-- These characters are wholly mine. It is true that Sam and Annie look like our ancient gals, but any other resemblance to any other people, real or fictitional, is strictly coincidental.

Sex -- This is a lesbian romance thriller. There are graphic, but loving, scenes of sex between women. If you're under 18 you're just going to have to wait awhile to read, or if this is illegal where you are, I sincerely extend my condolences.

Violence -- This is a story of violent hatred attacking an innocent gay community. The violence is psychopathic and unsettling, but not overly gory.

Language -- Infrequently, some really scummy people show up in this book, and they use really disgusting language. Even our heroines are driven to cuss now and again. But the purpose is to display certain mind types, and in this, the language is only realistic.

General -- I should probably let you know beforehand that this story deals with bigots and hate crimes. If this is going to be hard for you, you may want to go elsewhere. -- There are hospital scenes dealing with diverse injuries. I am not a member of the medical profession. If the things I have my doctors and nurses do for certain injuries were done by real doctors to real people, it could very well kill them.

Feed the bard -- This is my first attempt at fanfic writing, so your comments would be a big help to me. Thanks.




Sue Hickerson

Sam slept for two days. She woke up once after about fourteen hours and staggered into the bathroom with El's help to pee and vomit. The first morning, Mare went to the hospital to tell Annie that Sam was so exhausted she was still sleeping. Annie was happy Sam was sleeping after hearing she was at her side without sleep basically for four days. Annie was still in the ICU, woozy and sleeping a lot herself.

On the evening of the first day, Sam woke up. She mumbled that she wanted to see Annie, but she was obviously still drunk with alcohol and tiredness, so even though she begged weakly, they convinced her to lie down after taking her trembling body to the bathroom, and she was immediately asleep again.

Late in the afternoon of the second day, Sam woke up and was ready to stay awake and eat something. Linley had stopped over, and she and Mare helped Sam dress and sat with her in the livingroom while El went to the kitchen and made a light dinner. Sam was gravely depressed. She couldn't figure out how she could stay with Annie. She felt shame and self loathing that burned her, and she grieved the fact that she hadn't kept Annie safe and couldn't keep Annie safe.

After dinner, Linley offered to spend the night with Sam if Mare and El wanted to go home. The two realized Linley wanted to talk privately with their agonized friend, and so they hugged and kissed and reassured Sam and bid her goodbye. Linley walked them to the door and spoke with them softly before saying goodnight and returning to Sam.

Linny sat down on the couch with Sam. "You know, Sam, leaving Annie wouldn't solve the problem you're facing. And it would be the saddest thing I've ever seen you do. You two are so in love. Your love is a tremendous gift. The shaman would call it wiccan. You need to protect your love, revere it. That's what we need to see to tonight."

Sam laid her head on the back of the couch, and the tears started coming. "I think Annie's love traps her with me. That's hardly fair, Linny. I took an innocent outsider and over the last too months I dragged her right to the door of Death." Sam felt her stomach twist sickeningly. "I am so inept. I feel like a monster who damages everything it touches."

"Well, you're not, Sam. You're an extraordinarily competent person. So you can see that there is some serious disconnect going on here. And we need to uncover it." Sam didn't respond and Linny went on. "You feel you've betrayed Annie through all this, don't you?"

Sam covered her eyes with her hands and sobbed. "Yes."

"Okay. Let's go through that step by step," Linny said softly.

"Okay..." Sam wiped at her tears, but they kept seeping down her cheeks. She leaned forward with elbows on her knees. "Fact number one: Nobody even knew Annie was gay when I met her. She was safe. But I came on to her and wouldn't stop pushing, and finally I got her to go on a date. What did I expect would happen? She didn't know anyone in town. She was lonely. It had to be hard for her. I did everything I could to seduce her, and it worked. I made her the lover of the most dangerous woman in Boffler she could possibly love!"

"Annie told me that she did everything she could think of to kindle a relationship with you. Because she thought you were the most beautiful, fascinating woman she'd ever met."

Sam looked at Linny for a moment. "Really?"


The little crooked smile came out to play for a moment on Sam's lips. But it disappeared again as her mind turned back the larger issues. "I took her to the Rattler. That outed her publically and identified her as my girlfriend. That very first night a crazy followed us home and threatened her." She started crying again with the memory and the thought of her selfish rashness.

"Didn't she ask you to take her to the Rattler?"

"I shouldn't have done it! I knew it would out her! It was selfish! I never gave a damn about how dangerous that would be for Annie! Oh, fuck, Linny, I've sabotaged her in every way I could!" She bent over in an emotional pain so intense it was physical.

Slowly Linny worked with Sam, bringing her to the realization that Annie wanted to come out when she heard the trouble that was going on in Boffler, that she had always been out, and that it would have been only a short time before Annie would have come out on her own.

"But she wouldn't have been linked to me."

"Sam, Annie started to love you before you were even conscious in the hospital. She wanted to be with you. She loves you. She would have pressed for the relationship until it happened, because you two are just, you're just meant to be together. Something wonderful happened. That has both guided you into the fire of all this and given you both the strength to get through it. Why do you think it happened at this moment?"

Sam considered the question, finally going to look for tissues for her running nose and eyes. No answer came to her. She settled back down on the couch, and her crying overwhelmed her again intensely. "I don't know. Maybe it's my punishment for being such a shitty destructive son-of-a-bitch."

