The Road Back Home

Part 17

by Lynne Norris


Disclaimers: See Part One

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Chapter Seventeen

“There you are.” Regina smiled up at Alex as the taller woman wandered into the living room and sat down on the floor beside her. She shivered, feeling the chill of the winter air on her partner's clothes and gave her a disapproving look. “You were outside all that time without a coat.”

Annoyed at being on the receiving end of an apparent scolding, Alex stared down at her hands and pressed her lips together as she reigned in her initial response. Anyone else would have been instantly treated to a verbal barrage of indignant outrage, but this was different.

No one else had gone to the lengths Regina had, sitting vigil by her side for countless hours in the hospital and then patiently caring for her after she was finally discharged. That knowledge made the words a simple reminder of the fact that someone else in this world cared about what happened to her.

It felt good: scary, but definitely good.

“I didn't think I'd be out there that long.” Alex raised an eyebrow and peered over at the blonde who simply shook her head and scooted farther away from her.

“You're making me cold,” Regina complained, with a hint of a smile in her voice.

Out of the corner of her eyes, Alex caught the amused look on Caroline's face as she watched the two of them sitting on the floor with her son. Unable to resist the temptation, the brunette leaned closer and whispered in Regina's ear. “I promise to keep you nice and warm later.”

The blonde blushed to the tips of her ears while she fussed with Zachary's pajama top and did her best to ignore Alex's teasing eyes. “You're toast,” Regina growled back at her without looking up.

Alex chuckled happily. “Gotcha.” She leaned closer to look at Zachary. “I guess he's pretty wiped out from the day,” she commented, observing the young boy curled up contentedly in the Regina's lap, fighting to keep his eyes open.

He was sporting a fresh pair of pajamas with a familiar-looking bear, sitting proudly on his shirtfront with one paw hidden inside a jar of honey. As Zachary pulled on his shirtfront the bear's eye stretched wide over the top of the honey jar.

“He'll sleep the whole way home in the car and probably won't wake up until tomorrow.” Caroline folded a brown pair of corduroys and packed them into a small, duffel bag that held all of Zachary's clothes.

Regina stroked the boy's curly blonde hair and smiled down at him as he drifted off to sleep. “He really looks like you, Caroline.”

“Do you think so?” Caroline tilted her head and gazed down at her son from her vantage point on the couch.

“Yeah, he has your eyes and cheek bones. What do you think, Alex?” The blonde met Alex's curious gaze and gave her a quirky smile.

Regina watched intently as her partner glanced up at Caroline and then back down at the sleeping toddler, comparing their features.

“He definitely looks like you from the nose up,” Alex concluded. Her attention was drawn to the hallway where she caught a glimpse of Michael walking past them, towards the kitchen.

A moment later, he walked into the room and joined his wife on the couch. Alex studied him, as he draped one arm over the back of the couch and tucked the other one in his pants pocket.

“I asked Mom to make a pot of coffee so I can get some caffeine before we leave.”

“Won't that keep you up all night? I can drive if you want,” Caroline offered.

Michael shrugged. “She's already started brewing it. I'm not going to tell her to throw it out now.”

“Fine, but I don't want to listen to you complain when you can't get to sleep tonight.” Caroline continued packing Zachary's belongings into the bag.

“I wonder where Jeff is.” Regina interjected before her brother could utter a retort.

“He's outside having a smoke,” Michael replied, as he stretched both arms overhead and yawned loudly.

Alex lifted her head up and stared at Regina's brother intently. He met her gaze momentarily, then, glanced away, before he stood up.

“Does anyone else want some coffee?” he asked, as he shoved both his hands back into his pockets. All three women shook their heads and Michael quickly disappeared from the living room.

“I'll be right back.” Alex curled her legs underneath her and stood up, bouncing on the balls of her feet lightly.

“Are you okay?”

Alex gazed back down at Regina and gave her a reassuring smile. “I'm fine.” Before the blonde could ask her another question, she strode out of the room and into the foyer. I really hope I'm wrong about you, Michael, but Jeff was smoking his last cigarette when I was out there. Why would you lie about that? The hairs on the back of her neck started to prickle as she opened the front door and stepped outside.

After a few seconds, her eyes adjusted to the dark and she saw the huddled form sitting slumped on the bottom of the steps. Maybe you need to stop expecting the worst from people, Alex. What would Regina think if she knew what you were thinking about her brother? With a vexed sigh, she shook her head as her cynicism won out.

“Jeff? Are you doing okay?” Alex asked, as she descended the stairs. She thought he nodded his head but she wasn't sure in the darkness.

Jeff groaned and kept his head buried against his knees as he rocked back and forth.

“Too much to drink, Jeff?” she asked, wondering if he'd gotten sick and just decided to stay outside until he felt better, of course with the alcohol and the cold that wasn't a good combination either. Alex sat down on the steps and rested her forearms on her knees as she studied Regina's brother.

“Nah.” He shook his head.

Still not sure what the problem was, Alex wrapped an arm around his middle. “Come on, Jeff. Get up so you can move around. You're going to freeze out here.”

He flinched and let out a muffled cry as she tightened her grip on his waist. “Don't touch me there. It hurts.”

Confused by his reaction, Alex let go of him and rubbed her hand over his back. “What hurts?”

“I fell. It was stupid. I tripped over a rock and just landed on my side.”

Alex glanced around the immediate area and frowned at the seemingly flat landscape of the driveway. What rock? “Did you hurt anything else?” she asked, turning her attention back to him.

“Just my face. I'm a klutz and it doesn't help that I'm stone, stinking drunk either.”

“All right, well let's get you inside.” She stood up and helped Regina's brother to his feet.

Halfway up the steps, Jeff turned stopped and grabbed her arm. “Alex can we just go to the bathroom so I can wash up? I feel like a fool.”

“Yeah…sure,” she replied hesitantly, as they climbed up the steps together. She opened the door and walked inside, keeping herself between Jeff and the view from the living room. He almost escaped unnoticed into the bathroom when Regina walked out of the kitchen and came to an abrupt halt, her eyes widening when she saw Jeff's face.

“Good grief! What did you do to yourself?” She reached out a hand and tilted his face towards her as she inspected the angry looking discoloration on his cheekbone.

In the bright light of the hallway, Alex stepped around in front and looked for the first time, at the ugly bruise that was forming beneath his eye.

“I just tripped over a rock,” he muttered and jerked his head away, but not before Regina witnessed the mixture of hurt and confusion in his eyes. Jeff staggered into the bathroom and turned on the sink faucet.

That was no fall, Jeff. If it was, then that rock must have jumped up and smacked you in the face, Alex thought as she stared after him. She watched as he huddled over the sink and splashed the running water on his face. Her skeptical expression softened when she glanced down and saw the worried look on Regina's face.

“Alex?” Regina touched her arm and stepped closer. “Something's bothering you. What is it?”

The taller woman gnawed on her bottom lip and looked away as she considered what to say to Regina. Now how do I deal with this without making more of a mess of this situation?

She pondered while quickly considering her options. At the moment, all she had to go on was her instincts and they were screaming that Michael was responsible for what happened.

“Don't you think that if he fell, he might have some cuts and scrapes on his face instead of just a nasty looking shiner?”

“You don't believe him do you?”

Damn, there's not much I can keep hidden from you anymore. Is there? “No, I don't. I'm sorry, Regina.” Alex shook her head and stepped into the small bathroom behind Regina's brother.

He was leaning heavily against the white, porcelain sink, so she slipped her arm around him to help steady him on his feet. Water dripped from his face as he glanced up at Alex in surprise and then tried not to let the pain show on his face.

“Don't,” he whispered, trying to push Alex's arm away from him.

“Let me look at your side.”

“No.” He twisted out of her arm and slumped down onto the toilet.

“Jeff, look at me.” Alex held his gaze and leaned down closer to him as she whispered to him. “It doesn't matter to me how this happened, but this is your family. Don't you think you owe them the truth?”

“It's not a big deal, Alex,” Jeff protested. “Let it go.”

Alex shook her head and planted her hands on her hips. “I can't. I grew up living with someone who thought they could get away with terrorizing his family. Don't lie to me about it. I know all the ways you can try and cover for someone.”

“He was pissed off at me. What do you want me to do?”

Regina tugged Alex away from Jeff. “Let me talk to him.”

She knelt down in front of her brother, pulled a towel from one of the holders on the wall, and gently dabbed his face dry. Regina inhaled sharply as she got a close look at the welt that was forming along his cheekbone. “Alex, can you get me some ice from the freezer?”

“Yeah,” the taller woman whispered before she left the bathroom.

“You didn't fall, did you?” Regina rested her hands on her brother's thighs as she peered up at him.

Hazel eyes blinked and he lowered his forehead onto her shoulder. “I'm sorry. I was stupid to think I could come home after all this time.”

“Don't say that.” Regina rocked him in her arms and closed her eyes. She didn't want to believe what her gut was telling her. The signs were there. All she had to do was open her eyes and see the truth. “I'm glad you came home. We've missed you.”

She looked up as Alex reappeared in the doorway and held out a plastic bag filled with ice and a wet dishtowel.

“Thanks. Did my mother ask why you needed it?”

“No, your father was the only one in the kitchen and he didn't ask any questions.”

“Good.” Regina took the bag and wrapped it in the towel before she lifted Jeff's head off her shoulder. “Hold this for me.” She placed the ice against his face and held his hand to it.

Without a word, Regina pulled his shirt out of his khaki pants and ran her hand up under her brother's shirt, frowning as she felt the heat radiating from his skin. “Jeff! You could have cracked a rib!” A mottled-looking purple bruise covered a fist-sized area over his ribs and he flinched as she pressed the palm of her hand to it.

“It's just a bruise,” Jeff replied weakly as he stared down at the floor in acute embarrassment.

Alex stepped out of the doorway and leaned against the wall with her arms folded over her chest. It was an all too familiar scene that made her guts churn as she watched Regina tend to her older brother, except in her family it had been her father who had doled out the beatings.

She looked up as Michael walked out of the kitchen, carrying a travel mug in one hand, and a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Her gaze settled on the angry looking bruise that was beginning to discolor the knuckles of his right hand.

His eyes narrowed as he realized what she was studying and he dropped his hand down to his side.

Gotcha! You bastard. Alex let a thin smile play on her lips as she watched him turn away from her.

Michael hesitated as he walked past the bathroom and glanced inside the room at his two siblings. “What happened to him?”

The concern in Regina's eyes transformed to barely contained rage when she looked at her younger brother and then lunged up to face him. “Why don't you tell me, Michael?”

“Regina, don't!” Jeff pulled himself to his feet and laid a hand on her shoulder for support. “It's not worth it.”

“How should I know? He's drunk.” Michael readjusted the bag on his shoulder and glowered at his sister in apparent disinterest.

Regina stepped forward and grasped Michael's wrist roughly, ignoring her older brother's pleas. “Did you trip over the same rock he did and bruise your hand?”

“You're just as screwed up as he is,” Michael sneered and pulled his arm from her grasp.

“What's going on?” Caroline asked her husband hesitantly, as she stepped from the kitchen, holding her son in her arms.

“Nothing,” Michael snapped. “Jeff's drunk and we're leaving.”

Alex's eyes widened, as she watched her lover physically block her brother's path. “Do you want to know why Derrick was a mistake, Michael? Besides the fact that I was living a lie, he was an abusive bastard.”

“What's going on out there?” She heard her father's voice booming from the dining room before he appeared at the doorway, holding a drink in his hand.

“Regina Kingston! I don't need to hear that language in this house.” Her mother stepped out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a dishtowel.

“It's the truth, Mother.”

“That son of a bitch hit you?” Jeff lowered the bag of ice from his face and stared at his sister in dismay.

Alice stepped over to the bathroom door and gasped as she looked in at her son. “Jeffrey, what happened to you?”

“Nothing, Mom,” he whispered and quickly replaced the ice pack over his eye.

“Don't tell me, nothing! Look at your face,” she cried in horror.

Caroline shifted Zachary in her arms and stepped over to Jeff. She covered his hand with hers and pulled the ice away, uncovering the damage. A gasp escaped her throat as she stared wide-eyed at his face.

Robert walked between his two youngest children to stand before his eldest son. “Do you want to tell me what happened to you?”

Jeff glared defiantly back at his father. “You didn't care what happened to me for the past seventeen years. What does it matter now?”

“Jeff!” Regina spun around and stared at her brother.

“I don't need to hear this,” his father grumbled and promptly walked out of the room.

“Caroline, let's go!” Michael ordered, as he stepped around Regina and stormed towards the front door.

She jerked her head around and stared at her husband with a shocked expression on her face, then, snapped back at him. “Who do you think you're talking to, Michael? Give me Zachary's bag.”

When he didn't answer, Caroline marched over to him and yanked the duffel bag off his shoulder. Instinctively, he tried to grab it as it dropped to the floor and winced as the weight of the bag dropped into his palm, jarring his injured hand.

“What's wrong with your hand?” Caroline frowned as she pulled the bag away from him and then unzipped it. She set her son on the floor and then pulled out his coat


“Nothing,” he protested lamely, looking away as Jeffrey appeared next to Regina still holding the bag of ice to his face.

Caroline's hands shook as she worked to close the zipper on Zachary's coat. The boy twisted around, whimpering softly for his father's attention but she lifted him up into her arms and walked back to Jeff and Regina.

“Regina can you hold Zachary for me?”

“Sure.” Regina stepped forward and lifted the toddler from Caroline's arms and cradled him against her protectively.

Michael started to open his mouth to protest but promptly closed it as Caroline gazed at him through cold, gray eyes.

“Do you have a problem with your own sister holding him?”

“No, but…”

“I don't want you around my son.”

“Caroline!” Alice cried out in alarm. “Don't say that.”

“Alice, he may be your son, but he's my husband. Stay out of it!”

“Caroline, how can you say that? I'm his father.”

“No! Don't you even talk to me after what you did tonight! You hit your own brother because you have a problem with who he is. Didn't you?” she continued without letting Michael get a word in to defend himself. “Frankly, I don't quite think I know who you are right now, so just go. Go home…alone.” Caroline dismissed him with a wave of her hand.

His shoulders slouched in defeat, as he looked back at her in utter confusion. “You don't mean that, Caroline.”

“Oh, yes I do.” Caroline spread her arms out and leaned toward him as her voice rose an octave. “First, you don't have the decency to tell me your own brother and sister are coming home for your mother's birthday! Then I have to watch my husband act like a jackass the entire time they're here. If that's not enough you insult them and assault your own brother! Do I sound like I want to go home with you?”

“But…where are you going to go?” he asked timidly.

“I'll be at my mother's.”

An awkward silence followed, as Michael slowly turned away and trudged to the front door.

“Caroline.” Michael turned back around and looked beseechingly at his wife. “Can I say goodnight to Zachary before I go?”

Caroline closed her eyes and sighed after taking a few deep breaths. “Yes,” she finally whispered and turned away as he walked back toward Regina.

His sister stared impassively at him as he stepped up in front of her. Wordlessly, without making eye contact, he lifted his son from her arms and held him to his chest. He buried his face in the blonde curls and inhaled the sweet scent of his son's skin.

“Daddy will see you later, Tiger.” He walked over to Caroline and after a brief moment settled their son in her arms. Michael pressed his forehead to hers and whispered. “I'm sorry, baby. I didn't mean for this to happen.”

“Apologize to your family, not me.” Caroline whirled around and walked into the kitchen.

Alice glanced back at her son briefly before she quickly followed her daughter-in-law.

“Well, that was a pleasant evening,” Jeff remarked, still holding the bag of ice to his face.

“Why don't you just shut up?” Michael shot back at him.

“That's quite enough.” Reluctant to let Michael anywhere near his younger brother, Alex stepped in between the siblings and folded her arms over her chest. She spent the better part of the day watching her lover negotiate her way through the emotional turmoil that the two brothers were at the center of. Several times she had to physically bite her lip to stop from getting involved even though she knew Regina was more than capable of handling herself, but enough was enough.

“You're finished here, Michael. The best thing you can do right now is shut your mouth and leave,” Alex warned him.

“You have no right to tell me what to do!”

Regina stepped up beside Alex and wrapped her arm around her waist. “Michael, stop. I think you've said quite enough for one night. So take your homophobic attitude and get out of here! Now!”

Enraged, Michael spun on his heels and stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him with enough force to rattle the window in their frames.

Regina groaned and rested her head against Alex's shoulder as the taller woman embraced her. “Oh my god, that sucked,” she breathed into her lover's shoulder.

“You can say that again,” Jeff echoed, wishing suddenly that he had allowed Darryl to make the trip with him.

Alex turned around, bringing Regina with her and draped her other an arm over Jeff's shoulder. “How's your head?”

“It's been better. I want to get the hell out of here and go home,” Jeff complained.

“You're not going anywhere until you sober up,” Regina told him. “Besides, you should give Dad a chance. He's trying, Jeff. You've got to try and meet him halfway. Please?”

“Why should I? He never gave me a chance.”

“You're right, but he's trying to now, Jeff. So don't throw it all away because of your stubborn pride.”

Jeff stared angrily back at his sister and then dumped the bag of ice in the bathroom sink. “Great just what I need; a lecture from my sister.”

Regina glanced after her brother as he walked away and then hugged both her arms around Alex tightly. “I don't think I would have survived today if you weren't here,” she whispered as she tilted her head back to look up at her partner.

Alex shrugged and looked down into tired, green eyes. “Yeah, you would have.”

“Maybe, but I'm still very glad you were here. Thanks.” Regina rose up on her toes and kissed Alex soundly on the lips.

A moment later, the sound of someone clearing their throat from the kitchen doorway caught their attention and they both looked over to see Regina's mother standing there holding the coffee pot, her eyes cast downward. She coughed and then looked back at the two women. “I wanted to know if you both wanted some coffee.”

“Sure,” Regina managed to croak out as she watched her mother's face flush in embarrassment.

“Good. Well, um, just come in and get it when you're ready.”

“Okay,” Regina heard her voice crack and had to stifle a nervous giggle after her mother disappeared around the corner. She glanced up at Alex who was staring back at her with a shocked expression on her face. “She saw us kissing.”

