The Road Back Home

Part 7

by Lynne Norris

February 2001


Chapter Seven


Regina rolled over and reached out from underneath the warm covers to wrap an arm around Alex. She fell asleep late last night curled against the taller woman's side, listening to the sound of her rhythmic breathing and the deep, resonant beating of her heart.

She woke now, in the darkness to find the bed empty but the sheets beneath the blankets still warm. Startled, the blonde quickly sat up in bed and turned the lamp on. Did she leave? No, no she wouldn't have left. She probably had another nightmare and didn't want to wake me up.

Regina pulled the blanket from the bed, wrapped it around her shoulders and walked into the living room where she found her lover sitting on the couch with a medical journal lying open in her lap, reading or at least trying to. She hugged her arms around herself, studying Alex's sculpted profile for a moment before she said anything.

The older doctor looked up, feeling curious eyes studying her. "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up."

Regina walked over and sat down beside her on the couch. "Couldn't sleep?" She asked, shivering a bit since the heat hadn't come up yet.

"No...not too well," Alex confessed, while she straightened her back and grimaced at the gnawing sense of fatigue she felt. Vaguely, she recalled the nightmares and restless tossing and turning as her mind raced off in a million different directions all night long.

Regina curled her legs underneath her and scooted closer, resting her head on Alex's shoulder. She ran her fingers through the long, unruly raven hair and curled it around her fingers tips. "Alex, why don't you come back to bed? It's early and we don't have to be at the warehouse for a few hours yet." Regina glanced out the window at the light coming in from the streetlamp and guessed they still had several hours left before the sunrise.

Alex tilted her neck back and closed her eyes, considering the tempting offer. Before she knew it, she heard the rustling of pages and felt the weight of the journal being lifted off her lap, and then, two warm hands curled around her wrists and tugged her forward to the edge of the couch.

"Come on, I'll give you a back rub." Regina leaned back on her heels, pulled the taller woman to her feet.

Alex complied, allowing Regina to lead her back into the bedroom.

The blonde grinned as her taller companion sprawled out on her back and stretched, kicking her feet up and down on the bed in a brief flurry of activity. Regina crawled in beside Alex, snuggled up beside the woman and started to rub her hand in slow circles over the taut belly.

The dark head lifted and blue eyes watched the smaller woman in quiet regard, widening slightly when Regina looked up and graced her with a warm smile. The smaller woman leaned forward, brushed her lips against Alex's. She moved against her carefully and positioned her thigh over the taller woman's legs, pinning her to the bed.

"What are you doing?" Alex grumbled, looking down into sultry green eyes.

Regina chuckled softly and lightly ran her fingers up across Alex's collarbone. "Touching you." She gazed up into blue eyes, recognized the look of uncertainty there and slowed her advance. "Are you ok with this?"

Alex lay her head back down on a pillow, closed her eyes and nodded once. Dammit, when did I get this insecure about her touching me? "Yeah...yeah, I am."

She swallowed then took a deep breath, forcing her body to relax under her lover's wandering touch. She really did miss making love with Regina, but the absolute nakedness and vulnerability of the act were too much of a risk for her fragile psyche just now.

It's just a scar; she fought with herself. Lord knows I have enough old nicks and scrapes on me. It's just one more. What Alex was afraid to admit was that this one ran deep and touched upon many of the others, opening old wounds and fears that threatened to overwhelm her during those quiet moments when she was alone and undistracted.

"Regina?"

The blonde looked up from gently tracing a pattern over the taller woman's neck and shoulders. "What?"

"I know you didn't sign on for any of this."

"What are you talking about?" Regina propped her head up on the palm of a hand and studied Alex's tense expression in the soft glow of the yellow lamplight.

Alex sighed heavily and stared off at the far wall, refusing to meet the sea green eyes she knew were observing her intently. None of this had been easy. It was six weeks before the cast was taken off Regina's right arm, from having slugged Derrick and fractured a bone in her hand the day Alex was shot.

Tending to oneself with one arm out of commission was difficult enough, add an ornery, obstinate and a sometimes very emotionally, vulnerable patient was another story altogether. She knew she hadn't been an easy patient to deal with and yet Regina had managed to tend to her every day with a quiet determination.

"Come on, Reg. You know what I mean – you've been my nursemaid, cleaning up when I got sick from the medication, doing my dressing changes...hell, nobody's wiped my butt since I can't remember when."

