Last Night

By Lariel

Lariel_a@Hotmail.com

 

General Disclaimer: The characters in this story may bear some resemblance to characters owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit gained by this.

This story contains references to women loving each other in an intimate way. If this offends, or legally you shouldn’t be reading it, please move on.

Comments welcome: I’d love to know what you think.....

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The noise was deafening; the clanking and grinding of the brakes and carriages, the muffled echoing tannoy, the laughter, shouting and chatter of all the people who jostled around - her head swam with it as it assaulted her ears and crashed into her skull, but she didn’t care. She liked the hustle and bustle around her - it felt real, made her feel real. Caught up even momentarily in other people’s lives - watching as people said goodbye, bought their newspapers, giggled and gossiped over cups of foul station coffee - she felt like she was finally living instead of putting life on hold the way she had for the past three months. Unconsciously - and she couldn’t have helped herself even if she’d tried - she grinned hugely as the excitement that had been growing inside her all day ripened and threatened to burst out.

Standing on the station platform, Charlie watched the lovers kiss, the husbands wave and the girlfriends cry. Still grinning, she sponged up all the emotion that pulsed around her, and stored it away for when her moment came. Which - she checked her watch - should be any minute now. Ten past four. She ran her fingers through coal black hair impatiently and peered up the platform, praying all the while.

"C’mon....c’mon......it’s ten past....where are you honey?"

There was a shrieking whistle, and the express train slowly chugged alongside the platform and ground to a clanking halt a few yards away. Doors shot open and the narrow platform was immediately filled with bodies jumping off the train, throwing suitcases to the ground and waving to their loved ones who waited, like Charlie, anxiously on the platform. Using her considerable height advantage, she strained over the crowd of people milling around, trying to spot a familiar golden head in the crowd. Her heart thumped with excitement as she checked the platform. Still no sign of her though, and as the crowd started to dissipate she walked quickly to the train, her way clearing as the crowds of people moved into the station concourse and spilled out onto the street.

"Where are you, Emily? You should’ve been on this train.....don’t tell me you missed it!" Excitement quickly turned to disappointment, and then uncertainty. "Maybe she’s decided to stay on longer.....maybe she’s having too a good time with them....she doesn’t want to come back yet. Maybe I’m not..." She dampened down the thought before it could take form in her mind, not wanting to let the black insidious whispering fill her thoughts. "Where are you honey?"

There was a "thunk" at the far end of the platform, and a slim figure stumbled out of the carriage and half fell onto the platform. Charlie immediately bolted towards the disturbance as the whistle blew and the train slowly began to pull away. The figure staggered to its feet, turned and spotted the tall woman bearing down on her; she hurled herself into outstretched arms. "Charlie!" She held onto Charlie’s neck like a drowning man seizes a lifebelt. "Oh ..... thank god you’re here!"

"Emily! I missed you too, honey!" Charlie whirled the smaller woman around and then tried to hold her at arms length, but she wriggled loose, buried her face in Charlie’s chest and let out a ragged, slightly weepy sound. "Are you alright? Has anything happened?"

"No." Two thin arms shifted their grip and wrapped themselves tighter round Charlie’s waist. "I just missed you so much." Came the wavering reply.

"Well I missed you too, but I’m not crying my eyes out!" chuckled the taller woman, and dropped a small kiss on the top of the blonde head; she was rewarded with a brief, watery smile.

"You never cry." She sniffled into a grubby handkerchief that was pulled out of her jeans pocket. "The day I see you cry, well......" Her face crumpled as she fought to hold back the tears that threatened to spill out.

"Hey, what’s wrong?"

"Nothing, really. I’m just so happy to be here with you. I missed you so much."

"That bastard Davies hasn’t been upsetting you again has he? I don’t know why you just don’t tell him to stick his bloody job - it’s just not worth it! The pay’s crap, your boss is a major loser with an attitude problem and ......and it takes you away too many times. Three months is a long time to be apart."

"I know."

"Hey, we’re together now and that’s all that matters. Let’s put your bag in the car and get you home." She swung the heavy holdall onto her shoulder, and steered the younger woman through the station and out into the car park. Once the bag was stashed and Emily settled and belted in, Charlie started the engine then spared a quick glance at the blonde sitting next to her; she was absently twisting the handkerchief round her fingers whilst staring fixedly at Charlie. Turning awkwardly in her seat, Charlie ran her hand through soft golden hair and twisted the thick strands round her fingers, savouring the silky feel as it brushed across her skin.

"I’m glad you’re home, Emily." Emily smiled back at her, and Charlie could feel her heart swelling as she stared into her partner’s eyes. Laying her hand against a smooth cheek, she leant in and lightly kissed her, closing her eyes to savour the warm, moist lips under hers and letting the touch and scent of her lover fill her senses and soak into her being, filling the gaping emptiness that had returned so emphatically over the last three months. She pulled back reluctantly when she felt the lips underneath hers part slightly, and sighed deeply. "Welcome back, beautiful. God, I missed you. We have got to see about getting you a new job!"

Emily just smiled, leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. She was silent for the journey home, and uncharacteristically still. Usually she would be chattering about anything that took her fancy - trading bits of gossip about the people she worked with, criticising Charlie’s driving - anything, all accompanied by restless movements, twisting and turning in her seat until Charlie would sometimes have to yell at her to be still and stop putting her off. Today - nothing. Charlie stole anxious sideways glances at her all through the short journey home.

"Hey!" She noticed a cut on Emily’s head which appeared to be trickling a little blood. "How did you get that?"

"Get what?" Emily’s vibrant green eyes opened slowly and focussed on Charlie.

"That cut on your head."

