Part Eleven

 

Chapter Twelve

The narrow one-way street was packed wall to wall with people, mostly couples holding hands, meandering aimlessly along the sidewalks, walking in and out of the many shops. Funny, she had expected to feel a little intimidated by the overtly gay and lesbian community, but somehow it felt comforting. Maybe it was simply a gut reaction, seeing so many people here comfortable being themselves and not afraid of someone ridiculing who or what they were. The young doctorís mind drifted to her brother and she wondered if he had felt this way when he came here in the past.

Regina found a seat on one of the empty benches along the crowded street and sat sipping the lemonade she had bought earlier at one of the cafés.

"Hey, did you lose your girlfriend, sweetheart?"

"What?" Regina jerked her head up and shielded her eyes from the brightness of the sun through her sunglasses. She found herself looking at a tall, athletically built woman wearing a bikini top and running shorts. "No, Iím fine."

"You look pretty far away from being fine," the red-haired woman said. "My nameís Emily. Mind if I sit?" She settled down next to Regina, draping her arm casually over the back of the bench. "You come up here often?"

Regina groaned inwardly. It didnít matter what shape or form it came in, a pick up line was a pick up line. "No, actually this is my first time on the Cape."

Emily shifted on the bench so she was facing Regina. "So, are you up here alone?"

"No, Iím here with someone."

"Oh." Her voice was filled with disappointment. "Well, if things donít work out you can come find me. Iím at Gabrielleís." The woman stood up. "Listen, you look too nice to have someone trampling on your heart. Whoever it is, cut them loose."

Regina stared up at Emily, watching as the woman flashed her a grin and turned away, sauntering off down the street and disappearing into the crowds. She shook her head, feeling rather self-conscious about the womanís blatant attempt to pick her up. Regina had never been one to get involved in casual relationships and the whole interaction just now made her uncomfortable.

She made a face as she thought of her relationship with Derrick. Maybe Jeffrey was right about her being a little naïve and sometimes not seeing something coming at her until it was too late. Why else had she allowed herself to get that involved with Derrick and not seen him for who he truly was? Yeah right, Regina, you were just too damn afraid to admit to yourself that you were attracted to women in the first place.

She stood and looked up and down the crowded sidewalks wondering what to do next.

Regina spent the rest of the day ambling through the various shops. She stopped at one particular store and browsed through the books. She picked up a couple of non-fiction titles she thought would be helpful in dealing with the teenagers who often came into the emergency department and were struggling with their own identities.

Regina started to turn away from the shelves of books lining the walls but stopped as she passed the section for romance. She hesitated for a moment before she finally gathered her courage, walked over and allowed herself to look at the various titles.

The young doctor pulled out a couple of books and read the back cover. Not sure if she would like them or not, she put them back and found two other books that looked promising. Flipping through the pages, she stopped and read a couple of pages out of one of them; her pulse quickened and a shudder ran through her as she read the words.

She quickly shut the book, acutely aware that her thoughts had drifted quite unexpectedly to one blue-eyed, dark-haired woman as she stood there reading the passages. Get a grip will you, Regina? Feeling the warmth recede from her face she slipped the books underneath the ones she was already carrying and walked over to the counter. She could hardly make eye contact with the woman standing on the other side as she waited for her to ring up her purchase, afraid she could read the jumble of emotions running through her mind.

Regina walked out of the store feeling incredibly unsettled at her response to what she had read. It stirred something in her she hadnít really given much thought to until now. Yeah, sheíd had the stupid crushes on a couple of friends in the past, but she had always shoved those feelings aside. All it took was remembering the awful fights Jeffrey had with her parents and everything he gave up when he came out to them.

Regina shook her head; she knew she liked Alex as a friend. That was obvious enough, but a physical relationship certainly hadnít crossed her mind before now. Regina gave herself a stern reminder that it had been her own impulsiveness of running out to the truck to check on the injured woman that had gotten her and Alex into this situation to begin with. If sheíd just left well-enough alone Alex wouldnít be here and neither would she for that matter. A fine mess you made of everything, Regina.

The young woman walked toward the small park that sat below the Pilgrim Monument on Bradford Street. She looked up at the tall stone tower and watched as clouds swept by overhead, turning away as the motion of the white, billowy puffs made the tower look like it was swaying above her. Regina sat on one of the stone benches and pulled out her cell phone, dialed the hospitalís main number, waited for the operator to answer and then asked for Dr. Mitchardís office.

A moment later the line clicked and a harried female voice answered. "Office of Medical Affairs. How can I help you?"

Regina leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. "Hi. My name is Dr. Kingston. Iím calling to find out about when the medical review committee is meeting."

"What is the meeting for?"