"Hey." Regina slid a hand up Alex's neck and cupped her jaw. When her attempt to turn the older woman's face towards her failed she pulled herself up and knelt over her companion. "Alex, look at me...please."

Alex rubbed her thumb and forefinger over the bridge of her nose. "I...I just...I don't want you to feel...obligated, Regina."

"Obligated?" She furrowed her brow and then wrapped a hand tightly around Alex's arm, her voice trembling with anger. "Don't...you say that; don't you dare think you're going to get rid of me that easily, Alex Margulies."

She sat back on her heels and ducked her head, the flaxen hair falling forward and hiding the tears that blurred her vision. The strong outward veneer she struggled so hard to maintain the whole time she was caring for her lover finally cracked. "Please...Alex.... this has been hard enough..." she swallowed, her breath coming in short gasps. "Don't...push me away...not now. I...I can't imagine my life without you."

The shadowed, blue eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry, Regina" the taller woman whispered hoarsely. "That's all I've done lately is push you away. I'm so sorry."

A warm hand found Regina's and she clenched her fingers around it tightly. "I know, Alex. It's just...I miss you, us...making love...being together." she murmured softly.

Alex opened her mouth once, twice, then, clamped it shut and just looked up at the most honest and open expression on Regina's face.

You weren't expecting me to say that, were you? The blonde thought as she lay down beside her and pulled Alex into her arms, tucking the dark head under her chin. Arms and legs wrapped around each other as they twined their bodies together, each seeking and finding strength from the other.

"I'm not going anywhere, Alex. We're in this together."

"Promise?" Alex buried her face in Regina's neck, wishing she could rid herself of the fear she felt gnawing inside.

"I promise," Regina breathed and hugged Alex tightly.

******

Sandy stretched under the covers and yawned loudly. She picked her head up and watched with half open eyes as her lover sauntered into their bedroom still naked from the shower. Tina was medium height with auburn hair and had an athletic build from her years of playing sports in college.

"Is it that time already?" the blonde-haired nurse managed to ask in a voice thick from breathing the smoky air and drinking a little too much alcohol from the bar they had gone dancing at last night.

Tina chuckled and arched a dark eyebrow as she pulled on a pair of faded blue jeans. "Ooh, you sound good."

Sandy ran her hands through her curly blonde locks and groaned. "You almost killed me last night."

"Hardly, we just need to practice it more often." Tina waggled her eyebrows, knelt on the foot of the bed and crawled seductively up her lover's body.

"I meant...dancing," the woman underneath the blankets shrieked and tried to squirm away from the teasing hands. It was a futile attempt as Tina straddled Sandy's hips and pinned her arms down to her side.

"Gotcha," she giggled and leaned over, kissing the smaller woman on the lips. The kiss lasted longer than she expected and Tina lowered herself onto her elbows aware of the tightening she felt between her legs. With a sigh, she pulled back, cocked her head to one side and ran her fingers down Sandy's cheek. "I wish I didn't have to go to work."

"Oh sure, start something you're not going to finish," Sandy pouted.

Tina dipped her head and kissed the nurse one more time. "Later, I promise. Besides, you need your strength if you're going to go hunt through that warehouse for equipment with Alex. I can't believe you told her you would do that."

"What? It's better than staying home and being mad about not being able to go away this weekend."

"I suppose." Tina stretched and then quickly swatted the hand reaching up for her breast. "Behave or I'm really going to be late."

"Well, then get off me and get dressed," Sandy quipped.

Tina complied, then grabbed a tank top from the dresser drawer behind her and slipped it on over her head. "How's Alex doing anyway? I haven't seen her since she came back last week."

The blonde-haired nurse swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stared down at her bare feet, wiggling her toes. "I don't know, Tina. I'm really worried about her...and Regina."

"I don't know how Regina held it together that whole time." Tina turned and sat down beside her lover and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, her playful demeanor suddenly sobering. "I don't know what the hell I'd do if something happened to you." Her voice cracked on the last few syllables.

"Hey! Why are you crying?" Sandy inquired, alarmed by her usually stoic partner's sudden display of emotion.

Tina wiped her eyes quickly and sniffed. "Shit, I don't know. I just remember you telling me what happened and how freaked out everyone was by it. That could have been any of you guys down there."

