Part 15

Tommie felt elated as he ran. He had seen the blood. He knew he got her. Screw Roy and all his plans! I just needed to pop her and I did! Now we'll get the money! His mind sang as he ran. He had so wanted to fire more, but his piece had let him down. The damn thing had jammed after only one shot. He had tried to unblock it but he had seen the dark haired woman charging him. You're too late! You're too late! He giggled as he took off running across the quad.

"I am the wind! I can run forever!" Tommie crowed as he leaped over a bench and continued to run. He glanced over his shoulder and frowned. The leggy brunette was gaining on him. He felt a trace of fear race through his elation. "No! She can't catch me! She can't!" he vowed as he put his head down and forced his legs to run faster.

He veered around a building and plowed into a couple of students heading the other way. "Get the hell out of my way!" he screamed, spittle trickling down his chin.

The two students quickly pressed themselves against the building wanting nothing to do with the wild- eyed man. With confusion and a feeling that they had narrowly missed a very nasty situation, they watched him dash into the parking lot.


Tommie continued to run. He dodged between the parked cars in the lot. He paused to lean against the hood of a car and glanced back to see if he had eluded his pursuer. He swore as he saw her come around the building, narrowly missing the two he had barreled into. Damn, she's fast! Who the hell is she? Wonder Woman? He speculated as he bent at the waist and struggled to catch his breath.


Tommie held his breath for a moment. He could've sworn he heard someone call his name. He struggled to bring his breathing under control so he could hear over the bellows his lung had become. He gazed around the parking lot trying to figure out where the voice was coming from.

"Tommie! You knucklehead! Get your ass over here!"

Tommie's head whipped around and he saw Roy waving frantically at him over the hood of a car a couple of rows down.

"Roy?" Tommie asked his mind having a hard time wrapping around the fact that his older brother was standing there. "But I thought I'd killed you," he murmured as he turned and loped across the parking lot towards the waiting car.

"Tommie! Get your ass in this car!" Roy ordered as Tommie came panting up to the car.

"Roy? You're alive!" Tommie shouted with a big toothy grin.

"Yeah, no thanks to you. Now get in!" Roy demanded as he ducked back down and got into the driver's seat.

Tommie grinned and pulled the passenger door open and slid into the seat. "I thought for sure you were dead, Roy," Tommie said as he slammed the door shut.

Roy grunted as he gunned the engine and peeled out of the parking lot.

Tommie peered at his brother and saw the caked blood on the side of his head. He reached out and poked Roy's temple. "See! I clocked you right here!"

Roy flinched and batted Tommie's hand away. "Just sit there and shut up!" Roy yelled vehemently.

"Why? I got her, Roy. I did," Tommie groused as he slumped back in his seat and gazed out the window.

"What did you do?" Roy asked between gritted teeth as he whipped around a corner and then slowed the car to a more normal speed. Don't want to draw attention to ourselves, Roy thought as his eyes darted back and forth and took note of the cop cars making a beeline for the campus.

"I popped her. Yep. Got her with one shot," Tommie said with a beaming smile. He pointed his finger like a gun. "Pow! Just like that. Money in the bank."

"If we don't get caught," Roy said risking a sidelong glare at his brother. His head was pounding and he was sure he had a number of broken ribs, but he wasn't about to comment on them just yet. Tommie was obviously on something and wasn't in his right mind. Not that he has much mind under the best of times, Roy thought with growing anger.

"Who's gonna catch us? We're home free!" Tommie shouted pumping his fist in the air. "The bitch chasing me couldn't catch me! I am the wind!"

Roy had seen the woman and had a sinking feeling he knew exactly who it had been. He was just thankful he had gotten there in time. Now he just had to pray that she hadn't gotten a good look at them or they were as good as dead.

"Just shut up and let me think," Roy growled as he made a left hand turn.

"Okay, Roy," Tommie said complacently. He sat back and replayed the shooting over and over in his mind, a benevolent smile crossing his crazed features.

Roy glanced at his brother and felt his skin crawl at the sight. Tommie sat with a huge grin on his face as he unconsciously stroked the pistol in his lap. Every now and then he'd mumble something to the piece and the smile would grow wider. Roy pulled his eyes away and tried to figure out what they were going to do next. This had never been in the plan. The boss is going to go apeshit when she finds out. He shuddered at the thought. The idea of holing up with his psycho brother seemed a hell of a lot safer than telling her they may have majorly screwed up. He needed to get them somewhere safe where they could lay low and see if Tommie really had succeeded in offing the bitch. Question is, where? Time to call the family and tell them that Tommie has managed to fuck up again and pray they'll feel like helping. Roy's stomach clenched at the thought. The last thing he wanted to do was admit to the family that he couldn't control his brother nor handle a simple hit.

She's just a little bitty blonde! It should've been easy money! He growled to himself as he turned onto the expressway intent on finding a very deep hole to hide in.


Rachel lay on the ground, her ears still ringing from the report of the gunshot. Holy crap! Where did she learn to hit like that? T he damn Packers? Rachel groaned as her body made it known how very unhappy it was at meeting the cold hard ground so abruptly. And did that guy really shoot at us? She wondered as she took inventory of her body and decided that nothing was too damaged. Shit! W hat if he's still there? She stiffened at the thought and her mouth suddenly went dry. Guess there's only one way to find out, she thought as she cautiously cracked an eye open and peered up to where she thought the gunman had been. Seeing nothing, she opened her eyes fully and let out a sigh of relief. Beat, heart, beat, she ordered as she patted her chest for emphasis.

She slowly rolled up to a sitting position and looked around. She spotted Lauren and Alexi in a crumpled heap to her right and a couple feet away. She gazed around the quad trying to spot the gunman, but didn't see him. She did see what appeared to be a dark haired woman in a long duster running at break neck speed in the direction that she suspected the gunman probably took. She squinted and leaned forward trying to bring the distant figure into focus. Her eyes widened in surprise when the image snapped into focus. She sat back with an audible gasp and shook her head in disbelief.

"No way was that Ash," she murmured as she watched the woman who bore a striking resemblance to Ash tear across the quad and disappear on what she supposed was the tail of the gunman. "She's in Spokane. I know she is."

She shrugged putting the thought aside and turned to crawl over to where Lauren and Alexi were lying. She could just make out Lauren's blonde head underneath the sprawled form of Alexi. "Hey, Laur, you're not going to believe this but I think I just saw…" her words trailed off as she settled next to them and saw Lauren's pale still face.

"Laur?" she questioned hesitantly. She swallowed dryly and reached out with a slightly trembling hand to push back Lauren's bangs. Lauren's green eyes popped open and Rachel shrieked.

"What?" Lauren asked perplexed and startled by Rachel's reaction.

"Don't do that! You scared the crap out of me!" Rachel admonished as she sat back on her heels and clutched her chest.

"What did I do? I just opened my eyes," Lauren defended peevishly. She nudged Alexi gently. "Umm, Alexi? You want to get off of me now?" Alexi didn't respond and Lauren felt her heart speed up. "Rach?"

"What?" Rachel asked petulantly.

"I think Alexi's hurt. She won't answer me," Lauren said, fear making her voice tremble.

"Oh shit," Rachel swore as she helped Lauren roll Alexi off of her.

They both saw the blood at the same time and their eyes widened in shock. They glanced at one another and then back to Alexi's blood soaked shirt.

"Are you hurt, Laur?" Rachel asked in a shaky voice.

"No… I… don't think so, why?" Lauren asked slowly not able to pull her eyes from Alexi's shirt.

"Your shirt is covered in blood," Rachel whispered hoarsely, raising a trembling finger to point at her friend's front. She was trying hard not to totally lose it.

"It's not mine," Lauren said glancing down at her shirt and pulling it away from her body. It was soaked through with blood and she swallowed back the nausea. She tore her eyes away from it and turned back to Alexi's still form. "I think its Alexi's. Oh my god! She must've gotten shot when that idiot fired on us!"

"Alexi?" Rachel said blankly unable to grasp anything but the fact that her best friend was soaked in blood.

"Yes, Alexi," Lauren confirmed as she bent over the still singer and began inspecting her chest trying to figure out where all the blood was coming from. "Help me, Rach! She's going to bleed to death if we don't figure out where all this blood is coming from!"