Regina shook her head. "Itís about the Martin family." She cringed, knowing that by now, half the hospital had probably heard all the details and that, thanks to the grapevine, they were most likely gravely distorted.

"Let me check. I donít see it on her calendar." Regina listened to the DMX system playing music as she waited on hold.

"Dr. Kingston," the voice came back on the line. "That meeting is scheduled for next Monday."

"A whole week? Why so long?"

"Apparently Dr. Jameson isnít available until then."

Wonderful. "Oh. What time is it scheduled for?" She asked, brushing her hair behind her ear.

"Ten in the morning. Itís in the fifth floor conference room. Is there anything else, Dr. Kingston?"

"No, no thereís not. ThankÖ" Dial tone. "You." Regina looked at the phone and snapped it shut in disgust. She wondered why the meeting wasnít on Dr. Mitchardís calendar and why her assistant had been so short with her. Her brain ran through a myriad of possibilities. Great, maybe itís just a formality and they already know theyíre going to revoke our privileges -- and you think Alex is mad at you now, ha!

Regina leaned back against the cool concrete wall and looked up at the sky. She could still see the angry look on Alexís face when she had asked her about the store. It was obvious she had hit a raw nerve with her; now all she had to do was figure out why and how she could undo some of the damage she had done.

Regina decided she would walk along Commercial Street one last time before she headed back to the apartment. She walked several blocks lost in her own thoughts, then stopped and turned around, looking back down at the row of shops she had just passed. She recognized the tall figure standing underneath an awning of one of the stores. Regina hesitated, and then started walking toward the doctor.

"Alex?" Regina saw her back stiffen as the woman heard her name and looked warily in her direction. As she got closer, she realized that Alex had a ring of keys in her hands and had been trying to figure out which one opened the door she was standing in front of.

"Alex, I didnít mean to upset you before. Please donít be mad." Regina stepped closer, looking up at the guarded expression on her friendís face.

Alex hung her head and sighed. The last thing she had expected was to run into Regina down by the store. Idiot, what the hell did you think she was going to do, disappear? She fiddled with the ring of keys she was holding.

"Iím not mad at you Regina. I -" She dropped her hand to her side and looked up at the window. "This is Lanaís store. Itís not open today, so I figured Iíd check it out and see what Dana was doing with it."

Regina looked inside the window and back up at Alex, seeing the mix of emotions on the taller womanís face. "A lot of memories tied up in there, huh?"

You donít know the half of it. "Yeah, something like that," Alex said, trying desperately to come up with an idea to keep Regina from coming in with her.

"Let me come with you. I promise I wonít get in the way."

Alex lowered her eyes. "Regina I donít know what Iím going to find in there. I really donít want you to be here."

"Why?"

"Iíve done some things in the past Iím not proud of and Iíd rather not have you be a part of this."

Regina turned and looked up into the blue eyes that were staring off into the distance. "Alex, I donít know too many people in this life, including myself, who havenít done some things that they wish they could change or do over."

"No, Regina you donít understand. Iíve crossed boundaries most people wouldnít think of crossing." Her voice was quiet and resigned.

"Alex, you donít owe me any explanations. Weíre friends and Iím not going anywhere."

"God, are you always so damn stubborn?" Alex groaned.

Regina just smiled and nodded at the door.

Alex unlocked the door, pushed it open and stepped up into the darkened interior of the store. She wrinkled her nose as she inhaled the strong scent of recently burned incense. A new age melody was playing softly on the stereo system. The doctor flicked the light switch up on the wall, and the store was illuminated with the soft glow from the recessed lighting overhead. Alex stood still as a wash of memories ran through her; a hand touched her back and she opened her eyes.

Regina had an odd sense that Alex was deeply troubled standing here and it worried her. "Are you ok, Alex?"

She took a breath and forced her shoulders to relax. "Yeah, I wasnít sure how it would feel to be back here after all this time." She looked warily around the store.

Dana hadnít changed it much, she had to give her that. Lanaís tastes were always somewhat eclectic and that was what her store had been centered around. Alex walked over to a glass shelf and trailed her fingers along its edge as she looked at the jewelry and gifts that adorned this corner of the store. There were candles of every shape, color and size scattered along the shelves, and long thin envelopes of incense were stored in the wooden bins that were built into the wall. In the center of the store, Dana still maintained a small collection of artwork from the local artists that she sold on consignment for them.

Alex turned around to find Regina quietly studying her. "What?"

"I always enjoyed stores like this. They have such a warm feeling to them."

Alex shook her head grimly. "This wasnít the part of the store that I had much to do with." She walked past the counter with its register sitting at the end of it. Long strings of beads still hung in the opening to the cellar. Alex felt her gut start to churn as she stepped closer, remembering the long dark hours spent in the room below, making deals, and losing a part of herself that she wasnít quite sure she would ever get back.