"I know," Sandy replied quietly, rubbing the back of Tina's neck. She could still see Alex lying on the stretcher, deathly pale and covered in her own blood. "It was so weird the next day. It was like business as usual and no one talked about it...at all."

"So, is Alex ok? You didn't say."

"Honestly, I don't know, Tina." Sandy looked over at her lover. "She's not the same, there's this uncertainty about her, like she's second guessing herself all the time."

"Have you talked to her at all?"

"I'm not sure I want to be the one to tackle that issue." Sandy looked down at the floor and shrugged. "I know she's getting a lot of pressure from the administration about getting the ER's reputation back on track. I'm afraid she might think we're ganging up on her."

"She trusts you Sandy. I think she would listen if you bring up your concerns as a friend and a colleague."

"Maybe."

Tina turned and drew a leg up underneath her and looked down at her hands. "I know one thing, that toughness she walks around with is a defense she's cultivated over the years. Anyone who's that tough is usually pretty sensitive inside."

Sandy leaned closer and lifted Tina's head with her hand. "Mm, sounds like someone else I know."

Tina closed her eyes feeling a blush rising up from her neck. "And you know how hard it was to get through to me."

"Yeah, I practically needed a sledgehammer to break through the wall you put up."

******

Alex unlocked the metal door and stepped inside the warehouse, followed by her younger companion. The taller woman felt along the wall and turned on the panel of switches to her left. Overhead, fluorescent lights flickered momentarily and then bathed the large room in bright light. The inside of the building was one large rectangular room with large metal shelving units lining the walls. Small medical equipment and boxes that could fit there filled most of the shelves, while the larger items were crammed carelessly together on the floor.

Light streamed through the windows overhead, illuminating swirls of dust particles and as if on cue Regina sneezed loudly.

"My God, I had no idea they had all this stuff stored here." She could see her breath forming as vapor in front of her as she spoke. Another sneeze started to tickle her nose and Regina covered her face trying to stifle it unsuccessfully.

"Bless you," Alex replied and reached over to brush several strands of flaxen hair out of Regina's face. "Are you going to be ok in here?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine. There must be several hundred thousand dollars of equipment in here," Regina remarked, still getting over her shock at how much was jammed into the warehouse.

"Probably closer to a million or more if anyone ever bothered to keep track of it," Alex mused as she stepped around an old Stryker frame and looked around her.

Regina blinked and stared up into deadpan blue eyes. "Do I dare ask how we're supposed to find anything in here?"

"Seek and ye shall find," Alex remarked with a wry chuckle.

Regina groaned and covered her face with a hand. "How did I know you were going to say something like that?"

A slow, sideways smile crept up Alex cheek and she winked at her lover.

Minutes later, the door swung open behind them and Sandy stepped into the open room, her face brightening into a smile when she spotted her two friends standing a few feet away.

"Have you guys been here long?"

"No, we just got here," Alex replied, watching as the nurse strolled up to Regina and embraced her.

She released Regina and peered up at Alex. "So why don't you tell me what you want to retrieve from this place."

Alex dug a copy of the list she made out of her pocket and handed it to Sandy. "The smaller stuff we can load up and bring over to the clinic today. We'll tag any equipment we can't carry and I'll schedule the movers pick it up this week."

"They'll do it that quickly?" Sandy asked while studying the list in her hands.

"They need the space for all the furniture from one of the billing offices they closed last month. Until they clear everything out of the building it was in, the hospital has to pay rent on the space."

"There doesn't look like there's too much order to this place," Sandy remarked dubiously as she looked around at all the boxes shelving units. "Do you think anyone keeps track of what's in here?"

Alex shook her head. "Why do you think they call this the 'black hole' for? If something goes into to storage you can pretty much kiss it goodbye. Come on, let's just start to look and see what we can find."

After a couple of hours they had accumulated two portable electrocardiogram monitors, several ophthalmoscopes, a couple of storage carts and other small pieces of medical equipment that would serve to help make the clinic functional.

The tall, dark-haired doctor watched in amusement from across the room as Regina and Sandy rummaged eagerly through several boxes they dragged off the shelves. "Both of you are like two kids in a candy store," she teased.

"What's wrong with that?" Sandy retorted as she pulled down another box off the shelf and set it on the floor by her feet. She waved her hand in front of her face, clearing the dust away that exploded up from the floor.

