For disclaimers, see Part 1

 

Part 17

 

Chapter Seventeen

"There you are." Regina smiled up at Alex as the taller woman wandered into the living room and sat down on the floor beside her. She shivered, feeling the chill of the winter air on her partnerís clothes and gave her a disapproving look. "You were outside all that time without a coat."

Annoyed at being on the receiving end of an apparent scolding, Alex stared down at her hands and pressed her lips together as she reigned in her initial response. Anyone else would have been instantly treated to a verbal barrage of indignant outrage, but this was different.

No one else had gone to the lengths Regina had, sitting vigil by her side for countless hours in the hospital and then patiently caring for her after she was finally discharged. That knowledge made the words a simple reminder of the fact that someone else in this world cared about what happened to her.

It felt good: scary, but definitely good.

"I didnít think Iíd be out there that long." Alex raised an eyebrow and peered over at the blonde who simply shook her head and scooted farther away from her.

"Youíre making me cold," Regina complained, with a hint of a smile in her voice.

Out of the corner of her eyes, Alex caught the amused look on Carolineís face as she watched the two of them sitting on the floor with her son. Unable to resist the temptation, the brunette leaned closer and whispered in Reginaís ear. "I promise to keep you nice and warm later."

The blonde blushed to the tips of her ears while she fussed with Zacharyís pajama top and did her best to ignore Alexís teasing eyes. "Youíre toast," Regina growled back at her without looking up.

Alex chuckled happily. "Gotcha." She leaned closer to look at Zachary. "I guess heís pretty wiped out from the day," she commented, observing the young boy curled up contentedly in the Reginaís lap, fighting to keep his eyes open.

He was sporting a fresh pair of pajamas with a familiar-looking bear, sitting proudly on his shirtfront with one paw hidden inside a jar of honey. As Zachary pulled on his shirtfront the bearís eye stretched wide over the top of the honey jar.

"Heíll sleep the whole way home in the car and probably wonít wake up until tomorrow." Caroline folded a brown pair of corduroys and packed them into a small, duffel bag that held all of Zacharyís clothes.

Regina stroked the boyís curly blonde hair and smiled down at him as he drifted off to sleep. "He really looks like you, Caroline."

"Do you think so?" Caroline tilted her head and gazed down at her son from her vantage point on the couch.

"Yeah, he has your eyes and cheek bones. What do you think, Alex?" The blonde met Alexís curious gaze and gave her a quirky smile.

Regina watched intently as her partner glanced up at Caroline and then back down at the sleeping toddler, comparing their features.

"He definitely looks like you from the nose up," Alex concluded. Her attention was drawn to the hallway where she caught a glimpse of Michael walking past them, towards the kitchen.

A moment later, he walked into the room and joined his wife on the couch. Alex studied him, as he draped one arm over the back of the couch and tucked the other one in his pants pocket.

"I asked Mom to make a pot of coffee so I can get some caffeine before we leave."

"Wonít that keep you up all night? I can drive if you want," Caroline offered.

Michael shrugged. "Sheís already started brewing it. Iím not going to tell her to throw it out now."

"Fine, but I donít want to listen to you complain when you canít get to sleep tonight." Caroline continued packing Zacharyís belongings into the bag.

"I wonder where Jeff is." Regina interjected before her brother could utter a retort.

"Heís outside having a smoke," Michael replied, as he stretched both arms overhead and yawned loudly.

Alex lifted her head up and stared at Reginaís brother intently. He met her gaze momentarily, then, glanced away, before he stood up.

"Does anyone else want some coffee?" he asked, as he shoved both his hands back into his pockets. All three women shook their heads and Michael quickly disappeared from the living room.

"Iíll be right back." Alex curled her legs underneath her and stood up, bouncing on the balls of her feet lightly.

"Are you okay?"

