-- 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

Linley looked splendid, smiling happily, her eye circled in puffy darkness, moving through the room of diverse people who were becoming friends through these days of darkness. National media were there. The representatives of all the national organizations. The liason from the police department. Many regional workers from across the country who had worked so hard over the last few days in many ways to bring support to Boffler. And the usual Boffler personnel. Finally the meeting was called to order, and Linley stood and addressed the group.

"This has been an extraordinary day. It was a moment that reflected every facet of the larger situation of our times. It began with the gay and straight community coming together to support their common human rights, just as we have all over the nation in the last twenty-five years. And this evolution of respectful and affectionate relations was violently interrupted by hatreds more ancient than human scripture itself. And innocents who were coming together for peace and unity were mauled and injured by this ancient animal anger. We had two hundred fifty injuries today... One hundred and seventy-seven injuries so serious they went to be seen at the hospital. We have twenty-three loved ones who are being held in the hospital at least overnight. We have ten people who are in serious condition. We have two people who were airlifted to the hospital facilities at Wallace." She closed her eyes and raised her hands slightly. "Thank Goddess, we had no deaths. It took one hundred National Guardspeople to finally assure us our safety today. Finally called in by civil officials who share a hesitant conservative bias that places them in the middle on human progress, dragging us back as much as moving us forward. A conservative governor almost let us die in the streets today. But after that horrific uprising of violence gathered from all over the nation..." she looked around the room with tears glistening on her lashes, "We got back on our feet and we had a rally! " A cheer went up from the crowd. "And it was the voice of reason and the voice of love and the voice of the future that rang out over the countryside today, just like this same voice will ring out over this country for centuries and millenia to come! This must be so because love truly is the strongest, most creative power of all, and human dignity is the precious treasure we all hold stewardship over, and in the end, we will not see it trampled. Today... was a great day! And everyone here in this room made this day happen!" A cheer went up again, and Linley let it reverberate fully. "We have two pieces of information that are important for people to know tonight. Julia has been working all day to put this first piece of news together with the reps from all the national organizations. Julia."

Jule stood and consulted the paper in her hands. "As you know, for the last few days we've been calling around all over the country for volunteers to vigil around the homes of people getting 'You're Next' letters. Well, today they came in! One thousand people have made the decision to stay here in Boffler for the duration providing safety however they're needed. With twenty letters received so far, this gives us a nightly coverage of fifty people per house. We already have four hundred people, who came earlier, trained in, familiar with the houses they're watching, the people they're watching and familiar with Boffler. With these human barriers in place, we believe no one will break through to innocents. This has been an extraordinary recruitment that has gone out and been answered in just one week. We need to thank the people who organized this throughout their memberships, so, even though I think we all know each other, I want you guys to stand as I call your name so we can thank you for your support and for saving our very lives." Jules read the names of the reps of all the organizations who stood one at a time and accepted the wild clapping and hurrahing of the assemblage.

Linley stood again. "We have three people here tonight who are recipients of letters; Annie, Kevin, Danny. We're trying with all our might to keep our loved ones whole, safe. We were at the end of our rope. We were facing a frightening future. You've come and saved us, and we love you for it. One more announcement from Jan Hobarth, the liason from our police department. Jan..."

The uniformed officer stood. "Today the county sheriff's department and our local force received court orders to evacuate the present militia encampment." Sudden, intent silence descended on the crowd. "We will serve the order at dawn tomorrow morning. The National Guard will be an accompanying presence. The campsites will be dismantled, all out of state parties will be directed to their states of residence, all in state parties will be directed to their counties of residence. And this order will be enforced within twenty-four hours." Cheers broke out at this news. The relief was tremendous. "It has been hard for our little department to provide the kind of support that has been needed in these circumstances. But today... today we got everything we needed to make a difference. We are holding one hundred and fifty people for charges ranging from disturbing the peace and illegal assembly to assault and battery, and we expect, in a few days, we will have at least one more serious charge. The area perps we've been holding for some time still aren't talking; we still don't have an inroad on the local organization, but clearly, today we have started taking apart a larger organization they were setting up here, and it may well lead us to the inner circle. So today has been a great day for all of us, and I'm so glad that what could have been a catastrophe turned out to be such a great day for us."

Linley stood again. "That's all. I appreciate you all coming to us for these announcements so we didn't have to make fifty phone calls, because we're all phoned out. So, congratulations to us all. Go home. Hug your loved ones. Sleep peacefully."

When Sam and Annie got home, fifty candlelight vigil keepers and four Protectors were in full force out on the lawn reminding them that things were not over yet, but were a lot safer. They wandered around the lawn meeting and chatting with people. Mare and El and Mark and Harry joined them from the crowd and they shared the news of the evening with them. It bouyed them all. Getting the crazies off the mountain would end a tremendous amount of unpredictable, deadly threat.

Later, as they lay in bed talking, Sam said, "Frankly, I wish we could just round up the crazies and send them all to the moon."

Annie patted the flat stomach she had been rubbing. "No, you don't think that. That's what they think about us. You wish that they'd just shut up and let us be."

"I'll tell ya, this is not how I wanted to spend the lovely Montana summer."

"Would it make you feel better if I let you nuzzle my breasts?"

Sam moaned and dropped her head to said breasts and nipped a nipple lightly. "God, whenever I hear you say the word 'breast' I get wet."

Annie smirked slyly. "Ooo..." She arched her breast against Sam's face and crooned, "Breast." Sam moaned. Annie dropped her lips to Sam's ear and whispered seductively, "Breast..." She tangled her fingers in Sam's dark hair and pulled her against a soft mound, whispering, "Bite my breasts, Sam. Make me moan."


Small anxious hands cupped Sam's face and lifted it to look into concerned blue eyes, "Oh, honey, did that hurt you?"

"Got my goose egg up there."

"Sweetheart!" Annie put her arms around Sam cradling her lover. "I'm so sorry, darling." She gently inspected the injury, checking delicately that it wasn't bleeding, then brushing her lips lightly against it. "Is it better?"

"Yeah, I think so. Say... say 'breast' again."

Green eyes twinkled in the darkness. Lips lowered to dark tresses and whispered, "Breast."