“Yes, she did,” Alex affirmed, still getting over the shock of looking up and having Regina's mother staring right at her as she was thoroughly engaged in kissing her daughter.

Regina nodded her head once and patted Alex on her stomach. “Oh boy.”

“Well, at least we weren't skinny dipping in your parent's swimming pool,” Alex offered with a deadpan expression on her face. She grunted softly as she found herself on the receiving end of a back handed smack into her gut.

“Why do I think you would have somehow enjoyed that?” Regina arched an eyebrow and glanced up at the taller woman expectantly.

“There is something to be said about the thrill of danger.” Alex's eyes darkened as she looked deep into Regina's eyes and let a seductive smile cross her lips.

“Is there now?” Regina smirked suggestively and tugged at Alex's shirt. Her smile turned genuine at the anxious look she received from the brunette. She reached for her partner's hand and squeezed it, enjoying the brief episode of playfulness that had been missing from their lives for so many weeks. “Glad you think so.”

Chapter Eighteen

“I can't believe Michael would do something like that to his brother.” Robert rubbed his forehead in agitation and leaned against the kitchen counter. Nothing prepared him for Michael's bitter resentment and violent outburst towards his brother, earlier in the evening. He wanted to bridge the gap between himself and Jeff but the evening only made the chasm seem wider.

“What's not to believe?” Alice shook her head in dismay and slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. She set her head in her hands and groaned. “Don't you understand I taught him it was okay to treat Jeff differently by throwing him out of the house?”

Robert gulped down a mouthful of scotch to calm his ragged nerves before he crossed the room to stand beside his wife. “If that's the case, then we're both to blame.”

Caroline looked up from her seat on the other side of the wooden table. After shifting Zachary in her arms, she leaned forward and grasped the older woman's forearm with her hand, pulling Alice's hand away from her face.

“I know you both and you did not teach him to be violent. Mike's always had a temper. When he feels threatened he acts like a cornered animal and comes out with his claws bared.”

“What was so threatening about asking our oldest son to come home?” Alice asked. “I don't understand.”

Caroline released Alice's arm and sat back in her chair. “Maybe it's all those memories he's stored up since he was a kid. I told Alex and Regina earlier, he felt like his relationship with you, would somehow change if Jeff came home and you accepted him back into the family.”

They all looked up at once as they heard footsteps approaching on the hardwood floor from the hallway.

Realizing they were talking about him and Michael, Jeff stopped just inside the doorway, unsure of what to do. He looked hesitantly at both his parents and then at Caroline.

“I just wanted to get some coffee.” He motioned awkwardly with his hand and walked over to where the pot was sitting on the counter.

“There's some ibuprofen in the medicine cabinet if you need it.” Alice turned in her chair to look at her son. The entire evening it felt like her heart was breaking as she realized she hardly knew the man her son had grown into.

“I'm fine,” he muttered, wishing he were anywhere but here at the moment.

Jeff's hands trembled slightly as he poured his drink into a mug and dumped a spoonful of sugar into the hot liquid. Acutely aware of the furtive glances cast in his direction, he retreated from the room and walked aimlessly into the foyer where he looked over at his father's study.

Desperately wanting quiet solitude, Jeff turned and tip toed up the stairs, careful to miss the third step from the top since he vaguely remembered that it always creaked loudly whenever it was stepped on. It's funny, he thought, the weird things I'm remembering about this place.

Jeff turned around at the top of the stairs and looked sorrowfully at the wall where his pictures were missing. Wow, I guess you really did despise me that much, Mom.

He tried to convince himself that it really didn't mean that much to him, but it was useless. He trudged down the hallway. Halfway, he stopped and peaked into his sister's old bedroom, where he saw the walls still decorated with her plaques and trophies from high school.

Stung, Jeff ducked back out and continued toward the room at the end of the hall. He reached inside and flicked the switch on the wall, bathing the white washed walls in a soft, luminescent, glow from the overhead light. With a brief hesitation, he stepped into what used to be his bedroom.

There was no helping the initial wave of jealousy and resentment that he felt as his room stood in stark contrast to his sister's.

A stranger walking into the room would have never known it used to be a young boy's bedroom. The wild array of rock posters that adorned his ceiling and walls, the collection of fantasy novels and World War II tanks and aircraft models he spent hours assembling and painting were gone. He stood in the center of the room and regarded the old Captain's desk and chair with a cool, detached expression on his face.

Well, what did you expect after all this time, a welcome home party? Jeff laughed caustically at himself as he strode across the room. He lowered himself to the floor, and leaned back against the wall. He pulled his legs up to his chest, rested his forearms on his knees, and watched the tendrils of steam curl up out of the mug of coffee.

All he wanted was to feel like he belonged again. He exhausted himself over the years with the mental gymnastics of trying to make himself believe that none of this mattered and that he didn't need his family to feel whole.

After all, Darryl was his family.

Darryl was the only person besides Regina who had bothered to care enough to drag him out of the black depression he fell into after Tom died. When he was beyond hope and wishing he could just die himself, it was Darryl who encouraged him not to give up and hold on because he'd taken all the bad things that life had thrown at him and survived in spite of it all.

Still…there was no denying the amount of pain he felt when he got the urge to pick up the phone and call his parents just to talk but didn't. The most important part of his life was Darryl and he couldn't share that part of him with his family.

Jeff tilted his head back against the wall and swallowed, fighting the lump he felt in his throat as his emotions roiled inside.

A moment later, he heard the telltale creak of the stair from outside in the hall, as someone climbed up the steps.

So much for being alone, he thought testily.

“Not like you remember it, I guess,” his father remarked from the doorway.

Jeff shook his head, keeping his eyes averted from his father's gaze.

His father glanced around briefly and then stepped into the room. He held out a pint of milk. “Here, you forgot something.”

Jeff reached up and took the carton from his father.

“See, I still remember some things about my son after all these years. Surprised?” Robert settled himself onto the floor beside him with a groan as his aging joints protested the strain.

“No,” Jeff whispered ruefully, as he poured the milk into his coffee. He closed the container and set it on the floor beside him.

They sat in silence, the only sound was the hissing of the baseboard heaters as the heat cycled on again.

“What happened between you and Michael tonight?”

Jeff stared down at his hands. “What does it matter?”

Robert frowned as he looked over at his son. “Jeff, despite what you may think, I…you're still my son.”

Jeff continued to stare down at his mug and shook his head as he listened to his father stumble awkwardly over his words. You can't say, 'I love you.' Can you? “I guess Mike didn't approve of me being here.” The slump of Jeff's shoulders and the deep sadness in his voice betrayed the heartbreak inside.

“So he decided it was okay to punch you. He didn't have any right to do that to you, Jeff.”

Jeff had a biting, sarcastic remark on the tip of his tongue, but he bit it back as he recalled Regina's words about not letting his stubborn pride in the way. “I was never very good at ducking and weaving,” he offered quietly instead.

Robert cleared his throat before he finally spoke again. “There are some boxes of your stuff in the closet over there. You ought to look through them to see if there's anything you'd like to keep.”

Jeff looked sharply at his father and then glanced over at the sliding doors. After a moments hesitation, he slowly rose to his feet, walked over to the closet, and started to slide open one of the doors.

“Don't open the right door.” There was aloud thud as the wooden door popped out of the track and hit the floor. “It always jumps off the track,” his father finished half-heartedly.


His father shrugged indifferently. “Try the other one.”

Robert watched with cautious anticipation as his son knelt and pulled out one of the worn cardboard boxes.

Carefully, Jeff peeled the packing tape off the box and pulled it open. He sat back on his heels and pulled out a gunmetal, gray, fighter jet with the letters 'USA' emblazoned proudly on its wings.

“I remember making this. It took weeks to glue all the parts together and then paint them.” He ran his fingers over the contours of the plane, his eyes widening in youthful excitement as he examined it. “It's a P-40 Warhawk fighter.”

“Ah, so you still remember.” His father picked up the milk carton and climbed stiffly to his feet. “I think that B-25 transport model we worked on is in one of the other boxes, if you're interested.”

Jeff rubbed his hands over his face, wiping tears away in an irritated gesture. “I didn't think Mom kept any of my stuff.”

Robert looked away, unable to bear the pained expression on Jeff's face. “I packed your stuff away after you left.”

“I didn't leave,” Jeff shot back.

There was a brief hesitation as Robert let the bitterness of his son's words sink in. “You're right, you didn't leave. We threw you out of the house,” he acknowledged quietly. “I know I can't change what happened and maybe it doesn't make much of a difference now, but I'm sorry.” I'm sorry for all the time we wasted, for waiting so long to ask you to come home.

Jeff stared down at the model plane he was holding in his hands – a relic of his childhood and of a happier time with his family. He blinked back tears and furrowed his brow, trying to maintain some semblance of control while his father was still in the room.

Robert stood motionless a few feet away. He sensed the turmoil behind his son's mask of indifference and stepped back. “I'll um, I'll give you some time alone to go through your things.” Quietly, he stepped back toward the door and was gone.

Jeff stared at the spot where his father had been standing and shook his head. It almost hurt more, knowing that his father regretted his decision but had never said anything to him about it. Jeff doubled over and buried his head in his hands, as a wave of grief swept through him.

Hunched over the box, he cried alone for what seemed an eternity to him and then, exhausted, he slumped back against the wall and closed his eyes.


Caroline looked up as Regina walked into the brightly lit kitchen followed by Alex. She'd been shocked, to say the least, when she heard Alice talking about Regina dating a guy last year. Her shock turned to utter disbelief when the words engagement entered into the conversation about Michael's older sister.

She met Regina when she first started dating Michael in their senior year of high school. At the time, Regina was a quiet, introspective woman who was totally absorbed in her studies. That abruptly changed one summer after Regina returned home from college with a different light shining in her eyes. It wasn't until one of Regina's friends from school came to visit, that Caroline began to realize what had changed.

Sarah was the woman's name and Regina was in love with her.

Caroline wasn't the only one to notice the difference. Regina's mother took an instant dislike to the woman and the house had turned into a battleground. Whenever Regina was going out with Sarah, her mother would find fault with everything about the woman and clearly vocalized her dislike about her daughter's choice of friends.

It was a different time and Regina wasn't prepared for having to defend herself or who she chose to love. Over time, the relationship between her and Sarah deteriorated and finally ended less than a year later.

Although, they never talked about it, Caroline could see how hurt Regina was and knew as any woman does what it's like to see the death of a first love.

That was over six years ago and as far as she knew Regina was never involved with anyone else until Derrick. She wondered at the time if Regina was being true to herself.

Today she had finally gotten an answer to her question.

It was only when Regina sat down across from her and raised a questioning eyebrow that Caroline realized she was staring at her and turned away blushing.

From across the table, Alice spoke to her daughter. “Did you eat enough at dinner, Regina?”

Regina turned her attention to her mother and sighed. “No, not really.” She glanced over at Alex who settled quietly into the chair next to her. “How about you? Do you want a sandwich?”

“I could eat more.” Alex replied and then gently clasped her hand around Regina's arm, pulling her back when she started to get up. “Stay. Just tell me where everything is and I'll make it.”

The younger woman looked back at Alex in surprise. The pale blue eyes only revealed a genuine desire. “Sit with your family,” Alex whispered in her ear as she stood up from the table.

Regina directed Alex to the appropriate drawers and cabinets for a knife and plates. She watched as her partner retrieved the roast from the refrigerator and then expertly carved several slices of meat onto a plate.

What I would give to be in Provincetown with you already. This hadn't been a pleasant experience for anyone today and she knew despite her own discomfort that Alex remained steadfast beside her throughout the entire ordeal

“Anybody else want some?” Alex asked over her shoulder before she wrapped up the meat and set it back on the shelf in the refrigerator.

“No, I'm fine,” Caroline replied, a sly smile crossing her lips. What better way to get to the skeptical mother-in-law? You do take good care of her daughter. Don't you, Alex?

“Not for me.” Alice waved her hand.

Alex crossed to the table and set the plates down in front of herself and Regina. Her partner wasted no time starting to consume the sandwich.

“You weren't hungry. Were you?” she teased Regina as she sat down.

Caroline chuckled. “I seem to remember you and Jeff practically eating your parents out of house and home when you were teenagers.”

Regina made an indignant noise and swallowed a mouthful of food. “Hey, we were just very active kids.”

“Mm, getting into trouble was more like what you two were usually up to,” her mother chimed into the conversation.

“Gee, thanks, Mom.”

Alex laughed at the comical expression on Regina's face and then quickly ducked away from the playful swat directed at her.

“Alex, you can sit by me. It might be safer for you over here,” Caroline offered and winked at Regina mischievously.

“That's all right, I know where she sleeps.” The words were out of Regina's mouth before she could stop to think about whom she was saying them in front of. Her eyes widened to the size of quarters and Regina blushed crimson to the roots of her blonde hair.

“Oh god,” she groaned, wanting desperately to just slip beneath the table into oblivion.

Her mother sat back stiffly in her chair with a dismayed expression on her face.

Alex stared at Regina in disbelief, then, quickly bit into her sandwich, and chewed in silence. You sure do and now your mother does too, Reg.

“So, Alex,” Caroline fumbled desperately to direct the attention away from Regina as the stricken woman tried to regain her composure at the table. “Robert said you had been sick the last time he saw you.”

Alex groaned inwardly as the conversation suddenly went from bad to worse. She swallowed and glanced over at Regina who was starting to return to her normal skin tone. “Uh, yeah, there was an accident at work.”

“What happened?” Regina's mother leaned forward in her chair and rejoined the conversation, grateful for any change in the topic of conversation.

Alex pressed her lips together briefly and frowned, as she decided how she wanted to answer the question. “There was a car accident and a boy died in the emergency department. We tried everything, but there was nothing we could do to save him. It was pretty awful. His father was out of his mind with grief.”

Regina had recovered enough from her embarrassment to wonder if Alex would actually tell them what happened. It was still incredibly difficult for her partner to talk about the subject, but she knew that talking about it was as important a part of the whole process of healing as Alex's physical recovery had been in those first, few days.

Alex gnawed on her bottom lip for a second before she continued. “We had the person who was responsible for the car accident in the other exam room.” Her eyes took on a haunted, far away look as she stumbled awkwardly over her words. “This other patient had a gun… things got crazy…”

In her mind, she could hear the crash of the supply cart in the hallway and saw the father burst into the room brandishing the weapon in the air. “Somehow the father got a hold of the gun.”

She felt the warmth of Regina's hand as the younger woman wrapped it around her upper arm reassuringly. The gesture comforted her and calmed her racing heart. Alex swallowed a couple of times, forcing herself to gain control of her voice which was already starting to waver as she spoke.

“I remember him coming into the room. He demanded that we let the woman die. We tried to calm him down,” Alex said, looking directly at Regina.

“You were in the room while this was going on?” Alice cried out in shock, as she looked at her daughter.

“Yeah, I was there. We all were,” Regina replied evenly, without taking her eyes off of Alex.

“I told her to get out,” Alex explained quickly. The whole time, she'd been terrified the man would turn the gun on Regina if given the opportunity. “He was breaking down right there in front of us.”

Alex grimaced and stared down at her hands, which were visibly trembling. The flashes of memory were so vivid it was like she back in the trauma room all over again. Her breathing went ragged and she shook her head. Her jaw muscles clenched as she tried to clamp down on the emotions that threatened to overflow.

She felt Regina's hand slide down her arm and the smaller fingers intertwined with hers. It took a few moments and then she was able to finish. “I don't remember much after I heard the gunshot.”

“Oh my God!” Alice stared at her daughter incredulous that she had been witness to such violence. “You saw her get shot?”

Regina nodded silently, not trusting her voice.

Caroline gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. “Jesus, I had no idea! I'm so sorry, Alex. I feel awful for asking.”

Alex shook her head and pressed her lips together, still staring down at the table. “You didn't know,” she answered with a voice that was still hoarse with emotion.

“This is the same place where you work now?” Caroline asked incredulously.

“Yeah, it hasn't been easy going back there, but at least I'm here and able to give it a try.” Alex turned her head, and looked at Regina and then down at their linked hands. “I wouldn't be here right now if it weren't for Regina.”

Speechless, Caroline sat back in her chair and stared at the two of them for a moment.

Regina glanced up as her father entered the kitchen from the hallway. “Dad was there.” She nodded at him as she continued to speak. “In fact, he just met Alex before everything happened.”

Robert looked startled as he gazed at his daughter and her companion who were sitting across from his wife, holding hands. A peculiar expression glinted in his eyes before he looked away.

Subtly, Regina squeezed Alex's hand and then slipped hers out of the warm embrace they had been sharing. It was all right, she reflected to herself. Her parents could think what they wanted. This was the person who captured her heart and ignited her soul with a passion that went far beyond any physical boundaries.

“Where's Jeff?” Regina asked.

“He's upstairs going through some of his things.”

“Not anymore,” Jeff stated, as he walked into the kitchen, carrying a box in his arms.

“What's in there?” His sister leaned forward and peaked into the container as he set it down on the table.

“They're just some old, model airplanes I made when I was a kid.” His voice downplayed the emotions he felt, knowing that his parents, or at least his father, saved some of the most cherished things from his childhood.

His mother's only reaction was to glance in the box and then she abruptly stood up. She retrieved the empty plates from the table and placed them in the sink.

Jeff ran his fingers over the edge of the box as he briefly pondered the decision he arrived at while he was sorting through the boxes filled with childhood memories. Memories that made him remember there was a time in his life when he believed his father was a hero, like most children believe of their parents.

He realized while he sat alone in his old bedroom that he didn't need these things to make him feel like he belonged here. What was important was whether he wanted to.

He slid the box across the table to his sister-in-law. “Caroline.” Jeff cleared his throat. “I know Mike always liked these models when we were kids. Lord knows we fought over them enough. I'm sure he doesn't have any use for them now, but maybe he'd like Zachary to have them when he's older.”

Caroline stared incredulously at him and then, without a word, she lifted Zachary into Alex's arms much to the taller woman's surprise and stood up. She wrapped her arms around Jeff and squeezed him tightly. “I want my son to have them,” she whispered, as her lips brushed his cheek.


