"I thought you'd overslept," Melissa said teasingly around a mouthful of muffin as Jude sat down beside her in the cafeteria. Jude was never late. When her friend failed to reply, Melissa looked up from her breakfast and regarded her seriously. "You look beat," she said matter-of-factly. "Rough night?"
"Not exactly," Jude replied, considering whether she even wanted the yogurt she had picked up more out of a sense of responsibility than from hunger. After Lori had fallen quickly asleep beside her the night before, she'd barely slept, lying awake to stare at the ceiling and wonder what was happening to her. Finally she'd slipped into a fitful slumber just before dawn, only to be awakened in what felt like minutes by the alarm. She'd rolled over and closed her eyes, trying to decide if she should awaken Lori and talk to her then about what she was feeling. But what was she feeling? What was she going to say? I've been unfaithful to you with a fantasy vision? She wasn't even certain that Lori would consider it unfaithful if she'd actually started seeing another woman, let alone been guilty of nothing more than some severely erotic fantasies about one. They'd never placed any limits on each other regarding monogamy; for her it had just worked out that way. Seeing Lori was all she had time for, and apparently the same was true for Lori as well. They were monogamous by default.
In the end she'd pulled herself from bed, more exhausted than she was after being up all night working. She had merely leaned over and dropped a light kiss on Lori's cheek as she left, whispering goodbye and remaining silent about her own troubling thoughts. They both had to work, and she could barely make sense of her own emotions, let alone articulate them to a woman with whom she'd been intimate for months, but who in many ways she hardly knew. Lori deserved more than a rushed explanation at some ungodly hour of the morning that was going to make very little sense to either of them.
"Are you okay?" Melissa asked, completely seriously now.
"Yes...no…I don't know," she said, surprising herself at the admission. She smiled ruefully across the table, aware and appreciative of the concern in Mel's eyes. "It's nothing serious. Relationship stuff."
"What's happening? Does Lori want to move in with you?" Melissa asked, imaging that the attorney had finally pushed for the relationship to become more serious. Jude hadn't seemed likely to.
"No, thank God," Jude said with true relief. "In fact she's never pressured me about that kind of thing. She seems to be pretty happy just the way things are--casual and sort of unstructured."
"So...?" It was clear to Melissa that something was bothering Jude, and she couldn't understand why Jude was being so vague. She was one of the most direct people Melissa knew. "Do you want to get more serious then?"
Jude shook her head emphatically. "Not at all. Everything is fine just the way it is."
"Uh-huh. That's obvious."
"I'm just tired," Jude reiterated, forcing herself to make some effort at breakfast. Lori hasn't asked for anything more, and I don't want anything more. So what's the problem? But she knew what the problem was. She couldn't continue to make love to one woman while thinking of another, and she didn't know how to stop thinking about Saxon Sinclair.
Pam pulled the convertible to the curb in front of St. Michael's and turned in the seat to study her passenger. "I'd like to see you, Saxon. You know that. Dinner, the theater, a few hours in bed...anything you like. Will you call me when you're ready? If you're ready?"
Sax sighed and met Pam's gaze. She wasn't at all sure why she was resisting. Pam Arnold was alluring and talented and sexy as hell. Losing herself in Pam's arms was likely to give her at least two things she needed-a few hours of rest and a reason not to dream about Jude Castle. Still, she hesitated. "I'm not exactly relationship material, Pam. And I meant what I said last night about avoiding involvement with anyone at work."
"I'm not looking for a relationship, Saxon," Pam insisted as her eyes traveled the length of Sax's body. "I'm looking for a little diversion and a little pleasure and I have a feeling that you're exactly what I require." As Sax laughed good-naturedly and stepped from the car, Pam added deliberately, "Call me."
Standing on the sidewalk watching Pam pull away, Sax wondered if Jude had arrived at the hospital yet, mentally reviewing the morning's schedule. She might not see the filmmaker all day if the admissions were slow and they had no reason to film. Maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. Maybe then the insistent hum of arousal that only got worse whenever Jude was near would dissipate. Maybe.
Personal Project Log -- Castle
August 3 -- 10:35 PM
DRM -- 15,530-17,200
It's only been a month, but already I can see the changes in Deb. She's always confident, and of course she should be, because she's already finished an entire general surgery residency before coming to St. Michael's. Still, a month ago she was a brand new trauma fellow, and now she seems like a seasoned veteran. [Note: Episode title-Squad Commander] Today was one of those days when there was a steady stream of injured…most of them blunt traumas…motor vehicle accidents usually. We'd just get one settled and another would arrive. I noticed that when new patients rolled into the trauma admitting area, Sax didn't get involved in the assessment as quickly. Sometimes not at all. She still watched everything, and supervised everyone in the same totally efficient, totally confident, totally commanding manner…but she let Deb lead the team and make all the calls. Still, I could feel Sax there in the background, watching. There's something comforting about knowing that she's there and that if anything goes wrong, you're not alone.
Jude turned off her recorder and leaned out over the top of the stone wall edging the rooftop, letting the night wind cool her skin and thinking about what she had just said. If anything goes wrong, you're not alone. She wondered why that mattered to her. As a child, she had struggled for independence, especially during the years when much of her life had revolved around competition and she had chaffed at the restrictions that had placed upon her. She had finally found something of her own in filmmaking, and had pursued it both because it satisfied her intellectually and because it was her banner of freedom. She enjoyed her friends and her more intimate relationships, but she had always hesitated to establish any serious ties for fear that she would no longer be able to control her own life. Being alone had never bothered her.
She shrugged impatiently, annoyed at her introspection. She should be pleased. It had been a busy but not overwhelmingly hectic day. They had gotten high-quality footage, and it was a good day's work. Things are going even better than you expected. Don't complicate the situation now.
"I can leave if you'd rather be alone," a quiet voice said from behind her.
Jude turned to search the darkness, a rush of heat rising unbidden when she recognized the familiar figure. "I'm in your space up here. I'll leave."
"No," Sax said as she approached. She stopped by Jude's side and leaned her elbows on the wall. "Stay. Please."
For a few moments they said nothing, merely standing side by side in companionable silence, watching the city teem with life far below.
"Why did you decide to do this...surgery, I mean?" Jude asked quietly, not expecting Sax to answer. She wasn't even sure why she had asked, except that she wanted to know.
Perhaps it was the fact that she sensed only honest interest that Sax answered. "Surgery is one of the few areas in medicine where you know you've made a difference almost immediately. You don't have to wait for a drug to work or for a test to be completed. You make a difference with your hands and your mind. And if it doesn't work, it's on you. You know where you stand in surgery. There are no gray zones."
"That's sounds…comforting," Jude observed.
"Yes," Sax replied, a note of surprise in her voice. She hadn't really expected Jude to understand.
"And why trauma surgery?" Jude probed again softly. She heard Sax sigh and saw her shrug from the corner of her eye. This is where she turns around and leaves. She made it pretty clear yesterday morning that she wasn't going to talk to you about herself. Why can't you just let it be? But she couldn't. She'd never hungered to know anyone the way she wanted to know Saxon Sinclair. She couldn't explain it, not even to herself. It was more than respect and more than attraction and more than curiosity. When she looked at her, she saw so many things -- dedication, responsibility, anger, stubbornness, passion. Most of all passion... for what she did and for what she believed. She was too intriguing to walk away from. When Sax made no comment, she repeated, "Why trauma?"
"Ego is a big part of it," Sax admitted. "It's a personal challenge when a life is on the line and you're the only one there that can change the tide."
"And when you fail?"
"You try to make sure that doesn't happen."
"Everyone tells me that trauma burns you out quickly," Jude commented. "After only a month I can understand why. It's so intense, and there's so little time to make a decision. So much depends on what you do. You personally. Doesn't that take its toll--wear you down?"
"It does for some people," Sax replied, turning to meet Jude's gaze. "But it's that pressure--that thrill--that makes it all worth it, too."
Even in near darkness, Jude could see Sax's eyes sparkle. There was a pent-up energy and excitement about her that was nearly palpable. "I bet if you weren't a surgeon you'd be a firefighter or an astronaut or some other high stress, adrenaline-producing job."
"Maybe," Sax agreed, chuckling. "There's nothing quite like winning."
For a moment as she watched Sax laugh with her head tilted back and moonlight angling off her profile, Jude forgot what they were discussing. All she could think of was how beautiful her companion was. It was more than just physical; there was a magnetism and vitality about her that made Jude want to grab on to her and soar wherever that crazy energy would take her. It was a heady, addictive feeling that made her want to stop thinking and just feel.
"How about you?" Sax asked unexpectedly. "What is it about filmmaking that satisfies you?"
"A million things," Jude acknowledged, her heart still pounding. "In a lot of ways it's like what you do. It's technically challenging, it's exciting, and there are rewards beyond my own personal satisfaction. Film is a communication medium, and communication is one of the greatest tools for shaping society." She laughed a little self-consciously, pushing her hair back with one hand in a gesture that Sax was coming to recognize. "Not that I think I'm changing the world, but if what I do causes a few people to think about something differently-to think at all-then I've succeeded."
"I understand," Sax said quietly. It was surprising how easy it was to talk to Jude. The moments they'd spent together were some of the most relaxing she could remember. She had spent her life surrounded by intense people, but Jude's quiet intensity was both comforting and compelling. From the very first moment she had met her, she had sensed Jude's underlying honesty and commitment, and perhaps more than anything else, that was what she valued about her. Maybe it was because they were alone in one of the few places where she had ever been able to relax, but she felt oddly peaceful. She didn't really stop to think about what she said next. "I owe you an apology for yesterday morning. I know you were just doing your job..."
"No, you don't need to apologize. When I'm interviewing I tend to be relentless, because I've learned that often times the only way to get the story that you want is to push. You told me upfront what the rules were and I ignored them."
"I'm sorry, nevertheless," Sax repeated.
"Accepted then," Jude replied softly.
They were standing very close together, completely alone on the rooftop of the hospital. The night lay heavy and warm around them, cocooning them and making it seem as if they were even more isolated than they actually were. Halogen lights at the far corners of the helipad lit the landing area in a harsh artificial glare, but they stood outside the illumination in shadows.
Neither of them wanted to end the moment; neither of them moved into the light.
As it turned out, neither of them had a chance to suggest they go back inside. Sax's beeper went off, making the decision for them.
Trauma alert STAT... trauma admitting... Trauma alert STAT... trauma admitting... Trauma alert STAT... trauma admitting...
Sax shrugged an apology as she turned and sprinted away, Jude close on her heels. Not bothering with the elevators, they clambered down the concrete steps of the stairwell to the first floor. By the time they reached trauma admitting, the first of multiple gunshot victims were being wheeled in from a series of emergency vehicles pulled up behind the trauma admitting bay. Deb was already there, receiving the first patients and starting her evaluation; Aaron Townsend was triaging and informing other nurses and residents as to which individuals needed immediate attention; Mel was on scene with her camera rolling.
"When have we got?" Sax asked as she came through the double doors on the run.