"Ohhhh yeah." Sam rose to her knees. "Get on your knees in front of me."

Annie obeyed with piqued interest. The voice behind her whispered, "Now spread your knees apart."

Annie did, and felt the mattress rock gently as a long torso moved in close behind her, soft, dark curls tickling her seat, and breasts pressing against her shoulders. Fingertips tickled lightly on her shoulders, sliding forward and tickling her breasts, then cupping and firmly squeezing, evoking a soft groan from the small woman.

"I want to make love to your breasts," Sam whispered, and she proceeded to, tickling circles around the sensitive mounds, drawing her fingernails lightly over the sensitive undersides, taking the nipples between finger and thumb and rolling gently, setting up a rhythm of sensation that began sending currents of arousal stirring into Annie's groin, forcing her breath into heavy sighs until she murmured, "More, love. Give me more." Then fingernails trailed light, burning tracks down her stomach and abdomen, entering curls oh so close to her need only to flare out along the velvet of inner thighs, slowly down, then slowly back up to the lush treasure of labia, vagina, clitoris hidden in blond curls, teasing lightly over the surface.

Annie bent forward slightly and groaned out, "God."

"I want to dip my fingers in your wetness, love."

"I love you, Sammy."

"I love you, love." The long fingers slipped through the curls finding the labia parted, succulent with juices, the path to the vagina opened, readied for entry. The fingers paused at the opening, circling lightly, probing just inside, then retreating up along the aching valley, stopping just short of the throbbing clitoris, Annie gasped, then sliding back down to plunge deep into the vagina.

Annie arched her back, her hands reaching down quickly, grabbing at the hand inside her, pushing it in. "Don't stop, love. Keep going."

"Yes, love." Sam drew her fingers out from the depths, not leaving the warm pulsing of the vagina completely, then plunged them back again. Over and over, with each stroke exploring a different facet of the velvety interior until she found the secret spot that caused Annie to arch rigidly back against her and cry out her name. And here she focused her attention, sliding in and out, over and over, stroking the sensitive location.

Annie quivered in her arms, arched against her, legs trembling, as spiralling bolts of raw sexual pleasure coursed through her body, building, threatening to overwhelm her. Sam became lost in her lover's heightening moans and cries, her focus intense, in union with her lover's vulnerable rapture. She reached her free hand down from the slick, arching stomach and dipped a finger in the luxurious wetness, then drew it up to massage the precious clit. A convulsion ripped through Annie's body. Then she stiffened until another convulsion of pleasure shook her, and her body quaked, convulsed, then quaked with rounds of aftershocks. With one strong arm, Sam held the little body against her, leaving long fingers in the vagina to enjoy and prolong the exquisite pulsing within. Then, gently, she lowered her spent lover to the bed and slowly slipped her fingers out of the trembling flesh.

"Oh, my god," Annie groaned.

"I love it when you come. You are so beautiful."

"Oh, that felt so good."

"To me, too. You turn me on so hard it hurts."

Annie moved enough to look up into the shadowed face. "And somebody thinks this is bad."

"Just not fair, is it?"

"Nobody can tell me that the love I feel for you is wrong. How can something that is this close to heaven be wrong?"

"Yeah. It's beautiful. It's sweet and good and a blessing. I thank whatever gods there are for it. You're my blessing."

A small hand lifted and slipped into dark hair, pulling Sam down for a tender kiss. Sam felt fingers tickling the flesh at her groin and rolled to her back, opening her legs to give them access. Fingertips began lightly, languidly stroking the length of the warm, wet, sensitive area. "Do you like the way that feels?" Annie asked.

"Yes. It feels incredible."

"I have to kiss you."

And the smiling face surprisingly disappeared between Sam's legs, and Sam felt lips open and press into the opening of her vagina, stirring a pang of intense arousal in her core. Then the lips withdrew and a tongue slipped between her labia, just breaching her opening before sliding up to lick two slow circles around her clit. Then lips returned to the pulsing bud, kissing, sucking, nipping. Then the face rose up over the mound of curls and grinned rakishly at her. "I love kissing you."

"I... I love it when you do," Sam panted.

The smile slipped down again behind Sam's crotch like the Cheshire cat disappearing, and two lips latched onto Sam's clit sucking hard. Two hard flicks of the tongue, and Sam curled forward with a cry. "Oh fuck! Oh fuck, Annie, you're going to drive me insane."

Softly now the tongue continued circling and licking the throbbing bud, moving every few strokes down the valley between the labia to the drenched opening and into the dark tunnel of flesh, then back again to repeat the cycle. Annie melted at the sound as Sam started panting and moaning lightly. She deepened the passionate work of her tongue, and reached up a hand and began tickling and massaging the soft flesh of a nipple. She felt Sam's hand come to rest over hers, pressing it closer to the breast.

Sam groaned, and Annie moistened two fingers in the rich liquid and slipped them into Sam's vagina.

"Oh, god, yes..."

Two fingers slipped out and three slipped in.

"Oh, yes, baby..."

And together they found a rhythm of stroking, Annie following the pace of Sam's hips. Annie withdrew her hand from her lover's breast and placed it under a thrusting hip, hungrily feeling the muscles bunch and heave under her palm, so erotic a sensation she suddenly found herself close to orgasm.

Sam's breathing came in pants and moans. "I love you, Annie. Oh, god... I love you so," until she skyrocketed over the edge, convulsing in trembling aftershocks and sighs.

Slowly the lips were lifted from her clitoris and the fingers slid from within. A final shudder of pleasure shook Sam's body as she felt them slip away. Sam lay bonelessly, drifting under the influence of this deeply satisfying lovemaking. Annie crawled up and nuzzled the hair of the sprawled warrior.

Sam's lips moved slightly, "Uh... muh.... buh..."

Annie laughed softly at her. "Are you having happy time, darling?"


Annie took the opportunity to lean down and plant a soft, wet kiss on the parted lips below her. "Well, you just drift, love. And I'm going to make myself comfortable right here on your shoulder, and I'm just going to drift off with you. We deserve a long, sweet moment of serenity. We had a big, important day today, didn't we?"

Sam didn't move. She just lay heavy lidded, lips parted in bliss. "Huh...wuh..." she murmured.


