When You Dance With the Devil

© by J. ‘Harley’ Elmore, 2003 – 2004


See disclaimers in Chapter One

Chapter Fourteen, Part 1

Gazing abstractedly out the room’s small window, Kate took a deep breath and sighed. The fact that there had been periodic conflicts between mother and daughter since Rhian had entered the world didn’t make Kate feel any better - especially now with all the other turmoil in their lives.

Because emotions continued to run high, Kate gave Rhian a lot more room than she might have normally. But there were certain things she wouldn’t overlook, and her daughter’s failure to eat properly was one. Insisting Rhian take a few minutes to go down to the cafeteria and actually eat something had practically turned into a full-blown argument, and Kate was well aware that the only thing that had kept the distraught woman from exploding was the fact that they were quarreling in the middle of the hospital’s ICU ward.

“A mother’s got to do what a mother’s got to do,” she said and then moved back to stand next to the hospital bed. Resting her forearms on the bedrail, she viewed her daughter’s unconscious girlfriend. It was truly difficult to imagine the torture this woman must have endured and just as hard for Kate to comprehend why. “What did you get yourself into, Deven?”

According to Dr. Hadari, the reconstructive surgery the previous day had gone without complication and she expected Deven to recover completely. In fact, things had progressed to the point that the martial artist had been weaned completely off the ventilator during the night.

Observing the swollen and discolored face covered with pressure dressing, Kate noticed a slight twitching of the bruised features. She watched closely as muscles constricted causing the fingers on Deven’s left hand to move. It’s about time. Stepping to the room’s doorway, she caught the attention of the attending nurse and beckoned her over. “I think she’s waking up.”

The nurse followed Kate into the room and checked her patient before moving to the phone on the wall. Using the keypad, she quickly punched in a serious of numbers and then hung up the phone before returning to the bedside.

Deven was definitely beginning to stir, and Kate knew it was important to ensure that she awoke gradually. Lowering the bedrail, she gently placed a hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “Deven? It’s Kate, honey. Relax and let yourself wake up slowly.” Slipping her other hand into Deven’s, she felt the fingers wrap weakly around her own. “Do you know who I am?” The fingers constricted slightly in response, and Kate hoped that was an affirmative answer and not just a muscle spasm.

Deven’s features contorted in pain at the same time a gasp escaped her. “I know it hurts,” Kate said. “But please, try to take it easy. You’re in the hospital. Don’t try to speak. Just squeeze my hand if you understand.”

Again the slight pressure and then swollen eyelids were straining to open. A sliver at first and then several blinks later they focused on the older woman’s face.

“Hi,” Kate said as she smiled with relief. “Good to have you back.”

Deven peered around the room in confusion. Where in the hell am I? And why do I hurt so much? Her unsteady gaze returned to Kate.

“Do you remember anything?”

Deven blinked and tried to speak but there was something wrong with her jaw. She tried again but couldn’t move it at all and her eyes opened wider in alarm.

“Listen carefully to me,” Kate said. “Your jaw is broken and they had to wire it shut. That’s why you can’t speak. You have to calm down, Deven. ”

Broken? Dull pain ebbed and flowed throughout her body. Was I in an accident? She inhaled too quickly and felt the sharpness as her ribs pushed outward. Okay, that isn’t good, she thought as her vision filled with little white dots. How long have I been here? And exactly where is here? And where’s Rhian?

Dr. Iverson strolled into the room, his easy gait hiding his eagerness. “Hello, Deven. I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Dr. Iverson. I was on call when they brought you in. My kids take lessons at one of your schools and my wife is in your cardio class.“

He seemed vaguely familiar but not enough to put her at ease, and she looked to Kate for confirmation. The slight nod of the older woman’s head was sufficient to let her know he spoke the truth, and Deven tried to follow Kate’s advice and relax though her wariness was obvious.

It hurt too much to move, so she remained still as he began his examination. Using a light pen, he passed the beam across her pupils, causing her to wince from the sudden glare. The only thing that kept her from trying to cold cock him was Kate’s firm grasp on her hand. Asshole!

“Good. Equal and responsive,” he said. “Does your head hurt?”

“Yes,” Kate responded on the woman’s behalf as the fingers flexed once. Dr. Iverson’s eyebrows lifted in question. “She’s squeezing my hand,” she offered.

“Ah,” he smiled. “Excellent.” Looking back down at the bed, he addressed the injured woman. “I need to check out a few things and ask you some questions. Squeeze Mrs. Mackenzie’s hand once for yes and twice for no. Understand?”

“Yes,” Kate answered for her.

“Can you follow the point of light?” he asked.

Deven tracked the light pin, grateful he wasn’t shining it directly into her eyes anymore. The response was sluggish, but the fact that she was able to do it was a positive sign.

Moving to the foot of the bed, he lifted the sheet exposing her feet. “Can you move the toes on her left foot?”

Of course I can, you moron! With some effort, she managed to slowly wiggle the digits. This can’t be good.

“Excellent. Now the right?”

Excellent? You have got to be kidding me. Where in the hell did you get your medical degree? This side was even harder, but she eventually forced her toes to move. What is wrong with me?

“Not bad. Now, I want you to push your left foot against my hand as if you were pressing down on the gas pedal in a car.” She did as he asked. “Okay, now the right.”