"Gang fight," Deb replied without looking up from the young male she was intubating. "Multiple penetrating injuries -- gunshot and stab wounds."
"How many are we getting?" Sax inquired further as she moved to the next patient in line, pulling on gloves as she went.
"I don't know," Deb said distractedly. "The EMTs said there were at least a dozen injured. This guy's got a hole in his belly and needs to go to the OR right now."
"Aaron," Sax called as she lifted the blood-soaked gauze bandage on the second youth's chest, "call in Tyler and the rest of the backup team. We're going to be busy down here for a while." Studying the two-inch laceration between the second and third ribs, she asked the patient, "What's your name?"
"Fuck you," the teenager grunted, twisting to look at the boy on the bed beside him. "You better hope you die, motherfucker, because if you don't I'm going to kill you."
"You've got a punctured lung. You're going to need surgery," Sax informed him impassively.
"I want to go...to…another hospital. I don't... want to be anywhere near where these...pricks are."
As he spoke, bright red blood frothed from between his lips, and Sax had to force him back to a lying position. Great, rival gang members still looking for someone to fight. Perfect. "Save it for some other day. You've got a stab wound in your chest. At the moment you're not going to be fighting with anyone."
"Just…keep them…away from me," he wheezed weakly just before his eyes rolled upward and he lost consciousness.
For the next few minutes, Sax was busy inserting a chest tube and starting multiple large intravenous lines so that the nurses could hang blood and intravenous fluids. Deb was silently and efficiently doing the same thing as three more critically injured boys were delivered in rapid succession. Several nurses and two more surgical residents were recruited from the intensive care unit to assist in the initial stabilizations.
Jude and Melissa stayed out of the way of arriving stretchers and bustling medical personnel while managing to find a good vantage point from which to film the action. After more than two hundred hours of on-call experience, they had worked out a system that was nearly as seamless as the choreographed resuscitations occurring around them. By now she knew from the footage they'd been getting that she and Mel were working on the same wavelength. That was what happened when a director and photographer were of one mind. She didn't worry about Mel missing something important, which was a good thing, because she often found herself watching Sax-just to see her work. Trying to observe both Deb and Sax now, she was so caught up in the excitement that for a second she didn't register the sound of a scuffle just outside in the hallway. It was the sound of Aaron's voice, raised in anger and tinged with fear, that finally made her look around.
"Hey!" Aaron exclaimed. "You can't come in..."
A sharp crack like snapping wood and the startled sound of Aaron's stunned cry caught her full attention. She spun in tandem with Mel toward the entrance of the trauma admitting area. Three young men shouldered their way inside, all of them blood spattered and wild looking. The teenager in the lead had a pistol in his hand, swinging it erratically back and forth as he stared at the people in the room. Aaron was lying on the floor just a few feet away, his eyes closed and a spreading patch of maroon on his scrub shirt.
"You killed my brother, you fuck," the boy screamed, focusing on the wounded, semicomatose boy that Deb Stein was struggling to save. He raised his gun in a trembling hand, and to Jude's amazement, Deb leaned over her patient in an attempt to shield him.
"No!" Jude shouted and the gunman hesitated, jerking involuntarily in her direction. She didn't have time to register the fear because the next thing she knew, she was flying through the air. Her shoulder struck a counter and her head bounced resoundingly off the floor as she landed. Dimly, she heard several more loud popping sounds, and then there was silence.
Jude opened her eyes and looked up into Mel's frantic ones. "Stop shaking me, goddamn it. I'm awake."
"Let me examine her, please, Mel," Sax said firmly, kneeling down beside the prone woman. Gently, she placed her hand on Jude's shoulder, preventing her from rising. "Jude, just lie still for a minute."
For the second time in her life after awakening confused and disoriented, Jude stared up into Sax's comforting deep blue gaze--but this time there was something in addition to reassurance and confidence in Sax's eyes. This time there was fear. "I'm fine," she said quickly.
"Let me be the judge of that," Sax said softly as she quickly flicked a pen light into each eye, watching the brisk, even, pupillary constriction and feeling the tightness in her own chest lessen slightly. No intracranial injury. "Do you know where you are?" She was having trouble keeping her voice steady. Jesus, that's never happened to me before.
"I know exactly where I am. I don't think I was actually unconscious. I just had the wind knocked out of me. What the hell happened?"
"Just a minute," Sax murmured, getting her voice under control as she pressed her stethoscope to Jude's chest. Once again she was relieved to hear the sure, steady rhythm. Satisfied that there wasn't any major organ dysfunction, she pressed her fingers slightly to the carotid artery in Jude's neck, finally drawing her first full breath since she had seen the gun pointed in Jude's direction. The pulse tripped rapidly under her fingers, but it was full and strong. Looking directly into those questioning green eyes, she murmured regretfully, "I have to go. Deb is on her way to the operating room with Aaron. He's been shot. I'm going to let one of the residents finish examining you, just to be sure, but I think everything is fine."
Jude grasped Sax's wrist. "There's blood on your neck. Are you all right?"
Yes," Sax said. Now that I know that you are.
"Go. I'll see you later."
Personal project log - Castle
August 4 - 9:45 AM
DRM 20,172 - 22,350
Sax and Deb are still in the operating room working on Aaron. One of the surgery residents came out about an hour ago to give us an update. Apparently it was a small caliber bullet from a Saturday night special, which is why Aaron is still alive. It still did a lot of local damage in his abdomen and he lost a lot of blood. They've been working now for five hours. I keep thinking how tired they must be and wondering if they even notice. I keep seeing Deb reflexively shielding her patient, someone she doesn't even know, someone who may have been responsible for killing someone else just moments before... I'm not sure I could have done that. I haven't wanted to screen the videotape because I didn't want to see it again so soon. The waiting is getting to me now... I can't stand waiting and not knowing. At least if I'm working, I won't have to think about what's happening in there.
"Let's go back to the on-call room and run the tape."
"Sure," Melissa agreed flatly. Anything not to have to watch the slow crawl of the minute hand on the large plain-faced clock visible in the operating room control center across the hall.
A few moments later they were ensconced in their familiar location, settling into the routine, replaying Mel's footage of the previous night. Judy had her recorder out and was dictating notations as the counter on the tape measured out the moments to the critical scene. Her heart rate climbed as they approached the section where the gang members burst into the admitting area. She wasn't sure how much Mel had been able to get before everything erupted into chaos, but she steeled herself for what she knew was coming. She didn't have much memory for those few moments because everything had happened so quickly. And for a good part of the time, she had apparently been lying on the floor.
"Here we go," Melissa murmured, her voice tense with emotion.
Jude watched as the nightmare rolled. The three young men suddenly appeared almost simultaneously with the sound of the gunshot, and Aaron stumbled back as if he had been kicked. Miraculously, Mel had reacted immediately to the sounds of shouting in the hallway and had caught the entire sequence perfectly. There was a dizzying blur of movement as the camera apparently swung around to follow along the shooter's sightline and Deb came into view. Jude watched that amazing moment again as the young surgeon threw herself between the weapon and her patient.
"God, Mel, you are so good," Jude said aloud reverently. "You have just captured the one scene that's going to mean more for this project than anything else."
"Maybe," Melissa said quietly, wondering if she had gotten the rest of it.
"Oh, believe me, I'm right, Jude said emphatically. "This is going..."
Her voice trailed off as the camera moved again, and this time Melissa had pulled the camera back enough to get almost the entire room in her lens. The shooter swung his arm and Jude saw him point the gun at her chest, and then she saw Saxon Sinclair step directly into the line of fire, grab her by the shoulders, and push her violently out of the way. It happened so fast that she hadn't even been aware of it then. Stunned, she watched herself thrown out of the bullet's path as her body caromed off the back counter. Almost simultaneously, four armed security guards entered behind the gang members and rapidly subdued them.
Wordlessly, she pushed rewind, but this time she watched Sax's face. For the briefest instant, Sax's stark features had been a study of ferocity and fury.
"I heard gunfire. I remember gunfire," Jude stated numbly. "Did someone shoot?"
"That kid did. About a millisecond after Sinclair knocked you ass over teakettle."
Jude swung her seat away from the tape and stared at her friend. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"I wasn't sure we had it on tape, and..." Melissa shrugged. I was scared to death that you'd been shot, and I didn't even want to think about it.
"How did he miss her?" Jude managed, her throat tight. She wasn't even thinking about the danger to herself. The potential danger was meaningless to her now, because she was fine, and, besides, she had no memory of it. But she had a visceral image of Saxon Sinclair saving her life at certain peril of her own. What if he had shot her instead? The thought was terrifying.
Melissa shrugged. "Just lucky. He fired, but I think the bullet went high. Then the hospital police arrived and right behind them the city cops, and within minutes it was over. All I could think about then was you."
"Hey," Jude said softly, aware of the tremor in Mel's voice. She rested her hand gently on the photographer's forearm and squeezed lightly. "Thanks. You're wonderful, Mel."
Melissa nodded wordlessly. She'd seen the way Jude and Sinclair had looked at one another as they both frantically tried to determine if the other was all right. She'd never seen Jude look at anyone that way. "Yeah, that's me. Wonderful."
August 4 - 5:45 p.m.
Jude turned over on the narrow bed and sat up. A soft knock came again at the door. "Just a minute," she called, searching at the foot of the bed for her T-shirt. She pulled it on and tugged her jeans closed as she walked towards the door. Sax stood outside in the hall in sweat-stained scrubs, looking rumpled and weary.
"I'm sorry I didn't come sooner," Sax said quietly. "I wanted to, but I needed to stay with Aaron..."
Jude was so relieved to see her that she reached out impulsively and grasped the surgeon's hand, pulling her into the room. She closed the door behind them and said, "Sit down. You must be exhausted."
To Jude's surprise, Sax complied, sinking down on Mel's unoccupied bed and leaning back against the wall. Jude asked, "How is he?"
"He's stable," Sax said dully, struggling with fatigue and the aftermath of controlling her emotions for hours. The entire time she had worked to repair the multiple holes blasted through fragile tissues, she had fought not to think about who lay on the table before her. She could not associate the torn and bleeding organs with the man she considered a friend and colleague. She had needed to separate her feelings for Aaron while she battled with death, but it had cost her. She was tired. "If any of a dozen things don't go wrong over the next few days, he should be fine."
"Thank God," Jude said was relief. She noticed a reddened area on Sax's neck and leaned over her, turning her face toward the small bedside lamp. "You've got a cut here."
Sax lifted her fingers and laid them gently on Jude's. "It's nothing. One of the instrument trays fell over when you and I ended in a heap on the floor."
"Thank you for that," Jude said softly, her hand still lightly cupping Sax's jaw. She drew back when she sensed Sax stiffen at her touch.
Sax pushed herself to her feet and started toward the door, knowing that she should go, because she'd been up for over thirty-six hours, her emotions were stretched to breaking, and still the light touch of Jude's fingers drove her crazy. She couldn't stay here, alone with her like this, but god, she didn't want to say goodbye-not yet. Maybe it was just because she was too damned tired to think clearly, but she turned at the last moment and regarded Jude steadily. "Do you know who Madelaine Lane is?"