She closed her eyes, putting a hand up to the wall to steady herself as a vivid memory flashed by in her mind.

She was sitting on the chair next to Dana, watching as she held the spoon over the open flame, liquefying the white powder. She was already in a haze from snorting cocaine earlier and she was feeling disconnected from everything going on around her. Richard walked up in front of her and held out the rubber tubing.

"Come on Alex. What are you afraid of? Weíre all friends here, right?" He smiled and looked over at Dana. "Weíll take good care of you."

Hesitantly, she held out her arm as she watched Dana draw the liquid up into the syringe. The tubing bit into the flesh around bicep and she felt the pressure building in her arm as her veins became distended.

Dana knelt down in front of her and took hold of Alexís arm. She probed roughly for the vein and jabbed the needle into it. As she depressed the plunger, she released the band around the doctorís arm.

Alex remembered Dana smiling and leaning in to kiss her as her vision narrowed and her heart pounded furiously in her chest. When she finally came to much later, she was lying sprawled on the couch half-naked in Danaís apartment. She picked her head up and looked around the room. She felt the bile rise in her throat as she saw Dana, Richard and two other people who she didnít know sprawled about the room in various stages of undress. She pushed her body off the couch and staggered to the bathroom; collapsing in front of the toilet, she vomited.

She walked on unsteady legs back out to the living room and looked down at the table strewn with drugs and other paraphernalia. Alex sifted through the contents, feeling her heart race as she confirmed her fears and stared hopelessly at the single syringe lying next to the bag of cocaine.

Alex let the painful memory fade and opened her eyes, gazing around the room. "Just as I remembered," she muttered quietly to herself.

"Whatís that?" Regina walked up to stand beside Alex.

Alex started, almost forgetting that Regina had been standing there. "These candles." The doctor shook her head and pointed with her finger. "Left to right." She ran her hand across the wooden shelf. "Marijuana, Cocaine, Heroin, Ecstasy and Amphetamines. All you had to do was light a candle. That was Danaís code so no one else in the store knew what we were doing."

"We?" Regina looked up at her, realizing for the first time what Alex had meant when she said she had done things in the past that she wasnít proud of. She felt her gut twist in reaction, wondering how involved Alex had been in Danaís world.

Alex looked down at Regina. "I donít think you want to be here, Regina."

"No, I want to stay, Alex."

"All right. Iím going downstairs. Stay up here." She parted the strings of beads with her hands, listening to them click softly against each other as they swung in the air, and reached to her left and found the switch for the light. A small circle of pale yellow light filled the darkened space below. Alex cocked her head as rustling and then a high-pitched whimper reached her ears. She walked down the narrow wooden steps, bending forward to see farther into the cellar.

"What is it?" Regina asked, standing on the landing above her.

"A puppy."

"Ooh, let me see," Regina said.

Alex made a face and stepped down as Regina squeezed past her. The clatter of little claws on the metal tray of the crate became frenzied as the puppy danced and whined while Regina knelt down to investigate.

"Itís a German Shepard. Alex, look its ears arenít even standing up yet." Regina had her fingers on the crate and was laughing as the puppy eagerly nibbled on them.

Alex shook her head and walked over to the crate. "She must have bred Thor," she commented as she recognized the familiar markings.

"Thor?" Regina looked up at Alex.

"He was the guard dog that Dana kept in the store. Iíd recognize these markings anywhere." She knelt down beside Regina and slid the latch over and let the puppy out. He scrambled out of the crate and playfully jumped up, grabbing a lock of Alexís hair in its mouth and tugged on it. "Hey." She pulled the now wet strands of hair from its mouth and swept it back over her shoulder. "So whatís your name?" Alex asked, lifting the squirming bundle of fur up into her arms.

Regina reached up and scratched between its ears. "Heís cute."

"Yeah, heís going to be huge. Look at the size of these paws." She picked one up and squeezed it with her hand.

Alex stiffened as she heard the sound of a key turning in a lock. "Take him." She shoved the puppy into Reginaís arms.

Whirling around at the sound of hinges creaking behind them, Alex tucked Regina behind her, backing her up into a darkened corner of the room. She pressed her fingers to Reginaís mouth, silencing the question that she was about to ask. Alex brought her fingers back to her own lips, motioning for Regina to stay quiet. Squeezing Reginaís shoulder quickly to re-assure her, Alex glided silently in the shadows, along the back wall. She grabbed a wooden dowel off the table, listening as the heavy wooden door groaned as it was slid open. Alex stepped closer, waiting as a shadow wavered and then moved forward into the room.