The demanding tone in Lauren's voice snapped Rachel out of her paralysis. She nodded jerkily and bent over to inspect Alexi intently. "There's so much blood, Laur!"

"I know. It must've hit an artery," Lauren said distractedly. "Where the hell are the cops?"

Just then they heard the unmistakable sound of sirens. The two looked at each other and managed to smile at the absurdity of it all.

"Guess they heard you," Rachel quipped.

"Guess so," Lauren answered.

People began pouring out of the buildings to see what all the excitement was about. "Sure, now they come out! They didn't hear a damn gunshot, but let them hear sirens and they all come running!" Rachel griped as she glanced up to see the gathering crowd heading in their direction.

"Go grab one of them and tell them we need an ambulance pronto and tell the cops where we are," Lauren ordered as she pulled off her coat and pillowed Alexi's head with it. She began to put pressure on Alexi's upper chest with her hands. "I don't know what I'm doing here and I'd really like some professional help."

Rachel glanced up at her friend and saw she was pale but determined. "Okay, Laur. Just hang on. I'll go find some help," Rachel assured her. She gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder and then leapt to her feet.

Lauren watched her go with her peripheral vision not wanting to take her eyes off of Alexi's bloodless face. "You just hang on, Alexi. Help is on the way," Lauren urged gently. "I don't know what happened or why, but I owe you a debt of gratitude and I'd like to be able to repay it. So you just hold on."

Lauren listened with half an ear as the crowd gathered and prayed that Rachel would hurry up with the paramedics. She focused on Alexi and let the world narrow to just the two of them as she waited for what was beginning to feel like an eternity.


The world seemed to slow as the rage reddened her vision. She watched as the greasy haired man raised the gun, her mind automatically categorizing it. Appears to be a 9 mm… probably a Glock since its chunky with a flat finish. She watched helpless as Alexi tackled Lauren and Rachel. They fell in slow motion as the weapon fired. Adrenaline shot through her as her heart clenched in agony at the sight. She felt an enraged growl rumble out of her chest as she willed her legs to move faster.

The gunman shook the gun in his hand, looking down at it with a perplexed expression. It must've jammed. Guess he doesn't take care of his weapon, thank god, she thought as she raced forward. Definitely not a professional shooter then. So there's a chance he missed. She took small comfort in the fact. The man had only been 10 feet or so away from Lauren when he fired. Even a complete idiot would have a hard time missing at that range.

The gunman suddenly looked up and his wild brown eyes met hers. His face creased into maniacal glee before he turned and fled across the campus. She swore under her breathe as her eyes flicked to the crumpled forms of her friends. She noted that Alexi and Lauren were in a heap whereas Rachel had been thrown clear. Rachel was already beginning to stir. Ash fought the desire to stop and make sure Lauren was okay. She knew if she did the shooter would more than likely escape. Her heart argued with her head telling it she had to stop. Had to know. No! I can't! I can't let him get away! Her mind screamed in defiance. She pulled her eyes away from them and focused on the fleeing form of the lunatic that had dared to shoot at the woman she loved. Red tinted her vision as her eyes narrowed focused upon her target. The thought of Lauren and the other's condition was pushed aside by the need to catch the bastard.

She bent her head and ran. Ran like she had never run before. She thought the man she was chasing looked an awful lot like that police sketch that Lu had had. Could it be the same guy? Could he have followed Lauren back here? And if so… where was the other one? her mind wondered as she saw the man veer around the corner of a building and disappear from sight. She swore and willed more speed into her aching legs.

She rounded the corner and only her quick reflexes kept her from barreling into two very startled and nervous looking students. She mumbled an apology as her eyes scanned the parking lot and fixed upon her quarry. There, leaning against that car. She forced air into her burning lungs and ran. She saw the car before he did. No! Damn it! No! Her mind screamed as she saw the shooter's head come up and turn to find the car a few rows down from him. She fought her own physical limitations as she tried to catch him before he made the safety of the car.

The man loped to the car and climbed in. Ash felt the rage blind her for an instant at the sight. She roared and charged across the lot. The car peeled out of the parking lot just as she reached the row it had been in only moments before. She continued to chase it, the control of her rage hanging by a mere thread. Ash slowed and finally stopped realizing it was futile to continue. She bent at the waist and struggled to get enough air to her starving lungs. She clutched at her side as it began to twinge from the abuse she had just put her body through.

Well, at least I can confirm it's the same two guys that tried to run Lauren down in Spokane, she thought trying to make herself feel better for the failure. She grunted at the token knowledge not wanting to accept it as her due. She wanted more. She wanted to tear the two apart and find out who the hell had sent them after Lauren and why.

Her heart finally began to slow and her breathing evened out. The rage was still there, but it had cooled. It growled in her mind wanting blood but having to settle for the promise of revenge. She straightened up and turned to make her way back to Lauren. I hope that prick was too blasted on whatever he was on to be able to shoot straight, she prayed. The thought didn't do much to comfort her. She knew he had only been about 10 feet away. She didn't think that even someone as loaded as he seemed to be could miss at that range, but she could hope.

She came around the building and stopped dead at the sight before her. The quad had turned into a zoo. There were people everywhere. Cops were trying to clear the area and people were shouting and shoving trying to see what had happened. She gritted her teeth and stormed forward. She began pushing her way through the crowd none too delicately. She used her elbows and fists and soon people started to clear a path not wanting to face the steely-eyed woman.

She finally broke free at what she assumed was the sight of the shooting. Yellow police tape was strung around a 20 foot area before her, but where were Lauren, Rachel, and Alexi? She peered across the crowded space trying to spot them but to no avail. She saw news vans begin to pull in behind the emergency vehicles. Damn vultures, she grumbled in irritation.

She began working her way around the circumference of the taped area towards the ambulances and police cars figuring that would be the logical place for the girls to be. She finally broke out of the crowd and came face to face with a stern faced sergeant.

"You'll have to keep back, ma'am," the sergeant said in a commanding no nonsense voice as he held up a hand to forestall her his eyes continuing to sweep the crowd.

"The women that were involved. Where are they?" she demanded in a flat voice.

The sergeant met her eyes and swallowed. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't release that information at this time," he said trying to sound calm despite those ice blue eyes drilling into him.

"I know them. Where did they go?" she demanded again as she took a step closer and glared down at him.

A bullhorn squawked and everyone turned at the feedback. The sergeant breathed a sigh of relief when the intimidating woman's attention turned to the detective with the bullhorn.

"Attention! Attention! Would everyone just please step back and let the officers work!" the detective bellowed into the bullhorn.

The crowd rumbled and a few shouted questions were heard over the general din.

"Yes, there seems to have been a shooting. The suspect is no longer in the vicinity. The police are in pursuit. Would everyone who did not see the shooting or are involved in any way please disperse and go about your business so that we can get this cleared up!" the detective ordered in a calm but demanding tone.

The crowd grumbled but the police officers in their midst made them think better of sticking around. The edge of the crowd began to break up and move away.

Ash thought quickly. She knew that if she approached the detective she'd be detained for questioning. She didn't want to take the time to tell them all that had happened. She wanted to find out where Lauren had been taken! She growled in frustration. She eyed the emergency vehicles and noted what hospital they were from. Best guess is they were taken to the hospital. Even if they weren't hurt, they'd be taken in for shock if nothing else, she surmised. She nodded her head decisively and turned to fight her way back through the crowd to where her truck was parked.


"Well that was nightmarish," Rachel grumbled as they climbed the stairs towards Lauren's apartment hours later.

Lauren nodded, not able to voice all the emotions running rampant through her at the moment. She paused before her apartment door and dug in her pocket for the keys. Lauren listened to Rachel's ranting about the cops' incompetence and nodded in agreement in the appropriate places. All she wanted was a long hot shower. She still felt disconnected from everything. She was just going through the motions of normalcy trying to will it to be true.

"I can't believe they kept us there for like hours! All they kept doing was asking the same damn questions over and over and over again!" Rachel continued to vent as she followed Lauren into the apartment. She walked over to the couch and unceremoniously flopped down with a sigh. "Why do they do that? Do they think we were lying and if they kept asking us the same stupid ass questions over and over that we'd change our story? I swear you'd think we were the damn criminals."

