Part 5

A sleepy looking Ranelle stumbled into the kitchen and collapsed onto one of the chairs. She sat there for several long seconds before finally looking up at an all too cheery looking Carmen. "Good morning."

"Morning dear... did you sleep well?"

Ranelle sighed and wrapped both hands around the cup of coffee that the Italian had just placed in front of her. "Mehhh..."

Carmen winced as she lowered herself down across from Ranelle. "Ranelle, dear, you sound like a goat in labour."

The coffee that had just entered Ranelle's mouth was hastily spit back into the mug as she stared coughing. She set the mug down and buried her head in her hands and just laughed. Finally she wound down enough to speak, "Ah.. thank-you Carmen, I needed that."

"Um.. you're welcome." Carmen sat and turned a speculative eye upon the woman across from her. "Forgive me if it isn't my place Ranelle, but you look a little worn down."

The coffee mug once again found itself sitting on the table as Ranelle sat back and focused on Carmen. "No, it's alright. It's nice to see that someone cares..."

"Surely you have plenty of people who care about you. It's as plain as day to me that Dean cares a great deal about you and that woman can be so distant and aloof sometimes. I..."

"Nononono." Carmen looked up, perplexed. "I mean, yes, Dean does care, I know that. And I didn't mean what I said the way I said it. I just... well, a lot of things have been happening lately. I mean I met Dean and we got attacked in the parking lot and then we went to San Diego and then Portland and there was the fire. I just feel really burnt out sometimes and I can't help thinking to myself 'What comes next?'. This isn't over, far from it, and I feel like I have to keeping looking over my shoulder and I really.... I hate that feeling, you know. And I know it's starting to get to Dean, too. I guess I just think that if someone can tell just by looking at me how I feel then it's okay to feel the way I do." She paused and thought that over and shook her head. "I'm sorry, Carmen, for dumping this all on you. I'm not even making sense, am I? I just confused the heck out of myself."

Carmen blinked a few times, stunned. She hadn't been expecting to hear all that, but now that she had, she might as well say something. "Oh Ranelle. Don't ever apologize for unloading on me, I'm used to it. Most people need to, or else they just explode. And it is okay to feel this way. Your life has just changed a lot and you've been through a lot.... it's a perfectly normal response to something that is very traumatic."

"You seem to be holding up just fine. It's not like I was trapped in that house and couldn't get out. I was unconscious..." She trailed off and shrugged.

A gentle, almost serene smile graced the older woman's face. "I wasn't fine after you two left Portland. The night after I had a nice little breakdown and cried on Anthony's shoulder. He did too. We came to terms and accepted that we no longer had a house, that we could have died, but we didn't and decided to move on. I'm a firm believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason. We were thinking of moving anyway, the cold was starting to get to me. And now we have nothing holding us back. And Ranelle, we can't control what happened in the past or what will happen in the future but you do have to talk about it and accept it." Carmen sat back after her long spiel and just watched as Ranelle digested everything.

"I think... that maybe you're right but I'm not sure...."

"I'm thinking you should go see that hardheaded Naval Commander and see what she has to say."

Ranelle nodded, finished off her coffee and stood. "Alright, I'm gonna go talk to Dean."

"Good for you."

Ranelle turned to leave then turned back. She took two steps and wrapped Carmen in a long hug. "Thanks," she whispered.

"You're welcome, dear." She whispered back.

The blonde turned to leave again and almost walked right into Anthony who had just entered the kitchen. "Anthony, hi, do you know where Dean is?"

"Morning, and yes, she's in the tower."


"That room she has, over there," he pointed vaguely to the other end of the house.

"Oh, where all her computer stuff is?"


Ranelle glanced at the clock. "It's hardly past 9 am... isn't it sort of early to be working up there?"

"Um... Dean only ever did three things when she wasn't on duty. Worked out, read, or messed around with all her trinkets and gadgets. And I don't think it's early for her, I think it's late."

"What do you mean?"

He shrugged. "I came here at 4 this morning for a drink and Dean was sitting at the table. Scared the shit outta me. When I got up again at 8 she was in the tower, has been ever since."

"Okay, thanks Anthony."

"No problem. And I wouldn't get my hopes up for great conversation if I were you. Dean seems to have reverted to caveman speech."

Ranelle chuckled. "I'll take my chances." And she left.


Ranelle trooped up the staircase and eventually found herself standing in the Tower, as Anthony had dubbed it. Dean was at the far end of the room with her back to the door. Even from here, Ranelle could tell that there was something not quite right with her tall friend.

Here it was 9:30 in the morning, what most sane people considered early but to Dean was late morning, and the officer was still decked out in her boxers and hockey jersey, standard sleeping attire.

The strong back turned and Dean came up short on her journey across the room upon seeing Ranelle. "Hey."


"I didn't hear you come up."

Ranelle shrugged. "I didn't make it a point to sneak, but I'm not naturally loud either." She strode forward to the table in the middle of the room and met the tall officer there. "What're you doing?"



Dean smirked. "It's a habit I have. I was always taking stuff apart as a kid, it's how I learned to fix things." The broad shoulders shrugged. "I still do it, except now I tend to build instead of take apart."

"I see. It must have driven your parents crazy."

"Oh, yeah. I remember, one of the first things I disassembled was a can opener... my father was furious, saying we didn't have the money to replace things that I ruined. My mother, always the voice of reason, took him aside and calmed him down. She asked him to just wait and see. So he did. And two hours later when he came back into the kitchen there it was, as good as new. He never yelled about that again and I never came across something I couldn't put back together."

"Your mom sounds pretty nice."

"Yeah, I guess. Dad was the time bomb waiting to explode and mom was kinda like the bomb squad... whenever she asked him to lay off, he did. Always sorta amazed me, how far he'd go to please her."

They stood together in silence, Dean's large hands fiddling with the bits and pieces of technology on the table. She's nervous, Ranelle thought. Deciding to bite the bullet since Dean obviously knew she was there to make more than idle conversation, she reached out and covered the large hands, stopping their nervous motion. Ranelle looked up, Dean refused to meet her eyes.

"You okay? You look as bad as you did last night."

"Yeah, I'm fine I just..."

"Hey," Ranelle reached up and gently cupped the side of Dean's face, "Look at me." Blue eyes reluctantly lifted to meet green. "Don't try and pull that with me. I think I'm getting to know you pretty well and I know that something's wrong. So spill."