Regina all I'm saying is, think about it. A relationship with a man is difficult enough,” her mother said as she walked out of the kitchen with her daughter by her side.

“Mom, I can't believe you're going to start this all over again.”

Alice stopped in the foyer and glanced over at the tall, dark-haired woman, standing by the front door. If her daughter could see the distrust she had in her expression, so be it, she didn't care. “I just can't imagine that she can make you happy. I don't understand. Why would you want this life?”

Regina ignored her mother's question, refusing to be baited into another argument. Instead she smiled as she watched Alex lean in and say something to Jeff that made her brother laugh. “Mom you don't have to understand – just know that I'm happy.

Alice looked back at her daughter and sighed in exasperation.

“We have to go, Mom,” Regina said softly. She saw an anxious, almost fearful expression cross her mother's face before the older woman embraced her briefly.

As they separated, Robert walked past them, carrying his sleeping grandson in his arms. “Jeff, are you sure you're okay to drive Caroline home?”

“I'm fine,” Jeff assured him.

Regina walked over to Alex and slipped her arms inside the sleeves of the coat that the taller woman was holding out for her.

“Thanks,” she whispered, glancing back over her shoulder into sparkling, blue eyes.

“My pleasure,” Alex replied and ran her hand over Regina's back affectionately. It had been an uncomfortable experience to say the least and she felt a weight lifting from her as they got ready to leave.

“Hey, Sis. I need my keys.” Jeff held out his hand expectantly.

Regina dug into her pockets and then tossed them to him, smiling as he snatched them out of the air.

Caroline stepped forward and gently lifted Zachary out of her father-in-law's arms. “It's time to take my little man home.”

“You're going home?” Alice asked hopefully. She'd been worried all night about what Mike's behavior might do to her son's relationship.

“Yeah, Mike and I need to talk and it wouldn't hurt him to apologize to his brother.”

Jeff shrugged indifferently and opened the front door. He appreciated Caroline's sentiments but he didn't hold much hope out for any kind of reconciliation with his brother. “Let's go.”

One by one, they all filed out of the house until it was Jeff and his parents left inside. He looked at both of them briefly and then held his hand out to his father.

“Come here,” the older man growled and pulled his son into a hug. “I'm glad you came home.”

Jeff pulled back from the embrace first and stared down at the hardwood floor. “Me too.”

He winced and pulled away as his mother's hand lightly brushed over his bruised cheekbone. “I'm sorry Michael did this to you.”

She looked up into his hazel eyes and smiled sadly. “I don't know that sorry mean that much after all these years.”

Jeff leaned in and kissed her cheek. “It does,” he said and quickly turned away so they wouldn't see his tears as he walked out the door.


Alex strolled to her Jeep with an arm draped over Regina's shoulders. She squeezed her and cast a quick glance down at her lover's somber countenance. “Nickel for your thoughts.”

Regina wrapped an arm around Alex's waist and leaned in against her taller frame. “I guess I just feel sad.”

The older woman remained silent and let her fingers curl around Regina's shoulder. At her truck, Alex turned around and leaned against the hood of the vehicle.

Regina pressed against her and nestled her head against the Alex's shoulder. She bit her lower lip and her eyes filled with tears as she felt the gentle pressure of Alex's hand as she stroked her hair.

“Anything I can do?” Alex watched the blonde head shake back and forth and heard the quiet sniffle.

“Just hold me.”

“Always,” Alex whispered. She suspected her partner prepared herself for a negative response from her parents towards the two of them and was blindsided by her brother's hostility with Jeff. The taller woman pressed her lips to the top of Regina's head and closed her eyes. When she opened them she looked across the driveway and watched as Jeff descended the steps and headed towards them.

Halfway, he stopped and trotted over to his rental car and unlocked it for Caroline. He took his nephew from her as she crawled into the back and secured the car seat in place.

Jeff looked over at Alex standing a few feet away with her arms wrapped securely around his sister and smiled shyly at her. He carried Zachary over towards the two women.

“Hey, say goodnight to your nephew.”

Regina wiped her eyes and turned around as Alex released her. She smiled when Zachary scrunched his face up, rubbed a fist over his eyes, and then yawned. “Ah, he's exhausted.”

She lifted him up and planted a kiss on a chubby cheek. “Say goodbye, Alex.” Regina waved Zachary's arm at Alex.

The taller woman arched an eyebrow and waved briefly at Zachary.

“Well, we had quite a night didn't we?” Caroline ambled over and joined them. She hunched her shoulders and stuffed her hands in her pockets.

Jeff scuffed the heel of his shoe on the gravel. “We should get going. I have an early flight out tomorrow.” He handed Zachary to Caroline and then wrapped an arm around Regina's shoulder. Gently he guided her away from Alex. “You've got someone special there, Reg.”

A sweet smile crossed the younger woman's lips in response. “I know.” She looked over at Alex and then back up at Jeff. “You know you have an open invitation at my place.”

“Thanks.” He leaned closer and gathered her into his arms. “I may just take you up on that sooner than you think.”

“Good. I'm going to hold you to it.” Regina stepped back as Jeff let her go. There was a part of her deep inside that ached at the sadness that emanated from her brother's eyes.

After, they all said goodbye and were in there cars, Regina leaned back in her seat and looked at Alex's profile silhouetted by Jeff's headlights as he backed his car up.

“What are you thinking?”

Alex turned in her seat, draped an arm over Regina's shoulder, and brought her face close to the blonde's. “I was just wondering how you would feel about waking up in Provincetown tomorrow morning, instead of our hotel room.”

“Ooh, I'd love to.” Regina raised a hand and let her fingertips graze the soft flesh of Alex's lips. Her brow creased in concern. “Do you want to sleep for a while before we leave?”

A low growl rumbled from the brunette's chest and she captured one of Regina's fingers between her lips. She shook her head as she slowly released it. “No, I'm fine, and I'll be even better when we get there.”

Chapter Nineteen

Jeff felt a quiet melancholy settle over him as he pulled into his sister-in-law's driveway. Michael's taunting words echoed in his mind. Did coming home fulfill your expectations? He wished he'd had the guts to wipe the sneer off his brother's face when he uttered the bitter remark.

He shifted the car into park and let the engine idle. The headlights illuminated the garage at the end of the driveway and their glare reflected back off the windows, forcing Jeff to blink and look away.

He watched Caroline turn and look over the seat at her son's sleeping form. Her eyebrows knitted together in concern as Zachary shifted in the car seat and whimpered in his sleep. After a moment, she glanced back at Jeff and met his steady gaze.

“I'm glad Zachary is too young to remember what happened tonight.” Caroline rested an elbow on the lip of the window. She settled her head in her hand as she studied her husband's older brother, wondering briefly what the evening's events would do to Jeff's already jaded view of his family. In her mind, she couldn't reconcile that it was her Michael's hand that put the ugly, discolored mark there in the first place.

Caroline turned her gaze out the window. “When Mike walks into the room, Zachary just lights up; to him his father walks on water.”

Jeff lowered his head and ran a hand over his face. “I think we all felt that way at some point about our parents. I learned a long time ago that they're just human, suffering from the same frailty and weaknesses as everyone else. The sooner he learns that, the less he'll be hurt in the end.”

“Don't say that.” Caroline's voice broke and she covered her mouth with a trembling hand.

“Why? It's true.” He flipped his hand in growing irritation.

“I want him to look up at his father and see the man that I know he is,” Caroline pleaded.

Jeff exhaled and shook his head. “I'm sorry, Caroline. I just don't know that side of my brother. If that's what Michael wants him to see, then he will.” He managed to get the curt response out, firmly setting the responsibility of Zachary's opinion of his father on Michael's shoulders.

“Jeff, I know there's no love lost between you two, but it would mean so much to me if you would just talk to him.”

“How can you ask me that, Caroline?”

“He's your brother.”

Jeff snorted and shook his head. “As if that should mean anything at this point. What the hell do you want me to say to him?”

Caroline leaned over in the seat and wrapped her hand around Jeff's arm. “Jeff you're the same man who gave me that box of airplane models to give to your nephew. So don't try and convince me you don't care, because I know you do.”

Jeff closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Why don't you go inside, Caroline. It's cold and I'm sure you want to get Zachary to bed.”

“You're going to give up just like that?”

“Hey, it's late, and frankly I've been through enough crap for one day.”

A light flicked on inside the garage and then they heard the rumble of the door as the automatic opener was engaged. A familiar figure walked toward them, stopping just inside the door.

Jeff turned off the headlights when he saw his brother bring a hand up to shield his eyes from their brilliant glare. Impatiently, he reached across the front seat and opened the door for Caroline.

“Look, it's not going to work. He had seventeen years to think about it and the first thing he does when he sees me again is take a cheap shot at me.”

Jeff watched as Caroline's expression sobered and she huddled deeper into the heavy, wool coat she was wearing.

“If you go back to California tomorrow, do you think you'll ever talk to your brother again?”

No, Jeff thought to himself as he stared back at her. He realized his silence was an admission and looked away.

“That's what I thought,” Caroline replied sadly.

He remained silent the entire time while she stepped out of the car and then retrieved her son from the back seat.

Why the hell should I care? Jeff flinched when Caroline slammed the door and walked away from the car. He threw the gearshift into reverse, looked over his shoulder out the rear window, and then stepped on the gas. As he backed out of the driveway, he caught sight of the cardboard box sitting on the back seat.

“Ah, shit!” He hit the brakes hard, causing the car to lurch to an abrupt halt. After he fumbled for the handle in the dark, he finally got the door open.

“Caroline! Wait!”

He watched her stop halfway, turn around, and look back at him. She made no move to return to the car.

With an exasperated sigh, Jeff grabbed the box from the rear of the car and then stepped out of the front seat. He could see Michael studying him from inside the garage and he wished he could read what was going on behind the enigmatic expression on his brother's face.

“I…um,” he hesitated. Jesus, what the hell am I doing? “You forgot the box.” Brilliant. You're a lawyer and that's the best you can come up with?

“I guess I did,” Caroline stated offhandedly.

“I called your parent's house and they said you weren't there.” Michael stepped forward and took the car seat from his wife's hands.

“I changed my mind and Jeff gave me something to give to you.”

Michael stared through his brother. “I can't imagine anything he could have that I would want.”

Jeff gnawed on the inside of his lip, wondering briefly if he should just chuck the whole box at his bull-headed brother's head and leave now, with what little dignity he had left. He exhaled forcefully and shook his head, wondering why this seemed so important now, after all these years that he try and rebuild a relationship with his brother.

“Look, I really don't care what you do with this stuff.” Jeff stalked past Caroline and set the box on the top of the garbage can that was sitting next to the garage door. “They're some old models that I made when I was a kid. Dad gave them to me today.”

Michael turned his head and scowled at his older brother. “Why would I want those things?”

“Michael, just listen to him,” Caroline insisted.

Jeff's eyes met Michael's and he returned the hardened look with one of his own “Like I said, you can throw them out or maybe, you'd like your son to have then one day. There was a time when you couldn't keep your hands off them.”

He ran his fingers over the top of the box, searching for something to say, then, stepped away from his brother and headed back to his car. As he opened the door, he stopped and looked back.

“Caroline's right, Michael.” He offered her a gentle, knowing smile. “I do care, and whether you like it or not, I'm still a part of this family. The question is whether you want to be a part of mine.”

He hesitated uncertainly before he got back in the car. Without another glance at his brother, he backed out of the driveway, wondering briefly if he would ever hear from Michael again.


Alex entered their hotel room and shed her black leather jacket, dumping it unceremoniously over the back of a chair. She tossed her keys onto the nightstand next to her pager.

Her younger companion strode in behind her and slumped onto the king size bed with a loud groan. “I can't begin to tell you how glad I am that's over,” Regina stated and dropped her head into her hands.

“It was pretty rough,” Alex admitted, judiciously keeping her opinions of Michael to herself. She could see the tension settle in her partner's shoulders and scooted back on the bed so she was sitting behind Regina with her legs straddling the smaller woman's hips. “Come here.”

She pulled Regina closer and started massaging the taught muscles at the base of her neck. “You're really tight up here,” Alex tilted her head and peered around to look at Regina's face. “Are you okay?”

“I think so.” Regina leaned back into the strong body behind her and sighed. “I don't know why I feel the way I do. Jeff's the one who got treated like shit today.”

“You love him. Why wouldn't you be upset?” Alex kept up the kneading motion with her hands, wishing she could take away some of the hurt Regina was feeling.

“God, I can't believe what a prick Michael was. I guess I know how he really felt about Jeff and me all those years.”

Alex pulled Regina back and rolled onto her side so they were curled up next to each other.

“Are you still up for driving out to Provincetown tonight?” Regina inquired. She nestled closer and rested her head on Alex's outstretched arm. Inhaling deeply, a contented smile formed on her face as she savored the clean scent that lingered on her lover's body.

“Absolutely,” the brunette responded and then nuzzled the back of Regina's neck with her lips. She smiled at the soft purring noise her partner made and felt a stirring sensation in her groin as Regina pushed her hips back against her body. In response, Alex stretched the fingers of her hand out and teasingly slipped them beneath the waistband of the blonde's jeans.

“I thought you wanted to leave.” Regina arched her back and rotated her hips into Alex's belly.

“I do,” Alex chuckled seductively and kissed her cheek, knowing full well that if she stayed right here, there was no way they were going to make it to Provincetown tonight. “Let me go throw some cold water on my face and then we can go.”

“You're such a tease,” Regina pouted at the sudden loss of contact that left her feeling empty and wanting. She rolled onto her stomach when she heard the water running in the bathroom and settled her chin on her forearms. Several tendrils of hair fell forward and Regina brushed them back behind her ear.

Her thoughts turned inward as her mother's parting words to her replayed in her mind from earlier in the evening. Of course any relationship can be difficult. We've certainly had our share of obstacles, but we've made it so far. I wonder if any of that would matter to you, Mom.

She propped her chin on her hands and stared at the wall with a thoughtful expression on her face. I wonder where we are going.

Regina picked up Alex's beeper, turned it over in her hands, and looked at the time displayed on the screen. Just after ten. If we leave now and don't hit any traffic we'll be in Provincetown by one in the morning at the latest. Not too bad.

Out of habit, she checked for any pages and unexpectedly found one. Oh boy.


“What?” Came the muffled response as the taller woman walked out of the bathroom while she wiped her face dry with a terry cloth towel.

“You got a page from the emergency department.”

“What?” She reached for the beeper. “Let me see. I know Jon is covering for me while I'm away.” Alex strode over to her jacket and pulled out her cellular phone. She hardly looked at the keypad as she quickly punched in the numbers.

The doctor tapped her foot impatiently, waiting for the connection to be made and then spoke after the voice on the other end told her she reached Saint Xavier's Emergency Department. “This is Dr. Margulies. Somebody paged me.”

She waited again as she was put on hold. A moment later a wry grin broke out on her face as a familiar voice came over the line.

“Hi Sandy. What's up?” Alex rolled her eyes as the nurse recounted the chaos of the last couple of hours.

“What are you doing calling here while you're off?” Sandy asked.

“I got a page earlier,” Alex replied.

“I don't know who paged you. At least, nobody is owning up to it and anyway. Jon is here manning the zoo.”

The doctor chuckled at the image her mind conjured up. “Anything going on that I need to know about?” Alex inquired, as she ran a hand through her thick mane of hair.

“Some guy in a suit, was here looking for you earlier, but he wouldn't leave a name or tell me what it was about.”

Alex could hear the irritation in Sandy's voice. “Was it someone from the hospital?”

“I didn't recognize him, but that doesn't mean anything. You've seen on suit, you've seen them all,” Sandy drawled. “Oh I almost forgot. Pediatrics called a code six, twice tonight. I haven't heard anything official, but security has been crawling all over the place.”

“So no one knows if a patient is actually missing or if it's just a drill.” Alex glanced over at Regina and shrugged.

“No, not yet,” Sandy replied.

Alex heard loud voices in the background and then Sandy's voice came back through the line. “I've got to go Alex. We've got two gun shot victims on the way.”

“Talk to you later. Bye.” Alex turned her phone off and tucked it back into the pocket of her jacket.

Regina sat up on the bed and leaned forward. “What happened?”

Alex shrugged. “Pediatrics may have a missing patient on their hands.”

“You're kidding me! Maybe I should call the unit and find out what's going on.”

Alex frowned. “No, don't do that. We don't even know if it's for real and there's nothing you can do about it from here anyway.” She turned away and tucked a few items back into her duffel bag. “Besides, if they did have a kid run off it's going to end up being a police matter,” she added offhandedly.

There was a hesitation before Regina spoke quietly. “I guess you're right.”

Alex heard the catch in Regina's voice and turned around. Her eyes widened slightly when she saw the hurt expression on her partner's face. “I'm sorry, Reg. That sounded pretty callous.” She sat down on the bed, rested her elbows on her knees, and looked over at Regina.

“It's all right.” Regina averted her eyes from Alex gaze and then looked intently at the floor.

“No, it's not. You have patients up there, so you have every right to be concerned. I shouldn't be telling what you what to do.” Alex slipped her arm over the blonde's shoulder and sighed. “You always think about everyone else before yourself. My motives were purely selfish.”

“What are you talking about?”

Alex snorted, feeling rather ashamed that she so easily discounted Regina's concern. “I just don't want anything to happen that would ruin this time we have together.”

Regina considered this while she regarded Alex's stern profile. “I think I can understand why you would feel that way.”

“Do you?” Alex asked, afraid to voice what she was feeling.

Regina leaned back, supporting her weight on her hands. “Maybe I don't, but I know how I felt when you first went back to work. I resented it.” She met the wary blue eyes and continued. “I resented it for all the times you sacrificed yourself to do what was right and no one bothered to even acknowledge what you'd done.”

Alex blinked, surprised at the anger she heard in Regina's voice.

“So, I decided that it was all right to be selfish about the time we spend with each other. After what we've been through I think we deserve to be for a little while.”

Alex studied Regina serious expression for a moment. “I wasn't sure what you would think of me if I told you that very thing. It's not wrong to feel that way is it?”