Buddy waved a cheery goodbye as sweet, old Mrs. Hiller drove away. He walked back into the musty cool of the garage where Sam bent under the hood of the fourth car of the day. "Sam, the town's gonna have to do something about Mrs. Hiller. She near ran over gas pump agin. I love her, but I have to say, I nearly pee every time I see her comin'."

Sam nodded absently. "She's pretty scary, isn't she. But she doesn't have anybody in town. Hard for her without her car."

"I wish they had them computerized cars on rails up in the air like you talk about. Can't crash. Couldn't hurt no little cats or dogs down on the ground. Mrs. Hiller could just sit back and they'd take her wherever she wanted. She could go visit her daughter up in Helena."

At the same time, over at the hospital, Tam yawned and flexed her shoulders, stiff from bending over her paperwork all day. Nettie, leaning against the back counter going over some notes, clapped her hands loudly causing Tam to nearly fly out of her chair. "Wake up, Tam! Day ain't over yet."

"Why don't you go bother a patient."

Nettie came up behind Tam and began massaging her shoulders. Tam groaned in gratitude and dropped her head down, soaking in the pleasure. "One more hour... We just have to make it one more hour, and we'll all be free."

Buddy leaned in under the hood, observing Sam's work. "Well, since we survived Mrs. Hiller agin, you and Annie goin' to that new movie about those marines?"

"Haven't decided."

"Me an' Rooster's goin' tomorrow. You uns could go with us, if you want."

"I'll ask Annie when she comes home. Shouldn't be much longer."

"Great. Me an' Rooster have figured out how to sneak popcorn and soda pop in. Won't cost us but the tickets."

Annie walked up the hall toward the nurses' station. One more hour before shift end. She was going to make Sam coddle her this evening, a good foot massage sounded wonderful. A man stepped into the front of the hallway, looking blandly at her. She smiled tiredly at him anticipating a question about some patient on the floor. Tam saw the man stop and look down the hall, and she came out from behind the front counter to help him if he was lost. Annie saw Tam approach him, reaching out for his arm as he reached inside his coat and took something out in his hand and extended it toward her. She sensed something wrong without clearly seeing the danger. She brought her hands protectively up in front of her, and he smiled. Tam laid her hand on his arm and his muscles twitched slightly. Two sharp retorts from the gun rang out in the hallway. He watched the blood burst like a bloom across the little nurse's chest, then moved calmly, quickly to the stairwell and escaped. He never even looked at Tam.

At the sound of gun fire, Tam recoiled, looking down the hall unbelieving. Annie was falling to the floor in the corridor. The little blond's body sprawled on her back revealing the red seeping across her nursing whites. Already the blood was pooling out onto the floor. Tam screamed. Nettie was at the far end of the hall. She looked and saw a man far away with Annie falling in front of him. She took off running, tearing up the hall, throwing herself down beside the little nurse, tearing open the sticky, red shirt. Her mind reeled; the flesh was torn in the middle of Annie's chest and again on the rounded upper slope of the left breast. He hit her heart! Nettie's mind screamed. They've killed her! Edna ran up beside her. "Get a gurney!" Nettie shouted, and looked over at Tam. "Code blue, Tam! Call the operating room, tell them we have bullet wounds to the chest coming in!" She could hardly think, could hardly move. Her mind was a thundering of white noise. She looked down at the deathly still form, and took Annie's face in her hands, shouting to Annie to hang on. Dimly she heard Tam's voice coming over the spearkers shouting in panic, "Code blue! Code blue!" Edna came with the gurney, and the two of them lifted Annie to it and took off down the hall at a run.

They raced into OR2, and the operating team swarmed around them. "Two bullet wounds in the chest, but there's a weak pulse!" The team took the gurney from them, wheeling it away, cutting through Annie's bra to get to the injuries as they moved, turning her limp body to remove the upper clothing and check for exit wounds, Annie's arms and head lolling and rolling like a rag doll's, swabbing her down, beginning surgery the moment Annie's body was lifted to the table. Nettie and Edna backed away out of the room, shaking violently.

"Can Harkin work on a heart?" Edna's voice trembled.

"Harkin can work on anything he has to." Nettie breathed fiercely.

"That had to hit her heart."

"I don't think it did. She'd be dead. We got her down here in seconds. She has a chance."

They looked through the OR windows. The team was in full swing now hooking up emergency equipment while the surgeon bent to his work. A thought she shrank from occurred to Nettie. "I have to call Sam."

She went to the phone at the desk and looked up the number for Adam's Auto Shop. She wiped her hands on her slacks but the sweat poured back out onto her palms. She picked up the receiver, shaking madly, and dialed.

Sam looked around as the phone rang for a third time. Buddy was washing Bill Vaughn's windows and pumping his gas. The tall mechanic pulled herself out from under the hood of the Chevy, sighed and wiped her greasy hands on her overalls and went to the phone. "Adam's Auto."

At first she didn't recognize the shaking voice on the other end. "Sam, you need to come to the hospital."


"Yeah, it's Nettie. Honey, you need to come to the hospital."

A spasm of panic gripped her. "What's happened?"

"Come on in. Let's talk here."

Buddy looked up as Sam's car tore out of the drive, wheels screeching. What the hey? He stepped inside with Bill Vaughn's payment and noticed the phone still swinging from its cord.

Sam raced up the stairs and opened the door on the third floor of the hospital, stepping out onto Annie's ward. Tam looked up as she approached the desk.

"She's in OR. They're working on her now," Tam said. "Let me get Nettie; she'll go down with you."

Tam stepped down the floor until she spotted Nettie in a room and beckoned her out. The plump little nurse looked up the hall catching Sam's wild eyes and came straight up the floor putting her hand out onto a broad, greasy shoulder. "Let's go down, Sam, and I'll explain."

They walked together away from the station.

"What the hell happened, Nettie? How is she?"

"Sam, Annie was shot." She felt Sam start shaking violently under her hand. They approached a small conference room and Nettie pulled Sam into it. "Sit down here. You're going to pass out. Put your head down."

Sam sank shakily into a chair. Truth be told, she knew she was close to passing out. She couldn't get her body to stop quaking in panic. Nettie rubbed her wrists. "Tell me how she is," Sam said hoarsely.

