Please see part 1 for all disclaimers and copyright information.
Sean was finishing client notes when Ellen ended with her last patient of the day.
"There’s beer in the office fridge," Sean called when she heard Ellen in the small kitchenette that adjoined their offices.
"Thank god," Ellen muttered as she entered carrying two bottles.
"Thanks," Sean said gratefully. She studied Ellen, who sagged into the chair facing the small desk. "How are you doing?"
"Better now that Susan and I are back together. We’ve still got a long way to go, but at least we’re talking about things we should have talked about years ago."
"I’m glad. I’ve missed Susan’s smile. It’s back."
"How about you?"
Sean sighed and ran a hand absently through her hair. "I fluctuate between ecstasy and terror. Drew is here, but not totally. We’ve been spending a lot of time together, and I love it. She’s so strong and serious, and tender, and—"
"Wonderful?" Ellen laughed.
"Something is keeping her from really being with me—except when we make love. That’s the only time she really gives herself to me. She lets me touch more than her body, then she lets me touch all of her. Then she’s beautiful, open and accepting of me, and so fragile. Any other time, there’s a wall up—I can’t quite reach her."
Ellen was not surprised. She had seen how deeply Drew buried her pain.
"It’s going to take time, Sean. If anyone has the patience to stick with her, you do."
Sean nodded. "I’m trying. But she’s in so much pain, I can hardly bear it. Every night she sleeps with me she has horrible dreams. She wakes up screaming, soaked with sweat, disoriented for minutes. It tears my heart out."
"Sounds like post-traumatic stress," Ellen thought out loud.
Sean stared at her. "Oh god, you’re right. I’m so frightened by it, I couldn’t even see it."
"Whatever it is, being with you will bring it to the surface. She’s probably going to get worse before she can tell you."
"Oh, Ellen, I hope I’m strong enough to help."
Ellen smiled. "I can’t think of anyone better."
"You will stay after class to talk, Drew, yes?" Janet Cho said as she passed Drew, who was jamming her sparring gear into her bag. It was not a question that left room for negotiation.
"Yes, ma’am," Drew said through clenched teeth. She didn’t look at Sean, whom she knew was watching her.
Sean, in turn, carefully folded her belt and uniform, feeling hurt and bewildered. Drew was so clearly angry with her, and she didn’t understand why. In fact, there had been an undercurrent of anger present for weeks. Drew had become short-tempered in class, with everyone, but especially her. She didn’t feel as if she could do anything right.
Tonight it had culminated in Drew stopping a sparring match between Chris and Sean after only a few minutes. Chris was compact and quick, and she had managed to hit Sean twice in the face within the matter of a minute.
Still, Sean had felt she was holding her own when Drew stopped them, criticizing just about everything Sean had done. Sean was unprepared for the intensity of Drew’s anger—it hurt.
She followed the rest of the students to the door, bowed, and left quietly, not caring that she had not said good-bye to Drew. It was the first time in weeks that they hadn’t stopped after class to have a bite to eat, often spending the night together. She didn’t want to see Drew right now, not until her feelings had settled a little.
"Sean has six months before her black belt test, Drew," Janet said as she sat down near Drew.
"This isn’t about a belt," Drew said darkly.
"Then what? You are pushing her very hard. Why? She is a good student, she works hard."
"You saw her with Chris tonight! She’s already had her nose broken, and Chris scores two hits right to her chin!"
"Yes, I saw. So she has more to learn. She will learn it."
"She needs to learn to protect herself!" Drew exclaimed. "Discipline, self-control, self-knowledge, personal growth—that’s all very well, and I support it. But she must learn to protect herself!"
"Why now, must she learn in a few weeks what you know it takes years to learn? What is the sudden hurry?"
Drew looked exasperated. "You don’t have the luxury of spending a lifetime learning self-defense any longer. Anything could happen—any time!"
Janet Cho nodded. "So now you make Sean miserable because tomorrow someone may hurt her?"
"Yes, if I have to," Drew stated vehemently.
"Maybe if you weren’t in love with her, you would not make her so unhappy."
Drew stepped back as if struck. "What did you say?"
"You love her—you are afraid something will happen to her—you ask more of her than she is capable of right now—you make her unhappy."
Drew’s jaw clenched and she averted her gaze. At length she said, "I only want her to be safe."
"Of course. So do I—Sean and all of them. But now it is so much more important, yes. Because you think you could lose her."
Drew stifled a moan, turning her back to her old friend. The images were there, flicking through her mind—bloody, empty pleading eyes.