The police had taken Lauren's clothes for evidence and thankfully one of the nurses at the hospital had taken pity on her and given her scrubs to put on instead of one of the backless gowns. She still felt grubby and the sight of all that blood was still painted on the back of her eyes. Rachel seemed to have snapped back from the situation with her usual ease. She, on the other hand, was having a bit more problem believing any of it had really happened. She felt like she had fallen into a bad TV movie of the week and had been cast as the clueless victim. She wandered into the center of her apartment and stopped at a loss as to what to do next.

"Rach?" she said interrupting Rachel's diatribe.

Rachel glanced up from the couch. "Yeah, Laur?" she asked pausing in her list of incriminations.

"I really need to take a shower. Do you mind?" Lauren asked piteously.

"Sure, go ahead. I'm sure I can find some way to entertain myself until you're done," Rachel said with a dismissive wave. "I wouldn't mind taking one myself." She glanced down at her own pair of scrubs and plucked at them. "I always wanted a pair of these, but this wasn't the way I thought of getting a set."

"Yeah," Lauren said glancing down at her own green clad chest. She turned and headed towards the bathroom on autopilot.

Rachel watched her go with some concern. Lauren slipped into the bath and closed the door behind her with a soft click. She was worried. Lauren had held it together through the shooting and the subsequent arrival of the paramedics. Even the third degree the police had put them through, but now that the immediate situation was over, Rachel had a feeling she was holding on to her sanity by sheer willpower. She slumped back on the couch with a sigh. I wonder if that guy really was after us? Or was it just random stupidity? Rachel wondered idly. After what happened to Lauren in Spokane… it couldn't just be coincidence could it? Rachel's brow furrowed as she mulled over the implications.


Rachel jumped at the sound of Lauren's voice and spun around. "Jesus, Laur! You trying to give me a heart attack?" Rachel asked clutching her chest to keep her heart from beating out of it.

"Sorry," Lauren said with downcast eyes. "The shower's free."

Rachel studied her friend and reprimanded herself for barking at Lauren. It wasn't her fault. They were both so on edge. She stood and strolled over to her friend. "Hey," she said softly waiting for Lauren to look up and meet her eyes. She smiled as their eyes met. "Everything is going to be okay. Sorry I snapped at you. I think all this drama has finally pickled my brain."

"That's okay," Lauren replied with a tremulous smile. She gave Rachel a hug and then pushed her towards the bathroom. "Go on and take your shower. I'll go and see what I can scrounge up for dinner."

"Sounds like a plan! I'll be out in two shakes," Rachel called over her shoulder as she hurried into the bathroom and closed the door.

Lauren stared at the closed bathroom door feeling lost and alone. Rachel's constant chatter was better than this incessant silence. She made her way quickly over to the stereo and tuned in a local radio station to break the silence. That done she turned and headed towards the kitchen. I'm not even hungry, but I bet Rachel is, she thought as she stepped into the small tidy kitchen and glanced around. Her eyes settled on the coffeepot and her lips curved into a small smile. Now that's exactly what I need! She walked over to the coffeepot and flipped it on. She pulled her robe closer around her as she went through the motions of preparing the coffee.

She leaned against the breakfast bar and watched as the coffeepot worked its magic. She closed her eyes and inhaled the aroma of fresh brewed coffee. The events of the day were weighing heavily on her and she fought to push them back down. She just didn't want to think about them. And where the hell was Ash during all this? The question popped into her mind and she felt her heart clench. Does she even know what is going on? Does she even care? Lauren swallowed back the tears that began to form at the thought. Of course she cares! Don't be stupid! She reprimanded herself. You're the one who ripped her a new one when you talked last. You're the one who cast blame, not her. She was worried and concerned and all you could do was blame her for not being there to save your precious backside! Lauren felt a tear escape and reached up to angrily brush it away.


Lauren fought back the churning emotions and took a deep breath before opening her eyes. "In here, Rach!" she called once she thought she had herself somewhat under control.

"Hey," Rachel said softly from the entryway. "You okay?"

Lauren swallowed not able to speak and nodded mutely.

"Yeah, sure you are," Rachel rebuked herself sarcastically but tempered it with a smile. She came over to her and wiped the tear from her face. "Why don't we grab some java and rummage in your closet for something to wear?"

Lauren nodded and gave Rachel a grateful smile. She turned and pulled down two coffee cups from the cupboard and filled them with the steaming brew. She handed one to Rachel and led the way to her closet.

She set her coffee cup down on the dresser and pulled open her closet door flipping on the light. She stepped in and looked around. She was so cold! She quickly grabbed a couple pair of sweats and turned to find Rachel happily ensconced on her bed sipping her coffee.

"You look comfortable," she commented as she offered the sweats to her.

"I am and thanks," Rachel replied sitting up and taking the sweats. "Good choice. I can't seem to shake the chill I got."

Lauren nodded in agreement as she rummaged in her dresser for some heavy socks. She threw a pair to Rachel as she undid her robe and quickly pulled on the comfortable sweats. "I don't have a bra that will fit you," Lauren apologized with almost a twinkle in her eyes.

Rachel paused with the sweats half way up and looked up and raised an eyebrow at her. "Is it my fault that I'm more… shall we say… blessed than you?" Rachel asked dryly. "Besides, my bra is still clean, though I think I'll let the girls just swing free. I'm not planning on going anywhere."

Lauren was surprised when a giggle escaped. She grinned at Rachel as she finished dressing and took up her coffee cup once more. "I just want to sleep for a week."

Rachel nodded in agreement. "That sounds like a plan. We should…"

Rachel was interrupted by the sound of someone pounding on the front door. Both of them glanced at the door simultaneously and then back at one another with eyes widened in fear.

Lauren swallowed nervously and told her legs to move, but they were not cooperating and thought staying right here sounded perfectly fine to them.

"Do you want me to answer it?" Rachel asked in a stage whisper, glancing towards the door nervously. She looked back to Lauren when no reply was forthcoming. "Laur?"

"I… I can't move, Rach," Lauren croaked out past the lump of terror lodged in her throat. Her legs had begun to shake and all she wanted to do was dive into her bed and pull the covers up.

Rachel rose from the bed and made her way over to her. "It's okay, honey. Why don't I see who it is?" Rachel soothed as she pulled Lauren into a reassuring embrace.

Lauren clung to her, reassured by the solid reality of her friend. "O… okay, Rach. But be careful," Lauren whispered giving Rachel one more tight squeeze before releasing her.

Rachel gave her a reassuring smile. "Oh I plan on being very careful! What would the women of Seattle do without me?" she asked with a slow wink. She was rewarded by a nervous giggle from Lauren. She gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder and turned towards the door. She swallowed her own fear and willed her body to move towards the door. She paused about 5 feet away and realized that standing directly in front of it probably wasn't the wisest thing to do. She quickly stepped to the side and called, "Who is it?"

"Rachel? Is that you? It's Benson. Is Irish with you? Are you two all right?" came Benson's deep bass rumble through the door.

Lauren's shoulders sagged in relief. Rachel looked over at her and grinned. "Hold on, Ben. Let me get this door open," Rachel called as she quickly flipped the locks and pulled the door open.

Benson and Louis hurried into the apartment. Benson rushed across the apartment and scooped Lauren into a bone crushing bear hug. "Thank god you're all right!"

Lauren felt shock and then relief washed through her as the feeling of Ben's strong arms finally settled the nervous flutter in her stomach.

"How did you know?" Rachel asked surprised. She finished locking the door and turned to the nervously hovering Louis.

"We heard of a shooting on campus on the radio," Louis explained as he watched his lover examine Lauren for any injury. He wrung his hands as he walked over to Lauren and gave her a gentle hug. "We knew you two had gone there and they said three women had been involved."

"Yeah, the three women part threw us for a minute until I remembered that Alexi Reid had been here asking after you, Irish," Benson added as he brushed Lauren's bangs from her green eyes and was relieved to see that though they were still a bit dazed, they were still bright with that hidden something that was all Lauren.

"What?" Lauren and Rachel asked simultaneously staring at Benson like he had just grown another head.