Hesitation and then a heartfelt sigh. "I tried to sleep, but I had these dreams.... nightmares. About what happened. I just, with everything else that's happening, I don't want to deal with that right now. Cause if I drag it all up I think I might break and that... that terrifies me." They stood in silence, Ranelle loath to say anything, it was obvious that Dean was gathering herself to continue speaking. "I've seen that happen," she shook her head, "too many times, and I can't, won't, go through it." Her voice cracked and Ranelle glanced down to see the large hands shaking ever so slightly.

"Hey," Ranelle pulled gently on Dean's arm, "c'mere. Sit down." They both plopped down onto the floor right where they were. The blonde moved closer and again put her hand up to the side of Dean's face. Their eyes were on the same level, exactly what Ranelle wanted. It wasn't very easy to have a delicate, sensitive chat with someone who towers over you. "Now listen to me Dean. We can't do this alone, none of us can. Not me or Carmen or Anthony or you. We are all involved up to our necks in this but we aren't alone. We have each other to lean on and now I'm asking if I can lean on you. Can I? Let me lean on you and you can lean on me. Please?"

Dean's jaw clenched and unclenched several times. She leaned forward and covered her face with her hands and just sat there, thinking. Her low voice broke the silence, "I'm.... I'm afraid to let you help me, Ranelle."

"Do you want me to help you?"

"Yes, God yes." Dean's voice was strained and quiet. "But I'm not very good at this whole, sharing emotions thing... and there's just so much in me that might come out... I don't want to push you away."

"But you have talked to me about how you feel... you're doing it right now. And before, when you told me what happened on the mission, you were sharing emotions and things, and don't try and tell me you weren't." Ranelle reached out and gently placed her hand on Dean's back, rubbing slowly. "Don't worry about pushing me away either, I'm kinda fond of you and I don't give up that easily. Okay?"

The dark head nodded and moved to lean against Ranelle's shoulder. They sat there, together, neither of them thinking of anything in particular, just letting their minds wander. Ranelle kept up her gentle rubbing, feeling as though it was the only thing keeping her grounded in the here and now. When her hand reached the far left side of Dean's back she could feel the rough, raised skin that attested to the scars. She was pleased to see that Dean didn't react at all to her touching them, as opposed to the first time she had accidentally touched them after being attacked in the parking lot. The officer had flinched and practically shrunk away from the contact.

"Where'd you get this house?" Her voice seemed unnaturally loud in the otherwise silent room.

"Hmm... my grandfather willed it to me."

"Were you two close?"

Dean laughed. "Hell, no. I might have seen him twice in my lifetime and hardly remember the man."

"Soooo... he gave it to you because??"

"He and my father didn't get on so well... actually, they didn't get on at all. When I was told that I was now the owner of this house and everything the old guy had owned, I was shocked. So I asked what the will said. Apparantly, he had said that whatever relative was currently living the closest to here when he died would get everything, as long as it wasn't his son Malcolm. At the time, I was living with Scott here in Dallas and everyone else was in Austin." Dean shrugged, "So I got a house and a car and a whole bunch of furniture from I man I never knew, just because I was living in the right place and he hated his only son."

"I must say, sounds like you have a very interesting family."

Dean snorted. "More like dysfunctional."

"How'd ya meet Anthony?"

"Is this sharing and caring time?" The officer's large smile took away any harshness the words may have held.

"I'm just curious about you."

"Well, now that you've asked I might as well tell. He was on the first ship that I got assigned to when I turned 18... see, normally, women have to be 17, I think, maybe 18, before you're allowed to join the Navy. They recruited me before they checked everything out, assuming I was 18 cause I was graduating high school. They hadn't considered that I skipped a grade or two." Dean smiled, losing some of her morose mood. "Anyway, by the time they figured this out they couldn't retract the offer. So I spent the first year or two jumping around from base to base and training, learning all these different odd jobs. In the end it helped, because I had a lot of experience going into my first ship assignment that others didn't. Anyway, we ran into each other one day, literally, and became friends. Both if us being Italian helped solidify our friendship faster than you would have expected."

Ranelle smiled, thinking about what she had been told. "Sounds interesting. How old was he?"

"Oh... he was a newbie too.... just turned 18... I'm older by a couple of months."

"So that's what? 14 years worth of friendship?"


"When's your birthday?"

Dean wiggled her eyebrow and jumped up off the floor. "I'm not gonna tell 'ya... you have to guess.. you should know, too."

"Yeah," Ranelle stood as well, "I should. I read it in your file a few times."

"Well, then it isn't my fault you can't remember... come on."


"Hey, Dean, what are you doing today?" Ranelle had been intently studying her friend who was walking a step in front of her since coming down from the tower.

"Not much... Rachel said she might drop by," broad shoulders shrugged, "I don't have anything horribly exciting planned. Why?"

"Oh, I was just wondering."


In actuality, the blonde woman had noticed that Dean was walking differently. Limping, actually. She was concerned because in the entire time since the officer had gotten rid of her cane, Ranelle hadn't seen her limp unless she had been sitting for long periods of time or had put a lot of stress on her legs. If it was because of the former, stretching usually cleared it up right away. The latter, Ranelle had learned, Dean couldn't do anything to fix short of avoiding whatever had caused the problem in the first place. She had been limping for a day or two after the Portland fire.

But the last few days had been pretty darn tame so the only reason that came to mind was that Dean was more tired than she let on, or even looked. Ranelle hoped that Dean would take it easy and try to rest.... maybe she could get Anthony, Carmen, and even Rachel to help her out in that department. Yeah.

Ranelle refocused on her surroundings and stopped. "Um, Dean?"

The tall body stopped and turned. "Yeah?"

"Where are we? I don't recognize this hallway."

Dean studied the long corridor they were in and then turned back to Ranelle. "I'm, ah, not sure actually."

"Whadda ya mean?"

"Well, I wasn't paying attention really. My mind was wandering. Guess you weren't paying attention either, huh?"

"Noooo, I was following you."

"Well, no matter." She turned and took in the doors that they could go through. After a moments contemplation she chose. "This one."

"Are you sure?"

"No, but we aren't going to get any closer to the kitchen by just standing here."

"Good point."


Anthony glanced up at the ringing device and after a brief debate decided to answer the annoying distraction. "Hello?"

"Hello, I'm looking for Dean Ransom."

"May I ask who's speaking?"

"Anthony... that you?"

The Italian man's brow scrunched as he tried to place the familiar voice. "Admiral Cooper?"


"Oh... hi, um Dean..." he glanced up as the kitchen door swung open, "just walked in. Hold on a sec." Anthony lowered the phone and handed it over to his friend. At her inquiring look he mouthed Cooper. She scooped up the receiver and put it to her ear.


