Part Sixteen

 

Chapter Seventeen

Regina sat on the rolling chair hunched forward over the stretcher. She spent the last ten hours totally immersed in patients with hardly a chance to breathe in between. She chewed on the end of her pen as she worked out the last calculation for a patientís medication before she wrote it on the order sheet. Closing the chart, she sat back in her chair and stretched her arms over her head. Done, she smiled to herself.

It had been a good week overall, she reflected in the relative quiet of the empty trauma room. No one died in the ER this week, which meant there were no grieving families that she had to tell the heartbreaking news to; her fever had been gone since Sunday, so the most unpleasant thing the young doctor dealt with was getting the restraining order against Derrick. His suspension didnít come as a surprise, since he was arrested, but if anything it left Regina feeling that he was becoming more unbalanced and desperate since his job was on the line.

Unexpectedly, the door swung open and Alex poked her head into the room Regina had hidden herself away in. "There you are. I thought you might have left already."

Regina looked up and smiled at Alexís slightly disheveled appearance. Her rumpled lab coat hung limply around her shoulders and there were a variety of suspicious looking stains scattered over the front of it.

"No, I needed a quiet place to finish up these notes. It was a zoo out there today." Regina pushed the chart away from her and leaned back in the chair, watching as Alex stood hesitantly inside the brightly lit room. Her usual outwardly cool demeanor seemed to waver momentarily as she shifted her feet and glanced over her shoulder nervously. Finally, as if coming to some decision, Alex walked over and sat on the corner of the desk.

Alex regarded Regina for a second. "Do you still want to go out to the bar with these guys?"

Regina looked up at the woman before her. "Of course. You didnít change your mind, did you?" Regina asked, hoping that Alex hadnít. Regina and Sandy spent the greater part of the week cajoling and coaxing the doctor into going out with the small group from the ER Friday night.

"No, no I havenít. Just wanted to make sure you were still up for it."

"I am," Regina said, cheerfully. She was looking forward to the time they would be spending together even if it were in a group.

"Iíll meet you over there then. Iíve got a couple of things to finish up yet."

"Anything I can help with?" Regina asked.

Alex shook her head. "No, just boring administrative stuff. Thanks for offering, though."

Regina smiled to herself as Alex turned and walked to the door. If she hadnít known better, it seemed like Alex was nervous about going out to the bar. Whatís going on in that head of yours, Alex?

The blonde waited until she was alone in the room and then picked up the phone. She dialed her number at the condo and waited until the second ring, then typed in the access code. There was only one message from Jeff returning her call, congratulating her on having her privileges re-instated at the hospital.

"Damn." Regina set the phone back down in the cradle, a sad expression crossing her face. Sheíd left two messages on her parentís answering machine during the week asking her mother to please call her. Theyíd both gone unanswered.

Knowing her mother could shut her out like this hurt her deeply. Even though she didnít get to see them much they were still her family, and potentially losing that was hard to bear. Regina blinked back tears as she picked up the chart, walked out of the trauma room and slipped the chart into the rack by the unit clerk.

She walked into the locker room to shower and change her clothes. From what Sandy told her, the bar was an old local establishment where the medical staff often went to forget about work, engaging in what the residents affectionately called Ďliver roundsí.

******

Regina stepped into the darkened, smoky interior of the restaurant and walked past the crowded bar, ignoring some of the leering stares she got from the businessmen hunched over their drinks. She headed over to the room where the pool tables were.

Sandy was leaning up against one of the tables as Regina approached, watching intently as Dr. Washington lined up a shot. Regina watched as he sank the eight ball in the corner pocket. He hung his head and banged the edge of the table with his fist in frustration. The nurse let out a triumphant shout and danced around the floor.

"Ha! Youíre buying the next round, Jon. Thatíll teach you to tell me I donít know how to play pool." Sandy crowed as she taunted the tall, lanky doctor from across the table.

"Shit." He set the pool stick on the table and flopped dejectedly into his chair. His face brightened when he looked up and saw the fair-skinned resident watching the commotion. "Hey, Regina. Come on over." He pulled a chair out at the table for her. He glanced over her shoulder. "Whereís Alex?"

