by Troubleshooter Copyright 2000 all rights reserved.





The timeline is the present. I borrow some of the physical characteristics of X&G for physical descriptions because I find it easier to write when I have a clear image in my head of the physical look of the character. My imagination isn't that good to come up with one. Besides, I really like the looks of X&G. <g> If I had any type of artistic skill, I'd draw a picture of them for you, because they don't look exactly like X&G. For example, in my mind, I picture the blonde as taller. That's about it. It's an original piece of fiction and if you read it, you'll probably find likenesses in the characters to the X&G type, as well as about fifty other arch-type, um, types of characters.


This is my little therapy piece that I use when I'm writing Trial of Conscience. It is, IMHO opinion, very different from Trial of Conscience. It is a rather dark piece with a lot of angst that deals with a couple's struggle by having them both look back and write about how they met, what happened and how they're dealing with it.

Because it's a retrospective look combined with the present, it tends to bounce between the present and the past. Of the people who have read it so far, no one's complained about being totally confused. I also wrote it as the characters would if they were writing in their personal journals, so you'll find incomplete sentences, slang, etc. Tenses may switch back and forth between past and present. The characters experience conflicting emotions and are sometimes inconsistent when they are trying to explain themselves. This was all done on purpose.

Both main characters are done in first person and I've attempted to create different styles for each. Feedback on whether or not I've been successful in the two different styles would be very much appreciated. It hasn't been edited at all, so please forgive the mistakes.

This story is a slice of two people's lives, each of whom are far less than perfect and have their own fears, strengths, views, dysfunctions, etc. Some of it is not so pretty. Some of it is. I don't think there's anything in it that would be considered over the top. Something happened to them that was devastating and now they are trying to deal with it, each in her own way.

There's some profanity, definite angst, definitely dark and broody in parts, some violence, sex between two women (all consensual and non-violent and not in there for it's erotic value — it's used to explore and further the reader's understanding of the relationship, as well as the character's own understanding)…in short, if I put something in the story, it's not for shock value or sensationalism or titillation value.

The characters may hold opinions that you don't agree with, particularly within the religious area. I really don't want to get email about your opposition to how they view religion. You're reading their personal thoughts, even things that they may not say to each other. There is no message, no lesson or anything like that. It's simply a character study of two people and a relationship, their thought processes (however warped they may be) and their responses to the events in their lives.


This is an extremely difficult story for me to write. I don't expect it to be as lengthy as Trial of Conscience, but I do know that it's taking me a long time to write it. So start it if you want to, but don't expect frequent updates. I've got to be in a certain place personally to write this story and it's a place I, thankfully, don't get to that often.

With all that said, and you still want to read it… is Chapter One.

Chapter One

I've been staring at this blank computer screen for at least an hour.

There! At least it's not blank anymore. I feel a little less like an idiot. Not much, though.

I...I can't believe I let her talk me into this. But I guess it's like most things with her. She somehow manages to talk me into them. I often find myself shaking my head after it's all over with, wondering how, exactly, did I end up telling her what I did, or promising what I promised, or agreeing to what I agreed to.

But most of all, I wonder how, of the billions of people on this planet, she managed to find me and love me. I never believed in luck or gods or karma or any of that shit. Hell, I never believed in anything. I do believe in something now. I believe in her. And it's enough.

The worst part about this is she made me promise that I'd do this. Promise. What a word. It almost killed us. But that's for later.

I guess you're wondering exactly what it is that I promised her to make me sit in front of a blank computer screen for an hour like the total idiot I can be. We, um, we had some problems.

She'd laugh right now if she read that last sentence. It would be a soft, gentle laugh as she chided me. "Sweetheart, you're the poster child for understatement."

My chest gets tight when I think about it. About what happened. She says it's the fear and anxiety. It's fucking pain. That's what it is. Pure, unadulterated pain. Worse than getting shot. Worse than getting cut open by a switchblade. I had an open fracture of my left arm, broken in three places, that hurt a whole lot less than this. I'd take all three of those every single day for the rest of my life over this. At least I know how they feel and that eventually the pain goes away. I don't think this ever will. Scratch that. I know it never will.

We fought about this for a month. She seems to think that if I sit down and write out what happened, it will help ease the pain. Nothing she could do or say could convince me to do this. But then I made a mistake. Yes, I do make mistakes. Took me a long time to be able to admit that.

It was her birthday two days ago. She turned thirty-two. I never thought I would celebrate another birthday with her. It was so incredibly sweet to wake up next to her and watch her sleep. I couldn't help myself. As she stirred, I covered her face and neck with soft kisses until sleepy green eyes slowly blinked open and looked at me. I can see the love there. Even after everything, she still loves me.

We had this apple pie for her birthday. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. I did the first time we celebrated her birthday. It seems so long ago now.

The first celebration of a birthday in a new's supposed to be a big deal, right? I had asked her what kind of cake was her favorite. She told me apple. Not being even remotely familiar with anything that has flour in it, I set off in search of an apple cake. I thought it sounded kind of strange, but hell, we've put men on the moon, so surely someone in the world had thought of putting apples in a cake.

After the people at the fifth bakery I visited looked like they were ready to call the local insane asylum to come get me because they had a lunatic in their place of business demanding an apple cake, I finally threw my hands up in disgust and went home to tell her that no bakery in the city carried apple cake.

It's weird, isn't it? Not the apple cake thing. What I mean is, how the littlest things become so important to us. I loved her. She wanted apple cake. Finding an apple cake then became the single most important thing in the world to me. I had failed to find an apple cake, therefore I had failed her...failed our love. If only all my failures were so inconsequential.

I arrived home that day, apple cake-less. I stood there, sputtering my apologies out, looking everywhere but at her. I couldn't bear to see the disappointment I knew I would find in those beautiful green eyes. "I'm so sorry, so sorry. There's no apple cake anywhere in the city of New Orleans." I finally braved a look into those green eyes.