The response was slow in coming but gradually she forced her right foot against his palm. The inability to just do what she wanted was starting to piss her off.

Dr. Iverson noted that the force wasn’t as strong as the left, but it was an improvement overall and so he was pleased with the progress. “Do you feel any numbness in your feet or legs?”




“Good. Well, it’s obvious that you left hand works. I don’t want you to try to move you right hand, because it was fractured. But can you lift you right arm for me?”

Fractured? She concentrated on lifting her arm. Damn, it’s heavy.

She only managed to raise it a couple of inches off the bed’s surface before Dr. Iverson stopped her. “Okay, that’s good enough.”

Good enough for you maybe.

“Any pain?”


“In the hand?”



I. I don’t.

Not getting a response for several seconds, Kate shifted her attention to the martial artist’s face. “Deven?”

The martial artist appeared disorientated and without any further warning, she let out a low moan and her body began to convulse. Moving quickly, Kate and Iverson attempted to keep Deven from thrashing about and causing further damage to her already injured body.

“10 mg of Valium, ” Iverson commanded.

Quickly retrieving the medication, the nurse injected it directly into Deven’s intravenous line. Seconds ticked by before the convulsions eased, leaving the woman unresponsive and staring blankly into space. Kate eased her hold and gently stroked Deven’s shoulder in silent comfort.

“What was that?” Rhian croaked from the entryway. She’d entered the room just as the convulsing had begun, and as hard as she’d tried to move towards the bed, her body had refused to respond.

Iverson was busy checking Deven’s vitals and didn’t look up, but Kate regarded Rhian compassionately. “A seizure. Come here,” she said while extending a hand to her daughter. “The good news is that she woke up and is responsive for the most part.”

“A seizure?” the younger woman asked, still unable to step closer.

“Rhian, honey, come over here,” Kate coaxed. As if in a daze, the landscaper allowed her mother to guide her closer to the bed.

“Seizures aren’t uncommon after the kind of injury that she sustained,” Dr. Iverson provided. “They’re called PTS or post traumatic seizures.”

“Is this a permanent thing? I mean will she always have them?” Rhian asked uncertainly.

“I can’t say just yet, but usually the answer is no. PTS’ tend to diminish over time. In fact, she may never have another one. I’m going to order another MRI of her head to ensure that everything is still healing up there. I’ll get her neurologist to take a look at her and he’ll probably order an EEG. We’ll be able to give you a better answer after that. There are also some blood tests I’d like done. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on her and give her some Dilantin to help control them. ”

He gave the landscaper a reassuring smile. “She did well. Her responses were a little sluggish, especially on her right side, but all in all she’s improving. “

Unfocused eyes fluttered as the last of the seizure released it hold, and Deven groaned softly. Kate stepped aside to allow her daughter room to move closer, and slipping her fingers into the martial artist’s, the landscaper felt the long fingers tighten in response. “Hi, honey.”

Deven’s gaze slowly tracked over and settled on the landscaper, though her focus was still a little off. Carefully lifting their joined hands, Rhian gently kissed Deven’s knuckles. “I’ve missed you,” she said just before placing another kiss on the back of the martial artist’s hand.

“She’s pretty confused right now,” Kate whispered.

“You need to rest and get your strength back so we can get you out of here and take you home. That’s all you need to think about.” Rhian gave her lover a tentative smile. “I love you.”

The sound of Rhian’s voice was soothing and the panic slowly ebbed out of Deven. Or perhaps it was the medication that was pulling her back under. In either case, she floated on the edge of consciousness, her eyes locked on Rhian’s face. Rest. I’m...I’m really tired. She fought the urge to shut her eyes, but after several blinks they closed and remained that way.

Iverson finished his notations in his patient’s chart and handed it to the nurse. “Nice reactions,” he said to Kate.

“Ah well, in my former life before children, I was an RN,” she responded.

“That’s good to know, because she’s going to need help after she leaves here. Not to mention lots of TLC.” The last he directed at Rhian and she gave him a small smile.

“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Rhian replied. The seizure was scary and she intended to talk to her mother later about that new aspect. But for the moment, she was just happy to have seen Deven wake up. It was the first moment of real hope the landscaper had in a week, and she grabbed hold of it greedily.

Part 2

Deven lay with her eyes closed, vaguely listening to the din just outside her hospital room. She was trying to keep her thoughts from wandering too much. It was far easier to let them go where they would then to keep them reined so tightly. But she was aware that to give them too much freedom would be to allow them to carry her downward into a dark and melancholy place she didn’t want to go. Things were difficult enough without having to deal with depression, too.

The events that had caused this damage to her body and brought her to this place remained elusive, flirting with her from the boundary of her sub-consciousness. The harder she tried to grab hold of them, the more they mocked her by moving just beyond her conscious reach. Even though she couldn’t bring them into focus, she knew they were there, causing her to periodically play a mental game of hide and seek. So, far she’d lost every match.

Over the past day, she’d gained a clearer understanding of her injuries though it seemed that with every question that got answered by a doctor, a dozen more came to mind. Questions that she was having a difficult time articulating given the limitations associated with her injured jaw. The operations she’d undergone had been explained to her in great detail by the surgeons who had performed them, and all the doctors had given her a positive prognosis. But Deven’s customary skepticism kept her from feeling comfortable about the prospects.