"Sheís still at the hospital. She said sheíd be here after she finished up." Regina sat down in the chair and slipped out of her jacket.

Sandy set her mug of beer down on the table. "Hey, do you play pool Regina?" Her face was flushed and Regina figured that Sandy already had one or two beers in her.

"Be careful, Regina. Sheís a shark, just like Alex. Donít let her fool you," Jon warned her playfully.

Sandy stuck her tongue out at him. "Youíre just a sore loser. Why donít you make yourself useful and go get us another pitcher of beer?"

Regina watched as Jon balled up a napkin and tossed it at Sandy before he walked over to the bar. "Iíve played once or twice." The resident turned back to the nurse.

"Well, comíere then." Sandy tugged Regina off the chair and pulled her over to the pool table. "Iíll teach you, before the others get here." She racked up the balls and set the cue ball down at the opposite end of the table. "This is how you break."

Regina watched in quiet amusement as Sandy sent the balls scattering in several directions.

"Why donít you try?" Sandy handed her the pool stick and reset the balls up in the rack.

Regina lifted the cue stick in her hands and looked dubiously at it. "I havenít done this in years."

"Itís easy. Just like riding a bike." A warm, familiar voice floated down from behind her.

Startled, Regina turned around to see Alex standing at the table behind her. Her dark hair hung loosely around her shoulders and the black leather jacket contrasted nicely with the white shirt and faded jeans she was wearing. "Oh, hi," Regina said, her face brightening. "I didnít know you were here."

"Just walked through the door." Alex smiled back at her. "This is Tina." She nodded to the woman standing beside her. "She works up in labor and delivery."

"Hi, Regina." Tina walked up, shook Reginaís hand, then glanced over at Sandy who was leaning against a table and draining her mug of beer. Regina watched as Tina walked over to the nurse and brushed her hand over the back of Sandyís shoulder as she stood next to her.

"I take it Sandy is trying to teach you how to play?" Alex walked up beside Regina, eyeing the balls neatly corralled in the rack. She glanced over at the two nurses. "You have no shame do you?"

"What did I do?" Sandy asked, giving Alex an innocent look.

"Youíll teach her all of your bad habits and then challenge her to a game. I know your style, Sandra." Alex looked back at Regina and winked at her. "She wonít admit it, but I taught her everything she knows."

"Good thing youíre here to keep her in line, Alex," Tina chimed in from the table as she poured herself a beer.

"No. Good thing youíre here. Sheís your responsibility now, not mine, Tina," Alex replied cheerfully.

Sandy swatted her hand at Alex as she walked past her. "Donít listen to her, Regina. Sheís just jealous, cause I beat her last time we played."

"That was a fluke. Besides, weíre about to change that as of tonight" Alex hefted a pool stick in her hand and balanced it easily on two outstretched fingers.

Jon walked back over and set the pitchers of beer down on the table. "Oh boy, I sense a challenge here."

"Hi, Jon." Alex looked up at her colleague. "Whereís Chris? I thought she was coming out with you tonight," she said, referring to his wife.

"She got called in to help out in the OR. A couple of people called out with the flu. Itís going to be one hell of a winter with this strain." He looked at his watch. "Iím going to head over there and catch her in between surgeries. Hey, its good to have you both back." He walked past Alex and patted her on the shoulder.

"Thanks, Jon." Alex turned to Regina after he left. "Letís see you breakíem." She pointed at the balls on the table and stepped back to watch.

Regina leaned over, and sent the cue ball careening across the table; with a loud crack, the tightly packed balls scattered. "Ooh, I think we have solids, Alex."

"Indeed, we do." Alex grinned mischievously at Sandy.

"Oh, Iíve only played once or twice," Sandy said in a mocking voice, and gave Regina an evil look as she strode past her. "You are both in serious trouble. Weíre playing best two out of three."

Tina rolled her eyes. "Canít we just make it one game?" she pleaded.

Sandy shot her a look. "No."

