For disclaimers see part 1





With a small frown, Rachel stirred. She was in that comfortable no-man's land between sleep and consciousness and, while her body was still heavy with sleep, her mind was already trying to wake her up by processing some interesting impulses her nerves were sending to her brain. There was something warm and heavy pressing on her shoulder. It was not an unpleasant feeling and it stirred some long-forgotten memories in the back of her mind, but it took her a few moments to identify the weight; Hannah.

Rachel's eyes flew open and her whole body tensed. What was going on? Her eyes stared at the blond hair that was so close to her chin, a few strands tickled her nose.

"Hannah," she whispered, suddenly remembering why she was in the blonde's bed. Carefully lifting a hand, she felt the nurse's forehead, relieved to notice it was cool to the touch. The fever had not returned. That was a good sign.

"But now what?" Rachel mused, wondering how she could slide away from underneath the blonde, without waking her up. She had no idea if Hannah would remember anything from the previous evening and the last thing she wanted to risk was a scene. Their brief conversation that night could easily have been inspired by fever, but still, when Hannah had told her she had missed her, something inside of Rachel had shifted --- as if a heavy, painful burden had disappeared, leaving her with something much lighter, much more positive; hope, no matter how hard her mind tried to tell her Hannah would probably not even remember,

"Alright, sweetie," she spoke softly, slowly moving away from the body that had her pinned down in place. "I really need to get up."

Hannah's answer was a small sigh, as she stretched out an arm and draped it across Rachel's chest. The Doctor swallowed hard when Hannah's fingers grazed her breast and, for a brief moment, it was impossible to move. Her heart was pounding so fast, she could feel the blood surge through her veins.

Oh, my, God...I need to get out of here...

A little less carefully, Rachel lifted Hannah's arm and scooted away from her, out of the bed. When Hannah stirred she held her breath, waiting for the inevitable to happen, but the blonde just rolled onto her side and mumbled something unintelligible without waking up.

Rachel was so relieved, she almost felt dizzy and when she turned around to tip-toe away from the bed, she stopped dead in her tracks when a pair of twinkling blue eyes greeted her from the doorway.

"How long have you been standing there?" she breathed, pressing her hand against her chest.

"Long enough," Gertrude answered with a smug smile. "That escape was priceless, by the way."

"I bet," Rachel sighed. "Listen, it's not what you might think. I..."

"I understand that," Gertrude nodded. "I know you'd never take advantage of the situation. You're too darn honorable. I bet Hannah asked you to join her and I have to admit, Rachel, you two looked so cute last night."

"You mean...?" Rachel paled.

"Hey, I'm an old woman," Gertrude smiled. "I don't need much sleep. I got up around three in the morning and decided I'd check up on the two of you. Believe me, you both were fast asleep and very comfortable."

"Well, I...," Rachel raked her fingers through her hair and shot Gertrude an apologetic look. "It's...I do feel a little awkward though, I mean, after all that has happened and...I...."

"Relax, Rachel," Gertrude smiled, patting the younger woman on her arm. "Don't worry about it. Do you want some coffee?"

"Um...yes, I'd love some," Rachel answered, grabbing her cell phone from the table and stuffing it in her pocket, intent on calling her brother as soon as she left the bedroom. No matter how much she wanted to stay with Hannah, she was eager to see her daughter and spend a little time with her before she had to go to work. She had missed the little girl and even though the close presence of Hannah had been exhilarating, it had not erased the deeply-felt absence of Nicky.

Looking forward to hearing about her daughter's antics, Rachel followed Gertrude into the kitchen and cast a look at the clock at the wall; almost six o'clock. It was not too early to call Joe and Melissa; their children were usually already up at that time.

"Sit down, honey, let me pour you some coffee," Gertrude spoke, while walking towards the kitchen counter. "Still one dash of cream and two helpings of sugar?"

"Just some cream, please, Gertrude," Rachel answered, pulling her cell phone out of her pocket before sitting down.

"Aha, you wised up," Gertrude smiled.

"I did," Rachel answered with a smile of her own. "I'm not sixteen anymore and too much sugar tends to...stick with me these days."

"I know what you mean," Gertrude answered with a wink, putting a cup of steaming coffee in front of the Doctor.