"Of course," Jude replied, perplexed. "She was a film icon before she stopped making movies and pretty much disappeared from public view. Why?"
"She wants to meet you."
"What?" Jude exclaimed, thoroughly confused. One of them apparently did have a concussion, and she didn't think it was her. "How do you know?"
"She told me."
"I'm not following. When?"
"Tonight. Come on." Sax held out her hand.
Jude stared at her, and then she did the only reasonable thing.
She took it.
"Just give me a minute to change," Sax said as she unlocked the door to her on-call room and motioned Jude to follow.
"Look," Jude said, standing awkwardly just inside the threshold, determinedly looking elsewhere as Sax began shedding her scrub shirt and pants. "I should probably just go home. I didn't even mean to fall asleep this afternoon, and the few hours I had didn't help much. I still feel like I've been dragged through a keyhole. Plus..." she grinned sheepishly, indicating her own rumpled appearance, "I don't have a change of clothes."
Sax rummaged in a drawer built in under her bed and tossed a T-shirt in Jude's direction. Pulling on her own tight black T, she said, "Now you do. I can't help you with the jeans though, because I don't have a spare pair. You can shower when we get to the house and do laundry if you need to."
"We're really going to do this, aren't we?" Jude asked, feeling as if she had just left her familiar rational life behind and was about to step through the looking glass. Probably it was fatigue, or maybe it was the result of the emotional assault that had started with the gunmen in the trauma admitting area and had culminated with the agonizing wait to find out if Aaron were going to survive. Whatever it was, she didn't feel like herself and, yet, in a way, she had never felt more alive, nearly exhilarated. Seeing yourself almost shot in slow motion a few times did that to you apparently. She was too shell-shocked to decide exactly what that meant, but watching the muscles flex in Sax's arms, she didn't care.
"Well, I'm going because right now I need to ride off some of the last twenty-four hours," Sax said, tucking in her shirt and pulling on her boots. Pointedly, she added, "I'd like you to come."
"All right," Jude agreed. She supposed she should ask herself why, but she didn't. It didn't really matter. She wanted to go. For some reason it wasn't important that it didn't make sense. Nothing much had made sense since the moment a bunch of teenagers with lethal weapons had threatened the lives of innocent people who were merely trying to do their jobs. Come to think of it, not much of anything made sense if you really stopped to think about it. One morning five years ago, she'd almost died riding the subway to work. Almost every day in the trauma bay she saw individuals whose lives were altered forever by bad luck or whimsy or the ill winds of fate. Probably after a good night's sleep, or maybe half a dozen, she'd feel like her sensible, balanced, grounded self again. But right now, the idea of riding on the back of Saxon Sinclair's motorcycle seemed like the most reasonable thing she could think of.
"I'll be ready in a second," she said, turning away and stripping off her T-shirt. When she pulled on the borrowed one, she had a quick thought of how intimate it was to wear someone else's clothes. That musing was a bad idea, because instantly her skin began to tingle and she knew what was coming next. Maybe if she didn't think about anything, her body would behave. Thankfully, Sinclair opened the door and stepped out into the hall. Keeping up with her took Jude's mind off the steady pulse of arousal that had started with the first touch of soft cotton over her breasts. It didn't help a bit that she wasn't wearing a bra.
"Have you ever been on one of these before?" Sax asked, leading Jude through the small doctors' parking lot to the far corner where she had left her bike. She unlocked the helmets from the back and handed one to Jude.
"Not one this big," Jude replied. "Only dirt bikes that we used to fool around on when we were kids at the shore."
"All you have to do is hold on to me and let the rhythm carry you." As she spoke, Sax swung one leg over the leather seat and motioned for Jude to do the same. The seat was gently curved so that Jude would easily be able to sit behind her and reach around her waist. Sax grew very still as Jude settled against her hips and brought both hands around to gently clasp her stomach. With her arm halted in mid-motion, hand outstretched with the keys dangling from clenched fingers, Sax was suddenly, acutely, almost painfully aware of the firmly muscled thighs pressed against the outside of hers and the soft swell of breasts nestled provocatively against her back. She had to swallow before speaking, because her throat was tight. "Ready?"
"Yes, I'm fine," Jude said, her chin nearly resting on Sax's shoulder. She hoped the surgeon couldn't feel her heart thudding against the inside of her rib cage, but she couldn't imagine that the two thin layers of cotton that separated their skin was enough of a barrier to hide it.
They were well out of the city and steadily heading north when the harbingers of a summer thunderstorm amassed out of nowhere. Dusk was at least an hour away, but the heavy clouds that gathered overhead obscured the setting sun, plunging them into premature darkness. Even at the speed they were going, the air practically crackled with static electricity that raised the hair on Jude's arms.
Sax flicked on her turn signal and brought the bike to a stop on the shoulder of the highway, reaching up to pull off her helmet as she put a leg down on either side of the machine. Half turning on the seat to look at her passenger, her bare arm inadvertently pressed against Jude's breasts and all at once, she felt the firm curve of flesh and the hard peak of nipple and she nearly shuddered. Stomach clenching, she said huskily, "I don't think this is going to blow over. Ordinarily, I wouldn't mind, but with you on the bike...I don't want to chance it. We can wait it out here, but the roads will be treacherous right after it rains. We'd probably do better to get inside."
What she didn't add was that she wasn't sure she was up to the challenge of a dark, wet highway in her present state. On the one hand, she was drained-emotionally perhaps more than physically-while at the same time all she could think about was Jude. The heat of Jude's body was like a furnace against her back and the unconscious way Jude lightly ran her hands up and down her abdomen was making her so hard she couldn't concentrate. She could have handled the huge bike if her only problem were fatigue, but not when her mind was clouded with lust, too.
"How do you feel about that Motel 6 up ahead?" Jude asked, hoping that the slight tremor in her voice wasn't audible. She'd been pressed up against Sax's back for what felt like forever-a most pleasant eternity during which the vibration of the machine began to echo the building hum of excitement between her legs. If she wanted to delude herself, she could blame it on the powerful engine throbbing just under her, but she knew that wasn't it. It had taken every ounce of her will power not to slip her hands under Sax's T-shirt and caress her skin. If she lifted her palms a mere fraction of an inch, she could cradle her breasts in her palms. Mouth suddenly dry, she added, "We were probably insane to even try this."
"Probably," Sax agreed, and she wasn't thinking about the storm or the danger. Nevertheless, when she glanced up the road to the large and brightly lit motel sign, she couldn't for the life of her think of anything she would rather do more than spend a few hours sheltered from the night's fury with Jude Castle.
While Sax got them a room, Jude waited in the shelter of the short overhang that ran above the narrow cement walkway fronting the dozen motel units. She tried to remember the last time she had done anything as unplanned and out of character as this, and couldn't. But watching the wind slant the rain in heavy sheets against the asphalt parking lot while goose bumps grew large on her arms, she couldn't help but feel that some part of her had been waiting for this moment. Whatever strange constellation of forces was at work to bring her to this particular spot on this particular night, she wasn't going to question it. She was alive, and she might very well not have been. In fact, she had never felt so alive.
Turning at the sound of approaching footsteps, she watched Sax draw near, enjoying the sight of her lean muscular body and the way her rain soaked T-shirt clung to her breasts and stomach. Sax pushed her wild dark hair out of her eyes with the casual flick of her hand, and Jude was reminded of the skillful, certain competence in those fingers. Another rush of liquid heat streamed from the base of her belly down her legs, and she had to pull her bottom lip between her teeth to hide the quivering.
"I expect these accommodations will be less than four star," Sax joked as she fitted the key to the lock with hands that trembled slightly. She was intensely aware of Jude standing just behind her, as if she could sense her through her skin. Every sensation seemed heightened--her skin prickled with excitement; her blood ran hot through her veins; every atom in her body seemed to vibrate. She was stoked red-hot, on the verge of exploding, and she wondered if it showed.
"If there's heat and hot water," Jude rejoined lightly, grateful to step into the generic motel room out of the lashing storm, "I'll be more than satisfied." It took only the briefest glance to confirm that it was indeed the standard, unadorned, functional fare of any roadside lodge. A double bed, a dresser with a plastic ice bucket, cellophane wrapped cups, and a cable TV edged the room.
"I think at least one of your requirements will be met," Sax remarked as she walked to the opposite side of the room and twisted a dial on the forced air heater, holding her hand above the unit. Turning to face Jude across fifteen feet of space that suddenly felt much smaller, she remarked softly, "You're drenched and shaking. I think you should shower first. If you drape your clothes over a chair by this blower, they'll dry faster."
"All right," Jude replied, because the plan made sense. She wondered if she should point out that neither of them had a change of clothes, and then thought she would probably sound foolish. There was no reason two adults couldn't be in the same room together in a state of near undress without losing control of themselves. No reason at all. She took three steps towards the bathroom and stopped, staring at Sax who had lifted one foot to the single straight-backed chair to pull off her boots. It reminded Jude of the way she had looked that first morning making rounds in the TICU, so damned arrogant and commanding. Her eyes followed the long, taut line of Sax's leg and in the next instant, she flashed on the memory of Sax in the murky light of the bar, back arched as she was about to come. Jude's head swam with the vision and something tightened deep inside her. "This isn't going to work," she said breathlessly, her voice nearly unrecognizable to her own ears.
"Oh, yes it is," Sax responded, her own tone low and dangerous as she straightened and, moving quickly, reached Jude in the space of a heart beat. She tugged the borrowed T-shirt from Jude's jeans at the same instant as her mouth came down on the redhead's, a low groan that turned to a ravenous growl escaping her as their lips met. She hadn't a single coherent thought in her mind, only a collage of images, all of them Jude--pensive and quiet as they talked on the rooftop, intense and focused as she worked, helpless and vulnerable in the sites of a gun. She hands danced over Jude's skin, tracing along the arch of her ribs, the tips of her fingers gently following the faint spaces between the fragile bones. She slid upward until her hands closed around Jude's breasts, her thumbs coming to rest on the hardened prominence of her nipples. Jude moaned and pressed her lower body against Sax's, her hands frantically tugging to free Sax's wet T-shirt from her jeans.
They didn't stop kissing, their tongues gliding over and around each other's as Jude backed Sax in the direction of the bed with the force of her body cleaving urgently along Sax's length. Sax's legs hit the edge of the mattress and she fell backwards, Jude on top of her, their legs intertwined. Her hands were still on Jude's breasts, their mouths still seeking, and then Jude reared back, gasping.
Wordlessly, Jude stared into Sax's eyes as she stripped the T-shirt off her torso and threw it onto the floor behind her. Blindly, unable to tear her gaze away from Sax's face, inflamed by the desire echoed in those blue eyes, she reached for Sax's shirt, insistently pulling at it until the woman beneath her arched her back from the bed and ripped it off. Then, hair streaming with rainwater and breasts damp with sweat and storm, Jude fell upon her again. Bare upper bodies fused, jean-clad hips thrust, and their tongues met in a clash of hunger and need.