"No, Sam. No, darling. You and Annie were brought together and became lovers because that set the path for all of us to get through this time of evil!"

Sam stared at Linny her lips parted in confusion. Goosebumps rose on her skin. "What do you mean?"

"Sam," Linny spoke urgently, "The evil in Boffler has ended. Why has it ended? Because the head of the serpent was cut off. Henry Trent was caught. Henry has masterminded this whole situation. He had the vision, he designed the organization, he recruited the workers, he gave them their orders. Sam, he was writing a book on how to organize belligerant populations into forces that would run homosexuals, blacks, jews, anyone they wanted, run them out of communities all over the world! He was writing a terrorist handbook! This has all come out since you brought him into jail. Henry's telling everything. He's still writing his book! That's what got the militia so excited that they called the retreat, this unconscienable vision he had for purging America of everyone they hate. All those crazies came to Boffler because of Henry. He had to be stopped. And you stopped him. And why did you stop him? Because he tried to have Annie killed! And why did he want Annie killed? Because she was your lover! See? See how this is weaving together? A chain of inevitable events, fated events, was set in motion by you and Annie coming together, and it led to the capture of a minion of evil. What we've been going through, Sam, is an iconic coming into battle of Good and Evil. This happens in moments. And when it happens, the spiritual powers rise up and work with us, within us, to get us through the battle. This is what happened to you and Annie. You and Annie, who love each other endlessly, were brought together by holy spirit in that... that imponderably mysterious way that she works. An inevitable love affair was kindled that got us all through a moment when pure evil reared its head to challenge Goodness."

Sam felt the tickling presence of loving spirit in the room. "Do you believe this, Linny?"

"With all my heart. Call it Holy Mother, or the Mind of God or whatever you want. I see it everyday in my practice. If we can see it, it helps us understand some sacred plan that we must revere and not fight against. And you're fighting against this sacred plan, when all you need to do is embrace it and rejoice in it."

"I thought I was failing Annie in every way. I almost got her killed."

"You didn't almost kill her, Sam. Evil almost killed her. But she didn't die, did she? Goodness saved her. Love saved her. The holy spirit of the Mother Goddess."

"When I saw her in the hospital with all the tubes and the respirator, all I could think about was my dad who was dead already, only being kept alive by that machine. Almost drove me crazy."

"That image is important, Sam. That image of your father came to mind when you looked at Annie. You have a deep, intense need to take care of people and solve problems, Sam, and you are extraordinarily competent at it based on a lifetime of helping your father survive his depression and alcoholism. But you were a child then and unprepared to handle some of the complex problems involved. You tried to take care of your dad when he'd lose his job, when he'd get drunk and have an accident, when he was drunk and couldn't work in the shop, when he was dying so early of cirrhosis of the liver, you tried to solve those problems and take care of him, and you did a hero's job of it as a child. But some of those problems were simply beyond you, and that helplessness in the face of your desire to protect your father, frightened you and made you feel worthless. And now again there's been an uncertain, dangerous situation beyond anyone's capacity to manage, and your fears, those same feelings you had as a child, came back overwhelmingly."

"So I'm feeling like a child?"

"You're feeling what you felt as a child. The terrors you felt when you couldn't resolve the problems that came up with your father."

"So I just have to keep that in perspective."

"And you have to comfort yourself, Sam. Almost like you would comfort a child. Let Annie comfort you. Let her love comfort you."

Sam closed her eyes and shook her head, lips parted. "This is so different than everything I was thinking. I'm just... I'm just turned around a hundred and eighty degrees. You save me, Linny. You save me again and again."

"Do you think you can let Annie comfort you with her love?"

"She needs me now. I need to comfort her now."

"Sam, Annie knows you have been having trouble. I asked Mare and El to tell her what's been happening here."

Tears came to Sam again.

"She'll want to comfort you, Sam."

"I love her so much."

"She loves you. And her heart is reaching out to love and comfort you just like yours is reaching out to her. There's a rich, healing pleasure in comforting and being comforted. So you and Annie feast on it. Rest in it. You both need and deserve it now."

Sam mulled this over. She turned and lay against Linny's shoulder, and Linny wrapped her arms around the dark haired woman. "I feel so sheltered when you hold me, Linny." Sam sighed contentedly.

Linny laughed softly and rubbed the tall mechanic's back. "I'm glad you do, Sam."

"I think you feel like my mother to me."

Linny felt a tightness of tears in her throat and kissed Sam's hair tenderly. "That's very sweet of you to say, Sam. I feel rather like a mother to you."

"I think I'll go be with Annie." Sam lifted herself away from Linny and smiled at the professor.

"They've moved her out of ICU. She's in her own unit now. I visited her today. She wanted to see you."

"I'm glad she's with Nettie and Tam. They love her."

"Everybody loves her, Sam."

"I sure love her."

"You feeling like you're back in the saddle again? Ready to go?"

"Still a little shaky; I wonder how much I drank. But I feel like I can be with Annie again. Like it's okay for me to be with her. My god, I couldn't live my life without you!"

Linny laughed. "You do a great job living your life. Come on. Let's go see Annie."


They went to the hospital, and Sam felt her heartbeat picking up as she made her way to Annie. Her emotions spiraled into turmoil, and she looked back questioningly at Linny, her eyes shining with tears. "Go to her," Linny whispered, and Sam started running, leaving Linny strolling along, smiling after her. Sam ran up the stairs to the second floor and skidded around the corner almost running into Edna. "What room is she in?"

