until she had met Aliki only last year. Aliki looked very much like her father. Dawn and Aliki had feared that Mac would once again withdraw into silence, but Aliki's quick release from hospital and Ryan's insistent chatter had helped Mac to come to terms with the violent events of the last week.
Still, the young teen had stayed close to Aliki's side whenever she could. Aliki had to admit that it secretly pleased her that Mac had bonded so closely with her. After Aliki's mother's early death, Aliki had helped her father raise her brothers. Once she had joined the RCMP and left home, she had swore that she would never live again in the small north western town or raise another family.
Years and the Freemans had changed that viewpoint. She had gone home and found that as an adult she no longer felt trapped by small town expectations. In fact, she had loved being home and enjoying again the love of her family and the pristine beauty of the Canadian west. She realized too, that there was a part of her that very much wanted a partner and a family. And that part of her loved Dawn and Mac to the very core of her being. She wanted to help raise Mac with Dawn, to be her second mother.
In the distance, she could her Dawn's voice, laughing as she and Janet set up the table for the barbecue. The two strong women had bonded firmly with one and another, discovering that they had a mutual interest in the First Nations legends and folklore. Aliki admitted to herself that her temporary blindness did have an advantage. By the ever present noise and confusion of the last few days, Aliki imagined that her well organized and ordered home was in total chaos. Dawn had mentioned to her rather hesitantly that they had made a bit of a mess of her files searching for evidence that would help them identify the Fire Clown. At least she couldn't see it.
Aliki frowned. Their escape from the serial killer had been a close thing. She and Robbie were alive today because their partners had not given up searching for them until they were able to come to their rescue. Janet and Dawn were two of a kind and she and Robbie were damn lucky to have found such wonderful partners. She knew she loved Dawn, but was she ready to make a commitment to her? Her sister, Robbie had married her partner, Janet. Aliki wanted to marry Dawn but something held her back. An insecurity that she wasn't good enough for the amazingly strong, talented and intelligent woman.
And then there was the money. Aliki drew a reasonable middle class salary but Dawn was making thousands on her best selling book, good royalties off her children's books and she had inherited a small fortune from her uncle's gold prospecting. How do you ask a woman to marry you when she can buy and sell you with the blink of an eye. It was a little hard on a woman's ego.
Aliki jumped as Rufus's wet, hairy muzzle suddenly touched a bare knee. "Hi, Aunt Aliki," Reb announced, climbing up beside the forensic scientist. "Obby wants to know how to cook your steak. You can cook steak a little bit and it is red or a lot and it is burnt," the child explained seriously. Then added significantly, "Rufus likes his raw. He already stole one from the table. Don't tell."
Aliki laughed. "Okay, I won't. I'd like my steak cooked a little bit and could I please not have the one that Rufus chewed on."
"Its all gone," Reb explained, as she climbed down and ran with the important information back to the barbeque where Robbie and Ryan were ruling, the ever faithful Rufus trotting along behind.
"She's cute," Mac observed quietly from beside Aliki.
"Yes, she is," agreed Aliki.
"Hey Mac! Come help here," came Ryan's voice from across the yard.
"She's cute too!" Aliki teased the preteen.
Mac laughed. "Don't let her hear you say that!" she warned, as she got up to go help Ryan.
A few minutes later, it was Robbie who slid in beside Aliki. In the distance, Aliki could hear Janet and Dawn organizing the kids' meal. "Here's your steak," Robbie explained, helping Aliki find the plate she was holding out. "I didn't think you'd want to tackle salad or a knife and fork so I put everything on a big bun for you."
"Thanks, this not being able to see is a bitch," Aliki conceded, as she felt for the roll and held the plate close to prevent spillage.
"Won't be long now," Robbie reassured, and Aliki could hear her sister lean back and bite into a similar steak sandwich.
"How's the face today?" Aliki asked around a mouthful of tender, juicy steak topped with steak sauce, tomatoes, lettuce and hot peppers.
"Still a bit sore. You really walloped me, lady!"
"Yeah, well I knew you were in trouble and I figured it wasn't time to finesse. I just swung."
"Glad you did," admitted Robbie, for the first time. "You are alright, Pateas."
"Thanks, Williams," Aliki laughed.
"Maybe we should see to that blood test, huh? Just in case there is anything in it," Robbie suggested casually.
"Yeah, okay, it wouldn't hurt to check," Aliki responded offhandedly. The two of them knew in their own abrupt way of communicating that they had accepted each other as sisters whatever the outcome. They ate the rest of their meal together in companionable silence, having come to an understanding.
Later that night, with the Williams gone and everyone settled for the night, Aliki lay in bed, feeling a lot of different feelings. The biggest one was lonely. After changing the dressing on Aliki's eyes, Dawn had tucked her in bed and left just like she had since the rescue. They had made love the night before the kidnaping, how come the rules had changed again? Aliki tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable. At night, with nothing to distract her, she felt the sting of her inflamed eyes and the throb of her stabbed shoulder far more intensely.
With a growl of frustration, she rolled out of bed and ripped the bandages away from her eyes. Blinking like an owl, she cautiously fumbled to the bedroom door, her sight still giving her only blurry images. At least now, she could see specific shapes and even some detail. Her vision was getting better, the doctors had told her that it would be several weeks before she could see really clearly again.
She headed down the hall and scratched softly on Dawn's door. A streak of light at Aliki's feet told the scientist that Dawn was still awake.
"It's Aliki...Can I come in?" she asked, trying not to sound pathetic. She heard the rustle of bed sheets and a book being placed on the side table. Dawn's bare feet padded over to the door and then it was open, blinding Aliki in a flood of lamplight.