Alex gazed back down at Regina and gave her a reassuring smile. "Iím fine." Before the blonde could ask her another question, she strode out of the room and into the foyer. I really hope Iím wrong about you, Michael, but Jeff was smoking his last cigarette when I was out there. Why would you lie about that? The hairs on the back of her neck started to prickle as she opened the front door and stepped outside.

After a few seconds, her eyes adjusted to the dark and she saw the huddled form sitting slumped on the bottom of the steps. Maybe you need to stop expecting the worst from people, Alex. What would Regina think if she knew what you were thinking about her brother? With a vexed sigh, she shook her head as her cynicism won out.

"Jeff? Are you doing okay?" Alex asked, as she descended the stairs. She thought he nodded his head but she wasnít sure in the darkness.

Jeff groaned and kept his head buried against his knees as he rocked back and forth.

"Too much to drink, Jeff?" she asked, wondering if heíd gotten sick and just decided to stay outside until he felt better, of course with the alcohol and the cold that wasnít a good combination either. Alex sat down on the steps and rested her forearms on her knees as she studied Reginaís brother.

"Nah." He shook his head.

Still not sure what the problem was, Alex wrapped an arm around his middle. "Come on, Jeff. Get up so you can move around. Youíre going to freeze out here."

He flinched and let out a muffled cry as she tightened her grip on his waist. "Donít touch me there. It hurts."

Confused by his reaction, Alex let go of him and rubbed her hand over his back. "What hurts?"

"I fell. It was stupid. I tripped over a rock and just landed on my side."

Alex glanced around the immediate area and frowned at the seemingly flat landscape of the driveway. What rock? "Did you hurt anything else?" she asked, turning her attention back to him.

"Just my face. Iím a klutz and it doesnít help that Iím stone, stinking drunk either."

"All right, well letís get you inside." She stood up and helped Reginaís brother to his feet.

Halfway up the steps, Jeff turned stopped and grabbed her arm. "Alex can we just go to the bathroom so I can wash up? I feel like a fool."

"YeahÖsure," she replied hesitantly, as they climbed up the steps together. She opened the door and walked inside, keeping herself between Jeff and the view from the living room. He almost escaped unnoticed into the bathroom when Regina walked out of the kitchen and came to an abrupt halt, her eyes widening when she saw Jeffís face.

"Good grief! What did you do to yourself?" She reached out a hand and tilted his face towards her as she inspected the angry looking discoloration on his cheekbone.

In the bright light of the hallway, Alex stepped around in front and looked for the first time, at the ugly bruise that was forming beneath his eye.

"I just tripped over a rock," he muttered and jerked his head away, but not before Regina witnessed the mixture of hurt and confusion in his eyes. Jeff staggered into the bathroom and turned on the sink faucet.

That was no fall, Jeff. If it was, then that rock must have jumped up and smacked you in the face, Alex thought as she stared after him. She watched as he huddled over the sink and splashed the running water on his face. Her skeptical expression softened when she glanced down and saw the worried look on Reginaís face.

"Alex?" Regina touched her arm and stepped closer. "Somethingís bothering you. What is it?"

The taller woman gnawed on her bottom lip and looked away as she considered what to say to Regina. Now how do I deal with this without making more of a mess of this situation?

She pondered while quickly considering her options. At the moment, all she had to go on was her instincts and they were screaming that Michael was responsible for what happened.

"Donít you think that if he fell, he might have some cuts and scrapes on his face instead of just a nasty looking shiner?"

"You donít believe him do you?"

Damn, thereís not much I can keep hidden from you anymore. Is there? "No, I donít. Iím sorry, Regina." Alex shook her head and stepped into the small bathroom behind Reginaís brother.

He was leaning heavily against the white, porcelain sink, so she slipped her arm around him to help steady him on his feet. Water dripped from his face as he glanced up at Alex in surprise and then tried not to let the pain show on his face.

"Donít," he whispered, trying to push Alexís arm away from him.

"Let me look at your side."

"No." He twisted out of her arm and slumped down onto the toilet.