Edna looked at the wild eyed woman. "Twenty-three."

Annie was awake in the bed. Sam came over, fell to her knees at the bedside, buried her face in Annie's breasts and cried uncontrollably. "I love you, Annie. I love you. I love you."

"Sam, love. Don't cry, sweetheart."

Mare and El were still there, and watched the reunion. Mare said to Annie, "She may still be a little nuts."

Annie put her hands on Sam's face. "Come here, honey, come here." She pulled her weeping lover up and kissed her.

Sam's eyes were agonized. "I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I wasn't here. You've needed me, and I wasn't here."

"You needed me, too, sweetheart, and I wasn't there. We've both been fighting our own battles. But we're together now, so let's just love each other."

"I love you so much."

"I know you do, Sam."

Sam pulled away a bit and looked at Annie. Her color was so much better. Her eyes were sharp and clear and sparkling. "You look beautiful."

Annie grinned. "You like my new bedhead hairdo?"

"I love it, sweetheart. I love the way you're able to talk, and you're conscious, so alert. You've come through so well."

"You look terrible, sweetheart."

Sam laughed. "I do?"

"Your eyes have circles under them, and you look like you've lost ten pounds."

"I may have. I don't remember eating. Maybe I did."

"You got Henry."

Sam grinned. "Yeah."

"Linley says you put an end to the violence in Boffler."

"Yeah, she says she thinks it's going to settle down now."


"She says it was fated. Our spiritual path."


"You'll have to have her tell you about it. Gave me goosebumps. All about you and me falling in love."


"Yeah. I believe it. 'Cause it feels like I was fated to fall in love with you."

"It does, doesn't it? Andy Harkin and Nettie say it was a miracle that I lived."

Sam leaned down and gave Annie a long, tender kiss. "That's what Linny said, too."

Linley came into the room, and smiled at the sight of the tall mechanic bending over the little nurse, the two talking and smiling at each other, the love clearly apparent in their eyes. God's in His Heaven. All's right with the world.

El quirked an eyebrow at Mare who nodded and the two rose. "We're going to take off. Leave you lovebirds to bill and coo."

Sam turned to them. "Hey, I haven't thanked you guys for taking care of me."

El came and wrapped Sam in her strong arms. "I'm just glad to see you're able to stand up again."

El released Sam, and Mare took her in for a hug. "You saved us, Sammy. Took down Henry Trent. We're the ones who need to thank you."

She released Sam and went to Annie with El, and patted the arm of the little nurse. "You got us through this, too, Annie. Our peacemaker." Mare and El knew, as all the gays in Boffler knew, that Annie would become the new Linley when the time came, the new leader of the community. Mare leaned down and kissed Annie's cheek.

El now bent over the patient. "We'll leave you two in each other's care now. That will be the best medicine for you both." She kissed Annie's cheek, and the two Protectors left.

Linny took Sam's hand. "I'm going to leave you two alone, too. Sam... if you need anything... "

Sam embraced her mentor. "Thank you so much, Linny."

"You're so welcome, Sam." Sam rested for a moment in Linny's embrace, then pulled away, and Linny went to Annie. "That goes for you, too, darling. You call me if I can help in any way."

Something unspoken passed between them. Linny was saying, if you need my help to deal with the volatile, vulnerable Sam Adams, call me, and let me help you both. Annie had an aid and ally in getting through life with Sam. Suddenly, she realized that Linny was like a loving, cooperative mother-in-law. She wanted to say, "Thanks, Mom," and only barely restrained herself. But she decided that one day soon, privately, she would talk to Linny about it all. A look passed between them, and Linny kissed Annie softly on the forehead and reached down and brushed the hair off her brow. She turned, smiling at Sam, and left the room.

Sam came to Annie, pulling up the chair so she could sit close to the bed and take Annie's hand in hers. "How do you feel, sweetheart?"

"Better every day."

"Are you in pain?"

"A little. It hurts to move or breathe deeply."

"Is Nettie making you do that deep breathing thing?"

"Oh, yes."

"When do you get to sit in the chair?"



Annie looked surprised at Sam's shocked response.

"Honey, you can't move... you can't breathe... they can't want you to get out of bed and sit up."

"I'm anxious to do it, Sam. I'm like you. I want to get out of here."

"Okay. Yes. I guess I can understand that."

They grinned at each other.

"Are they letting you eat or are you still getting it shot right in the vein."

"Oh, I'm eating like a trooper."

"Good girl."

"I'm inhaling everything around me."

"Want me to get you something?"

Annie shot a glance at the door. "How about a couple of sweet, succulent lips?"

Sam smiled her crooked little smile. She moved until lips met lips and communicated tenderly.

"Mmmm," Annie hummed as Sam moved away again. "I wish I wasn't hooked up to all this stuff so you could lie down with me."

"I wish so, too," Sam whispered.


"Linny says she's come to visit you."

"She's been wonderful. She knows just what to say and how to be."

"Doesn't she, though?"

"Does she feel like a mother to you, Sam?"

"Yeah. We were just talking about that tonight."

"Because she feels like my mother-in-law."

Sam laughed. "That's wonderful! She'll love it!"

"I almost called her Mom."

"Oh, Annie, call her Mom! She'll be in heaven."

"I'm going to talk to her about it."

Sam held Annie's hand and played delicately with her fingers. "Your cheeks are such a lovely, rosey pink."