"Ugh." Sulking, Tina sat down on one of the empty stools. "Donít get me wrong," she said, leaning closer to Regina as the fair-skinned resident returned to the table. "I like the company but I hate straight bars."

"Say it a little louder why donít you?" Alex walked over to her and twirled the stick menacingly in front of her. "Weíll be using these sticks to fight our way out of here."

Tina snorted and rolled her eyes. "Like I said, I hate straight bars. Sandy promised me weíd go dancing after this. I have to go make sure she still remembers she made me that promise."

"While youíre at it, why donít you two break first," Alex told her. "I wouldnít want Sandy to think that we have an unfair advantage or anything." She settled down next to Regina and smiled at her, resisting the urge to brush a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. "How are you doing?"

"Iím ok." Regina stared into the beer she was holding. They spent most of the week literally passing each other in the corridors, catching bits and pieces of disjointed conversations, settling back into a routine that made Regina fear that what small, tentative steps they made in getting to know each other the week before would quickly be lost.

"Just ok?" Alex asked, searching her face.

"I missed you," Regina said, looking up at her.

Alexís blue eyes widened in surprise, and then she stared down at the table. She wasnít prepared for Reginaís blunt honesty and it caught her completely off guard.

Regina thought she could see Alexís face flush in the dim light from the overhead fluorescent bulbs. For a long moment, they were both silent, until Alex finally met Reginaís steady gaze.

Sandy looked up from the pool table and cleared her throat loudly. "Hey, are you two going to sit there all night or are you going to play?"

Alex sighed and stood up slowly from the stool. "Why? Are you in a rush to get your ass kicked?" She picked up a cue stick and leaned down next to Reginaís head as she scraped chalk on to end of the long tapered wooden rod. "I missed you too, Regina," she whispered softly in her ear.

Regina felt the warmth from Alexís breath tickle her ear. A tingle of electricity ran up her spine as Alex brushed past her and walked over to the table.

The resident watched as Alex lined up the shot, nailed the cue ball, and sent two solids into a corner pocket. She cleared two more balls from the table as Sandy looked on in disbelief.

"That is not fair," Sandy complained as Alex handed her the cue after finally missing a shot, and sauntered back to the table.

"No, not fair would be if I chose to clear the entire table on my first attempt."

Regina couldnít help the smile and warm flush she felt as Alex winked down at her. She heard the stool scrape on the floor as her companion pulled it forward to sit down behind her.

"Nice shot." Regina turned around to see Alexís eyebrows lift as she took a swallow of her beer.

"Thanks." Blue eyes twinkled back her.

"Hmm?" Regina said, missing what Alex said after that.

"I think youíre up." Alex gently nudged Regina from her chair as Sandy missed her shot.

Sandy stepped back as Regina stood holding the cue stick, looking at the disarray of balls on the table. "Great. You didnít leave me anything, Sandy."

"That would be the idea, Dr. Kingston." Sandy reached out to pick up her mug of beer. "Hey, what are you doing?"

Tina smiled and wagged a finger at Sandy while snatching the mug from her reach. "You promised me, weíd go dancing if I came here. If you keep drinking, youíll just fall asleep like you did last time."

Regina laughed at the pitiful look on Sandyís face. Shaking her head, she leaned over and stared bleakly at the table. Alex walked up beside the resident and looked over Reginaís shoulder, studying balls scattered over the table, then, pointed at the green ball. "There. You can get that one in the corner pocket."

Regina turned her head and straightened. "Yeah, you might be able to make that shot."

Alex grinned at her. She walked over to the ball and held her finger next to it. "Hit it right here. Not too hard. Itíll go right in."

Regina looked at Alex and bent over, setting her shot up. She tapped the white cue ball lightly and heard Sandy smack her forehead and mutter several choice words as she watched the green ball roll smartly into the corner pocket and rattle down into the cup. Alex just smiled confidently at Regina and sat back down on the stool to watch as she cleared two more balls from the table.

They played two more games, splitting the last two. "My condolences, Sandy," Alex teased her as she set the cue stick on the table.

"Just wait until next time. That was just beginnerís luck," she said, pointing in Reginaís direction.