Grabbing a fistful of shirt, Alex spun the intruder around and pinned them up against the wall with the dowel pressed hard against their neck.

"Damn it Alex, get off me."

"What are you doing here, Dana?" Alex demanded, shoving the dowel hard into Danaís chest.

"I might ask you the same question," Dana snarled.

"Itís my store now. Iím just checking out the inventory," Alex replied smoothly, slowly releasing the pressure off the dowel.

Dana rubbed her neck and glared at her. "Bullshit. Hey, what is she doing here?" Dana jerked her head Reginaís direction.

"It is my store. I can invite who I want."

Dana looked over at Regina, letting her eyes roam over her and licked her lips suggestively. She burst into laughter as Regina shifted her feet and found the puppy at her feet much more interesting.

"Really Alex, I just donít understand what you see in her. After all, I know what you like in a woman." Dana pushed off the wall and reached out, running a hand down Alexís side and resting it on her hip suggestively.

Regina felt her gut clench as she watched from where she was standing. The touch was one of possessiveness and ownership; it reminded her of how Derrick acted toward her. She felt a wave of anger, followed instantly by a cold trickle of fear down her spine as she wondered what it was that Dana held over Alex that she would tolerate the way Dana was treating her now.

"So, letís get down to business here." She walked behind Alex, letting her hand fall away. "How much are you making a week Alex? Two thousand? Four thousand?"

"I make enough, Dana. I already told you: Iím not interested." Alex crossed her arms over her chest and turned to face Dana. She could feel Regina standing off to the side watching her. Alex wanted to scream at Regina to get of there. She didnít want her to hear this, not like this, not from Dana. Shit, why did I let you come in here with me? She looked back at Dana and her eyes narrowed as she saw the hate that this woman felt for her reflected in her eyes.

"Really? Well, thatís too bad Alex. You see, business is booming. Lana bailed you out just before things got interesting." Dana circled around her. "What was our largest take in one week? Do you remember? Oh yes, I see that you do. I see that glint in your eye. What was it now?" Dana leaned across the table and pointed at Regina. "Say it, Alex. I want to hear you say how much we sold in one week, so that little miss innocent over there understands who you really are."

Regina knelt down and picked up the puppy and held him in her arms, as she watched the two women facing off in the center of the room. From where she was standing she could see flecks of dust highlighted in the beam of the overhead light bulb. The glare hurt her eyes and she stepped back away from it.

Alex lowered her head, wishing desperately that Regina wasnít with her. She decided there was no sense in lying; Dana knew the truth and would only make the situation worse if she did lie. She looked over at Regina and swallowed. "We pulled in fifteen thousand dollars in cocaine and heroin in a week."

Regina felt her chest constrict as the words sunk in. The puppy squirmed out of her arms and jumped to the floor, sniffing around her feet. Regina stared at Alex, as the enormity of what she had done hit her. "Jesus, Alex."

"How do you feel about your dear doctor friend now, love?" Dana pulled a pocketknife out of her pocket and walked to the back of the cellar. She unlocked a pad lock and pulled the metal door open, then disappeared inside. When she re-appeared she was holding a plastic bag in her hand. Dana dropped it on the table and slipped the pocketknife through the plastic.

She leered at Regina and licked her finger and plunged it into the white powder. "Do you want some candy, little girl?"

"Leave her out of this, Dana. This is between you and me." Alex stepped closer to Dana and blocked her view of Regina.

"Who knows Alex, maybe sheíd like it." Dana glanced around Alexís shoulder. "Want to try some sweetheart?" Dana pulled her powder-covered finger out of the bag and sucked it into her mouth, running it over her gums. Withdrawing her finger slowly, she fixed her eyes on Regina and leered at her.

Regina stepped back. In that moment, she knew what evil was as she watched Dana toying with Alex. Her mind warred with the conflicting images she had of Alex now, the doctor who she knew and the woman who had existed in a world terribly foreign from anything Regina had ever known. The doctor sheíd spent long, countless hours working with in the emergency department, watching and learning from as they treated hundreds of patients. The successes were sweet and the losses, tragic. They had shared them both and Regina was beginning to realize why Alex had always worked so hard, trying to outrun this, her past. Reginaís attention jerked back as she heard Danaís taunting voice again.

Dana dug into the bag again and walked over to Alex. "How about for old times sake Alex? Do you remember what we used to do?" She raised her fingers up to Alexís mouth.

Alex caught her hand and twisted it painfully away from her. "Go to hell, Dana," Alex growled, as she increased the pressure on Danaís wrist.

Dana cried out in pain and grabbed hold of Alexís hand, trying to pry it away. "Stop. Youíre going to break it."