Sax wrapped her arms around Jude's back and tilted her pelvis to the side, rolling Jude over and following in one continuous motion, ending on top of her. She moved away despite Jude's protesting moan and, with shaking hands, groped for the buttons on Jude's jeans. Frantically following her lead, Jude pulled at Sax's fly and slipped one hand inside. Sax's vision dimmed as Jude's fingers worked lower, and the roaring in her ears escalated to deafening levels. She was desperately afraid she might come the instant Jude found her clitoris, and almost as afraid she would beg if Jude didn't touch her soon. She wanted to come with a ferocity that was driving her insane. Finally, beyond thought, she stood and pushed her jeans down, kicking them away. Jude's eyes were on her, inviting her, urging her to return, as she just as vehemently bared her own flesh. Sax stretched out upon her again and wedged her thigh between Jude's, crying out as Jude's skin slid slickly between her legs.
"I'm coming," she groaned helplessly, shivering as a barrage of sensations gathered between her legs and pummeled toward her spine. "Oh God, I'm coming."
Jude could do nothing but hold her. As she felt the tremors ripple through Sax's body, for a timeless moment her own heart stilled in her chest. She had never known such sweet, sweet wonder and had she been able to form thoughts, she would have realized she had never even dared dream it.
Still shivering lightly, Sax lay where she had collapsed, her cheek cradled against Jude's chest, listening to the erratic pounding of their two hearts. Jude's hands were in her hair, stroking softly down the back of her neck and over her shoulders. The razor edge of her desperate need had been softened by her violent release, but desire smoldered fiercely in her still. Turning her face a fraction, she pressed her lips to the hot, slick skin and pulled a tensely swollen nipple between her teeth, smiling faintly as Jude's hips rose involuntarily under her own.
Wordlessly, she drew her fingertips along the curve of Jude's breast, cupping her hand around her, drawing her deeper into her mouth. Jude moaned faintly, her hands trembling now where they lay on Sax's back. As she sucked, biting lightly with no particular rhythm, Sax shifted enough so that she could explore Jude's body. She'd been too frantic earlier, too blinded by the ferocious hunger, but now she wanted to revel in her. Lightly, she ran her fingers up and down Jude's stomach, over the arch of hip-pressing her thumb into the tender hollow just inside her hipbone-then drawing it along the line of her upper thigh to the outer edges of the soft damp curls at the base of Jude's belly. With each stroke, Jude's legs shook.
"You feel so good," Jude whispered faintly against Sax's ear, her voice thick with urgency. Her body hummed with arousal, honed to laser-sharpness by their lovemaking.
Sax lifted her mouth and murmured, "I'm just getting started."
"I'm so…god, I'm so…" Jude shuddered, the ache in her depths so intense she could barely think. "Do something--please."
"All right," Sax whispered, moving her lips swiftly to the opposite breast and catching the erect nipple sharply between her teeth. She bit down and Jude cried out, arching off the bed.
"No…yes…yes…" Jude choked out, her clitoris twitching sharply. "You'll make…me…come," she warned, wanting to hold on but so close she knew she couldn't.
Sax relented, keeping Jude's nipple in her mouth but merely brushing the tip with her tongue. Curled against Jude's side, with Jude's pulse tripping frantically beneath her cheek, Sax struggled to ignore the demands of her own rising excitement. She eased her thigh over Jude's, rubbing her wetness over the soft skin--a torturous pleasure but some small bit of relief from the escalating pressure nevertheless. Slowly and deliberately, she slid a finger along either side of Jude's stiff, swollen clitoris, squeezing firmly as she rocked her hand lightly back and forth.
Jude whimpered helplessly.
It took all Sax's restraint not to enter her immediately, not to claim her completely, not to give her what she so clearly needed-that swift, blinding relief. Biting her lip, she ran her thumb feather-light over the sensitive tip, scarcely breathing.
"Please…please…please…" Jude intoned, her head rocking frantically. She forced her eyes open, but she was too crazed to focus. "I can't…I can't…I can't…" She found Sax's wrist and tried to force her hand inside, protesting incoherently when Sax resisted.
Sitting up quickly, Sax straddled Jude's thigh, thrusting hard along the tense muscle, aware of the warning spasms between her own legs but pushing the cry of her flesh from her consciousness. Jude. It was Jude she wanted. Watching Jude's face as she touched her, she drew her fingers teasingly along the edges of the hot, full folds, almost frightened by the magnitude of her own desire. God, she wanted to be inside her; she wanted to fill her and drive her hard to the edge and over. She wanted to know her--only her--for those few precious seconds.
"Jude," she whispered softly. "Jude."
Already sensing the first welcome swell of orgasm, Jude heard the call from far away, a strong, gentle voice demanding she follow. Blinking, she gasped as another ripple of excitement rolled through her, but she managed to find the blue eyes, so dark they were almost purple, intense and penetrating, gazing down at her. Helpless, she had no choice but to deliver herself into those confident unwavering eyes.
Deep inside, the pressure crested as Sax filled her, one excruciating fraction of an inch at a time. She opened to accept the pleasure, closed to contain the passion, over and over and over. One sharp cry escaped her as she spasmed hard and fast, but she kept her focus on that commanding face. Then her eyes widened with surprise and her body clenched almost painfully as Sax pushed deeper, forcing an even greater burst of release.
"Sax!" Jude screamed, her eyes finally closing as she reared off the bed, her stomach muscles contracting with the explosion.
"Jude," Sax whispered again, stunned by her beauty. "Jude."
Jude moved her fingers and felt Sax's clitoris twitch.
Sax moaned faintly.
"Have I missed something?" Jude murmured. They were lying wrapped around one another in the still, dark room, the sheets twisted around their lower legs. She had no memory of falling asleep, or how her hand had come to be where it was.
"Depends on what's the last thing you remember," Sax replied as she stretched, placing her palm over Jude's hand and trapping it against her. "God, that's nice."
Jude stroked her lightly, still feeling a little out of body. "Uh…the last thing I remember. Let's see…that would be a mind-shattering orgasm-mine, not yours."
"Well then," Sax said laughing, "you missed a minute or two."
"Damn," Jude muttered, increasing the pressure and speed a little, pleased when Sax gasped. "Can I have a replay?"
"I'm taken care of for the moment," Sax admitted apologetically, placing a kiss against Jude's neck.
"That," Jude pronounced, squeezing her, "does not feel taken care of. Or is that your usual state?"
Around you it seems to be. Sax shifted until they were face to face, and kissed her again, this time on the mouth. After a moment, she answered. "I think I need a bit more recovery time. Otherwise I may need medical care."
"Oh, god-not that!" Jude laughed, stopping her motion but keeping her hand cupped loosely over her. She lifted her head and peered at the small bedside clock. Groaning, she announced, "It's three a.m. But I have no idea what day it is any longer."
"Does it matter?"
"No," Jude replied softly, surprising herself, "it doesn't."
It didn't matter, and that fact was almost as astonishing as finding herself in bed with Saxon Sinclair. There was no point in mentioning that she didn't usually fall into bed with women just because the very sight of them turned her bones to jelly, because no one had ever had that effect on her before-so how was she to know? They were there, it had happened, and god, it was good. For the rest of this crazy night all she wanted was to fill her hands with Sinclair's flesh, to taste her heat, to drown in her.
Without intending it, she'd moved her fingers lower, and it wasn't until she heard Sax groan close to her ear that she realized she had slipped inside her. "I'm sorry," she whispered quickly, beginning to pull out.
"No, stay," Sax murmured, shuddering faintly, "just…stay. I can't again, not yet."
Jude pressed closer until their bodies touched, joined inside and out. She enjoyed the quiet connection almost as much as the wild release they had just shared. "This'll do," she replied sleepily, "for the moment."
Sax chuckled softly as she closed her eyes and welcomed sleep.
Turning carefully so as not to awaken the slumbering woman in her arms, Sax squinted at the clock. She was astonished to see that it was a little after eight. Five hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep was almost unheard of for her, and she had never slept with anyone that long in her life. Cautiously, she started to untangle her limbs from Jude's.
"Mmmph," Jude protested, tightening her hold. "Where are you going?"
"Why? Are we leaving?" Jude asked, opening her eyes to the hazy light that was mercifully dulled by the heavy drapes pulled tightly across the single large window.
"Breakfast at Maddy's should not be missed," Sax remarked, leaning back enough to gaze the length of Jude's body. In the clear light of day she was even more beautiful than the night before, and that had been almost more than Sax could bear.
"I see," Jude said softly, aware that the other woman was studying her. She supposed she should feel self-conscious, or at the very least--embarrassed, by her complete and total loss of control the night before, but she was neither. Since she had the opportunity, she stared back, confirming with her eyes what she had sensed with her hands and her lips hours before. Sinclair was all taut muscle and smooth flesh and looking at her, Jude's mouth was abruptly dry and other parts of her suddenly were not. Then her eyes narrowed and she gently turned Sax's face away with a finger on her jaw. "Oh dear. This could be a problem."
"Hmm? What?" Sax asked absently, as she pushed the sheets lower.
"There's a…mark…on your neck. I am so sorry," Jude confessed, finally nonplussed. She had absolutely no memory of doing that. I never do that. Oh, hell-what am I saying? I never do this.
"It's okay. If Maddy notices she won't mention it. And she already knows I'm all grown up," Sax replied, clearly distracted now. "When did this happen?" she continued as she traced the incision on Jude's leg. The scars were still thick, raised and red. There was a slight hollow in the middle of her calf where the muscle had clearly been torn away.
Jude stiffened slightly; she couldn't help it. "Five years ago."
"Car accident?" Sax inquired gently, meeting Jude's gaze.
"No," Jude replied quietly, her throat tight. It wasn't that she couldn't talk about it; it was just that when she did, some small part of the terror returned like an unwelcome visitor. Much, much better now than it had been, but she still had to struggle not to let the involuntary reaction frighten her. "Subway crash."
Sax frowned, doing the math. "The one here in Manhattan?"
"That was bad," Sax said sympathetically. And this looks like it was bad, too. She hated thinking about Jude injured and in pain. Even now the knowledge of what Jude must have suffered made her stomach clench, and she stroked the damaged skin softly, wishing she could undo the hurt.
"I was lucky," Jude stated. Lucky to be alive; lucky you were there. She sat up in bed, pulling the sheet up to her waist. "I remember you-at Bellevue. You were the first person I saw when I opened my eyes."
Sax stared at her. "I don't remember you," she said regretfully after a minute. "I'm sorry."
Jude smiled. "I imagine you were a bit busy that day-I wouldn't expect you to remember one patient. Then after the surgery I was on the orthopedic floor, so you wouldn't have had any reason to know me."
"I still should remember," Sax insisted, running the backs of her fingers softly down Jude's cheek. "I can't imagine forgetting you." I never will now.
Jude shivered at the caress, her body tightening. They were very close, their lips mere inches away, leaning toward one another in the heavy silence.
"Do we have time?" Jude breathed as she watched Sax's eyes shade to purple.