"Hey! Who said anything about beginnerís luck?" Regina protested.

"Not me," Sandy grinned. "Weíre going to go dancing. You two want to come along?" she asked ignoring the elbow Tina quickly jabbed into her ribs.

Alex shrugged indifferently and looked over at Regina. "What do you want to do?"

"Can we take a rain check? I think Iíve had enough of bars for one night." She was tired of the noise and the thought of another hot, crowded bar was not very appealing to her.

They walked outside to their respective cars and Tina ushered Sandy over to hers, opening the passenger door. She waved to Alex and Regina as she slid into the driverís seat.

Alex turned so she was facing Regina. "What are you up to now?" She asked, fiddling with the keys on her key ring. She felt like a nervous teenager and wished she could come up with something more original than that to say to this woman.

Regina lowered her eyes and shook her head, stifling a laugh. "Nothing." She looked back up at Alex and smiled. "I thought maybe we could just spend some time together." She hoped her voice didnít sound as nervous as she felt.

"I think we can arrange that." Alex smiled down at Regina. "Itís nice out." She looked up at the sky. "Why donít we go for a walk by the reservoir?"

"Sure. Lead the way." Regina waved her hand out in front of her.

Alex hesitated, looking back at Reginaís car. "How about we drop your car off at your condo first?"

"Why?"

Alex glanced down at Regina, raising an eyebrow. "So you still have one tomorrow. Unless of course, youíre trying to get rid of it."

"Oh, I didnít think of that," Regina laughed.

"Come on."

******

"Where are we?" Regina asked, as they stepped out of the Jeep. She shut the door and turned around, looking at the darkened landscape around them.

Alex walked around the Jeep and stood close behind Regina. "Itís just one of the parks that runs through the reservation. Thereís a reservoir down there through that trail." She pointed over Reginaís shoulder.

"What trail?" Regina squinted, trying to make out what Alex was pointing to in the darkness.

"Come on, Iíll show you." Alex stepped forward, taking Reginaís hand in her larger one and leading her toward the dark shadows that slowly transformed into trees, as they walked closer. She led the way through the darkness, picking her way down the winding trail that she frequently went running on.

As the trees thinned out, Regina could see the dark outline of the water and heard the waves lapping gently up against the shoreline. She glanced up at Alex as she walked along side of her now silent companion. There she goes again, she thought to herself as she recognized the quiet pensive expression that frequently came over Alexís face.

"Hey, whereíd you go off to?" Regina squeezed Alexís hand.

The taller woman glanced down at her, a smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. "Just thinking." The brunette slipped her hand out of Reginaís and walked beside her companion in silence for a bit. She was nervous, wondering how Regina would react to what she had to tell her.

Regina stopped at one particular point to watch as she saw the moon starting to peak over the treetops on the other side of the reservoir.

"Itís beautiful, isnít it?" Regina turned, hearing Alexís voice from somewhere above her in the dark.

"It is. The moon looks so close tonight." She turned, looking around her. "Hey, where did you go?"

Alex chuckled softly. "Up here."

"Oh, well that helps." Regina yelped and jumped away as Alex dropped down beside her from her perch on top of a large boulder. "That was mean." Regina glared at Alex.

"Sorry, I thought you heard me climb up there. Come on up and sit with me." Alex scrambled back up the boulder and reached down to help Regina up.

The doctor sat down, leaning back against the smooth face of the rock behind her and reached a hand up to guide Regina down in front of her. "You ok sitting like this?" she asked, as Regina sat down between her outstretched legs.

"Yeah, Iím fine."

She felt the smaller woman shiver as a faint breeze rustled the leaves overhead. Alex leaned closer, her breath warm against her ear. "Are you cold?"

"Just a little." Regina wrapped her arms around herself.

"Lean back." The taller woman slipped her arms over Reginaís and rubbed her hands up and down. "Is that better?"

"Youíre like a hot coal." Regina relaxed against Alex, feeling the softness of her breasts pressing against her back. She felt Alexís chest expand as she took a deep breath and let it out.

"Mm. Just warm blooded." Alex pulled Regina against her, inhaling the scent of her hair as she rested her cheek against the top of her head.