"Why don't I go get us some more coffee and you three can sit down while Benson explains everything to you," Louis suggested as he gently nudged Lauren towards the sofa. She looked so pale he was afraid she was going to collapse at any moment.

Benson's eyebrows rose in surprise. He met Louis's eyes and Louis gave him a pointed look nodding towards Lauren. He glanced at Lauren and realized that Louis probably had a good point. He nodded minutely as he draped his arm around Lauren's shoulder and led her towards the couch. "Sounds like a good idea. Come on, Irish. Why don't we sit down?"

Lauren nodded and allowed Benson to lead her over to the couch and sit down. Rachel came over and sat across from them on the papasan. Benson settled onto the couch next to Lauren and pulled her close to him realizing she probably needed the comfort as much as he did. He was rewarded when Lauren relaxed against him with a sigh.

"Now what's this about Alexi coming here?" Rachel asked leaning forward.

"She showed up here around 11 or so," Benson began. "I knew Irish was planning on meeting you on campus and I was pretty sure that she had already left. Alexi confirmed that when she said she had already knocked on your door and didn't get any response. She came to our apartment to make sure that you really did live there and then wanted to know if I knew where you were."

"But why, Ben?" Lauren asked perplexed.

Benson shrugged. "I don't know, Irish. Did she find you on campus? Did you talk to her?"

"Oh yeah, she found us all right," Rachel said with a rueful shake of her head.

Benson looked at her puzzled. "And?" he prompted.

"And we had just turned to talk to her when that maniac came up shooting," Rachel informed him pulling her legs up and wrapping her arms around them.

"Oh," Benson said at a loss. Lauren shrank against him and he rubbed her back soothingly. "So I take it she didn't get a chance to tell you what she wanted?"

"No, and I don't think we'll be finding out anytime soon," Rachel replied cryptically.

"What do you mean?" Louis asked as he stepped into the room carrying a tray laden with coffee cups, a bowl of chips, and a plate of sliced fruit.

How can he do all that in less than 5 minutes? Lauren wondered inanely as she leaned forward and automatically took a cup and a piece of fruit.

"She's the one that got shot," Rachel said as she too took a cup of coffee and a handful of chips.

"What?" Louis and Benson said in unison.

Rachel nodded. "Yeah, she just came up to us and said something about having to tell us something crazy and next thing I knew I was eating dirt."

"You're kidding?" Benson asked looking back and forth between the two women.

"No, she's not," Lauren said in a small voice. "She said she had something to tell us and then he… he… came up and… and…"

Benson pulled her close and stroked her hair. "Ssh, it's okay, Irish. You're safe now," Benson soothed as he met Louis's concerned gaze.

"Alexi saw him first and tackled us out of the way. The bullet hit her. There was so much blood," Rachel said in a far away voice as she shivered.

Louis quickly walked over to the papasan and settled on the edge of it draping a comforting arm across Rachel's shoulders. "Then what happened?" he asked softly.

Rachel shrugged. "The rest is kind of a blur. The maniac took off and then there was all this blood. Lauren knew what to do. The paramedics even told her that Alexi would have probably bled to death without her intervention."

"Really?" Benson asked proud of her. He gave Lauren a gentle squeeze. "Guess you're good under pressure, huh Irish?"

"Guess so," Lauren said in a self-effacing voice.

"Tons of people came out of the woodwork when they heard the sirens and then the cops were there and the paramedics," Rachel continued as the images played once more across her eyes. "The paramedics scooped Alexi up and we were escorted to another ambulance and whisked off to the hospital. After what felt like forever they said we were fine and then the cops descended." Rachel grimaced in disgust.

"What did the cops have to say?" Louis asked.

Rachel snorted. "They practically blamed us for being shot at! Like we had really asked to be there! They kept asking the same damn questions over and over. I swear they couldn't find their damn asses with a map! I don't know why we think they'll be able to find the damn guy!"

"And Alexi?" Benson asked softly.

"She's in the hospital. That's all we really know. They said she had gone directly to surgery. They wouldn't tell us anything else," Rachel said grumpily. "The cops dragged us out of the hospital before we could even ask how she was. They kept us at the cop shop for hours! You guys probably know more than we do since they wouldn't let us watch television or anything."

"Well we only heard there was a shooting, not who was involved," Louis said thoughtfully. "Maybe we should turn on the television." He glanced at his watch and nodded. "It's almost time for the 6 o'clock news and I doubt they would pass up the chance to talk about this."

"True," Rachel agreed.

Benson leaned over and snagged the remote for the television as Louis turned off the stereo. All eyes turned as the telltale music for the 6 o'clock news filled the room. They all watched as the teasers for the upcoming stories were played.

"Told ya," Benson said pointing to the television as a reporter standing on the quad at campus came onto the screen and informed the watching audience of an act of random violence on their own university campus.

Lauren shrunk into Benson as she saw the campus once more. She didn't think she could ever go back there without images of Alexi lying still and bleeding in her arms intruding. She swallowed the panic and forced herself to watch the opening parlay between the anchors.

The shooting turned out to be the top story for the day so they didn't have long to wait.

"And now a special report from our very own Evelyn Worth who is on the campus of the University of Washington where earlier today a shooting took place. Evelyn?" the anchor said as he turned to the monitor showing Evelyn Worth's coiffed head framed by the trees of the quad.

"Thank you, Bill," Evelyn said in a serious tone.

Lauren closed her eyes and attempted to block out the report. She didn't want to relive it. Didn't want to hear how the reporters would dramatize it and blow it out of proportion. She just wished it hadn't happened at all! She couldn't understand what was going on. Could this all really be happening because I fell in love with Ash? She wondered in bewilderment. I wanted more excitement in my life, but this is ridiculous.

She was pulled out of her thoughts when she heard the others discussing the broadcast.

"Well, they released her name," Louis sighed sitting back.

"They didn't say we were there!" Rachel said indignant.

"You should be glad," Benson said. Rachel gave him a questioning look. "Otherwise you'd have reporters descending and harassing you to no end."

"That's true enough, but still," Rachel groused.

Benson gave her an understanding smile before turning his attention to Lauren. "Hey, honey? You okay?"

"Yeah, I think so," Lauren nodded glancing up into blue eyes that were so similar to Ash's she felt her heart speed up.

"Uh oh," Rachel said sitting bolt upright.

"What uh oh?" Lauren asked fearing the answer.

"Well, if Alexi could find you… what's to stop someone else from finding you here? I mean, someone found you in Spokane and then on campus. That is if the 2 are even related," Rachel trailed off lost in thought.

"I never thought of that! Oh gods! Someone could come here and find me!" Lauren cried her voice rising with each statement and a touch of hysteria entering her tone.

"Now, Irish, just calm down," Benson said trying to calm her.

"No! I have to leave. I have to go somewhere they can't find me!" Lauren argued as she quickly rose and began to pace. "But where? Where can I go? And do the cops even care someone might want to kill me?"

"Well they might if you had bothered to tell them that this isn't the first attempt at it," Rachel pointed out.

Lauren paused in her pacing to pin her with a withering glare.

"You mean you didn't tell the police about Spokane?" Louis asked in surprise.

"No," Lauren replied shortly as she began to pace once more.

"Why not, Irish?" Benson asked as he watched her pace back and forth concern coloring his voice.

"She was afraid they'd think she'd gone off the deep end," Rachel supplied.

"Rach!" Lauren barked in disbelief.

"What?" Rachel shouted back defiantly. "It's the truth and you know it! I told you to tell them and you said no. You didn't want to sound paranoid."

"Oh that's just great," Benson sighed shaking his head. "So I guess that means there are no police keeping an eye on you?"

Lauren lowered her head and gave it a slight negatory shake in answer.

"The cops think it was a random thing. Plus with Alexi involved they're more likely to see her as the target then Lauren here," Rachel said trying to get her anger under control. She knew she shouldn't be mad at Lauren but she was so frustrated at Lauren's inability to face the fact that she was in danger. Lauren couldn't seem to wrap her mind around the fact that she was important enough for anyone to want to do her harm. You would think after this last craziness she'd wake up and smell the coffee, Rachel complained inwardly and then felt ashamed at the thought.

"Well then there's only one thing to do," Benson said in a no nonsense voice.