"Yes," Sax said hoarsely, intent on the way Jude's lips parted as her color rose. "Yes."
They moved about gathering their clothes after a perfunctory, purely functional shower--the scarcity of hot water had precluded anything else. Separated for the first time in twelve hours, Jude watched silently as Sax toweled off and reached for her jeans. The physical distance between them brought both a disorienting sense of loss and an abrupt re-emergence of reality. The night was gone; the connection they had shared nearly as fleeting as that distant moment at Bellevue when Jude had surrendered to Saxon Sinclair the first time.
"I don't know what to say," Jude admitted softly as she pulled on her T-shirt. What does this mean? What happens next?
Sax paused with her fly half-buttoned. "Is there something you need to say?"
Jude thought about it. There should be, shouldn't there? You don't just make love with someone for hours and then simply carry on, do you? She looked at Sax who was regarding her steadily. Waiting.
"Yes, there is," Jude said. She walked the few feet to Sax and put both hands on her face, cradling her jaw, fingers resting on her cheeks. Then she kissed her-tenderly at first, then more deeply, until Sax's hands came gently to her waist and pulled her near. They stood holding one another for a long moment after their lips parted, breathing each other in.
Then, as if by agreement, they walked to the door and stepped out into the morning.
If it hadn't been for the lingering desire that the night had stirred but barely sated, Jude might have been lulled to sleep by the sun and the steady drone of the engine. But, with her arms around Sax's waist and the scent of her so sharp where her cheek lay nearly against Sax's neck, Jude couldn't do anything but think of her. Thinking of her always seemed to bring a thousand images cascading into her consciousness, probably because before the previous night she had observed Sax so many times on tape--often unaware, when she was most exposed. When she was most intriguing. Those glimpses of the surgeon were fixed in her mind and powerful enough all by themselves to make her stomach clench, but now she carried the imprint of the woman on her skin, and inside her body. The visceral memory of Sax naked beside her, above her, stole Jude's breath and threatened to demolish her composure. She needed to get a grip or she was going to embarrass both of them.
Sax felt Jude clutch her convulsively and shouted into the wind, "Are you all right?"
"Yes," Jude shouted back. Not really, but I will be as soon as I find where I left my sanity.
"We'll be there soon." Thinking her passenger was probably just exhausted, Sax rested one gloved hand reassuringly over Jude's where it lay against her stomach. It surprised her to discover that she liked Jude's warm, solid presence behind her on the bike. Often she rode to escape the residue of her work-to leave behind the frustrations of bureaucracy or to block out a particularly devastating trauma-but sometimes, most times really, she rode because she just couldn't rest. Eventually the rhythm of the highway passing underneath her and the demands of handling the big machine would relax her. Oddly, Jude's nearness accomplished the same thing, although feeling the redhead curved around her almost as they had been in bed a few hours before did a bit more than just relax her. Thankfully, her mind was clearer than it had been the previous night, because the pressure of Jude's breasts against her back brought a smile to her lips and a very lovely picture to mind, but at least she wasn't in danger of driving off the road and killing them both. A little low-level arousal she could handle. She hoped. Where Jude was concerned it seemed that she had no warning when some totally unexpected surge of-desire seemed too civilized a word for what Jude made her feel-hunger, perhaps--would flare and burn wildly through her, taking most of her control with it. Perhaps now that they'd had that one night, the fury would pass. She didn't have time to wonder if she were deluding herself as she slowed in the lane in front of Maddy's and coasted the big bike to a stop.
"We're here, " she announced, pulling off her helmet and clipping it to the side of the machine.
"Does she know we're coming?" Jude thought to ask a little belatedly, wondering about their reception. She was beginning to think this might all be a joke, or a hallucination. How had she come to be out in the middle of nowhere with a woman who made her skin melt--when she wasn't making her too angry to see straight, of course?
"She'll have heard us," Sax laughed, easing her leg over the body of the bike and waiting while Jude climbed off. Glancing at the house she gestured with a nod, "See?"
Sure enough, as Jude followed her gaze she spied the unmistakable visage of Madelaine Lane. "Wow. She's still beautiful."
Maddy walked quickly down the flagstone path and through the gate. Standing on tiptoe she kissed Sax's cheek. Turning to Jude, she said warmly, "Hello. I'm Maddy."
"Hello," Jude said, stretching out her hand. "I'm Jude Castle." She tried not to stare, but it wasn't often she got to meet a film legend. Plus, the woman's eyes were the precise shade of deep blue as Sax's, and just as sharp.
"I suppose my granddaughter has had you up all night on some adventure or another," Maddy stated, squeezing Jude's hand softly. "She always shows up here worn out and starving."
"Maddy," Sax sighed as Jude blushed.
"Never mind," Maddy said firmly, shepherding them toward the house. "Come inside and have something to eat. You can tell me all about it later."
Taking her grandmother's arm, Sax continued, "Jude is the filmmaker I told you about."
"Ah," Maddy exclaimed, her eyes sparkling. "Wonderful. I am so curious to know what things are like in the business these days." She stopped on the porch and said, "Saxon, take your guest upstairs and show her where she can freshen up. Breakfast will be ready when you come down."
"Yes, ma'am," Sax said with a laugh as her grandmother left them.
"Madelaine Lane is your grandmother?" Jude asked sotto voce as they climbed the stairs.
"The one and only."
"Oh my god, what stories she must have to tell."
"I'm sure you'll get to hear them before long," Sax grinned, opening a door on one side of the central hallway. "There's a bathroom adjoining this bedroom. I can bring you some clean clothes, if you don't mind wearing mine."
"God, yes. I feel like I've been in these forever," Jude replied gratefully.
"I'll be back in a little while, then."
"All right," Jude said as she watched her walk down the hall and open another door. She had a sudden urge to follow her and turned resolutely into the guest room instead.
"Come in," Jude called in response to the soft knock on the door.
"Feeling better?" Sax asked, entering with an armful of clothes. Her hair was wet from the shower and she wore fresh jeans and a clean T-shirt.
"Much," Jude replied, pulling the top of the towel tighter over the tops of her breasts, acutely aware of just how little of her the material covered. She'd hoped that when she saw Sax again, some of the unsettling effect the surgeon had on her would have worn off. It hadn't. She was still gorgeous.
Sax's eyes flickered down the length of Jude's body and when she brought them back to Jude's face, she saw that the redhead was blushing. "Sorry," Sax said softly. "I have you at a disadvantage." She held out the garments from a respectable distance of a few feet away. "The chinos might be a little long, but-"
"If they haven't been slept in, they'll be perfect," Jude pronounced, taking them gratefully and holding them to her chest. She stared at Sax and couldn't think of a thing to say. She could think of plenty of things she wanted to do, and none of them were possible for more reasons than she even wanted to consider. Not before breakfast, and not with Sax standing right there with a look in her eyes that made her heart rate triple.
"I'll see you downstairs then," Sax said, her voice oddly strained. If I can't be in the same room with her without wanting to take her clothes off, we're going to have real problems at the hospital. God, I hope this passes quickly.
"Yes, fine. I'll be right there."
Jude listened to her footsteps recede outside the door and wanted nothing in the world but to call her back.
"And of course, you can't reshoot it can you?" Maddy asked, passing Jude the pitcher of orange juice. "Finish this-it will fix most things."
"Thanks," Jude said, smiling as she emptied the last of the juice into her glass. "Well," she continued, thoroughly enjoying her discussion with Maddy about documentary film making, although wondering with one part of her mind where Sax had gone off to right after breakfast, "that's part of the reason it's a long-term project, and also why we're filming every chance we can. There's always the possibility that we won't get what we think we're getting, or that there'll be a technical glitch, or that something else will go wrong and we'll miss the shot."
"Your photographer. Is she stubborn and pig-headed?"
"Aren't they all?"
"All the good ones," Maddy agreed with a sharp nod.
"Actually, Mel is terrific. She's independent but she's willing to try to understand what I'm thinking, what I'm looking for. I'm spoiled now. I want her on all my projects."
"Ah, yes-all the great directors form that kind of relationship with their cinematographers-Scorsese and Ballhaus, Kubrick and Alcott. Hitchcock and Burks," she added with a smile, "but of course, they were well before your time."
Jude blushed. "I'm afraid I am nowhere near the league of those people."
Maddy smiled. "Well, they also have actors who are willing to give them thirty takes until they get exactly what they want. I don't imagine Saxon is quite that cooperative."
"Ah…" Jude said, coloring and thinking fast, "she's got a lot to worry about in the middle of a trauma. How the scene comes out isn't one of her top priorities."
"Oh, well put and very diplomatic," Maddy remarked, laughing. "You needn't defend her to me, and I wasn't being critical. I know my granddaughter. She doesn't let much of anything get in her way."
Jude smiled. "No." She glanced at the clock, amazed to find they had been talking for nearly two hours. It was mid-afternoon already. With a start, she realized that in less than eighteen hours, they were due to be back in the hospital for another day and night of call. "Would you mind if I went to find Sax? I just want to find out when she plans to leave."
"Of course not. It was wonderful to hear all about your work. You must come back and show me some of the dailies one of these days."
"I'd love to," Jude replied, thoroughly charmed.
"If you just follow the sound of the hammer, I'm sure you'll come across Saxon," Maddy called after her as Jude went out through the back screen door. Watching her go, Maddy thought what a strange coincidence it was that the first person Saxon ever brought home with her was a filmmaker. But she imagined it had less to do with that and more with the fact that Jude Castle was intelligent and energetic and quite beautiful.
Jude found her inside a barn, a part of which had been converted into a garage. At least Jude assumed that the denim-clad butt that was all that was visible of the person leaning under the hood of a classic car belonged to Sax, because she hadn't seen anyone else about the place.
Sax straightened and reached for a nearby grease rag, carefully wiping her hands. She turned to lean against the fender of a vintage Rolls, grinning at Jude. "Maddy tire you out?"
"No, I fell in love with her in about two seconds."
"Most people do," Sax agreed.
"She's wonderful, and she was a wonderful actress," Jude enthused, still so excited that she missed the change in Sax's expression. "She retired much too early--at the peak of her career, really. It was a shame…a great…"
She stopped, finally aware that Sax had grown pale. Jude had never seen her even the least bit distressed about anything. Angry, yes. But this wasn't anger-this was pain. "Sax? I'm sorry…what is it?"
"Nothing," Sax replied, her voice carefully neutral. "I called the hospital earlier while you were in the shower. Dennis Kline, my senior staff surgeon, says Aaron is holding his own."
"I'm glad," Jude said softly, meaning it, but also quite aware that Sax had changed the subject. She couldn't press her; she hadn't been invited to share that kind of intimacy. She almost laughed at the irony of that fact-they'd done everything but climb inside each other's skin, but she couldn't ask her what was hurting her. That bothered her more than she would have thought possible.
"Am I crazy, or are we on call again in the morning?" Jude finally asked.
"We are," Sax replied, relieved to be back on safe ground. "We can go back tonight or early in the morning."