"Commander, hello."

"Is there something I can do for you, sir?"

Dean moved off with the cordless phone. Ranelle sat with the others and looked around. She glanced back sharply when Anthony's stare became annoying.


"Nothing... how'd it go?"

"Umm... pretty good I guess. I got more than grunts for answers." She paused and scratched her nose.

"What, what's wrong? What else happened?"

"It wasn't anything that happened. I'm just worried about Dean. She's limping and looks like hell." Ranelle looked up into two concerned faces. "I don't know what to do."

Carmen pursed her lips and sighed. "I'm not sure there is anything you can do, dear. This is something that Dean has to work through by herself first, before any of us can help her."

"Yeah, it's just frustrating."

They all looked up as Dean's tall body came limping back into the kitchen. She put the phone down and turned, leaning against the counter. She looked like she wanted to say something but was having a problem coming up with the words.

"So?" Ranelle prompted.

"Cooper is on his way back to San Diego from wherever he was but he's stopping here first. His plane lands at 10 and I'm going to pick him up. Alone." With that Dean turned and left the room, not giving any of them a chance to say one word.

"Well, guess she isn't going to be talked out of this one."

"Nope, and we'd be wasting our breath to try."

Ranelle nodded and stood. She looked at mother and son briefly before turning and walking out.

Carmen stared at the swinging door. "Stubborn, isn't she."

"Oh yeah."

Carmen grunted. "My money's still on Dean, though. She had that look that she gets when she's made up her mind."

Anhtony only nodded.


Ranelle paused outside of the closed bedroom door. She could hear Dean moving around inside and just paused to listen for several long moments. Then she stepped up to the door and knocked, opening it upon hearing the quiet 'come.'

She stepped in and turned to her right, seeing Dean standing in front of the closet in the process of buttoning up her shirt. Dean didn't say anything, she just stood staring at Ranelle and continued to button her shirt.

The blonde approached and stopped a step away. "Why are you doing this?"

"I don't think Texans would take very kindly to me walking around outside in my pajamas, do you?"

Ranelle smiled and ducked her head. "No, why are you going to the airport alone?"

"Because I need to talk to Cooper. He sounded strange and I think he knows something, but I don't think he'll be too keen on opening up with people he doesn't know."

Ranelle shook her head. "I don't like it."

"Ranelle," Dean moved forward and with surprising tenderness cupped the side of the blonde's face, "I'm just going to the airport, what could happen?"

Ranelle blinked up at her friend for several moments, "You know, that very same thing could be said about walking through a parking lot or taking a simple trip to Portland and look at what happened when we did that!"

Dean grinned. "I promise I'll be careful but I have to go and someone has to stay here in case we get word from your reporter friends or Shelly. Okay?"

The blonde sighed and nodded her head. "Alright but I don't have to like it."

The officer smiled and grabbed her jacket before limping out of the room. Ranelle followed, resigned to letting Dean walk away and hoping she wouldn't regret it.


Strolling through any major airport is a large undertaking on any day but strolling through the Dallas airport on a Wednesday afternoon was just plain nerve-wracking. Dean hated crowds, hated the noise and that the people were all so rude and pushy. Everyone was in a huge hurry to get wherever it was they were going, only to have to wait again for whatever reason. Line-ups, late planes, whatever. Hurry up and wait, Dean thought. As far as the officer was concerned, that rang true for airports more than anything else in the world.

Cooper's plane was on time and now it was a simple matter of locating him in this mass of humanity. He had said that he would be waiting at arrivals but why he couldn't come outside and wait there Dean couldn't figure out. It would have been a lot easier.

She shouldered her way through the crowds which was relatively easy with her stature. Fianlly, her keen eyes picked him out of the crowd. He was hard to miss, standing tall and proud and ramrod straight. He would have a nice mop of light brown hair if he didn't insist on having it almost as a buzz cut.

As Dean moved forward it became obvious to her that Cooper was as of yet unaware of her presence. He seemed to be intently studying two children who were avidly watching a spinning coin on a low table. The incredible joy they took in that simple task seemed to fascinate Cooper to no end.

Dean was within 20 steps of her CO when she felt a prickling at the back of her neck. Turning, she scanned the crowd and latched onto one face that was staring right at her. And that seemed very, very familiar. It was the man from her memory, the man she had had Anthony sketch, the man whose face was currently running in several different newspapers. Standing right in front of her.

Cooper broke off his observation of the children and looked up, immediately identifying the familiar bulk. He took in his subordinate's tense form and turned his head to see what held her interest. Cooper saw the man who was also staring back at Dean and before he could do anything, they both lurched into action. He wasted no time in following.

Dean knew he was on the brink of running and was moving after him before she had even consciously decided to follow. Running through the airport was no easy task, seeing as it was full of moving obstacles. Her legs screamed at her under this new and unwanted abuse but she ignored it and gamely pushed on. This man could clear up a lot of questions.

She wasn't very far behind him but he did his best to slow her down. He pushed suitcases over and jostled people about. Dean kept behind him though, occasionally jumping over downed luggage and maneuvering around bodies. They skidded around a corner, the man stumbled but kept going. Dean grabbed a sturdy metal pole and used it to swing around the corner without incident.

He took off as fast as ever, now several feet in front. They were coming up to a luggage belt that the man veered around to continue in the same direction. Dean made a quick calculation and picked up speed. Three long steps and she was launching through the air right over the belt. She landed and took another step and launched up again over the other end of the belt.

She was closer now and kept on going. Dean saw the folding sign attesting to the wet floor before the man did and also knew what was going to happen. She didn't have any time to stop and they both went sliding across a wet patch of floor. There was a wall on the other side of them with built in airport lockers and a wooden bench bolted to the floor.

The man slid first with Dean right behind. His legs impacted the bench and he fell right over top of it. Dean followed suit. She hit the ground with a thud, the air knocked out of her. Dean looked up at the roof for a moment, stunned. She could sense the man right beside her stirring. He was starting to get up. Dean sat up and her hand shot out, grabbing his belt. "Oh no you don't." She growled.

Dean pulled back, not expecting the man to go with the motion. He did and planted an elbow right in her stomach. She hissed and locked her other arm around his neck. He pushed off the floor with his legs and they both slammed back into the lockers.

Dean twisted him around to her left side. He kicked out and nailed her right in the shin. Dean's whole body jerked at the impact but she kept a tight hold on the man. If he would just quit squirming I'll be able to hold onto him.