"What's that?" Louis asked. The two women turned to Benson and nodded wanting to know too.

"You," he pointed at Lauren, "need to make yourself scarce. Question is, where can you go?"

The four thought about it trying to come up with a plausible suggestion.

"How about my place?" Rachel offered looking up. The three looked doubtful and Rachel hurried to explain her reasoning. "My building is secure. You can't get in unless buzzed in by a resident, plus we have a security guard in the lobby."

"That's true," Benson agreed slowly. He didn't want to think of Irish half way across town, but he couldn't argue with the logic.

"It would be safer than here," Louis said sorrowfully. "We can't guarantee your safety, Lauren, as much as I hate to admit that."

"It's not your fault, Louis," Lauren said quickly. She came over and gave him a hug, which he happily returned. "I guess I better get some things together then."

"How are we going to get there?" Rachel asked pulling herself out of the comfortable embrace of the papasan.

"Huh?" Benson asked puzzled.

"The cops dropped us off," Rachel explained. "My car is still on campus."

"Oh," Benson replied as he thought quickly. "Why don't I take you over there? I'd feel better that way. Knowing you got there safely."

"Sounds like a plan," Rachel nodded and began to gather up her things. "Laur? Why don't you go and get whatever you think you'll need for the next couple of days? Don't worry about forgetting anything, you can always borrow mine."

Lauren nodded and headed towards her bedroom. The three watched her go and then turned to one another all with identical looks of concern.

"Is she okay?" Benson asked Rachel in a low voice.

Rachel shook her head and then shrugged. "I don't think so, but she's keeping it all bottled up inside. The cops gave us a name of a shrink for victims of violent crimes. I have the card. I don't know if she'll go, but I can try and talk her into it."

"It wouldn't hurt you to go too," Louis stated.

Rachel smirked and nodded in agreement. "You're probably right about that, Louis."

"Good. I just wanted to make sure you were aware that you're probably in shock just as much as Lauren. You both just handle things differently," Louis said with a gentle smile.

"True," Rachel agreed.

"I'll go get the car ready," Benson said as he headed towards the door.

"I'll make you all a care package," Louis said giving Rachel a soft pat on the arm before following his lover out the door.

"Got to love that," Rachel said as she followed the boys to the door and closed it behind them.

Lauren returned with a bag in hand just as the phone rang. They both jumped and stared at the phone blankly as it continued to ring.


Sheila settled onto the couch and smiled inwardly as Lu's arm came around her waist and pulled her snugly against her. She quickly dialed Lauren's number and leaned back against Lu. They had been trying to get a hold of Lauren all day and so far hadn't had any luck. The phone began to ring and she fought the urge to drum her fingers in impatience as she waited.

"It's only rang twice," Lu whispered in amusement giving her a squeeze.

Sheila gave her a look and smirked. She was about to say something when the phone was picked up and a hesitant hello answered.

"Lauren? Is that you?" Sheila asked as Lu leaned closer to listen.

"Sheila? Yes, it's me. How are you?" Lauren asked in a somewhat wavering voice.

Sheila glanced at Lu to see if she had heard it to. Lu nodded and shrugged not having a clue. "Are you okay, hon? You sound a bit shaky?"

A hysterical giggle wafted out of the phone and Lu and Sheila's concern doubled. "Well all things considered I guess I'm fine."

"Have you seen Ash?" Sheila asked thinking maybe that was the reason for Lauren's distress.

"Ash?" Lauren asked bewildered. "Why would I have seen her? She's not here."

"What?" Lu barked sitting up and almost tossing Sheila onto the floor with the abruptness of the move. She quickly grabbed her wife to keep her from falling and gave Sheila an apologetic look.

Sheila covered the mouthpiece of the phone. "Would you please settle down until I can find out what is going on?" Sheila scolded in a quiet voice not wanting Lauren to overhear her.

"Sorry. That just surprised me," Lu whispered back giving Sheila a hanged dog look.

Sheila patted her knee in understanding as she spoke into the phone. "You mean she isn't there yet? She left here this morning and we figured she would come straight to you."

"Oh," Lauren said.

A long silence descended.

"Well?" Lu asked impatiently.

"Seems Ash isn't there," Sheila said covering the mouthpiece once more.

"Where the hell could she be then?" Lu asked feeling her anger begin to rise.

Sheila held up a hand to forestall her. "Lauren? Is everything all right?"

"Well other than being shot at, sure," Lauren replied flippantly.

"Shot at?" Sheila gasped.

"What?" Lu roared as she stood abruptly.

Sheila grabbed for the back of the couch and was able to save herself from landing on her ass on the floor. She gave Lu a reproachful look and held up her hand to keep her from going off so she could hear what Lauren was saying.

"Some nut tried to shoot me today. He missed. He shot Alexi instead. It was crazy," Lauren rambled.

"Where did this happen?" Sheila asked hoping to break Lauren out of her near hysterical recitation.

A pause and then, "On campus around noon."

"What were you doing on campus?" Sheila asked.

Lu glared at the phone in disbelief. "She went to campus alone? What the hell is she thinking? After what happened here she just trots off like there's nothing to worry about?"

"Lu, shut up!" Sheila hissed.

Lu shut her mouth with a snap and strode across the room to glare out the window. Where the hell had Ash been? She should have been there, damn her! She said she was going to Seattle to protect Lauren and now this! Some protection, Ash, I'm so impressed, Lu thought in angry disgust. I should've pummeled you when I had the chance. She conveniently sidestepped the memory of Ash easily deflecting her attack and dumping her unceremoniously on her ass. I'm going to come out there and do this myself, she decided with a determined nod. You obviously can't keep Lauren safe. So someone has to and it looks like that someone is going to have to be me. Now I just have to convince Sheila of that. She glanced over her shoulder at her wife who was still talking earnestly into the phone. Now that will be a true fete, she smirked as she watched Sheila hang up the phone. She turned to face her and when Sheila looked up, raised an eyebrow in question.

Sheila shrugged. "Lauren never saw Ash. Says as far as she was concerned Ash was still here in Spokane. I guess Ash didn't get the chance to tell her she was heading to Seattle when she talked to her."

"Oh shocking," Lu said sarcastically. "What was that about her being shot at?"

Sheila quickly outlined what Lauren had told her transpired on campus earlier that day and that she and Rachel were going to go to Rachel's for the duration.

Lu nodded in agreement. "That sounds smart. I wonder where the hell Ash is?"

"Why don't you call her?" Sheila suggested offering her the phone.

"Good idea," Lu grinned as she took the phone and dialed. "Now if she actually has the damn thing on."


Ash pulled into the parking spot and noted that Benson's usual parking place was empty. Well that's just icing on the cake, she muttered as she recalled that he had told her that he and Louis were going on some kind of boat trip today. I just figured they'd be back by now. She turned off the engine and leaned back in her seat closing her eyes attempting to relieve the tension that had settled between her shoulder blades.

She had spent the last several hours at the hospital trying to charm, threaten, or beg information out of the hospital staff about what had happened to Lauren, Rachel and Alexi. No one was talking. She had even resorted to calling her old contacts at the police force. She was shocked to find out what 3 years out of the loop could do. The people she had known to be helpful were either now promoted into positions that they weren't willing to risk by telling her anything or were not in a position to know anything. They were keeping a tight lid on what had happened in hopes of keeping any leaks from the ears of the media. Like I would really tell any of those vultures, she thought angrily.

She had waited along with everyone else and was about ready to charge the guards and damn the consequences when a spokesman finally appeared. He had been a wiry little thing with horn-rimmed glasses, which he kept nervously pushing up his nose. He had smiled and held up his hands to quiet the thrown questions. "Please, please. I have a prepared statement and that is all," he had said.

He had verified that Alexi Reid had been the one shot. Ash had felt her knees go weak at the news and thankfully was near enough to a chair that she was able to sink into that then fall to the floor and make a scene. The little man went on to say that Alexi had been taken directly into surgery and though her wounds were serious, they were optimistic about her recovery.

The throng of reporters began shouting questions again and the man apologized as he stepped back and then disappeared through a set of swinging doors. The reporters speculated amongst themselves as they pulled out cell phones to call in the news and scribbled notes.