Aliki held her hand to her eyes and grimaced. "Aliki! What are you doing with your bandages off? Is there a problem? Should I call the doctor?" Dawn asked, in a flurry, pulling Aliki into the room and closing the door.
"I took them off so I could find you. The eyes are fine. It's just the sudden glare of light. My pupils are adjusting now."
"Good," Dawn smiled. "What did you want, Aliki?"
"Aaahhhh, well...I...well, we haven't talked much," she stammered, feeling the heat rise in her face.
"Talk? You want to talk?" Dawn asked in confusion.
"It's quiet now," Aliki justified.
There was a moment of silence, then Dawn took her hand. "Come into the bathroom and sit on the toilet while I put fresh lotion on your eyes and rewrap them. You can talk to me as I work," Dawn stated.
Aliki frowned but let Dawn tow her along. She could think of better places to talk to her lover than sitting on a damn toilet seat for God's sake! Aliki sat grumpily and listened to Dawn getting the medical items from the cabinet. "So what did you want to talk about?" Dawn asked.
Aliki frown got deeper. It was clear that Dawn had no intention of making this easy. "Where are you and Mac going to live?!" she demanded.
The hand applying salve to her eyes hesitated for a second and then continued. "Well, if it isn't too much of an inconvenience, I thought Mac and I would stay here until you can see well enough to get by, then Robbie and Janet have offered their condo to me until I can build a new house."
"What?!" Aliki roared, coming to her feet and almost knocking Dawn over. The smaller woman had to grab on to Aliki's shirt for support. Aliki immediately took the opportunity to wrap her arms around Dawn. "Sorry, are you okay?"
"Yes. You can let go now."
"No, I don't want to," Aliki responded.
Dawn sighed in frustration. "Sit! Now, Pateas!" she ordered.
Aliki sat. "I just wanted to talk," she muttered.
"No, you didn't. You wanted to make love to me," Dawn growled, wrapping Aliki's eyes again with a little more force than was necessary.
"So what's wrong with that?! I thought we had come to an understanding!" roared Aliki.
"Keep your voice down," the author cautioned, "You'll wake Mac. There is nothing wrong with that except things have changed."
"Why?" Aliki asked in frustration.
"Oh I don't know," Dawn replied sarcastically. "It might have been having a serial killer trying to kill my daughter, or my house being torched or maybe it was not knowing if you were alive or dead..." she let the sentence go, knowing if she continued she'd end up crying and she was damn well not going to do that!
"It's over now," Aliki answered soothingly.
"No, it isn't. I can't go on living for a promise of a future, Aliki. It has been brought home to me really vividly how quickly that dream can slip through your fingers. I need commitment. Mac needs a stable environment. This experience has been hell for her!"
Aliki looked like she had been struck. "Y...You don't want to see me anymore? Y...You want to find someone else?" she asked in pain.
Dawn growled in exasperation and, running her hand through her hair, she paced around the small bathroom. "No, you stupid blockhead! I am asking you to make a commitment to Mac and me!"
"Yes, a commitment."
Aliki licked her lips nervously.
"You can't can you?!" Dawn snapped, storming out of the bathroom. "All you want from me is sex!"
"No! Wait its not like...OUCH!" Aliki groaned, as she walked into the doorframe. "Damn it! Where are you?!"
"I'm here," Dawn said softly, reaching up to rub Aliki's bump.
Aliki caught her hand and kissed her fingers. "I love you, Dawn. I love Mac as if she was my daughter. It's just..."
Aliki let go of the hand and took a few steps away, needing some space in order to get this out.
"I grew up in Swan Hills on a cattle ranch, for God's sakes and yet out there you can run circles around me. Hell, you backed down a fucking grizzly bear! Okay, okay, I figure I can still offer you security but then you go and inherit a fortune! So I still have a career, a way to offer some stability in your life and Mac's and then you have to go write a best seller and start jet setting all over the world! Hell, in the last ten months I've seen you more on TV than I have in real life!"
"You're jealous?" Dawn asked in shock.
"No. I'm fucking castrated!" Aliki barked, in humiliation and frustration. "I can't compete with you!"
Aliki felt warm arms wrap around her stiff form and immediately some of the embarrassment and tension she was holding bled off. "I don't want to compete with you, Aliki. You are wonderful, don't you know that? I want to be your equal, your partner. I don't want barriers between us. I want you to have what I have and I want the right to share all you have."
"Yea, like what do I have you would want?" grumbled Aliki, feeling more secure now and less agitated as she rubbed her cheek against Dawn's hair. She loved the smell of Dawn's hair; it had somehow captured the scent of warm sunlight and sweetgrass in the summer.
"Well, I do have my eye on that lovely antique walnut desk in your study," Dawn giggled.
Aliki felt the last of her fears dissipating. "Yeah, well you can't have it! But we could share. I mean, you don't have to build a house, you and Mac could stay here. You'd hate staying in the Williams' condo," she justified quickly, as the insecurities started rushing back. "I know you could afford a lot better. I'd understand if..."
"You home is beautiful, Aliki. Both Mac and I would love to live here with you," Dawn whispered, before she kissed Aliki passionately.
Aliki came up gasping when the kiss was finally done. "Aagh, ahhh, does this mean we are engaged now?" Aliki asked, a grin on her face.
"Not exactly," Dawn snorted.
"Why not?!" Aliki demanded, forehead wrinkled in annoyance.
"Because I am not letting you off that easy, Pateas! A woman wants romance!"
"Romance? What now?!" asked the bewildered scientist.
"Nope later. Come to bed, sweetheart," Dawn ordered, taking her lover's hand. Aliki followed willingly.
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