Jude regarded her carefully but she could read nothing in her expression. She couldn't tell for certain if there was an invitation in Sax's words, and even if there were, she realized that she couldn't accept it. She couldn't spend the night here with even the slight possibility that there would be a repeat of the night before. Because she wouldn't be able to say no, and she wasn't at all sure it was wise to say yes. She needed to get some perspective, and she needed to decide what she was going to say to Lori, and she needed to figure out what the hell she was feeling for Saxon Sinclair--and she couldn't do any of that if she was anywhere near her.
"Let's go tonight."
"Fine," Sax responded. "Let me finish here and I'll get cleaned up. If you want to nap for a bit, you can use the room upstairs."
"Aren't you tired?" Jude asked, aware that she hadn't been invited to stay in the garage while Sax worked.
"I don't sleep much," Sax answered noncommittally.
"I'll probably be upstairs," Jude informed her quietly.
"I'll find you," Sax said as she turned back the engine. She did not watch as Jude walked away, but she was aware of every step she took and she was also aware that she already missed her.
"Sorry I didn't return your calls," Jude said as she joined Mel in the cafeteria at a little before seven a.m. "I got in pretty late." And I didn't want to talk to anyone.
They left Maddy's in the evening, and the ride back to Manhattan was uneventful. If polite distance could be considered uneventful, especially after having been wrapped around each other for over an hour on a motorcycle. Their goodnights were equally civil and proper.
"I'll see you tomorrow," Sax said, straddling her bike by the curb, the engine purring beneath her.
"Yes. Thank you for taking me to Maddy's," she said, standing on the sidewalk, her hands in the pockets of the borrowed chinos, her own clothes rolled up under her arm. "I loved talking to her."
"I know she enjoyed it, too," Sax replied as she turned her helmet around and around in her hands. "Well," she said, pulling her helmet on. "Good night then."
As Jude watched her pull away, gunning the engine as she roared off down the street, she berated herself for feeling so let down.
What the hell is wrong with me? What did I expect Sax to say? We slept together. Okay, fine. People do it all the time. It's natural and normal and doesn't have to mean anything beyond the moment.
When she turned and walked inside, she was still mentally chastising herself for expecting something more.
"Hmm?" Jude asked distractedly, her mind still on the image of Sax disappearing into the night, and the loneliness that had followed. A feeling foreign to her. Focusing on Mel, she said, "I'm sorry if you were worried."
"No, it's okay," Melissa assured her quickly. "When I didn't hear from you, I figured you wanted a break from all of this for a while."
"Not from you," Jude corrected firmly, studying her friend over the top of her coffee cup. Mel looked about as worn out as she felt, although she'd had six hours of sleep after she'd finally gotten to bed. Somehow sleep hadn't made her feel any better. That was probably because her dreams, populated by dark faceless figures racing through rain swept, foreboding landscapes, had been permeated with a sense of danger. Jesus, talk about classic anxiety dreams. How original. Annoyed with herself, she mentally shook off the lingering unease and concentrated on Mel. "You said in your message that you wanted to talk about something. Is there a problem with the project?"
"No," Melissa answered with a shake of her head. Of course that would be Jude's first thought. For all their affection, they rarely talked about anything really personal. Jude never seemed to have the need to, and her perfectly neat, orderly life always made Melissa feel like she was a fuck-up whenever she had a problem. Not that Jude ever said that, or even suggested it. It was just that somehow, whenever Melissa compared her own life to Jude's, she felt inadequate. "It's…uh…not work."
"Is everything all right?"
"Yeah," Melissa replied in a tone that suggested otherwise, poking at the toast on her plate. "I guess so."
"Mel," Jude countered, "I can tell that's bullshit. Spit it out."
"Well, it's just that-what happened with Aaron. It kind of shook me up."
"Of course," Jude said softly. "It was horrible. And terrifying."
"I mean," Melissa continued as if she hadn't heard Jude's reply, her gaze slightly unfocused, as if she were reliving the moment. "We've been in tight spots once or twice. Remember that time we thought the tanks were going to start shelling right where we had our cameras set up?"
"But it didn't feel personal then, you know? It almost didn't feel real. It was-like-uh oh, we're in the wrong place. Better run like hell now. It was exciting in a crazy kind of way."
"Maybe after the fact it was," Jude acknowledged with a grimace. "For a few seconds there I thought I was going to scream or throw up."
Melissa smiled wanly. "Yeah, me, too. But ten minutes later, when they just lumbered past and left us with nothing to film, we laughed."
"Well," Melissa said softly, "I haven't laughed yet. Seeing someone I know almost die like that freaked me out."
"Do you need some time off? I can handle the camera…"
"No, it's just that-I might have screwed up."
Mel looked so miserable Jude couldn't imagine what she was talking about. "Mel," she said gently, "what happened?"
"After you went to the on call room to wait for word about Aaron…" If Melissa had been standing she would have been shuffling her feet, but as it was, she just rearranged her silverware repetitively.
"Yes?" Jude prompted, really starting to worry. "Mel, hey, come on. It's me."
In a rush, Melissa blurted, "I was on my way out of the hospital and I realized I was starving so I detoured by here to get a late lunch and I ran into Deb and we started talking and then we went out for a drink and then we went to her place and then we…ended up in bed."
Jude stared at her, her mouth opening and closing but no sound coming out.
"Oh man--I knew you'd be upset. I've never fooled around before when we were working," Melissa protested hurriedly. "Well, almost never. That one time with the soccer player--but that was after we'd already finished the shoot. Well, I mean we were almost done."
"I'm not upset."
"And that one time in Brussels, with the airline attendant, that didn't…" Melissa stared at her. "You're not?"
"But I know how uptig-how strongly you feel about separating work and personal-stuff."
"Am I?" Jude asked quietly, thinking about that for a minute as if it were a new concept. Actually it was more the case that for her there wasn't any difference. Work was personal-more than that, it was her passion--and she didn't want any extraneous diversions like relationships to interfere with it. She guessed she hadn't wanted anyone else's lives to either. "Well, sometimes things just-happen, don't they?"
"They do?" Melissa asked, a note of incredulity in her voice. "Right! They do, absolutely, they do."
Jude slowly and carefully spread cream cheese on her bagel, wondering if it had all been some kind of group psychosis-an emotional time warp, a bizarre twist in the fabric of reality-like a David Lynch movie. That would explain it. But then if that were the case, it should be over. And every time she thought about waking up beside Saxon Sinclair, her skin grew hot and her stomach did flips. It didn't seem to be over.
"Jude?" Melissa queried in a puzzled tone. "Is that it?"
"I'm really not hungry," Jude announced, pushing her bagel away. She glanced at her friend, who was regarding her with a mixture of curiosity and concern. Sighing, she asked, "Are you okay with what happened?"
For the first time Melissa looked like herself. Shrugging, a rakish grin on her face, she said, "Well, yeah."
"Seems to be."
"Are the two of you going to have any trouble working together?"
"Don't see why we should," Melissa replied seriously.
"Then I don't see a problem," Jude responded wearily as she stood to leave. "Just try to save the personal stuff for your own time, okay?"
"Right," Melissa said hurriedly, gathering the remains of her breakfast and standing, too. "It was just-you know-one night. Just one of those crazy things. It's not serious or anything."
"Yes, I know. Just one night. Nothing serious."
"So," Melissa said, following her to the tray disposal area. "Are you okay? With what happened?"
Jude looked at her sharply. "What do you mean?"
"With Aaron," Melissa replied. Why do I feel like we're speaking two different languages?
"I'm fine. Come on, let's book a conference room. I want to schedule an on-tape interview with Deb as a follow up to the shooting." She really just needed to get back to work, back on track. Everything would make sense then, and if it didn't-it wouldn't matter. Because she wouldn't have to think about it.
"Good idea," Melissa agreed, delighted to be leaving the topic of her indiscretion behind. She'd leave her questions about what the hell was wrong with Jude for another time.
Sax stopped when someone called her name, smiling when she turned to see Pam approaching. "Hi."
"Hi," Pam said warmly. "I just ran into the plastics resident and he says they're available this afternoon to harvest rib grafts for me. I'd like to take that boy in bed two to the OR if we can get him on the schedule. I've got office hours until noon, but after that I want to debride that clot from the frontal sinuses so that plastics can plug the holes with bone."
"He's running a fever, Pam," Sax said, propping one shoulder against the wall outside the double doors of the TICU. "And Kline says his blood pressure's been all over the place since last night. He's not in great shape for surgery."
Pam shrugged and replied with a hint of irritation in her voice. "No guts--no glory, Saxon. He's not going to get a lot better with us just standing around waving our hands in the air. If that intradural hematoma turns into an abscess, we won't have to worry about his blood pressure because he'll never wake up at all."
"Go ahead, put him on the schedule," Sax relented, rubbing her eyes briefly. She was tired and that was odd, because she was almost never aware of fatigue no matter how long she went without sleep. Of course, she'd never gotten to bed at all after dropping Jude off at her apartment. She hadn't been able to stop replaying the events of the night before, and remembering the way it felt to be with Jude, her whole system had kicked into hyperdrive. She'd been ready to climb the walls. Forcing herself to focus on Pam, she added, "I'll clear him if he's stable for the next few hours. If his pressure bottoms out, though, you'll have to wait."
"Thanks," Pam said, satisfied. Her attention shifted abruptly as she noticed the people coming down the hall toward them. "Your fan club has arrived."
"What?" Sax asked, recognizing that predatory glint in Pam's eye. Looking back over her shoulder, her eyes met Jude's, who was just a few feet away with Mel beside her. Sax smiled, suddenly feeling energized. "Good morning."
"Hi," Jude said softly, slowing as she drew near. She was pleased that she managed not to blush, because Sax's gaze was unexpectedly intense. "Is Deb…"
"Inside," Sax said, gesturing toward the unit with a nod.
Sax followed the two women with her eyes as they walked past and disappeared inside.
"So, how's it going with her?"
"What?" Sax asked sharply.
"Whoa! Just asking," Pam exclaimed, studying Sax through narrowed eyes. "They're filming downstairs, right? Must be a royal pain in the balls having them under foot all the time. Although," she added with a suggestive laugh, "the scenery is nice."
Sax tried to hide her annoyance, although she wasn't sure what bothered her more--Pam's curiosity or the way the neurosurgeon had surveyed Jude as she walked by. Pam had a way of looking at women like they were an exotic food group. "It's not that big a problem. Jude's been accommodating about working with a small crew and she doesn't interfere with Deb's training."
"Jude. That's that very attractive redhead, right?" Pam asked.
"Nice. Is she gay?"
"Jesus, Pam," Sax said angrily. "Don't you ever quit?"
"Why, Saxon, your temper is showing," Pam chided with a laugh. "And every one says how cool and unflappable you are, too. I'll take that as a yes."
"Why don't you ask her?" Sax retorted.
"I might," Pam responded thoughtfully, "since I can't seem to tempt you."
"I've got to get back to work," Sax said, ignoring the comment.
"If I don't hear from you, I'll assume that case is on," Pam said, all business again.