Rachel sent the elderly woman a smile and looked down at her phone, intent on speed dialing her brother's number, when her eyes fell on a tiny icon on the display. The little envelope told her she had a message and immediately Rachel frowned. She had never heard her phone ring and she hoped Joe and Melissa had not tried to reach her in vain. Quickly punching in the right sequence to get to her inbox, Rachel noticed it was a text message. A little tense she opened the message and her eyes flew over the words. A feeling of relief flooded through her when she saw it had not come from her brother, but from the law-enforcement officer from the OSBI she had talked to after Nathan had taken his own life.

"Call me as soon as you have a moment," it read and it gave her a number.

"Everything alright with your daughter?" Gertrude asked, having noticed the frown in Rachel's forehead.

"Yes...yes, this is...this is from Jack Wilson, he works with the OSBI. He wants me to call him," Rachel answered, only then realizing Gertrude might not have a clue what she was talking about. "Um...did...what exactly did Hannah tell you about the talk we had last week?"

"Nothing much, really," Gertrude shrugged. "The only thing she mentioned was something about Nathan stalking the two of you and making threats. I didn't really understand what that had to do with you leaving, but I knew she'd tell me more as soon as she's ready."

"It had everything to do with me leaving," Rachel sighed. "He threatened to hurt Hannah, although, back then, I didn't know it was Nathan who was making the threats."

In a somber voice, Rachel told Gertrude about the letters, photo's and threats she had received and the reason she had left. Her words were concise and clipped and it was easy to detect the anger that was brewing just underneath the surface. After she stopped talking, she took a sip of her coffee, while Gertrude stared at her with disbelief in her eyes.

"That's simply horrible," the elderly woman stammered. "What a....little...what a monster!"

"That he was," Rachel nodded.

"You said he committed suicide," Gertrude continued. "How did he die?"

"Drove his car off a cliff in Arizona," Rachel answered. "Of course there wasn't much left, but they identified his car and they did find his badge, gun and all that stuff. He left a note as well, both in his house as well as in his office."

"I can't say I'm sorry to hear he's dead," Gertrude admitted with a wrinkled nose.

"I know," Rachel replied with a sigh. "He was...evil, for the lack of a better description."

"Amen to that," Gertrude agreed. "I do hope this Jack Wilson understands you had nothing to do with his...demise," she added, rolling her eyes, which made Rachel chuckle. "Let me know if he gives you a hard time. I know a few people in the OSBI."

"I'm sure you do," Rachel chuckled. "And I already feel sorry for them. I'll give him a call later today, right now I need to get my daughter and spend some time with her."

"I can't thank you enough, Rachel, for coming over and staying the night. I was so worried about Hannah."

"Which was absolutely justified," Rachel said. "She was very sick yesterday. She still is, but if she takes her medication on time, she'll be a lot better soon. Right now, she doesn't have a fever, which is good news."

"I'll let her sleep a little longer. Hopefully, she'll eat something later."

"That would be great," Rachel nodded. "Just make sure she drinks plenty of fluids. She needs that. And call me if you have any questions or...concerns..."

"I'll give you a call sometime this morning," Gertrude promised with a twinkle in her eyes. "If only to let you know how she's doing."

"Thanks," Rachel smiled with relief. "I'm counting on that."

"You certainly can," Gertrude promised, sipping from her coffee.


After driving to her brother's house, Rachel had spent almost an hour with her daughter, before having to leave for work. She went with a heavy heart, because Nicky had cried when she had kissed her goodbye and again Rachel had felt torn between the two people she loved most; her daughter and Hannah. The nurse's illness had brought that home tenfold and Rachel had to admit to herself she still loved the blonde. As a matter of fact, she had never stopped loving her. That's why it had been so easy to stay with Hannah during the night, even though it had made her question her qualities as a mother. Especially after seeing her little girl in tears.

Rachel did not have the energy to ponder over all the feelings that were raging through her system; she needed to focus on her work and that was a welcome distraction, even though she knew it would probably be another long day. And it was. From the moment she walked in, she was swamped with a neve- ending stream of patients. It was way past noon when she finally had a chance to sit down to have something to eat. Her heart skipped a beat when she checked her phone and found a message from Gertrude.