Nettie could hardly bring herself to say the words. "She was hit in the chest, Sam. He got her twice." Sam's face was ashen, her breath reedy. Nettie started a stream of encouraging words. "We got her to OR in seconds. They started working on her immediately. It's been about twenty minutes now. Every minute that goes by is good. Every minute means worlds for her chances of recovery. Harkin's the best surgeon we could have working on her. He'll stabilize her, and we'll send her to Wallace. We're not going to lose her, Sam. We just have to keep praying." She assessed the wild, agonized blue eyes. "How do you feel?"

Sam was struck dumb. She fumbled trying to stand again. Nettie leaned in and embraced her. "Don't try to stand unless you're okay."

"I'm fine. Let's get down there."

"Okay. Take it steady now."

Nettie put an arm around Sam's waist and another at her elbow. They made their way down to the OR waiting room, and Nettie led Sam to a chair which the trembling woman refused to take. Instead she pulled against the hand Nettie wrapped around her waist as though to go somewhere. "Where are they? Where do they have her?"

"She's back in OR Sam."


"You can't go in there, Sam. None of us can get in their way."

Sam stood looking at the doors down the hall from the waiting room.

Nettie said softly, "They'll come out and get you when they're done."

Sam stood looking down the hall, lost and afraid. Nettie patted her shoulder. "Let's sit down, Sam." She spoke softly and patiently to the woman pulling on her gently. "Come on, honey. Sit down here."

She maneuvered Sam into a chair and sat beside her. Sam sat hunched forward, her forearms on her knees, hands outstretched as she studied them as if they were something new and strange to her.

"How long will it take, Nettie?"

"There's no way to know. Just remember, Sam, every minute longer means more hope."

"Nettie, they could patch up a couple holes in her lungs, couldn't they? This must have hit something."

"I don't know what was hit. We'll just have to wait together and see."

"Did he... did he hit her heart?"

Nettie drew her hands over her face. "I thought he did at first, but I don't think she could have made it if that were true."

Sam stood suddenly glowering at the plump nurse. "He hit her heart?"

"Sam, please..."

"How can she live if he shot her in the heart?"

Nettie stood up, too. "She's still living, Sam! If it just grazed the muscle... I don't know! But Andy Harkin knows, and he's in there with her!"

"I have to see her."

Sam started to move and Nettie grabbed her and held on. "No, Sam!"

Seemingly without effort Sam stood dragging Nettie up with her and started moving across the floor. Nettie cried out to a young man waiting across the room. "Help me hold her!" He leaped up and came quickly, throwing his arms around Sam's shoulders and stopping her.

"Nettie! Nettie!" Sam struggled vainly. "I have to see her again!" The anguished voice broke. The words came sobbing out. "I have to see her... once more... Please... Please... Please..." The fight went out of Sam and she laid her head back on the young man's shoulder sobbing helplessly and whispering, "God, help her, please. Please, God, don't let her die."

Nettie nodded at the young man who loosened his grip and moved away leaving Sam clutched tightly in Nettie's arms, her head lolled forward until her cheek rested in Nettie's hair. The plump nurse reached up a hand and stroked the tall woman's back over and over. "We have to just keep praying, now, Sammy. That's the most powerful thing we can do for her now."

"Please, God. Don't let her die."


"Please, God..."

"Sam, let's sit on the couch."

Without stopping her mantra, Sam let Nettie move her to the sofa.

She sat like a catatonic, head bowed slightly, hands clutched tightly beneath her chin, her body rigid, rocking slightly. "Please, God. Please, don't take her. Please, God. Please..."

An hour went by. Nettie sat with her eyes closed, her hand resting on Sam's knee, waiting and praying. Thank heavens Bea had been able to come in early so she could stay with Sam. She looked over at the mechanic. Sam sat slouched back against the sofa, her hands limp and open in her lap, looking dully ahead. She had prayed fervently, brokenly, for half an hour, then finally collapsed back into her present position. Nettie had gone and gotten them coffee. Sam's sat on the end table beside her, cold and untouched. Nettie took Sam's hand up in her own. "Sam, let's go down to the staff lounge, get you cleaned up. You need some heavy duty cleaner on these hands. You want to be ready to see Annie when they let you."

Sam didn't move, just stared ahead dully. Nettie wondered if she should get someone to look at her, get her something to calm the tense body and gaunt, haunted face. "Or would you like to go down to the commissary and get something to eat? Come on, Sammy. Check in with me, here. Let me know you're still okay."

The form didn't move but a hollow voice said, "I'm okay." Nettie felt an urge to take Sam into her arms and hug her like there was no tomorrow, somehow comfort the anguished heart. Instead she reached over and softly brushed the hair back from Sam's face, softly stroking the vacant brow over and over. "Not much longer, Sam. I don't think it can take much longer."

In fact, double doors down the hall opened fifteen minutes later, and Andy Harkin came walking up the corridor. They both looked up at him. His face was grim, but he raised his hand in an OK sign. They rose and went to meet him. He took Sam by the arm. "Let's step in here and talk." They went into a small, comfortable consulting room and sat down.

"The bullet stopped very close to the heart. Given the criticallity of the location, this is as lucky as we could possibly have gotten. No crucial structures were seriously damaged, although, god knows, any trauma to the heart is grave. But I think we've taken care of the injury to the heart pretty good. The situation is complicated by the second shot into the left the lung, but again, that was clean, straightforward, and we've done everything that could be done. Her condition is grave, I won't lie to you, and the next twenty-four, forty-eight hours are going to be critical. But I have hope, a good deal of hope, that Annie is going to pull through this. All in all, things are going as well as we could possibly ask, and we're just going to need to be patient and careful for a little while longer. Sam, I don't know if you're the praying type, but if you are, a word or two to the man upstairs might help her out. And Nettie, I know you've got a direct line to His ear. Okay... Any questions, Sam?"

"Can I see her?"

"She'll be up in the ICU in about an hour. They'll let you in up there."

Sam looked down and said quietly, "You know I'm not family."

"Oh, partners can get in to see each other now."

"I didn't know that."

"Yeah. We just changed the rule a couple weeks ago. With all this craziness going on, we were afraid something like this would happen. There's a lot of sympathy on the hospital board. There wasn't a dissenting vote."