So far, Lydia had provided her with the best chronology of what had happened from the moment she’d been wheeled into the ER until she’d been conscious enough to start to assimilate things on her own. Deven understood that she’d been in ICU for several days on a ventilator while they treated her for a brain trauma, and it was that injury that concerned her far more than anything else. Dr. Iverson had assured her that the swelling had diminished substantially and all indications were that she would heal but that it was going to take some time.

There were a multitude of symptoms that could still appear, and the seizures were doing nothing to mollify her. Thus far she’d only had the one major episode that had included convulsions but she still occasionally suffered moments in which she just seemed to mentally check out. And though the neurologist was pleased with her progress and was already decreasing the dosage of medication to control the seizures, the fear of having another full-blown attack niggled at the back of her mind.

There was no doubt that her body was in bad shape, but every indication she’d gotten so far was that she would heal given the opportunity to. They’d moved her from ICU to the intermediate care unit the day before. The best part of that, in her opinion, had been the removal of the chest tube. Well, actually that had sucked. But it was no longer bothering her. Now, if they’ll just take out the damn catheter.

Beyond the physical issues and the possible long-term problems, she was deeply concerned by the behavior of those around her.  No one seemed willing to talk about anything. In fact, both Rhian and Jay actively avoided talking about anything associated with how she’d gotten hurt and her various injuries.

Jay had never been much of a talker anyway, which had always been fine with her. Their relationship didn’t require it. But she expected more from Rhian. She wasn’t certain of what the woman was thinking or how to interpret her actions, and that uncertainty was leading her down a path of full blown hurt. Because left to her own thoughts, she was slowly convincing herself that Rhian’s reluctance was the result of revulsion at the permanent scarring and of feeling the burden of having to care for someone with potential disabilities. How do you see me now, Rhian? Huh? A burden? A thing to be pitied? A freak?

A tear trickled down her cheek and she wiped it away roughly, causing pain to shoot through her damaged face. Oh that was really brilliant, Masterson! All her depressing thoughts were sent scurrying away by the throbbing in her cheek, and she gripped the bedrail tightly until the pain began to ease its hold. And now your head is beginning to hurt again. This is why you weren’t going to think.

She was aware that she was no longer alone in the room long before she actually felt the bed jiggle slightly. Forcing one eye open, she expected to see Rhian but found herself looking up into Lydia’s face instead.

“Hi,” the doctor said, earning nothing more from Deven than a grunt. “Are you okay?”

Deven held up her hand with her palm facing the bed and her fingers splayed. She waggled it back and forth in a so-so motion. How are you going to explain you just did something really stupid and hurt yourself?

Lydia glanced up at all the monitors, rapidly deciphering the readouts. Everything looked fine. She removed her stethoscope from around her neck and started to bring it to her ears, but Deven reached out and stopped her.

They just regarded each other for several silent seconds, and Deven slowly moved her head back and forth against the pillow. “Okay,” Lydia said as she lightly patted the martial artist’s shoulder. “I was wondering if you felt up to talking a little to Alex. He really wants to get to the bottom of what happened to you, and in order to do that, he needs to speak with you.”

Communication was extremely difficult and taxed her more than she cared to admit. Kate had brought in a small white board earlier in the day that allowed Deven to write down simple words and phrases to convey her needs. Given that her right hand was immobilized, she had to concentrate harder to use her left and that usually led to a headache. It was awkward, but seeing as she’d spent years training both the right and left sides of her body equally, she quickly caught on to writing with her non-dominant hand. Though she conceded she’d never win any penmanship awards.

Picking up the board she wrote, DONT KNOW.

“You don’t know if you want to talk to him?”

She shook her head. DONT REMEMBR. She erased the board and wrote again. NO 1 WILL TALK.

Lydia dipped her head slightly in understanding. It was true that nobody who had visited Deven seemed willing to bring up what had happened. But she also knew that if her husband had any chance of catching the people behind this, Deven had to be involved. “Let me get Alex and we’ll try to fill you in. Okay?”

Deven nodded. Finally.

“Hey, ” he greeted as he walked into the room. “You look a hell of a lot better than the last time I saw you.”

She shrugged her shoulders because she didn’t remember the time he was referring to. For her, the last time she’d seen him had been on the street in front of their houses. They’d talked about the upcoming football season and argued good naturedly over which teams would make it to the Super Bowl.

“I’m going to try to explain this as best as I can,” Lydia began. “All I know are bits and pieces. Alex can fill in some things. The rest is up to you and Rhian. ”

Now that she was finally going to get some answers, Deven felt a slight trickle of apprehension but it wasn’t enough to change her mind. She needed to know, and so she steeled herself and waited.

“Last weekend, you and Rhian took the kids to the carnival. According to Rhian, you took Tiernan to the bathroom and while you were away, several people forced her and Seana out into a nearby field. Apparently the ring leader was a guy named Mace Collier.”