The impact was so sudden and unexpected that she had no defense against it. Her head slammed back into the lockers again as the man stood and started to run again. Cooper came to a stumbling halt, quickly deciding not to go after the man. He was already out of sight and would be impossible to catch now. He walked over to where Dean sat on the floor blinking owlishly and rubbing her head. "What in the hell did he hit me with?" Her voice was quiet and sounded severely ticked off.

Cooper crouched so he was at eye level with the stunned officer and moved her hand away from her head. "Uh, the locker door." Dean glanced to the left to see the open door and glared at it. Cooper was busy inspecting her head and sat down beside her when he was satisfied.

"So what's the diagnosis?"

He grunted. "You look fine to me. You got a little cut and are gonna have one hellva bruise is all." He sighed and looked over at the woman he was sitting shoulder to shoulder with. "You sure now how to liven up a reunion."

She turned her head and smiled. "Someone's gotta keep you on your toes, Coop."

"Right." He looked up at the crowd they had attracted and sighed. Everyone was looking at them funny. He couldn't blame them. Cooper had kept right behind Dean all the way through the airport and knew that the three of them had caused quite a ruckus. He smirked, good 'ole Dean. "You wanna tell me what that was all about?"

"Sure, but not here. Come on." Dean stood rather awkwardly and offered her hand to Cooper. He grabbed it and was pulled effortlessly to his feet.


Cooper double stepped to catch up to Dean's extended stride. He by no means considered himself a small man but Dean did have incredibly long legs which she happened to be putting to good use at the moment. "Where's the fire?"

She glanced back and slowed a tiny bit, "Sorry, I just want to get out of here before we get held up for hours talking to airport security."

"You think they care?"

"If they see us in here they'll stop us. If we leave, well they might think it isn't important enough to track us down for." She looked at him over her shoulder for a moment. "Bags?"

"Oh, yeah." Cooper veered off to the right, Dean just kept walking. He huffed up next to her moments later, almost to the exit now.

"You left them alone in an airport?"

"No, grabbed a kid and asked him if he wanted to make twenty bucks."


They were in the parking lot now, headed directly for the Nissan. "So... what was the marathon in there about?"

"You tell me."


Dean looked at him briefly. "He's involved in everything... we've been running his picture in a few newspapers for the last couple of days."

Cooper pursed his lips. "Must be pretty cocky, then."


"So why did he take the risk?" Another look was sent his way. "Wait a sec... he wasn't there to see me." Cooper shook his head from side to side. "You can't possibly think that!? I'm one of the good guys here!"

"Honestly, I'm not sure what I think."

Cooper sighed loudly and thought for a few moments as they climbed into the SUV. "Okay, why don't we forget about him for the moment. I've spent the last few months digging into everything.."


"And I found some interesting shit. Stuff that is," he paused and wagged his hand back and forth, "out there, I guess."

"Out there?"


"What kind of out there?"

"Real heavy duty shit. You'll see what I mean."


There was a long silence as Dean maneuvered the SUV back to her nice safe house. They had almost pulled into the drive when Cooper spoke.

"How's the head?"

"Fine, why?"

"Looks like crap."

"You have such a way with words."

He shrugged. "Hey, I just state the obvious."

"Is it really that bad?"

"Look for yourself." He reached over and turned the rearview mirror towards Dean.

"Aww... Ranelle is going to flip." Dean sighed and jumped out of the car, slamming the door behind her. Cooper blinked after her hulking form before following.

As soon as they were through the door an audience formed. "Dean What happened?" Ranelle walked forward and reached up, gently touching the large bruise and cut.

"Just a little mishap."

Ranelle grumbled under her breath and then latched onto a large, tan hand. "Come on." She pulled Dean after her who han to follow or risk being pulled over.

Anthony and Carmen watched them go with amused smiles before the younger Bronce turned to greet his CO. They shook heartily and exchanged brief pleasantries before deciding to move to the kitchen.

Ranelle marched into the bathroom and turned, pointing at the bathtub. "Sit."

Dean meekly sat on the edge of the tub. Ranelle frowned as she noticed the increased limp from this morning. "Do you have a.. a.."

"In there." Dean pointed at the cupboard below the sink.

Ranelle opened the door and pulled out a first aid kit. She sighed as she opened it up and took a look at Dean's head. "This looks deep, Dean."

"Does it?"


"I was under the impression that it wasn't that bad." The officer reached up and rubbed the back of her neck. She was starting to get a headache. It was going to be a bad one.

Ranelle pulled out the disinfectant and turned Dean's head toward the light. "Hold still. This is going to sting." The blonde applied the liquid gently, careful not to get it into Dean's eye. "There."

"Am I good?"

"You should put some ice on your face." Ranelle commented as she tilted the dark head and studied the bruise. She looked down and saw the fleeting look of despair on Dean's face. "Hey, what's wrong?"

She shook her head. "Nothing."

"Come on, that wasn't a nothing look. Now spill." Ranelle sat down on the floor so she was looking up at Dean.

"Just seems like I've been getting knocked on my ass a lot lately."

Ranelle blinked several times, not really having expected that answer. Although, if she had given it any thought she would have realized that it would be a real issue for the officer. "Well, that may be true but the reason for it is totally out of your control."

Dean looked up and finally made eye contact with the blonde. She raised on eyebrow and waited.

Ranelle moved forward so they were face to face and just stared for several long moments.

"How can you think it's anything other than effects from being in the hospital? Ten months ago you almost died, for Christ's sake!! Now you haven't even been out for a month and it's understandable for you to be rusty. So don't beat yourself up over it, okay?"

"You're right."

"Of course." She impulsively leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Dean for a hug. Slightly startled, it took Dena a moment to hug back. They finally broke apart but before the officer could stand Ranelle latched onto her chin, forcing eye contact.

"You do, however, need to start taking better care of yourself!"


"Shush... just listen. One of these days you're really going to overdo it and end up with more than a limp and a bashed in face to show for it. What happened, anyway?"

So Dean told her, about going to the airport, seeing the man from her memories and the long chase through the hallways that ultimately ended with her 'getting her face bashed in', as Ranelle put it. The blonde sat back on her heels after Dean's brief synopsis. "Huh."

"Yeah, huh is right. Come on, lets go get some answers." Dean stood and pulled Ranelle up with her.

Togerher they walked into the kitchen where everyone was waiting. Dean lowered herself into a chair while Ranelle busied herself getting ice. After much puttering around she arrived at the table and handed Dean a bag. The officer smiled her thanks and settled herself, the bag held to the side of her face. "Alright Coop, you've got the floor. Make it good."