Sam put her elbow on the chair arm and laid her forehead in her palm exhausted. Tears came. "Thank you so much."

"Well, I share your gratitude that this is the rule now. Boffler General has finally moved out of the dark ages in this respect. Now, Sam, she won't be conscious, of course, not for a few days. We'll be keeping her sedated to keep her quiet and still. But I think it will do her good to hear your voice and feel you touch her and comfort her. Let's see... She's going to be hooked up to a lot of equipment, respirator, all sorts of cords and gadgets; don't be thrown. She's holding her own right now; she's got a good heart, we got a good, regular beat. We have good reason to be hopeful. At this point we don't plan on sending her to Wallace. We can manage her right here. For something like this they really don't have anything more than we do. Just keep faith. We were damn lucky so far. I think this is going to be a lucky one."

Sam stood, and Dr. Harkin and Nettie followed. She wiped at her tears with her hand. "Thank you for what you've done for Annie."

"I'm glad I could help."

Sam moved in against him and held him close for a moment, weeping. He stroked and patted her back. Finally she pulled away, thanking him again, and went outside with Nettie.

The little nurse patted Sam's arm. "That's a good report, Sam."

"She's still in danger."

"Yeah but she's made it this far. That's a good sign right there. I'm relieved. Harkin's the best and the ICU nurses are pretty incredible. Let's go get you cleaned up so you can see her."

They headed off down to the staff rooms.

Nettie got Sam a plastic bag for her cover alls and strong cleanser for her greasy hands. Sam cleaned up numbly, and Nettie took her to the commissary for a sandwich which she didn't eat. Mostly Sam just stared vaguely, fiddling distractedly with her silverware. Finally she said, "Let's go check in at the ICU. They'll call us when she's ready, won't they?"

"Sure. We can wait up there in the waiting room. They went up and checked in at the desk. Annie still hadn't been brought up from recovery. It would probably be a half an hour. Nettie walked her back to a couch in the waiting room, and Sam slouched into it. "All I want to do is touch her." Her body could hardly contain the currents of anxiety that caused her to twitch and tremble and want to jump out of her skin. Finally a clerk came to them and told them that Annie could be seen now.

They were lead around a large central nursing station surrounded by cubicles containing patients in critical condition. She didn't recognize Annie because of all the machinery pumping around her until she was stopped outside the cubicle and led in. She went over to the bedside and had to fight passing out. The room seemed to tilt suddenly. She put her hand on the bedrail to steady herself and drew in a gasp of air. The beautiful eyes were closed, sunken, darkened from the trauma her body was enduring. The breathing was so unnatural, pumped in and out by the respirator, like her father's when he lay dying, a corpse kept alive mechanically before they withdrew support. The image clicked painfully in Sam's brain, tricking her mind for a moment to believe that Annie, too, was dead before her except for the machine. In that instant before recovering reality, she almost lost her mind. She felt herself losing control and gripped the bedrail so tightly her fingers went white. No, Annie was living, fighting a profound battle on the very cusp of death. She had to help her. Before touching her, she bent down and looked at the pale face so expressionless, the body so catastrophically damaged that the whole personality was cacooned completely in unconsciousness. She reached up and lifted a fine lock of hair back from her forehead. She shook her head slowly. So helpless... so helpless... Her voice was hoarse and choked when she spoke, managing only a single word, "Love..."

A pang of guilt caused her to drop her head and groan. How can you want my touch? She heard Nettie behind her saying, "Are you okay?" I didn't stop them! I couldn't make it stop! Nothing I did helped you. I failed in every way! I should have sheltered you. Hidden your gayness. Sent you away. Stayed away from you! Nettie, frightened by the soft groans issuing from the woman, shook her, asking again, "Sam? Are you okay?" The little hands were covered in tubes and gadgets and little bruises. Sam dropped to her knees and reached between the bedrails to lay shaking fingers on a helpless, silent hand, again choking, "Annie..." Nettie felt a fear slip through her bones: if the little nurse didn't make it through this, Sam Adams wouldn't either.

She bent down and put strong arms on Sam's shoulders, lifting her up. "Sam, we have to go back to the lounge and let her rest now." She wanted Sam out of there for Sam's sake more than Annie's. "Tell her you love her, and we'll go."

"I'm so sorry, Annie."

"Tell her you love her, Sammy. She needs to hear that."

"I love you, Annie. I never meant to hurt you."

Nettie drew shaking fingers over her eyes. Sam was falling apart, and she didn't know how to hold her together. "Come on, Sammy. Let's go sit down."

Nettie got Sam back to a seat in the lounge. The tall mechanics eyes were confused, agonized roaming around the room vacantly.

"Sammy, let me call someone to be with you. Sammy, come here, honey, look at me."

The pale blue eyes took her in vaguely.

"Who should I call? Who do you want to be with you?"

"I did this to her, Nettie."

"Sam!" Nettie was stunned. "Sam, that's not true! It would grieve her so much if she thought you felt that. Don't even think it!"

The eyes tracked away, and Nettie pulled Sam's face back to her. "I want to call someone for you, Sam. Now you tell me who."

Sam looked down at her fingers regarding them vaguely. "Linny Colridge. I haven't called her. Linny should know."

"Alright. I'm going to go over to the desk and have them call Dr. Colridge for you. Sammy, Annie's going to be okay. I just feel that. That's nurses' intuition born of lots of experience. So you just trust that, okay?"

"Thank you, Nettie."

The plump little nurse stood uncertainly and with a sigh left the beautiful dark haired woman sitting so utterly alone in the cold fluorescent light of the ICU lounge.

Linley Colridge came. Nettie told her the events of the day while Sam stared unseeingly before her. The next hour Linley wasn't allowed in to visit, not being family, and Nettie again accompanied Sam in, taking her hand and leading her around the corridor to the bank of open patient cubicles, whispering softly, "Sam, you have to be strong for her. She's relying on you to be an anchor for her through this." Praying that if Sam had a purpose in Annie's recovery it would help the mechanic get through it as well. Sam did better, holding Annie's unresponsive hand, encouraging her softly, "You're doing so well, love. You're going to make it, sweetheart. Just keep hanging on." Stroking the pallid cheek. Standing looking over the little figure like a gaunt, half crazy guardian angel.