Lydia could see that Deven was listening intently. As frustrated as she knew Alex was, her primary obligation was her patient’s wellbeing and if the woman gave any indication that their discussion was adversely impacting her, then it stopped. “When you returned to where you’d left Rhian, Mace escorted you and Tiernan out into the field where Rhian and Seana were. You punched Mace in the face for something he said in front of the kids and that led to an all out fight. It seems that you beat up several of them.”

A small smile pulled at Deven’s lips. Serves that asshole right. I hope I gave him something permanent to remember me by.

“It was during that fight that your hand was broken. Someone struck it with a crowbar.”

Deven glanced down at her right hand. It was wrapped in a bandage from which extended a metal contraption. The doctor had called it an external fixation device, and it was this that was holding the mending appendage immobile. They’d told her that applying a cast had been impossible due to deep abrasions on her wrist and the risk of infection. Why can’t I remember cutting my wrists?

“Does any of that sound familiar?” Alex queried.

Deven shook her head.

“According to Rhian, someone grabbed her from behind and fired a gun at the ground which stopped the fight,” Alex continued. “She never got a look at him because he stayed behind her, but she believes that you knew him.”

Deven’s brow creased as she strained to recall something…anything. Unable to capture a memory, she shook her head again. “You agreed to go with them if they freed Rhian and the children. Rhian says that you were handcuffed and taken away in a dark sedan, and they were made to wait in the Pathfinder until their guards received a phone call. As soon as that call came in, they were free to go. She talked to you briefly on the phone and you told her to get the kids out of there. Then the phone went dead. She drove straight to her parents’ house and called Jay.

“Rhian’s father called us and we put out a missing persons report on you right away. Our crime scene people went over the Pathfinder, but it didn’t give us anything. The field didn’t give us much either. The next day we received an anonymous call telling us where we could find you. Deven, I have to tell you, you were really messed up. “

“When we got you here,” Lydia began and then paused uncharacteristically as her personal feelings of that day threatened to overwhelm her professionalism. “You were critical, Deven. All of your injuries are consistent with blunt force trauma. In other words, someone beat the crap out of you, and from the injuries to your wrists, it appears that you were restrained while they did it.”

The martial artist stared out the window. None of this makes sense. I was abducted? Who in the hell would abduct me? Well, I can think of several people who would want to, but come on. Mace? He couldn’t put together a plan if his life depended on it. And why would he have called the police to tell them where to find me? That would have been just plain stupid. She looked back and forth between Alex and Lydia and finally shrugged her shoulders.

“We found Mace,” Alex said.

Deven gave him the thumbs up gesture, but dropped her hand as the detective shook his head. “I should say we found his body downtown in an alley. His windpipe had been crushed.”

I bet that hurt. Okay, so if Mace abducted me, then who killed him? And did they kill him before or after the call? Cause if it was after, then someone else obviously made the call. But who? She looked back at Alex and shrugged again.

“Okay,” he said, disappointed that she couldn’t help him. “If you do happen to remember anything, give me a call.”

Deven nodded in agreement and watched as he walked over and gave Lydia a kiss on the cheek before leaving. She looked at her neighbor, blinking several times as she felt sleep pulling at her once again.

“Don’t worry about the memory, okay?” Lydia said to reassure the woman. “It may just be temporary. The only thing you need to concentrate on is getting your strength back. You’re doing really well, Deven. But it’s going to take awhile to completely heal.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s what everyone keeps saying. She closed her eyes and her mind drifted for several minutes. The last thing she clearly remembered was loading the kids into the truck to go somewhere, but she couldn’t be certain of when that was. It could have been months prior. And why didn’t Rhian or Jay mention any of this? Ugh! Too many damn questions and they’re giving me a headache. With that she allowed the tug of sleep to win and succumbed to its promise of a respite from all the jumbled thoughts.


“Hi, honey.” Rhian moved over to the bed and placed a light kiss on her lover’s lips. “How are you doing?”

How do you think I’m doing? Someone beat the crap out of me. I hurt like hell, thank you very much.

“Seana said to tell you that she misses you. Mom said to tell you that she doesn’t know if she’ll make it by later or not. She will see you in the morning for sure.” She realized that Deven was staring at her. “What?”

With a flourish of strokes, Deven wrote on the small board and turned it around so Rhian could read it. Y DIDNT U TELL ME?


She erased that message and wrote again. WHAT HAPPND!

The landscaper’s eyes widened slightly, and she chewed her lower lip while carefully considering what to say. That Deven was annoyed at the moment was obvious, and the last thing Rhian wanted to do was say anything that might escalate the situation. “I didn’t want to risk upsetting you. And quite frankly, I don’t like to talk about it. Who told you?”



Deven waved her hand in the air dismissively.

“Yeah, I guess it doesn’t matter.” You should have said something, Rhian. Damn! She placed her hand gently on Deven’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I just. That whole thing was awful.”

The martial artist held up her hand towards Rhian as if imploring her to continue. The younger woman lowered her head and looked at her lover through pale lashes. “Do you remember anything?”

She shook her head and then wrote. TELL ME. PLEZ

“I don’t want to,” Rhian replied softly. “I mean, maybe its better you don’t remember what happened. Think about it. Do you really want to remember all that pain?”