“No, it's not wrong and I'm not even sure it is being selfish,” Regina reaffirmed tenderly, as she gazed fondly at the proud and stoic woman. She ran her fingers through Alex's long hair, lifting it back off her shoulder. “It's human,” she admonished gently and pulled her lover closer, affectionately kissing her cheeks and forehead before lightly touching her lips.

Relieved, Alex let out a sigh and a slightest hint of a smile played around her mouth. She started to say something else when Regina leaned closer and kissed her again. She lost track of her thoughts instead, reveling in the sensations of Regina's lips on hers and the warm hand lazily caressing her neck.

Regina slowly pulled away and smiled at Alex's slightly unfocused gaze. “You don't need to worry about what I would think of you. I love you.” With a smile, she tugged the taller woman to her feet. “Now I believe we have someplace to go.”


“Terry do you know where TJ is?” The nurse glanced at her watch, as she stepped into her patient's room. The last time she checked, which had been over an hour ago, her patient had been curled up on his bed, staring at the television. Now, not only couldn't they find him, but the plastic bag filled with his clothes was gone as well.

The young girl slowly pulled her eyes away from the television program she was watching to look at her. She shrugged. “Sometimes he goes down to the cafeteria to get something to eat.”

“What? He has no money!” the nurse exclaimed and then shook her head. “Oh never mind.” She ducked back out of the room and Terry heard her call out to the nurse's station. “Tell security to check the cafeteria!”

Are they gone yet?” TJ craned his neck to peer up at Terry from beneath the bed.

“Shush. Just a minute.” Terry crawled off the bed and shuffled out into the hallway with her IV pole to look. She returned after a brief inspection. “There's still one security guard hanging out at the nurse's station.”

“The one that likes that nurse with the blonde hair?” He made a face and unrolled the towel where he hid the small stuffed animal he stole from the gift shop earlier that day.

It was easy since they were heaped up in bin by the door. All he did was wait until the woman behind the counter was distracted and then he stuffed the orange and black striped tiger underneath his shirt and slipped away unnoticed.

“Yeah,” Terry responded.

TJ scooted out and sat cross-legged on the floor. “Thanks for not ratting me out.” He tied the shoelace on one of his sneakers. He scraped at an old, brown bloodstain on the worn canvas.

“You're not welcome.” Terry pouted from her perch on the hospital bed.

“I'm not going to another foster home,” TJ replied.

“Isn't that better than living on the street?”

TJ stared up at her. “You wouldn't understand.” How could she? Terry had two parents and a house to go home to. Nobody had ever gone into her room in the middle of the night, woken her up, and told her to pack up her things because she couldn't stay there anymore.

The first time that happened it was because the cops found out his father was selling drugs out of the house. “We're going to take you someplace where someone can look after you,” the man in the uniform told him.

He believed them, but it turned out to be a lie. Nobody told him how the foster parent's real kids would resent him and make his life a living hell.

The last foster home he'd been in was no better. He suffered a beating at the hands of the woman's drunken boyfriend one night. When it was over, he curled up in his bed and lay awake, afraid to go to sleep.

Without any real conscious thought as to where he would go, he had shoved his few possessions into a backpack and silently crept out of the house while everyone else was asleep. He couldn't quite remember how long ago it was but he did know he was never going back.

TJ stood up and looked down at Terry. Her back was to him as she sat with her knees pulled up to her chin. He saw the shudder as she breathed and realized she was crying.

He looked nervously at the door, knowing he couldn't stay long. They were looking for him. “Here.” He unceremoniously shoved the stuffed animal into her hands and stepped back.

Her eyes widened in surprise and she wiped her nose, sniffing loudly. “You're the only friend I have here,” she whispered. It was true. TJ was the only kid on the floor who regularly came to visit her. He even brought her a bag of potato chips or an ice cream bar from his occasional late night jaunts to the cafeteria.

TJ looked down at the floor and frowned. “You're my only friend too,” he said, when he looked back up at her.

Terry knelt on the mattress and crawled over to where he was standing and hugged him. “Where are you going?”

He shrugged as he stepped back self-consciously. “I don't know.”

Terry wiped her eyes and reached into the nightstand by her bed. “Here.” She shoved her gray sweatshirt into his hands. “Take this. It's cold.”

With a grateful smile he tugged it over his head. “Thanks.” His eyes darted up to her face and then he kissed her quite awkwardly on the cheek before he walked to the door.

He peered out into the corridor, waited until the coast was clear and then sprinted down the hall to the doors that led off the pediatric unit. He yanked the door open and bolted across the tiled floor to the open stairwell. With his heart pounding in his chest, he waited, listening for any voices. Hearing none, he scampered down the three flights of metal steps to the ground floor.

He noticed a couple of people dressed in scrubs and lab coats walking towards him but they were completely engrossed in their own conversation and ignored him. He saw the exit sign up ahead and walked quickly towards the revolving door.


His whole body jerked, when he heard the sharp voice. He glanced up and saw the gray-haired man, dressed in green scrubs, mopping the floor off to his right.

“Watch your step there, son. The floor is still wet.”

TJ nodded and then stepped into the doorway. The cold air was a shock after the heat that was being pumped through the overhead vents in the doorway.

He pulled the sweatshirt sleeves down over his hands when he stepped outside. Without a backward glance he walked along the sidewalk and disappeared into the dark.


Alex rolled over in the queen-sized bed, folded her hands behind her head. The ride across the narrow peninsula the night before had been relatively uneventful. After stopping at a roadside diner for two large cups of coffee they were quickly on their way and arrived at Alex's apartment on the Cape, early in the morning.

The bright light from the sun was just starting to peak through the glass doors that led out onto the small balcony. Through the windows, Alex could see the late winter sky. It was the off-season in Provincetown, and the town stood in stark contrast to summer season when its streets teamed with people.

She reached a hand out and stroked her fingers through the silky, flaxen hair that surrounded her lover's head in a disheveled halo on the pillow. Her expression softened as she studied the fair-skinned woman's youthful features.

Who would have guessed that this ornery, cynical, and untrusting soul would have found someone who believed enough in her to remain steadfast by her side? Certainly, not me, the doctor thought to herself.

Alex lifted a lock of Regina's hair and curled it around her fingers while she continued to sift through her emotions. They'd known each other for almost eight months now. It was hard to believe that it passed as quickly as it did.

The gray emptiness she drifted in before she met the Regina had been transformed and in its place was a landscape of vibrant colors. There were times when Alex looked at Regina and she wondered, what in her life she'd done right to deserve such a wonderful gift as her love.

Whatever it was, she vowed silently to god, that she'd spend the rest of her days trying to make sure she didn't do anything to lose what had become as essential to her as the air that she breathed.

Alex exhaled softly as she acknowledged the powerful emotions stirring inside.

A tender smile crossed her lips as sleepy, green eyes fluttered open. Beneath the warm down covers, Regina shifted in the bed to curl her body into Alex's and wrap an arm firmly around her waist.

“Morning,” Alex whispered, with an amused expression on her face.

Regina stretched and rubbed up against Alex's naked body. “I don't think I remember falling asleep last night.”

“You mean this morning,” the taller woman replied in an uneven voice as her body responded to the contact.

Regina blinked and lazily let a hand drift up and graze Alex's breast before it settled on her shoulder. “I'm so glad you suggested we come out here instead of staying at the hotel. It makes yesterday seem like it happened a long time ago.”

“I wanted us to have more time together.” Alex's eyes twinkled gently as she looked at Regina's wistful smile.

“So, what do you have in mind now that you have me all to yourself?” Regina squirmed closer and playfully nibbled the skin along her jaw. Her fingers caressed her neck and she teased Alex with her fingernails.

Alex flashed a smile and let a hand stray over the silken skin of her lover's belly. “Oh, there are a few things I could think of,” she replied, deepening the pitch of her voice, the one she knew drove Regina to distraction.

“Really? Mm, tell me,” Regina coaxed, her voice husky with emotion, as she abruptly scooted up and straddled Alex. She nipped lightly at Alex's earlobe, sending a shiver down the taller woman's spine.

“There's a little café where we could eat.” Alex caught her breath as a sensual wave of heat shot straight to her groin and ignited her desire. “Breakfast,” she gasped, as Regina trailed her lips along her collarbone and then captured a nipple and tugged on it gently.

“Then what?” Regina ran her tongue along the underside of Alex's breast and then moved up to suck the hardened nipple between her lips again. Slowly, she relinquished the swollen bud and focused her attention on the other one. “Mm, still thinking?” she asked, as she lay kisses across Alex's shoulder and then down her arm to taste the tender flesh along the inside of her elbow.

Regina trailed her fingers over Alex's belly, skirted the dark tangle of hair, and then caressed the skin of her inner thigh.

Alex attempted to lift her head up and let it fall back onto the pillow with a groan. “You talk about me being a tease.” Regina smiled wickedly, before she tossed the bedcovers back and continued her slow, exquisite torture.

Nothing escaped her attention as she traced the contours of Alex's calf with her tongue. Her exploration took her back the inside of Alex's thighs where she rubbed her cheek over the quivering muscles.

“Oh,” Alex arched her back and dug her heels into the bed as Regina's fingertips traced a meandering path over the fine, pale-colored hairs running down the center of her taut belly.

“Oh, what?” Regina teased, as her hand stroked over the coarse, dark hairs covering Alex's mound.

Alex shuddered as Regina parted her moist lips. “Oh god.” She moaned and her hand covered Regina's guiding it to where she needed her to be. Her body shuddered and she was sure she was going to explode long before Regina released her.

“Not yet,” Regina told her. She straddled Alex's hips again, leaned forward, and touched her lips to the sweet mouth below her. She increased the pressure, her tongue slipping between those lips, teasing the softness of her lover's mouth. Slowly she pulled away and smiled into the blue eyes before she left a searing trail of heated kisses along Alex's long frame.

“You're going to kill me,” Alex rasped, as she watched Regina slide down her body and settle leisurely between her legs. The only response she got was a knowing, seductive smile.

Regina teased Alex, blowing softly on the coarse hairs before she nuzzled the silky wetness of her swollen lips with her tongue. A moment later, Alex's breathing went ragged and she pressed her head back into the pillow. Her hands clutched the sheets and she arched her hips, encouraging Regina to go deeper.

As Regina matched the rhythm of her lover's hips with her thrusts, Alex reached overhead and grabbed the headboard. Their movements rocked the bed.

“Look at me, Alex.” Regina lifted herself up, still working her fingers in and out of the warm, wet, suppleness of Alex's sex. She watched the blue eyes darken with unrestrained passion as they fixed on her.

Alex whispered Regina's name, chanting the words, “Don't stop, please, don't stop,” she cried out, and her body arched and her hips bucked as the first waves of her orgasm raced out from her center. Bright lights danced in her vision and she clutched at Regina's shoulders in an iron-like grip.

As the last shudders coursed through her, Regina wrapped herself around Alex and let the quiet afterglow consume them.

Sometime later, Regina smiled at the sight in front of her as she sauntered out of the bathroom. Alex was stretched out asleep on her stomach, head resting on her arms, with the bed sheet tangled around her waist. Her long dark hair, splayed out over the muscular expanse of her back.

Unable to resist, Regina straddled the firm buttocks and began massaging the strong shoulders. She pressed against the firm body and laid gentle kisses over the smooth skin until Alex stirred and lifted her head up.

“I guess we missed breakfast,” she commented in a sleepy voice.

“We sure did.” Regina rested the palms of her hands on Alex's back, enjoying the warmth and the strength she felt beneath them.

Alex twisted beneath her, struggling to look up into those green eyes, which had held her captive during their lovemaking earlier. Up until now, she'd always been the one to initiate anything between them. “You, um, were more-” Alex frowned searching for words. “Aggressive today.”

She watched the blush creep up Regina's neck and highlight the blonde eyebrows. Regina ducked her head and started to roll off of Alex to hide her embarrassment.

“Hey.” Alex shifted and caught Regina's arm, stopping her. “Come back here,” she whispered and struggled to sit up beneath her lover. She lifted the Regina's chin with her fingertips and kissed the soft, full lips. Alex's tongue grazed the edges of her teeth before gliding over Regina's tongue in a playful caress. She pulled away and looked into uncertain green eyes. “I liked it very much.”

Enough said, she flopped back down onto the bed and tucked her hands behind her head to watch Regina. A smile played at the corner of the blonde's mouth and her blush continued. Instead of trying to slip away, Regina snuggled down on top of Alex and buried her head in her neck.

“I um…bought some books the last time I was here,” she confessed.

Alex arched an eyebrow and tilted her head to look at Regina, thinking back to last summer and wondering when she read them. “Really. That was quite a while ago.”

Regina giggled and nodded her head. “You're telling me.”

Alex laughed at her remark and tickled Regina's side with her fingertips, causing her to squirm. “So, I guess you liked them.”

“Very much,” Regina whispered, still keeping her head buried in Alex's shoulder.

“Maybe we should get some more.” Alex rolled over and pinned Regina down, a predatory smile crossing her features.

“We'll miss lunch,” Regina gasped at the sudden change in her position.

“I'll make it up to you later,” Alex replied as she ducked her head and kissed her again.

Chapter Twenty

Alex strolled down the quiet sidewalk with her arm draped affectionately over Regina's shoulders. Both of them were bundled up in layers of clothes and heavy coats. It was almost comfortable in the sun but the shady overhangs of the storefronts brought an instant reminder that winter was reluctant to let go of its hold on the region.

Alex hugged the shorter woman to her, then, turned as Regina slowed and peered into another store window. She felt her shiver slightly and brought her lips close to her ear. “Are you warm enough?”

“Perfect,” Regina replied, smiling up into sparkling blue eyes. She snuggled closer within the embrace of Alex's arm and sighed contentedly.

They had lounged in bed together until late that morning after they spent a leisurely time in loving exploration. It felt wonderful and the rest of the world with all its incessant problems seemed to fade farther away, unable to intrude on their special time together.

“Anything particular you'd like to do?” Alex asked, as they resumed their walk.

The narrow street opened up as they neared a wharf. The sweet smell of chocolate and fudge filled the air around them. “Oh boy. I hear my sweet tooth calling me.” Regina flashed a gleeful smile at her companion as she lifted her head and inhaled the fragrant aroma of the confections.

“I can't believe they're actually open,” Alex replied as she trotted up the concrete steps and pulled the door open for Regina. “After you.” She waved her arm in front of her and gave a half bow.

Regina winked playfully at her as she slipped into the warm, sweet smelling environment. “Wow! Look at all this candy.”

Alex walked up beside Regina and rested her elbow on the glass counter top, as she eyed the trays of fudge that were arrayed in the case below. A playful smirk tugged at the corner of her mouth and she cocked an eyebrow up when Regina tilted her neck and smiled up at her. Unable to resist the opportunity she leaned closer and whispered in Regina's ear. “Isn't chocolate an aphrodisiac?”

A blush immediately crept up Regina's face and the blonde covered her face with a hand. “You're incorrigible, Alex. You know that, right?”

A middle-aged woman with her hair pinned up in a bun, turned around, leaving the taffy she was working with and smiled at the two women across from her. “What would you ladies like?”
Alex cast a quick glance at Regina and answered first. “I didn't realize you did such a big business that you stayed open all year.”

A smile broke out on the woman's face. “You'd be surprised how many people buy this stuff and have it shipped all over the states. Do you know what you'd like yet?”

Regina cleared her throat and nodded. “I'd like a quarter pound of the dark chocolate fudge with nuts please.”

“Actually, make that a half pound,” Alex added.

“Oh, you have a sweet tooth. Do you?” Brown eyes regarded Alex from across the counter. “Coming right up. Do you want me to put it in a box?”

“Can you put half of it in a box and the other half just wrap up in a bag?”

“Sure.” Came the reply and the woman turned away to retrieve a medium sized, white cardboard box from a cabinet.

Regina reached out and ran her hand down the front of Alex's off-white, ribbed sweater, shaking her head as she regarded the taller woman. “A half-pound? Sandy would have a heart attack if she saw the hunk of chocolate you just bought.”

“Well, I thought I might give her a small bit of it when we get back.” Alex brought her thumb and index finger together, indicating a very small hunk of fudge.

“I think you can spare more than that little bit,” Regina teased and grabbed hold of Alex's hand playfully. She quickly found herself turned around and wrapped up in a tight hug.

A deep throaty, chuckle escaped Alex's throat as she picked up Regina and set her down, facing the doorway. The younger woman fell into a fit of giggles and walked over to the counter to pay for their purchase. She turned and wagged a finger at Alex. “You do not need anymore chocolate.”

In response, Alex pushed out her lower lip in a pout and sauntered over to the door.

Regina paid the woman behind the counter for her purchase, and then followed Alex down the concrete steps. Standing on the sidewalk, she opened one of the packages and broke off a piece of fudge, which she immediately started to nibble on. “Alex, do you want a piece?” She watched as the taller woman came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the sidewalk. “Alex?”

“Huh? What?” A stricken expression crossed Alex's face and she swallowed nervously. Her breaths came in short gasps and her stomach tied up in knots. She swallowed and clenched her jaw as a tide of guilt, remorse, and a deep sense of loss filled her soul.

She wasn't prepared for the visceral response at seeing Lana's store a mere fifty feet away in the distance and could barely contain the tears that unexpectedly brimmed in her eyes.

A hand touched her side and she closed her eyes before she looked into the green ones that she knew were watching her.

“Alex, what's wrong?” Regina asked, as she looked into the tormented blue eyes.

Alex raised her arm and then let it drop limply back to her side and shook her head. What a blubbering idiot I am. Come on get it together here. “Nothing. It's okay.”

She'd been so engrossed in their walk a few minutes before she hadn't even realized how close to the store they were. Irritated with herself, for letting her emotions get the better of her, Alex turned away from Regina to collect her thoughts.

Regina could tell by the clipped response and the rapid darting of Alex's eyes that she wasn't telling her everything. She reigned in her initial response to pepper her with questions, knowing that if she gave the woman some space she would eventually get around to telling her what was wrong.

Instead, Regina slipped an arm through Alex's and turned her so they were facing the bay. “You asked me what I wanted to do earlier. I want to take a walk by the water.”

“That's easy enough,” Alex replied in an oddly subdued voice as she stepped down off the curb.