"Hello, Rachel. I know you' re busy, but I'm sure you'll be checking your voice mail sometime today. Hannah is doing a lot better. She still has that nasty cough, but I'm sure you know everything about that, since you spent the night real close to her. She has a low grade fever and still refuses to eat, but other than that, she's so much better. She's cranky as heck, which is a good sign," Rachel smiled when she heard Gertrude's low chuckle. "Of course she isn't talking about last night and I'm not bringing it up, that's something between the two of you. I'm only mentioning it, because I know you' re wondering about it," Gertrude added and, unconsciously, Rachel nodded. She had been wondering about that. "Anyway, give me a call when you're home, oh, and don't forget to call that OSBI person. You forgot, didn't you? Bye, sweetie, make sure to get a decent meal."

Rachel stared at her half-eaten turkey sandwich and grimaced. She was sure Gertrude would not approve of her meager meal.

"And I did forget about Jack Wilson," she mused. "How come those Jensen women always seem to be able to read my mind?" Rachel cast a look at her watch and decided to call the OSBI agent, before she would forget again. She was curious to find out why he wanted to talk to her and also a little worried. The Doctor could not help wondering if some new information had come up.

"Hi, this is Rachel Kendrick," she spoke when her call was answered.

"Good afternoon, Rachel. How are you? Thanks for returning my call," Jack Wilson's deep voice sounded.

"I'm fine, thanks, sir. Is there anything I can do for you?" she asked, feeling a little tense.

"There's something I need to discuss with you, Rachel. Do you have a minute?"

"Sure, go ahead."

"A week ago I received a phone call from Miss Jensen and..."

"Hannah?" Rachel interrupted in surprise. "Hannah called you?"

"Yes, she did," Jack Wilson answered. "She asked me if I was able to give her some more information about Nathan. Due to the ongoing investigation, I could not tell her much, but we started talking and then she asked me an interesting question. She wanted to know if I was a hundred percent certain Nathan had died during the crash. Of course, I was curious to find out why she would ask me a question like that and she told me it was probably just because she had this nightmare, in which Nathan was trying to get to her. It left her unsettled."

"I bet," Rachel mumbled, feeling her heart ache for the blonde. Hannah must have been petrified if she had gone as far as calling the OSBI.

"Anyway, we had a pleasant conversation," Jack Wilson continued. "Miss Jensen seems to be a very sensible, sweet young lady and our conversation left me unsettled. I could not help wondering if we had missed anything when investigating the crash."

"Did you?" Rachel asked, moistening her lips. Her heart was pounding in her chest and a nervous ball settled in the pit of her stomach.

"The dental records," Jack Wilson sighed. "It was the only thing we could identify Nathan with. I had a second look at it and again, it made sense, until I noticed the date on the x-rays. They seemed to be taken just a day before Nathan died. That surprised me and I had sent them to the forensic lab. They determined the x-rays were tampered with. They were not Nathan's."

"Oh, my God," Rachel breathed, suddenly looking very pale.

"Come to find out they were another man's. Some poor soul's, who might have been...used... by Nathan to cover his tracks. In short, Rachel, we have reason to believe Nathan is still alive. We have the dentist in custody and you understand we're hoping to find out a lot more about this soon. The reason I called to let you know this, is...your safety," Jack Wilson added in a soft voice. "You might consider..."

"I'm not leaving town," Rachel quickly interrupted, sounding very determined, even a little angry. "I'm not leaving her. Not again. If there's anything to face, we'll face it together."

And what does Hannah have to say about all this? A nagging voice in the back of her head immediately piped in.

"It might not be a bad idea to get together and talk some things through," Jack Wilson suggested, pulling Rachel's attention back to the conversation. "You, Hannah and me."

"Hannah's not well at the moment," Rachel sighed, feeling sick to her stomach. "But...I guess I...I should tell her."

"I'm sorry about all this, Rachel, I really am. Let's stay in touch, alright? I'll keep you informed of everything that I can share with you. After reviewing all Nathan's letters and the things you told me about him, your and Hannah's safety will be my first priority."