"I can’t stand it," she whispered, her voice cracking. "If something happens to her, I just won’t be able to live, Janet. Not again."
The small woman took the trembling hand of her friend and pulled her down to the chair beside her.
"Drew, my friend," Janet said softly, "we cannot live in fear that something tomorrow may hurt us, or someone we love. You will not have time to love her if you worry always that she may go. Love her that much more because she is here today."
Drew bent her head, willing her tears to stop. "I’m trying, Janet. But I am so afraid," she said brokenly.
"It is much that you have let love come to you again. Now be patient with yourself."
Sean heard Susan answer the door, and she didn’t look up when she heard footsteps in the hallway outside the library where she sat in semi-darkness. The logs burned low in the fireplace, but she didn’t feel the chill. She stared unblinking at the small flames.
"It could use some more wood," the deep voice that never failed to stir her heart remarked.
She turned, surprised. "Drew!"
Drew shed her jacket and bent to feed the fire several more logs. She turned to kneel by Sean’s chair, taking both Sean’s hands in hers.
"I’m sorry, Sean," she said softly, searching the drawn and unhappy face before her. "I’ve been worried, and I’ve made you pay for it. It was selfish of me and I’m sorry."
"Worried? Worried about what?" Sean asked, always alert to the subtle meanings behind the phrases.
Drew shrugged and looked away. "Since we’ve been seeing each other, I’ve gotten anxious—you know—I don’t want you to get hurt. I’ve been pushing you too hard—really, you’re doing fine."
"Drew," Sean said carefully, "why are you worried that I might get hurt?"
Drew looked away, a muscle in her face twitching. "People do get hurt, Sean," she said in a low voice.
Sean slid her hands around Drew’s shoulders, holding her.
"Does this have something to do with your dreams?" She tightened her hold as she spoke, and, as she expected, Drew flinched and tried to draw away.
"Drew, look at me!" She waited until the troubled blue eyes met hers. "I love you, Drew. Absolutely—no reservations. Whatever you think you can’t tell me is keeping us apart more certainly than anything you could ever say. Don’t do this to us, Drew. Please!"
Drew dropped her gaze. "There is nothing I can say, Sean."
Sean sighed and pulled her close. She couldn’t stop loving her no matter how deep her secrets lay buried, no matter how much they both must suffer.
The Christmas holidays came and went, and Sean was as happy as she had ever been. Susan and Ellen were firmly together again, and it felt like she had her family back. And Drew was there—strong, tender passionate Drew. Still, part of Sean mourned for the silence that remained between them. There were times, more frequently in recent weeks, when Drew seemed to shed the shroud of pain that surrounded her; and Sean caught glimpses of a younger, happier woman, quick to laugh, engaging and enthusiastic. Then a word, or more often the nightmares, would extinguish the light in her eyes, robbing her of her joy. Even in her despair, her love for Sean was obvious—in the way her eyes followed her as she moved about a room, in the way she tilted her head to catch each word from Sean’s lips, in the way she possessed her in the night and gave her body to Sean without reservation. Sean did not press her. She knew it would do no good. But still, her heart ached even in the midst of fulfillment.
That night was the culmination of one of those January days that were common to Philadelphia—the temperature soared to near seventy degrees, and the evening remained mild. With the desire to absorb the last of the premature weather, Sean suggested they walk the few blocks to their favorite restaurant after class. She and Drew both wore only light jackets and jeans as they left the dojang.
"You’ll be ready to test soon, Sean," Drew remarked, taking a deep breath of the barely cool night air.
"I know. I’m nervous."
Drew looked surprised. "Why? You’re doing great."
Sean laughed. "I feel good about my progress—but, it’s such a big step—and you’ll be there when I test."
Drew frowned. "Do I make you nervous?"
"You make me a lot of things, Drew Clark—and nervous is not one of them," she said suggestively. "But I want you to be proud of me."
She looked over at Drew when Drew failed to answer. She found her staring past her, across the nearly empty street. It was an area of storefront businesses interspersed with residential enclaves, and the street was nearly deserted. Three young men were crossing the street towards them.
Swiftly, Drew stepped between Sean and the rapidly approaching youths, pushing Sean roughly behind her. Sean was so startled she didn’t protest.
The group closed about them, and Sean saw for the first time that two of the boys carried baseball bats. The largest of the group swung the bat casually back and forth very close to Drew’s knees. Drew stood silently, but Sean could sense her coiled tension.