"Oh. I hit my head when I fell over trying to get out of the train."

"You hit your head? I don’t remember you hitting your head."

"I think I knocked it on the door as I was getting out - that’s why I fell."

"It’s bleeding a little - I’ll take a look at it when we get home. Is your head aching too?" The woman’s normally rosy cheeks were deathly pale and her lips were drawn. Emily dabbed at the cut at her temple with the handkerchief; dots of red bloomed on the white cloth and spread on the fabric, making it look like it was patterned with little poppies.

"Yeah, a little."

Charlie sighed deeply as she watched her slide down the seat and rub eyes which were already red from unshed tears. She brushed back blonde bangs and felt her forehead. No temperature - if anything, she was a little too cool. Better keep an eye on her tonight. She’s definitely not herself. "Nearly there, love." She stroked the woman’s brow and noticed how it seemed to calm her down - her breathing slowed and her eyes fluttered shut again. Her hand was captured, joined with Emily’s and brought to rest on the younger woman’s lap where it was squeezed tightly for the remainder of the ride home.

"So how’d it go?" Trying to break the uncomfortable silence that blanketed them, Charlie relied on Emily’s customary love of her job to break her out of her seeming preoccupation.

"How did what go?" The uncharacteristically short reply worried Charlie further.

"Whatever you’ve been doing for the past three months." Nervously, she turned a brittle smile in Emily’s direction.

"You know how it’s gone. We’ve spoken almost every day. Please watch the road!"

"Sorry. Just trying to make conversation."

Seeing the hurt in her normally untalkative partner’s eyes, and knowing how much Charlie hated to chatter when driving, Emily immediately felt guilty and stroked the hand clasped tightly in hers. "I’m sorry, baby. I shouldn’t have snapped at you - I’m a little tired after the journey. And my head really does hurt."

"You don’t look well at all, and you don’t seem yourself. Sure there’s nothing you want to tell me?" She rubbed the toned thigh underneath her imprisoned hand vigorously, trying to will some life into her normally vivacious partner.

"No, really. Please don’t worry so much. Davies has been as much of a pig as ever. The hotel we stayed in really was as bad as I told you it was - I still have the bites to prove it - and Davies tried it on again with me, like I told you but he won’t be doing that in a hurry; I threatened to tell his wife. And then the proposal we put to the board, the whole campaign I’d been working on for the past three months, was trashed because some bloody idiot in Davies’ department couldn’t be bothered to do the research properly. So I looked like a complete fool."

"Aw, honey I’m so sorry....."

"Don’t be. I’ve learned that there are more important things in life than that. Like you. You’re the most important thing in my life, and don’t you ever forget that, Charlotte Fisher. I can’t believe I wasted so much time - all the times we’ve been apart over the last year. I wish we could’ve spent more time together."

"We have our whole future together. All we need to do is get you a job closer to home where you don’t have to travel round half the known world, and definitely one where you won’t be working for slimy bastards with a very short life expectancy. If I ever get my hands on him......."

"You’d give him one of your best filthy looks, probably growl at him or something and generally intimidate him as only you can." Emily chuckled to herself and Charlie’s face lit up at the sound. It was the first laughter she’d heard from the usually boisterous and giggling blonde since she’d fallen out of the train. Let’s see if I can get a proper laugh.....

"What are you saying?" She turned one of her best mock filthy looks onto Emily, who chuckled again.

"Don’t even try it with me. I’m impervious to your glaring. I have the best protection against it."

"And what’s that?"

"Your love."

Charlie laughed loudly, a rich deep sound which filled the car and wrapped itself warmly around the small woman in the seat next to her. "You’ll always have my love, Emily. But you can’t blame me for at least trying out my new glares on you!"

"Oh, was that a new one? Which one was that then? ‘Squirrel caught in car headlamps’ glare?"

"So you don’t like my new glare? Mmm. Wonder if you’ll like my new kisses any better? I’ve been practising........I was hoping to try them out for real tonight......"

"I’d like that." Came the soft, shy response.

"Good," was the whispered comeback, and the words sent promising shivers racing up both their spines. "I was hoping you would."

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Another five minutes, and Charlie pulled the car into the drive, climbed out and dug out Emily’s holdall from out of the back. Emily hadn’t moved; she still sat, strapped into her seat with her hands clenched into fists and staring at the house through the windscreen. Charlie dragged the passenger door open and peered in. "You coming? Or would you like me to carry you in?" she teased.

"Of course I’m coming. This is our home."

"Yes...." Charlie’s brow wrinkled again, as the woman made no attempt to get out of the car. Has she lost her memory or something? Maybe that bang on the head’s hit her worse than I thought?

"And you don’t have to carry me in - you did that before, remember? Tuesday 13th April, last year. You said I nearly gave you back strain because I weighed so much, and then you made me give you a back rub. And then we...." Her voice husked, thick with tears again.

"We did." Charlie took Emily’s hand, tugged her out of the car and led her into their home. She settled her onto the settee, put the kettle on and headed upstairs to dump the bag and to rummage through the bathroom cabinet. Moments later, she was back with antiseptic, elastoplast and a cloth. Two aspirins and a glass of water were pressed into Emily’s hand.

"Here, take these for your head and let me have a look at that cut. It’s still bleeding a little."

"No, its okay. I won’t need these." The aspirins were tossed onto the table, and the water placed carefully on the floor. They were immediately picked up and handed back.

"Take them."

"I don’t need any damned tablets!" Charlie was pushed roughly away; she rocked back on her heels with shock. Emily again burst into tears, and threw her arms round Charlie’s neck. "God, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to do that!"