"Jeff, look at me." Alex held his gaze and leaned down closer to him as she whispered to him. "It doesnít matter to me how this happened, but this is your family. Donít you think you owe them the truth?"

"Itís not a big deal, Alex," Jeff protested. "Let it go."

Alex shook her head and planted her hands on her hips. "I canít. I grew up living with someone who thought they could get away with terrorizing his family. Donít lie to me about it. I know all the ways you can try and cover for someone."

"He was pissed off at me. What do you want me to do?"

Regina tugged Alex away from Jeff. "Let me talk to him."

She knelt down in front of her brother, pulled a towel from one of the holders on the wall, and gently dabbed his face dry. Regina inhaled sharply as she got a close look at the welt that was forming along his cheekbone. "Alex, can you get me some ice from the freezer?"

"Yeah," the taller woman whispered before she left the bathroom.

"You didnít fall, did you?" Regina rested her hands on her brotherís thighs as she peered up at him.

Hazel eyes blinked and he lowered his forehead onto her shoulder. "Iím sorry. I was stupid to think I could come home after all this time."

"Donít say that." Regina rocked him in her arms and closed her eyes. She didnít want to believe what her gut was telling her. The signs were there. All she had to do was open her eyes and see the truth. "Iím glad you came home. Weíve missed you."

She looked up as Alex reappeared in the doorway and held out a plastic bag filled with ice and a wet dishtowel.

"Thanks. Did my mother ask why you needed it?"

"No, your father was the only one in the kitchen and he didnít ask any questions."

"Good." Regina took the bag and wrapped it in the towel before she lifted Jeffís head off her shoulder. "Hold this for me." She placed the ice against his face and held his hand to it.

Without a word, Regina pulled his shirt out of his khaki pants and ran her hand up under her brotherís shirt, frowning as she felt the heat radiating from his skin. "Jeff! You could have cracked a rib!" A mottled-looking purple bruise covered a fist-sized area over his ribs and he flinched as she pressed the palm of her hand to it.

"Itís just a bruise," Jeff replied weakly as he stared down at the floor in acute embarrassment.

Alex stepped out of the doorway and leaned against the wall with her arms folded over her chest. It was an all too familiar scene that made her guts churn as she watched Regina tend to her older brother, except in her family it had been her father who had doled out the beatings.

She looked up as Michael walked out of the kitchen, carrying a travel mug in one hand, and a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Her gaze settled on the angry looking bruise that was beginning to discolor the knuckles of his right hand.

His eyes narrowed as he realized what she was studying and he dropped his hand down to his side.

Gotcha! You bastard. Alex let a thin smile play on her lips as she watched him turn away from her.

Michael hesitated as he walked past the bathroom and glanced inside the room at his two siblings. "What happened to him?"

The concern in Reginaís eyes transformed to barely contained rage when she looked at her younger brother and then lunged up to face him. "Why donít you tell me, Michael?"

"Regina, donít!" Jeff pulled himself to his feet and laid a hand on her shoulder for support. "Itís not worth it."

"How should I know? Heís drunk." Michael readjusted the bag on his shoulder and glowered at his sister in apparent disinterest.

Regina stepped forward and grasped Michaelís wrist roughly, ignoring her older brotherís pleas. "Did you trip over the same rock he did and bruise your hand?"

"Youíre just as screwed up as he is," Michael sneered and pulled his arm from her grasp.

"Whatís going on?" Caroline asked her husband hesitantly, as she stepped from the kitchen, holding her son in her arms.

"Nothing," Michael snapped. "Jeffís drunk and weíre leaving."

Alexís eyes widened, as she watched her lover physically block her brotherís path. "Do you want to know why Derrick was a mistake, Michael? Besides the fact that I was living a lie, he was an abusive bastard."

"Whatís going on out there?" She heard her fatherís voice booming from the dining room before he appeared at the doorway, holding a drink in his hand.

"Regina Kingston! I donít need to hear that language in this house." Her mother stepped out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a dishtowel.