Deven pointed emphatically at the message on the board, and Rhian turned her head away as if not being able to see the words meant they didn’t exist. Long fingers wrapped around her wrist and tightened with startling strength, forcing the landscaper to look back. The grip tightened even more and the younger woman gasped slightly from the constriction. Deven’s eyes bore into hers, leaving no doubt that she expected her request to be fulfilled.

“All right, Deven. I’ll tell you. Now let go of me.” Rhian’s voice was steady though the tension on her face easily showed the discomfort she was in.

The martial artist looked to where she was gripping her lover. She hadn’t intended to squeeze so hard, but she could see that she was restricting the blood flow to the landscaper’s hand. Slowly uncoiling her fingers, she released her grasp.

Rhian rubbed her wrist and reflexively took a step back away from the bed. She didn’t discuss how the abduction had felt or how it had impacted her and the children, but spoke unemotionally about the sequence of events, leaving out the personal parts in which she’d been alone to face the nightmare.

When she finally reached the point where Patricia had shown up, she could see from the monitor that Deven’s pulse had risen significantly. It worsened when she told Deven how Tiernan had been returned to Laura. The martial artist’s withering glare poked at Rhian’s guilt causing it to rise up and batter her already bruised conscience.

The throbbing in Deven’s head increased, causing her vision to blur. You have got to calm down, Masterson. Rhian had stopped talking and the martial artist welcomed the silence. Her inability to recall any of the events was truly beginning to worry her, and her mother’s behavior, especially knowing that the witch had struck Tiernan, was infuriating. I am so done with that bitch!

“I’m sorry, Deven,” Rhian said. “Don’t you see? I didn’t want him hurt anymore and we all thought that if he went with Laura, he’d be okay. She raised him and never was there any indication that he was being hurt. Was there?”

Deven thought hard about that before answering. Her interactions with her son over the years had been inconsistent and often brief, but never had she ever suspected he was being harmed. Finally, she shook her head in response to the question.

Her eyes drifted shut, and she realized just how tired she was. It wasn’t taking much to wear her out, and that bothered her as well. In fact, she was hard put to not find something that didn’t bother her. She tuned out everything, the sound of the machines, the people outside her room, and Rhian.

Part 3

Awaking with a start, Deven involuntarily flexed her muscles, causing them to constrict painfully. Shit! The dreams were coming more frequently now. They were nothing more than disjointed images and before she could grasp onto any of the dream fragments, they receded back into her subconscious.   Why can’t I remember any of it?  

So far she hadn’t told anyone that she was having these nightmares. A cautious voice in the back of her mind warned her that until she understood the full story, it wasn’t wise to toss things around idly. And so, she kept her own council, never alluding to anyone that the memories were trying to reach out to her.

“Oh good, you’re awake. The doctor wants us to get you up,” the floor nurse said from the doorway.

Deven glanced over at the woman but made no effort to acknowledge her. It had been nine days since she’d been brought into the hospital, though she’d only been cognizant for three of them. She watched the nurse move about the room, her new residence since they’d moved her out of intermediate care earlier in the morning.

“The first thing I’m going to do is remove the catheter.”

Oh thank you, God!

“Then we’ll get you out of that bed. ”

Deven tried not to think about how much her dignity had already been compromised and how much humiliation she had yet to face before this was all over. Instead, she focused on the goal of being released and going home. Having an objective allowed her to correlate a plan, and she was determined to get out of the hospital as quickly as possible.

And she was eager to get out of the bed, though getting up for the first time gave her a whole new perspective on her injuries. It became apparent that sitting up and standing were impossible without help. Her abdomen was weak from the surgery, not to mention that it hurt too much to truly flex those muscles. Her right hand remained immobilized and the left was attached to the IV, so she couldn’t even get a sufficient hold of anything to pull herself up.

Lightheaded at first, she gripped onto the nurse until the dizziness faded. Once she was standing and her head cleared, she focused on her first objective - a trip to the bathroom. Unfortunately, it quickly became obvious that it was an impossible feat without assistance. Son of a bitch! Okay, Deven, this is what these people get paid to do. So suck it up! With an economy of motion, she advised the nurse of where she wanted to go and had just started to move in that direction when her waking nightmare took another path.

“Well, look at you,” Kate said brightly as she entered the room. “How long has she been up?” she asked the nurse.

“Just got her to her feet. Now we’re headed to the bathroom.”

“I can take her. I’m sure you have plenty to do.”

Deven looked at Kate in horror. She wasn’t certain why it made things much easier to face this mortification with a stranger then with someone she knew. But it was. And this wasn’t just someone. This was Rhian’s mother.

The nurse released her hold and took a step towards the door just as Kate wrapped an arm firmly around the martial artist’s waist. “Okay, Deven. Let’s get you going.”

But Deven didn’t move. She stood frozen in place, wanting more than anything to be able to tell Kate to go away. In some ways she’d rather have had the catheter put back in than to have to rely on this woman for something so menial and personal. What is wrong with you, Masterson? It isn’t like you’ve never shared a bathroom with someone before. I know, but this is different. Well, you can’t do this on your own, moron! What are you going to do? Stand here until you either wet yourself or the nurse comes back? You’re making way too much out of this. Just think about going home. That’s all you have to think about.