Regina glanced back over her shoulder as she fell into step beside her partner. There was no one in the street behind them and she wondered briefly what Alex saw that caused such an intense reaction.

She glanced off to her left and spied a small wharf with its boat slips and something came to her in a flash of memory. Regina tightened her grip on Alex's arm and snuggled closer as they walked. You were so worried about how I would feel coming back here that you didn't stop to think about how it would affect you. Did you, Alex?

The wind blew at their backs as they walked along the sidewalk and approached the jetty.
Regina tilted her head and closed her eyes for a moment while the wind to lift her hair from her face. She soaked in the rhythmic rumble of the waves as one after the other, they swept in from the depths, gathering strength, and speed only to crash into the sand and resume their journey back out to see again.

“I love to listen to the sound of the ocean,” Regina remarked, breaking the silence between them. “It's soothing.”

“Soothing,” Alex repeated, shaking her head in wry amusement.

“You don't think it is.” Regina blinked as the sun peaked out from behind a dark cloud.

“I guess. I don't think of one of the most powerful forces on earth as being soothing.” Alex shrugged indifferently.

Regina regarded the sad expression on Alex's face for a moment and then straightened her shoulders before letting go of her arm. “Come on. Let's walk out on the jetty.” She held her hand out to Alex and then hesitantly let it drop as her companion made no move to take her hand. With an exasperated sigh, Regina turned and stepped up onto the rocks and began carefully picking her way across them.

After walking for several minutes, Regina finally turned around and scanned the distant shoreline for Alex. She was surprised not to see her anywhere. She ran a hand through her hair; a mixture of disbelief and anger running through her. “Dammit, Alex. Where the hell did you go?”

She toyed with the idea of walking back in to find Alex, but her stubborn nature won out. With a grim expression on her face she turned and continued to walk farther out on the jetty.

She tried to think about everything that they had done today and pick out what it was that caused Alex to be so upset. The only place that managed to get her was mad at herself for not asking the woman what was upsetting her when she saw the change in the expression on her face.

Had she done something to upset her? Regina didn't think so but, at this point she wasn't sure anymore. She cupped her hands together and blew on them before she jammed them back into her coat pockets and resumed her lonely walk away from shore.


Alex watched Regina for a moment and then looked over at the small diner. She frowned not quite understanding why she was feeling this way now, after all this time. I have no right to this, not after everything I've done. Frustrated, Alex bent down, picked up a medium sized stone off the ground, and tossed it in her hand before she threw it out into the waves. A plume of water shot up as it plunged into the water.

After a few minutes, she gazed back out across the rocks and was surprised at how far out Regina had already walked. Great, now I've gone and pissed her off.

This was not how she envisioned their day and Alex sank deeper into her sullen mood. She ducked her head and walked over to the diner. Inside, she walked up to the counter and ordered two hot chocolates. Disgusted with herself, she leaned on the counter, waiting for the waitress to finish filling the two Styrofoam cups with the hot beverage.

Ten minutes later, carrying a cup of hot chocolate in each hand, Alex walked back out to the jetty. She stepped up onto the mile long outcropping of rocks and frowned when she spotted the dark silhouette of her partner standing off in the distance.

She called her name out but the wind carried the sound back towards the shore and she knew unless Regina turned around she wouldn't know she was there.


Regina was cold, angry, and upset as she hunkered deeper into her wool jacket. She walked out as far as she felt comfortable going and now was trying to decide if she wanted to start the equally long walk back in towards the shore. The wind had kicked up again and the dark waves sent a cold, salty spray up over some of the rocks below her.

She scuffed the toe of her shoe against the rock and turned around. She let out a startled gasp when she saw Alex walking towards her across the rocks.

The taller woman stopped a few feet away and just looked at Regina. After a moment's hesitation, she set the two cups down on a flat rock and stepped closer, her gaze settling on her partner's face.

“I'm sorry.” She glanced down at her sneakers and sighed.

“You should be…sorry,” Regina answered shortly, still confused, and hurt about what happened.

Alex darted a quick surprised look over at the fiery, green eyes. “I don't know what happened back there.” She shook her head and stuffed her hands in her coat pocket to keep from fidgeting. “I mean I do, but…damn, this isn't coming out right.”

A gull squawked as it flew in for a landing a few feet away from Alex and hopped around, searching for the odd scrap of food and any shells that might have lodged between the rocks.

Regina looked away from her. “I stood out here trying to figure out what I did wrong.”

A gust of wind whipped the hem of Alex's coat whipped around her legs and she turned her head against the chill. “You didn't do anything wrong, Regina. It was me.”

When she got no response from the blonde, Alex stepped closer. “Please look at me.” She expected to see tears brimming in her eyes when Regina finally turned her head and looked at her.

There were none.

“I…I,” she coughed and cleared her throat, then tried again to put into words the private, inner feelings she seldom acknowledged to herself, let alone to another human being.

Patient green eyes met hers when she hazarded a glance over at Regina.

Alex ducked her head and frowned as she stared down at the rocks beneath her feet. “I don't know why it happened, but I felt it when we came out of the candy store. We were down the street from where Lana's store used to be.” She took a step and turned, putting her back to the wind.

Now, facing Regina she continued haltingly. “I felt guilty about being here…with you.” Alex saw the look of bewilderment and hurt in Regina's eyes and cringed, wondering if she was making things worse by telling her the truth. “I don't know if I can explain this.”

“Try,” Regina answered over the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks.

Alex shook her head and looked out at the dark clouds gathering on the horizon. “You know what happened the last time you were here.”

“Yeah,” Regina drew the word out slowly, trying to figure out where Alex was going with this.

“Before you called me that night, I came out here and spread Lana's ashes out over the water.” Alex pressed her lips together, remembering the moonlit night and the quiet sense of finality she'd felt standing out here alone. “At that moment, I never planned to come back here. I told myself I didn't deserve to have that kind of happiness ever again after everything that happened.” Alex let her voice trail off and stared down at the water lapping up onto the rocks. “Now, here I am with you.” Alex spread her hands in defeat and hung her head.

Regina stared in disbelief at the bowed head. She had no words to answer what Alex just told her. Not knowing what else to do, she walked the short distance to where Alex had set the Styrofoam cups down and retrieved them.

“Here.” She pressed the now lukewarm cup into Alex's hands and stood next to her. A shiver passed through her as another cloud passed in front of the sun, blocking the warmth of its rays again.

Her initial response to Alex's words was to be angry and then resentful. How could she compete with Alex's feelings of guilt and remorse for what happened in the past?

Then she had another thought that tempered her raw emotions. Six months ago, you would have never told me that, Alex. Regina sighed to herself as she pulled open the lid on the cup and inhaled the pleasant aroma of the hot chocolate before she sipped it.

Her eyes roamed cautiously over the grim countenance of her lover. I guess this is something we're going to have to work on together, because I don't think either one of us can do it alone.

“I don't want you to believe that.” Regina reached out and touched one of Alex's arms.

“Believe what?” Alex blinked and turned her attention back to Regina.

“That you don't deserve to be happy.” Regina reached up and ran the back of her knuckles against the soft skin of Alex's cheek. “I don't choose to believe that.”

The taller woman closed her eyes and exhaled softly. “Your hands are freezing,” she commented gruffly, as her larger hand covered Regina's. “I'm sorry.” Alex turned her head and pressed her lips into Regina's hand before she pulled the smaller woman closer, and tucked her hand into the pocket of her coat.

Regina tilted her head to look up at Alex. “Let's walk back so we can find someplace where we warm up and get something to eat.”


They were both cold and hungry by the time they reached the center of town. The sun had begun its descent towards the horizon and the sky was painted in brilliant shades of burnt orange and reds.

Alex felt the smaller woman shiver against her and she pulled her underneath an awning out of the wind. “Do you have any preferences where we go?”

Regina shook her head and pressed her hands up between their bodies, warming them between the layers of Alex's coat. “No,” she replied, fighting not to let her teeth chatter. She looked across the street at the restaurant on the corner. Through the windows she could see dim lights and the outlines of tables and a bar. “What about over there?”

Alex looked across the street and shrugged. “Okay.” It wasn't what she had in mind, but then again she had no one to blame but herself for ruining her own plans for a romantic dinner and evening.

She let the door shut behind her, shutting out the wet, damp wind that was beginning to blow in off the bay. Alex blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dim light. She looked around the rustic looking establishment. Fishnets, spears, and other whaling implements adorned the planked walls and ceilings above.

A haggard looking man with his hair pulled back into a ponytail, sat by the jukebox, staring intently at his drink. Behind the bar, stood a young man with curly, black hair and a nose ring, looking expectantly at Regina. Except for the four of them the establishment was otherwise empty.

Regina looked over from her perch on the stool. “What do you want to drink?”

“Whatever you're having is fine.” Alex walked over, pulled a twenty-dollar bill out of her wallet, and set it on the bar. “It's quiet in here,” she commented to the bartender.

“It'll fill up later. We've got a band coming over to play tonight,” he replied and then retrieved two frosty mugs from inside a freezer and poured their drinks. He set them down on the counter and looked over at Alex. “You want to just keep a tab running?”

She shrugged a shoulder indifferently and pocketed the bill. “Sure.” She glanced outside where large, fat raindrops were starting to spatter on the windows and then looked back at Regina who stared at her over the brim of her frothy mug. “We might be here a while.” Alex sipped her beer and rested an elbow on the edge of the bar.

“Let's go over there.” Regina tugged Alex's arm and pulled her off the stool. She directed her companion to a dimly lit corner of the room and settled comfortably into a chair.

Alex draped her coat over the back of a chair and reached for Regina's as the blonde shrugged out of it. Quietly, she settled into the chair opposite her friend and focused on her drink.

They were both quiet for a few moments until Regina cleared her throat and leaned forward, resting her elbows on the wooden table. “What was Lana like?”

The question caught her completely off guard and she missed the edge of the mug with her lips and sloshed the amber liquid on the table. Alex muttered a curse and quickly grabbed for some napkins to clean up the spill. Her eyes flicked over at Regina who was watching her intently.

“Sorry about that.” Alex set her mug down and took a breath.

Regina shook her head and looked away, her fingers fidgeting nervously on the tabletop. “I just…obviously you've been thinking about her and…well, I was curious.”

Alex stared at Regina from across the table. She saw the blush color Regina's fair-skinned features and reached across the table to clasp her hands inside her larger one. “It's okay. I just wasn't expecting that particular question,” she assured Regina with a squeeze of her hand.

So, what was Lana like? She felt a pang inside as she recalled the pictures she kept in her nightstand and realized they were the only two she had of the woman.

“Lana was a brilliant doctor.” Alex trailed her fingertip down the side of the mug. “She was compassionate and dedicated.” She looked over at Regina and tilted her head, knowing that wasn't what Regina really wanted to hear. “What do you want to know?”

“How did you meet her?”

A wry grin crossed Alex's face and she sat back in her chair. “We were in medical school together. We ended up being lab partners in gross anatomy.”

Regina wrinkled her nose at the memory of that particular class and the stench of formaldehyde that clung to their lab clothes for an entire year.

“Actually, it was pretty funny,” Alex continued. “It was one of the first days in lab and we were all standing around waiting for the professor to unzip the body bag. He was an egomaniac and loved making a big production of it.” Alex shook her head in disgust. “You remember Richard?”

“The doctor who treated me up in Boston?” Regina's face brightened for an instant.

Alex nodded. “He brought a bag of Granny Smith apples with him each day. I guess he thought it was a good way to get everyone to loosen up,” she chuckled at the memory of loudly munching on an apple and the looks the two of them were getting from their colleagues. “Anyway, this blonde-haired woman is standing in front of me during one of the lab sessions. I remember the professor unzipping the black bag in front of us and all of a sudden she leans back against me.”

Regina raised an eyebrow and leaned forward again. “What do you mean?”

“I mean her whole upper body.” Alex patted her chest and smirked. “I look over at David and he's laughing. So, I nudge her and the next thing I know she's on the floor out cold.”

Regina covered her face with her hand. “Oh no. She passed out.”

“Cold.” Alex grimaced. “David never let either one of us live it down. He said it gave new meaning to having someone throw themselves at my feet.”

“So, did you two start seeing each other after that?” Regina tilted her head and gazed over into Alex's face.

A flicker of emotion showed in the blue eyes and Alex cleared her throat. “I guess you could say that.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Regina cracked a smile at the older woman's evasive response.

Alex sat back in her chair and folded her hands on the table. “I don't know that you'd call it dating, Regina. Things were always…intense between us. It was either good or it was bad. There wasn't much room for anything in between.”

“Oh.” It was Regina's turn to sit back. She studied the grain of the wood, her fingers idly tracing the whorls as she considered what Alex told her and how it made her feel. It felt weird and she was a little surprised at the unmistakable sense of jealousy that reared its ugly head. Stop it. Regina chastised herself. You asked her, so deal with it.

Alex finished drinking her beer and set it back down on the table. She nodded when the bartender walked over and asked if she wanted another drink. “Do you want another one, Reg?”

Regina jerked her head up at the sound of her name. “Uh, yeah. That's fine and can we get some menus too?”

The curly headed man nodded and strolled back to the bar to refill their mugs.

“This time I'll try not to spill half of it on the table,” Alex offered jokingly as she watched Regina warily from across the table. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I'm fine.” Regina tucked a few strands of hair back behind an ear.

Alex leaned forward and she slid her hand underneath Regina's to still the nervous tracing. “You know, for all the things we were to each other, Regina.” Alex focused on the startled green eyes and continued. “Lana and I were never best friends.”

“You loved her though,” Regina replied, looking down at the thumb that was massaging her hand.

“As best as I was able to back then.” Alex sat back as the bartender returned with their drinks and menus. She waited to continue until after he left. “I was a different person when I met Lana, and you know what medical school was like. Weeks at a time would go by and we would hardly see each other.”

Regina offered a knowing smile as she recalled the endless hours spent researching and studying. It all seemed like a blur with classes, labs, and examinations that left little time for the normal things in life like eating and sleeping.

“We were two ambitious people and there was little room inside our egos for each other. Looking back now, I think I knew then, that our relationship wasn't going to last.”

“Why do you say that?” Regina asked and then sipped her beer, peeing over the rim at Alex cautiously. “You took care of her right up until the very end.”

Blue eyes met hers and then looked away, staring out the window at the pelting rain. “Guilt is a strong motivator.” With that last remark, Alex slid a menu across the table and opened hers, signaling that the conversation was over.


Regina skipped along every few steps to keep up with Alex's brisk pace. “You'd think the devil was hot on your tail the way you're walking.”

Alex snorted and pulled her keys from her pocket as she rounded the corner from the street and walked over to the door to her apartment. It wouldn't surprise me if he was, she brooded silently. She unlocked it and held it open for her companion to pass through.

Regina started to say something but stopped and simply trudged up the stairs when she saw the grim expression on Alex's face. Over the past few months, she'd gotten better at reading her companion's moods, knowing when to push and when to back off and give her time to herself.

Alex followed Regina up the stairs and stopped short when she realized she was about to plow right into her.

“What are you doing?” She tried to step around Regina.

Regina stepped sideways and blocked her path. “I'm waiting for you to stop your self-flagellation.”

Despite her bad mood, Alex had to bite the inside of her cheek to fight a smile from forming. “Is that what I'm doing?” she asked, her eyes level with Regina's as she stood a step below her.

“Ha, ha.” Regina took the keys from her partner's hands and walked toward the apartment door. She unlocked it and waited for Alex to join her inside before she spoke again. “I'm not sure what's going on in that head of yours, but you need to stop and listen to me,” Regina said, as she shut the door and then faced her lover.

Alex folded her arms across her chest and pursed her lips together as she met Regina's defiant gaze.

“I'm glad I talked to you about Lana.”

Wordlessly, Alex dropped her arms to her side and turned away. She shed her coat and walked over to couch where she sat down and tucked a leg up underneath her. She wasn't…talking about that time of her life dredged up all kinds of bad memories.

“Why?” Alex asked quietly, without looking up at her.

Regina joined her on the cushions and leaned back. She could see the strain on Alex's face as the dark-haired woman stared down at her hands that she had linked together in front of her. She willed her stomach to stop churning before she reached out and touched Alex's hands with her own.

“I needed to know if there was still room enough inside your heart for me.”

Alex stared at Regina in wide-eyed disbelief. “Y…you're kidding, right?” she managed to get out around the lump that suddenly formed in her throat.

Regina lowered her gaze and shook her head. “After what you said earlier, I…I wasn't sure,” her voice trailed off and it was her turn to stare down at her hands, clutched together so tightly the skin over her knuckles turned white. Self-consciously, Regina loosened her grasp and flexed her hands.

Alex looked away sharply and clenched her jaw, fighting the sudden wave of heart-breaking pain in her chest. It was another lesson about how very fragile everything was for them still.

Very slowly, Alex raised an arm and rested her wrist on Regina's shoulder. She curled her fingers around the smaller woman's neck, and lightly grazed her thumb against Regina's cheek. “I guess what I said didn't leave you much reason to believe otherwise.”

A tear splashed down on the back of one of Regina's hands. “Oh, Reg,” Alex whispered, as she inched closer. She wrapped an arm around the younger woman's shoulders and pulled Regina to her. Alex pressed her lips against the top of the blonde's head and held her close. “When I'm with you…the rest of the world could fall apart around us and it wouldn't matter as long as we're together.”

Regina let out a strangled cry and snuggled her body up against her partner's sturdy frame. She gazed up at the chagrined expression on her face. “I…it's just you don't say what you feel and sometimes…I just need to hear you say that.”

Alex tilted her head back and exhaled, feeling very far out of her element. “I'm sorry. I…um…I'll try to be better at telling you from now on.” Her heart slowed its wild beating and she rubbed her hands over Regina's back. “I'd be lost without you, Reg.”

The stark look in the blue eyes when they focused on her, said it all. Regna leaned in and touched her lips to Alex's mouth in a reassuring gesture of tenderness. “I would be too.”

Regina closed her eyes and the last thing she felt before she finally drifted off to sleep was the pressure of Alex's strong arms as they wrapped around her and the whispered endearments that made her want to believe that everything would be all right.