"Yeah, I'm getting well, Sam."

"I couldn't... I couldn't stand that you'd been hit."

"I know." Annie watched the tall mechanic's beautiful, long, black lashes as Sam watched their fingers dancing together. "Mare and El told me you went to the Rattler... got a little outa shape."

"I wasn't here when you needed me."

Her voice was kind and urgent. "No, you were here when I needed you. You were right here by my side. Four days with no sleep. I could feel you with me. No wonder you went nuts, Sam."

"I let them get to you."

"Sam... I'm okay... I'm okay now. In a few weeks, I'll be completely recovered again. And the only thing that will have happened is that I will have had a rare, incredible adventure in a rare time. You and I lived these events in Boffler as intensely as anyone. We gave everything we had to the cause. We're both of us battle scarred. But we won! Evil did this to me, and Love has pulled me through. To me, you are the embodiment of that great, fierce power of Love that saved me everytime Evil tried to tear me away. That's what I think of you, darling. A guardian angel over all of us, and a woman so tender she could barely bear that role. Oh, Sam... You have no idea how in awe I am of what you've done. They would have just kept coming after me, coming after all of us, if it weren't for you. You didn't fail me, sweetheart. You saved me."

Sam was speechless. She looked down at Annie in helpless love. Annie grinned. "So come here and kiss me silly, lover. Everything's okay."

The next days were filled with moments of peace interspersed with moments of stress.

Annie made Sam go home that night, but she was back at five in the morning. Annie woke at seven to find Sam slouched in the chair at her side snoring softly. An aide came in bringing Annie breakfast and finally Sam woke up blinking vaguely as she gathered her bearings. Annie laughed lightly then had to stop and groan in pain.

"Sure wasn't dreaming I was here," Sam said blinking. She stood and stretched and came over to stand by the bed where Annie was eating. "What do you have for breakfast?" She perused the tray. "Oatmeal. Peach halves. Oh, raisin toast. I guess they're feeding you okay."

"Want some?"

"No, I'm afraid to put my hand in there considering the way you're snarfing it down."

"Go downstairs and get something."

"No. Actually, I ate before I came.."

Nettie came in with torture equipment. "This must be the hour when lazybones wake up."

"Hey. This woman is injured, Net. She needs her sleep."

"And what's your excuse? Oh, Annie, you're such a good patient. You're just eating your breakfast right down. Don't eat the plates." She shot Sam a look. "I just wish all my patients were as good as you."

"You going to tell me the hospital fairy likes Annie better than she likes me?"

"Now did I say that?" Annie had finished her breakfast and Nettie pulled the tray out of the way. She picked up Annie's wrist and took her pulse, then took her temperature, then put her stethescope in her ears. "Ready?"

Annie closed her eyes and nodded.

Nettie turned to Sam before she started the next procedures. "This hurts her, Sam. Are you going to be able to take that?"

"I'm not going anywhere."

"Okay, then." Nettie moved the stethescope in a pattern over Annie's chest while Annie took deep breaths, groaning occassionally as pain electrified her suddenly. "Good job," Nettie said as she finished. "Sounds good in there, Annie. You're breathing a lot deeper."

"I can hardly wait till it stops hurting."

"Let's do this one." Nettie picked up a complicated little device and glanced over at Sam who sat white faced, cheeks trembling. "You okay, Sam?"


"This one hurts her, too."

"I'm not leaving her."

"You're not going to faint on me, are you? You're white as a sheet."

"I'm fine."

"Okay, then. Annie... Ready?"

Annie nodded and Nettie handed her the gadget. She put her lips on a mouthpiece and began rounds of inhalation and exhalation as Nettie counted the rounds. "One... two... try to move that ball up higher than yesterday... four... five..."

Annie stopped and moaned and Nettie took her hand and squeezed. "Keep at it Annie; just four more."

Annie moaned again, and Sam leaped to the bedside.

"Eight... nine... ten." Nettie took the piece of equipment out of Annie's hands as the little nurse lay back exhausted, her face full of pain, moaning softly. Sam took her hand, kissing the fingers and palm in her own empathic turmoil. Nettie patted Annie's leg. "You did great, Annie. Relax now while I get Agnes to help me, and then we'll do some chair sitting."

Nettie left the room. Sam watched Annie with agonized eyes. Annie managed a smile at her. "This is what you looked like, remember, Sam?"

"Oh, I just can't stand to see you hurting."

"No pain, no gain. I need to do those exercises."

"If you say so. If you say so."

Nettie returned with Agnes, and they shooed Sam away from the bed so they could lift the covers back and lift Annie gently forward. Annie let her head loll on Nettie's shoulder and moaned lightly. Agnes slipped an arm under Annie's legs and turned the little body till her legs hung over the side of the bed. Annie whimpered as her body turned.

Sam stepped before them, shaking. "Nettie, her incisions aren't even healed. Isn't it too early for her get out of bed?"

Annie answered. "They're almost healed, honey. I have to start moving again."

"But, internally; I don't think you should jostle your internal incisions."

"Nonsense, Sam. I'm scheduled to sit today because I'm ready to sit today."

"Hospitals rush these things, Annie! You know that. My god, you work here!"

Annie laughed softly. "Sam, go get some ice cream. Read the paper. Let them get me into the chair."

Sam wrung her hands. "Alright. Alright, love. I'm not helping, am I?"

"No, darling, and you're just torturing yourself watching this."

"Alright, sweetheart. I'll go get a paper."