She laughed. The little shit laughed! I, on the other hand, was appropriately outraged. She kissed me sweetly and told me that it was apple pie , not cake. I still don't know to this day how I missed the word "pie" in that conversation. Besides, who ever heard of pie for a birthday? It's supposed to be cake. But if it's pie she wants, it's pie she'll have.

So for her birthday this year, I got her an apple pie. I was quite proud of myself and I'm sure the bakery people were thrilled to not have to deal with a lunatic demanding apple cake. I lit the candle on the pie and brought it out from the kitchen and sang, half-decently, "Happy Birthday" to her. After she blew the candle out, I made my mistake.

My mistake...well, it's what resulted in this promise. I asked her what she wished for when she blew out the candle. I told her that if it was within my power, I would make sure her wish came true. I sat, mesmerized by the beautiful smile that spread slowly across her face.

"Are you sure you want to know?" she asked innocently.

That should have been my first warning, but the warning bells ringing loudly in my head went unheard as I sat mesmerized by her eyes and that smile. Instead, I responded solemnly, "Yes, I'm sure."

"I wished that you would write our story."

It took several long moments after I heard the words come out of her mouth for it to register in my brain. I set myself up. My mind let loose with a string of curses, aimed solely at myself, that would make a group of sailors blush. That's not a figure of speech I'm using. I know. I've done it before.

God, did I ever set myself up. "No way, Juliana Lee Hayden, no way." I shook my head vehemently, just to give emphasis to my words. I used her full name so she'd know I was serious. I steeled myself. 'I will not let her talk me into this' became my mantra. I argued every point I could come up with, which happened to be a considerable number. Like the fact that she was the one who had a way with words, not me. Hell, it's what she does for a living. She's a damn freelance journalist. It's what got us into all this mess. No. That's a lie. I'm what got us into this mess. She's what's getting us out of it.

Finally, she took my hand into hers and softly taunted me with my own words. "You said that if it was within your power, you'd make my wish come true. This is within your power."

Well, you can see how persuasive my arguments were. You're reading this, aren't you? In the end, it was the batting of those beautiful eyelashes and that look that I can't even begin to describe, the one that just makes me say yes to whatever she wants, that landed me in front of this computer. I caved in. I said yes.

I'm going to do this. But not to ease my pain. I don't think anything will ever ease that. I'm not even sure if I want it eased. There are some things you should never forget...some things you can never be forgiven for. I'm writing this because I promised her that her wish would come true. And I'll never, ever, break a promise to her again.

Yesterday, she came home with a computer just for me and set it up. Then she looked at me and said, "Start typing. That's all you have to do. The words don't have to be perfect. They just need to come from your heart."

I stared at the computer for long minutes. I hated it with every fiber of my being. The one thing in the world that I do not want to do...relive what we went through. I don't know why I don't want to write it down. It's not like I don't think about it when I'm awake. Or sleeping for that matter. Maybe it's because if I see it in black and white, I...I don't know.

I turned to protest. The pleading look in her eyes stopped me. I will do this. For her. It's the reason why I do everything now. For her.

She placed her small hand in mine, tugging me with her. "I feel like some iced tea. Come with me." She led me to the kitchen. "I thought we could sit outside and talk."

I smiled warmly and nodded. Talk. I'm not much for conversation. Our talks usually consist of me listening and nodding or shaking my head. Occasionally, when I am so moved, I throw in a comment or two. I answer her questions when she poses them, not always to her satisfaction, though. We got our iced tea and went outside to sit on the deck.

We lived in the city before. We had to move. Neither of us could stand to go back to our old place. Too many painful memories. So she found us this house out in the country. It's quiet. Unbearably quiet at times. I think she knew that I wouldn't be able to stand it sometimes, so she rented a small apartment in the French Quarter, right off Decatur. We stay there on occasion when I need the noise of the city to drown out everything in my head. I don't know how she knows these things about me. I certainly don't tell her. And she knows them even when I don't. But she does know.

We sat quietly, sipping our iced teas. I could feel her eyes studying me as I looked around our backyard. It's not a backyard, really. Our house is in the middle of two hundred sixty three acres of woods and swamp. The previous owners had a pool put in, and a deck. There's a nice wide-open, grassy area behind that. It's big enough that we can practice chipping. It's one of the things we do together now. Play golf. You could probably also throw a pretty good pass back there. Certainly no long bomb, but a good 40-yarder. We've thrown a softball back and forth a few times. I got her a glove. She got me golf clubs. I need to find that football. It's packed away somewhere.

I looked over at her, feeling her gaze leave me. Those green eyes were focused on something else. The pure joy and delight visible on her face, in her eyes, brought tears to my own. My breath caught in my throat. It always catches me off-guard. Moments like this, that is. Feelings so powerful that they shatter all my walls, all my defenses, searing my very core. I love her.

Tracking her line of sight, I saw a small brown and black rabbit at the edge of the woods. Her nose wrinkled, much like I imagine the rabbit's would. Then she turned and looked at me. "I love you, you know."

I found my voice somewhere and responded simply. "I know."

I can see that she's gathering her thoughts and I quietly withstood her scrutiny. There was a time not so long ago that I thought she'd never be able to look at me again. I was wrong. I don't know how it's possible, but she loves me even more. I can see it in her eyes.

"I've been thinking...about you writing. It's only fair that if you're going to write, that I do it, too. Write our story, that is." She reached out and absently stroked my arm. I love her touch. "I really think this will do us both some good. I know you're hesitant."

I laughed gently. "Who's the poster child for understatement now?"

She returned my laugh with one of her own. "Okay, you don't want to do this. At all." She squeezed my arm. "Seriously, if it's going to bother you this much you really don't have to do this. Writing helps me. Helps me deal with everything. Seeing my thoughts on paper...sometimes I'm surprised at what I end up writing. I know you don't like to talk about things. I just thought that this might be easier for you." Green eyes looked intently into my own. "I worry about you, keeping everything inside. I just got you back. I don't want to lose you. I almost did once."