Now that the attention was focused solely on him, Cooper seemed nervous and tongue-tied. He cleared his throat several times and finally sat forward, elbows on the table and brow drawn together. "You remember that surveillance mission in Africa almost three years ago?"

"Umm... oh, yeah. There was a boat that was anchored off the coast of Africa half in and half out of international waters. We suspected that it was carrying nuclear armaments. We spent three weeks watching it for any kind of activity."

"Right. Do you remember when you and Anthony and a few others had land surveillance duty?"

Dean just nodded and motioned for Cooper to continue. She couldn't see how this was related but was willing to wait.

"Well, from what I've found out I believe that when that convoy of people showed up on the shore you unknowingly ended up with photographic evidence of some pretty nasty operations happening with a terrorist group."

It came around a completely blind corner and hit both Dean and Anthony upside the head. They sat there staring at Cooper, stunned. He looked back at them waiting for this new information to be absorbed.

"Okay..." Dean said hesitantly, "and... what?"

"As I said before, this is where it starts to get.. um.."

"Out there?"

"Yeah." He looked around to make sure he all their attention and continued. "This group of terrorists is very, very good. They cover their tracks well and the US government doesn't know a whole lot about them. We are certain that they collect nuclear weapons which explains why they were in Africa. It is my belief that they found out about this evidence and attacked during the middle east mission in the hopes of eliminating any living witnesses."

"Well why the hell did they wait so long!?" Dean practically yelled. She was getting very ticked off, this was larger than she had first thought.

"I'm getting there. It is also my belief that there is something of a mole in the Navy."

"Yeah, we sorta figured that." The quiet statement came from Anthony who was looking rather subdued.

"Right. Well, I think that this photographic evidence ended up crossing the path of this mole. So he or she destroyed it and tried to make sure there was no trace left. Then the mole would have alerted the terrorist group and they would take action to ensure that no one would be able to identify them if someone figured everything out."

"So that's what this whole entire thing is about. Some group of terrorist are afraid of being caught so they go and cause the death of more than two dozen people!"

"It would seem that way, yes."

Dean sighed and fell back in her chair. "And you found all this out how?"

Cooper looked up and pursed his lips. "I have my ways, that's all you need to know." He solemnly looked around the room. "You are all in danger as long as these people think you two," he pointed at Dean and Anthony, "are a threat to them."

"No kidding!" Dean moved to rub her face but stopped when she touched the bruise and winced. "You have any brilliant ideas about how to prove that we don't know a goddamn thing!?"

"Unfortunately, no."

"Great." Dean stood, gathered her ice bag and stomped out of the room.

Ranelle watched her, considering if she should follow or not. After a short debate she decided to let the officer calm down first.

"So," Anthony broke the brief silence, "how long are you staying around?"

"I have to leave soon. I've been gone too long already."

"How's the wife?"

Cooper looked up and blinked several times. Anthony thought he looked very concerned and couldn't figure out why. "Oh, they're um... they're great!" He smiled.

"Do you have a name?" Ranelle blurted out, not sure where the question had come from.

"Of who?"

"Of any of the terrorists?"

"Oh, I do actually." He slapped his forehead and then pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket.

Anthony grabbed it and studied the list with Ranelle reading over his shoulder. Half way down she gripped Anthony's shoulder and pulled back, bringing the list closer.

He looked back at her with a slight smile. "Something you see?"

"Yeah." She pointed to a name.

Anthony looked closer. All these names seemed almost unpronounceable to him. "So?"

"Shelly called today."

"I know, I was here when you spoke to her, Ranelle."

"She had identified the picture we faxed her." This time the blonde woman pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket. She showed it to Anthony.

It was the same name.

"Gimme that." Cooper took the list. "Which name?"

"Here." Anthony pointed. "Do you know who he is?"

"Uh-huh, sure do. He's one of the ring leaders. Pretty high up in their little group."

"Well, according to Shelly, he has US citizenship."

The two Naval officers looked at Ranelle. "Well damn, I'd like to know who let that SOB into the country."

Anthony snorted, "No kidding."

"I think," Ranelle said as she sat back down, "the real issue is what was he doing at the airport."

"He could be here to finish what they started 10 months ago."

Anhtony looked up at Cooper and sighed. "You mean kill me and Dean."

"Yep... and with you here instead of Portland, well, that just makes his job a whole lot easier."

"If that's true then do you believe it was coincidence that he just happened to be at the airport when Dean was?" Ranelle wanted to stick to the important issues. Mainly how this terrorist knew that her tall friend was going to be at the airport if he was, in fact, here to finish the job.

Anthony rubbed his face. "Probably not... but if it isn't, then how'd he find out? Dean only got the call from you today, Coop. And the only people that knew were us." Anthony looked around at the occupants of the kitchen. At his mother, and a young woman that he was proud to call friend. Who he knew was very important to a certain blue-eyed Navy Commander. "I'm sure it wasn't any of us that spilled the beans."

"We should tell Dean." Cooper said as he sat back and sighed.

"Right," Ranelle stood and turned to go, pausing just before she left the room, "and just how do you propose that I find her in this monstrosity of a house?"

Antony looked up and grinned, "Luck?"

The blonde snorted as she left the kitchen.


She tried the tower, empty. She knocked on the bedroom door and opened it just to make sure her friend wasn't being stubborn. Empty.


Ranelle stopped in the middle of the hallway and thought. 'If I were Dean and wanted to be alone, where would I go. That is, if I weren't tinkering with my electronics.' After several moments of contemplation she set back out on her trek through the house.

After winding her way through the halls she finally came across the room she was looking for. Ranelle leaned against the door jam and just watched. Dean was sitting on a weight bench doing arm curls. Apparantly, before going to her little gym she had stopped and changed clothes. Now, she was adorned in a sleeveless shirt and shorts that stopped just above her knees.

Finally, the officer decided to acknowledge the intruder and blue eyes glance up. "Ranelle."

The blonde stepped further into the room. "Hey."

"What's up?" Dean stopped her arm curls and put the weight down with a loud thunk.

Ranelle came forward and straddled the bench facing Dean. She took a moment to study the officer, taking in the well defined muscles along her arms and shoulders. She stopped her perusal when her eyes landed on the scaring that just barely came over Dean's left shoulder and around her biceps. Knowing how uncomfortable Dean became when her scars were paid much attention, Ranelle obligingly moved her eyes back to the officer's face.

Dean was waiting expectantly, well aware of being studied. Ranelle cleared her throat briefly before speaking. "After you left we came to some more conclusions. I forgot to tell you before but Shelly called today when you were gone. She identified the guy. He was on a list of terrorists that Cooper had. Cooper said he was one of the big important guys. We all sorta figured that he's here to finish what they started. What we couldn't figure out was how he knew you were going to be at the airport."