"Thank you, sir," Rachel replied, feeling drained of all her energy. Tears were stinging the back of her eyes and she tried to blink them away. She had no time to cry, she had to stay focused. She could not give into the desire to crawl away and cry. It was most likely that Nathan was still alive and there was no way to tell if or when he would make a move. However, if it would come that far, Rachel wanted to be ready. This time she would be prepared and, if Nathan would ever try to hurt her or Hannah again, she would put up a fight. She was determined never, ever toleave Hannah again, unless the blonde would decide she did not want her back into her life. Rachel swallowed hard and rubbed her tired eyes. Whatever would happen, no matter what decisions Hannah would make, Rachel was determined to do anything necessary to win back the blonde. No matter how long it would take her.


"Mommy hos...ho...hopsital?"

"No, sweetie," Rachel smiled. "We're not going to the hospital. Mommy's done working for the day. We're going to see Hannah."

"Hannah," Nicky repeated with a sunny smile. "Chwistmas Twee," she added, remembering the evening she and the nurse had spent decorating the tree. "Pwetty."

"The tree is very pretty," Rachel agreed, casting a look in the rearview mirror to catch a glance of her daughter. Nicky looked adorable in her soft yellow fleece jacket. It had a pattern of dancing polar bears and penguins and every now and then Rachel caught Nicky admiring the little creatures that were woven into the fabric.

"You' re very pretty as well," she smiled, grinning when she noticed Nicky's beaming smile.

"Hannah pwetty?" Nicky asked innocently.

"Yes, she is," Rachel nodded, while her stomach did an unexpected somersault. "Hannah's beautiful," she added softly.

It had been three days since her conversation with Jack Wilson and Rachel had tried to be patient and give Hannah a chance to recover from her bronchitis, before springing the news about Nathan on her. She had stayed in touch with Gertrude, calling the elderly lady at least twice a day. She had been pleased with Hannah's progress. The nurse was rapidly regaining her strength and, according to Gertrude, she was already planning her return to work. But before she returned, Rachel needed to let her know about her conversation with Jack Wilson. So, with her heart pounding in her chest, she had called Hannah, asking her if she felt good enough to see some visitors. Hannah had responded with a :"Of course!", which had sounded so warm and genuine, it had made Rachel smile.

After parking on the driveway, Rachel helped her daughter out of her car seat and, while walking towards the door, could not help looking over her shoulder, something she had started doing after her talk with the OSBI agent. The thought that Nathan was most likely still alive filled her with a mixture of fear and apprehension. She knew from Jack Wilson that her cousin had been involved in some illegal business, but she did not know the details. Who knew what Nathan was capable of? Rachel did not want to find out and had decided to be very aware of her surroundings, especially since Nathan had proved himself to be an excellent stalker.

"Rachel, come in," Gertrude greeted with a smile while opening the door. "Oh, and who is this pretty young lady?" she added looking at the toddler, who was trying to hide behind her mother's legs.

"This is Nicky," Rachel chuckled, feeling a pair of small but strong hands dig into her jeans. "Nicky, say hello to... Hannah's grandmother," she added a little hesitantly. She had no idea how her daughter should address the elderly lady.

"Hello," a small voice sounded from behind her and Gertrude laughed heartily.

"You obviously hadn't given that much thought," she grinned. "Nicky may call me whatever she wants to, but how about 'Granny'?"

Rachel nodded and lifted her daughter into her arms.

"Can you do that, Nick? Can you say 'Granny'?"

"Gwanny," Nicky obediently repeated and she sent Gertrude a shy smile.

"That's very good," Gertrude complimented the little girl. "I bet you and I will get along just fine. It's wonderful to meet you, Nicky. Do you like cookies?"

Rachel rolled her eyes when she felt Nicky almost jump out of her arms.

"Cookies," the little girl repeated with sparkling eyes.

"Figures," Gertrude responded, winking at Rachel. "That's how I was always able to catch your mother's attention. That is, unless Hannah was around," Gertrude teased and she laughed when she saw Rachel's blush.

"Are you harassing my visitors, Granny?" a soft voice suddenly sounded and Rachel's heart skipped a beat when her eyes fell on Hannah, who was clad in dark blue sweat pants and matching sweater.

"Hannah," Nicky cried out happily, wiggling her way out of her mother's arms. Rachel had no choice but to put her daughter down on the floor. The toddler immediately ran up to Hannah who knelt down to catch the little whirlwind.