Pam Arnold watched Sax push through the double doors with an impatient shove, and wondered exactly what she'd said to make her so angry. Whatever was going on, it had something to do with that enchanting redhead. Perhaps the lovely filmmaker would be interested in dinner. She glanced at her watch and sighed. Well, that intriguing possibility would have to wait until later in the day, but it certainly was a most pleasant thought.
"Let's do this somewhere less formal," Mel suggested, surveying the conference room with distaste. "This place looks too much like a boardroom."
"You're right. Too impersonal," Jude agreed, glancing at Deb. "Got any ideas?"
"How about the roof?"
"Yes," Jude said with a nod. The roof-Sax's favorite sanctuary. It was difficult preventing images of Sax-sweat drenched and exuberant with a basketball in her hands, pensive and still in the moonlight-from distracting her from her schedule, but she managed to chase the memories away with an impatient mental shrug. "We can get the skyline and the heliport in the background. Good idea, guys."
Mel hefted her camera and the three of them trooped out.
Interview - Dr. Deborah Stein
August 6 - 2p.m.
"What were you thinking when those boys came into the trauma admitting area with their guns out?" Jude asked. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Mel give her the thumbs up sign. Good. Sound and visuals are okay.
"I didn't think anything at first," Deb admitted. "You learn not to pay attention to peripheral activity when you're operating or in the midst of a crisis. People walk in and out of the operating room, the radio might be playing, the anesthesiologist is talking to a student a few inches away-it doesn't matter-while the pressure's on you don't hear them or even see them."
With her back to the cement wall at the roof's edge and her blond hair blowing around in the wind, Deb, Jude thought, still looked like the young athlete the country fell in love with during the Olympics. But there were lines at the corners of her eyes now and something harder in her gaze that had been missing before. She's getting battle scars. "How do you filter those things out?"
Deb shrugged. "You forget everything except the moment. No mortgage worries, no car problems, no relationship issues. Just you and the case." She grinned, and this time her eyes smiled, too. "That's where I was last night-in the zone. I was concentrating on the patient and nothing else registered."
"So you didn't realize for a second what was happening?" Jude asked, remembering vividly the commotion at the door and the shouting and Aaron…
"Not until I heard the shot. That got my attention. I used to shoot pistols in competition when I was a teenager. I know what a gun sounds like."
"Even when it was so completely-out of context?"
Deb grimaced. "A hospital isn't a church-there's nothing sacred here-only life and death. I've taken care of plenty of felons apprehended during a crime. I've treated patients handcuffed to the bedrails with armed cops standing guard. As soon as I heard the shot, I knew we were in trouble."
"And your reaction? What made you put yourself between the gunman and the boy you were treating? What made you risk your life?" What made Sax risk hers?
"Totally automatic," Deb said quickly. "I didn't even think about it."
"Bu there must be something behind that response, that desire to shield your patient?"
"I wish I could say there was," Deb said, looking uncomfortable for the first time, "but I wasn't being heroic. It was just that-he was mine, you know? I was the first one to see him, he was my patient, it was my responsibility to see that he didn't die." Deb shook her head ruefully, her gaze traveling away from Jude for the first time to fix on some point in the distance. "Believe me, if I'd had time to think, I don't know what I would have done."
"It was still a very courageous thing to do, Deb," Jude said gently, appreciating that talking about surgery was a lot easier for Deb, apparently, than exploring those highly emotional few moments.
"Maybe. But I can't take too much credit for it. I told you-I wasn't even thinking."
"But it's what we do when we don't have time to rationalize, or even to reason, that really tells the truth about us, don't you think?" Jude asked.
"Yeah, I do think that," Deb replied softly. "Now what Sinclair did-that was brave. She knew that guy had just shot Aaron; she knew he wanted to shoot my patient; and she knew he was probably going to shoot somebody else, but that didn't stop her from stepping in front of you."
"No" Jude said softly, "it didn't."
"I can tell you this," Deb said emphatically, "Sinclair knew exactly what she was doing. She always does. That's brave."
And you've got a bit of a case of hero worship, Jude thought fondly, but she couldn't help wondering if Sax really had acted intentionally, and not out of some basic instinct. And if she did? What would that mean?
"You both deserve a lot of credit," was all Jude said as she raised a hand to Melissa to signal her that the interview was a wrap.
"Cripes," Deb said, shaking her shoulders as if to loosen them. "That's nerve wracking. It's a good thing it was you behind the camera, Cooper."
"Oh yeah?" Melissa asked playfully. "And why's that?"
"I trusted you to make me look good on the tape."
"Well, it was a challenge, but I managed," Melissa jibed, thinking that the one thing Deb Stein did not need was to look any better. She turned the heads of too many women to count as it was, and when the documentary started airing, she'd be inundated with calls for dates. Melissa considered that revelation for a second and decided it was a good thing she didn't have any long-term plans with this one. Yep, good thing all right.
Personal Project Log - Castle
August 7 - 12:20 a.m.
Apparently, this is one of those aberrations that occur often enough that neither Deb nor Sax seems surprised by it. Specifically, nothing much has happened all night. Well, nothing compared to the way things have been all the other nights on call. Around eight last evening two people were transported by chopper following a fender bender, but both of them were evaluated, screened with x-rays, and admitted overnight for observation only. No surgery. Then again, at a little after eleven a young man was brought in with a broken jaw from a bar brawl. No other injuries. Plastic surgery was contacted and they scheduled him to have his jaws wired together in the morning. And that was it. Deb went off a few minutes ago to get some sleep, and I'm going to follow her example. Still, I have this uncomfortable feeling that I'm going to miss something. Deb said that she would much rather be working if she needed to be on call. It was better, she said, to be up all night in the operating room rather than trying to sleep while expecting that at any moment she might have to get up again. Work rather than sleep. It's astonishing how your entire life gets turned around in this place.
Jude clicked off her recorder and thought about what she had just said. Oh yes--life certainly does get turned around in this place. Sighing, she let herself into her on call room.
August 7 - 3:13a.m.
It was the middle of the night and she couldn't sleep. Melissa was breathing softly in the darkness across the room, clearly sleeping the sleep of the innocent at heart. Or certainly, the untroubled of mind. Jude had been trying to occupy herself with plans for the project-writing script in her head and editing sections of tape she had reviewed the day before-anything that might tire her mind and help her to relax. Her usual tricks didn't help. After forty fruitless minutes, she thought she would start cursing aloud. That was when she decided to go in search of company. One thing she had learned is that in the hospital, there was always someone up and about. The nurses on night shift were bright and energetic, because for them this was their normal workday. There were usually one or two surgery residents camped out in the OR lounge, either waiting for cases to start or unwinding after one had finished. If it'd been a week before, Aaron would have been in the trauma admitting area, reviewing billing forms or checking an order status or simply waiting for the inevitable moment when the phone would ring or the radio would chirp to announce incoming patients. But of course, Aaron wasn't there now.
Even though she knew he wasn't there, she automatically glanced into the trauma bay as she walked down the hall toward the elevators. The bright overhead lights were off, but a row of fluorescents under the cabinets on the wall above the long counter where the doctors and nurses did their paperwork was illumination enough for her to see the figure bent over the chessboard.
From the door, Jude asked quietly, "Planning the next campaign?"
Sax turned at the sound of Jude's voice, raising one eyebrow as she answered, "You can never have too much in the way of strategy, don't you agree?"
"Honestly?" Jude said with a tired shrug. "I don't know. I never seemed to have any-where chess was concerned." Or anything else, now that I think of it-except work.
"No, I imagine that you didn't need one."
Perhaps it was the hour, or the unnatural sense of limbo a night without trauma alerts produced, but Sax couldn't seem to call upon her normal sense of distance as she took in the dark shadows beneath Jude's eyes and the weary slump of her shoulders. Gently, she observed, "You look exhausted. Shouldn't you be getting some rest?"
"Can't. I already tried that." Jude leaned against the doorway, noting that Sax looked pretty much as she always did, unruffled and in control. It was infuriating-nothing ever seemed to faze her. "You know, I don't think I ever remember you going to bed at night."
"No?" Sax asked, her voice rising in quiet incredulity.
Jude blushed, remembering very clearly the two of them sleeping in each other's arms. "I meant when you were here working."
Jude was surprised that Sax would refer even obliquely to that night they had spent together. For some reason, she thought it would simply be forgotten, even though she couldn't forget it. Was she wrong in thinking that Sax had forgotten, or at least wanted to?
"Would you like a game?" Sax inquired, gesturing to the board. It wasn't the time or the place to explain, and she doubted it ever would be.
"Well, one good reason might be that my ego is fragile and I can only take losing so many times," Sax remarked dryly. "On the other hand, considering that you're so exhausted you're about to fall down, I'm hopeful that I will have an advantage."
"I know that's not it," Jude said softly as she approached, remembering the almost courtly way Sax had offered her the borrowed clothes that morning after her shower. It had been both touching and heartbreaking, because all she had wanted was for Sax to reach for her. She had only wanted an excuse to let the towel fall. Strange, how she was learning to regret not the actions she had taken, but the things she had left undone. "You're too chivalrous to take advantage."
As if reading Jude's mind, Sax recalled those precarious few moments at Maddy's when her desire warred with caution, and it was her turn to blush. The fact that she did surprised her more than anything she could remember. As Jude came near, she pictured the redhead fresh from the shower, her skin flushed a light rose from the heat and the energy between them, faint beads of water still clinging to the tips of her lashes. So desirable. She ached to touch her now as strongly as she had that day.
"Sometimes I regret that caution," she murmured, not even realizing she had spoken aloud.
"Do you?" Jude asked from very close by.
"Yes," Sax whispered, glancing up into Jude's green eyes.
The moment held, grew- shimmering in the air around them- incandescent with silent yearning. Jude smiled wistfully and Sax smiled back, a faint curve of mouth that spoke of uncertainty and regret.
"Shall we play?" Jude asked.
"Are you sure?"
Sax pushed back in her chair with a sigh, arched her back to work out the kinks she had acquired in the last two hours, and rubbed her face vigorously with both hands. "Well, that was pathetic."
"Not really," Jude said sincerely. Then, fixing Sax with a pointed stare, she added, "And you know it."
"Well," Sax amended with a grin, "it would have been less pathetic if I'd won a game."
"You came clos…closer."
"Uh huh," the surgeon agreed with a grimace. "Closer being the operative word. You take no prisoners, Ms. Castle."
"I didn't expect you'd want me to."
"I don't. I want to be killed cleanly and with as little suffering before hand as possible."
"I'll remember that," Jude replied with a faint smile. She glanced at the clock, already regretting that their private interlude would soon be interrupted by the morning routine. Any minute now, Sax would announce it was time for her to go to the TICU for rounds, and the quiet spell of peaceful communion would be broken. Odd, how relaxed Sax had seemed the last few hours. Of all the things Jude would call the formidable surgeon, relaxed was not one of them. It was nice-very nice, to be alone with her like this.
"Let's get some air," Sax suggested suddenly, reluctant to say goodbye. She didn't need to look at a watch to know the time; in fact, she never wore one. She always knew. "The sun's about to come up."