"Let’s move into that alley behind you," he said as his two companions stepped closer on each side. "Hurry up, before somebody gets hurt," he snarled.
Drew backed up a step toward the mouth of the narrow dark alley that ran between two brick buildings.
"Stay behind me," she ordered Sean as she took another step back.
One of the boys laughed. "I’ll take the pretty one in the back there. You two can have the bitch in front."
Drew waited for the first one to move, imprinting the positions of the three of them in her mind. When the one in the middle swung the bat at her head, she stepped toward him, chopping at his forearm with the knife edge of her hand. The blow from the bat grazed her shoulder but did no real damage. He dropped it with a howl as the nerve in his arm went dead where she had struck him. She kicked back and to the side as the one on her left rushed her, catching him in the groin. He went down gagging, but the third man managed to crack his bat down on her thigh, pitching her to the ground.
She rolled back into her fall and got to her feet in time to see Sean step forward with a side kick that hit her assailant in the chest. By then, all three of them were on their feet again and slowly circling.
"Damn it, Sean," Drew shouted, "get back!" She was slowed by the hematoma forming in her thigh muscle, but she ignored the pain. She knew, however, she couldn’t continue to fight them one at a time. With superhuman effort, she jumped forward on her injured leg and kicked once, twice—taking two of them down. She swung toward the third and punched, doubling him over. She raised her uninjured knee into his face. He fell heavily to the ground. The other two had dropped away into the shadows. Drew was blind to everything except the rage that poured through her, wrenching an eerie howl from her depths. She knelt beside the coughing figure and pulled his head back by his hair. She raised her hand to deliver the blow she hadn’t been able to deliver eight years ago, the blow that would finally set her free. She gathered her breath to strike.
"Drew!" Sean screamed, grabbing the raised arm with both hands. "Drew, no! You’ll kill him!"
Sean’s voice dimly penetrated her awareness, and she loosened her hold on his hair. He rolled to one side, and suddenly one of the others grabbed him and pulled him away. The three of them stumbled away into the shadows.
Drew’s breath tore from her with a soul-wrenching scream, and she doubled over, her clenched hands to her face. Her body shook uncontrollably as she rocked forward.
"No, no, no—no!" she uttered brokenly.
Sean went to her knees, pulling Drew against her. "Drew, it’s Sean. It’s Sean—we’re all right. It’s over. Drew—Drew!"
Drew collapsed against her, sobbing. Somehow, Sean managed to get her to her feet and out of the alley to the street. There was no sign of their attackers. Mercifully, her car was not far, and she half carried, half dragged Drew to it. She put her in the back seat and covered her as best she could with her jacket.
She thanked god when she slammed to a halt before her home that Susan’s car was in the car port. Leaving the motor running, she raced to the front door, ringing the bell frantically. She was on her way back to the car when the door opened, revealing Susan’s figure outlined in the archway.
"Susan—help me! It’s Drew," she shouted.
For the only time in her life, Susan remained calm in a crisis—probably because it was clear that her sister was nearly hysterical. Together they got Drew inside onto the couch in the library. She was still shaking and her eyes were frighteningly unfocused.
"Help me get her clothes off—her leg is hurt," Sean said, already pulling at her jeans.
"Let me," Susan said, "you’re trembling. Are you hurt?"
"Go the hall closet—top shelf. There’s a bottle of brandy there," Susan said as she gently tugged Drew’s pant legs down.
"Secret stash from my last fall from grace. Go on, Sean!"
Drew protested feebly as Susan lifted her legs to the couch. Her left thigh was swollen to twice its size and beginning to bruise.
"Now get some ice," Susan instructed as Sean handed her a glass of brandy. She looked up at Sean’s pale face and said firmly, "Go on, Sean—I’ll take care of her."
She slipped an arm behind Drew’s shoulder and raised her up. "Drink this, Drew. That’s it—good, a little more now—good."
They wrapped an ice pack around her leg and covered her with several blankets. Sean eased onto the couch and gently settled Drew’s head onto her lap. She tenderly brushed the blond locks back from her forehead.
"Honey?" she asked quietly, "Are you okay?"
Drew turned her face into Sean’s body, murmuring, "I’m so cold, Sean."
Sean rubbed her back through the blankets. She looked to her sister.
"I’m okay, Susan. Go to bed."
"Are you sure?"
"I’ll call you if we need you."
Susan leaned to kiss Sean on the forehead. "I love you, Sean."
Sean gave her a tremulous smile. "Thanks," she whispered. She cradled her lover against her, closing her eyes. Drew’s agonized scream echoed in her mind, and she vowed in the still room that Drew would carry this torment alone no more.