Cradling the wildly sobbing woman, Charlie rocked her gently and murmured soothing words to her until the sobs finally quietened down into broken hiccups. "Okay, I’ve had enough of this. You better tell me what’s going on now, Emily. You’re scaring me." Cupping the teary face between her two tanned hands, she gently brushed away the tears with her thumbs and kissed the trembling bottom lip softly.

"Make love to me." Two pleading green eyes stabbed right through Charlie’s chest and pierced her lungs, forcing all her breath out. It took all of her control to shake her head.

"No, I want you to tell me what’s going on Emily."

"Please. Please make love to me Charlie."

"Emily........" Her voice a warning, as Emily’s lips moved closer and she felt a hand run through her shortish black hair. One arm snaked round her back, pressing her tightly against the firm, slim body of the young woman.

"Please, I need you. Please do this for me Charlie."

Soft lips claimed hers, sucking gently, teasing and taunting as they had so many times before and with much the same effect - Charlie crumbled whenever Emily kissed her, especially when it was soft and loving, like this.....a kiss that reached down inside her, snatched the heart out of her chest and stole all reason out of her head. She groaned; a small little noise that signalled her almost surrender. Her head was swimming, and all she could feel, taste and hear was right in front of her. Hands sunk into thick blonde hair as she tried to deepen the kiss and take the initiative back, and she was rewarded by a whimper and a tightening of the arms that bound them closely together. Soon they were a tangle of tongues and limbs; she slid her hands to Emily’s face and rubbed the downy hair at her temples - dimly, she became aware of a sticky sensation at her fingertips, and she pulled back reluctantly to see what it was. Blood, still oozing from the cut and staining her fingers crimson.

"God, your head - here, let me fix it up." Emily barely flinched as her head was swabbed, cleansed and fixed - she just kept staring at Charlie and running her hands over her face, as if trying to cast it into her mind, ready to be replayed later. "There, you’re done."

"Thanks. I’m...listen, I’m sorry about earlier. I feel kinda silly - I don’t know what came over me. I’m just so glad to be home, with you and I guess I got a little emotional. I didn’t mean to scare you Charlie. I’m really fine. Honest."

"You’re sure? You know you can tell me anything. I only want to help you."

"I know. And you do, you always do. I do love you."

"I love you too. Listen, I booked us a table at Remelli’s for tonight, but I’m not really up for it now. What do you say we stay in?"

Emily chortled quietly, her eyes glowing a little. "What you really mean is, you don’t think I’m up to it. But staying in sounds good - I’d much rather spend the time I ...... I’d much rather spend my time with you." A sweet smile lit up her face, and Charlie couldn’t resist pressing a kiss onto the curved lips.

"Great! Then I’ll go knock us up something stupendous for dinner, using only my imagination and the leftovers in the fridge."

"Can we order take out?" The familiar mischievous grin appeared on the woman’s face, and Charlie ruffled the blonde hair before sauntering out to the kitchen, leaving a suddenly pensive Emily behind.

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Bits of wilted lettuce scattered all over the pure white worktop and tomatoes spilt their juices as Charlie sliced and diced with wild abandon and not much skill; her speciality salad - to be honest, the only thing she could make without burning, curdling or generally finding an inventive way to ruin. Even so, it usually ended up looking like a small bomb had exploded in the salad bowl, and the kitchen looked ten times worse. And to add insult to injury, all this frenetic activity was usually accompanied by loud and off key singing - today, Emily was treated to the strains of a ruined "Nessun Dorma", punctuated by many "C’mere you, ya little...." and "Ow! My finger! Goddam knives...."

Cautiously, she poked her head round the door and surveyed the battleground with a raised eyebrow. "Don’t tell me. Salad a la Charlotte?"

"What else?" the opera murderer paused temporarily in the act of bleeding a tomato to death, and smiled lovingly at the tousle headed woman craning round the door. "You coming in or you gonna hover in the doorway all night?"

"Yeah, I’m coming in. If it’s safe...."

"Of course it’s safe - what are you suggesting?" The stained knife blade waggled dangerously.

"I don’t trust you with those things - just be careful this time. I’m not taking you up to hospital again. Honestly, you’re hopeless with knives."

"And I need to be good with knives - why exactly? I’m a copy editor, not a chef. Or a soldier. My weapon of choice is my acerbic pen and my rapier like wit......" Said whilst chopping and crushing various defenceless vegetables, to be sacrificed for the greater salad good.

"Oh, I don’t know. I find your armoury to be pretty devastating....." The sudden purr behind her ear turned her spine to mush, a feeling which was intensified a thousandfold when Emily’s arms draped themselves around her waist. Charlie could feel her lover’s body heat through her thin cotton shirt, and she leaned back into the warmth; a small moan slipped out as she felt soft lips nuzzling at her neck. She groaned louder as they slowly travelled up to fasten on a sensitive earlobe, the movement mirrored by hands that wandered over her stomach and slid slowly up her sides to brush gently against her breasts. The knife was dropped, the decimated vegetables forgotten and Emily was quickly enfolded and kissed soundly.

"You....." muttered between passionate kisses, "...are a tease."

"Mmm. What’s your point?" Emily returned her attention to the inviting earlobe again, nibbling and licking until Charlie’s breathing quickened still further.

"I’m not sure."

"How’s that salad coming?" Blonde eyelashes batted innocently as Emily pushed herself away and headed over to the fridge. Pulling out a bottle of mineral water, she gave a cheeky grin and quirked a teasing eyebrow.

"You....." said with a waggling finger, "...are a tease."

"Maybe, but I’m your tease." The tease poured two glasses and hopped back over to Charlie.