She has a far-away, painful look in her eyes. She's remembering. I hate that she has to remember. I hate that I caused her this pain. I hate myself for what I've done. Pain and I, we're very old friends. If I could take her pain, I would gladly do so. But I can't. All I can do is try, with every cell I have in my body, to never, ever cause her pain again.

"I'm sorry." I offered the words again. Seven letters and an apostrophe. They can't possibly carry enough weight to make up for my actions.

"Baby...." Her hand started a gentle stroking of my arm again. "We're both sorry for what happened. I don't think there are words...." Her voice trailed off. She always seems to know what I'm thinking.

I took a deep breath. "I'm going to do this, Jules." My eyes searched the woods. I don't know what I was looking for. There were no answers out there. My answer was next to me, sipping her iced tea, stroking my arm, and loving me. "I...I don't know how to start."

"I can tell you what works for me," she offered. "But it may not work for you."

"I'd like that." I suddenly felt shy. I don't understand it. I mean, I've seen her naked. We've been intimate in every way imaginable. I never felt shy about that. Maybe it's the way she offers me herself without thought. She shows me her naked heart...her naked soul.

Green eyes turned introspective. "When I write for myself, I pretend I'm talking to another person. I've been doing this so long that she's kind of taken on a life of her own." A remembering smile graced her fair face. "I imagine that she's a lot like an ideal grandmother. I can tell her anything. She never gets angry with me, never disappointed. So I'm never scared. She's the only one that ever gets to see my words."

My hand closed over hers. I squeezed it gently. "Thanks. I'll try that."

We sat in comfortable silence for a while. Finally I asked if she'd like to go for a walk. She agreed. We found ourselves by the side of a small creek I had discovered in my solitary wanderings. Settling down, we listened to the gentle murmurings of the water and the whisper of the breeze in the leaves. Leaning into me, she kissed me.

"Don't start something you intend to stop," I whispered into her ear as I felt my body respond to hers.

"I don't intend to stop," she laughed playfully.

It was so sweet. So incredibly sweet. Feeling her respond to my caresses, knowing that I couldn't stop myself from responding to hers. It's a gift she gives me. She is a gift, a gift that I am truly not worthy of. But I accept that gift, because I simply don't have the strength to refuse it.

We made love by the creek. I needed her. She is my strength. And I need her strength if I'm going to write this. So here I am today, actually sitting in front of this damn computer.

The cat, Arabella, is perched on the corner of the desk, looking at me as if I've lost my mind. And the dog, Maya, walked into the room, cocked her head at me and studied me for a second. Then she sniffed and gave me a weird look and walked out. Don't ask me about the names. Jules picked them out. All I know is that the cat is named after some woman in the 1800's who was a college teacher in Iowa, I think, and the first woman lawyer in the U.S. The dog is named after Maya Angelou. I don't know if either would appreciate their names being used for our pets. I would have settled for Kitty and Spot.

And Jules...well, she just came in with a cup of coffee and a kiss for me and she's already sitting across the room from me, furiously typing away on her computer. You know, this might not be such a bad deal after all.

Where do I start this?

I should probably introduce myself. My name is Damian Blaise D'Avanti. My birth mother named me after saints. She was very Catholic. She's probably been spinning in her grave forever, because I'm not even remotely close to anything saint-like, saint-ish, saintly, etc. I was born on the Feast of St. Damian, September 26, 1965. I'll be 35 soon. My mother never stuck around long enough for me to find out where the "Blaise" part of it came into play. It could have been worse, though. Have you ever seen some of the names those saints have?

I've had some nicknames in my life. Trip is one of them. It seems to be the one that's stuck with me. If you know me as's just not a good thing. Trust me on this one. Jules never calls me that. She says that I will never be that person to her. That is a good thing. A very good thing.

I wonder if Jules named her counterpart of you. I'll have to ask her.


Good morning.

You're never going to believe what happened. She's writing. I'm almost giddy. She's actually sitting in front of the computer and typing. Of course, it could be a list of things to do around the house, but I don't really care. She'll get the words down eventually. I'm really trying not to make a big deal of it, but I want to shout for joy and dance around.

I don't know what power of the universe gave me that opening two days ago, but I took it and I don't regret it at all. I called her on a promise. I swore to myself I would never make her promise me anything again. I feel like I'm forcing her to do this. But I can't lose her. We've come too far and been through too much for us not to make it. I know she wants that. I know, like I've known very few things in my life, it's what I want. She's what I want.

I made a promise to her...that I would write our story as well. So that's what we'll do. Write it together.

I remember the day we first met like it was yesterday. I was sniffing around New Orleans, checking out some information I had received from a very reliable source. I had been here about three weeks when I got wind that there would be a raid on a ship that allegedly had women as cargo, headed for enslavement at points unknown.

Don't look so shocked. It happens. All the time. Everything you can think of under the sun happens in this world. Everything good. Everything bad. The trafficking of women and children is big business. I bet you didn't know that there are more slaves throughout the world today than there were in the 1800's, before the Civil War was fought.

I called in a couple of favors from some people I knew and finagled my way into a ride-along on the raid. To say that Damian was unhappy to find out that she had been assigned to "escort" me on this ride-along is an understatement of Homeric proportions. So was the control she exhibited in not publicly displaying her outrage. She's like that. Very controlled. Very focused. Sometimes to her detriment.

Standing outside the FBI garage, I waited until Joe Duncan, my FBI contact, came and got me. He was outrageously formal in his introduction. I found out later that he did that just to aggravate her further. Lucky me.

I can still here his low, gravelly voice. "Ms. Juliana Hayden, may I present one of New Orleans finest police officers, Lieutenant Damian D'Avanti. Lieutenant D'Avanti is a member of the DAT team."

A rather stiff nod of greeting was the only acknowledgment I received.