She left the room, and the three nurses proceeded with the painful process of getting Annie into her chair. Nettie draped a blanket over her knees and got her the call button and the TV remote. "Everything feel okay, Annie?"

"I can't tell you how good it feels to be out of that bed."

Nettie patted the little nurse's cheek. "I can't tell you how good it feels to see you out of that bed."

Annie was settled in her chair two days later, and Sam was slouched comfortably in a chair beside her reading her the paper. They were munching on crackers and drinking milk, and enjoying the easy companionship of the peaceful interlude. They were discussing why science should be able to clone some species of animals more easily than other species, the conversation having grown out of an article about a cat being cloned. Nettie came into the room accompanied by Agnes. "You two look like you're just sitting in your parlor on a Sunday afternoon."

Sam leaned back and stretched her legs. "Yes, the hospital is just a second home to us anymore."

"Well, Sam, if you'll give us a few minutes, we need to get Annie back in bed."

Annie put her hand on Sam's arm. "You don't need to go, love. I felt fine this morning making the move. I think you'll be able to get through this without too much trouble. Stay here with me and you can ooh and ahh over how smoothly I can get into my bed."

"Alright, love. I'm prepared to gush."

Gently, Nettie, Agnes and Annie maneuvered the shift back to the bed. Annie lay back against the pillow, face pale and trembling, eyes closed, as Sam came and stood over her. She opened one eye and smiled weakly. "See? Didn't feel a thing."

Sam leaned down and stroked her cheek. "Yes. I can tell. You did a wonderful job, sweetheart. Ooh and Ahh."

Nettie patted Annie's arm. "I'm going to salve your incisions, Annie. Can you sit forward here, and I'll get your gown."

This was a procedure that hadn't happened before with Sam present, and a stab of distress pierced Annie. "Sam, could you run down to the cafeteria and get me an apple. They don't feed me enough here."

"Sure. You want a red one? A green one? A yellow one?"

Nettie went to lift down Annie's gown, but Annie stopped her, "Just a minute, Nettie." She didn't care what kind of apple she ate. She wasn't even hungry. She said the first thing that came to mind. "Um, red, hon."

Sam leaned over for a quick kiss. "One for the road, okay?"

Annie grinned and kissed Sam lightly.

Sam left and Nettie, hands on hips, looked down at her patient. "So now can I salve your incisions?"

"Yeah. But, Nettie, would you get me a mirror?"

Nettie smiled knowing that a moment of courage had come. "Ready to look at the wreckage, are you?" She left briefly and came back with the requested hand mirror.

Annie drew her gown down and surveyed the wounds. The sight was violent. One red scar, seven inches long ran up and down between her breasts. Another slightly smaller one lay down the side by her left breast. And on the upper slope of her left breast was an angry scar where the bullet had entered. She closed her eyes and lay her head back on the pillow, the muscles in her face trembling slightly.

Nettie took the mirror from her. "You know those scars will fade away to nearly nothing."

"I don't think it hit me how badly hurt I was until now."

"Yeah. It was pretty bad, Annie."

"I didn't want Sam to see them. She's so fragile now. She'd have gone nuts. And..." Tears brimmed in her eyes. "I sure as hell..." She couldn't speak for a moment. "I sure as hell don't look very beautiful anymore."

Nettie spoke softly. "Annie O'Shea. Sam isn't going to care a fig about those scars. For gosh sake, she's already seen you, honey. About six times. When you were still sedated. And you looked one hell of a lot worse than you look now. Everytime they changed your dressings she watched. They couldn't get her to go away."

Annie blinked at her, taking this in, tears tumbling onto her cheeks.

"So don't you worry about Sam. When she sees your front again, she's just going to crow about how well you're recovering, and comment on how fine Andy Harkin's closing stitches are."

"I didn't realize that she'd seen me."

"Yes, she has, dear."

"My breast is so disfigured."

"Disfigured?!" Nettie scoffed. "Honey, you're going to have a little scar up there, and that's all the difference there's gonna be. Right now you're just swollen and bruised. I'd die to have breasts like yours. I've got those breasts you can sling over your shoulder like a continental soldier. You've only just seen yourself for the first time. But Sam isn't going to care. She loves you way too much."

Nettie started gently salving the incisions and finished just as Sam came back into the room. She quickly hid Annie's chest behind the gown and lifted the little nurse forward to tie the ties behind her back. "All done, kiddo. I'm outa here."

"Thank you, Nettie," Annie said softly.

"Any time, honey." Nettie touseled Annie's hair. "She's all yours, Sam."

"Thank you, Nettie," Sam grinned.

The nurse bustled out and Sam brought Annie's apple to her. "Annie?"




"My most beautiful sweetheart..."

"Yes, Sam..."

"I was thinking when I was down picking out the perfect apple for you..."

"Yes, Sam...?"

"Did you send me away because you didn't want me to see your stitches?"

Annie smiled, but a current of tension took hold of her. "Yes," she whispered.

"I love you."

"I know you do, love."

"You are the most beautiful creature on earth."

Annie squeezed her eyes shut but tears spilled out.

"I've already seen you. When you were still sedated."

"Nettie told me."

"I'd like to see you now. I haven't seen your stitches for days. They must be a lot better."

Annie looked down at her own trembling fingers.

"Would that be okay?" Sam murmured softly.

"I'm just being silly about this."

"I don't want to if it bothers you."