There was a long contemplative silence before Dean spoke up. "Alright. Can you call your newspaper buddies and ask them to stop running our picture?" Ranelle nodded. "Good. No one has come forward yet, it's doubtful that someone will. Besides, we got our man identified." Dean looked up sharply. "Was Shelly sure?"

"Oh yes, she said she checked a dozen times at least which is why it took so long."

"Good. All we can really do now is wait. If he's really here to finish us off then he'll come to us; all we can do is be ready."

Ranelle looked skeptical but agreed. She wasn't sure how smart it was to just wait around for a murdering scum-bag to come and kill you. But really, what else could they do? It's not like they could go to the police or anything. There was no evidence, all they were working on was hunches and information gleaned by a Naval officer in somewhat questionable ways. She wasn't too sure about Cooper. He seemed awfully nervous. But she got the feeling that Dean didn't totally trust him either. That made Ranelle feel better. At least she knew she wasn't being paranoid.

So she resigned herself to wait it out.

"Do you remember when we were in San Diego and you picked out three missions that you thought could be the one that this whole thing was connected to?"


"Was the African mission one of them?"

The dark head shook. "Nope."

"So do we think that Cooper is telling the truth?"

The officer sighed as she leaned over and planted her elbows on her knees. "Yeah, I do. It fits."

"And do we know why you ruled that one out when we were in San Diego?"

"Yeah, I was working off the people who were in the Middle East with me and I had worked with before. I eliminated something I shouldn't have."

"Which is??"

The officer straightened and moved over so she was right beside the blonde woman. "I was looking at missions before our Special Ops team was formed. But there was a brief period that the Africa mission falls into where me, Anthony, and a few others spent time working with another team." There was a long pause as the officer processed that for a minute. "Oh shit!"

"What, what's wrong?"

Dean turned to face Ranelle head on. "It wasn't just my team members who were there and saw the evidence. Those people who were with us are in danger too if that terrorist group figures it out. They probably thought that that was the regular team in Africa."

The implications of that statement weighed down on the shoulders of the two women. "So what do we do?" Ranelle asked. She couldn't imagine even more people dying over this entire situation. It just wasn't right. All those people from Dean's team, dead, when most of them hadn't even seen the evidence that resulted in their demise.

"We call Shelly, she'll be able to get ahold of who was on the team and be able to warn them. Hopefully, the terrorists won't figure it out and they'll all be left alone." The officer stood and walked over to the phone on the other side of the room.

Ranelle sat and watched as Dean made the call, quietly asking another favour of the woman at the other end and warning her to be careful. What with a mole in the Navy they couldn't be too sure what would grab his or her attention and result in more death.

The call lasted several minutes and when it finally ended Dean walked back over and plopped on the bench. She sighed and Ranelle could see the lines of exhaustion and worry that were making themselves known on the officer's face. Ranelle gathered that her face showed the strain as well, especially with these new developments. She hated waiting and that's all they were doing now. Waiting for a murderer to show up, waiting for a break that would lead to the end of this nightmare. Just waiting.

"Hey Dean?"


"Why don't you come over to my place tonight. I'll cook you dinner. It might do you some good to get out of this house for a bit." Well, who said she couldn't have a little bit of fun while waiting for a psychopathic terrorist to come slit her friend's throat? 'Oh boy,' Ranelle thought, 'I'm either going nuts or the stress is getting to me. It's the stress... yep, definitely the stress.'

Dean hardly thought about it before answering. "Sure."

"Great. I have to get going but can you swing by my place around 6?"


"Okay, I'll see you then." Ranelle got up and walked to the door. She turned back with one foot in the hallway. "And Dean?" The officer looked up and raised an eyebrow. "Take it easy, okay? Don't show up with anymore bruises."

"Whatever you say, Ranelle."

The blonde grinned and left the room.


The blonde chef glanced out her window which happened to have a perfect view of the parking lot for the hundredth time. Dean was late. Granted, she was only late by about five minutes but as far as she knew, the officer was never late. In fact, Dean made a point of being early.

So Ranelle was concerned but wasn't about to jump to conclusions yet, there were tons of reasons that her friend could have for being late.

She turned away from the window and almost tripped over Terkers. "Hey!" Looking down, she studied the small black and white feline who promptly meowed. Ranelle shook her head and walked back to the kitchen. She had just started to stir her wonderful creation when someone knocked on her door.

Walking over, she briefly glanced out the peephole only to be met by a big hulking form dressed all in black. She pulled back from the door and raised her voice, "Dean, that you?"

The low, richly accented voice came back, "Who else would it be?"

Ranelle grinned like an idiot and opened the door. "Hi!"

"Hi." Dean walked in and turned back around to watch the seemingly very happy woman. "What's up with you?"

The blonde closed the door and turned to face her guest. "Oh. nothing." Get a grip, Ranelle thought, and stop grinning like an idiot. You just saw the woman less than four hours ago. But she couldn't, so she resigned herself to being happy.

"Righhttt. Tell me," Dean started as she followed the hostess to the kitchen, "do you always screen your visitors like that?"

"Huh? Oh, no. It's just, when I looked through the peephole I couldn't tell who it was because you're so tall all I saw was your body. So I asked, cause what with everything going on, I didn't want to take any chances."

"I see. I'm glad you're being cautious."

Dean leaned on the counter, not paying much heed to the little ball of fluff that was currently climbing up her leg. "So, what are we eating?"

"It's sorta this hodgepodge thing my mother used to make. It's a mix of a whole bunch of different things, it's really good."

Dean nodded and glanced down at the cat who had made her way almost to the officer's hip. Taking pity on the feline who was climbing so steadily, Dean reached down and grabbed Terkers, placing her high up on one broad shoulder. The cat seemed to like this idea as she spent a moment to process how high up she was before she promptly sprawled out on Dean's shoulder.

Ranelle looked up and laughed at the picture it made. Dean scowled at the little blonde and then sighed. "Great, I'm a cat bed."

"Awww... she lovvvvess you! And you have no right to complain, Ransom, you put her there."

"Watch it, Maloch."

"Ohhh.. I'm soooo scared."

Dean narrowed her eyes before she shook her head and stared looking around the apartment. She noticed all the books that were liberally stacked in every nook and cranny. She turned back towards the blonde who was just dishing out her hodgepodge creation. "I'm gonna take a wild swing here and guess that you really, really like to read."

"Most definitely."