"Lieutenant, you are to escort Ms. Hayden on the ride-along." Not one muscle moved on her body as Joe continued. "She's a free-lance journalist who's doing a story on debt bondage and slavery."

One muscle twitched in her jaw. I would have given anything to see what was going on behind those Accelerator sunglasses she had on. She stood stock still, her hands clasped behind her back. The shadows from the building fell over the chiseled planes of her face. Cimmerian. The adjective almost sprang forth from my lips.

She cut quite an intimidating figure, I thought, as my eyes traveled up and down her length. Standard police issue tactical clothing. All in black. I believe the look is called "urban terrorist" - black jungle boots, black BDU pants, black mock turtleneck shirt under a black tactical vest of some sort that appeared to be stocked with flash-bang grenades, enough ammunition to wipe out twenty city blocks, a semi-automatic pistol, and various and sundry other items that were the tools of her trade. Of course, her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and placed under the standard issue ball cap emblazoned "FBI."

But it wasn't just the attire that made her so intimidating. I'd call it presence, but the definition of presence, behavior through which one reveals one's personality, just doesn't fit. There was no revealing of behavior there. Quite the opposite in fact. She seemed to be a study in perfect control. Perhaps that's what made her so intimidating.

It's a good thing I'm not easily intimidated. But those eyes almost did me in. I've been in some pretty frightening places. I've traveled all over the world - to hot spots, been in the middle of firefights, seen famine, war, disease, natural disasters - but absolutely nothing I'd ever seen prepared me for those eyes.

It seemed that it took her five minutes before she responded in any manner to Joe's explanation of my presence. Studying me. That's what she was doing. Then a hand reached up and removed the sunglasses, revealing blue diamonds. The contrast was shocking. Cimmerian darkness and cerulescent light.

And the voice...low, rich...I was almost, almost undone.

"Ma'am." She tilted her head down slightly. "You will follow my orders. I am responsible for your safety. Is that understood?"

I couldn't find my voice. My silence seemed to last an eternity. In reality, I paused for perhaps a second. I fought down a nervous laugh at the "Ma'am." When I finally found my voice, I managed a quite respectable, "Yes, Lieutenant," and wondered why my stomach felt like it did. Nervous. How could I be nervous? She was one of the good guys, responsible for my safety. And from the looks of her, I was in good hands.

Replacing her sunglasses, she turned crisply on her heels and went to the driver's door of the car. "Get in."

I did. Quickly.

That I still have tears left to shed today is strangely comforting. It's a sign to me that I am still human. What we saw that day was inhuman. But I am wrong, just like I am every time I see some atrocity that I think is inhuman. It was human...just incomprehensible to me. We look at acts committed by humans. Atrocities. Things beyond our imagination. Cruel, callous. Heinous. And we think, "How inhuman."

That is the fatal flaw in our thinking. We seek to compare those acts to animalistic distinguish ourselves from the humans who commit them because they are incomprehensible to us. We are righteous and just. We, as humans, could never perform such acts, we declare forcefully. How wrong we are. It is because we are human that we perform those acts.

What animal would build gas chambers and send millions to their deaths? What animal would enslave others? What animal would design a bomb capable of obliterating their own species, and every other in the world? What animal rapes the earth by polluting and destroying thousands of acres of rain forest a day? It is only the human animal.

I suffer from the need to understand. I say suffer, because, at times like that, when things are incomprehensible, are my times of greatest pain. And since there are things that I will never, ever be able to comprehend about human nature, I know there will always be pain.

Damian is so different from me in that regard. She doesn't need to know why someone did something. Just that they did. They made the choice to take that action. The action is either forgivable or not, punishable or not. It's why she has such a hard time with what happened, I think. I look at it all and I understand why she did what she did. She sees only what she did.

Don't get me wrong. She's one of the greatest students of human psychology I know. She understands, only too well, I'm afraid. She's been much closer to that line than I have ever been. I suspect she's stepped over it on occasion. She's lived in the deepest, darkest recesses of her mind. She's seen her demons...knows what she's capable of. Knows what humanity is capable of.

Joe Duncan was, well, Joe Duncan. He was a good agent, with plenty of years of experience. But he wanted to move up. That was good for me, because he decided that publicity was what he needed to get recognized and promoted. And who better to provide publicity than a journalist working on a series of articles about the very thing his little task force was working on? He gave me a ticket for a free ride. I didn't know I'd share a seat with a woman that would come to mean more to me than life itself. How Joe decided that Damian would be my escort for all of this, I'll never know. But I will always be eternally grateful to him.

Damian, on the other hand, barely tolerated Joe. She knew better than to bite the hand that fed her, so to speak. He liked her. He had requested her for the team. She was plucked from the confines of the New Orleans Police Department and given the opportunity to do what she wanted, what she was so very good at. So she kept her mouth shut and put up with Joe's penchant for irritating her. One word from him and it was back to the NOPD.

We drove in near silence to the ship. Well, actually, she drove in silence as I futilely tried to start conversation. I was about to give up when she practically growled at me, " You got that?"

I laughed. That's what I did when she said those words. I couldn't help it. I think it was part nervousness that made me laugh. The other part was that there was no way in hell that my mind could reconcile the image of Damian babysitting kids and the woman that sat next to me in the car. My first mistake. Her capacity for tenderness and gentleness and love is something I've never seen equaled.

I cried that night, when it was all over with and I was in the solitude of my hotel room. Like I had never cried before. I didn't think I would ever cry like that again. I was wrong. Little did either of us know what that night portended, although, even if I had known, I wouldn't have changed a thing. My greatest joy and my greatest sorrow came from that night.

Children. That's what we found when they opened the hold on that God-forsaken ship. Half of them were dead, the other half well on their way. I wondered if death was better for them, given the prospect of what their lives were to become. I have since ceased to wonder if death is ever a better choice. I now know that it isn't. With death comes the loss of hope. And the loss of hope is, to me, the single most destructive force in the universe.