Linley called Mare, and when Nettie and Sam got back to the lounge, Mare and El were waiting for them. At seven, Nettie had to go home to her family. She bowed her head close to Sam's ear and whispered softly, "Annie's doing good in there. All the time that passes with no events means everything for her recovery. You just stand by her, and keep encouraging her, now, okay?" The dark head nodded, and Nettie ran her hand over the silky tresses. "Your friends are here because they love you. You relax in their love, and let them give you strength. I'm going to go home now, but I'll be praying, Sam. I'll be praying like a fury. We're all going to be holding onto Annie with every ounce of our being. We're not going to lose her." The plump little nurse got up to leave and felt her hand taken up in Sam's big one. She looked down into eyes so openly anguished and grateful she nearly started to sob right there. "Thank you," Sam whispered helplessly. "Thank you, Nettie."

The hours passed, every hour Sam going alone into the dim room filled with odd mechanical sounds, speaking softly and ardently to her lover, coming out after her allotted ten minutes to sit mutely while her friends visited quietly with each other.

At ten, Linley and El left, and after a while El came back from her home with a pillow and blanket for Sam, but Mare and El couldn't make her lay back and rest. So they sat together largely in silence, now and then one of them brushing a hand over dark hair or squeezing a shoulder lightly. Peter and Eddie came in at four in the morning, getting an update from Mare and El before the two women went home for a few hours sleep.

At six a.m., Sam went back and saw two nurses in Annie's cubicle bending over the bedrails. A rush of panic made her lightheaded. The room transformed into a nightmare appearance of harsh, glaring lights and swirling black shadows. Her mouth went dry and she had the odd sensation of floating as her body moved of its own accord into the little half room. "What's happened?" She spoke softly, but her voice echoed in her ears with an odd metallic clanging. A nurse looked up at her, turning, reaching her arms out, moving to push Sam away. "We're changing her bandages. If you go back to the lounge, we'll come and get you when we're done." The voice clanged in her ears. She took hold of the nurse's arms resisting her. "I have to tell her I'm here. She's waiting for me." The nurse pushed back. "You can't come in here. Just a few minutes and... " Sam sidestepped around the nurse to where she could behold Annie's immobile frame lying in the bed. Long rows of stitches held together violent gashes across the pale stomach and breast. Blood oozed out of them and smeared over the skin. The chest pulsed inhumanly with the operation of the respirator. Now the nurse's long arms wrapped around Sam holding her back, but the dark haired woman dragged herself to the bed, grasping the rails, "I'm here, love." How can she live through this? "I won't let you go! I've got you, love. I won't leave you." How could she leave her?! She couldn't leave her for an instant! She wouldn't let her bear this alone! "Do it!" Sam ordered the nurse. "Take care of her." The nurse loosened her grip. Years of hospital experience with Sam Adams made the nurse frustratingly aware that there was no arguing with Sam. They finished with ministrations and left Sam standing over the bed. Annie's nurse eyed the clock and after ten minutes came up to tell Sam she had to go back to the lounge. Sam's hoarse, "No!" didn't surprise her. "She has to rest, Sam." "Go away!" Sam growled. The nurse looked around with her hands on her hips. Finally she pulled the visitor's chair up to the bed. "Then sit down here. You look like you're ready to drop." Sam sat obediently, never taking her eyes off Annie. Two hours later she returned briefly to the lounge to use the restroom and found Peter and Ed slumped against each other on the couch covered by the blanket El had brought. She woke them up and told them to go home, that the nurses were letting her stay back with Annie.

She used the restroom, splashing cold water on her face before she left, and returned to her vigil.

Halfway through the second night, she fell asleep in the chair by Annie's bedside, her forehead leaning on the hard metal bar of the railing. Two hours later she woke up from a nightmare cold and aching. She reached out and wrapped her fingers around a little hand. "I fell asleep. But I'm here, baby. I'm going to be with you all the way through this." She didn't fall asleep again.

That morning Harkin stopped in checking charts and patient and visiting with the nurse. Then he shot a brilliant smile to Sam. "We've just crossed a big hurdle, Sam."

Sam looked at him with expectant hope.

"Looks like our girl is gonna come through this like a trooper!"

"Is she out of danger, Andy? Is she going to be alright?"

"I would say so. I just talked to the nurse. The biggest hurdle was the first forty-eight hours. Big fear of throwing a blood clot, but that risk is moving behind us as the injuries heal. We'll just keep her in ICU, nice and quiet for another day or two. But I think you can go home and take a nap now. Thought we were going to have to hospitalize you before this was over."

"When can you... take out the respirator?" The sight of it was like the sight of death to Sam and it troubled her terribly.

"We'll wait another day or two. Keep her sedated and quiet. But I'm enormously relieved."

" 'Kay. That's all I needed to know. Think I'm gonna get out of here for a bit."

"Good girl. Get some rest!"

Sam drove home and took a long hot shower. It refreshed her and she was grateful. She went down to the studio and unlocked the walk in closet, finding and pulling out her rifle and revolver. She loaded the weapons and tucked the revolver into the waistband of her jeans and carried the rifle out to the truck tossing it behind the seat as she got in and drove off.


Henry Trent's house on the outskirts of town was a sorry, paintless, weathered old two story with the porch floor falling in and shutters hanging crazily about the facade. Sam saw Henry's truck in the drive, and her jaw set. Inside Henry was watching TV and having a beer. He heard a vehicle pull up in front and a car door slam. He went to the window, peeking through the dirty curtains. Sam Adams was walking up toward the house. He grabbed his shotgun from where it leaned against the wall in the corner and returned to the window.

"I've got my gun on you, Adams. I want you to stay away."

Sam yelled back, "We have to talk, Henry. My partner's near death, and you'll be wanted for murder if she dies."

"I had nothin' to do with it, Adams. Git back in your truck and drive off."

She took another step toward the house, and he fired a warning shot near her feet blowing up a puff of dust as the buckshot hit the ground. Sam could feel pellets of shot dig into her shins. She ran and dove behind Henry's truck in the drive. Henry's eyes narrowed watching the old Chevy, but he couldn't see the crazy bitch. Suddenly he saw a flash as Sam sprinted away from the truck toward the house. He swung the shotgun wildly across his body to get a shot, cracking it against the far wall of the window sill and blowing a round of shot into the dirt as Sam dashed out of view against the house.