"That you are. And don’t you forget it."

The cheeky smile was gone; abruptly, Emily’s mood slipped. "I’ll never forget you Charlie. I’ll always love you - you know that, don’t you?"

Charlie matched the beautiful, solemn face. "Of course I do, honey. And you know I love you too. I always have, right from that day you crashed your trolley into me in the supermarket. Sure, you near broke my leg, but it was the best day of my life." She was back at the chopping board, lacerating a sweet pepper. "...I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t found me that day. Don’t know where I’d be without you."

"Do you really think that Charlie?"

"Sure, honey!" She paused, staring deeply into murky green eyes. "I was going nowhere fast when you found me - you know I was. I mean, the day you crashed into me, I’d just beat up my boss and trashed his office. Not to mention drowning my sorrows until I couldn’t tell what day of the week it was anymore - Maria screwed me up and you know she did, just the latest in long line of failed relationships and wasted chances. I was this close to losing my job and Brian was gonna call the cops in ......and then there was the court case..."

Emily snorted. "I remember hearing clinking coming from your trolley, from all the scotch bottles. And all that frozen lasagna - I don’t know..."

"The diet of choice for screwed up, alcoholic failed script writers cum copy editors who’s girlfriend’s just run off with their brother, and who’s just been kicked out of work for beating up on their boss." Her tone turned pensive. "And who are up in court on charges of drunk driving. I still feel so guilty about that. I was such a stupid bitch in those days.....a pathetic bitch too weak to even get through a day without a drink."

"But you’re not like that anymore, are you? I mean - you’re stronger now." A slightly pleading tone crept into Emily’s voice.

"Only with you around I am."

"Don’t say that! You’re strong enough on your own, without me."

Charlie lay the knife carefully down and turned to examine the woman; very pale cheeks and unnaturally bright eyes stared up at her. "I guess, but I’m just so grateful that I don’t have to be. You give me strength, Emily - I can do anything, as long as I have you to come home to every night." Narrowing her eyes as she watched the blonde head slowly shake, Charlie folded the woman into a hug again. " Honey, are you okay? Is your head hurting again? You didn’t take those tablets, I know you didn’t......"

"Tell me you’re strong enough, Charlie - you could go on without me if you needed to...."

"I guess, but I wouldn’t want to. What’s all this about? You’re not planning to leave me, are you?" Said in jest, but fear clutched her heart in its icy fingers as doubt seeped into her mind. Emily’s response was muffled, as she buried her head in Charlie’s shoulder and burrowed deeper into the embrace.

"I wouldn’t ever want to leave you, love. I’ll always be here."

"Good." Charlie let out a small, very relieved breath. "C’mon, let’s get this salad dressed and presentable - I’m sure you must be hungry. You usually are....."

"I’m not hungry, but you go ahead. I’ll just sit with you, if you don’t mind." The head stayed fixed on it’s new resting place, pillowed on a soft, firm chest.

"You’re not hungry? Since when? If you’re tired, why don’t you go to bed or have a bath or something. That might make you feel better - go on, I’ll be up in a little while."

"No, it’s okay. I just want to stay here with you. I missed you while I was away, and I want to spend as much time with you now as I can. I don’t want to let you out of my sight."

"Well okay, but given where your face is buried right now, I wouldn’t say there was a great deal of sight being used!"

The head was finally lifted and to Charlie’s relief, a naughty smirk glowed on the bright face. "Oh I don’t know about that. I had quite an eyeful from where I was. But hurry up with that salad - looking’s good, but touching’s much better." Charlie mock sighed deeply, tickled the ribs underneath her hands and chased the giggling Emily out of the kitchen.

"You are a tease!" The salad was left untouched.

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Charlie crashed back onto sweat soaked pillows, panting and trembling, unable to do more than just lie there and try to suck breath into her body and attempt to wrap arms as feeble as boiled spaghetti around Emily as she collapsed on her chest. Slowly, she felt her wits and her strength returning, and cradled Emily’s body close to her own, wanting to prolonge the satin feel of flushed slick skin against skin.

"God," she gasped, eventually when she could trust herself to speak coherently. "You’re ..........that was......" She felt Emily stir against her as she buried her face deeply between her breasts; gradually, she became aware of a slight hot wetness against her skin, and caught a muffled sob. She raised Emily’s head, and saw the round cheeks glistening with tear tracks as the woman wept silently. "Hey... crying?"

She half smiled, and dragged a hand over her face. "You know I sometimes cry when we make love."

"Yeah, but you usually scream with it, and I end up with a headache. You don’t cry like this, love.....and you didn’t even..."

"I know - I wanted to make you happy."

"You do. And now you can make me happier by telling me what’s upsetting you so much today. You know I’m not gonna drop it."

Emily raised herself up and straddled the long body underneath her; she rubbed her eyes and nodded, ducking her head to avoid the silent demand that was coming from the eyes of her lover. She remained silent for a long while, absently caressing the side of the woman beneath her, then spoke quietly. "When I was away, there was an accident; a woman was killed on the road, and it was horrible. She was about....." The voice wavered, then broke hoarsely. "....she was my age and....I guess I’m just being silly, but it made me think."

"Aw, honey.......no wonder you’re so upset....."

"We could be gone, just like that - and no way of even saying goodbye or anything."

"But we’re not gone - we’re both here, love. Fine and healthy and here." Charlie pulled the woman down and cradled her head on her chest again, and hugged her tightly.

"Yes, here - we’re both here, aren’t we?"

"Yeah..." The face lifted, and Charlie leaned in for a long, sweet and reassuring kiss. "There’s proof....we’re definitely both here." Why are you talking like this? Please stop.