And that was the only way she managed to get her feet moving. What had begun as a basic task quickly turned into much more beginning when Deven caught sight of her reflection. It was the first time she’d actually seen the damage to her face, and as her eyes locked on the mirror, her heart sank. You are a freak. How can she stand to kiss you? Hell, how can she even stand to look at you?

“Deven? Honey, it isn’t as bad as it looks. The swelling and bruising will fade and you’ll be as good as new.”

Good as new? I doubt that. Funny, all the fights over all those years and I barely got a scar. Now? I could get a job in a sideshow somewhere. Her eyes dropped, and she allowed Kate to coax her away from the mirror.

What should have been a simple trip to the bathroom became a combat of wills when Deven tried to maneuver her way into the shower. She hadn’t really considered how she was going to accomplish it with a broken hand and the IV, but she was willing to give it a try. She felt grungy and just wanted to wash it all away.

But Kate refused to back down and effectively blocked her path. “Look, Deven, I know you feel dirty. And I’m sure a shower would feel wonderful, but until the doctors give the okay, you can’t. Now let me propose that you allow me to help you get cleaned up some. If won’t be the same, but it will help you feel better.”

The martial artist groaned and shut her eyes. A sponge bath? A sponge bath from Rhian’s mother. I know I was bad. I know I deserve to be punished. But come on. Will the torture never end? What choice do you have, Masterson? I could wait for Rhian. Sure you could, but is that what you want? Now that you know what you really look like, do you want Rhian that close? No.  She opened her eyes and looked directly at Kate, and with a nod of her head, she accepted the older woman’s offer.

By the time Kate had her cleaned up and in a fresh hospital gown, she was disheartened to find she wanted to lie back down. Okay, you knew it would take a little time to get your stamina back. So relax. This is just another training program. That’s all. Yeah, but of all the training programs I’ve ever endured, this one sucks the most!

“Not bad,” Kate commented as she helped ease the younger woman down into the chair by the bed.

Not bad for you maybe, Deven thought. It was pretty damn awful for me, thank you very much.

“Look at me,” Kate said

Lifting her head, the martial artist glared at Kate, but the gentleness of the older woman’s gaze put out the fire. Those eyes studying her reminded her a great deal of Rhian.

“I’m sure you hate it here. And I’m certain you hate having to rely on anyone else. But you don’t have a choice right now.”

There it was. The plain truth and Deven had no argument against it.

“You’re doing really well. You’ve only had the one major seizure, and those little ones you’re having are diminishing as well. Everything is healing just fine.” She knew Deven was listening but she also knew that the woman was still in somewhat of a shock over what she’d perceived in the mirror. “What do you say we go for a little walk if you’re up to it? The sooner we get you moving around on your own, the sooner you’re out of here.”

The idea lightened up Deven’s mood considerably, and she nodded her head. And they had managed a short walk up and down the hallway. Despite the overall weakness and how quickly she got tired, it felt better to be on her feet. It wasn’t easy by any means. Her lungs were still healing, as were her ribs, and breathing was somewhat of a chore. But still, the short walk made her feel like she was accomplishing something positive.

By the time they returned to the room it was lunchtime, and Kate got her settled back in the bed. Deven eyed her liquid meal with distaste.

“Unfortunately, I have to leave you for now to go pick up Seana. Are you all set?” Kate asked.

Deven nodded, feeling unexplainably saddened that the woman was leaving.

“I’ll come back by this afternoon, and I’ll bring you something a little more exciting than that,” Kate said while indicating the martial artist’s lunch. “Behave yourself,” she added as she smoothed out Deven’s hair and gave her a soft kiss on the head.

Deven watched Kate leave and then sighed again. I can do this. Just another training program. Just another training program. Just the most humiliating and frustrating training program of my life.


“Hey, beautiful, ” Kelly greeted as she walked into the hospital room. “How are you doing?” A frown was the only response she received from the injured woman before Deven turned her gaze back towards the window.

Kelly paused and silently studied her friend’s profile. The swelling and bruising were reduced, but there was still a lot of puffiness and discoloration. As much as she tried to comprehend what Deven must have endured and why, Kelly found it nearly impossible. In her line of work, she’d seen many battered women and children over the years, but the cause was almost always an act of domestic abuse. This was something entirely different.

Based on information the lawyer had gotten from Rhian and Lydia, Deven had been unable to remember what had happened. It wasn’t surprising given the injuries the woman had sustained that Deven might have blocked out the events or possibly even lost those memories as a result of the trauma to her brain. Still, Kelly’s gut told her that her friend knew more than she was letting on. Taking a deep breath, she arched an elegant eyebrow and asked, “Cranky much?”

The martial artist ignored the remark, and while Kelly was well aware that Deven couldn’t talk, she had nonetheless expected some sort of reaction. Stepping up next to the chair Deven was seated in, Kelly knelt down and looked up at her friend’s face. “Hey. What’s going on?” she asked as she reached out and placed a hand lightly on Deven’s thigh.

What do you say, Masterson? This is the first time you’ve seen her, but it’s not the first time she’s seen you. Nope. She got an eyeful of you in ICU while you were still dead to the world. Now that Deven knew what she looked like, she loathed having anyone see her. Well, not everyone. Just this woman and Rhian, right? Losing face, quite literally, to her is almost as painful as knowing how Rhian now sees you, isn’t it?