Alex shook her head and settled her hands on her hips. "Nothing, nothing's wrong with that. Just remember we're not opening another emergency room, just a walk-in clinic."

Sandy stared down at the unopened box and nudged it with the toe of her boot. "Fine," she muttered, "Go ahead burst my bubble here. I'm taking a break." The nurse hopped up onto the three-drawer filing cabinet and leaned back on her hands, surveying the rest of the room while Regina opened the box on the floor and sorted through it.

Alex ducked her head and sighed, then, walked over to the blonde. "Sandy, look I...agh! Why you..." she shook her head and wiped the water off her face that the nurse had squirted at her with a large syringe. "Where did you get that?" Blue eyes flashed angrily then softened as Sandy spun around and slipped off the other side of the file cabinet, doing her best to look contrite.

"Nailed," the nurse snickered and winked at Regina.

"And to think I was going to apologize. You little..." Alex's voice trailed off and she walked over to a shelf that Sandy had been rummaging through earlier. "Oh, you are in serious trouble my friend," she cackled wickedly.

Sandy shrieked when she saw the bottle of sterile water that Alex pulled out of the box at her feet.

"That's it go ahead and run away, you chicken." Alex walked back over to Regina and held her hand out. "May I?" She took scissor that Regina was using to open the boxes and punched a hole in the bottom of the plastic container.

"Regina, don't help her!"

The blonde shrugged and shook her head. "I'm staying out of this."

Alex grinned and handed the scissors back, holding the bottom end of the bottle up. "Pay backs are a bitch aren't they, Sandy?" She climbed over the desk and advanced on the nurse weaving her way in and out of the equipment until she saw that she had Sandy cornered.

"Alex, please don't. This is Tina's shirt. She'll have a fit."

"And that would be my problem, why?" She tilted her head and smirked, then squeezed the bottle hard, sending a stream of water that splattered over Sandy.

The nurse ducked away avoiding most of the water and then stuck her tongue out at Alex.

The doctor snickered and walked back to Regina who was watching and shaking her head at the two women. "You are so bad, Alex."

"What? She started it," Alex replied and winked back at Regina when she motioned with her hands that Sandy was coming up behind her with another syringe filled with water. She turned and aimed the rest of the bottle at Sandy.

"Ok, enough you two." Regina intervened and grabbed the water away from Alex before she could completely soak the nurse.

"I thought you were my friend," Sandy pouted, glaring at Regina.

"I am. I didn't let her dump the whole bottle over your head." She glanced up at Alex who feigned an innocent look and smiled cheekily at Sandy.

"I have a sweatshirt in my trunk, Sandy," Alex offered.

Sandy glared up at the taller woman and then broke into a smile. "You're lucky I like you, Margulies."

Alex rolled her eyes before she left to retrieve the sweatshirt.

"You're crazy, Sandy," Regina laughed, watching Alex disappear out the door.

"Nah, we just needed something to make this more fun." Sandy wiped her face with her hand. "Did you two talk at all?"

"A little." Regina stared down at the floor and shook her head. "I can't keep from thinking that if I hadn't told her not to go after Dana, none of this might have happened. Maybe that boy might still be alive and that family wouldn't be devastated."

"Regina, you can't blame yourself. Dana's crazy. There's no telling what she would have done if Alex had gotten her alone."

The door opened a moment later and Alex walked back in. She tossed the gray sweatshirt to Sandy and settled herself on to one of the file cabinets. The nurse slipped the garment over her head and hopped up on a desk across from Alex, giving her a wry smile.

"Are you two going to be around next weekend?"

"No," Regina replied, sitting down beside Alex. "We're going up to my parents for my Mother's birthday."

Tina rocked back on her hands and looked at Alex. "Oh Lord, a visit to the in laws. Tina's mother hated me the first time we met."

Alex pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow. "As I recall, she discovered the two of you in a rather compromising position."

Sandy bit her bottom lip and stifled a laugh. "Tina didn't think they were coming home so early."

"Yeah and whose idea was it to go skinny dipping in their pool in the first place?"

"Sandy!" Regina dissolved into a fit of giggles and leaned against Alex's shoulder.

An arm slipped around her waist and she found herself being pulled down into her partner's lap. "I don't suppose your parent's have a heated pool now do they, Reg?" Dark eyebrows waggled up and down suggestively.