Regina closed her eyes enjoying the warmth of Alexís strong arms wrapped around her. She felt safe and secure sitting here with her. Her thoughts drifted around their friendship and Regina decided that in the short time that she had known Alex, the doctor had come to mean a great deal to her.

The younger woman tilted her head back to look up at Alex. "Do you come out here a lot?" She reached a hand up and touched her palm to Alexís face, feeling her smile and pressed into the touch.

"Yeah, itís quiet and peaceful at night."

I think Iíd be afraid to come out here by myself." Regina clasped her hands over Alexís arms.

Alex glanced down at Regina. "Are you uncomfortable being here?"

"No, I like it, Alex. I like being here with you."

Alex smiled at the last remark. There was no denying the bond growing between them. Since Lanaís death, she allowed herself to drift aimlessly, hardly caring that the world and everything in it was passing her by. It just hadnít seemed worth the effort to take back her life until now. "Regina, have you thought about what youíre doing after this residency?"

"Iím not sure yet. I had a couple of offers. One was in Boston at a family practice. I thought I might go back home at one point, be closer to my family."

Alex tried not to let her disappointment come through in her voice. "Is that what youíre still planning to do?" She looked down, biting her lower lip as she waited for Reginaís answer.

Regina rested her head back on Alexís shoulder. "I donít think it really matters anymore if I go home or not."

"Why would you say that?" Alex asked, peering down at Reginaís face.

Regina sighed. "I had a fight with my mother and it just came out - about my lifestyle. It wasnít exactly the best way to break the news to her and I havenít heard from her since."

"So, theyíre not talking to you?" She wasnít sure why she was so surprised considering what Reginaís mother had done to her older brother.

Regina shook her head. "Nope, they wonít return my calls. Hey, I donít really want to talk about it." Regina looked up at her friend. "What about you, Alex? Youíve never talked about your family."

Alex gave Regina a surprised glance. "Not much to tell. My father was an alcoholic. He was a mean son of a bitch when he was drunk, which was most of the time." Alex shrugged her shoulders. "My mother just endured it. I guess she didnít think she deserved better at the time. The best thing that happened was when she gathered me and my brother up one night and walked out."

Regina squeezed Alexís hand. "Iím so sorry, Alex."

"It was a long time ago." Alex looked away from Regina. Damn, I can still hear them yelling at each other. Where the hell is this coming from?

"How old were you?" Regina could see Alex clench her jaw, turning her face away at the question.

"I donít know, maybe thirteen or fourteen." Alex closed her eyes trying to clamp down on the painful memories of what became a vicious cycle of going from one shelter to another as her mother tried many times to break away from her fatherís abusive nature.

When her mother lost her job and couldnít pay the rent, Alex and her brother Michael were separated and sent to different foster families. The whole thing had been one agonizing nightmare that seemed like it would never end at the time.

"Whereís your mother now?" Regina asked, keeping a firm hold on Alexís hand. She could feel the woman behind her tense at the question.

"Last I knew she was out west in Arizona." Alex told her. "IÖwe donít really talk to each other that much anymore."

Alex squeezed Regina against her and was quiet for a time, lost in her own thoughts. She decided that night in the hospital as she lay next to Regina while she slept, that regardless of the consequences, even if it meant losing her friendship, she needed to be honest with her. She cared about her young friend and she at least deserved to hear the truth about what happened with Dana and Lana. "Regina, I need to tell you something."

"What?" She twisted around, hearing the catch in Alexís voice.

Alex pulled her hand away and let her arms rest on her knees. "Listen, you know I sold drugs for Dana when I was in medical school."

"Alex, you donít owe me any explanations. It was along time ago," Regina said quietly.

"Just let me say this. Please?" It would be so easy to simply omit the events that took place then.

Regina nodded her head, not quite sure that she wanted to hear what Alex had to tell her.

"I wasnít stupid Regina. I knew what I was getting into and I was just desperate enough to do it so I could help Lana get the medicine she needed." Alexís throat muscles worked as she swallowed. "The medicine I thought she needed because I was so full of myselfÖthought I knew what was best for her at the time. I was too damn blind to see that all she wanted to do was to let go and die."