That I can function...that any human being can function when faced with a scene as devastating as what we found.... It's a testament to our resiliency and our hope. I found myself observing the scene with what I thought was dispassionate interest, cataloguing my observations for later retelling.

If you want to tell a good story, you have to look at the faces. Pairs and pairs of small eyes blinked back at us as the children's eyes tried to adjust to the flood of light. The's a memory that will never leave me. I can still smell it today, as if I were standing there. The faces of the men and women of the DAT team...staring back at the small captives. I can see their minds reeling with emotions, faces expressing shock and outrage. Veterans of law enforcement, people that certainly have witnessed things that I had seen, perhaps worse, all speechless for a timeless moment, as their minds tried to wrestle with the indescribable scene before them.

No one moved. Except Damian. It all felt so strangely surreal. She dropped down into the cargo hold and crouched down, extending a hand to the closest living child and murmured, "No tengas miedo."

He hesitated, dazed brown eyes searching her face. "La Virgen?" It was half question, half absolute wonder.

He reached out and took her hand, taking a hesitant step towards her crouched form. I was struck by the difference in the size of their hands. Amazing what details you remember, the little details that don't seem important. You can't tell the story without them.

She drew him closer and scooped him up, turning to lift him out of the hold to what seemed like hundreds of pairs of hands that had been spurred into action. He didn't want to let her go. He clung to her neck and she had to pry his hands loose. The look on his heart broke then. I wanted to take him home and love him and have him know that I would never, ever leave him. So much for maintaining that professional boundary.

I can see her eyes now, just as they were then. Colorless. Filled with a white-hot rage. Her left hand trembled slightly as she let go of her precious cargo. Her eyes caught mine for a split second...a brief flicker of color, and then it was gone.

An unearthly quiet settled over the scene, save for the occasional retching sound as yet another agent lost the contents of his or her stomach over the side of the ship. I joined several of them at the railing. Orders were given quietly and carried out thoroughly and efficiently. More agents dropped into the hold. Paramedics scurried around the deck of the ship, administering to the children who were still alive.

When at last all the children who were alive had been removed from the hold, she emerged and walked over to me. What do you say to someone when she looks at you and you know, as surely as you know your own name, that she is in soul-wrenching pain? At times like these, I become acutely aware of the limitations of words.

The blue eyes stormed with emotion as she stared into mine. "What did you say to him?" I asked. I wasn't sure that Damian was going to answer. The effort it took to keep herself under control was plainly visible. Her hands clenched and unclenched as she took slow, measured breaths.

"Don't be afraid."

I wanted to reach out and soothe her pain. I don't know why. I had seen so many others in pain before. Something about her pain, though, spoke to me, touched me. "What did he say to you?"

"La Virgen...he..." Her eyes shaded a bit darker as a look of disbelief crossed her features. "He thought I was an apparition...the Blessed Mother." The storm in the blue eyes flickered as she blinked, then ceased, once again replaced by colorless rage. "Will that work well for your story?"

It's not like I hadn't heard similar words before. It's part of the job. But for some reason, a knife to the heart would have hurt less than those whispered, angry words coming from her lips.

We eventually left and rode to my hotel in silence. I never did use those words in my story, or what she had done. Don't get me wrong. It would have been a hell of a story to write. The stark contrast of such a powerful woman, crouched down, looking at this small, tortured child...the almost beatific smile she offered to him, set on a face that was softer and gentler than I ever thought a face could possibly be...a long arm extended, a hand held out. A small hand reaching out hesitantly in response. Two angels, reaching for one another. My God, what a story that would have made. But I couldn't write it.

You're probably asking, "Why not? You're a journalist. You're supposed to write the story." I couldn't…because I saw Damian's soul in that instant. And I will not share that with anyone. I love her too much. I respect her too much. There's another reason. I fell in love with both of them then. My mind didn't know it, but my heart did.


I met Jules when that prick, and I say that with all the love and respect I can muster, Joe Duncan, assigned me to baby-sit a journalist. She happened to be that journalist.

We were working on a bust involving some Mexicans that were transporting women to be sold as slaves when Joe sauntered up with this blonde-haired, green-eyed woman who, in a matter of milliseconds, became my scourge.

He introduced her like we were at some cotillion at an uptown mansion. I fought down the strong urge I had to throttle him with my bare hands. And he used DAT. Of all the stupid things to do, he used the name we all jokingly referred to the task force as. DAT. Deviants are toast. Who knows who came up with it, but it stuck because the damn initials the official task force name-givers, whoever they were, had given the task force contained every letter in the alphabet but X and Z. I remember seeing it on the front of a report somewhere and made myself stop reading the name after I had gotten through half a page. Something like "The Joint Inter-Agency and International Task Force on Foreign and Domestic blah, blah, blah."

Naturally, one of the first questions out of Jules' mouth was, "What does DAT stand for?"

I mumbled something about it being a shortened version of the official name, but that didn't satisfy her curiosity.

"What's the official name?"

Duncan was in the car in front of us when she asked that question. I wanted to run him off the road right then.

What we found on that ship.... I still see every one of their faces, you know. Every single one. Alive. Dead. Every single one. There were thirty-one total. I can list their names for you, but it doesn't really matter. Jules says she once thought that I liked to torture myself because I remembered their names. But the names don't matter, it's the faces. I can't erase them. Don't want to.

Especially not his. His face is burned into my heart and soul.

I hurt Jules that day...for the first time. I could see it in her eyes as the words left my lips. She had a job to do. That's what she was doing. But I took out my frustration and anger on her.

When she finally wrote her series of articles, Jules didn't put the part in about Diego asking me if I was the Blessed Mother. I once asked her why. After all, that's the kind of stuff that sells newspapers and magazines. She shrugged and looked down at her feet. When she finally looked up at me, she had this fierce look in those green eyes. "That will always be a very private moment to me. I can't share that."