Ash had pulled herself together and quickly left the hospital. Knowing Lauren was all right had taken a large load off her. She wanted to find her and give her a bone-crushing hug and never let her go.

She opened her eyes and reached for the door handle just as her cell phone chirped. She swore under her breath as she pulled it out. She noted the phone number and her eyebrow raised in speculation as she flipped the phone open. "Gray."

"Ash? Where the hell are you?" Lu's angry voice asked.

Ash's brow furrowed. Why the hell was Lu angry with her now? "I'm sitting in the parking lot of Benson's building if you must know."

"Why aren't you with Lauren? Did you realize she was almost shot today? Where the hell were you?" Lu shouted the accusations into the phone.

Ash pulled the phone away from her ear and fought down the urge to bark back. She listened as Lu ranted, waiting for her to wind down so she could get a word in. Finally, Lu's accusations petered out. "Are you finished?" she asked in a deadly calm voice her knuckles white upon the steering wheel as she fought back her own anger.

"Yeah," Lu said shortly.

"I didn't get here in time to stop Lauren from going to the campus. I arrived there just in time to see the bastard shoot," Ash informed her friend in a cold voice. "It was the same guys that tried to run her down in Spokane. I'm sure of it."

"You are?" Lu asked surprised by the information.

"Yes," Ash answered with conviction. "Now I just have to figure out who they are and who hired them."

"You think they were hired? They're not doing this on their own?"

"I don't know. It's just a gut feeling," Ash replied not knowing why she felt that way, but knowing deep down it was true. Something had tickled her intuition at the hospital but for the life of her she couldn't pull it forward and examine it. She shook her head in frustration. "I have to go and check on Lauren. Good-bye, Lu."

"Ash wait!" Lu shouted but was cut off as Ash slapped the phone closed and slipped it back into her pocket.

She opened the truck door and stepped out into the light drizzled. She pulled up her collar and trotted towards the back entrance of Benson's building. Her stomach had begun to flutter at the thought of seeing Lauren again. She so wanted to see her, but at the same time was afraid to.

She pulled the door open and ducked inside quickly. She automatically took in her surroundings and was relieved when no boogeymen jumped out of the shadows. She ran up the stairs three at a time and only slowed as Lauren's door came into view.

She raised her hand and knocked before she could lose her nerve. She cocked her head and listened for any movement within. Her brow furrowed when no sound came. She pounded harder on the door, feeling the fear begin to creep up and try to overwhelm her hard fought calm. Still no answer came.

"She's not ignoring me. She's just not there. Where the hell could she be?" she asked aloud as she stared at the door in consternation. She glanced down the hall at the closed door of her cousin's apartment, but knew he wasn't home since his car wasn't in the lot. She sighed in frustration as she tried to think of what to do next.

"I have to figure out who the hell is after Lauren and why," she muttered as she turned and made her way back down the stairs to her truck.

Something kept niggling at her, but she couldn't seem to catch it. She pulled the truck door open and climbed in. She rested her head upon the steering wheel. "Think! Damn you! Think!" she ordered as she gripped the steering wheel tightly. "What do I know?"

She brought up all she had dug up at Lu's and after. She knew the shooter had been one of the men that had been in the car that had tried to run Lauren down in Spokane. She thought the man in the car that he had escaped in was more than likely the same one that had been in Spokane with him. But who the hell are they? She thought in frustration. She knew they had some experience in crime, since the car had been wiped down. On the other hand, the shooting was totally out of character with a couple of hired guns. Too messy. Too risky, she thought confused by the contradictions.

She sat back and let her mind go free. Trying not to force any conclusions. Praying her intuition wouldn't let her down and would put the pieces together. Alexi! Her mind shouted and she sat bolt upright. Alexi! Yes, she's the one incongruity! Where does she fit in? Ash thought as her mind raced trying to follow the allusive thread. Why did she come looking for Lauren? What was so important that she went looking for Lauren on campus? She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as tried to puzzle it out. What connection could Alexi possibly have with Lauren? The answer rose out of the turmoil and she ground her teeth. The sight of Alexi Reid escorting a tall blonde at the charity auction flashing through her mind.

"Judith," she hissed as her eyes narrowed dangerously.

She jammed the keys into the ignition and gunned the engine. She pulled out of the parking space and put the truck in gear, her mind whirling with the idea that Judith Sinclair could be behind all this. "Only one way to find out," she said through gritted teeth as she peeled out of the parking lot.


Rachel had fought back her curiosity about the conversation Lauren had had with Sheila throughout the drive to her place with Benson not wanting to say anything about Ash in front of her cousin. She was nearly bursting when they finally arrived at her place and the door was securely locked behind them.

"Okay, I can't wait any longer!" Rachel proclaimed.

Lauren turned and stared at her in surprise. "What the heck are you going on about, Rach?"

"What did Sheila say? What was that about Ash?" Rachel asked as she herded Lauren towards the bedroom.

Lauren went willingly. "She said Ash was supposed to be here," Lauren told her as she settled down on the bed.

"She is here," Rachel announced with a knowing nod as she climbed up on the bed and sat cross-legged next to her best friend.

"What?" Lauren shouted in shock as she stared at Rachel nonplussed.

Rachel couldn't help but laugh at the pole axed expression on Lauren's face. Lauren glared at her and she waved in apology as she fought down her amusement. "Sorry, Laur, but the expression on your face was priceless."

"Just tell me what the hell you meant," Lauren demanded impatiently leaning forward.

"I think I saw her on campus," Rachel replied.

"What? When?" Lauren asked feeling her insides clench once more and her heart speed up.

"Right after that guy shot at us. I sat up and looked around and saw him running like the hordes of hell were on his tale. And sure enough, right behind him was Ash. Either that or someone who was doing one amazing impersonation of her," Rachel informed her eagerly.

"You're kidding?" Lauren asked and Rachel shook her head. "Okay, you're not kidding. Then why didn't she stop?"

Rachel shrugged. "I dunno. From the looks of things she was trying to catch the bastard."

"Didn't she care that I could've been shot?" Lauren asked quietly. Rachel raised an eyebrow at her and she quickly added, "That we could have been hurt?"

"That's better," Rachel teased as she patted her knee. She thought about it for a moment. Everything had happened so fast that seeing Ash had totally escaped her until she heard Lauren mention her name while on the phone with Sheila. "I think she saw what happened and it freaked her out. She didn't know if we were okay or not but she did know who was responsible. She probably focused on him and just went after him."

"I would've stopped," Lauren said not comforted in the least by Rachel's logic. She couldn't believe that Ash could have seen her shot at and had not even stopped to see if she was all right. How could she not want to? Didn't she care?

"Lauren! You're not listening to me!" Rachel reprimanded her giving her knee a slap.

"Ow! Yes, I am!" Lauren shot back petulantly.

"No, you're not. Now listen," Rachel said and waited until Lauren nodded. "Imagine you're Ash and you just got there in time to see some guy pull out a gun and shoot at the woman you love." Lauren opened her mouth and Rachel unceremoniously clapped her hand over it. "Don't interrupt," Rachel warned. Lauren rolled her eyes and nodded in agreement. Rachel lowered her hand and continued, "Now you're feeling guilty because you got there too late to stop it. You can see the guy responsible running for the hills. You know your ladylove is mad at you and you're not sure what your reception with her is going to be, but you do think you can catch the guy responsible for hurting her. So, what would you do?"

Lauren's eyes fell from Rachel's guiltily. "I did blame her didn't I?" she stated quietly.

"Yep, you sure did," Rachel agreed not softening the impact one bit.

"And Ash is the type to go after the threat and ask questions later," Lauren offered remembering all the conversations with Lu and Sheila over the last few days. She had begun to understand what made Ash tick a lot better after talking to her friends.

"And we were taken away by the cops so when she did come back, she wouldn't have found us," Rachel said.

Lauren's head shot up and her eyes widened as the implications of that sank in. "Oh my god, Rach! She wouldn't know who was hurt or anything!"

"Nope. Not a clue," Rachel agreed.

"She could be under the impression that I was the one shot or even…" Lauren's voice trailed off as it shied away from the idea that she could've been killed.

"Yeah. She could think you're dead," Rachel stated bluntly.