"No. No... I think it will help me if you see."

"I think so, too, love."

Hesitantly, Annie drew her gown up and Sam looked down at the cruel red lines. "They're looking very beautiful. Much better."

Annie felt the tension releasing. Sam bent down and gently kissed the scar between Annie's breasts. Then the scar on her side, then the one above her breast. "I'll kiss them and make them better."

She raised up again, but Annie put a hand on her arm pulling her back, whispering, "Sam, could you kiss my breasts?"

Sam smiled. She bowed down and kissed each nipple, then gently took each in turn in her mouth for the gentlest suckle. A pang of arousal stirred them both. Annie moaned, "Well, that certainly gave me incentive to get well."

Sam grinned. "Yes, well, as your lover this is the important role I play in your recovery. I seduce you into health."

It was the next day. Annie was sitting in her chair, and Nettie was bending over her. Sam was standing at their side, clutching her hands together. The tall mechanic sucked in a long hiss of breath almost as though she were trying to keep herself from speaking. Very quietly she inquired of Nettie, "Don't you think this is awfully soon to try and walk her?"

Nettie and Annie looked grimly up at Sam.

"I mean, she gets in and out of bed. You get in and out of bed, darling. That's quite a lot of stretching and exercise."

Annie stared at Sam levelly. "It has prepared me to now begin to walk."

"Really, Annie, Nettie, I think we should wait one more day, just for good measure."

Annie snorted in frustration.

"One day!" Sam cried. "What could one day hurt?"

"I'm walking, Sam! Go call Linny if you can't take it."

"Okay, okay. It just sets my nerves on edge and makes me feel like my guts are tangling up and catching fire."

They made it two doors down the hall before Annie gasped and said, "I think I'm ready to go back now."

Sam was immediately traumatized. "I'll carry you!"

Annie laid her hand on her lover's arm. "No, no, honey. I can make it."

"Oh, I hate this so much!"

"It's good for me. No pain, no gain."

"Baby, are you in pain?"

"I'm fine, Sam. I was making a joke."

Sam hovered along beside the two nurses as they made their way back down the hall and returned Annie to her chair. Sam collapsed onto the bed.

Four days later, Sam entered the unit and stopped to say hello to Tam as she came in.

"Well," Tam grinned, "You can make up the bed in the livingroom, 'cause they're letting the little rascal go home."


"She's walking really well, and she'll have you to help her, so she's ready to roll."

Sam bent over the counter her body a tense picture of the sudden turmoil within. "But, Tam... Tam... She's still in pain."

"Well, she can't go home and dance, Sam. She'll have to rest. But she's ready to go home."

Sam nodded numbly. She went slowly down the hall considering this news. When she turned into Annie's room, the little nurse looked up from her bed and grinned from ear to ear. Sam smiled back uneasily and sauntered over to the bed. "So you're going over the fence."

"Breaking out of here."

Sam smiled a little distractedly. "I know you're anxious to be home."

"It's all I think about. Home in our own bed and privacy and being with you."

Sam shook her head and snorted a little laugh. "Of course, you're with me here."

"Yes... " Annie eyed Sam carefully. "But I can't just spend an afternoon lying in bed, snuggling with you."

The mechanic lowered her eyes and nodded, still with that distracted smile on her face.

"Sam, are you worried about my going home?"

Sam laughed sheepishly. "Well..."

"Oh, honey..." Annie dropped her head back on the pillow with mild frustration.

"Love, you can hardly walk down the hall. You're still in pain."

"I can walk far enough to get to the bathroom. To the kitchen. I don't have to walk any farther yet."

"You can't reach. You can't bend. You haven't even started therapy training. What happens if you have trouble and I'm at work?"

"I won't have any trouble. I'll call you." She thought of a great comment and leaned forward aggressively. "Don't you remember how incapacitated you were when you left the hospital? And you were raising hell to go home!"

Sam wasn't hindered. She said gravely, "Sweetheart, my heart wasn't involved."

Annie dropped back again. Logic was simply not working. She needed another tack. It came to her simply, out of the depths of her heart. She reached out and took Sam's hand and held it to her. "Darling, the best medicine for me now is to sleep with your body next to me. I'm sick with needing to hold you and be held by you. All I want, the only thing in my mind, is laying with you for hours, feeling you there, kissing you, looking into your eyes for hours. I need that now like I need air. Please, sweetheart, don't be mad that I'm coming home."

Sam's breath was taken away. Suddenly a light went on in her head. She understood. She ached for everything Annie said. It was like medicine she needed to live. Of course her sweet beloved needed to be home. She bent down and took Annie's face in her hands. "Oh, love, love, come home with me. I'll take care of you. I need you, too, love. So badly." She kissed the soft lips and face. It was clear to Sam. Annie needed, needed, to come home to recover. And Sam needed her to.

Annie eyed Sam in surprise as the dark haired woman bent and smothered her in kisses. She had just learned lesson number one. When logic fails, appeal to the deep body love Sam felt for her constantly. It worked like magic.

Sam went home and made a cozy nest for Annie in the livingroom. She brought her bathroom items down to the lower level and arranged them in the bathroom there. She cleared off a couple bookshelves, and clothes and bedding went there. She went shopping and crammed the refrigerator with good food and tasty delicacies. Then she came back to the hospital and gathered her lover up and took her home like a new bride, carrying her tenderly from the truck and over the threshold and to her nest on the big couch. Annie lay back like a queen with her consort, pulling Sam's face to her lips, and filling the needs of hours and days of pain and fear and abstinance. It took half an hour to satiate themselves with their kissing before Sam raised her head from where she knelt at Annie's side and spoke her first word. "Welcome home, love. You're back home now, safe and sound."