Deven had never considered herself particularly vain. She knew she was good looking and had a certain sex appeal that she’d used to her full advantage over the years. She hadn’t thought about those things, because they were just as much a part of her as her fighting skills. But now, she was having a very difficult time getting beyond her reflection in the mirror.

“What’s wrong?” Kelly asked with honest concern.

Slowly turning her head, the martial artist quietly studied the lawyer. Why should I care what you think? It’s not like it matters really. And it shouldn’t. Because I shouldn’t care! I shouldn’t give a damn what you or anyone else thinks. But that look on your beautiful face right now hurts. Do you love me, Kelly? Or is it just that you feel sorry for me? I wager it’s the second. She shook her head in dismissal.

“Are you in pain? Do you want me to get someone?”

I want you to leave me alone. I want you to walk away and never come back.  Deven shook her head again and looked away.

Kate quietly watched the exchange from the doorway, and clearing her throat to announce her presence, she stepped forward into the room. “Well, I told you I’d be back, and I brought you something. Hi, Kelly,” she addressed the lawyer cheerfully.

“Hi, Kate.”

“I see our patient is still in a foul mood. ”

Deven turned her head and glared at both women. And just how the fuck would you feel?

“Yeah,” Kelly concurred. “She sure isn’t trying to be communicative.”

“Sure she is,” Kate added and chuckled. “Don’t you see that glare? She’s trying to tell us to drop dead.” Stepping closer to the martial artist, she held out a large plastic cup. “Here. This should cheer you up some.” Deven stared at the container but made no effort to take. “It’s a mocha shake, Deven. I’m not trying to poison you. Take it already. My hand is getting cold.”

The martial artist tentatively reached out for the cup and took a small sip. Damn that’s good. She took another sip and sighed with satisfaction.

“Any updates?” Kelly asked the older woman.

“Well, physically she’s healing up fine, though I’m sure she doesn’t believe that. She’s already been for a couple of short walks today. But, I think she’s beginning to really find out her limitations and that isn’t setting very well. Is it?”

Deven refused to acknowledge the question. If they want to talk about me, let them. I don’t have to participate. Fuck ‘em.

“Limitations? ” Kelly asked.

“She found out today that she needs assistance with pretty much everything and doesn’t much care for it,” Kate replied.

“Well, I’m not surprised. She’s one of the proudest and most stubborn people I’ve ever met. Aren’t you? ” Kelly teased.

I will not respond. I won’t give them the satisfaction.

“And she got her first glimpse in a mirror,” Kate added.

Unable to ignore that, the image of her reflection filled Deven’s mind, and Rhian’s mother watched the emotional struggle compassionately. “Honey, it looks so much worse than it is. You’re going to heal fine.”

Turning her head back towards the window, the martial artist tried to hide her pain, but to her chagrin tears filled her eyes and when she tried to blink them away, they escaped to flow down her cheeks. On impulse she reached up angrily to wipe them away but stopped herself just in time as memories of the last time she’d done that caused her hand to pause. They don’t understand. They think it’s about me, but it’s not. It’s about Rhian. I don’t want her to pity me. I don’t want her to stay with me out of some misguided sense of responsibility. I’m not the woman she fell in love with! I was damaged but at least I was physically a whole person.

Taking the opportunity, Kate stepped up to the younger woman and carefully placing a hand beneath her chin, gently lifted, forcing Deven’s head up. With a tissue, she tenderly dabbed at the tears. “It’s all right.”

For just a brief second, Deven’s eyes met Kate’s. There was something about this woman that made her feel small, and she quickly looked away lest she completely lose what was left of her composure.

“Here,” Kate said as she took the milk shake and set it on the table. “Your hand must be freezing by now.” She released Deven’s chin and lightly caressed her cheek before stepping back.

Kelly stood in stunned silence. In all the years she’d known Deven, she’d never seen her cry. She’d never seen her defeated, but that was how the martial artist appeared. What Kelly had expected was for her friend to be angry and belligerent, ordering everyone around. But this woman was so unexpected and unknown, the lawyer was at a complete loss as to what to say or do.

Deven picked up the white board and wrote, THNKS 4 COMNG BY. She displayed it to Kelly without looking in the woman’s direction.

“You listen to me, beautiful. I’m not going to let you get away with feeling sorry for yourself,” Kelly challenged. “Honestly, you are your own worst enemy. Now knock it off before I call the nurse in here to give you an enema or something.”

Deven’s eyes widened at the threat and then narrowed slightly.

“Oh, don’t give me that look. I know you better than that.” She glanced over at Kate. “I don’t know how you put up with it. Here you go out of your way to get her this nice shake and does she bother to even thank you? No.”

The martial artist crooked her finger at Kelly in a come here gesture.

“Oh, no. I’m not stupid, Deven. You want to be closer to me than you have to come to me, hot shot. Come on. I dare you. I double dare you. I triple dog dare you.”

Shaking her head in disbelief, Deven wrote, WHEN I CAN…YOURE TOAST!

Kelly smiled tenderly and watched as her friend’s lips quirked slightly. “I look forward to it. But until then, I’m going to get in every shot I can.”

Deven rolled her eyes and reached for her shake. Pausing halfway, she picked up the board again. After erasing the last message, she wrote THANK U, and turned it towards Kate.