The ship was of Panamanian registry and had a crew of eighteen. Killing each one of them would not have satisfied me. I don't think it would have satisfied anyone there. I personally would have preferred to lock them away in the hot, stinking cargo hold and let them die slowly. I could have done that and walked away without a single feeling of remorse, regret or guilt. The punishment should fit the crime.

But that's not how we operate here. Innocent until proven guilty. So the crew was brought back to headquarters and interviewed. Such a benign word. Interviewed. It conjures up images of two people sitting, one asking the other questions. Sounds so civilized. These particular interviews were anything but civil. I can't say that any of them were unharmed during the process. I think my fist ended up in one of their rib cages a couple of times. I believe several other fists found targets as well. None of them died, though.

The crew didn't really have much information. Big surprise. Yes, that was sarcasm. I tend to be a little sarcastic. It's not like the slave traffickers would walk up and introduce themselves and say, "Hi, my name is so and so. I'm peddling human flesh. How about I tell you all about my operation and where you can find me? Sound good to you?"

Everything's done through a maze of shadows. Names are inconsequential. Money talks. That's it. Bottom line. You can get anything in the world that you want. Provided you have the right amount of money.

We did get one lead. The first name of the man who had delivered the money to the captain. Juan. Do you have any idea how many Juans there are in Mexico? Anybody could have told you that there was someone named Juan involved in this somewhere. We knew the departing port, Progreso, located on the Yucatan peninsula. And now we knew about Juan. That, and a quarter, wouldn't even get you a cup of coffee. But at least it was a start.

Jules wasn't there for the interviews. I had dropped her off at her hotel on the way back in. We didn't get back until close to two in the morning. I pulled up in front of her hotel. She opened the door to the car and then sat there for a long minute, staring straight ahead.

I never had thought it was really possible to communicate just by a look. Sure, you can read things in people's eyes. But speak words, without actually speaking? I hadn't thought so. I found out differently that night when she turned those green eyes on me. Her eyes spoke volumes.

I didn't know what to say. I had this overwhelming urge to reach out and stroke her cheek. To do something, anything, that would acknowledge that I understood what she was telling me. I only nodded. She told me later that she knew I had understood her. It's like that with us. I can look at her and tell what she's thinking. She does the same thing with me.


Damian is...complex, yet so very simple. My second lesson in exactly who the woman is came two days after the raid. I decided to go to the hospital to see how the children were fairing. I didn't need to go for my story. I had access to the information the task force had, but something kept telling me to go. I have good instincts, so I listened to them.

Charity Hospital, where they had taken the kids, was a throwback to modern times. The building was ancient. There were virtually no private rooms so the kids were all in a ward. When I walked into the ward, my eyes fell immediately on a tall, dark-haired woman seated in a rocking chair. I stopped,, shocked, and stared.

Cradled in Damian's arms was one of the children...the one who had called her La Virgen. He was sleeping soundly, his arms tightly holding her around her neck. Her head was bent, eyes closed, and I could hear her softly humming to him.

The moment was intensely private. I should have left, but I couldn't. I was mesmerized by the sight before me..two angels. My gaze moved to the face of the child, partially hidden in the crook of her neck. He looked so peaceful. When I looked back to her face, I saw those pale blue eyes blink slowly open, then she looked at me, somewhat embarrassed at having been caught in such a tender, sweet moment.

I walked forward and closed the small distance that separated us. "How is he?"

"Okay for now." She shrugged her shoulders slightly. I thought I detected a faint blush. "He, um, he was crying. I...I...."

"That song...the melody was beautiful." I had clearly caught her off-guard. "Something your mother used to sing to you?"


The sharp sting of the word made me flinch. Clearly not a good subject. I nodded towards the small boy in her arms. "What's his name?"

"Diego Martinez."

"Have they been able to locate his parents?"

Damian snorted softly. "Doubt it. That's the thing with these kids...." Her eyes wandered about the room. "Most likely they're all orphans. That's why they were taken in the first place. Nobody to complain. Nobody to file a missing persons report. Kids like this...they're a dime a dozen. Who's going to miss them?"

"No one."

"Exactly." She stood in a smooth motion and deposited Diego gently back into his bed, tucking the sheets and blankets around him. Long fingers stroked his cheek before she turned.

I found myself face to face again with angry blue eyes. "You here for your story?"

"Not everything is about the story, Lieutenant." I couldn't keep the anger out of my voice.

"I'm...I'm sorry." She fidgeted, shifting from one foot to the other as she looked around the ward again. "I've got to go."

I watched her turn and walk out.

I spoke to one of the nurses on duty. She told me that Damian had been there for several hours, just rocking Diego and singing to him. It was the third time she had been there to see him, the nurse confided. I shook my head mentally at her words, the image of the white hot rage that burned in her eyes clashing with the incredible tenderness I had just witnessed.


There is very little that I do that I don't have a reason for. To this day, I still don't know why or how, after we finished interrogating the crew, I found myself at Charity in the children's ward. One minute, I was leaving FBI headquarters and the next thing I knew, I was at the bedside of the first little boy I had gotten out of the cargo hold, Diego Martinez.

Jules said it was love at first sight for me and that I had to go to the hospital. All I know is that I had to go.

As I stood there, watching him sleep fitfully, he whimpered. I picked him up and


I'm wondering whether this is such a good idea. Maybe it's too soon. She's only been home for two months. She must have hit a rough spot. I heard the tapping of her fingers on the keys then the crash of the coffee mug as it hit the wall, then she was out the door.

She needs to let it all out. She won't. I think she's scared that if she starts crying, she won't be able to stop. She's held me night after night of crying. It does eventually lessen...the pain, the sorrow, the guilt. I wish she'd believe me...let me do the same for her.

Damian's a hard person to read, but she can be read. It became a hobby of mine after that day at the hospital. It's the little details with her that you have to pay attention to. The ones that tell you the story.