All was quiet for a moment. He was out of shells. He tossed the shotgun onto the couch and picked up a revolver from the littered coffee table, checking its chamber to assure it was set to go. Fucking son of a bitch! One bullet remained in the chambers. Hastily her grabbed the box of bullets and started loading when the door exploded in and Sam was there with her revolver pointed at him.

Henry, still hunched over his work, stared at her intently for an instant. Then he tore away down the hallway, his boots clattering on the hardwood floor, and stumbled out the back door racing across the scrubby lawn and into the fringe of the surrounding woods. Sam tore into the yard behind him. He fell against a tree for cover, looked back and saw Sam coming. He raised his weapon and shot. Sam spun around. He could tell she'd caught it in the shoulder. But she regained her balance and came on like a fury. Henry turned and ran deeper into the trees and underbrush pell mell for a minute, heedless of the brambles and stickers that tore at his jeans. Then he stopped suddenly, ducking down under a stand of ferns, realizing that she could hear him tearing through the woods like that.

He listened for a sound of her moving. Everything was quiet. Mosquitos whined around his head, and sweat trickled down his forehead into his eyes. Where the hell was she? He struggled to calm his heavy breathing. Maybe she finally dropped from the bullet she took. Maybe he could go back and find her and finish her off. Tell the cops she came to his house with a gun, and he had to shoot her in self defense. And wasn't that the way it was? It'd be only the truth. Slowly he started creeping back the way he came stopping every couple yards to peer through the leafy underbrush for sign of her. A sharp crackling of underbrush ten paces to his left drew him suddenly to his feet. He lifted his gun to fire, but the hard cold feel of metal at his neck froze him where he stood. He dropped his gun and raised his arms hoping she wouldn't blow his brains out.

Her voice behind him was low and quivering with rage. "You shot my girlfriend, didn't you? She might die."

"I didn't do it, Adams. Swear to god."

"Then who did?"

"I don't know who done it."

"I'll give you to the count of three to tell me." He heard the pistol cock. "One..."

"I tell you I don't know who done it!"


"You're crazy, bitch, you know that? You're fucking crazy!"


"Alvin Dick! Alvin Dick did your girlfriend! Don't shoot me!"

He felt the cold metal withdraw from his neck.

"Where's Alvin Dick?"


She grabbed the shoulder of his shirt pulling him backward and off balance and the muzzle of the gun insinuated itself against his temple. "Where?"

"For christ sake, woman! I don't know! Vegas maybe. That's where I met him."

"I want to kill you so bad, Henry," she hissed in a whisper. "I'm taking you in, you lowlife bastard. And you're gonna tell the cops every name, every date, and every detail about what's been going on around here. You got that?"

The thought of being handed into the hands of the law was an intense relief to Trent right now. He was most clearly not safe with the psychopath who had him now. "You turn me over to the cops, Adams. I'll talk. I ain't no part of murder. I'll tell 'em everything. Swear to god."

Again the gun withdrew from him, and his body trembled with relief. Sam pushed him roughly. "Get moving."

Trent moved along with a purpose hoping only to survive until the police came to lock him safely in the jail.

Three hours after she left, Sam was back in her chair at Annie's bedside. She hardly noticed when Annie's nurse discovered the flesh wound in the round of her shoulder and insisted that she take off her shirt so she could at least clean and bandage the wound. Her attention remained rivetted on the pale head on the pillow, watching for signs of something living and strong in the still face. Again she took the little hand in her own and leaned against the the bedrail gazing at the gaunt young face of the woman struggling for life.

She was beginning to believe that Annie was going to make it. But that belief did nothing to silence the fears and shame that raged and screamed deep in her mind. The danger was not over, she knew. But hope for survival was high and increasing. She stroked the pale face, kissed the cheeks and forehead, brushed back hair, patted shoulders, stroked forearms and legs, massaged feet...

She told Annie that she had taken in Henry Trent, that Henry's confession and naming of names should pretty well end the reign of terror. But some fear, still not speakable, worked in her mind and heart, gnawing at her guts.

At six she dropped off to sleep in the chair. Annie and she were in a peaceful meadow. The sun shown benignly on them, but on the horizon were dark clouds of a storm that had blown over. They were snuggling, drinking each other in in long soft kisses over each other's faces. Then they noticed that the sunlight had dimmed and that the clouds had moved back in, and Sam realized that the storm had come back for her. A tornado closed in, and they realized it was actually a swarm of demons in the air. Sam was enveloped in the swarm and looked and saw Annie was enveloped, too, and woke up sweating and panting, her heart beating furiously. All that night the sense of demons haunted her as she gently held vigil over the little nurse. She felt voices in the back of her mind rolling like distant thunder in an unceasing barrage of withering rebukes.

One day later Dr. Harkin instructed the nurses to remove the respirator, stop sedation and allow the patient to return to consciousness. Sam sat at the bedside through the next three hours, looking like a zombie herself, watching for the slightest signs of Annie's awakening. Finally, the eyelids trembled, opened and closed. Sam rose and got the nurse and returned to her vigil taking up Annie's hand. The nurse put her hand on Annie's shoulder and began calling her name. "Annie? Can you hear me?" The eyelids fluttered. A hand lifted slightly and fell back. "Annie, I want you to open your eyes for me, alright?" The beautiful, pale face grimaced. "You were on a respirator. You can't talk." A hand lifted to the throat. "I know. It doesn't feel very good. Can you open your eyes for me?" The beautiful emerald greens opened and tracked to the nurse's face fuzzily taking in the welcoming smile. "You've come back to us, haven't you?" Green eyes blinked groggily. "Look over here." The nurse pointed to Sam. "Someone's here to see you." Green eyes now tracked to blue and held there. "She's been here for four days. We couldn't make her go away." There was nothing in the world to the two but each other. The soft light of love, deep and plain, burned in their eyes. Sam felt her hand squeezed by the littler one. The nurse said, "Annie, I'm going to ask you some questions. I need to assess how awake you are." The green eyes held the blue without waivering, busy sharing ineffable expressions of love. The nurse laughed softly and patted the shoulder. "Guess you need a little more time with Sam, don'cha. Well, that's the best medicine." She withdrew leaving the two lovers to silently commune the profundities of their hearts to one another.