"Hey, sweetie," she greeted the little girl, who had her arms wrapped around her neck, as Hannah pressed a kiss on the soft, dark hair. "How is my little Christmas tree decorating partner?"

"Hannah sick?" Nicky asked with a serious expression on her face. "Bad tummy?" she added, knowing from experience how it felt to have a stomach ache. Especially, after disobeying her mother and chugging down a whole cup of cold apple juice.

"I'm feeling a lot better already, Nicky," Hannah smiled, very aware of her grandmother's twinkling eyes and Rachel's silent presence. "I had a very good Doctor."

Over Nicky's head, her eyes traveled to Rachel's and what she saw almost took her breath away. Rachel was looking at her with such intensity, it was hard to miss the feelings she no longer tried to hide. For a few breathless moments, their eyes locked and it was only when Gertrude gently cleared her throat, that she was able to tear away from those dark, warm pools.

"Are you and Nicky staying for dinner?" Gertrude asked casually, trying to give both women a chance to regain their composure.

"Uh...Well, I...We don't want to impose, Gertrude, I mean, I..." Rachel stammered, still at loss for words after almost drowning in Hannah's eyes.

"I'll take that as a yes," Gertrude interrupted cheerfully. "Alright, girls, if you need anything, I'll be in the kitchen."

The elderly woman gently ruffled Nicky's hair while passing Hannah and disappeared into the kitchen, at the end of the hallway, carefully closing the door behind her. NeitherRachel nor Hannah could see the smug smile on her face.

"So, do you feel?" Rachel asked after a few moments of silence.

"A lot better, thank you," Hannah answered in a soft voice. "I meant what I said, I had a good Doctor."

"Thank you," Rachel smiled. "You were pretty sick. You know, Hannah, as a nurse you should know when..."

"Oh, please," Hannah interrupted, while rising to her full height again, taking Nicky with her. "Granny already gave me that talk. Three times, if I remember correctly," she added with a chuckle. "And then, of course Jake and Gary had to give their side of the story, so I've been properly scolded."

"I didn't mean to scold you," Rachel hurried to explain, but, when seeing the look in Hannah's eyes, she paused. "Okay, I guess I did mean to give you a lecture," she added with a sigh. "You scared the heck out of me."

"Why?" Hannah asked softly, not able to meet Rachel's eyes.

Rachel nervously moistened her lips and tried to ignore her rapidly beating heart. This conversation was taking an unexpected turn and Hannah's question had made her feel extremely vulnerable.

Honesty, Rachel, Honesty.

"Because...because I still...I care about you, a lot," Rachel finally answered, afraid that the naked truth would scare the blonde away, even though Hannah had asked for it. "And you were...delirious, your fever was very high and for a little while I really thought you'd be better off in the hospital," Rachel added in one breath, which made Hannah smile. The Doctor always had a tendency to talk fast when she was flustered, or nervous.

"You stayed the night," Hannah said, searching Rachel's eyes for a reaction. "I remember that."

"Oh," was the soft reply and Hannah bit back a smile. Rachel looked like a little girl who thought she had done a good job but was criticized instead.

Hannah stepped closer and shifted Nicky to her left hip, so she could reach out her right hand and cup Rachel's cheek. They were standing so close, Rachel could see the dark blue specks in the blonde's eyes. Her breath hitched when a thumb gently caressed the skin of her cheek, while a pair of blue eyes looked at her intently.

"Thank you, Rachel," Hannah whispered. "It meant a lot to me that you stayed."

I needed you and you were there...

Hannah leaned forward and Rachel felt her knees go weak when she realized what was about to happen. She clenched her hands into fists, determined not tomake a fool out of herself. But when Hannah's lips touched hers in the softest of kisses, Rachel let out a soft whimper, not aware she was holding her breath.

"We still have a lot to talk about, so, let's take it slow," Hannah whispered when she pulled back and Rachel could only nod, hungry for more, but content with whatever Hannah was willing to give. "You can breathe now," the blonde added with a twinkle in her eyes and, obediently, Rachel let out a shuddering breath.

"I guess slow would be wise," she agreed in a hoarse voice. "And yes, we do have a lot to talk about," she added, remembering her talk with Jack Wilson.

"Nicky kiss too," the toddler chimed in with a pout and both Hannah and Rachel chuckled.