Alex woke first and blinked her eyes in confusion as she looked around at her surroundings. Guess all that talking wiped us both out. Regina was still asleep with an arm wrapped tightly around Alex's waist. She watched the tiny muscles twitch as the younger woman smiled peacefully in her sleep.

Cautiously, Alex ran her fingers over Regina's cheek and brushed her hair back behind her ear. She had never been very good at verbalizing her emotions and it grieved her to know that what she shared with her yesterday caused Regina to doubt her love.

Alex shifted on the couch and gazed down at her still sleeping lover, then, whispered softly. “Don't give up on me, Regina. I promise I won't ever make you doubt my love for you again. You mean too much to me.”

Alex lay quietly for as long as her body would bear and then gave into her body's need to stretch. She grunted softly as a vertebrae popped in her back. That'll teach me to fall asleep on the couch, Alex chided herself.

Across the room, a shrill beeping broke the silence and she muttered a curse as she glared at the two duffel bags that were lying on the floor at the foot of the bed.

Regina grimaced in her sleep and reached up with an arm in a feeble attempt to stop the noise. Alex caught her arm before it collided with her nose.

“Reg, wake up.” She massaged the younger woman's back and shoulders with her hands as she whispered to her.

The only response she got was a low groan and then Regina burrowed her face into Alex's sweater before she stretched and lifted her head.

“Morning,” Alex said, as one green eye stared up at her and then closed.

“What is that god awful beeping?” Regina mumbled.

“It's one of our pagers.” Alex shifted and struggled to push herself up as she extracted herself from Regina's grasp. She stumbled across the floor and then cocked her head as she knelt beside their bags.

She unzipped Regina's bag, pulled out the offending item, and switched it off. “Damn thing,” she muttered. She studied the backlit display and turned back to the couch. “Reg, it's your beeper.”

“Throw it out.” Came the grumbled response.

Alex rolled her eyes, walked back to the couch, and stood beside her with a sympathetic expression on her face. “I don't think I can do that, love. Here.” She held the black pager out to Regina.

“Ugh, I can't even open my eyes yet,” the blonde complained as she took it from Alex and attempted to read the number.

“Need the phone?” Alex held out her cell phone to Regina.

“Thanks.” Regina rested her head against Alex's thigh as she typed in the numbers and waited for the connection to be made. She tilted her head up to gaze at Alex and smiled at her rumpled appearance. “You look cute…hello? This is Dr. Kingston. Someone paged me.”

Alex reached down and offered a friendly scratch between Regina's shoulder blades while she spoke.

“Uh, I'm sorry,” a meek voice replied on the other end. “I didn't mean to bother you.”

“Wait, who is this?” Regina frowned, not recognizing the young voice.

“It's Terry.”

Terry? Who do I know named Terry? Then, Regina recalled the young girl who she had given her pager number to before she left for the weekend. “Terry, what's wrong?” she asked, her voice tinged with concern.

“I wasn't sure I should call you.”

“It's okay. I told you to call me if you needed to. Tell me what's wrong.” She glanced up at Alex and smiled apologetically.

“It's TJ. He left the hospital.”

Regina ran a hand through her hair and suddenly sat up straighter. “What do you mean he left?” Her voice rose an octave.

“He ran away the other night. The nurse told him they found another foster home for him to go to.”

Regina rubbed her face, wondering what she should say to the girl. “Terry, I'm sure the hospital has people looking out looking for him. He couldn't have gone far.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone and then Terry quiet voice came through the line. “I know. I'm just scared for him. I'm sorry to bother you, Dr. Kingston.”

The line went dead and Regina groaned, as a feeling of helplessness overwhelmed her.

“What was that about?” Alex draped an arm over Regina's shoulder and sat down beside her, studying the anguished expression the blonde's face.

“Do you remember the code six from the other night? It was one of my patients.”

“Ah, I'm sorry, Reg.” Alex squeezed her shoulder. “Who was that?”

“One of the kids I was treating on the pediatric floor. You must think I'm really stupid for giving the service's number out to one of my patients.”

“No, it's just not something I would do. So who's this missing kid?”

“A teenage boy who came in with a head trauma a couple of weeks ago. I guess he didn't like the idea of going to another foster home.” Regina stared down at the phone and shook her head. “How can a kid just walk out of the hospital without anyone seeing him?”

“Probably not as hard as you think, with the way staffing is on the floors at nights.”

“I feel awful. Terry's upset and I think she expected me to be able to do something.” Regina frowned and stood up suddenly. She pressed a hand to her temple and closed her eyes in concentration. “Wait, oh, what's radiology's number?”

Alex rattled the number off and watched uneasily as Regina paced.

“I need to speak to Dr. Summers, please. This is Dr. Kingston.” Regina stopped and stood in front of Alex as she waited. “I ordered a CT scan of his head. His white blood cell count was slightly elevated and psych was trying to delay his discharge. I thought that if there was something that could justify keeping him it might help.”

Alex raised an eyebrow but kept silent, knowing full well that Regina was taking a risk ordering a test under these circumstances. She watched as Regina turned away from her as she started talking into the phone.

“Hi, Dr. Summers,” Regina answered as the doctors voice came over the line. “I ordered a CT scan on a sixteen year old boy who was a John Doe.”

Regina frowned and shook her head. “No I don't know his hospital number but he was on pediatrics. Sure I'll hold.”

While Regina waited, Alex took the opportunity to dig her toiletries out of her bag and headed into the bathroom.

“Dr. Kingston?”

“Yes, I'm here,” Regina answered, smiling briefly, as she watched Alex's shirt fly out onto the bed followed by her jeans and then undergarments.

“I have the results of the CT scan. Everything is fine.”

“So there's no evidence of any new bleeding from the original injury to the brain?”

“No, he just needs to be kept on his anti-seizure medications for the time being.”

She knew this, but the doctor's re-affirmation brought the seriousness of the information home to her. “Unfortunately, our patient happens to be the one they called the code six for the other night,” Regina replied. “I'm away and just found out today.”

“Oh, yes, I remember hearing the code called. Well, let's hope they find the boy soon. I know I don't need to tell you, but without them he's at serious risk for complications.”

“Yes, I know. Thank you, Dr. Summers.” Regina shut the cell phone and tossed it down onto the couch with a sigh. “Now what do I do?” She had a sudden vision flash in her mind's eye TJ, standing on a street corner lost and afraid.

It was a few minutes before Alex emerged from the shower with a towel wrapped around her lithe body. Her skin was tinged a healthy pink from the hot water. “Hey, what's the long face for?” She strode over to where Regina was sitting on the couch and cocked her head.

Regina dropped her head into her hands. “The CT scan was negative, but I know he's not taking his seizure medication. He's at risk, anything could happen.”

Alex stared down at Regina and considered what they could reasonably do. “Why don't you call Dr. Timmon's office or the Pediatric department and see if they've heard anything about this kid's whereabouts.”

She turned to walk away when she saw the doubtful expression on Regina's face. “Hey, I'm sure they're doing everything they can to find him.”

Alex crouched down in front of her, tilted Regina's chin up and pressed her lips to Regina's mouth in a soft, reassuring kiss. Her eyes twinkled softly after she pulled away and spent a moment just looking into the green eyes before her. “You know something. That kid is very lucky he's got you to worry about him.”

Chapter Twenty-One

Some time later, the two women left Alex's apartment and walked down Commercial Street to a small street side café that faced the bay. There was an eclectic air to the interior, with pastel colored murals painted on all the walls and old-fashioned ice cream parlor stools along the counter that gave the place an eccentric retro design.

Regina rubbed her nose and looked up at her companion. “Kind of bright, huh?”

Alex arched an eyebrow as she watched a waitress grab two menus from the counter and head in their direction. “It looks like the Easter Bunny nibbled on the wrong patch of grass and then came here to paint the eggs.”

Regina stopped laughing just long enough to hear the waitress introduce herself as Allison. They had their pick of where to sit and the waitress guided them to a booth in the back corner that overlooked the water at Alex's request.

“Would you like anything to drink?”

“Two coffees, please,” Alex replied, as she settled into the booth.

“Certainly.” She flashed them a bright smile and sauntered back behind the counter.

“Alex wouldn't you love to have a room painted like this with all these wild and crazy colors?” Regina leaned across the table and smiled up at her.

Two blue eyes peered back at her from over the menu. “You're kidding, right?”

Regina held the smile as long as she could and then dissolved into a fit of giggles again. “Sorry, I think this place is making me feel goofy.”

“Well, if you really like these colors, I'm sure we could find some edible body paint in one of the stores and play connect the dots later,” Alex deadpanned, enjoying the wide-eyed expression on Regina's face for a few seconds. “Breathe, Reg.”

“Hmm, maybe we should go check one of those stores out. That could be interesting.” Regina arched an eyebrow and blew a kiss across the table at Alex.

The taller woman leaned back against her booth and groaned. “God, I walked right into that.”

They carried on for a few more minutes, totally absorbed in each other, until they both ended up laughing so hard that tears rolled down their cheeks. Alex held her hands up in surrender.

“No more. Please, you're going to kill me if we keep laughing like this.”

Regina inhaled and regained some of her composure before she opened the menu and quickly read it over.

Their waitress appeared, having taken the silence at the table, as they were ready to order. “So what would you ladies like to eat?”

Alex coughed and cleared her throat as she glanced across the table at Regina. The blonde was blushing badly and trying desperately not to burst out laughing again. “Fried eggs over easy and pancakes, for both of us,” she answered quickly.

“Great, thanks.” Allison gathered up the menus and graced them both with a bright smile.

Regina tried desperately to keep a straight face as the waitress left to place their order and then sunk very low in her booth and started to laugh again. “Teach us to have conversations like this in public,” she finally managed to get out.

“Mm and who started it?”

“Okay, okay truce. I can't handle any more laughing right now,” Regina replied, still holding her stomach. She decided it felt good to laugh and carry on like two kids.

Regina glanced out the window at the water. She was glad to be out of the apartment. After placing telephone calls to Dr. Timmons office, security, and the pediatric floor she knew no more now than she had after her brief conversation with Terry. She still couldn't shake the haunting image her mind conjured up of TJ all alone possibly sick or hurt.

“Hey. Where did you go off to?” Alex waved her hand in front of Regina's eyes, smiling as the blonde blinked her eyes and refocused on her.

“Sorry. I just can't get him out of my head.” Regina toyed with her fork and shook her head as she let out an exasperated sigh. “It's like he just disappeared into thin air and nobody seems to know anything, let alone, care very much that he's gone.”

“Security filed a missing person's report with the police department and they've probably checked every inch of the hospital to make sure he isn't hiding out somewhere,” Alex told her. “It's been forty-eight hours so the police are officially involved.”

Regina set her fork down and took a sip of her water. “I just hope they find him and that he's okay. The longer he goes without his medication the more at risk he is for having a seizure.”

Alex pressed her lips together and tilted her head, feeling the worry, and genuine concern Regina expressed. “I know you're worried about him. Let's eat and try to enjoy the rest of today.” She stopped and leaned forward as Regina turned her head and looked out the window with a forlorn expression on her face.

“I just wish there was something I could do,” she whispered, her voice trembling slightly.

Glancing down at her watch, Alex considered if there was any benefit in returning a day earlier than they planned. It wasn't what she wanted to do, but if it made Regina feel better she decided it would be worth it. “It's eleven o'clock now. If you wanted to, we could drive back after we eat. Maybe there is something we can do to help.”

“You would do that?” Regina regarded the serious expression on Alex's face as the older woman steadily met her gaze.

“Yes,” Alex replied and leaned back as the waitress arrived with their plates of food. She let an easy, graceful smile cross her lips, while she was swept in by the look of quiet admiration and love she was getting from across the table.


Alex draped an arm over Regina's shoulder as they walked down the street after they finished and paid for their meal. She felt better having food in her stomach, the dull headache she had earlier was receding and Regina seemed to be in better spirits as well.

“Ooh, how pretty.”

Alex turned her head and looked over to see what had caught her partner's attention. A wooden box supported on a sturdy pedestal, its locked glass lid, protecting a small array of sparkling jewelry. Alex glanced up at the store and saw the lights on inside. “It's open. Do you want to go in?”

“Do you mind?” A curiously shy look crossed Regina's features when she looked at her partner.

“I wouldn't have offered if I did.”

Regina laughed, not quite understanding the nervousness she felt in her gut as she tugged Alex's hand and started up the brick steps.

A red-haired woman looked up from behind the counter. “Hi,” she greeted them with a friendly smile and went back to her work.

After returning the greeting, Regina's attention was immediately drawn to a glass case to the right of the door. It was filled with ear rings, specifically a beautiful set of sparkling sapphire stones that winked at her from underneath the lights.

Regina looked back at Alex and raised an inquiring eyebrow. “I'd like to see that pair, please.” She pointed down at the gleaming azure jewels inside the case.

Alex's heart skipped a beat and her throat went dry as she looked on. While the woman retrieved them from the case, she discreetly slipped over to the other side of the store and took great interest in the necklaces laid out on the white background. Her eyes strayed over to the rings and she briefly studied several of them as she took a few deep breaths, wondering why she felt so out of control.

Soft footfalls, muffled by the carpeted floor approached and then she felt a warm presence at her back. Alex shifted and turned around, her eyebrows creeping up beneath her bangs when Regina held the sapphire-blue, gemstone earrings up next to her face.

“I think they'd look beautiful on you,” Regina commented softly.

Alex swallowed and ducked her head, feeling a completely unexpected surge of adolescent awkwardness. “With this long hair? You'd never see them,” she replied, feigning a casual offhandedness she didn't feel.

Regina made a clucking noise with her tongue and lowered her hands. She slipped one into Alex's hand and laced their fingers together. “You would if you pulled it up, just like you did when you had to give that presentation at the hospital last summer.”

She waited for Alex reaction, knowing she remembered exactly what she was talking about. Regina certainly did. Alex had managed to turn an incredibly hostile environment to her distinct advantage that day. “You looked really hot, um…” A blush colored her face and she shook her head. “You looked really nice in that blue pant suit you were wearing.”

“You,” Alex cleared her throat and looked down at the floor before she tried again. “You remember that?”

Their eyes met and Regina simply nodded her head. “So, listen…just don't say anything right now.”

“Bu…Reg, you don't…I.” Alex stammered and didn't get to finish as two fingers pressed against her lips, quieting her strangled protests.

“Shush,” she gently chided her and felt a tremor run through the hand she was still holding. Regina smiled up at the bewildered blue eyes that stared back at her, knowing she'd caught Alex completely off guard. “Maybe when we get back home, we can go out someplace nice one night and you can wear them, because I'd really be honored to get them for you.”

She'd be honored? Alex met her gaze and got lost in the quiet regard, as she thought about that.

After a moment, Regina turned, but before she could walk away, felt the warm weight of Alex's hands on both her shoulders and was pulled gently back against the taller woman, and heard these whispered words.

“Thank you.” Alex squeezed her shoulders and leaned around to place a soft kiss on her cheek.

“You're welcome.” Regina closed her eyes briefly and smiled as a warm, wonderful feeling flowed through her as she walked back to the counter.

Subtle things were changing between them, Regina acknowledged; like the fact that Alex had shared some of her insecurities about their relationship with her the day before.
Even though it had been painful to hear the words, she knew it meant that some unseen barriers were finally sliding away.

The woman behind the counter, gladly wrapped up Regina' purchase, smiling as she handed it back across to the blonde. “You picked out a beautiful pair of sapphires.”

“Thanks,” Regina replied, thinking they were almost as captivating as the Alex's blue eyes. She chuckled at the thought. No way do they even hold a candle to your baby blues, Alex.

When she was finished, Regina joined Alex over by one of the glass cases and stood beside her. She bit her bottom lip and arched her eyebrows as she looked up at the serious expression on Alex's face. I hope she doesn't think I got her these because she offered to go home early. Regina tossed the thought away and nudged Alex with her hip.

“You ready?”

“Yeah.” Alex nodded her head and gave her a crooked half smile before she walked over and opened the door for Regina.

After walking along the street for a few minutes, Alex guided Regina down through a half-filled parking lot to a small patch of beach. There was an old sun-beaten, turquoise colored row- boat that looked like it had seen better days lying upside down, half-buried in the sand.

Their shoes crunched softly through the sand as they trudged over and took a seat on the end of the boat. Regina snuggled closer to Alex and wrapped an arm around the taller woman's waist to ward off the chill of the damp sea air. A stiff breeze lifted Alex's hair, blowing it back off her face while she soaked in the blissful feeling of her lover's embrace.

Alex cleared her throat and gave Regina a nudge with her shoulder. “ So, do you think your Mom is over the shock of your declaration the other night?”

“What? Oh, geez.” Regina rubbed her face sheepishly. “That just slipped out of nowhere. I wanted to die.”

“Mm, I think that made three of us at the time,” Alex deadpanned.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you.”

Alex let out a soft chuckle and rubbed her temple. “You didn't, well not too badly. Just caught me by surprise. I'm pretty sure we answered any lingering questions she had when she walked in on us kissing.”

Regina ducked her head and groaned. “I'm sure I'll hear about that the next time I talk to her. My parent's are not big on public displays of affection.”

Alex felt the slump in Regina's posture and sensed the quiet depression settle over her partner. “Hey. What's up?” She ran her fingers through the pale hair and sucked in a breath at the forlorn expression on Regina's face.

The blonde shook her head. “Right when we were leaving my mother was questioning why I would want to be with you. I don't know if she's ever going to accept our relationship or you.”

Alex drew the collar up on her coat and stared down at the sand. She didn't worry so much about herself and what Regina's mother thought. If the woman chose not to like or accept her, then, so be it, but she knew it was important to Regina and at the moment she wasn't quite sure what she could do about it. She offered up the only thing she knew to be true. “Sometimes the only thing that brings people around is time.”

They were both silent for a while, lured in by the rhythmic sound of the surf. There was less of a breeze today and the warmth of the sun could be felt when it poked through the high clouds.

Regina glanced up at the intense profile and caught Alex staring out at the horizon, a faraway expression on her face. “What are you thinking?”

Alex looked down at Regina and then refocused her attention out at the water. “Do you remember the fire fighter we met over at the clinic?”