"I can’t leave you Charlie. I can’t stand to think of spending whatever comes next without you. I’m so afraid."

"Of dying?" Why are you saying these things - you’re not leaving me?

"No, of leaving you behind. We’ve all got to die - I accept that. But I’m so scared of what might happen to you when I have to go. You always said you needed me more than I needed you." Emily’s damp cheek pressed against Charlie’s as she wrapped her arms around her neck and held her tightly - so tightly, that Charlie could barely breathe.

"I do need you honey. But I don’t want to be having this conversation - I don’t even want to think about this."

"No! I want to talk about this - it’s important to me Charlie. I need to know....."

"No!!"

She grabbed a sheet and wrapped it round herself as she slid out from underneath Emily and almost ran for the bathroom; she slammed the door behind her and stared at her reflection in the mirror. The face that stared back at her was as familiar and as detested as ever - dark hair framing a tanned face, with blue eyes sent into relief by high cheekbones and finely sculpted brows. "She’s gonna leave you. She’s talking about leaving..." the dark image in the glass spoke to her, taunting her with views of what her life would become. "And can you blame her? Why should she stay with you?"

She touched her face, tracing the fine lines that radiated from her eyes, the tiny scar on the lip where a lucky punch had sidestepped her defences, the line in her brow carved by too much scowling. Shards of memory, shattered pieces of picture rained down on her - her fist flying into Brian’s face, splitting his lip; the contempt in Maria’s eyes as another empty bottle was hurled against the wall; the terror on Andy Thompson’s face as her car mounted the pavement and the sickening sound of his body hitting her windscreen - each razor sharp sliver was for ever embedded into her mind, twisting and turning viciously until the infection streamed out of her wounds and gushed through her body.

No, it was no wonder Emily wanted out. She was poison, pure and simple. She poisoned everything good in her life.

And Emily was the best thing in her life.

"She’s gonna leave you. And I don’t blame her. It’s no more than you deserve. She always was too good for you." She told the woman in the mirror.

"I’m not too good for you. Don’t ever believe those things about yourself."

Charlie gasped, and almost stumbled as she turned towards the sweet, low voice that always lulled the vicious murmuring in her mind.

"I wish you wouldn’t think those things about yourself. You’re so self destructive, Charlie. Just one little press of a button, and you crumple back into it, don’t you?"

"I don’t know what you mean....." she growled her response, eyes skittering around the room, baited like an animal sensing the trap.

"It’s so much easier, isn’t it? To hate yourself, to blame yourself - you don’t have to face up to it then. You always run right back to the past - bad things have happened before, they’ll happen again. Right? So much easier to believe that, because then you don’t have to try to do anything about it. So you run away, or hide at the bottom of a bottle."

A gruff snort was the immediate response, quickly followed by the cynical words that shot over her shoulder as she pushed her way past the smaller woman standing in the doorway and headed back into the bedroom. "If you always expect the worst, then you’re never disappointed."

"And so you’re expecting the worst now; that I’m leaving you. Well what if I was? What would you do then?" A sullen glare was the only answer. "Would you fall to pieces, Charlie? Would I find you coughing up your own guts like I used to? Would I have to look for you in the bottom of a Jack Daniels glass?"

"You seem to know so much about it - you tell me!" Clutching the wooden post at the foot of the bed, Charlie turned her back. Emily could see the drooping shoulders and bent head straining under the weight of guilt.

"I do know you, Charlie - better than you know yourself. I know you’re better than that, and I know you’re stronger than that. You can take whatever life throws at you, Charlie, and you’d wrestle it to the ground but you stop yourself because you’ve got this bloody stupid idea in that bloody thick skull of yours that you’re a weak, useless loser! And I don’t know how to help you see that it’s not who you are!" Sullen silence hung over the room, the atmosphere as thickly tangible as smoke. Emily took another deep breath, to steady herself for the expected onslaught. "I thought we were past all this. Do you know how it makes me feel, to see you give up on yourself so quickly?"

"What?"

"It hurts me, Charlie. You’d give up on us that quickly."

"I would never give up on us! You’re the one who’s talking about leaving!" Two vivid blue eyes pinned her in place and Emily could feel the air in the room tighten oppressively. "How the hell is this about me, anyway? You’re the one who started all this!"

"I would never give up on us, Charlie, and I would never give up on you. I thought I’d already proved that?"

The sweetly hopeful smile broke Charlie’s heart - it crept through her ribcage and blanketed her weeping heart, and Charlie’s fingers tingled from the light brush of warm downy skin as she swept her hand across a cheek and rubbed the small nose with it’s tiny bump to the side - the only visible sign remaining of a nose broken nine months before, after her final bout of heavy drinking. Then, she’d sworn that if Emily would stay with her, she’d get off the booze and get herself back together - make her a person worthy of someone like Emily. And she had. It had been bloody tough; impossible at times, when the thirst would crash through her system and have her screaming, or the dark midnight doubts would crowd her, giggling and whispering into her mind. But Emily had believed in her and had stuck by her, and so she’d done it.

She smiled back, relief streaming out of her eyes. "I know. I’m sorry. I love you Emily."

"Believe in me, Charlie - remember, I’ll always be here when you need me. But believe in yourself too. I can’t do it for you."

Charlie reached out and gathered the blonde into her arms; she pressed her lips to Emily’s and kissed her lightly. "What would I do without you?" She murmured, then flicked the tip of her tongue against Emily’s lips and sighed as she felt them move. They kissed deeply, slowly - hands freely roaming as the kiss lengthened and the sensations intensified; touch, scent and sound were all there was as their world shrunk to fingertips, lips and tongue. Roughly, Emily shoved Charlie back towards the still warm bed.