"Of course, how could we forget you?" Hannah smiled, playfully tickling the little girl behind the knee. Immediately, Nicky started squirming and giggling. She reached out for her mother, unceremoniously jumping into her arms.

"Oh, that's one of your mother's spots as well," Hannah laughed, which was immediately followed by a round of coughing.

"You need to drink something and sit down," Rachel spoke as stern as she could, which was very hard, because in the last few minutes Hannah had made her heart soar.

"Yes, Doctor," Hannah spoke in between two coughs, obediently heading for the kitchen, closely followed by Rachel, who was carrying Nicky, feeling like she was walking on clouds.

As soon as she entered, Gertrude handed her a glass of water, shaking her head while Hannah was drinking.

"And you want to go back to work tomorrow?" she said in disbelief. "Honey, one whiff of the cold Oklahoma wind rolling down the plains and you' re back in bed! Tell her, Rachel."

"Um, yes, I'm afraid that's true," Rachel nodded, biting down on her bottom lip to keep from laughing. The way Gertrude argued was always delightful. "Right now, you might feel like a million dollars, Hannah, but it's a good idea to wait a few more days before going back to work. Were you scheduled to work this weekend?"

"No," Hannah shook her head. "But.."

"But the Christmas Holiday is coming up and the census is low. They've been reducing nurses all week. Go back to work Monday, that will give you tomorrow and the weekend. Be sensible, Hannah, please."

"Oh, alright," Hannah gave in with a sigh. "Between the two of you I can't win anyway." She glanced up at Rachel and almost blushed when she saw the warmth and affection in those familiar dark eyes.

"Thank you for humoring me," the Doctor smiled.

"Amen to that," Gertrude added, handing Nicky an animal cracker, which the toddler gratefully stuffed into her mouth.

"Chew, Nicky," Rachel frowned.

"Yeff, Mommy," Nicky answered, spraying Rachel with crumbs.

"Come here, sweetie," Gertrude laughed, taking Nicky over from Rachel and walking to the corner of the kitchen. Only then, Rachel noticed the toddler-size table and chair. "Here, why don't you sit down on this little chair here and I'll give you a glass of..." she shot Rachel a questioning look. "Juice? Milk? Tea?"

"Juice," Nicky decided and Rachel nodded.

Gertrude poured some apple juice in a colorful plastic cup and sat it in front of the happily chewing little girl.

"What do you say, Nicky?" Rachel gently reminded her daughter.

"Thank you," Nicky obediently said, glancing up to Gertrude through her long, thick eyelashes.

"You're welcome, pumpkin," Gertrude smiled, totally enamored with Rachel's daughter. She was amazed at how much the little girl resembled her mother and she had no problem at all imagining what the Doctor had been like at the age of two. No wonder Hannah had been totally shocked, the first time she had laid eyes on the toddler; the resemblance was uncanny.

"Do you want something to drink as well, Rachel?" Hannah asked, leaning against the kitchen counter and looking at the Doctor with clear, blue eyes that radiated warmth.

"There's fresh iced tea in the fridge, girls," Gertrude encouraged.

"Iced tea is fine," Rachel nodded, finding it harder and harder to tear her eyes away from Hannah. Something between them had shifted. It was as if Hannah had decided to let down a few walls. In their previous interactions, the blonde had been more distant, almost aloof, constantly making sure there was a physical and emotional distance between them. The fleeting kiss in the hallway had changed all of that and it made Rachel almost lightheaded to think about the implications of that gesture, and the words that had followed: 'We still have a lot to talk about, so, let's take it slow.' It meant Hannah was willing to give it a chance. To give them another chance. What else could she have meant? But what if Nathan would find out they were seeing each other again? How safe would Hannah be?

"Oh, God," Rachel whispered, rubbing her forehead. With her kiss, Hannah had opened a floodgate of emotions and right now they were starting to give Rachel a pounding headache.

"Are you alright?" Hannah's concerned voice sounded, while a hand gently squeezed her shoulder.

"I...I'm fine," Rachel stammered. "It's just..." she took a deep breath and mustered up a smile. "I guess I'm tired and I've got a bit of a headache."