“Yeah, his name was Todd, I think,” Regina answered tentatively, wondering what had brought this subject up. She had a suspicion that at the time Alex had been more than a little annoyed at the innocent attentions that the young man had shown her.

It wasn't until they finally broke past the hurt and confusion did Regina realize the extent of the emotional turmoil and stark vulnerability that haunted her partner. Little pieces fell into place and some of pain receded that night they talked, leaving them a chance to start to heal the wounds that were keeping them apart.

Alex's voice interrupted her thoughts. “Didn't he mention that there was a kid that got attacked right by there?”

Regina leaned back in Alex's arms and regarded the sober expression on her partner's face. “Yeah, he did. The night he came over with Dana's…um…the German Shepard he rescued. Sorry, I didn't mean to bring that up.” Regina smacked the side of her head. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Just what she needs is a reminder of who shot her.

Alex pulled Regina's hand down. “Hey, don't do that.” She cupped Regina's face with her hand and regarded her seriously. “I don't want you to feel like you have tiptoe around that subject. It didn't do us much good when we did before. Did it?” Her voice lowered and gentled as she rubbed a thumb over Regina's cheek.

Regina blinked and stared up at Alex. “No, it didn't,” she admitted quietly and leaned into the caress, glad that they regained the quiet intimacy that had become a wonderful part of their relationship. “Alex, you didn't really think I was interested in Todd, did you.”

Alex darted a sideways glance at Regina and exhaled forcefully. “Blunt and to the point as usual, eh?”

Regina let her hands fall down between her knees and studied the faded and peeling paint on the boat. “Sorry, I just remember…and I wanted you to know, that was never the case.”

“I know that.” Came the soft, rumbling reply as Alex wrapped an arm around Regina's shoulder and pulled her close. “I just…wasn't feeling really very good about who I was or what had happened.” Alex hesitated and then looked right into Regina's eyes. “I couldn't help but think that it would be a hell of a lot easier for you to be with someone who didn't have a whole lot of baggage they were carrying around.”

“It wouldn't have been easier,” Regina sighed, remembering the long, interminable seconds in the emergency department when she could feel that force, that life giving bond that was her partner's soul slipping away. “I almost lost you once. I don't for any reason ever want to know that feeling again. It would kill me.”

Alex blinked and let the fiercely spoken words sink inside her soul. “That's not going to happen. I'm not going to leave you, ever.”

Regina studied her and then tilted her head, as she let herself drown in the depths of those blue eyes. “You mean that.”

She looked at Regina and smiled. Yes. There were so many things she'd come to look forward to in their relationship and she realized that she didn't want to have to live without them.

She loved to hear her infectious laughter and watch Regina toss her head back with a radiant smile on her face. What she had grown to like the most, was how Regina would touch her when she was telling her something, just reach out and put a hand on her arm or shoulder. They were simple gestures but they had woven themselves into the tapestry of her soul and awakened a desire deep inside that she long ago shut the doors on.

A tiny smile formed on Alex's lips and faintly uncertain, pale, blue eyes peered out underneath wind-rumpled bangs. She could feel a moment unfolding between them, one that would forever be etched in her memory as she looked deep into those green eyes and saw reflected back a look that gave her the courage to speak what she already knew was etched forever in her soul. They were she realized, the truest words she'd ever spoken and they came from somewhere deep inside her heart in a rush of emotion.

“We've kind of done this sickness and in health thing already and if…you'll have me…I'd like a chance to find out about the good times and bad times too.” Alex waited, watching the stunned expression blossom over Regina's face.

A second later, she found herself enveloped in a passionate hug that rocked her backwards over the keel of the upended boat and dumped them both unceremoniously in the sand.

Regina picked her head up and brushed her hair back off her face. “Oh, I…that was bad. I'm sorry.”

“So that's what they mean about being knocked off your feet.” A low, rumbling chuckle trickled up from deep inside Alex's chest as she peered up into the mist green eyes.

“Um, I know it's not the most traditional way…” She glanced around her immediate surroundings with a rueful eye and moved her arm in a wide arc, enjoying the feel of the course grains on her fingers. “No ring and not exactly the romantic setting you deserve, but I promise when we get back I'll make it up to you.”

Regina shook her head and kissed the tip of Alex's nose. “I don't need you to make anything up to me.” A serious expression took over her face and Regina sat up, straddling Alex's hips. “In fact, if you told me you wanted to be one of those doctors who travel around the world from place to the next, setting up clinics and the like, I'd be right there with you.”

“Really?” An excited fire glinted in Alex's eyes.

“Absolutely.” Regina sat back and smiled, tracing her fingers over the strong, angular planes of Alex's face. “Do I detect a bit of wanderlust in you?”

Alex's lips curved into a grin and she reached up lacing their fingers together. “You know what I've always dreamed of doing. Travel to some of these countries that don't have a good medical system in place, teach them what we know and help them set up clinics.”

“That sounds like it would be exciting.”

Alex wrapped her hand around Regina's neck and pulled her down for a kiss. It was several moments before they broke off.

Just then, Regina lifted her head and frowned. “Alex, get up.” Regina leaned back and stumbled to her feet as the leading edge of the first wave washed up onto the sand.

She winced at the assortment of curse words that spouted out of Alex's mouth as she hopped to her feet and danced away from the oncoming surf.

Regina glanced up at Alex, watching as sand and droplets of water exploded from her hair as she shook her head vigorously. Her quick reflexes allowed her to avoid most of the water but her sneakers and upper half of her coat were soaked.

Casting an annoyed glance at the incoming tide, Alex muttered under her breath and then turned to look at Regina. “Oh, so you think it's funny. Huh?” A rakish grin spread over her face.

Regina shook her head and stepped back, doing her best to stifle a giggle. “No, no…but you have to admit it was…Alex,” her voice lowered and she started to backtrack up the sand toward the pavement. “Alex don't you dare, that water is freezing.”

“It is, is it?” A diabolical grin crept over Alex's face and Regina shrieked as the taller woman darted after her.

She managed to duck under the outstretched arms once and then realized as she whirled away that Alex was chasing her right back to the water's edge. Regina closed her eyes and huddled down waiting for the inevitable…that never came. Carefully, she peaked out from one eye and sucked in a breath when she saw blue eyes peering at her from very close range. Oh damn, she cringed.

“Gotcha.” Alex winked and hopped back a step when Regina swatted her arm at her in mock annoyance.

“You're a brat.”

Alex arched an eyebrow and pulled Regina closer to her as another wave swept up over the sand, leaving a sweeping arc of foam only inches from where they were standing. “I am no such thing, but I will be an ice cube pretty soon if I don't get out of these wet clothes.”

Regina fell into step alongside Alex and sighed as she eyed the water dripping from her coat and the puddles forming around her sneakers with each step. “Sorry about that. I looked up and the wave was right there.”

Alex snorted and nudged Regina with her hip.


They enjoyed a long hot shower that culminated with Regina pushing Alex onto the queen size bed and settling against her warm, naked body. It was nice, she mused, just to lie there afterwards in a contented haze, her fingers idly tracing the contours of her lover's body.

Later, after Regina's stomach had made itself known she had run out to the store to gather a short list of supplies that Regina wrote down while she was still lounging in their bed.

Alex purchased everything that Regina requested and even managed to find a kit of multi-colored threads that she used to make bracelets with when she was younger. Alex snorted and shook her head at her childish indulgence as she tromped up the stairs to their apartment.

What would Regina think? Sorry excuse for anything after what I said earlier.
With a disconcerted grunt she opened the door to the apartment and stopped, her jaw slackening a little as she took in the sight of the flickering candlelight that was illuminating most of the apartment in a soft yellow glow.


“Hey.” The smaller woman stepped up beside her and smiled shyly. “I hope you don't mind, I rummaged through the storage closets and found all these.” Regina waved her arm around the room. “Guess you like candles, huh?”

Alex felt one of the bags lifted out of her arms and she blinked as she looked around the apartment that had been transformed in her absence. “I forgot I had all these candles.”

“Is it okay?” Regina asked quietly, trying to judge her partner's muted reaction.

“Okay? Regina, it's more than okay.” Alex set the bag she was holding down on the table and took the younger woman in her arms. “It's beautiful.”

“I'm glad you like it,” Regina whispered, against the leather coat.

“I love it.” Came the quiet reply. Alex closed her eyes and hugged the smaller woman to her.

They held each other for a few more moments and then Regina peered over into the bag. “Ooh, you got wine.”

“Well, I thought it was appropriate for the occasion.” Alex let her arms drop to her side and she regarded the contents of the bag with a suspicious eye. “You want some help with the cooking?”

Regina shook her head, pulled the still damp coat off her partner's shoulders, and set it on a hook behind the door. “No. Go sit over there and relax.”

Alex eyed her for a moment and then sauntered over to the leather couch and flopped down. She drew the small kit out of her pocket and peeled the plastic off with her fingers. Her eyes darted over to where Regina was busily chopping something up by the sink. Satisfied that she was engrossed in her task, Alex selected the colors she wanted and started to work on her project.

It was a comforting feeling to sit here in Regina's presence Alex mused, as she stole occasional glances at the younger woman while she worked on the bracelet. She suspected that all the talking they did over the past few days had brought them closer and the possibilities of where there relationship was going intrigued her.


Regina's voice caught her attention and she looked up. “What?”

“What made you think of that kid getting attacked by the clinic?” Regina glanced over and then went back to chopping up the vegetables for the stew she was making.

Alex stopped the motion of her fingers and sighed. “I don't know. I guess you got me thinking about your patient.” Alex regarded the green eyes thoughtfully for a moment and gnawed on her lower lip before she spoke again. “Do you still want to drive back? We could leave tonight after we eat.”

Regina stopped what she was doing and looked over at Alex. “No, but thanks for asking. I appreciate it. I'll call security later on and see if they've heard anything. Maybe they'll have some good news.”

Alex watched as Regina dumped several handfuls of vegetables into the pot and then opened a package of meat and started chopping it up into neat cubes. The sound of sizzling reached her ears and the sharp tang of garlic and onions tickled her nose. She glanced down at her handiwork and tied a final knot to secure the bracelet together.

After stretching, Alex tucked the bracelet into her pocket and stood up. Her nose twitched as she inhaled the smells of vegetables sautéing in the pot.

“Wow, that smells great,” she offered, as she walked up behind Regina and peered into the bubbling mixture.

“Good. I hope you like it.” Regina glanced back over her shoulder. She added the cubes of meat and stirred them around in the mixture.

“I'm sure I will.” Alex leaned closer and dropped a soft kiss on the side of Regina's neck. She smiled when she saw the smaller woman shiver and nibbled her earlobe.

“Hey, no fair. You're distracting the cook.”

Alex chuckled, and stepped back a little and continued watching the younger woman with interest. “How about I pour us some wine?”

“Mm, good idea.” Regina wiped her hands off on a dishtowel and turned to face her taller companion. There was something she'd been meaning to do for quite a while now and an opportunity never seemed to present itself at just the right moment, but tonight things were falling into place nicely.

She accepted the glass of wine Alex handed her and sipped it, her eyes twinkling gently as she looked back at her lover over the edge of the glass. “Come with me.” Regina reached out and took Alex's hand, leading her over to the sliding glass door.

Alex reached out, and unlocked the small latch and slid the door open. “It's a little cold out, don't you think?”

Regina, not to be dissuaded, handed Alex her glass of wine and stripped the blanket off the bed.

Alex raised an eyebrow. “Are you planning on being out here for a while?”

“Well, the stew does need to cook and I thought it might be nice…” Regina draped the blanket over Alex's shoulders and then set the glasses of wine out on the rail of the deck. “…If we stargazed for a bit.” With a smile, she slipped herself underneath the warm folds of the blanket and wrapped her arms around her lover.

Alex stared at her for a moment before she closed her eyes, tilting her head, as a memory jogged bits and pieces of a simple request made through a haze of pain all those months ago.

Regina waited for Alex to refocus on her and tugged her out the door onto the small deck. “So, I was telling you about Orion's Belt the last time we did this.”

Alex grinned and wrapped her arms around Regina's middle, pulling her close in front of her. “I remember.” You were standing so close to me, my insides were all tied up in knots I was so nervous. I should have known then what was happening to me then.

“Did you know that in Greece, Orion was the son of Neptune?” Regina tilted her head and looked up at the shadowed face behind her.

“He was a hunter and Diana's lover, right?”

A delighted smile broke out on Regina's face. “Ah, you remember a bit of Greek mythology, too!”

“I used to read some books about it when I was a kid, yeah,” Alex admitted quietly, enjoying the warmth of her lover's body pressed up against her in contrast to the chill of the night air around them.

Regina reclaimed one of the glasses and took a sip of wine, then offered it up to Alex who willingly obliged her. The taller woman leaned over, cupped Regina's cheek with her hand, and pressed their lips together, sharing the berry tasting liquid with her.

Alex lifted the glass from Regina's hand and set it back down on the railing before she reclaimed her lover's lips in a long, leisurely exploration. Her hands wandered over the soft curves and firm muscles, building a fire in her belly that extended outwards until her breathing became ragged.

She felt the smaller woman tremble against her and eased off, resting her forehead against Regina's. “We'd better stop that or I know we won't be eating any dinner. Do you need to check on it?”

“Nah, it's on a low flame, so we have plenty of time to snuggle,” Regina replied, running her hands over Alex's back. That was another thing that was different between them now she realized. After her injury, Alex had quietly rebuffed Regina's tentative advances at intimacy, but now that they gotten past that rough spot, it was like they both craved the security of each other's touch.

Alex hugged Regina against her, nestling the blonde head beneath her chin. There was a contented, peacefulness about standing under the stars like this, something she'd never felt before, but yet somehow familiar and comforting at the same time.

“Give me your hand.”

Regina frowned but lifted her right hand and Alex grasped it gently in her larger one. She watched with shy interest as Alex drew something from her pocket and wrapped the finger wide band around her wrist.

“You made this.” Regina's voice faltered, as gentle fingers brushed against her wrist, tying the ends into a secure knot.

“Yeah, I wanted to give you…something today. I mean…” Alex exhaled, but didn't let go of Regina's wrist. She stepped around, drawing Regina into the light that filtered through the sliding glass door from inside the apartment. Her heart was pounding so hard in her chest she was surprised that Regina couldn't hear it.

Regina wasn't sure but she thought she could see a faint blush covering Alex's features as she stumbled over her words. Why are you so nervous?

“See, I used to read these books about the Middle Ages, too. My brother and I would pretend we were knights, and plan elaborate battles and rescue people from the evil warlords.”

“Who were you rescuing?”

Alex sucked in her lower lip and closed her eyes. “My mother.” It was an admission she never made to anyone before and had only recently allowed herself to open those doors to the painful childhood memories she kept tightly locked away. “We weren't very good at it and most times we just pissed my old man off with all our running around and hollering.”

Regina rested her head against Alex's chest. “I wish I knew you when I was younger. We would have made great friends.”

Alex snorted and wiped her eyes, grateful that Regina wasn't looking up at her. “Regina, I was bad news back then and everyone knew it. Your mother would have taken one look at me when I was a kid and chased me off with whatever she could get her hands on.”

“I would have found a way to be with you.”

This brought a smile to Alex's face, knowing that when Regina decided she wanted something she usually got it.

“The um…knights,” Alex continued. “They used to paint designs on their shields so they could identify their allies in a battle.”

“Like a coat of arms,” Regina offered, staring up into Alex's face with a look of wonder in her eyes.

“Yeah, something like that.” Alex's finger traced the braided lengths of the bracelet. “The colors all meant something. The red symbolizes someone who is brave and strong, the blue is for loyalty,” she hesitated, swallowing nervously before she continued. “The gold symbolizes generosity and the green is for hope, joy and love.”

Regina started to say something and Alex shook her head, covering her lips with two fingers.

“Let me finish or I won't get this out. Remember when you asked me why I got into Emergency Medicine last year?”

“Yeah, you said that way you didn't have to get involved with the patients. Just sew them up and ship them out.” Regina recalled the stilted conversation clearly.

“I didn't give you the whole answer.” Alex inhaled, fighting back the hoarseness in her voice. “It was a way for me to try rescue people in trouble. Growing up, I could never do that for my brother or my mother. The funny thing is, after all this time I never realized that I needed somebody to save me too.”

“That's not true.”

Alex shook her head. “You were brave enough to stand beside me regardless of the consequences last year. You stood up for me when I couldn't do it for myself and despite everything you found out about me, you still loved me. Nobody has ever done that before.” She hooked a finger under the bracelet and looked into Regina's eyes. “I just want you to know how much I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Came the quiet, sure reply. Regina laid her head against Alex's chest and closed her eyes. Warm tears trickled down her cheeks as she soaked in the meaning of everything that Alex told her.

They stood beneath the starlit sky and watched as it filled with the evening stars. Alex hugged Regina one last time before she reclaimed their wine glasses and guided her back inside.

She refilled their glasses and set them on the table, all the while thinking about how much each of them had changed since they first met. Alex straightened and regarded Regina as the smaller woman walked over to her.

Regina clasped Alex's hand in hers and kissed it. Her eyes twinkled as she pressed her body against Alex, enjoying the tingle of anticipation that ran up her spine.

Alex chuckled softly and wrapped her arms around Regina. “I guess you'd like to eat later.” She gasped softly on the last word, as her belt buckle was unclasped.

“Much later,” Regina purred, as she tugged the belt from Alex's waist and walked slowly backwards towards their bed.

Chapter Twenty-Two

It was a couple of hours before sunrise but Alex was lying in bed awake, thinking. The past couple of days had been a welcome respite from the troubles of the outside world. Alex turned her head and gazed down at the peaceful smile that graced Regina's face as she slept.

Regina's question about there being room in Alex's heart for her, had shocked the older woman into recognizing how much she was still keeping Regina at arm's length. She wasn't doing it intentionally, but the fear of being that open and vulnerable to anyone, was getting in the way of showing Regina how much she truly needed and wanted their relationship as a part of her life.

She made a very conscious decision to set aside her fears and let Regina past those final defenses. After all her experiences, she didn't expect to feel this way or to fall so deeply into something that made her willing to risk her heart again, but despite everything, she had.