"Hmm.... remind me of that the next time you're over at my place."


Blue eyes looked up and twinkled. "It's a surprise."

Ranelle looked up and Dean fully expected the blonde to growl. "Evil. I hate waiting for surprises!"

"Well, you'll have to wait or else I won't show you at all."

"Fine! Come on, food's ready."

The officer walked over, plopped the purring cat on the floor where she belonged and settled into a chair. They ate in comfortable silence until Ranelle decided to break it. "You were late."



"Rachel showed up like she said she might not long after you left. She, of course, made an appropriate amount of fuss over my nice bruise. And then I had to give her the whole story because she wasn't satisfied with 'I got hit in the face.'"

"You didn't tell her?"

Dean looked up, confused. "Of course I did."

"No, no... before now, you didn't tell her?"



The officer put her fork down and sat back to look at the blonde woman. "Why would I?"

"Well, she's your sister, she cares about you." Silence. Ranelle shook her head and sighed. "You really aren't used to informing people about things that are going on with you, are you?"

"Not really, no."

"How come?"

Dean pursed her lips and thought about it for several moments. "Probably because I've pretty much been on my own for a long time. I never saw family or friends very often and when I did, I really didn't want to talk about work. It wasn't their business anyway."

"Right, well, we're going to have to work on this communication thing, okay?"

The officer grinned at Ranelle and continued eating. "Whatever you say."

They finished their meal with friendly conversation with Dean commenting many times about how good the food was. They did the dishes together and finally ended up sitting side-by-side on the couch. "So, how 'ya doing?"

The officer turned so she was facing the smaller woman across from her and smiled. "That sounds like a question to just fill the silence."

"Well, sorta. But you look.. tired, edgy."

Dean shifted and looked down at her lap uncomfortably. "Yeah, well, this entire thing is making me edgy and will until we get some closure."

"Hmmm... you know, I am eventually going to have to write that article."

"Yep." The dark head nodded.

"So, you wanna tell me what happened, after you um..."

"Fell down the stairs?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Okay." She said it quietly, turned so she was staring at the coffee table in front of them and took a deep breath.


31 steps.

31 steel steps with somewhat pointed edges.

You know, because you have been counting them every morning during your workout for the last three weeks.

31 steps, and each time any part of your body impacts one, if feels like the equivalent of falling out of a second story window and hitting hard, cold, frozen ground, you have that much momentum.

There is nothing to grab onto, nothing to stop your journey down to the first sub-level. You gave up trying, having found that it only inflicted damage on your fingers. You're sure that some of them are broken. You're also sure that you felt something in your side break, meaning your ribs. You resign yourself to the fall, resolving to wrap your arms around your head and hope you aren't knocked unconscious.

Finally, you land at the bottom, the air knocked out of your lungs. You stay there for a moment, gasping for breath through the bandana on your face and taking stock of your situation, mildly surprised that you are still conscious. Besides the fire that is still running along your back and legs, a now pounding headache and aching ribs, you decide that you are still in pretty good shape.

Now you know that the enemy is still around and to be extra cautious when you head up the stairs again with the remaining support personnel. Suddenly, you think of Bronce and know that if he is still all right that he would have returned long ago. You know you can't dwell on the loss of a friend now or you will more than likely die too. There will be time enough for that later.

You manage to get your body moving and sit up, gradually you move to a standing position. You reach up and feel your head, your hand comes back bloody. There is a cut above your eyebrow. You sigh and then wince as that aggravates your ribs. You quickly pull yourself together and motion the support personnel up the stairs, warning them of the gas on the upper floor and telling them to cover their mouths. You take point with an armed rear guard.

As you come to the top of the stairs you tell the others to wait as you step out and scout around, looking for any sign of the person who knocked you down the stairs. The area seems clear so you motion the others up, and urge them to hurry out the door. On the way out you hear a groan and turn. You walk through the debris and come across one of your men. He is barley conscious and sports a nasty head wound, but he is alive and you can't leave him here. You can't seem to recall his name.

You bend down and heave his smaller frame onto your shoulders and head out of the building. You run toward the trees and hand him off to some anxiously waiting support personnel who can get him back to the rendezvous point. You ask about the number of people at the meeting point and the number reported to you is frightfully low. You turn and go back, against the protests of the support personnel. People are missing, and you'll be damned if you're going to leave them behind when they may still be alive.


Dean stumbled to a halt, her eyes shifting restlessly around the room. Ranelle moved over and raised her arm, gently placing it across Dean's back. The officer was very close to losing her composure.

Dean looked over at the woman beside her, at the pain that was obvious in Ranelle's face. For her. It broke her. The officer leaned down and wrapped her arms around Ranelle's middle, burying her face into the blonde's stomach and just cried.

Ranelle leaned over the strong body that had collapsed into her lap, tracing gentle patterns across Dean's back. "Shh... it's alright. You're okay.. shhh." Ranelle sat, not quite sure what she could do to help.

So she just held on.


The young blonde sat, staring vacantly at the wall in front of her. She had her arm wrapped around Dean's broad shoulders as the taller woman slept. She wasn't sure how they had ended up like this. After finishing this latest segment of events, the taller woman had been a mess, much like the first time she had revealed some past events. So Ranelle had offered Dean any support and comfort she could, and the officer eventually found her way to a reclining position, head and shoulders resting on Ranelle's lap.

Terkers had found her way into the large group cuddle and was curled up in front of Dean's stomach, purring away like the little motor she was.

Not long after she laid down, Dean had drifted off into a restful slumber.

That was about four hours ago.

Looking down at the dark head in her lap, Ranelle took a moment to think about her friend. At first, she had regarded the officer as nothing more than a source of information. A faceless name. Quickly after meeting her though, Ranelle found that Dean was so much more than that. She was a complex and interesting person, with so many different levels and facets to her personality that it was mind boggling. One moment they could be joking around with each other, the next Dean could hit a serious and touchy subject and show all the cold heartlessness of a person who had seen death and destruction and become somewhat immune to it.

And yet, despite the fact that she had seen this exhibited in the tall officer, Ranelle couldn't find it in herself to fear the other woman. Because she had also seen Dean be gentle and caring, and had found refuge in those strong arms.

So they became friends, but there was something more. Ranelle scrunched her brow up as she thought, trying to focus in on what else was there. Dean was a very good friend, true. But she was more than that, because Ranelle never remembered caring this much about any other friends. Not Stacey or Brock or even her cousin.

What exactly did Dean mean to her, that was the real question.

Why did she sometimes find herself almost drowning in those blue eyes?