Alex curled her lip in a feral grin and shoved Dana away from her, knocking her to the floor. She walked over to the open door of the walk-in closet and stood at its entrance looking in. "So, this is where you keep it now."

Dana reached for the dowel and scrambled to her feet, charging Alex from behind.

"Alex look out!" Regina shouted, realizing what Dana intended to do, as she swung the dowel over her shoulder.

Alex spun around and with her arms up in front, blocking the dowel with her hands. She twisted it hard, breaking Danaís hold and kicking her hard in her gut. Dana cried out as she tumbled to the floor. Alex stepped forward, reached up, felt for the short chain just inside the door and pulled on it turning the light on.

The narrow room was lined floor to ceiling with wooden shelves. A few of them were filled with wooden crates that were unmarked. Dana sat in a heap on the floor clutching her ankle. "You son of a-"

"Shut up, Dana," Alex cut her off.

Regina walked up beside Alex and peered into the room. "My god, Alex."

Alex looked quickly at Regina. Her voice was hoarse when she spoke. "Yeah, now you know. Still like what you see?"

Regina stared up at Alex trying to come up with something intelligible to say to her.

Alex jerked her eyes away before Regina could respond. "Get out of here, Regina." She stepped into the room and picked the ring of keys up from the sawdust-covered floor. She pulled a crowbar off the nail in the wall and walked to the nearest crate; wedging the teeth underneath the lid, she pushed down on the bar with her hand. The wood creaked and splintered under the force as the lid opened, Alex reached into the crate, pulling out a plastic bag.

"You want it, donít you, Alex?" Dana asked, nodding her head at the bag. "Go ahead and take it. Iíll give it to you on the house. What do you say?"

Alex laughed and knelt down in front of Dana. "I donít want this crap. I donít want any of it. In fact, what I do want, is for you to get this shit out of here before this week is over."

Dana sat back on her hands and laughed at her. "Thatís rich, Alex. And what if I say no? What are you going to do? Call the police? Thatís a laugh. The title of the store is in your name Alex, or did you forget that minor detail? So guess whoís going down if they find out whatís in here?" Dana spat at her.

Alex stood up and threw the bag of powder at Dana in disgust.

"You canít stop me, Alex."

"Thatís what you think, Dana." She turned and bumped into Regina who was still standing there behind her. Alex quickly dropped her gaze to the floor and brushed by her.

******

Alex walked along the pier with her hands shoved in her pockets. Lost in her thoughts, she was hardly aware that the blonde was at her side, until she felt a tug on the back of her shirt. Looking over her shoulder, Alex saw Regina looking up at her.

The young doctor saw that same look of ragged emotion pass over Alexís face she had seen the night they had been sitting in Reginaís apartment after Justin had died. As quickly as it was there, it disappeared and that cool outer façade that Alex kept wrapped tightly around her slid back in place. Regina felt a twinge of pain as she saw the door shut firmly, keeping her at a distance.

"Alex," Regina said her name, not quite sure what she could say to her.

Unable to face Regina, the doctor turned away and looked out over the water. She walked over to a vacant slip and sat down, leaning heavily against the wooden pilings. Regina sat down next to her, dangling her legs over the edge of the pier.

"Go home, Regina. You shouldnít be here," Alex said, looking down at her hands.

"Why, because youíre afraid of what I might think about what happened back there?" Regina asked, picking up a piece of wood and toying with it.

Alex was quiet for so long that Regina wasnít sure she was going to answer her. She pulled one leg up, shifting her weight, trying to decide if she should just leave. Regina looked over at her dark-haired friend and saw the pained expression on her face as she stared out over the water. She dropped her leg back down and leaned forward on her hands, trying to make sense of what she was feeling inside.

It would be easy enough to walk away and leave Alex here to deal with her own problems, but she really didnít want to. Her rational mind told her it was because of the kind of work they did, that made her feel connected to Alex. Most everything they did in the emergency department was characterized by intense short-lived periods of crisis that required quick thinking, totally committing all your resources to what you were doing at the moment. Maybe it was just a reaction to the intensity of their work and the emotional stress of the past few weeks that had brought these feelings for Alex to the surface.

Alex lowered her head and sighed. "Why are you still here, Regina?"

It was Reginaís turn to look down at the water and be silent. "Do you really want me to leave?" Please say no, Alex.

"I donít want you to be here. I know what I have to do to stop Dana. Sheíll just try to hurt you again if you stay," Alex insisted, still staring out at the water.

"I can handle myself, Alex."

"No, you canít, not with Dana," Alex snapped. "Donít argue with me about this, Regina."

"And you think that you can handle her? I saw what she did to you back there." Regina leaned forward and grabbed Alexís arm. "Alex, youíre not the same person you were before." You canít be. "Iím not going to leave knowing that Dana is going to do everything that she can to drag you back into that life."