"Hannah, take your woman into the living room and park her behind in a comfy recliner, or snuggle on the couch, I don't care," Gertrude remarked in a determined voice. "Fact is, she needs to sit down, before she falls down. I swear, you two make quite the pair."

"Come on, Rachel," Hannah said, grabbing her arm. She cast a look at the toddler, who was drinking her apple juice and she smiled. "Nicky, do you want to come with us, or do you want to stay here with Granny for a little while?"

"Gwanny," Nicky immediately replied, having noticed the box with crackers on the kitchen table.

"Okay. Mommy and I are next door, alright?"

"Ahwight," Nicky answered, looking up at Gertrude with a shy smile.

"Do you want some Tylenol?" Hannah asked, when she steered Rachel into the living room and gently pushed her down into her grandfather's old recliner.

Rachel shook her head, fighting the urge to grab Hannah's hand to pull the other woman into her lap, wrap her arms around her, bury her face in the unruly blond hair, close her eyes and soak up all the warmth and closeness she had so sorely missed for such a long time.

"I should be the one taking care of you," she smiled. "After all, you're the one who's sick."

"I've been lounging around all day," Hannah answered, pulling a face. "Granny's been spoiling me rotten those last few days. You, on the other hand, are the one who has been working all day. How was the ER? Busy?"

"Yes, it was," Rachel sighed. "There had been a house fire and a family of six had been brought in with some minor injuries and smoke inhalation. I had somebody who had fractured a wrist, an old lady who had taken a fall and needed a hip replacement, I had two patients who came in with bad pneumonia, a transient with hypothermia, a six year old with an asthma attack and a traveling salesman with a heart attack . And that was just at the start of my shift," Rachel smiled and Hannah chuckled. She knew exactly how busy the Emergency Room could be.

"I never regretted leaving the ER to work the floors," Hannah admitted. "I know it gets crazy there too, but it's different. I like it a lot better." The blonde nurse cast a look at Rachel and for a brief moment she seemed to hesitate.

"Go on," Rachel smiled, having noticed the expression on the blonde's face. "You want to ask me something."

"I do, actually," Hannah admitted, never taking her eyes off of Rachel. "From the moment you walked in today, I sensed there's something that...You seem upset," she spoke in a gentle voice. "There's this...anger. You control it well, but I see it anyway. What's wrong?"

Rachel looked at Hannah with a mixture of amusement, sadness and surprise, while she struggled to come up with the right words. In spite of the emotional and physical fatigue and the fear she had experienced from the moment she had learned Nathan could very well still be alive, Rachel was delighted by the fact that Hannah still had the ability to read her emotions so easily. Maybe some things had not changed at all.

"You still see straight through me," she remarked in a voice full of wonder.

"I'm glad," Hannah answered with a serious expression in her eyes. "I would have hated to lose that advantage," she added with a smile. "What's wrong?"

"I've missed you," Rachel answered.

"I've missed you too," Hannah replied softly. "But I already told you that, didn't I?"

"You remember?" Rachel asked with a hint of surprise.

"Oh, yes," Hannah nodded. "I might have been sick and delusional with fever, but I do remember that part. I'm glad I didn't have to drag myself out of bed to come and get you. It was sensible of you to take me up on my offer."

"It was a heck of a lot more comfortable," Rachel admitted. "I couldn't help wondering why, though."

"I was miserable," Hannah related. "Very miserable and I...I needed to feel safe and cared for. You always made me feel safe and, for some reason, after all that has happened, you still do. A few days ago I was too sick to question that. All I wanted was not to feel alone, I needed to feel safe. And you made me feel that way." Hannah swallowed hard when she noticed the moisture in Rachel's eyes. "I needed you and you were there."

"I'm glad," Rachel whispered. "I've let you down on so many other occasions, it's about time I start doing it right."

"You did," Hannah nodded with a warm smile. "It was a good beginning."

Again, Rachel's heart skipped a beat and her eyes flew to Hannah's to seek confirmation of what she hoped the blonde was telling her.

"Is that what it was, a beginning?" she softly asked.

"If you want to," Hannah answered, equally soft, while her eyes were held captive by Rachel's dark ones.

There was a long silence, in which Rachel fought for self-control. In her eyes, Hannah could easily see the rapidly changing emotions. They went from apprehension to confusion, to understanding and, finally, to excitement and joy.