It was nearly light when Sean stumbled into the kitchen, exhaustion stamped on her features. Ellen and Susan were there, hunched over the worn oak table, a pot of coffee growing cold beside them.
Sean slumped into a chair and accepted the cup Susan placed in her hands.
"When did you get here?" she asked hoarsely of Ellen.
"About two. Susan called. You were both out when I looked in. What in god’s name happened?" Ellen asked worriedly.
"We were attacked. God, it all happened so fast. We were just a few blocks from the school. Suddenly three men—" Sean halted and passed a trembling hand before her eyes. "If I had been alone—"
Susan gripped her hand. "It’s okay, Hon, you’re safe."
"Yes," Sean repeated, "I’m safe." She took a deep breath and continued. "I was so startled, I wasn’t sure what was happening. Drew—I don’t know how to tell you—she was possessed—they kept coming at her and she kept fighting back, even when they—"
She closed her eyes. After a moment, her voice low, she murmured, "Even when they hurt her. She never stopped."
"Thank god she was there," Ellen said. She looked at Sean, who sat dazed and staring.
"What else happened, Sean?" Ellen asked. Susan looked at her, confused.
"Drew was going to kill one of them—I could see it in her face, in the way her body tensed. If I hadn’t stopped her, she would have killed him."
"Did she frighten you?"
"No!" Sean exclaimed, remembering her terror and the seemingly overpowering presence of the men. "But I’m frightened for her. When they finally ran away, she seemed to crumble. She was nearly incoherent when I brought her home. It was more than the attack."
"Who’s Dara?" Susan asked quietly.
"Dara?" Sean echoed.
"Yes—she kept mumbling something about Dara while I was getting her undressed. She didn’t seem to know where she was—"
Sean’s face set with determination. "I don’t know—but it’s time I found out."
"Now may not be the best time," Ellen began.
"It’s way past time," Sean said flatly.
Drew groaned and tried to sit up. Sean was at her side instantly.
"Take it easy, Drew," she said gently, supporting her shoulder so she could sit up. She pulled a hassock over and rested Drew’s leg on it. "You’ve taken quite a beating."
"Are you all right? They didn’t hurt you, did they, Sean?" Drew demanded anxiously.
"No. They hurt you!"
"Thank god," Drew whispered, closing her eyes. "I was so afraid—"
"I’m fine, love."
Drew smiled wanly. "That was quite a side-kick you landed. Very good."
Sean was relieved that Drew remembered, and that she seemed like her old self. She took a deep breath.
"Drew, who is Dara?"
Drew jumped at the name and looked away.
"It’s time to talk, Drew," Sean said, unwilling to accept the silence.
"Dara," Drew said finally, "is the woman I thought I would spend the rest of my life with."
Once the words were out, there was no turning back. "We met in our senior year of high school—Dara had transferred from another school. She was everything I wasn’t—popular, outgoing, creative—she was an artist. She had been painting since she was nine—a child prodigy. I was a rebel, an out lesbian with a chip on my shoulder—rough, uncultured, angry.
"Every boy in the entire school wanted to go out with her—and she chose me. She followed me everywhere—turning up at karate tournaments—I was a black belt by the time I was fifteen—bugging me with her friendly chatter, refusing to let me shut her out.
"Finally, I gave in—and then we were inseparable. We always said we were each other's first and last lovers. We got an apartment together—her parents disowned her when they found out about us." She paused for a moment, her face lost in memory.
"The first few years were tough—she was in art school, I was working whatever jobs I could find. That’s when I began training with Janet Cho. She befriended us—paid me a little to teach a few of her classes. It was Janet who pushed me to go to college—I never wanted to. I wanted to support Dara and myself. While I was in college, I joined the army reserves—it paid some, and they wanted women combat instructors. That’s how I was finally offered the job in Virginia—it was the first job I ever wanted. I could teach what I knew best—martial arts—to women. And I got paid for it.
"We were thirty when we moved to Virginia. Dara hated it there. There was nothing but the base and the little town that grew up around it. She missed the city, and her friends, and the intellectual world she loved. We were only supposed to stay a year, then I could transfer somewhere else."
"Somehow, I kept putting it off. I was happy there, and I tried not to see how unhappy Dara was." She stopped and stared at her clenched fists. "God, how I wish I could take it all back."
Sean was so relieved to finally know the mystery of Drew, she found she wasn’t jealous. This was Drew’s past, what made her all she was today. To know a little of where she had been allowed Sean to love her more fully. Her heart filled with compassion.