Alex jerked her head around and stared at Regina. "What do you know about my life? What do you care anyway?"

Regina turned, facing Alex, sitting cross-legged next to her. Her fingers worked loose a piece of bark that was curling up from the wood she held in her hands. She watched as it fluttered down into the water below, spinning slowly in the current of water washing around the wooden piling.

She had the same feeling in her chest now as she did standing by the window in her apartment the night she told Derrick she wouldnít marry him. She was scared, but for a totally different reason. Regina realized as she was sitting here, if she was really honest with herself that her feelings for Alex over the past couple of months had slowly started to cross that invisible line between friendship and something much deeper.

Regina tossed the rest of the wood out into the water and looked up at Alexís tense profile. Taking a breath, she tried to put her thoughts into words. "Iím not sure I know what to say to you to convince you that I do care, Alex." She looked back down at her hands and laughed nervously. "You intimidated the hell out of me that first morning in the ER," Regina sighed. "I came out to talk to you later that day after Derrick showed up. I was afraid, I didnít want to start out on the wrong foot with you."

Regina looked up at Alex. Her eyes were closed and she wasnít sure if Alex was even listening to her. "Youíre right, I donít know about your life, Alex, but I do care and Iím here if you want me to be."

Regina watched as Alex lowered her head, her shoulders rising and falling as she let out a heavy sigh, seeming to reach a decision. "I do want you to be here Regina, but you promise me," Alex met her eyes, "you wonít go anywhere near that store. I need to convince Dana that I want to go back with her. Thatís the only way Iím going to be able to stop her."

"I donít understand. Why do you have to do this Alex? Isnít that what the police are for?"

Alex nodded her head. "Ordinarily, yes."

"So whatís not ordinary about this? Why are you so willing to throw everything away because of Dana?" Regina leaned back and stared at Alex, waiting for an answer.

Alex slowly raised her eyes to look over at Regina.

She had a fleeting vision of kneeling next to Lanaís bed and holding her hand the day that she died. "It was the last thing that Lana asked me to do. After everything, I owe her at least that," Alex whispered.

Regina reached out a tentative hand and cupped Alexís chin in her fingers. "Alex, let me help you."

"I canít let you do that, Regina. This is my problem, not yours." Alex closed her eyes and turned her face away. "Regina, I know what I am. I sold drugs and benefited from getting people hooked. Every time a kid comes into that ER strung out on drugs, I see what I did. Thereís not much you can do thatís worse than that, so I guess when Derek called me trash, it was an appropriate description."

"No, itís not." Regina shook her head and reached out, taking Alexís hand in hers. She smiled tentatively, seeing the startled expression on Alexís face. "Alex, I know you did some really awful things, but thatís not who you are now. You wouldnít have bothered to help me, if you were still that person."

Alex shook her head and turned away. "Regina, I know who I am."

"Do you? I see someone whoís a good person. You went way above what anyone would have expected when you helped me these past few weeks." Regina moved closer to Alex. "I wonít lie. I donít like what you did, but I didnít know you then," and then spoke more softly. "I know you now and Iím glad I do, Alex."

Alex hung her head, incredulous as she heard the words. God knows, I donít deserve this. "Iím glad I know you too, Regina."

Any other words seemed meaningless, so they sat beside each other listening to the water lap up against the sides of the pier. She could sense Alexís vulnerability lying exposed and raw just beneath the surface. Regina watched as Alex drew her knees up and leaned her head back against the piling, closing her eyes.

Regina kept seeing images of Alex as she sat beside her. That first day in the ER when she came storming out of one of the rooms, and how incredibly intimidated she had been of the doctor. She remembered the day that Alex drove her home, when sheíd been so sick from the medication and the night Justin died and Alex held her in the pouring rain; that was the person she knew, the one she wanted to believe Alex was now. Regina squeezed Alexís hand and leaned closer to her. "Alex?"

"Hmm. What?" Alex had been quietly soaking up the warmth of Reginaís hand on hers, afraid if she opened her eyes, she would find that this moment was just a figment of her imagination.

"Letís go back to the apartment." Regina stood up, and slipped her hand under Alexís chin, lifting her face to hers. Regina couldnít help herself as she pressed her lips gently against Alexís forehead. Alex blinked her eyes open and looked up at Regina as she pulled away.

Regina smiled at her, stepping back as Alex pulled herself up to her feet and stood facing her. "Come on," she said, as she turned and started to walk back down the pier.