**************************************************************

She felt stirring at her side and the warm bundle that had nestled there got up, and padded down the stairs. Charlie moaned a little in protest as the sudden chill hit her side, and she snagged the wayward sheet and covered herself with it. A few moments later, the warm bundle was back again, lying alongside her; she purred and crept closer to the source of the heat - then yelped and shot back as her butt came into contact with an icy cold......substance. Wicked giggling accompanied Charlie’s graceless flight.

"What the hell....?" Charlie glowered at the little blonde as she blissfully sucked a spoon of ice cream, a wicked gleam in her eye and a positively evil smile on her face. Ruefully, she wiped off the ice cream.

"Aw! I was saving that bit for later...." was slurred around another dollop of ice cream. "Want some?"

"No thanks. What are you doing eating ice cream at....what? One o’clock in the morning?"

"I was hungry. Sure you don’t want some - it’s cookie dough.....c’mon, baby...open wide now....." The laden spoon was shoved into Charlie’s mouth, lost its contents and was quickly dumped back into the container, where it scraped out another lump and headed towards Emily’s eager mouth.

"Ack!..." mumbled Charlie around the freezing mouthful, "...too early......"

"Nah!" was mumbled back, "No time like the present. Being able to eat ice cream is one of the joys of being alive."

"Having it dribbled all over your body at one o’clock in the morning sure isn’t...."

There was a small choking sound. "......Actually, that’s a great idea. I can’t believe we never thought of that before! Let’s....."

"No! No way, Emily! Just go to sleep.....you’ve worn me out and I need to get my sleep. And don’t think I don’t realise that I haven’t made love to you all night....I’m just catching up my strength, and then it’s your turn!"

"Aw, c’mon Charlie! I’m not tired and I want to stay up and talk. This is such a beautiful time of night - so quiet and peaceful, with the world bathed in moonlight. Its that magical time when the world is suspended between sleeping and waking, between day and night - just on the edge of dying, and about to be reborn. It’s magical, Charlie."

A wistful look bloomed on her face; absently, she stroked Charlie’s moon washed body, tracing patterns along its contours as the faint silvery-blue moonlight turned her hair blue black and painted mercury shadows around her breasts and belly. Charlie shivered, and arched slightly into the feathery touch; Emily smiled, knowingly, and in that smile, Charlie saw her life laid bare - the promises, the past, the hurts, the joys, the future - all rolled into one small, blonde with the sweetest, most heartbreaking smile and the biggest, most forgiving heart she had ever met. Charlie fell in love with her all over again. She caught the meandering hand, and pressed a kiss onto the palm.

"Let me make love to you." she whispered against the fingers resting against her mouth.

"Do you remember the first time we made love?" The fingers stroked her lips softly, the warm tips tracing delicate patterns on the pink flesh.

"February 3rd, about 8 o’clock in the evening."

"You remember the time??" The fingers stilled.

"I remember how I felt. My heart stopped beating, and the whole universe shrank into twin points of vivid green light." Idly, she traced the eyebrows above the twin points. "I thought I’d died, for a while, until you brought me back. I’d never felt like that before. I know it sounds cliched, but I swear it’s true."

"Why didn’t you ever tell me that before?" Emily’s beautiful green eyes glistened; two bashful blue ones blinked, and skittered away as a wry smile tugged at the corners of Charlie’s mouth.

"You know I’m not much of a one for talking all fancy, Emily. I just say what I feel, plain and simple. I’m not very good at the hearts and flowers stuff - I hoped I showed you that in other ways. Let me show you now...." Pink lips drew one of the still digits inside; Emily’s eyes grew wide as Charlie’s tongue strayed up and down, and her breathing hitched and grew shallow as her finger was sensuously suckled. With an effort, she drew her damp digit out and tucked her hands behind her back, smiling at the obvious disappointment on Charlie’s face.

"You remember the good times, Charlie?"

"Oh yeah - so many of them. More than I thought I’d ever get in my life. I was so lucky that day, in the supermarket...."

"What’s been the best time, Charlie? For you?"

"How do I choose? Every day with you is the best time, honey.....what, you really want me to choose? Okay...ummm...then, I guess I’d say....yeah, the day we met. You looked so cute, standing there trying to stuff all those bottles...."

"..and frozen lasagnas........"

"...yeah, with me lying there all mangled up underneath the trolley, with frozen lasagna all over me. And I remember thinking ‘Wow! She’s hot!’ even then.....ouch! And I was so mad, and felt so embarrassed, and winding myself up ready for a big fight - cos I really wanted one that day - and then you pulled me out and stood me up and looked at me with those eyes, and when you smiled.....I was just.....gone."

Emily gave her another of those smiles. "And you - you were so funny, when you asked me if I’d like to have coffee. All bashful....." Emily dissolved into giggles on Charlie’s chest as she remembered the tall, dark haired woman with the lasagna in one hand and the scotch in another, twisting her foot as she ummed and ahhed her way through the request. "‘Umm...." Her voice went theatrically deeper, as she did a very bad impression of Charlie, "...ahhh ....uhhh....would you....I mean.....coffee....maybe.....?’ I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen, and then when you just grabbed my hand and dragged me to the coffee shop, I really thought I was in trouble. I thought I’d knocked you silly with that bump, and you’d just come to your senses!"

"I guess in a way, I did. But I just wasn’t used to people breaking down in hysterics whenever I asked them out. And I tell you what - wasn’t that coffee goddam awful?" The pair cackled with laughter; Emily composed herself first and lay on Charlie, enjoying the feel of her lover’s laughter shaking both their bodies.