“You’re most welcome, problem child.”

Problem child? She can’t possibly be referring to me.

“I like it!” Kelly said with a laugh. “It certainly suits you.”

Lifting her good hand, Deven raised her middle finger at her friend.

“Deven Masterson! If you don’t want that hand immobilized too, you best behave yourself, ” Kate admonished.

The martial artist scowled, which only made Kelly laugh harder. “Give it up, Deven. You’re in no condition to argue. And beside you’re just too damn cute!” She took a step closer and playfully taunted her friend. “Problem child. I love it! Wait until I tell Rhian!”

NO! Deven wrote.

“Why not? She’ll think it’s hilarious. ”


Kelly stopped laughing and looked closely at her friend. “Why? ””

Deven didn’t answer. She looked down at the board and then out the window. How can I explain this? It would take a damn book.

There was so much hurt in the martial artist’s eyes, and Kelly was at a loss to understand what exactly was causing it. “What is it? We were just teasing you.”

“Teasing who?” Rhian asked as she walked in. Everyone looked so serious that she stopped midway across the room. “What’s going on? What’s wrong? ”

“Nothing. I just think Deven is having a bad day,” her mother replied.

Moving the rest of the way into the room, she leaned forward to place a kiss on Deven’s lips, but the martial artist visibly shifted away. The rejection was obvious and it stung the younger woman. Standing back up she stared at her lover, but Deven avoided making eye contact by turning her gaze out the window.

But before she’d turned away, Deven had seen the impact of her actions. I didn’t mean to do that. I just. I can’t. She just couldn’t get beyond the image of her face, and the thought of Rhian being that close unnerved her.

Neither had the reaction been missed by Kate or Kelly. Seeking to ease the obvious tension, Kelly placed an arm across the landscaper’s shoulders and gave her a slight hug. “We were just teasing Deven about her attitude. It’s hard to take her threats seriously,” she said lightly.

Being at the center of attention with Rhian present was making Deven uncomfortable. All she wanted to be able to do at the moment was stand up and walk out of the room. Possible scenarios on how she might accomplish that feat with her physical limitations ran through her head and not one of them worked without assistance. You can’t even get up out of this damn chair without help. You are so pathetic! Resigning herself for the moment, she picked up the board and wrote, TIRED.

“Do you want to lie down?” Rhian asked.

She nodded her head but still purposely avoided making eye contact with anyone.

“Do you need to use the bathroom first?” Kate asked.

With an aggrieved sigh, Deven nodded again.

“I’ll help,” Rhian volunteered.

At that, Deven’s head lifted and she looked directly at Rhian while shaking her head. Then she pointed at her lover’s mother.

Though Kate could understand Deven’s reluctance, she was getting a little piqued at the woman’s obvious stand offish attitude towards her daughter. “You can help, Rhian. You’re going to need to know how to do this anyway.”

The older woman’s no nonsense expression in conjunction with the slight edge in her voice let Deven know that she wasn’t going to put up with an argument. You need her, Masterson. Without the ability to argue her case, she knew it was a lost cause and so she acquiesced.

Still, the whole situation was awkward and uncomfortable for the proud woman. But she managed to take it in stride only because she refused to think about what she was doing and concentrated on going home.

Showing how weak she was to Rhian was the hardest part of all. It left her feeling even more pathetic and powerless, and that just sent her already low mood deeper into despair. Unable to do anything else, she allowed the three women to assist her in silence when inside she was screaming at her inadequacies.

It wasn’t until she was alone that she succumbed to the depth of her fear and like a rabid beast it rose to feed upon her insecurities. What am I going to do? I can’t let her do this. She fell in love with the martial artist. You knew that the first time she saw you perform that she was enamored with your persona. It was all over her face. And you loved that she saw you that way - all strong and capable, and in charge. But now I can’t even get up by myself. I don’t know what to do. She can’t possibly love me like this. How could she? I’m a fucking nightmare.

Deven couldn’t remember a time in her life when she’d felt this helpless. And the images that flirted with her consciousness, but refused to come into the light, infuriated her. She knew they were memories of what had happened, and she wanted to know. I have to know. I have to know who did this to me and why. And why they didn’t kill me.

Her eyes drifted to the window and the sunset beyond, and she felt her eyelids growing heavy. Okay, Masterson. Here’s the bottom line. Someone wanted you fucked up, and you aren’t going to figure that out in here. So, what you need to do is stop all this self-pitying bullshit and concentrate. You have to get out of here. You have to get home. As soon as you do that, maybe you’ll find some pieces of the puzzle. But you can’t do anything in here. And what about Rhian?

The emotion tightened her chest. I need to get home, and then I can figure out what to do about her. Figure out what’s best all around. In the meantime, I need to get my act together and focus. Lottare per la sua vita. Lottare per il suo amore. She lie still and stared at the ceiling.  What the hell does that mean? It sounds like Italian. I don’t speak Italian. Well, not much anyway. So, where did I hear that?

It made her uneasy but before she could dwell on it too much, the fatigue caught up with her. Even as she struggled to concentrate on translating those words, she fell into another troubled slumber where the memories reigned, tormenting her without restraint.

To Be Continued in Chapter Fifteen

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