"No and if they did it's just a tad bit cold at the moment," she managed to get out in between her laughter.

"Funny, Alex." The nurse averted her eyes and looked around the warehouse, wondering what other hidden treasures they might find hidden among all the equipment. "Hey, what's that over there?" Sandy pointed toward the middle of the room, slid off her perch and slowly picked her way through the maze of boxes.

Regina looked up at Alex and smiled at her. "How are you doing?"

Alex shrugged and made a non-committal grunt. Her insecurities seemed lost for the moment and she was trying very hard to convince herself they would not return to plague her later. A nudge at her side, made her glance down at the blonde snuggled up against her. "I'm all right."

Not believing her, Regina tilted her head and arched an eyebrow. "Try tired, that might be closer to the truth."

"Guilty as charged," she whispered, pulling the blonde back up into a sitting position. For a moment, everything faded away around them and she felt herself getting lost in the green eyes looking back at her from close range.

Regina leaned in and stole a kiss, chuckling softly as Alex's eyes widened in surprise. "Are we almost done here?"

"I think so." Alex turned her attention back to Sandy and changed the subject. "What is she looking at over there?"

In response, Regina shrugged and slipped off of Alex's lap. She reached out and took the taller woman's hand, tugging her off the cabinet.

"Hey guys, check this out," Sandy called to them. "Someone's been camping out in here."

"What did you find?" Alex and Regina walked over to the nurse, letting go of each other as Sandy looked over at them.

"Here, look for yourself," Sandy lifted the backpack up and handed it over to Alex. Underneath the hospital bed, she found a brown bag filled with some candy, a Swiss Army knife and an apple.

Regina looked on as Alex unzipped the blue backpack. She reached in and pulled out two pairs of jeans, a couple of sweatshirts and a stuffed Tigger which her taller companion took from her and studied with a curious look on her face.

Alex ran her thumb over the worn orange fur of the stuffed animal she held in her hand and shook her head. "Odd assortment of stuff."

"I'll say," Regina replied. "Looks like somebody ran away from home."

"What should we do with it?" Sandy stood up and brushed her pants off.

"Is there any identification in it?"

Regina dug into the pack again, her fingers brushing against something cool and hard. The sound of a tiny chain links and metal clinking together caught her attention and she curled her fingers around the item and pulled out a pair of dog tags.

"Hey, listen to this," she said as she read from the metal tags she held in her hand. "Jonathon Brooks Taylor; RA34650097; T 43; o pos, and there's a capital C down at the lower right hand corner."

"Let me see those." Alex reached over and took them from Regina, letting her fingers mingle against the smaller hand for longer than she needed to. Her eyes moved back and forth as she studied the worn metal tags. "These are real. RA is the regular army service number; the 'T' refers to a tetanus shot and the year it was given, 1943. 'O pos' is the blood type, O positive and the person was Catholic."

"How do you know all that, Alex?" Sandy asked skeptically, looking on with her hands on her hips.

"My grandfather served in World War II. He gave me his tags before he died."

"Oh," Sandy commented.

Alex fingered the chain, her eyes getting an unfocused look in them when she spoke. "I couldn't get enough of the old war movies and listening to him tell stories. He landed on the beach at Normandy on D-Day."

"Huh." Regina glanced up at Alex in surprise. Seldom had she heard Alex speak of her family and she tucked the piece of information safely away.

"So, what do we do with this stuff?" Sandy asked, glancing over at Regina.

Alex scratched her head and stared down at the backpack Regina was holding. "We need to call the police and report this. Shit, we're not going to be able to move anything out of here now."

"We could just say we found it after we move all the stuff we need. No one would know," Sandy offered quietly.

Alex shook her head. "We would." She gave the nurse an apologetic look. "Sandy, why don't you take off? You don't have to hang around here while we wait for the police."

"Are you sure?"

Alex nodded her head and waved her on. "Yeah. Go on. Thanks for helping out, Sandy."

"No problem. You know where to find me if you need any more help. I'll see you both later." Sandy shrugged into her jacket and headed for the door.

Alex dropped her arms to her sides and looked over at Regina. "You're right, it does look like some kid ran away from home."

"I know." Regina pointed at the stuffed animal and smiled. "You like that little guy, huh?"