"What was the worst time, Charlie?"

"What? Why would you want to remember those?"

"Because they’re part of the life we’ve shared too. They’re bricks in this building, just the same as the good times. So - what’s your worst time?"

"You shouldn’t have to ask. The day I hit you." Charlie turned over and made to bolt to her favourite hiding place, but a firm hand on her shoulder and a dead weight sitting on her stomach stayed her.

"Talk to me about it." A shake of the head was her only answer. "I know why you did it, and I’ve forgiven you - you know I have. I know it was the drink more than you."

"Maybe, but the drink just brings out what’s there....underneath. And that’s what scares me - I’m so afraid that I might do it again one day."

"I know." As Charlie felt her cheek being caressed, and heard the acceptance in her partner’s voice, her eyes blurred. God, what did I ever do to deserve a friend like you? You know who I am, and what I’ve done, and what I’m capable of yet you love me anyway.

"How did you get through that Charlie?"

"You got us through it, not me......."

"That’s not true. How did you get through it? Tell me."

"I don’t know....."

"You’re the one who gave up drinking. How did you do that?" Emily’s voice was urging, serious.

"I didn’t want to hurt you again. I wanted to be someone you could be proud of. Not some old drunk who can’t control her temper - just a loser with no control over her own life." Slow, huge tears were slipping between tightly closed eyes now, and her voice was hitching. "I felt ashamed and I didn’t want you to feel like that about me."

"There was a time for a while there that you were just going to walk away from it all. What stopped you?"

"How many times had I already run away? I ran from Maria - she wasn’t strong enough to help me, and I was running from the job. I finally realised that the drinking was just another form of running away, and I got tired of running. I wanted to, but I realised that I’d always end up back here, at the same place. Alone, lonely; hating myself and the world for what I’d become. Guess I still want to run - but at least it’s only as far as the bathroom these days...." She gave a rueful smile and sniffled. The path from the bed tods and stuff?

JANE

Shit. I bet he's filming us right now.

ANGELA

(intrigued)

Really?

EXT. BURNHAM HOUSE - CONTINUOUS

On VIDEO: We're across from Jane's window, looking in. Jane tries to shut the drapes, but Angela won't let her. Irritated, Jane retreats into the room. We ZOOM toward her, even as Angela [xelh
We see Angela standing at the window in her underwear, looking down at us. Jane joins her and is immediately unnerved by:

Their POV: In the Burnham's DRIVEWAY, the word "JANE" is spelled out in FIRE.

INT. BURNHAM HOUSE - JANE'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS

ANGELA

It's that psycho next door. Jane, what if he worships you? What if he's got a shrine with pictures of you surroundewas being buried alive ........Some of the things I said, back then....you know I didn’t mean them."

"I know."

Charlie pulled the other woman down to lie alongside her, and pillowed her head against a comfortable shoulder. Emily’s arms wrapped around her, and she stroked the tanned back of the older woman in long, slow strokes, soothing and comforting her normally stoic lover as tortuous tears ripped through her. "It wasn’t me - it was the poison in my mind coming out. I really don’t think I’d have got through all that crap if you hadn’t been there to give me strength."

"You don’t need my strength, Charlie. You have strength of your own - I just wish you could see that. You could’ve started drinking anytime and I wouldn’t have been able to stop you. It was you who was strong enough not to."

"Yeah, but only because of you....." Emily barely picked up the mumbled words as they were kissed onto her neck.

"But you still did it, don’t you see? You did it. Not me - I might’ve given you the incentive, but you had the inner strength needed to get you through all that. And look where you are today - a good job, your career’s looking up again, and you haven’t touched a drop in now. No more fights and no more trips to the hospital to get you stitched up. It’s down to you, Charlie. Please believe in yourself."

"Why do I need to when I have you to do that for me?"

Abruptly, Emily sat up and buried her face in her hands. "Because I might not always be here to do that for you! And I don’t want you falling to pieces - I couldn’t bear to think of you like that again." The small shoulders shook, and Charlie folded her arms around her and pulled her back onto her chest, where she rocked the small woman and whispered nonsense until Emily had calmed down a little.

"Love, I know seeing that girl killed has shaken you up - that’s obvious - but you really mustn’t get so caught up in this. Do you think that I don’t worry about losing you, or wonder what’d happen if something happens to me? We can’t spend our lives worrying about things like that - they’d drive us crazy."

"But what if it does happen? What if that girl’d been me? What would you be doing, right now?" Emily turned and gazed up at Charlie beseechingly; Charlie sighed uncomfortably and tightened ger grip. What the hell is with her tonight? I’m never gonna get any sleep at this rate, and I really don’t want to be thinking of this. But it was Emily asking, the woman she loved more than anything, so she took a ragged breath and took the plunge.

"Crying. A lot. And feeling like - well, I don’t know that I’d be feeling anything. And wanting it not to be true. And getting angry at you, for leaving me. And still not wanting to believe it. And feeling useless, because I wasn’t there when you needed me most, and wishing I could see you one last time. Just one last time."

"And if you could see me that one last time, Charlie - knowing you’d never see me again in this lifetime - what would you say?"

"I would tell you how much I loved you, and how grateful I’d always be to you because you gave me hope and made me realise that I could be the kind of person I’d always wanted to be. That you brought light, and love and laughter into my life, and that I’ll always remember you. And that I’ll miss you - every day, and I’ll be waiting until the day I die so I can see you again, and touch you, and hear your voice say my name, and feel your arms warm and tight around me. So I can kiss you, and feel you arch against me, and hear you moan as I make love to you. I’d say ‘thank you, and I love you, now and forever.’"