After we moved here, she would disappear into the woods when things got to be too much for her. The first time she disappeared, I watched as the thick foliage swallowed her up. The memory of the last time I had seen a jungle outside of Progreso...was my undoing. Absolute stark terror that she would not come back. I collapsed to the floor in front of the sliding glass doors and cried until there were no more tears left. I stared at the last spot I had seen her until, several hours later, she emerged.

She found me there, still sitting on the floor. Pulling me into her arms, she cradled me, her blue eyes anxiously searching my face. "What's wrong, sweetheart?"

The tears came again, but they were tears of relief. She was here, holding me. "I...I saw you go into the forest. Progreso...."

"Shhhh...I'm here...shhh." She held me, rocking me gently. "I told you I would never leave you. I won't. I'm so sorry."

I don't try to follow her. I've never met a more private person. I respect her need for privacy. But she now understands my fear. If she's upset and heads outside, she waits at the edge of the woods until she sees me come to the sliding glass doors. She signals an 'I love you' to me and nods before disappearing. If she wants to talk, I'll find her sitting with her legs dangling in the pool. Lately, she's been dangling her legs in the pool more than disappearing. I take that as a good sign.

Today, she disappeared. The fear came back full force, as irrational as it may be. Maybe it's writing about what happened that let it come back so strong.

I hunger for her. I am not ashamed to admit it. Why is it that we are ashamed to admit our needs, our wants, our desires?

I truly live because of her. Things I felt before I met, happiness, joy, and yes, sorrow...paled in comparison to the feelings the woman evokes in me. I only thought I had ventured into the deeper waters of life. She made me realize I had been standing safely in shallow water for twenty-nine years. I've been swimming in the deep end for over three years now.

When she got back today, I had been crying. My voice was hoarse and raw as I whispered, "I need you."

Her mouth covered mine possessively as she pulled me tighter to her. She would take me now, claiming me, making sure I knew that I was hers, that she was real and still there. This is when I know her power, her control and see the fine line she walks. I think she needs it as much as I do.

I never knew power could be so gentle. Her touch, so strong and sure. So demanding. My body responds with a will of its own. It always has. As much as she demands from me, I demand from her.

"Show me," I whispered to her and I can see the fire blaze in her eyes. I shivered, not in fear, but in anticipation.

It does not matter that we have clothes on. Her touch burns through my skin as if I were naked. She lays me down on the floor, covering my body with hers. I feel so safe and warm and protected. I am untouchable in her arms. She moves slowly against me as she kisses me deeply, her tongue memorizing every inch of my mouth. Her thigh slides between my legs and she moves her hips slowly, pressing against my sex. I arch into her body, thrusting my hips forward to increase the pressure. I try to move faster but she controls the rhythm.

I know she will make me come fully clothed first, denying me the feel of her skin. She will make me come again in many ways until she is done with me, leaving me spent and sated. It's one of the lessons I learned about her. She does nothing halfway...and she asks for nothing in return.

Her hand slides down and finds a hard nipple through cotton. I moan into her mouth as she rolls it between her thumb and forefinger. She continues, increasing the pressure as my moans become pants. My jeans are soaked through as my hips frantically try to move faster. I can feel how swollen I am. Soon. Soon, she'll slide her hand down my body and stroke the insides of my thighs as my hips move to try to gain contact with those fingers that I know will grant me release. But she is content now to keep me at the edge.

She moves her head down, her mouth finding my nipple and sucks through the cotton of my t-shirt, soaking it with the wetness of her mouth. The air is cool and when her warm mouth finally draws away, I feel the coolness against my skin, making my nipple even harder.

"Please...please," I plead. I need her hand between my legs.

Her mouth goes back to my nipple and she sucks harder, more insistently, catching my nipple between her teeth. I feel her hand trail slowly down my side, moving over the curve of my hip and down the outside of my thigh.

"Oh, Damian."

Her hand circles my knee and the pressure of her touch increases as her hand trails slowly back up the inside of my thigh. My nipple is aching with pleasure in her mouth.

"Yes!" The word hisses from between my teeth as her thigh moves off of mine and her strong hand slides home, cupping my sex as her fingers start their massage, pressing the seam of my jeans firmly against my swollen clit.

The deep, strong massage continues as my hips grind into her hand. My hands pull her head closer to my breast as she devours my nipple.

"So close," I whisper and her mouth leaves my breast as she crushes me to her chest and stares into my eyes. She wants to watch my face as I come. She always does.

I look deeply into her eyes, always amazed at what I see there. No matter how many times she has made love to me, made me come, when she feels the release start a look of wonder passes over her face. It's as if she can't believe she does this for me...affects me this way.

I feel the moment of pause my body always takes before I come as if I were on a roller coaster about to drop down the steep slope. "It's starting."

Her eyes alight with wonder and I feel myself go over the edge, my hips driving against her hand as my body convulses and the tension is released. She allows me to wind down slowly until my hips still.

She kisses me passionately, stealing my breath away again and undoes my jeans with one hand. My hips lift to help as she shoves the jeans down towards my knees. A long finger slides between my legs, capturing some of the wetness that has pooled there. I know she will bring it up to her mouth and lick it clean. It's one of the things that she does that drives me wild.

"Roll over." Her voice is thick with desire. The flame burns brightly in her eyes now.

I roll onto my stomach, bringing my knees up and spreading them as wide as the jeans around my knees will let me. She's moved, kneeling behind me and her hands are now holding my hips, pushing down, tilting me up slightly. I can feel her hot gaze on me, admiring the view, as she puts it. I arch my back even more, making sure she can see it all. I am hers.

I have no shame when it comes to her. I am presenting for her. She knows it. I know it. I want it. I want her to penetrate me. To be so deep inside of me that she touches my soul. Her hands and fingers move over my ass, spreading my cheeks slightly. I hear her breathing increase as she looks.

One hand slides down and two fingers swiftly impale me, delving as deep as she can. My body moves back to meet her as I shudder. She is impatient today, I can tell. Sometimes she'll play with me for an eternity first, light touches, rubs, kisses, licks before she enters me.