Alex snorted and tossed it at the blonde, who fumbled to catch it. "What was it that Tigger did?" She shoved her hands in her pockets and bounced on her toes a couple of times in front of the blonde.

Regina tilted her head back and laughed, the sound echoing throughout the warehouse. Her shoulders shook and she doubled over, holding her sides.

"It wasn't that funny," Alex deadpanned, then, found herself laughing in spite of herself.

"Oh, yes it was." Regina reached out, grabbed Alex's arm pulling herself up and leaning against the sturdy frame of the taller woman.

Blue twinkled as Alex lowered her head and pressed her lips against Regina's. She pulled away and blinked. "Thanks."

"For what?"

Alex shrugged and lifted an eyebrow. "Thanks for putting up with me."

******

Regina looked up as the door to the warehouse opened, letting in a sudden gust of cold air. She shivered and huddled inside her winter coat, watching warily as a police officer entered the building. An audible sigh of relief escaped her, when she realized she didn't recognize the face or the walk of the middle-aged man as he approached her.

"I'm officer Carrotta. Did you call about a possible missing person?"

"I did," Alex spoke as she stepped up beside the blonde-haired woman and held the backpack out to the officer. "We found this with some clothing in it and some old dog tags."

The officer slipped off his cap and tucked it under one arm as he took the pack from the dark-haired woman and unzipped it. "Where did you find it?"

"Over there." Alex pointed over to the hospital bed where Sandy found the pack earlier.

The officer keyed the radio on his shoulder. "Derrick, get in here so we can get this done." There was a moment's hesitation and then a static filled voice acknowledged the transmission.

Regina cursed softly under her breath and unconsciously stepped back toward Alex.

"Easy, I'm here. Nothing is going to happen." Alex whispered and rubbed her hand against the smaller woman's back.

Ed glanced between the two women. "What's the problem?"

Alex thought briefly about not saying anything and then thought better of it as she watched the color literally drain from Regina's face in reaction to her ex's close proximity to her. "She has a restraining order against your partner."

The officer frowned and then his eyes widened in surprise. "Oh, you're that Regina." He seemed to consider the situation and then looked over at the blonde. "Sorry, about that. I'll make sure we're out of your way quickly."

"We'd appreciate that," Alex replied.

A moment later, the warehouse door swung open and the younger officer walked inside. Derrick's eyes narrowed, but his steps didn't falter as he walked toward the three women standing by his partner. "What've you got Ed?" His eyes moved over the three of them and he lifted an inquiring eyebrow as he met Alex's gaze.

"Ah, not much. A backpack with some clothes in it." The older officer looked around the warehouse. "What I want to know is how the hell whoever is sleeping here got in here in the first place."

"There's a loading dock in the back," Alex offered, glaring openly at Derrick as his eyes roamed over Regina. "Maybe you should go check it out," she said and then turned to the older officer. "Do you need us for anything?"

Ed glanced up at Alex, shook his head and then started to walk toward the back of the building. "No, I'll find you if we have any questions."

"Good, then we'll be leaving now," Alex growled and ushered Regina away from Derrick.

The younger cop glanced back at his partner who was already walking to the loading dock. "Leaving so soon, Regina? Why don't you stay a while? Come on, we can catch up on old times." Derrick hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and leered at the blonde as she quickly walked past him.

Alex stopped and whirled around, her upper lip curling into a snarl. "Maybe you'd like if I stayed awhile and we caught up on old times, Derrick."

His face froze for an instant and he stepped back away from the menacing look. Alex looked him up and down once, then, quickly caught up to her partner.

Regina stepped out of the warehouse and covered her mouth with her hand, breathing hard and trembling as she turned around on the sidewalk. "Oh shit. I didn't know what it would be like...to see him again. Alex..." she took a breath and looked up at her taller companion. "He scares me."

The brunette wrapped her arms around Regina and pulled her close. "I know, I know, Reg." She closed her eyes, wondering what in the hell it was worth to have restraining order for since it seemed like Derrick's work was destined to cross Regina's path. Alex clenched her jaw, feeling somewhat helpless given the circumstances. "Hey, are you ok?" She tilted her head and looked down at Regina.

The blonde nodded her head and looked up at the taller woman. "I think so." She pulled away from Alex and fixed an angry gaze on the door to the warehouse. It was the most awful, vulnerable feeling knowing she had been involved with him and that even now his mere presence brought back the sickening sense of being terrified of him.