Annie wasn't awake for long. Within the hour she was sleeping again. Sam got up and located the nurse. "She's going to be okay now, isn't she?"

The nurse grinned. "She's made it through the woods. I think you helped her a lot. She could feel you there with her. But, Sam, why don't you go home now. Get some sleep. She'll be in and out today. Get some sleep so you'll be fresh to see her tomorrow when she's awake and will really need you."

Finally Sam agreed to leave the bedside.


The rumblings in Sam's head didn't stop with Annie's awakening. She was edgy. A feeling of nameless dread hung about her, and she decided to go to the Rattler and try to relax.

It was amazing that the bar had been rebuilt so quickly. It was a testament to the goodwill of many Bofflerites and gays and lesbians from throughout the state. In town, the small construction company that led the renovation had been composed of straight carpentars who supported the human rights of gays and who were heartsick and angry at the violence being used. They had organized large teams of volunteers, like an old fashioned barn raising, and taken down the blackened shell of the old bar and rebuilt in ten days working long hours. It was advertised as a testament to human fellowship to get the bar back up and opened in two weeks. The rousing party the night of opening was full of local dignitaries, and state and national press and visitors. The straight carpentars were given the ad hoc titles of honorary gays to much affectionate laughter and high spirited cheering. Banners saying, "We shall never fall" festooned the walls and windows.

But Sam had missed all the festivities, sitting in terror by Annie's bedside.

She sat at the bar and had a beer. Some of her softball buddies came in, and she played pool with them for a couple hours, drinking heavily. After they left, around three in afternoon, she went back to the bar and started drinking shots with beer chasers. People stopped by asking about Annie and her. When the after work crowd came in, she got into a second pool game with Darnell and Stu, finally getting so sloppy that she excused herself and went back to the bar. She hunched over the smooth wood counter drinking shots again and became very distant and grim. Around seven, Aaron, the bartender, said he was cutting her off, she had to go home. He came around the bar to take her to the door, and she shot him a dark glare. "You touch me, Mark, I'll beat you up."

He backed off. He realized he had a problem on his hands. "Okay, Sam, I'm calling the cops, and they can take you home."

"You call the cops, and I'll beat them up." He knew she would do it. Then Sam would be in jail, and no good would have come of it. He heaved a frustrated sigh and went back around the bar, and called Mare Davison to come handle Sam.

Mare and El came and sat on either side of Sam. First they tried logic, but Sam was way too gone for logic to have an effect on her. So El told her finally that they had a fifth of scotch out in the car. They could go to her place and drink it. They wanted to hear about the Henry Trent adventure. Sam's glazed eyes perked up, and she agreed to this.

They sat around the livingroom floor, everyone drinking scotch and water, chips and dip scattered around at their sides as Sam began telling them of her encounter with Henry. Her story was disjointed and hard to follow. In talking about Henry, she started saying this didn't mean the end of violence. "There are still loonies in the hills, come just for us all in Boffler. Won't go home. Just bunk in with our crazies up there. Try and get me for taking Henry in." Tears came to her eyes. "Maybe get me through Annie." Mare and El looked at each other. "My baby... my little baby..." She dug the heels of her hands into her eyes. "Can't stand these thoughts." She leaped up and staggered a step. "I took her to the bar! So fucking stupid! I try, but I can't! I mess everything up! Didn't we have them all away? All the demons away on the horizon. Then back! The sky black with 'em! I gotta leave town! I'm making a mess of it. Oh, daddy... I'm so sorry. Annie...! I'm so sorry!" She stood slumped and broken. Mare got up and placed a gentle hand on the tall mechanic's arm, but Sam stumbled away. "No! No!" She stood waivering, peering intently at the floor. "Gotta go up there. Find 'em." She stumbled down the hall, bumping against the walls as Mare and El followed behind her. In the studio, she opened the closet and pulled out her gun.

"Oh, no." El said reaching in and grabbing the gun. "Give me the gun, Sam. Give me the gun." She hoped to heaven it wasn't loaded.

Sam would not release her grip. "Let me go, El! Gotta get 'em. They'll come back for Annie!"

Having no recourse, El pulled Sam's gun hand behind Sam's back and up between her shoulder blades. Sam cried out in pain as El pushed her up against the wall. "Get the gun, Mare."

This was certainly proof of how drunk Sam Adams was. Neither of them could do this with a sober Sam. Mare reached over and took the gun that fell from Sam's hand. El drew Sam's hand back down her back and released her. Sam turned around, leaning weakly back against the wall. El put her hand on Sam's face. "We're staying here with you tonight, Sammy. We're gonna take care of you. Mare, take her back to the livingroom. Try and get her to lie down."

Mare pulled Sam away from the wall and slung Sam's arm over her shoulder. "Come on, champ. Let's go lie down, okay?"

The two staggered off while El checked the chamber of the revolver. Empty. She put the gun back in the closet, and rifled around until she found a couple boxes of ammunition, one for the gun, one for the rifle that leaned against the wall. She took the ammunition and put it on the top shelf at the back behind a couple boxes. The key was in the door, and she locked the closet up and slipped the key into her pocket. Then went back into the livingroom where Sam was pacing unsteadily and rambling about how she had to break up with Annie. Annie needed someone who could help her further her life. Not someone who could help no one. Who could make nothing work. Who could only bring her trouble and heartache. El threw herself into a chair and Mare paced around with Sam trying to reassure her. Both of them wondered when this incredibly drunken woman would finally pass out. Neither of them could still Sam's agonized ramblings, a confusion of talk about Henry, Annie, dream images maybe, Sam's father, crazy ideas... Finally, they called Linny over.

Linny managed to softly talk Sam back to quietness and she fell asleep. The three of them got Sam upstairs to bed all three of them lugging her up the stairs like a huge sack of cement. Sam remained totally passed out through the process. They undressed her and tucked her into bed. Linny went back home, and Mare and El stayed over in the guest room.

Continued in Part 10 (Conclusion)

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