"What happened? " she asked gently.
Drew’s eyes filled with tears, but she continued, determined to finish.
"We had been there nearly two years, and Dara had reached her limit. We were fighting constantly about it—if I stayed one more year I could name my next location. I wanted to come home to Philadelphia—a year didn’t seem so long to me. But, for her, it was like a life sentence.
"One night it really blew up between us. We had gone to the bar in town—it was the only place lesbians could relax. It was late, and we started fighting. I got angry, and so did she. Finally, she stormed out and I was so pissed off I let her go. I sat finishing my beer, fuming. Finally, I realized it was one o’clock in the morning, and Dara was walking alone. I was frantic—I rushed out, but I didn’t see her. The streets were empty, so I headed for home—"
She stopped and turned anguished eyes to Sean. Then she continued, "I heard a noise—from an alley. It was dark, but the shadows were moving. I started down the passageway—I don’t know why. I just had this empty, horrible knowledge that she was there.
"There were five of them—they must have followed her from the bar. I didn't have much of a chance, but I did some damage—I don’t remember much. I got kicked in the head, and my wrist was broken. The noise of the fight finally scared them off. I guess I crawled down the alley—my hands and knees got pretty torn up. That’s when I found her. They beat her before they raped her. She was already dead when I got to her."
Sean covered her mouth to suppress her cry. Her mind tried to hold the pain Drew must have felt, but it was too much.
"Oh god, Drew, I’m so sorry!"
"I never told her I was sorry, Sean. I never got to tell her that she was my whole life, the best part of me—oh god, I never even said good-bye."
Finally, finally, Drew cried. Deep, soul-wrenching sobs that doubled her over. Sean rushed to her, pulling Drew’s head onto her shoulder, sheltering her heaving body. She murmured softly, useless words that couldn’t begin to make up for the horror of that night, or all the lonely years that followed, but she gave what comfort she could. Drew clung to her, broken, bereft.
After what seemed like hours, Drew quieted, exhausted. Sean continued to hold her.
"Do you hate me?" Drew asked, her face still buried against Sean’s breast.
Sean gripped her even more tightly. "Hate you? No, Drew, I don’t hate you—I love you. I wish it had never happened—I wish you had never suffered such a terrible loss—I wish I could take all your pain away. I wish I could do something—anything—to make it all right, but I can only love you."
"Last night," Drew began haltingly, "last night was like that night. Only this time it was you—and I was there. I wanted to kill them, Sean—for threatening you, for trying to take it all away from me again. I couldn’t stand to lose you."
"You won’t lose me, Drew. I promise, we will have a future together. I promise."
"I love you so much," Drew whispered, at last able to say the words. "I love you."
Sean cupped Drew’s face and kissed her. "I know."
Sean laid her starched, crisp uniform over the chair and methodically arranged her gear in her bag. She didn’t look up as Susan entered and sprawled out on Sean’s bed.
"Are you ready?" Susan asked.
"Yes," Sean said.
"I wish I could come watch you test," Susan pouted.
"The black belt tests are private, Suse—no one will be there except the black belt test board."
"Will Drew be there?"
"Of course," Sean replied, smiling at the thought.
"Is her leg okay?"
Sean glanced at her sister. "Her leg is fine. And so is the rest of her. Not one single nightmare in three months. And she finally showed me pictures of her and Dara."
"Were you jealous?"
"No—" Sean said thoughtfully. "It was like looking at family pictures. Drew was so young, and they were so innocent. It made me sad. But, it’s what she’s needed to do all these years—she needs Dara in her life; she needs the memories. And, I need them too—because now Drew is whole. And that’s what I need."
Susan fussed with the pillows, not looking at Sean. Sean knew her sister well.
"What is it, Suse?"
"Um—this might not be a good time to tell you this—" her voice trailed off weakly.
"What?" Sean asked exasperated.
"Ellen and I are buying a house."
"Susan! That’s wonderful!"
Susan’s face lit up. "You don’t mind?"
"Are you kidding? I’m so happy for you—both of you. I’ll miss you like crazy, but it’s great!"
"Will you keep the house?"
"Yes, I think so—if Drew wants to live here."
"You and Drew? Living together?"
Sean suddenly looked shy. "We’ve talked about it some."
"Now I can really stop worrying—you’ll have a black belt in the house to protect you!"
Sean drew herself up and said archly, "No, my dear sister—two black belts, and we’ll protect each other!"
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