"Itís the truth, Mother."

"That son of a bitch hit you?" Jeff lowered the bag of ice from his face and stared at his sister in dismay.

Alice stepped over to the bathroom door and gasped as she looked in at her son. "Jeffrey, what happened to you?"

"Nothing, Mom," he whispered and quickly replaced the ice pack over his eye.

"Donít tell me, nothing! Look at your face," she cried in horror.

Caroline shifted Zachary in her arms and stepped over to Jeff. She covered his hand with hers and pulled the ice away, uncovering the damage. A gasp escaped her throat as she stared wide-eyed at his face.

Robert walked between his two youngest children to stand before his eldest son. "Do you want to tell me what happened to you?"

Jeff glared defiantly back at his father. "You didnít care what happened to me for the past seventeen years. What does it matter now?"

"Jeff!" Regina spun around and stared at her brother.

"I donít need to hear this," his father grumbled and promptly walked out of the room.

"Caroline, letís go!" Michael ordered, as he stepped around Regina and stormed towards the front door.

She jerked her head around and stared at her husband with a shocked expression on her face, then, snapped back at him. "Who do you think youíre talking to, Michael? Give me Zacharyís bag."

When he didnít answer, Caroline marched over to him and yanked the duffel bag off his shoulder. Instinctively, he tried to grab it as it dropped to the floor and winced as the weight of the bag dropped into his palm, jarring his injured hand.

"Whatís wrong with your hand?" Caroline frowned as she pulled the bag away from him and then unzipped it. She set her son on the floor and then pulled out his coat

"Well?"

"Nothing," he protested lamely, looking away as Jeffrey appeared next to Regina still holding the bag of ice to his face.

Carolineís hands shook as she worked to close the zipper on Zacharyís coat. The boy twisted around, whimpering softly for his fatherís attention but she lifted him up into her arms and walked back to Jeff and Regina.

"Regina can you hold Zachary for me?"

"Sure." Regina stepped forward and lifted the toddler from Carolineís arms and cradled him against her protectively.

Michael started to open his mouth to protest but promptly closed it as Caroline gazed at him through cold, gray eyes.

"Do you have a problem with your own sister holding him?"

"No, butÖ"

"I donít want you around my son."

"Caroline!" Alice cried out in alarm. "Donít say that."

"Alice, he may be your son, but heís my husband. Stay out of it!"

"Caroline, how can you say that? Iím his father."

"No! Donít you even talk to me after what you did tonight! You hit your own brother because you have a problem with who he is. Didnít you?" she continued without letting Michael get a word in to defend himself. "Frankly, I donít quite think I know who you are right now, so just go. Go homeÖalone." Caroline dismissed him with a wave of her hand.

His shoulders slouched in defeat, as he looked back at her in utter confusion. "You donít mean that, Caroline."

"Oh, yes I do." Caroline spread her arms out and leaned toward him as her voice rose an octave. "First, you donít have the decency to tell me your own brother and sister are coming home for your motherís birthday! Then I have to watch my husband act like a jackass the entire time theyíre here. If thatís not enough you insult them and assault your own brother! Do I sound like I want to go home with you?"

"ButÖwhere are you going to go?" he asked timidly.

"Iíll be at my motherís."

An awkward silence followed, as Michael slowly turned away and trudged to the front door.

"Caroline." Michael turned back around and looked beseechingly at his wife. "Can I say goodnight to Zachary before I go?"

Caroline closed her eyes and sighed after taking a few deep breaths. "Yes," she finally whispered and turned away as he walked back toward Regina.

His sister stared impassively at him as he stepped up in front of her. Wordlessly, without making eye contact, he lifted his son from her arms and held him to his chest. He buried his face in the blonde curls and inhaled the sweet scent of his sonís skin.

"Daddy will see you later, Tiger." He walked over to Caroline and after a brief moment settled their son in her arms. Michael pressed his forehead to hers and whispered. "Iím sorry, baby. I didnít mean for this to happen."