Alex stood staring after Regina for a long moment, before her brain finally got the message to her legs that she needed to start walking; she jogged a few steps to catch up with the shorter woman. The two walked quietly alongside each other, Alex trying to make some sense of the complicated emotions running through her. Oh chill out, you idiot, sheís just trying to be nice. Donít go reading anything into that kiss. Besides, you know exactly what you have to do tomorrowÖjust let it go.

Alex couldnít let it go because Regina had kept gently reminding her what it felt like to be able to trust someone again with those emotions that she had locked safely away deep inside of her. She promised herself she wouldnít let anyone get that close to her again.

Alex felt a smile tugging at her lips as she walked behind Regina. She really was glad she knew Regina. She admired her strength and intelligence; her stubborn resilience and gentle sense of humor drew Alex to her, and she realized that she enjoyed having Regina as a friendÖor even a lover. Lover? She tripped over a piece of slate as they turned into the driveway, mercifully caught herself and looked down at Reginaís questioning look.

"Alex?"

"What?" She blinked, trying to reign in her errant thoughts, realizing she hadnít heard her name being called the first time.

"The keys. You know, those things on your key chain, so we can get inside." Regina smiled up at her impishly.

"Oh, yeah. Sorry," Alex mumbled and unlocked the door. She followed Regina up the stairs and into the apartment. She desperately needed something to occupy her mind, so she walked over to her bag and pulled out a pair of scissors and tweezers. Standing up, Alex turned around to find Regina watching her.

"Uh, what are you doing with those?" Regina pointed to the instruments in her hands.

"Iím taking my stitches out." Alex walked over to the couch, sat down and pulled her sneakers off.

"It hasnít been ten days yet."

"I know, but itís healed," Alex awkwardly tried to reach the spot on her ankle with the tweezers where the stitches were.

Regina sat down beside her. "Let me take them out."

Alex stopped and looked up. "Why?"

"Because you couldnít reach down there, to put them in. Youíll just cut yourself," Regina pointed out, and took the tweezers from her hands. Several minutes later, Regina sat back and looked up at Alex, realizing she had been watching her the whole time.

Regina set the tweezers down behind her on the table. "That was simple, wasnít it?"

Alex nodded her head slowly. "Thanks."

"For what?" Regina asked, feeling her mouth go dry as she felt Alex studying her intently.

"For caring about me." Alexís voice was quiet as she leaned forward, reaching out a hand and tracing her fingers down Reginaís jaw. "And for being my friend." Alex cupped her fingers underneath her chin, raising Reginaís face to hers, searching her eyes.

Regina felt like her heart was going to hammer its way through her chest, as she looked back at Alex.

Alex leaned closer, pressing her lips to Reginaís, tentatively at first, then slowly deepening the kiss as Reginaís lips parted in invitation. She traced the curve of her lips with the tip of her tongue. Pulling back, Alex looked into Reginaís green eyes, so close she could see the starburst of color around her pupils.

Regina looked back at Alex through slightly unfocused eyes. She circled a trembling hand around Alexís neck, feeling her silky hair flow between her fingers as she drew Alexís mouth down to hers.

They kissed slowly, again and again, exploring and tasting each other. Alex slipped her arm around Reginaís waist, easing her back onto the couch. Lowering her body onto the smaller woman, Alex watched the blonde womanís eyes, as their bodies came together. She felt Regina shudder beneath her at the contact and buried her face in Reginaís hair, inhaling the fragrance of her, as she kissed her throat and nuzzled the skin beneath her ear.

"Oh god, Alex," Regina whispered, as she felt a powerful stirring of desire deep inside her. The intensity left her feeling vulnerable and she pulled back, looking up uncertainly into Alexís eyes.

"Itís all right," Alex whispered, holding onto her.

Regina pressed her body against Alex, slipping her arms around her waist, sliding her hands up over her back and pulling her tightly against her.

Pressing up on her elbows, Alex raised her hands to Reginaís face, running her fingertips over her eyebrows, tracing the gentle contours of her cheekbones, memorizing each detail as she went. She tilted her head and grazed her lips along Reginaís jaw, sending tiny electric shocks racing up and down Reginaís spine. Alex heard the woman moan softly and wrapped her arms tightly around her, pulling her close and feeling the heat between their bodies as they touched.

She lowered her mouth to Reginaís, tasting her, as she kissed her way across her lips. Alex tugged gently on her lower lip, pulling it into her mouth and running her tongue across it.

The taller woman shifted her weight and unfastened the buttons on Reginaís shirt; she ran her fingers down Reginaís throat and brushed the cotton shirt back off her shoulders. Her tongue followed her fingers and Regina arched against her, moaning into Alexís throat.

Regina tugged Alexís shirt from her jeans and slipped her hands underneath, running her palms over her back, feeling the strength beneath her hands. She let her hands trail down over her ribs, as Alex raised up and looked down at Regina.