"And I would tell you how much I loved you, and how you were worth it. And how I believe in you, and that I’d want you to be happy and to carry on your life, and to remember me and all the things we were to each other." Tear stained cheeks met tear stained cheeks; they both cried in each other’s arms and Charlie clung tightly to the warm, living body of the woman who owned her heart. "And to tell you that, whenever you needed me, I’d be there. Just reach down inside yourself, Charlie and I’ll be there. Always - you remember that! I love you - God, I can’t tell you how much! Make love to me Charlie - please. I need you now......"

Tears and soft touches gave way to moans, caresses and kisses as the two moved together slowly at first; lingering kisses turning to passionate explorations, writhing and shuddering bodies entangled and bathed in the milk white moonlight as they both tortuously climbed towards release, for the first and the thousandth time.

**************************************************************

The harsh ringing of the telephone dragged Charlie unwillingly out of a deep sleep; "Em....Em, phone....." Absently she felt the empty space next to her as she crawled over the bed and lurched out of the room, down the stairs and into the hall. God, what bloody time is it? Jesus, it’s only 6.30am. Em must be in the bathroom. What the hell’s she doing in there at this time? Thankfully, the shrill tones of the bell stopped as she cradled the receiver between chin and shoulder, rubbing her eyes vigorously as she drawled a sleepy "Hello?"

"Ah....good morning, am I speaking to Charlotte Fisher?" The polite tones of authority stirred her brain, forcing her further into reluctant wakefulness.

"Yeah...speaking....."

"Miss Fisher, I’m calling from the county hospital at Kingston. My name is Dr. Hawes. I’m sorry to disturb you at such a time, but I’m afraid I have to speak to you urgently. It’s about a miss Emily Gardner."

"Emily? What...what about her? Hang on, I’ll just fetch her......" She turned and shouted up the stairs - silence greeted her.

"Miss Fisher, I’m afraid I have some bad news about Miss Gardner. I understand she had you listed as her next of kin....is this true?"

"Next of....I guess. She’s my partner. We live together." Sleepy eyes were rapidly growing wider awake.

"Ah, umm - I see. I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, but I’m afraid there’s been an accident......involving Miss Gardner. It happened the day before yesterday, but it’s taken us a while to identify her. She was carrying no formal identification on her."

"What are you talking about? I’m sorry, but I think you’ve got the wrong person....."

"There’s no mistake, Miss Fisher. Miss Gardner was involved in a car accident - she was hit by a drunk driver. She suffered a major head injury, and has been in a coma for the past two days. We’ve only just traced her hotel room and found your details - I’m so sorry we couldn’t tell you sooner."

"Look, is this some kind of sick joke, because if it is, I’m not laughing. Now get the hell off this line and go find someone else to......"

"This is no joke, Miss Fisher. I’m afraid Miss Gardner never regained consciousness and she died a little over two hours ago. I’m so sorry."

"Just get off this fucking phone now...I’m not listening to this! You sick...."

"Miss Fisher, please I assure you this is no joke. I’m so very sorry to be the one to tell you like this, but I wanted you to hear before the police arrive - they will be following up on this case. I’m so sorry for your loss. Please, if you need any more information or would like to discuss arrangements....please call. Once again, please accept my condolences on your loss."

There was a slight click, and the voice on the other end was gone. Charlie started at it in dumbstruck confusion for a long while, trying to pull her head together, before replacing the receiver on its cradle.

What the hell was that all about? There are some sick bastards out there! "Hey Emily! You’ll never guess what some sick bastard’s just told me........"

She bounded up the stairs and into their bedroom. The sheets were still rumpled and the tang of their lovemaking still hung in the air, a heady perfume which Charlie knew she could never get enough of. No sign of Emily there, or in the bathroom. She hunted around the little house, but there was no sign of the smaller woman. Back in the bedroom, completely lost and confused, she sat on the bed and felt the mattress still warm from where Emily’s body had lain. "Honey? Where are you?"

No answer.

"Emily?"

Still no answer.

"Emily! You’re scaring me!"

No answer. Jumbled images flashed into her mind - the cut on Emily’s head, the whimpers and moans she had made last night when they were making love, the feel of small hands sliding down her back and across her breasts; and over it all, the words of the doctor running through her head like a record with the needle stuck. "...she died a little over two hours ago....."

Just when they’d made love for the last time. Emily had cried like a baby, clung onto her as if her life depended on it, and as the huge wracking shudders that coursed through her body had spent themselves, she had whispered words into Charlie’s ear; "Remember me, Charlie. I love you. I’ll always be here when you need me." A choked sob forced its way through Charlie’s tight throat, as those final words buried themselves in her memory and the agony of loss began to eat into her heart.

There was a loud banging on the front door. She ignored it, gazing dumbly at the indent made by Emily’s head on the pillow; slowly, she reached out a finger and touched the blonde strand that lay across it. The knocking at the door came again, louder.

"Miss Fisher? It’s the police. Please come to the door - we need to speak with you."

"Honey? I need you now. Please come back to me." The strand of hair stirred slightly on its pillow, as Charlie’s words echoed round the empty room. There was more knocking on the door, harder and more insistent.

She rose, made her way down the stairs and to the door. As she opened it, she felt the early morning breeze ruffle her hair like a hand brushing through her locks and kiss her cheek. Emily’s words shot through her mind, again. "Just reach down inside yourself, and I’ll be there. You’re strong enough to deal with this. I love you, baby."

She stepped aside, and motioned the two officers in, and as she shut the door behind them, she felt the wind brush against her lips. She turned, squared her shoulders, and prepared to face the next, most difficult, phase of her life.


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