Tears shimmered on Annie's eyelashes. She smiled happily. "Time for us to start having fun again, love."

However, there were some speedbumps in this little heaven, that began leaving Annie bewildered and at the end of her wits.

Annie was anxious to walk and exercise. She had physical therapy sessions everyday at the hospital where she walked and strengthened herself under the watchful eye of a professional. Sam would walk her to the truck and lift her inside, then sling a wheelchair she had picked up for Annie in the bed of the truck and off they would go. When they got to the hospital, Sam would lift Annie from the truck and slip her into the wheelchair and wheel her down the long hallways to the physical therapy unit. Sam would sit in the therapy room and chant encouragement from the sidelines and cheer when Annie conquered another milestone. Then she'd wheel her to the truck, walk her to the house, and bubble over with cheerful encouragement about her progress. But Annie's exercise at home with no professional eye on her was another matter. Sam worried endlessly. "I am a professional eye," Annie told her. The little nurse had to bargain hard to keep Sam from carrying her to and from the bathroom. In return, Sam called Nettie and got her promise to stop by every day to make sure things were okay.

Sam begged Annie not to walk around if she had been on her feet for any length of time at all. Desperate, haunted eyes. "Please, baby, please, sweetheart, please don't walk anymore. Please don't walk till Nettie gets here." Sam wanted to carry her everywhere. The first time she went upstairs, Sam was right behind her telling her to stop at every step. When she turned to go down, Sam said, "Let me carry you." "Going down is the easy part." "But going down after you've gone up is more difficult." "Sam, we need to get you some Xanax." Nettie finally had to say, "Sam, she won't get well, her heart won't get strong again unless you let her do her therapy."

The worst came when Annie decided to go outside while Sam was over at the shop, and lay in the hammock and soak up some sun for a while. Sam stopped up at the house unexpectedly and, not finding Annie on the couch, proceded to look all over the house for her, calling for her, images in her mind of Annie lying dead on the floor upstairs from a heart attack. She raced upstairs, downstairs to the basement, becoming more terrified by the moment. Finally, she ran out into the backyard and found Annie lying in the hammock. She ran over and shook Annie awake, nearly fainting herself when the emerald eyes opened and looked around stunned.

"What are you doing out here?"

Annie focused fuzzily. Sam's face was stormy. "I, uh... the sun..."

"Where is your cell phone?"


"I was terrified! I was afraid you were dead upstairs! Why didn't you call me?"

"Sam, if you'd let me talk..."

"Okay. Talk."

"I didn't call you, because I knew you'd make a big deal about me wanting to walk out of the house just like you're doing! It's the back yard, Sam! I'm just in the back yard!"

"You don't have the phone! No one can see you here..."

"I'm perfectly fine!! I didn't have any trouble!!"

"Your heart was damaged! That is not a spleen! You can't just run around like other people!"

Annie got up shouting, "I'm not talking about this anymore!" She started angrily across the lawn.

Sam leaped after her. "Don't walk while you're angry."

"Oh, my god."

Sam opened the door for her, and put a hand on her elbow to help her up the few inner steps to the kitchen. "If I have to stop working again and stay here in the house with you to help you get around where you want to go..."


Sam looked at her stunned.

"Go back to the shop!" Annie glowered. "Go back to work and let me have a moment of peace."

Sam blinked. "Alright. But only if you promise you won't walk anywhere else while I'm gone."

"I'm not promising anything! This whole conversation is irrational! Now go back to the shop!"

Sam looked a little uncertain, but she turned without another word and walked out the door.

Annie paced the livingroom, her heart thumping until even she decided she had better sit down and relax for a moment. She curled up on the couch in turmoil over her first argument with Sam. But what was she supposed to do with her? At last, she called Linley.

"Dear, you have to understand this spiral Sam gets into. When she is confronted with a dangerous situation beyond her capacity to manage, she goes into one of two modes. She leaves, or she tries to control everything. And when she can't leave or control, she breaks down. She can't leave you, so she's trying to control you. But she can't control you, you won't let her, thank heavens. So, Annie, she's going to break down. I predict she'll break down today, because you didn't let her control you in this issue."

"Oh, dear."

"You just have to learn how to help her, Annie. Normally, she's wonderful. It's only in these intense situations that she has trouble. When she breaks down, talk to her then. She breaks down because she's lost every strategy she has for coping with the stress. In this state, she's floundering, reaching out for something that can put some ground under her feet again. She's open to what you have to say. Then you can make her understand that you're recovering and it is safe for you to exercise and good for you. You can make her understand that everything is safe again."

The call waiting signal interrupted Annie's line, "Just a second Linley, there's another call." She took the brief call and clicked back to Linley. "That was Buddy over at the shop. Sam's broken down. He wants me to come over there."

"Remember, Annie; she's as predictable as clockworks. Help her understand that you are safe again. She'll be open to it now."

"Thank you so much, Linley. Wish me luck."

Linley wished the little nurse good luck and hung up. Annie wished herself goodluck and went over to the shop.