"Hey, I didn't think I'd see you two back here so soon," a gruff, male voice called out from the garage of the fire department.

Both women turned and watched as the fireman they met several nights ago gave the large Shepard standing beside him a hand signal. The dog backed up a couple of steps and reluctantly lay down on the concrete. He kept a watchful eye on his master as he jogged across the street.

Regina lifted her hand and waved at him as he approached them.

"Hi, Regina." His eyes lit up when he smiled at the blonde. "Alex, how are you?"

"Fine," she answered simply. I'd be a whole lot better if you'd wipe that friggin' smile off your face and get a clue. "So, are you a volunteer fireman?" Alex asked, deciding she had no good reason to alienate the man.

"No, I do it full time – search and rescue, training the newbies. I love it," he enthused, jamming his hands into his pockets to keep them warm.

The door from the warehouse opened and the three of them looked over as the two officers walked out. Ed, the older of the two men, carried the blue backpack in his hand as he walked down the stairs in front of Derrick. He turned and handed his partner the pack and walked over to the small group.

"We're all set. There's not a whole lot to do at this point unless someone files a missing person's report. The dog tags might give us a place to start."

Todd glanced over at Alex as the officer was talking to her. "What did you find?"

"Some clothes and a set of dog tags from World War II," Alex replied and then blew into her cupped hands, warding off the chill.

A beeper shrilled and they all glanced down, checking their pagers simultaneously. Regina pulled hers off her belt and squinted as she read the number. "Alex, can I use your cell phone?"

"Sure. Where's yours?" The brunette asked, as she unclipped it from her belt and handed it to the smaller woman.

"Home, I left it on the dresser," she replied sheepishly and took the phone from Alex. She stepped away from the group and dialed the number that she was paged to.

Across the street, the Shepard stretched and stood up, his tail wagging as he watched the blonde-haired woman. Regina glanced up and down the street, which was devoid of any traffic for the moment as she listened to the phone ring and waved at the dog, smiling mischievously.

That was all the invitation he needed to trot over to her. He pushed his head against her thigh and grumbled a deep-throated hello to her as she scratched his ears.

"Hi, this is Dr. Kingston. Someone paged me to this number."

She listened as one of the nurses in the ER explained to her that a young girl she admitted last week to the oncology service was being brought in by ambulance and they needed Regina to come in and examine her.

"Where's her oncologist?" Regina asked.

"Out of town and we can't get in touch with the doctor who's covering for him."

"Then have one of the residents examine her."

"I wish it was that easy Dr. Kingston. Her mother doesn't want anyone but her oncologist or you to look at her."

The blonde cast a wary eye over at Alex, not relishing the fact that she now needed to make an unplanned trip over to the hospital. This day was definitely not going as planned and it was obvious that Derrick's presence had upset her lover as well.

"I'll be there in ten minutes," she replied and then turned off the phone. Regina bent down and ruffled the scruff of fur around the dog's neck as she spoke softly to him. "You're a good boy, aren't you?" She was aware of Derrick walking back toward Alex and Todd who were standing several feet away from her.

With a sigh, she stood up and walked back over to Alex. "I've got to go to the hospital." She looked up at the brunette and gave her an apologetic smile.

A cold nose nudged her hand and she looked down at the dog, which lifted his head for her to pet again.

"I see you made a friend," Alex commented with a wry smile as she looked down at Regina stroking the top of the Shepard's head.

"I'm a sucker for a cute face."

Todd laughed and walked over to them, taking hold of the dog's collar. "Come on, Lucky." He tugged the dog forward and was stopped short when the Shepard suddenly planted his feet. A low, threatening growl rumbled from deep within his chest as he fixed his dark, brown eyes on Derrick. "Hey, knock it off," Todd admonished, watching uneasily as Lucky's hackles rose up along the dog's back.

"You oughta have that dog on a leash," Derrick pointed out, quickly stepping away from the snarling animal.

"Sorry, he usually doesn't do this," Todd replied and pulled Lucky away from Derrick as the dog continued to growl menacingly at the other man.

Alex jingled her keys and raised an eyebrow when Regina glanced up at her. "I'd say that's one smart dog. You ready?"

"Yeah, let's go."

Continued in Chapter 8



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