"Alex, you donít have to tell me this," Regina protested feebly. She wasnít sure if she was trying to protect herself or Alex from hearing what she had to say.

"Yes, I do," Alex insisted, quietly. "If I donít tell you now," she looked up at the sky and took a breath, "youíll just find out later."

"What are you talking about?" Regina asked, frowning up at her friend.

"Iíve done some pretty fucked up things in my life, did more drugs than I care to think about, had sex just for the hell of it, and used people because it suited my purposes at the time."

Regina was quiet as she absorbed all that Alex was telling her.

"Thereís something else, Regina. IÖI set Dana up last week."

Regina turned around so she could see her friendís face in the moonlit darkness. "What are you talking about? I donít understand."

Alex closed her eyes, unable to look at Regina as the shock slowly registered on her face. "I set up a drug deal the day I was at Danaís store. The police always had a hunch that Dana was dealing drugs out of the cellar but didnít have enough to get a warrant. I just helped them along."

Reginaís jaw worked several times before she uttered a single word. "You what? But, wait a minute, what about the store? I thought it was yours, now. Doesnít that connect you?" Regina asked, trying desperately to make some sense of what Alex was telling her.

Alex shook her head. "I never inherited the store." She pulled the envelope out of her jacket that the lawyer gave to her and held it out to Regina. "You can read it later, if you want to."

Regina took the envelope from Alex and held it loosely in her hands. "You told me that you inherited it, Alex." Regina wasnít sure what hurt more, the fact that Alex lied to her or that she didnít trust her enough to tell her what was going on.

Alex felt Regina pull away from her. "I know I did." The doctor lifted herself up from behind Regina and jumped down to the ground. She walked over and leaned against a tree by the waterís edge. Somehow the physical distance made it easier to tell Regina what she had done.

"The title to the store was always in Danaís name, not mine. Lana set it up with the lawyer before she died. It was all a set up so Dana would get caught, if I kept my promise. Lana made sure of it."

"What did you promise to do, Alex?" Reginaís voice broke the silence.

"Itís complicated." Alex turned around in the dark. She could see Reginaís body silhouetted in the moonlight, still sitting on the rock, her arms wrapped tightly around her knees, watching her.

"Well, why donít you try and explain it to me Alex, because Iíd really like to try and understand." Regina stared back at her.

Alex sighed and shoved her hands in her pockets. "Lana turned the store over to her sister when she got too sick to run it herself. When she found out what Dana was doing with the store, it just made a bad situation worse."

"Didnít she try and stop her?"

"Of course she did, Regina." Alex turned around angrily. "It was her kid sister whoíd been a screw up for half of her life. Lana kept trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. She always believed that Dana would turn around somehow."

"I guess she never did." Regina carefully lowered herself to the ground and walked toward her brooding friend.

Alex was quiet for a minute. "No, and when Lana found out what Iíd done to get the medication for her Ė I might as well have stuck a knife in her back and twisted it."

"So what happened?"

Alex focused on Regina for the first time since she started talking. "Before she died I promised Lana Iíd take care of her sister, get her out of the store and off the drugs. It was Lanaís last request." Alex stared down at her hands helplessly. "I would have done anything to make it all up to her. I messed everything up between us."

"So you set Dana up? What was that supposed to accomplish?" Regina stared up at Alex, seeing the tense outline of her profile in the darkness.

"I already tried everything else. You canít force an adult into drug rehab and Dana couldnít handle stopping cold - she always went back to it. I figured if she lost the store and got thrown in jail, it would be hard, but she would be forced off the drugs and away from dealing them."

"Why didnít you tell me what you were doing, Alex?"

Alex ran a hand through her hair and stared out into the darkness. "I didnít know what was going to happen, what I would have to do that day." Her voice trailed off. "To Dana, sex and drugs have always meant power and control. Sheís an expert at manipulation."

Regina dropped her eyes, feeling a knot starting in the pit of her stomach, as she realized what Alex was referring to. "DidÖdid you sleep with her?" Regina stammered.