She stepped into the shop drive and could see the tall mechanic inside the garage sitting forward in the old stuffed chair, elbows on knees, hands covering her face, sobbing uncontrollably. Buddy hovered at her side, helplessly. When he saw Annie coming, he trotted out. "She just sat down and started cryin'. Won't say nothin'. You gotta do something with her, Annie."

"I'll talk to her, Buddy."

He fell back as she went on into the cool shadows of the garage and knelt in front of Sam, stroking her hair. "What's wrong, Sam?"

Sam sniffled and dropped her hands away from her face. "I don't know what to do, Annie. I don't know what to do."

"About what?"

"About your heart. To keep you safe."

"I am safe, honey. You don't have to keep me safe anymore. I'm well."

"I get so scared I go crazy. And then I do things that you shouldn't have to put up with." Another heavy sob shook her, and she put her head back in her hands.

"That's just it, Sam. You get so worked up you go a little crazy. But it's all over, now. Listen to me, Sam. My surgery is all healed. The incisions are healed up. I'm getting the stitches out tomorrow. Remember? The injuries around my heart and to my lung are healed. Now all I have to do is exercise and build up the strength of all those muscles, get back my stamina. I need to exercise more and more."

"But what if you have a heart attack? Or a blood clot?"

"Oh, heavens, Sam. You just bring in everything to scare you, don't you?"

"It could happen."

"Sam, it's no more likely to happen to me than it is to happen to you. Listen to me. I'm well!" She took Sam's hands away from her face, and bent down trying to look up into the averted eyes. "You haven't come with me the last two days at therapy because you've been working, but, Sam, they have me running now. They have me up on one of those machines, all hooked up to everything, and I run as far as I can! I didn't tell you because I was afraid you'd go crazy, honey. But now you have to understand that it's what I need to do. While you've been getting more and more worried, I've actually been getting better and better. I can walk all over town now. It's good for me. If you want to help me get well now, you can go jogging with me. Tomorrow morning, before you go to work, let's go jogging, Sam. Just a couple of blocks. Just raise a little sweat, okay?"

Sam had finally looked up into her eyes as she talked, and now displayed a look somewhere between confusion and hope. "You're running?"

"I ran a quarter of a mile this morning."

"They let you?"

"They made me. I'm well again, honey. I'm just building my strength back up."

"Oh, sweetheart." She spread her knees and pulled the little nurse close to her. "Oh, darling. Love. I'm so... I didn't realize..."

Annie held Sam tightly. "Yes. I'm well. We can move back upstairs again. We can ride Bita and Lucy into the forest and go hiking in the woods. We can make love, Sam."

Sam kissed her long and sweetly. "But gently. Slowly."

"Yes, we'll start out slowly."

"Maybe we could go for a walk after dinner. Just around the block."

"Oh, Sam, that would be so good for me."

"Where in the world have I been? I was so afraid... But I think I understand now. You're well. Right? You're well now."

"That's right, Sam. Just building up my strength."

A corner had been turned, and Sam had new ground under her feet. She had a new direction; she would help Annie exercise and get back her strong, healthy heart.

Two weeks later there was a rally of supporters of gay human rights. One thousand people gathered in the park for speeches, songs and cheering. Everyone was from Boffler and the surrounding countryside, and represented a huge pool of goodwill for the gay community. The national organizations were gone home. The press was gone. The crazies were gone. The police had rounded up what they thought was everyone involved in the attacks. Henry Trent had given the police the names of everyone he worked with including Paul Wagoner from the police department. And he had written these names in his book and said, 'These people are our heroes. Welcome them into your homes and listen to their experience. They will teach you.' But that would not happen for years, because they were all now sitting in prison serving three to ten. The slate of local politicians who supported keeping the Rattler open and providing local gays with normal human rights spoke to rousing applause. There was no question but what they would be swept into office. No opposition demonstrators showed up, and this was a source of joy for the ralliers who were sick of turmoil and wanted peace again. They had it. The trouble in Boffler was a thing of the past. Hearts soared as the sun settled behind the treetops and turned the horizon scarlet. Cicadas sang in the trees. Hawks circled lazily in the sky. The soft air of a Montana summer evening bathed everyone in the smell of late summer flowers and sage. Sam and Annie raised their voices with the crowd in "We Shall Overcome." Everything was pretty near perfect.

Sam, on Lucy, led Annie into a narrow canyon, hardly wider than their horses, that led into a broad dell surrounded by rocky cliffs. They pulled up together and stopped, looking around at the beauty out in the wild Montana countryside. A small waterfall spilled over a cliffside and gathered in a pristine pool. Several caves opened into the cliffs here and there. The grasses were lush, and pines and aspen surrounded the meadow in which they stood. "Well, this is it," Sam said. "This is where Brody Dowd and his gang hid out."

"It's beautiful."

"Yeah. I'm glad he had a beautiful place like this. For a bad man, he was a really good man."

"The Robin Hood of the wild west."

They dismounted, ground tying their horses and wandering slowly through the area. "I'm glad we're finally getting to see the sites of Boffler," Annie grinned up at her lover.

"Took us a long time to get around to it."

"Well, there was a lot going on."

"Hell of a lot, wasn't there?" Sam pulled a stem of grass and stroked it across the tips of grasses as she walked. "Want to go skinny dipping?"

Annie looked up at her teasingly. "Last one in is a monkey's uncle."

Annie took off running and Sam raced after her, both of them stripping off clothing as they went. Their whoops of joy echoed off the cliff walls, as they plunged together into the crystal pool.

~ The End ~

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