Looking down once again at the woman sleeping so trustingly in her arms, Ranelle found her answer. And she sat stunned.

She was in love.

Plain and simple.

Ranelle looked down at the head in her lap, her breathing shallow as she blinked and tried to get her brain working again. Love, it was something she had never gone looking for but it had managed to sneak right up on her. Ranelle blinked and stared. Slowly, a large grin started to break out across her face. She was in love. Ranelle wanted to get up and sing and dance. She settled for a quickly muffled whoop of joy.

A hand found its way across a mouth as Ranelle looked down, eyes wide, hoping she hadn't woken her friend. Seeing that Dean was still sleeping, the hand removed itself to reveal a grin.

"I'm in love." It felt good to say it, Ranelle decided. She shifted, wanting to get up and get on with life so she could explore this newly discovered emotion.

In a matter of weeks she had managed to fall in love with one of her best friends.

And she knew that it was love. There was no doubt.

Ranelle had only fancied herself in love one other time in her life. It had been somewhat like this, but a lot milder. The intensity that she felt simply being with Dean had been absent then.

'Well', Ranelle thought as she leaned back, 'now that you figured it out, what are you going to do?'

Then another thought hit her.

She didn't know if Dean was gay.

Her newfound joy was quickly subdued as this thought sobered her mood.

In all the time they had spent together, all the conversations they had had, the subject of relationships had never once come up. Nor that of gays. She didn't know if Dean knew she was gay. Ranelle suspected that Dean suspected Ranelle was.

The blonde thought about when they had first met at the club. She had been with Carly and Dean had made a vague comment about interrupting. If Ranelle remembered correctly, the officer had used the term 'that' accompanied with a vague hand gesture.

Considering how smart and observant she knew her friend to be, Ranelle decided that Dean suspected she was gay from observing her interaction with Carly. Her 'that' comment was most likely purposefully vague so there would be no chance of offending.

It made sense and seemed to fit with Dean's way of approaching things.

Ranelle shook her head to clear it, she had gotten way off topic. The important thing was whether or not Dean was gay. The answer to that question really had no bearing on if Dean knew she herself was.

Any further pondering was interrupted as the blonde felt the body in her grasp gain more tension and knew that Dean was going to wake up. Ranelle waited patiently.

A quiet voice soon broke the stillness of the room. "Guess I fell asleep, huh?"

"Yeah, but you needed it."

"I suppose." Dean had not yet made any move to extract herself from her position so Ranelle happily stayed as she was. "What time is it?"

"A little after 10."

"Argh..." Dean groaned and rolled off her side and onto her back. Terkers companionably migrated to the officer's stomach now that her sliver of the couch was taken.

Dean looked up at the blonde from her new position. "You just sat here all this time?"


"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep on you and trap you here." The officer moved to sit up.

"Hey.." Ranelle pushed down on the taller woman's shoulders, "did I say I minded? I just passed the time thinking." And making some interesting revelations. Now that she had identified what she was feeling, it made some things make more sense. And she looked at Dean through slightly different eyes now. This was no longer just a friend, but the person she loved.

Running the tips of her fingers very gently over the large bruise on Dean's face, Ranelle commented, "This looks okay. I think the ice helped." Dean grunted. "Christmas is coming up."

Blue eyes zeroed in on the face above. "Is it really?"

"Yep." Ranelle paused and studied the other woman speculatively, "Please tell me you celebrate Christmas."

"Well.... what's your definition of 'celebrate'?"



"Everyone celebrates Christmas... well, almost everyone."

"It's not that I don't celebrate it, I'm just usually never around on Christmas Day. I always stop by and spend a day or two with Scott and Rachel and Maria, though. But I miss all the big stuff, you know, dinner and everything. And I always have something to give them."

"Really... you don't strike me as a shopper."

"I'm not. But if I'm out somewhere and I see something I know one of them will like, I buy it. Then it gets put away until the holidays roll around... that way, I always have something and when I remember I'm not panicked." Dean shrugged sheepishly, "I'm not the best for remembering holidays and stuff."

"Hmm... I never would have guessed."

Dean's eyes narrowed briefly before she chuckled deep in her throat. "What about you? Are you a holiday buff?"

"Yep... it was always a big thing at home and I guess I sorta carried the tradition with me when I moved here. I get together with my friends and uncle and Amanda, we have a nice big party thing. We've been doing it since I moved here. It's a lot of fun."

"I bet. So, you don't go home for the holidays?"

"Well, not really. My parents are usually away but I see my brother and sister for a few days every year. We rotate, every year we all go to a different city to meet up and spend time together. I think they're supposed to come here this year."

"Are you three really spread out?"

"Um.... well, my brother is in New York, I'm here, and my sister is currently living in Canada."

"Interesting... why are you all so far apart?"

"Well, my brother's something of an entrepreneur... I think the last time we spoke," Ranelle squinted her eyes together, remembering, "he had this idea for a thing. I'm not sure how that worked out. My sister has kind of taken after my parents and their business... she's up there taking care of some of our racers." Ranelle stopped and shifted, resettling her arm across Dean's shoulders. "I think once we all moved away and our parents started traveling more we kinda lost interest in keeping up the tradition. So I guess it isn't a tradition anymore, huh?"

"Guess not. Do you miss it?"

"Um... I, yeah, I do. I mean, I love my parents and even though we all never were that close to them I miss them."

"So why don't you call them or something?"


"Ranelle?" Dean sat up and turned so she was sitting beside her friend.

"I guess I'm afraid that if I do they'll say no and I'd just rather not..."

"Hey," Dean moved hesitantly forward and touched the younger woman's cheek, "why would they say no?"

The blonde shook her head and sniffled, "I dunno." She started to cry.

Dean didn't hesitate, or think twice, she just wrapped her long arms around her friend and pulled the young woman closer to her. Genlty rocking them back and forth, Dean just held on and made gentle shushing sounds.

'Great,' Dean thought, 'she's crying. Now what am I supposed to do?'

After a moment Ranelle seemed to have gathered herself and stopped crying. She was still firmly burrowed in Dean's arms and had no inclination to move any time soon. She was warm and safe and... Ranelle paused, and Dean smelled really good. Nice and clean, like laundry detergent and baby powder.

"I'm sorry..." Ranelle started hesitantly, "I just.."

"Hey, it's alright. I've cried on you, it's only fair that you get to cry on me. We don't have to talk about this if it upsets you so much. Okay?"


So they sat, comfortably enclosed in the safety of the other's presence. Silent. Just breathing. Just feeling. Just falling in love.

To be continued...

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