Lauren nodded as tears brimmed in her eyes. "Oh Rachel! I have to let her know I'm okay! She must be going crazy!" Lauren pleaded as she grabbed Rachel's sweatshirt and shook her.

"Easy, easy," Rachel said as she gripped Lauren's hands and pried them away from her shirt. "You have her cell phone number?" Lauren nodded brightening. "Then call her!"

Lauren smiled. The first genuine smile Rachel had seen in days as she wheeled around on the bed and lunged for the cordless phone. Rachel curled up on the bed and propped her head up on one hand as she watched Lauren dial the phone and press it to her ear. Lauren was practically humming with impatience as she listened to the phone ring. Rachel knew the exact moment Ash answered by the way Lauren seemed to melt. All the tension just seemed to flow out of her and a smile was pasted on her face.

"Ash, honey? It's me," Lauren said into the phone.

Rachel scooted a bit closer as she listened.

"No, no, I'm fine," Lauren assured her. "Alexi jumped in front of us." Lauren cocked her head as she listened and nodded. "Yeah, she probably saved my life."

Rachel bit back the urge to interrupt and ask what was being said. She found her patience somewhere and waited.

"I'm over at Rachel's. We decided it would be safer here," Lauren informed her as she leaned back against the headboard. She listened intently and frowned. "I thought you'd come over here?"

Uh oh, Rachel thought hearing all the warning bells go off at once. Lauren's posture changed dramatically as she continued to listen to whatever Ash was saying on the other end of the line. Oh boy, this does not look good.

"Yes, I understand that, Ash, but I want to see you," Lauren said struggling for calm. She gripped the comforter in her free hand, her knuckles going white in frustration. She sat up bringing her knees up and wrapping her arms around them. She rested her head on her knees as she met Rachel's sympathetic eyes.

Rachel reached out and began to rub Lauren's back trying to offer some kind of comfort. It was pretty obvious that the one thing Ash was not going to do was come here and see Lauren. Is she some kind of idiot or what? Rachel couldn't believe it.

"Okay, Ash. Fine. Yes. Bye," Lauren said. She pushed the off button on the phone and let it drop onto the bed where it bounced between the two friends before coming to rest against Rachel's knee.

"Guess that didn't go so well, huh?" Rachel asked weakly.

Lauren sighed and closed her eyes before replying. "She said she was glad I'm okay. She knew it had been Alexi who had been shot. She found that out at the hospital."

"Why isn't she coming here to see you?" Rachel asked carefully, preparing herself for the explosion.

"She says she has a pretty good idea who is behind this and wants to follow it up," Lauren stated in a monotone.

"Oh," Rachel replied not sure what to say. Lauren's reaction was not what she had expected and she wasn't sure what to do. "Ummm, did she tell you anything?"

"Hell no!" Lauren muttered angrily. "She said I should just stay put and stay safe until she could clear all this up. Yeah, whatever."

Rachel sat back in surprise at the vehemence in Lauren's voice. "Well, she does have a point, Lauren. She just wants you to be safe and she is trained for this sort of thing."

"Yeah?" Lauren said glaring at her.

"Yeah," Rachel nodded meekly.

"So I'm supposed to just sit here and wait for her or the damn cops to clear all this up, is that it?" Lauren demanded as she hugged her knees tighter.

"Pretty much," Rachel said quietly.

Lauren's face suddenly crumpled and she bit back a sob. She quickly turned her head and buried her face against her knees.

"Oh Lauren," Rachel sighed as she wrapped her friend in her arms and rocked her gently. "Let's just go to sleep. Maybe we're just overtired and all this will seem a bit less surreal in the light of day."

Lauren nodded against her and allowed Rachel to lower her to a prone position on the bed. Rachel got up and turned off the lights before climbing into bed next to her. They laid in the dark listening to the silence lost in their own thoughts.

"Rach?" Lauren's voice asked breaking the silence.

"Hmm?" Rachel murmured.

"Do you," Rachel waited for Lauren to find the words. She rolled over and pulled Lauren into her arms giving her a gentle kiss on the top of her head. Lauren relaxed against her and sniffled. "Do you think Ash is worth all this?"

Rachel's eyes popped open in surprise. She was thankful for the darkness that hid her reaction. "Don't you?" she asked trying to keep her voice neutral.

"I…" Lauren's voice trailed off and Rachel had begun to think she had fallen asleep when Lauren continued, "I think she is, but this whole thing is really scaring me, Rach."

"Yeah, me too," Rachel said giving her a reassuring squeeze. "But it won't always be like this. I mean this is just a weird fluke."

"Are you sure?" Lauren asked her voice practically begging for reassurance.

"Of course I'm sure," Rachel said pouring all the confidence she could into her voice. "Now just relax and go to sleep. We'll think about all this tomorrow."

"Okay," Lauren said through a yawn as she relaxed back into the pillow. "And Rach?"


"Thanks," Lauren whispered.

"Welcome," Rachel said with a smile evident in her voice.

They curled up together and let the exhaustion of the day finally win and pull them under.


Roy wiped the sweat from his brow as he closed the door firmly behind him. He had been relieved when he had contacted his cousin Gary earlier and had been told they would help. Now, now he was starting to wonder if the help was worth being treated as the butt of every conceivable joke. He shook his head trying to dislodge the memory of the interview with his uncles and glanced around the room. He frowned when he noted that Tommie was nowhere to be seen.

"Tommie?" he called as he loosened his tie and strode further into the bedroom. "Where the hell did he get off to?" he wondered aloud as he pulled off his jacket and tossed it on the bed with a grimace. He hated monkey suits but you didn't go before the uncles wearing a stained t-shirt and jeans. He sank down in the recliner next to the bed with a grunt of pain. He grabbed his right side and gritted his teeth waiting for the pain to subside. Gary had taped up his ribs and told him he'd live but they'd be mighty sore for the next couple of weeks. No shit, he thought moodily as he picked up the remote and flipped on the television. He wanted to see the 10 o'clock news.

He sat back in his chair and wished he had thought to get a drink before he sat down. He glanced wistfully at the wet bar across the room but decided the pain wasn't worth it. His attention was drawn back to the television when he heard the phrase, "shooting on local university campus." He turned up the volume and waited.

"It has been confirmed that the woman injured in the shooting on the campus today was none other than the jazz singer, Alexi Reid. Why she was on the campus or if she had been the actual target of this act of violence is still unknown."

"Shit," Roy sighed in disgust. He knew he should have expected it, but part of him had hoped that Tommie had really shot their actual target.

"The singer is in critical but stable condition doctors say…"

Roy listened with half an ear as the reporter went on and on about the victim's condition and how the police were on full alert. Roy snorted. "Yeah, I'm so impressed. Those guys couldn't find a bad guy unless he was disguised as a jelly donut."

He turned off the television and leaned back in his chair trying to think. The uncles hadn't given him a lot of options to choose from. Basically he and Tommie had screwed up royally and they were none too pleased. They definitely did not want to clean up their mess. They had told them they'd get them out of the area and hide them until things cooled down, but that was it. Yeah and if they knew there was a good chance the Gray Wolf was after us, they wouldn't even be willing to do that.

Roy's eyes popped open when the name of the victim finally sank in. "Oh shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!" he swore as he pulled himself out of his chair. He gasped in agony, having forgotten the delicate state of his ribs and almost crumpled to the floor in pain. He grabbed his side and willed his breathing to slow so the pain would subside. "We're dead men. Absolutely dead."

"Who you talking to, Roy?"

Roy glanced up and saw his brother standing in the doorway of the bathroom. His hair was clean and slicked back still wet from the shower. He had a fluffy white towel around his neck and a bathrobe on. He had shaved and if Roy hadn't known him the way he did, he'd say that Tommie looked almost normal.

"You stupid prick!" Roy growled through gritted teeth as he straightened and glared at his brother.

"What?" Tommie asked dumbfounded. He took a step back and held up his hands defensively. "What'd I do?"

"You shot the wrong bitch! Do you have any idea who you plugged?" Roy demanded as he took a menacing step towards his brother. He clenched his fists at his sides struggling to keep his temper in check.

"What are you talking about? I plugged the blonde just like I was supposed to," Tommie defended as he eased to the side and attempted to side step his brother. "I saw her fall. I saw the blood."