So much had changed between them over the past couple of days. Their conversations, at times, were poignantly uncomfortable but in the end, Alex realized that they both gained an insight into each other's closely guarded fears and insecurities. Last night, she'd fallen in love all over again as she held Regina in her arms. There were moments where she felt like their two bodies had been one person, sharing the same soul.

Alex reached out and stroked Regina's hair, brushing a few strands off her face. A rush of emotion, made her heart clench and she closed her eyes to fight back the tears that welled up and brimmed her eyelids. I don't know why or how you came into my life, but whoever might be up there looking over us, thank you.

Beside her, Regina stirred and opened her eyes, blinking as she focused on Alex's face. “What are you doing up?” Her voice was a bit gravelly and she cleared her throat. “It's early.”

“Watching you sleep.” Alex gave her an appreciative smile.

Regina exhaled softly while she curled her hand around Alex's upper arm and settled her face against the warm shoulder. “Thank you.” Regina kissed Alex's collarbone and smiled, closing her eyes.

“For what?” Alex covered Regina's hand with hers.

“For making last night so special.”

Alex slipped her hand beneath Regina's and intertwined their fingers. The rest of the world could wait she decided, as she closed her eyes and let Regina's quiet breathing lull her back to sleep.


Later while she finished with her own packing, Regina regarded Alex curiously out of the corner of her eye, as the taller woman stuffed her clothes into her canvas duffel bag. She could see the rigid set of her partner's shoulders and the subtle tensing of the muscles along her jaw line, her suspicions about the unsettled feeling she sensed growing in Alex confirmed.

She guessed at a couple of things that might be causing Alex's upset but, Regina knew her partner's stubbornness would keep her from initiating the conversation so she decided to find a tactful way to open a door for her.

Regina closed her suitcase and then walked over to the small kitchen to retrieve the leftovers from the refrigerator. She filled a bowl with the stew, then, set it inside the microwave and turned it on. Wiping her hands on a paper towel she pulled off a roll, she turned around and watched as Alex walked around the corner.

Anxious, blue eyes met Regina's and Alex slowed to a halt a few feet away from her. She tucked one hand into her pant's pocket, hooking her thumb through her belt loop. “Good idea.” She motioned with her other hand indicating the leftover food. “We can eat something now and not have to stop on the way home.”

“I thought so,” Regina replied as she glanced at the microwave, waiting for the timer to go off. When it did she pulled the bowl out and carefully set it on the table with a fork. “You don't mind sharing, do you? It'll be less to clean up.” Regina smiled and patted Alex's side affectionately.

The motion became a caress and she moved closer, wrapping both arms around Alex's waist. She looked up and met Alex's gaze, matching the taller woman's smile with one of her own as strong arms enveloped her in a hug.

“Are you okay? You seem kind of quiet.” Regina slipped out of the embrace, asking the question in a casual voice.

Alex simply nodded and claimed the chair beside Regina, smiling as a thigh pressed against hers and remained there.

Obediently, she accepted the spoonful of food from Regina and chewed absently. She rested her elbows on the table while her gaze wandered outside the window to the trees that were still several weeks off from setting their buds.

Admittedly, she'd been restless since she'd woken up, an uneasy, edgy feeling filled her gut. Knowing she was going back to work tomorrow had set her mind into overdrive about all the unfinished business waiting for her at the hospital.

Alex's eyes narrowed as she thought about the upcoming deposition. When she first discovered what was happening, the whole thing seemed like it was a simple case of greed; one doctor's own ambitions gone awry. Since her return, she'd come to realize her first impression was most likely wrong.

“Here eat some of this.” Regina pushed the bowl in front of Alex, interrupting her thoughts.

Alex pulled her eyes away from the window and glanced at Regina. “Thanks.” She took the fork and speared a hunk of meat. There are too many unanswered questions and nothing seems to be making sense. Why would someone pull all of those charts out of medical records…unless they're trying to hide something? There must be information in those charts that they don't want legal to see. Why take the risk, now? Desperation?

“What's going on inside that head of yours today?” Intense green eyes regarded her solemnly from close range.

Alex stopped mid-chew and stared at Regina, caught awkwardly between deflecting her concern and allowing the younger woman in on a hunch that she hoped to hell she was wrong about. A chagrined expression crossed her features when she acknowledged to herself that she couldn't just pretend that everything was okay anymore and expect Regina not to question her.

It wasn't fair to either of them. They knew each other too well and had come too far, to go down that road again.

Alex wasn't sure exactly what Regina was thinking, but she didn't have to. The expression on Regina's face said it all. There could be no more half-truths between them, not if she wanted what they had built together to work.

It was a simple decision once she took a few seconds to look at her priorities. The tension eased in her shoulders as she gazed back into Regina's eyes. “How did you know something was wrong?”

Green eyes twinkled back at her in what looked like amusement and Regina ducked her head before she answered. “Mm, let's see, you furrow your brow and won't make eye contact when you're hurting. When you're nervous you fidget more and when you're deep in thought you stare out the window for long periods of time. Take your pick.”

Regina reached out and laid her hand over Alex's forearm, squeezing it gently. “You forget, I got plenty of practice reading all those little signs when you were hurt. Lord knows you didn't verbalize it to me.”

Alex pressed her lips together and averted her eyes. “Sorry I gave you such a hard time through all that. You didn't deserve it.” She snorted derisively and shook her head. “It's a wonder you just didn't kick me out on my butt some days.”

“I wouldn't have done that to you.” Regina edged closer and tucked dark strands of hair back behind Alex's ear. “I knew some of what you were feeling would get better with time, the rest…” her voice trailed off as Alex met her concerned gaze, “you have a hard time letting people take care of you. Just remember, I want to be able to do that for you if I can.”

Regina studied Alex for a moment longer as her thoughts revolved around one of their earlier conversations. She smiled when Alex tilted her head and leaned into her touch. Regina pressed her lips against Alex's head and sighed, deciding not to bring up the topic of Alex talking to a psychologist just yet. Later, we've had such a good time. I don't want to mess it up. “So, what were you going to tell me?”

Alex exhaled, collecting her thoughts before she answered Regina's question. Truth time. “Someone at the hospital is covering up what's really going on with the drug trials. I think Dr. Jameson is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Regina straightened in her chair, releasing Alex from her embrace. “Why do you think someone's covering up?”

Alex watched the limbs outside the window sway in the breeze for a second before she turned her serious gaze to Regina and took in the startled expression. At that moment, she cursed herself for admitting her suspicions and hoped she wouldn't regret her decision later.

Alex toyed with the fork in her bowl, as her appetite suddenly vanished, replaced with an annoying sense of nausea. “All the patients' charts that we found who were involved in this supposed study were taken from medical records.”

“W…well, maybe the hospital's attorneys requested them for the deposition?” Regina offered hopefully.

“I don't think so.” Alex shook her head. “I got paged before we left on Friday. The attorney doesn't have them and wanted to know if I knew where they were.”

“Do you think it might the case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing? I mean we've seen that happen before.”

“No. I keep thinking there has to be a reason why these patients were picked to be in the study.” Alex pressed her lips together and stared down at her hands. “You read those charts, tell me what you remember.”

Regina frowned and spread her hands out on the table, trying to pull together fragmented memories during what had been an incredibly stressful time in her life. “They were all cardiac patients.”

“Right, I remember that, but there was something else. Let me think for a minute.” She stopped and closed her eyes, pulling up details she hadn't thought about since she'd been shot. The answers were there if she could just remember. After several minutes, Alex slammed her hand down on the table as she got a clear picture in her mind of the admission sheets. That was it! “Not one of those patients had insurance.”

“What?” Regina eyebrows rose in surprise as she digested this new information. “I guess thirty patients with no insurance is outside the realm of coincidence.”

“I think whoever was running this scam was specifically targeted indigent patients. They knew they couldn't afford the medical care they needed and would jump at the chance of trying a new medication depending on their individual situation.”

“Why would they do that?”

“Normally, the hospital would eat the cost of treating indigent patients. It's how we maintain our tax-exempt status.” She formulated her thoughts as she answered Regina's question. “If what I'm thinking is right, then, the hospital has stepped up its drug research program because they've found a way to offset the financial losses by entering patients into the drug studies instead of treating them with what would normally be the standard of care.”

“I just don't understand why someone would do that.”

Alex shrugged. “Maybe whoever decided to do this, wanted the financial gains so badly that they don't care about the consequences anymore. They had a good thing going for them. No one would have ever found out what was happening if Dr. Jameson hadn't gotten sick.”

“You're pretty sure someone else higher up knows what's going on.”

Alex nodded her head. “Dr. Jameson was never very organized and he could barely put together a budget without help. There's no way he devised this whole thing himself. Someone else was calling the shots.”

“Any idea about who that might have been?”

Alex tilted her head and pressed her lips together. “I don't know.”

Regina leaned forward and rested her forearms on the table. “I hate to even ask this, but what about Dr. Mitchard.”

Alex pressed the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index finger. “Anything is possible at this point.” One thing is for sure. I have to find out who's involved and make sure they're stopped before this gets any worse than it already is. She smiled half-heartedly at Regina and stood up. “Let's head out.”


The taller woman looked up at the façade of the large medical center after she stepped out of the Jeep in the Emergency Department parking lot. She stretched her arms over her shoulders and shook her head, grateful that after the six-hour drive home the evening before, Regina insisted that she stay the night. I think she was surprised that I agreed so easily, Alex mused.

A moment later, she heard the passenger door shut and watched as Regina walked around the vehicle to stand beside her.

“Are you going to talk to her today?” Regina looked up at Alex and shielded her eyes from the early morning sun.

“Yes. That's the first thing I'm want to do today,” Alex replied as she started to walk towards the entrance of the medical center.

Regina took a breath, forcing her voice to remain calm, despite the nervousness in her gut. “Please be careful.”

Alex turned her head and smiled at Regina. “I will be, don't worry. I'll page you after I finish talking with her.” She slowed to a halt and pulled the glass door open, waiting for Regina to precede her into the building.

“Good, because I don't want to worry about what you're up to all day.” Regina reached out and touched Alex's arm as she walked through the open door into the lobby. “Good luck.”

Regina stepped out of the way of a woman being wheeled toward the door in a wheelchair. A smile crept over her face when she saw the newborn baby, swaddled in blankets, being cradled in its mother's arms. The baby reminded her of what her nephew might have looked like at that tender age. That has to be the most incredible thing a woman can do in her life. Regina shook her head and looked at Alex.

“Well, I better go or I'll be late for rounds on the unit.”

“See you later.” Alex winked at her and enjoyed the warm smile she received in return.

With a wave, Regina trotted down the hallway and disappeared around a corner.

Alex turned and strode down the corridor, weaving her way through the steady stream of staff members and visitors who were walking in the corridor.

At the end of the hallway, Alex bypassed the elevators and took the stairs, climbing them two at a time until her legs began to burn. The fatigue irritated her and she pushed herself up another flight to the third floor where her office was located. She came to the decision over the weekend that her body was healed enough to start returning to her normal routine of working out on a daily basis. This, she thought, would have to do for now.

At the top of the stairs, she stopped for a moment to catch her breath and collect her thoughts about her impending discussion with Cassandra Mitchard. She needed information and hoped that the Vice President would be a good place to start.

After entering her office, Alex cast a cursory glance at her desk, noting with a combination of irritation and disappointment that no charts from medical records were there. She picked up the phone on her desk and punched in five numbers. She sifted through several pieces of mail while the phone rang several times.

“Medical Records, this is Robin DeSimone.”

“Robin, it's Alex. Where are those charts I requested last Friday?” Alex pulled out her chair and settled into it as she waited for the woman's response.

“Not even a good morning or how was your weekend?” Robin asked, her voice taking on a hurt note.

Alex opened an envelope and glanced at a memo before she set it down. “Good morning Robin, now where are the charts?” She heard a sigh on the other end of the phone before the director finally answered her question.

“I have a faxed response from the company that converts our charts to microfilm format. It says that those charts were picked up three weeks ago.”

“You're kidding me? Why would they be microfilmed if we need the originals for a deposition now?”

“I don't know but, I can have them recalled if you need them,” Robin offered.

“No. Fax that letter over to me now. I want to read it myself,” Alex ordered and then rattled off the number to the fax machine in her office.

“Hold on.” A minute later, she heard Robin's voice again. “It's on the way. Does this have to do with Dr. Jameson?”

“Why do you ask?”

“No reason. I just like to know what's going on. That's all.”

“Thanks for your help, Robin.” Alex hung up before she could hear the woman's response. No sense in feeding the grapevine. She swiveled her chair around and plucked the paper out of the fax machine. Her eyes quickly scanned the document and then she picked up the phone again and dialed another number.

The phone was picked up after two rings. “Microdoc, this is Melanie. Can I help you?”

“Yes, this is Doctor Margulies from Saint Xavier's Medical Center. I need to know if you have some medical records of ours and how quickly I can have them recalled for a deposition.”

“Give me a second to bring that screen up on my computer,” the woman told her on the other end of the phone. “Okay, read me the medical record numbers.”

One by one, Alex read the numbers off to the woman. She heard the tapping of fingers on a keyboard as the numbers were inputted into a computer.

The tapping stopped and then Alex heard the sound of the person clearing their throat. “Are you sure those are the right numbers?”

Alex double-checked the numbers. “Yes, they're the right ones. What's the problem?”

“None of those charts appear in our system.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, as far as I can tell, they were never picked up from the hospital.”

In response, Alex closed her eyes and pressed her fingers against her temples. “I have a copy of a letter on your company's letterhead, stating that these charts were picked up three weeks ago by your company.”

“Yes, it's a form letter the computer generates when the charts are processed. We scan the numbers into our system at the pick up site so we can track them from start to finish. I don't know how a letter got sent out without the charts being processed in the first place.”

“Is there a supervisor there I can speak to?” Alex pulled a pad of paper over to her.

“Not at the moment, but I can have him call you later.”

“All right, but I want his name and number now.” Alex reached for a pen.

“His name is Edward and this is his direct line.”

Alex quickly scribbled the information down on a piece of paper as it was given to her.

“Thanks,” she replied and hung up the phone.

Alex stood up and stared out the window as she tried to make sense of what she had just learned in the last few moments. Someone was lying, that was clear enough. What she needed to find out was, who and why. With a growing sense of concern, she left her office, locked her door, and walked up three flights of stairs to the fifth floor.

She stepped out from the stairwell and walked down the hallway towards Cassandra Mitchard's office. Her steps carried her past a secretary's desk that was, for the moment unoccupied. Good, she thought to herself, relieved that she didn't have to talk her way past the woman.

Alex hesitated at the door and glanced in to see Cassandra sitting behind her desk talking on the phone. What she heard sent a chill up her spine.

“No, tell them everything is under control. There's no need to get cold feet. We're ready to go ahead with the next to studies as planned.” Cassandra looked up and her eyes widened when she saw the doctor standing in the doorway. She immediately lowered her voice and abruptly ended her conversation.

As she hung up the phone, Alex stepped into the office and shut the door firmly behind her. “Morning, Cassandra.” The dark-haired woman lowered herself into a leather chair opposite the Vice President's and graced her with a cool smile.

“I have a meeting. You'll need to talk with my secretary to set up a meeting.” Cassandra started to collect a few folders on her desk, pointedly avoiding Alex's gaze.

“This won't take long,” Alex assured her. The doctor sat back and folded her arms across her chest. “I want the truth about the drug trial that Dr. Jameson was conducting and I want to know where the medical records are for all those patients.”

Cassandra leaned back in her seat and gazed at the far wall. “I'm not discussing this with you.”

“Robin DeSimone in Medical Records told me the charts were sent out to be microfilmed. I called the company to recall them and found out that they have no record of them ever being picked up. What's going on?”

Cassandra paled slightly and moistened her lips with her tongue. “Alex, this is something our legal counsel will deal with. That's why we have them - to protect the hospital.”

Alex shook her head in disbelief. “They'll make sure the hospital is protected! What about the patients? Who the hell protects them?”

The sharp sound of the Vice President's hands slamming down on the desk punctuated the silence that followed. “This has nothing to do with you. Stay out of it!”

“Don't give me that line. I'm already involved in the deposition for this whole mess. Why do you think I'm trying to find the charts?”

“Don't worry about the deposition. It's simply to tie up any loose ends with Dr. Jameson. Your predecessor didn't play by the rules and for that he was terminated. With any luck it'll be a distant memory for us all soon.”

Alex crossed her legs and glowered at Cassandra. “Aren't you worried about the kickbacks he got, putting the hospital in jeopardy?”

Cassandra snorted, picked up a pile of charts, and walked around her desk. “No, the hospital won't let that happen. Besides all we've done is offer patients an alternate treatment regimen.”

That's why the charts are missing, Alex thought. All right, time for a little damage control before I really get myself in over my head. “Well, that's comforting to hear.”

Cassandra studied the doctor, weighing the truthfulness of her words. “So, I take it you're still on the team then.”

“That's why I came up here.” Alex met her steady gaze and held it until the Vice President looked away and cleared her throat.

“Well, I'm glad we finally came to an understanding on this. I'd hate to lose you, Alex. You're a good doctor,” Cassandra replied, pulling herself up straighter. “There's a black tie affair on Friday night. It's to kick off the fundraising campaign for the new cardiac wing.” She pulled out a square envelope from her desk drawer and handed it to Alex. “As the new medical director of the Emergency Department, you should be there to demonstrate your support.”

This is a command performance, no doubt. “I wouldn't want to miss it,” Alex replied.

“Good, I'm glad we got things cleared up between us. I was beginning to worry that we might lose you as well.” Cassandra walked to the door and opened it.

Alex smiled. “You won't lose me.”

“Let me know if there's anything that you need for the clinic downtown. We all want it to be a big success.”

I bet you do. Alex fought the urge to shiver in revulsion as she listened to the drivel. “I'll be sure to let you know,” she replied over her shoulder as she walked towards the stairwell. Suddenly feeling like she put in a ten-hour shift already, Alex rubbed her eyes and stifled a yawn before she headed down the stairs to the Emergency Department. She wondered briefly Regina's day was going any better and hoped that it was.

Continued in Chapter Twenty-three…


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