Jude was too surprised at the invitation to answer with more than a quick nod as Sax jumped to her feet. Where does she get the energy? Jude thought, walking quickly to keep pace. Smiling fondly, she resisted the urge to reach out and hold her hand. Just to touch her.
A few minutes later they stood side by side, leaning on folded arms on the rooftop wall, watching the sky threaten to burst into color. It was serene in the way those last few moments of the night can be just before morning breaks and the demands of the day begin.
"What will you do today?" Jude asked, glancing at the surgeon. She probably shouldn't ask, but she couldn't help herself. She wanted to know where Sax went--what she did--when she changed into her jeans and walked out the door. What do you think? Who do you touch?
"After rounds?" Sax asked musingly, staring straight ahead, caught off-guard by the question. "Stop by the office, check in with Naomi. Make sure everything is under control there. If it's not too hot later, maybe go for a run in the park." She turned her head to study Jude. I'll wish we were on the bike headed for-anywhere-as long as it's just us. As long as you lean against my back and wrap your arms around me. "How about you?"
"Mel and I will review some footage. I'll stop by the office, check with my secretary and the production crew. Make sure everything is under control there. If it's not too hot later, maybe go to the gym."
Sax grinned a little ruefully. "That's scary, you know?"
"Yes," Jude agreed solemnly. "It is."
"Can I buy you lunch somewhere?" Sax asked impulsively. Before there was time for an answer, the sun crowned behind Jude's shoulder, and the light suffusing the side of Jude's face made her glow. Softly, without thinking, Sax murmured, "Jesus-you're beautiful."
"The air must be thinner up here on the roof," Jude whispered, watching Sax's gaze flicker over her face, down her body. "Because it seems to do something to your judgment. As in, it disappears."
"Just mine?" Sax asked, the long supple fingers of one hand tracing the edge of Jude's jaw, ending with a fingertip against the corner of her mouth. "Or does that include you, too?"
"It definitely includes me," Jude said huskily, turning her head to catch Sax's finger between her lips. Gently, she bit it.
"Then I…think," Sax gasped, "we'll be safe if…we…stick together."
"You, Dr. Sinclair," Jude stated ominously, stepping close to her and placing both hands on the back of her neck, "are absolutely anything…but…safe."
Their lips were too close for anything but the kiss that began hungry and rapidly became more, their bodies fusing along every sinewy plane, their arms pulling flesh to flesh in a perfectly matched eruption of desire. Jude moaned, or it might have been Sax, as their hands lifted shirts to slide under--stroking skin--and their hips thrust slowly--stoking fire.
"You make me crazy," Sax breathed into Jude's ear. "Like nobody ever. Do you know that?"
"Am…I supposed to…apologize?" Jude murmured, running her tongue lightly over Sax's neck. "Because I don't…intend to." She was having a bit of trouble keeping her balance because her thighs were trembling, and some part of her brain registered a dangerous rush of blood into a very concentrated spot between her legs, and her ears began buzzing as Sax's hand slipped upward to cup her breast. With the last fragment of her reasoning mind, she choked out, "You can't do that to me here."
"Why not," Sax growled against her mouth. "Just give me a minute."
Jude rocked back, her eyes hazy. "Because it won't take a minute."
"Sax," Jude warned, stilling Sax's hand with her own, "if you keep it up, you'll have to carry me down the stairs. I'll never be able to walk."
"I can't now," Sax murmured, watching Jude's lips and imagining them on her flesh, easing her torment with knowing strokes. "I'm already too hot and too swollen and…"
Jude pressed her fingers to Sax's lips. "Stop. Right. There." She felt Sax's smile curve under her fingertips. "Hold that thought…"
"The one that just made your eyes go purple," Jude breathed.
"That would be the one where your mouth was on me and…"
"Enough," Jude groaned. "I mean it. I'll have a stroke."
"That's okay. I'm a doctor."
"I want you," Jude said very clearly, her gaze locked on Sax's. "I want you so much I can't think. But even if it's quick, it won't be enough. I won't be able to stop if we start."
"When?" Sax asked urgently. "This morning, this afternoon? Forget lunch--we'll…"
"Sax," Jude said softly, "I can't today. Tonight…"
Sax's eyes darkened with something that might have been disappointment, but before Jude could explain, the code beeper blared.
"Son of a bitch," Sax cursed, already moving away, and Jude knew that when she caught up to her, there would be no time for explanations.
The day had dawned with a vengeance.
August 7 - 11:47 a.m.
Jude stood naked by the bed, toweling her wet hair as the door to the on call room opened.
"Oops, sorry," Melissa said, quickly backing away, pulling the door closed.
"It's okay, Mel," Jude called. "I'm getting dressed right now."
Slowly, Mel stepped back inside, grinning sheepishly. "I didn't know, you know."
"And if you had?" Jude snapped crossly. "Aren't we a bit beyond adolescent peek and grope games for God's sake?"
Melissa gaped, at a loss for words. There was fury in Jude's eyes.
Jude threw the towel on the floor and reached for her clothes, pulling on her underwear before glancing over at Mel again. When she saw her friend's stricken expression, she stopped, one leg in her jeans, the other still bare, and said softly, "I'm sorry, Mel. Damn, I really am."
Melissa sat down on the end of the other bed and regarded Jude seriously. "You want to tell me what's going on? You've been upset since you got here yesterday morning, but this-I've never seen you like this."
"Are Sinclair and Deb still in the operating room with that gunshot wound?"
"Yes, and you're changing the subject. Or avoiding the question. One of those."
Jude smiled reluctantly. "Not really. I'm angry because I have a luncheon date with Lori and I wanted to see Sax before I left, and now I won't be able to."
"Do you want me to give her a message?"
"Yes-tell her I'm crazy about her and I'm going to lose my mind if I don't get my hands on her soon."
Melissa stared, astounded. Jude's was statement so out of character she couldn't even feel jealous. "Um-which one am I giving that message to?"
For a long moment Jude was silent, the words she had spoken echoing in her head. Then, knowing with irrefutable clarity that she had meant every one, she sighed with something very close to peace. "Sax."
"Uh huh," Jude agreed, moving over to sit next to Mel on the bed.
"How much have I missed?" Melissa asked. "Like when, where, and how in the hell did you pull this off?"
"Two days ago, a motel, and I have no idea."
"Oh my god. You are my queen."
Jude burst out laughing. "Trust me-you don't want me in charge the way I'm feeling right now."
"Totally unlike myself. Thoroughly irrational, insane-all my nerve endings are raw. I can't think."
Well, it's about fucking time. Melissa chose her words carefully, because the one thing she cared about most was Jude's feelings. "What does Sinclair say to all of this?"
"Nothing?" Melissa asked incredulously. "You two haven't talked about it?"
"Not exactly, no," Jude replied. "Well, exactly no, really. It happened out of the blue, and then we were both-I don't know-afraid of it, maybe? I know I was thrown by how-strongly, I felt. How incredibly, unbelievably, ama-"
"I got the picture, Jude," Melissa interrupted dryly.
"I'm sorry, Mel. I don't know how to explain because I've never experienced anything quite so-so-disorienting and unexpected."
Love, Jude. That's love.
Melissa got up and began to pace, trying to separate her own underlying disappointment from her desire to be a friend. She'd always known deep inside that nothing would ever come of her unrequited passion for Jude, but seeing her now, hearing her talk about Sinclair, she felt the loss just the same. Trying to keep focused on Jude, she asked, "And you're meeting Lori today?"
Jude glanced at her watch. "In exactly twenty-seven minutes. I've got to go."
"What are you going to say?" Melissa queried as Jude began gathering her things to leave.
"The truth I hope, as soon as I figure out what that is."
Lori put down her fork and signaled the waiter. "Check, please," she said when he drew near. As she counted out bills, she said without looking up, "Let's walk, and you can tell me what you want to tell me."
"Lori," Jude began, setting her silverware aside.
"You called and said you wanted to talk," Lori pointed out reasonably as she put the check and the money on the table. "I can tell you're not interested in lunch. It's also the second meal in a row where you haven't eaten, and I'm going to start taking it personally. Let's get out of here."
Jude could only agree, so she followed Lori outside into the midday sun. "We'd better at least find some shade in the park," she suggested as they crossed the street in front of the Plaza Hotel and walked toward Central Park.
"Good idea. So," Lori asked, "what is it?"
Jude intended to tell her as much as she knew herself, and she didn't know any other way to do that except to say it directly. "I've met a woman. We're not involved exactly, but we've slept together," she began hesitantly, looking at Lori, not knowing what to expect.
"Go ahead," Lori said softly, her expression serious.
"I-I want to see more of her," Jude continued, her feelings becoming clearer as she spoke. She laughed deprecatingly. "I'm not good at juggling two relationships. Hell, I'm not good with one. I needed you to know about this."
"Why don't we sit down over here," Lori said as Jude finished speaking, indicating a wooden bench under the shade of a maple. She stretched an arm along the back of the bench and regarded Jude contemplatively. "I have a feeling I'm not going to like where this is going."
"I know it's-sudden. If I'd had any warning-"
"That's not what I meant," Lori said quickly. "I'm glad you're telling me. I'm just concerned about why."
Jude stared, thoroughly confused.
"Is this the first time you've seen someone else since we've been dating?" Lori asked.
"Yes," Jude replied. "Why?"
"We never said we'd be monogamous. I've seen other people on occasion the last few months. Not steadily, but now and then. When you've been away or just-busy. I assumed you were doing the same when I didn't see you for a while."
"I just didn't," Jude said with a shrug. "Honestly, I really was busy, and what we had was fine."
"So-what's changed? Why can't we still see each other? I don't care if you're seeing someone else," Lori began, then laughed briefly and amended, "well, I care some, but if I had expected monogamy, I would have talked to you about it. I love your company, and you know I love you in bed. We don't need to change that."
Jude smiled, because everything Lori said made sense and she understood it perfectly. And she knew-no, she felt-that what had been enough before wasn't now. "This may sound completely ridiculous, because I enjoy seeing you, too, and it's always been-good-between us physically, but I-I just can't. I can't seem to keep her out of my mind."
"Ah," Lori said softly, hearing the tremor in Jude's voice and knowing what she had left unsaid. "This is serious."
"I don't know," Jude confessed. "Maybe not for her, but it certainly is for me. I need to know what's happening. I don't think I'll feel comfortable dating you until I do."
"I can't say I don't care," Lori admitted, resting her fingers on Jude's shoulder. "I'll miss you, Jude. If it turns out differently than you expect, if things-don't go anywhere, will you call me? We have something that works. I'd like to keep it if we can."
"I'm sorry," Jude said quietly, "if I've hurt you."
Lori shook her head, smiling a bit sadly. "I never asked you for more because I wanted to keep things uncomplicated between us. That was my choice." She paused, thinking about what she had just said, wondering if she'd been totally honest with herself. "If you've found something that you can't let go of, don't. Don't give it up."
Jude leaned over and kissed her gently on the lips. "Thank you."
original fiction <> homepage