Alex jerked her head up and looked over at Regina. "No, no. Regina, please believe me. I just got her involved enough to let her think that we were going to. I injected her with Rohypnol so she wouldnít remember anything afterwards. I needed time to find her book that had all of her contacts in it."

Regina shook her head in disbelief and ran both her hands through her hair. "You what? How? Where did you get it? I mean, Jesus, Alex, that stuff is illegal."

"So is selling drugs, Regina."

"Damn it Alex, you know what I mean," Regina snapped at her.

"I bought it from someone. Enough money can buy you just about anything you want today."

"Alex, didnít you think about what could happen if you got caught?" Regina peered up at the woman, her pale eyes hidden by her dark bangs. She could see the walls rising up, one by one, slowly pushing her away and shutting her out. The blonde leaned forward, gently cupped Alexís cheek with her hand, lifting her head and watching her eyes close as a single tear ran down her face. Regina brushed it away with her thumb.

Alex let out a caustic laugh and wiped her face with her hands, pulling away from the smaller womanís touch. "At the time Regina, I really didnít care anymore. By rights I should have lost my license to practice medicine and been thrown in jail." She let out a breath and turned away, crossing her arms over her chest. "You were the last person I ever expected to be on the other end of the phone that night you called me." Alexís voice was a hoarse whisper. She leaned back against the tree wishing it would just mercifully swallow her up and let her disappear.

"When you said you werenít coming back, I knew you were talking about more than just the hospital." Regina took hold of Alexís arm and squeezed it. "I couldnít let you do that, Alex."

Alex shook her head. "You werenít supposed to be there. If something went wrong, I didnít want you involved."

"And what did you expect me to do if something did go wrong, just walk away? I couldnít do that if I wanted to, Alex."

The taller woman shook her head. "Regina, donít do this," she pleaded. "Please IÖIím notÖshit." Her voice cracked and she pulled her face away from Reginaís touch. "I donít know why youíd want to be involved with me. All Iíve ever managed to do is hurt people." Alex turned her head away and angrily wiped the tears from her face.

"Damn it, thatís not true. And I already told you I didnít know you then. I only know the person you are now. Alex, please donít shut me out," Regina whispered to her. Canít you see Iíve been falling in love with you since we met?

She stepped up in front of her and slipped her arms around Alexís waist, pulling her into a hug. She could hear the hammering of Alexís heartbeat beneath her ear. Slowly it calmed, as the tension in Alexís body relaxed ever so slowly. Alex slid her own arms around the blonde holding onto her tightly as she buried her face in Reginaís shoulder, her body shuddering as a sob quietly escaped her lips.

Regina felt a blanket of peacefulness surround them and she could have stayed like that wrapped securely in Alexís arms, her head resting comfortably on her shoulder, listening to her heartbeat. Finally, she pulled away and took Alexís face in both her hands feeling the soft strands of Alexís dark hair brush against the back of her hands.

Regina smoothed her bangs and smiled wistfully at Alex and when she finally opened her eyes and looked at her, she wondered when her heart betrayed her and started to cross that invisible line between friendship and something much deeper. She realized as she stood there that she couldnít walk away from Alex because the feeling of doing just that and playing it safe tore at her heart in a way she never imagined possible.

She wasnít sure who initiated it, but they were both leaning closer, slowly closing the space between them. It was the barest of touches as their lips brushed together, then Regina felt Alex pull back and look at her, raising trembling fingers to touch her face. The taller woman ducked her head again to kiss Regina and then pulled her back into a fierce embrace.

Regina hardly remembered the walk back to the Jeep in the dark. She just remembered Alex handing her the keys and slumping down into the passenger seat, staring numbly out the window. She cast a couple of wary glances at Alex on the drive back to her condo and wondered what it taken for the woman to confide in her.

Regina couldnít shake the image from her head of Alex leaning against the tree, eyes closed, with tears running down her face. It was obvious that Alex had been deeply hurt by Lanaís death and her involvement with Dana. It was as though a part of her had been destroyed and even now a piece of her was still missing.