"No. You did not! You hit the wrong one! You stupid fuck!" Roy roared clutching his ribs and breathing hard.

"Easy, Roy. You're going to hurt yourself," Tommie said solicitously. His brother was scaring him and he wasn't sure what the hell he was talking about.

"No, I'm going to hurt you, Tommie," Roy promised quietly as he took another step forward. Tommie tried to slide past him but Roy reached out and gripped his arm.

"Roy, you're hurting me," Tommie whined trying to pull his arm free from Roy's iron like grip.

"Good," Roy stated as he shoved Tommie towards the bed and forced him to sit on the edge of it.

Tommie sat and plucked at the edge of his robe nervously. "What's wrong? I thought you talked to the uncles and everything was fine now."

"Well, I did talk to the uncles," Roy replied as he crossed his arms across his chest and scowled at his brother. "They had agreed to help us. Of course they don't know the whole story. Shit, I didn't know the whole story 'til five minutes ago."

"What?" Tommie asked totally at a loss. He glanced up at his brother his eyes pleading for Roy to explain and make everything okay.

Roy shook his head in disgust. "You shot the boss's bitch, Tommie. Her piece of tail. Do you have any idea who that is? Do you have a clue what the boss is going to do to us if she finds out we're the ones responsible?"

"I shot the blonde, Roy. I know I did," Tommie asserted nodding his head.

"No. You. Did. Not!" Roy grated out between clenched teeth. "You missed her. You shot the singer, Tommie. Do you get it?"

Tommie stared up at Roy with a blank look. He shook his head. "No. I saw the blood. I saw her fall. I got her," Tommie said once more. He pointed his finger at Roy. "Pow! And down she went."

"You stupid fuck!" Roy roared as he leapt forward and grabbed his brother by the shoulders shaking him roughly. "You missed her! Do you hear me? You missed! You hit the wrong bitch!"

"No, Roy, I…" Tommie argued as he struggled against his brother.

"Yes! You shot Alexi Reid! She's famous and now there's an APB out for the dumb fuck who shot her in broad daylight in the middle of a fucking college campus!" Roy shouted as he shook his brother with more force letting all the anger and frustration loose, his ribs forgotten in his rage.

"Alexi who?" Tommie managed to get out as his head snapped back and forth. He had grabbed on to Roy's arms but was unable to break their hold. "I don't understand."

"No, you wouldn't," Roy growled as he flung his brother down on the bed in disgust and turned his back on him. He couldn't stand to look at him for one more second. He was afraid he'd kill him if he did.

"Are the uncles going to help us or not?" Tommie asked petulantly as he righted himself on the bed and rubbed his right shoulder eyeing his older brother's back warily.

Roy pressed his lips tightly together to keep from laughing at the futility of it all. Trying to explain the repercussions of Tommie's actions to him was like trying to explain physics to a chimp. He twisted his neck and was rewarded by a loud crack. He grunted and reined in his anger before turning to look once more at the albatross around his neck.

"Yeah, they said they'd help," Roy replied shortly. "Get your shit together. We'll be leaving in the morning."

"Okay, Roy," Tommie agreed readily. He stood and, scooping up his towel where it had fallen in their tussle, made his way through the bathroom to his room on the other side.

Roy watched him go with a mixture of rage and brotherly love. He loved his brother. He really did, but sometimes he just wanted to kill him for being so damn stupid. He shook his head ruefully. He wondered if he should call the boss. He thought about it for a moment and his imagination had no problem playing out that scene in his head. He shuddered and decided maybe it would be more prudent to just quietly disappear. She'd know soon enough that they had failed. Hopefully she just won't figure out it was Tommie that put that bullet in her squeeze, he prayed fervently.


The sound of high heels echoed eerily in the empty corridor of the hospital as Judith strode quickly towards the ICU unit. Her assistant had finally gotten a hold of her a few of hours ago and told her that Alexi was in the hospital and she needed to get there as fast as she could. Judith had been angry at the interruption. She was at the last call for an audition and she knew she had the part. All she needed was a few more hours and the part would be hers. She told her assistant she'd be there as soon as she could and ignored the horrified look her assistant gave her before nodding and quickly disappearing.

She had arrived at the hospital playing the perfect concerned lover. The doctors had eaten it up. They had all been gravely sympathetic as she clutched a tissue and listened with tears brimming. Her mouth curved into a sneer at the ease in which men were fooled by a few tears. She had figured Alexi had been injured on her shoot but was puzzled as to why they would fly her back here to Seattle if that was the case. The doctors explained that she had been shot. Shot! Now how could that have happened? The doctors had explained that Alexi had been on the university campus when a madman had fired at her and two other women. The other two were fine, but Alexi was in critical condition. She had survived the surgery and was now in ICU.

Judith attempted to make sense of it all as she turned the corner and saw and armed policeman standing outside one of the ICU units. She smoothed her silk jacket with her hand as she organized her face into the right mix of concern and fear for her lover.

"Hi, I'm Judith Sinclair," Judith said letting a slight waver enter her tone as she stopped before the officer.

"We've been expecting you, Miss Sinclair," the officer said gently. "The doctor said you could go in and see her but to not stay too long."

Judith nodded and decided a tear wasn't over the top so quickly pulled out a tissue and dabbed at her eyes. "Thank you," she said hoarsely as she stepped passed him. He held the door open for her and she walked in her head bowed until she heard the firm click of the door closing behind her.

She tucked the tissue back in her pocket and looked up. Alexi was lying in a huge bed with all types of monitors beeping around her. She had tubes in her arms and nose and her usual mocha skin was gray tinged. Judith cocked her head to the side as she studied her. She looks like death warmed over, she thought and glanced at Alexi's chest to see if she really was breathing. The rise and fall of Alexi's chest confirmed that yes, she was alive if just barely.

She sighed at the need to keep up the charade of being the concerned lover, but knew she really had no choice. Just think of all the publicity, she told herself as she stepped around the foot of the bed and sat on the edge of the chair beside the bed. She reached out and gently took Alexi's hand in hers and rubbed it gently. I could get a book deal out of this, she thought as she lowered her head and brushed her lips across Alexi's hand. You never knew who might be watching and she had to make it look real.

She heard the door open moments before the doctor entered. She refrained from looking up. She kept her head bowed over Alexi's hand hoping the doctor would think she was praying or some other nonsense.

The doctor cleared his throat gently. "Miss Sinclair?"

Judith waited a couple of heartbeats more before turning her head and looking up to meet the sympathetic eyes of a doctor in surgical scrubs. "Yes?" she asked hesitantly as she continued to stroke Alexi's hand.

"The police would like a few moments of your time when you're finished here," the doctor informed her quietly.

Judith closed her eyes and swallowed. She nodded minutely and then stood. She leaned over Alexi's still form and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "I'll be back, sweetheart. You just get better," Judith whispered just loud enough for the doctor to hear. She smiled slightly when she heard the doctor shift uncomfortably at her words of endearment.

She turned and gave the doctor a tired smile and waved for him to precede her out of the room. He nodded and pulling open the door strode back out into the hall. Judith spotted the two detectives waiting for her and her mind quickly began devising how she should approach the situation. Anger? Hurt? Hmmm, maybe a touch of both? Her mind clicked through the options as she stepped out into the hallway and met the hard eyes of the first detective. He's no fool, Judith. Watch your step, a voice warned deep within her. She nodded in acknowledgement as she held out her hand to the officer.

"Detective? What can I do for you?" she asked flavoring her voice with a touch of strain and a dash of anger.

"Miss Sinclair, if you'll just follow us? We have a room set aside. We just have a few questions and then we'll let you get back to Miss Reid," the detective said as he gripped her hand gently but firmly.

"Of course," Judith said breaking eye contact and pulling her hand from his warm grip. She did not like this man. She felt like his eyes bore straight through her mask. Be very careful, Judith. He could ruin everything, a small voice warned her quietly as it watched the tall detective through Judith's eyes. She nodded internally to the warning as she let a small gracious smile touch her lips for the detective. She waited for him to lead the way.

The detective nodded and strode down the hallway to a conference room with Judith and his partner in his wake. He pulled open the door and waved her in.


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