"I want to," the Doctor finally answered in a voice that was hoarse with emotion.

"I hoped you would say that," Hannah replied with a mixture of a sob and a chuckle and before Rachel knew what was happening, Hannah had jumped up from her seat and knelt in front of her, grabbing both of her hands and pressing them against her lips.

"We have a lot of catching up to do," Rachel said and Hannah nodded.

"We do and we will. It's been years, Rachel, and a lot of things have changed. I mean, look at you, you' re a mother," she smiled through her tears. "We do need to take things slowly, but...I did a lot of soul-searching lately and I can't be angry with you. I'm hurt and sad for all the missed opportunities, but, even though you made the decision to leave all by yourself, I now understand you were only trying to protect me. I can't be angry with you for trying to keep me out of harm's way. I think I might have done the same thing. I don't think it's too late for us. We' re here now, you and I, and Nathan's gone. I really believe that, if we're both willing, we have a good chance to regain what we lost."

Rachel's eyes were almost black with emotion when she looked at the blonde while she was speaking. Hannah's words and the tone of her voice were so soothing, she felt like a loving hand had gently rubbed away the tainted and sore spots on her soul. Even though she knew there were still a lot of things to discuss and to get used to, she was grateful for the second chance and said a silent prayer of thanks.

"So, if I'd ask you out on a date, would you accept?" Rachel asked with a barely audible quiver in her voice.

"I'd love to," Hannah smiled, her blue eyes dancing with anticipation.

"Would you, please, be my date to Jake's and Gary's Christmas party?"

"Heck, yes," Hannah nodded with a twinkle in her eyes. "Have you ever been to one of those parties? Girl, you need me to protect you."

"That bad?" Rachel asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Oh, yeah," Hannah laughed. "And I'm glad you' re asking me as your date, because, if you'd have gone by yourself, I might have been jealous."

"Really?" Rachel laughed. "You've never been jealous."

"I've never felt this insecure," Hannah admitted sadly.

Rachel pulled free one of her hands and gently cupped Hannah's cheek. Her eyes were understanding when they caught Hannah's and she smiled a sad smile.

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sure I'll get over it," the blonde answered, closing her eyes and leaning into the touch. She was feeling tired and a little scared, but she knew she had done the right thing by, more or less, telling Rachel she wanted to work on reconciliation. Deep down inside, her feelings for Rachel had never changed. Even though, at first, she had ignored her inner voice, which had been trying to tell her the truth she tried so hard to deny, eventually she had to be honest with herself and admit there could only be Rachel. If she ever wanted to find true happiness, it would have to be with Rachel.

"You' re here now," she whispered. "We'll take it day by day and see where it leads us."

"I like that," Rachel admitted, no longer able to fight the urge to lean over and press her lips against Hannah's forehead. "There's something you need to know though," she added and Hannah's eyes flew open when she heard the distress the Doctor could not keep out of her voice.

"It's what you so easily saw, when you asked me what was wrong," she continued, rubbing Hannah's cheek with her thumb. "Hannah, I don't know how to tell you this, but, a few days ago, Jack Wilson from the OSBI called me and..." Rachel swallowed hard and took a deep breath. Hannah's eyes were huge in her suddenly pale face and Rachel had a feeling the blonde knew exactly what she was about to say.

"He's alive," Hannah whispered, softly moaning when Rachel nodded. Her eyes flew to the window and Rachel could almost feel the fear rolling off of Hannah.

"I don't know where he is, but he's not here," Rachel quickly said, grabbing the other woman by the shoulders and gently shaking her. "Hannah, he's not here, I promise."

"Oh, God, Rachel," Hannah whispered, pressing her hand against her mouth. "What if he comes back? What if he finds you?"

"Sweetheart, I'm more concerned about you," Rachel gently answered. "He hates me, but it was you whom he threatened to hurt."

"He hurt us both," Hannah replied somberly. "Deeply. By driving us apart, he knew we'd both be miserable."

"That won't happen again," Rachel promised. "You'll have to believe me. I'm not going anywhere."

"I believe you," Hannah smiled, squeezing Rachel's hand. "But what are we going to do?"

"You and Gertrude are moving in with me."

To be continued in part 9

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