Alex moved her hands over Reginaís body, gently caressing her hips and thighs. She ran her hand up her inner thigh and pressed her palm against her, through the fabric of her jeans, watching as Regina gasped and closed her eyes, arching against her hand and whimpering at her touch. When she opened her eyes and focused on her, Alex leaned over her.

"Whatís wrong?" she asked, seeing the flicker of fear in them. She rested her hand on Reginaís hip.

Regina bit her lower lip and turned her head away, closing her eyes. "Iím sorry, Alex." She took a breath, trying to control her pounding heart. "Itís justÖ" Regina lowered her head, pulling her eyes away from Alex and giving herself a moment to collect her thoughts. She remembered the bloody needle piercing her skin, the pills sheíd forgotten to take today and her desire ebbed away as she looked up at Alex and realized what they were about to do. "Alex, we shouldnít do this."

"I thought you," Alex stopped, thinking. "Am I making you uncomfortable?" She finally asked, pulling her hand back and looking seriously at Regina.

Her voice was a whisper. "No. Its just, well, I donít know whatís going to happen with the rest of the tests. I know six weeks is a good sign, but that could change. We both know that, Alex."

Alex hung her head and took a breath, letting it out slowly, feeling the desire in her body fade painfully into a vague ache. "Itíll be alright as long as we donít," she hesitated, "have oral sex." She lay down beside Regina and looked at her.

Regina nodded her head. "I know." She closed her eyes. "Iím sorry, Alex. I just, I canít." Her gaze traveled back up to Alexís face. "I donít want anything to happen to you," she said, wondering if Alex believed her or thought she had just strung her along. Regina rolled away from Alex and sat up. Her hands trembling, she buttoned her shirt and leaned against the arm of the couch, staring out the window into the darkness.

Alex watched as Regina turned away from her. Truth be told she hadnít even thought about the damn needle stick. She ran her finger over the cushion tracing an abstract design as she lay there on her side thinking. Damn. Youíre such an idiot, Alex. Maybe next time you should ask before you leap. First, she finds out you used to deal drugs and then you come on to her like that. What the hell were you thinking?

Alex looked up at Regina, sitting with her back to her. She pushed herself up and sat next to her on the couch; she hesitated, then leaned over her and brushed a tear from Reginaís cheek. "Hey, itís ok, Regina. I didnít even think about it. Some doctor I am, right?" Alex joked, trying to get Regina to smile without success. Oh boy. You really messed this up Alex. She reached for Reginaís hand, interlacing their fingers together.

"Regina?" She leaned forward to see her face.

The blonde stood up, walked over to the sliding door, pulled it open and stepped outside. Alex followed and stood quietly beside her. "Regina, are you all right?"

"Yes." Her voice was hardly more than a whisper.

"No, I donít think you are."

"Iím ok. Really." Regina turned away from Alex. Her emotions were raw and she swallowed, trying to push down the tears that threatened to start falling.

The doctor stood very still behind her. Tentatively she reached out a hand and rested it softly on Reginaís shoulder.

The touch completely undid her resolve. Regina took a breath and a sob escaped unbidden from her throat. The floodgates opened and her shoulders shook with the intensity of the emotions running through her.

"Come here." Alex turned Regina around and pulled her into a hug. "Iím sorry. I thought you wantedÖIím sorry. "

Regina nodded her head against Alexís chest. "No Alex, it is what I want." Regina said, fingering the front of the tear-stained sweatshirt covering Alexís body.

Alex moved her hand over Reginaís back in a comforting motion, holding her until she felt her breathing return back to normal. "Feel better?" She bent her head forward, brushing her lips against Reginaís hair, feeling the smaller woman relax against her.

"Yeah, I do, thanks," Regina whispered, feeling the barest pressure against her head as she closed her eyes.

"We should get some sleep." Alex hesitated, looking down at Regina standing pressed up against her. "Iíll hold you while you sleep if you want me to."

Regina tightened her arms around Alexís waist. "Iíd like that, Alex," she said, and let herself be led into the apartment.

Regina disappeared into the bathroom to change, while Alex slipped into her tee shirt and crawled into bed. She lay on her back with both arms behind her head, staring up at the ceiling, wondering what twist of fate brought them together. Alex turned her head as Regina lay down beside her and smiled shyly. "Iím sorry, Alex."

"No, donít say anything, itís all right, Regina." She waited until Regina was settled and then reached up and turned the light off on the nightstand. "Goodnight, Regina."

The bed shifted and Regina slowly nestled in against her, resting her head on Alexís shoulder. "Goodnight, Alex."

They lay that way, both slowly drifting off to sleep.

Part 12

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