"Apologize to your family, not me." Caroline whirled around and walked into the kitchen.

Alice glanced back at her son briefly before she quickly followed her daughter-in-law.

"Well, that was a pleasant evening," Jeff remarked, still holding the bag of ice to his face.

"Why donít you just shut up?" Michael shot back at him.

"Thatís quite enough." Reluctant to let Michael anywhere near his younger brother, Alex stepped in between the siblings and folded her arms over her chest. She spent the better part of the day watching her lover negotiate her way through the emotional turmoil that the two brothers were at the center of. Several times she had to physically bite her lip to stop from getting involved even though she knew Regina was more than capable of handling herself, but enough was enough.

"Youíre finished here, Michael. The best thing you can do right now is shut your mouth and leave," Alex warned him.

"You have no right to tell me what to do!"

Regina stepped up beside Alex and wrapped her arm around her waist. "Michael, stop. I think youíve said quite enough for one night. So take your homophobic attitude and get out of here! Now!"

Enraged, Michael spun on his heels and stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him with enough force to rattle the window in their frames.

Regina groaned and rested her head against Alexís shoulder as the taller woman embraced her. "Oh my god, that sucked," she breathed into her loverís shoulder.

"You can say that again," Jeff echoed, wishing suddenly that he had allowed Darryl to make the trip with him.

Alex turned around, bringing Regina with her and draped her other an arm over Jeffís shoulder. "Howís your head?"

"Itís been better. I want to get the hell out of here and go home," Jeff complained.

"Youíre not going anywhere until you sober up," Regina told him. "Besides, you should give Dad a chance. Heís trying, Jeff. Youíve got to try and meet him halfway. Please?"

"Why should I? He never gave me a chance."

"Youíre right, but heís trying to now, Jeff. So donít throw it all away because of your stubborn pride."

Jeff stared angrily back at his sister and then dumped the bag of ice in the bathroom sink. "Great just what I need; a lecture from my sister."

Regina glanced after her brother as he walked away and then hugged both her arms around Alex tightly. "I donít think I would have survived today if you werenít here," she whispered as she tilted her head back to look up at her partner.

Alex shrugged and looked down into tired, green eyes. "Yeah, you would have."

"Maybe, but Iím still very glad you were here. Thanks." Regina rose up on her toes and kissed Alex soundly on the lips.

A moment later, the sound of someone clearing their throat from the kitchen doorway caught their attention and they both looked over to see Reginaís mother standing there holding the coffee pot, her eyes cast downward. She coughed and then looked back at the two women. "I wanted to know if you both wanted some coffee."

"Sure," Regina managed to croak out as she watched her motherís face flush in embarrassment.

"Good. Well, um, just come in and get it when youíre ready."

"Okay," Regina heard her voice crack and had to stifle a nervous giggle after her mother disappeared around the corner. She glanced up at Alex who was staring back at her with a shocked expression on her face. "She saw us kissing."

"Yes, she did," Alex affirmed, still getting over the shock of looking up and having Reginaís mother staring right at her as she was thoroughly engaged in kissing her daughter.

Regina nodded her head once and patted Alex on her stomach. "Oh boy."

"Well, at least we werenít skinny dipping in your parentís swimming pool," Alex offered with a deadpan expression on her face. She grunted softly as she found herself on the receiving end of a back handed smack into her gut.

"Why do I think you would have somehow enjoyed that?" Regina arched an eyebrow and glanced up at the taller woman expectantly.

"There is something to be said about the thrill of danger." Alexís eyes darkened as she looked deep into Reginaís eyes and let a seductive smile cross her lips.

"Is there now?" Regina smirked suggestively and tugged at Alexís shirt. Her smile turned genuine at the anxious look she received from the brunette. She reached for her partnerís hand and squeezed it, enjoying the brief episode of playfulness that had been missing from their lives for so many weeks. "Glad you think so."

Chapter 18

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