She sets up a steady rhythm which I match and we move together silently save for the sweet sound of my sex sucking at her fingers. She slides another finger in and increases the rhythm as my knees strain to open wider, but my jeans are stretched to their limit. I look over my shoulder at her and see a look of pure rapture on her face as she watches her hand move in and out of me. My angel. In a few moments, she will curl her fingers, finding that place that she touches that she knows will send me over the edge with just a few strokes. I can feel it.

"Uh huh," I manage to grunt out as the pleasure robs me of coherent thought. My sole thought is of those fingers inside me and the places she is touching. Then I am coming again, my inner walls greedily sucking her in, squeezing my pleasure from her fingers. She stops her motion and curls her fingers, rubbing that spot as her other hand slides to my clit. I lose all control as my body wildly moves, trying to go in two directions at once, back into those fingers and down to increase the pressure on my clit. She forces my hips down, trapping her hand between the floor and my clit, her other hand pumping into me, knowing what I need, as the sensations overwhelm me.

When I am done, she rasps out, "Don't move," and gets up. I hear her footsteps as she leaves the room, grateful for the few minutes respite because I know what will come next. My body already aches for her again at the thought. I can't stop myself from pulling my jeans the rest of the way off. I stay on my stomach and wait for her to return, my mind floating between what has happened and what is to come.

A smile breaks out on my face at those words...what is to, until she's ready for me to stop. I hear the sound of her footsteps so I get back up on my knees spreading my legs for her and presenting myself to her again. I hear her breath catch and a little growl of need escape from her as she sees me. She calls me her gift. It is she who is the gift.

She's standing behind me now, looking down at me, her eyes half-lidded in lust. I can see out of the corner of my eye that she's stroking the dildo she's wearing, the tugs pulling on the part that covers her clit and that goes inside of her. I love her control when she's making love to me. She never puts her pleasure before mine.

Her breathing is getting heavier now and I start moving my hips and my hand moves to my clit.

She drops to her knees behind me and with a moan she slides the dildo inside me. Her hands settle on my hips and she presses forward, filling me. She holds me tightly to her, little movements of her hip swirling it around inside me, leaving the length in. I feel the rough fabric of her jeans and the cool metal of her zipper against me.

One hand leaves my hips then I feel the coolness of the lube as she spreads it around my asshole. My walls tighten at the thought of her penetrating me and she moans again pushing her hips forward. I squeeze my muscles again, testing her. She responds with more moans and thrusts. Oh, my baby is so close to losing that control right now. She is so impatient today. I keep squeezing, knowing that with each squeeze, the dildo is rubbing her clit and moving inside of her. That was a wonderful purchase we made.

I wait for her to penetrate me. She is teasing me now, her fingers lightly moving up and down my left cheek. Tease me, will you? I squeeze my muscles again and move away from her and the dildo slides out a few inches. She pulls back a couple of inches and her movements still, leaving the head resting just inside my entrance.

"Damian...." Her name is ripped from my throat as her index finger penetrates me so quickly I have no time to resist.

My body aches for her to fill me but she doesn't. I try moving but she tells me to be still. She's fighting for control. I can tell. I want her to lose control. She's never done it since she's been back home. I need for her to do that...for her to know that she won't hurt me...that I'm safe...she's safe. She needs it now...after everything.

Her finger starts to slide in and out. The feeling is exquisite. I arch my back more, pressing my breasts into the floor. My clit is throbbing and my nipples ache. My muscles contract involuntarily.

I can feel her it fear or desire or both? I don't know, but my mind is screaming to hers, "Let yourself go."

Where the words came from, I don't know. I begged. "I need all of you...all of you."

She thrust her hips forward and moved in and out of me, her rhythm keeping time with her thumb. A low deep moan from her mixed with mine. Her strokes were steady and smooth and long. Her hand on my hip was trembling so badly.

"Let go," I whispered.

And she did. She removed her finger and grabbed my hips with both hands, and for lack of a better word, fucked me. I could feel the droplets of sweat from her face fall on my back. Her hips kept up a steady rhythm as she drove harder and harder into me. With a cry of "Oh, Jules" she came hard, shuddering as she eventually stilled her movements.

I was not finished with her. She had lost control and I would make damn sure she didn't get it back until I was through. I eased away from her and rolled over, sitting up to take in her sweat drenched form as she sat back on her haunches.

"Take your shirt off." I commanded. She looked at me with surprise, but she complied, pulling the white cotton t-shirt over her head. I reached around her back and undid her bra.

"Lay down on your back for me." Again, she complied.

I straddled her, guiding the dildo into me. I sat there feeling it deep inside me as I pulled my own shirt off. I bent forward, our breasts grazing and kissed her deeply as I started to move my hips.

"Oh yes...Jules." The words were growled out as I sat back up and started to move earnestly. I was so wet.

I watched her face as I rode her, the struggle for control so intense it was almost painful. It's that Catholic hang-up she has, her feelings warring with what she was taught. I think that's why it's so easy for her to give pleasure and not take any.

I was rapidly getting lost in the intense pleasure I was experiencing. I reached down and played with her nipples as her hands rested on my hips.


"Yes." I leered at her. My need was so great.

"Feels so good, baby."

"Uh huh." I increased my movements. "Oh yeah...that's it. Gonna come again, baby...come with me."

"Oh God...."

I watched the last of her control leave as she thrust wildly into me, continuing long after I had come twice. I rode her until she was done, whispering her name and words of encouragement. "Damian...come for me baby. Damian...come on baby. Come again for me, Damian."

I collapsed into her arms. I was hers. She was mine. She trusted me. Still. Enough to let go.

It was the first step. Well, the second. She started writing this morning. That was the first step. Maybe the writing will help. I've left her sleeping in bed. I think I'll go now and join her.

Good night.

Chapter 2

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