Regina stepped out of the Jeep and tucked Alexís keys in her pocket, firmly shaking her head as Alex reached her hand out for them.

"Youíre not driving home like this, Alex." Despite her protests, Regina took hold of Alexís arm and guided her back to the condo. The blonde closed the door behind them and set the keys on the table. She watched as Alex walked over to the couch and slumped down, resting her head in her hands.

"Alex, are you ok?" Regina walked over and sat down next to her, resting a hand on her knee.

The brunette straightened her shoulders and pulled away from Regina. She never revealed to anyone what she told Regina tonight, and it left her feeling raw and vulnerable inside. A large part of her expected the resident to tell her to just get lost and she wouldnít have blamed her if she had.

"Yeah, Iím fine." She mentally slammed the doors closed on the emotions lying just beneath her ragged defenses. Alex stood up, avoiding Reginaís eyes. "Iím sorry, Regina, I donít usually get like that. I should go." She started to walk away, looking for her keys.

"Alex, wait." Regina reached out and grasped Alexís hand, turning her palm over and bringing it to her lips. She kissed the soft skin as she looked up at Alexís face, watching as the dark-haired woman closed her eyes, swaying slightly as she stood in the middle of the floor.

Regina stood up and reached her hand out to touch Alex, running her fingers lightly over her lower lip. The taller woman leaned into Reginaís touch, closing her own hand over the smaller one and resting her cheek against it. She stood silently, not trusting her voice.

"Stop running away from me. I want you to stay," Regina whispered, pulling her closer, wrapping her arms tightly around her waist.

They stood there holding onto each other until Alex finally opened her eyes, looking down into trusting green ones. Regina reached up, gently capturing Alexís lips with her own. It was a long slow exploration, slowly building in its intensity, both of them feeling the desire building as they melted against each other caresses.

Alex felt an electric current go through her, followed by a sense of panic that she was doing the wrong thing. She didnít want to force Regina into anything she didnít feel comfortable with, and having made that mistake once already, she didnít intend to repeat it. The doctor broke off the kiss and gently unwrapped Reginaís arms from around her waist. She leaned forward touching her forehead to Reginaís. "Oh god, you have no idea what youíre doing to me."

"Then stay." Regina let her hand drift down to Alexís, clasping their hands together.

"No, I should go, so you can get some sleep. Weíve got to be in early in the morning." Alex rubbed her back, enjoying the pressure of Reginaís body pressed against hers.

Regina picked her head up. "Alex, itís late. Just stay, please?"

Alex regarded her quietly, then smiled, hanging her head down. "It seems I have no defense for you."

"You donít need one," Regina whispered and tugged her hand as she led her into the bedroom. "Here." She rummaged through one of her drawers and tossed a tee shirt to the doctor. "You look good in them." She folded her arms over her chest and pursed her lips watching Alexís reaction. "Hmm, it was especially nice seeing you stand there by the sliding door."

"YÖYou were awake?" She buried her face in the tee shirt and groaned audibly as she remembered standing by the sliding door watching the blonde sleep. "Let me go get changed before I get in any more trouble."

When she returned from the bathroom, Regina was already curled up on the mattress, smiling as Alex approached the bed. The doctor crawled into the bed and stretched out beside the blonde. "I canít believe you were awake," she whispered into her ear.

Regina snickered and snuggled closer to her friend. "Youíre blushing."

"I am not," Alex growled, covering her eyes with her arm.

"You are too," Regina teased and pulled the blankets up over the both of them.

Alex smiled at the gentle banter and whispered back to her. "I am not."

"Give it up, youíre busted and you know it." The blonde rubbed her hand over Alexís stomach, smiling as she heard the older womanís breathing deepen as she relaxed in the bed. "Alex?"

"What?" The doctor slowly opened her eyes and looked over at the younger woman.

"Thanks for trusting me tonight. It means a lot to me that you do." Regina said, her eyes twinkling gently as she smiled up at the woman.

Alex stared at Regina incredulously. "IÖum, youíre welcome," she whispered, then reached up and turned off the light.

Part 17

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