The Darkest Hour
Copyright © 2000 by Talaran
Disclaimers: This is a sequel to my first story, Vendetta. There are things that happened in the first story that are relevant, so you may want to read that one first.
The two main characters, and I think you know who they remind us of, are in deeply in love. There will be sexual interactions in this story so if this type of material disturbs you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
"It's nice to see you, too, Nic," Jessie said sarcastically.
Nic dropped the shovel and pulled her sister into a hug. "Jesus! I could have killed you! What are you doing out here?" Nic thought about how much time had passed since she had last hugged Jessie.
The smaller woman was startled by the display of emotion from her older sister. Hesitantly, she returned the hug. Stepping back, she looked up at her sister. Even though they hadn't seen each other in almost three years, Jessie noticed there was something different about Nic. Physically she looked like she always had; trim, athletic, and beautiful. But there was a change in her. She was warmer, somehow. The normally cold, elusive demeanor was gone. "Well, I don't have a key, for one thing. Then, of course, there was the alarm system to consider."
"Good point," Nic admitted. "But, why did you decide to take a swing at my head?"
"First of all, how was I suppose to know that it was you? It is the middle of the night. Would you rather I opened the door and gave a potential intruder a hug?"
"Depends on the intruder," Nic replied with a crooked grin. "So, why didn't you call to let me know you were coming?"
Jessie thought about her answer. "It was a spur of the moment decision." She rubbed her hands in an attempt to eliminate the stinging sensation.
Nic raised a curious eyebrow at the statement. Jessie looked well enough, but Nic sensed there was something else behind the sudden visit. Either way, Nic was still happy to see her. Since Carly had arrived, Nic had thought a lot about her own sister. She had wondered what Jessie had been up to and now she was given the opportunity to find out. She placed her arm around her sister's shoulders and steered her toward the door. "Come on, there's someone I'd like you to meet."
Though Jessie had surely not met Carly under the best of circumstances, she seemed to like her and Nic was happy about that. She even helped Nic get Carly settled upstairs before returning to the kitchen. Nic seriously doubted that Carly would even remember meeting Jessie. If nothing else, Nic had learned just how much liquor her girlfriend could tolerate.
When Nic entered the kitchen, Jessie was pouring hot water into two cups. "You still like tea?" she asked.
"Yes I do," Nic replied.
"I guess some things never change, do they Nic?" Jessie said as she dropped a tea bag into each cup, splashing some of the hot liquid onto the table's wooden surface. "How many times did we sit here with mother while we all drank tea and talked about our day."
Nic settled into a chair that put her across from Jessie. "More than I can count," Nic answered as she studied her sister. Where Nic favored their father's looks - dark hair and blue eyes - Jessie favored their mother's. Jessie had wavy auburn hair and hazel eyes, plus she was at least half a foot shorter than Nic.
Jessie sipped her tea and waited for the interrogation to begin.
"So, do they know you're here?"
"You always did get right to the heart of things, didn't you?"
"Jessie, I just want to know what's going on. You know how much I hate surprises." And God knows I've had my share this week.
"Nothing is going on!" Jessie's eyes flared defiantly.
Nic let out a long sigh. Maybe I'll try a different approach. "How long can you stay?"
Jessie's attitude softened. Her sister had actually asked how long she could stay, not would stay. Maybe I should give her a break, Jessie thought. "I guess that depends on you."
"I'm not sure I understand," Nic said.
"Well...what if I said this wasn't just a visit." Jessie bit her lip, but decided to continue. "What if I said I wanted to...make this...a permanent move?" She looked into Nic's eyes, trying to gauge her reaction. She knew her own were filled with uncertainty.
Nic was nonplussed at her sister's words. Her face brightened noticeably at the prospect of having her sister move back to Larson. Still, she was concerned at what had prompted the decision. "I think that would be great!"
Jessie looked at her sister incredulously. "You're serious?"
"Sure I am. I've missed you, Jess."
Jessie scanned the room rapidly. "Okay...where is my sister? What have you done with her?" She ignored the sardonic expression on Nic's face and looked under the table. "Did the Larson PD clone her, or something?"
"And just what is that suppose to mean?" Nic stood up and deposited her empty cup in the sink. She turned and leaned her back against the counter while she waited for Jessie's answer.
"Don't get angry, Nic. You just seem different, that's all." Jessie wasn't sure she should say the next part, for fear of adding vinegar to an old wound. "Kind of like you were before...Mom and Dad...died."
Nic couldn't mask the pain that flashed in her eyes at the mention of their parents, but she knew Jessie was right. And she knew what had caused it. Carly...Carly had rekindled what she had thought had shriveled up inside of her long ago. Like water on a dying flower, her love, hell, her very nature made Nic feel whole again...alive again, for the first time in ten years. "I think you can thank Carly for that."
"No kidding, Nic. I'm not blind, for Christ's sake." Jessie smiled. "And I couldn't be happier for you."
"Thanks, Jess. I'd really love for you two to get to know one another. Carly is really terrific."
"She must be, to have broken through your walls. So...I won't be screwing anything up between you two if I stay here?"
"Not at all," Nic replied. "This house is big enough for all of us."
"Well, it will only be until I find a place of my own."
"It's up to you, but you are welcome to stay as long as you want."
"Thanks, Nic," Jessie said in a sincere tone. She almost couldn't believe the change in her sister. Carly truly must be something else, Jessie thought. "So, tell me, how long have you known Carly?"
Nic turned and started wiping off the counter top. She didn't know exactly why, but she felt that Jessie might not take this seriously once she knew Nic had only met Carly less than a week ago. "Not long." Wait until she finds out she's my partner's sister, Nic thought.
Jessie gave her sister a perplexed look. "Nic, is something bothering you?"
Nic didn't answer right away. Instead, she sighed. When she turned around she looked into her sister's concerned eyes. "I don't really know how to explain this."
"Explain what?" Jessie asked.
"Me...and Carly...and the whole thing."
"Nic, you're scaring the hell out of me. What do you need to explain?"
Nic stood with her hands on the back of her chair. Jessie could see the hint of turmoil in her sister's blue eyes. Finally, Nic sat down and took a deep breath. "It's a long story, really."
"Then give me the condensed version."
Nic smiled at her sister's directness. "I only met Carly last Saturday." She waited to gauge Jessie's reaction. Seeing nothing but concern, she continued. "She's my partner's sister and he was shot and she was flying in to visit him, totally unaware of what had transpired before she arrived."
Jessie's eyes widened at the tale her sister was telling her. "First, is your partner okay?"
"Yes, thank God. He's still in the hospital and he won't be back on duty for awhile, but he is getting better every day."
"That's great, then, right?"
"Of course it is. I just can't explain the almost immediate connection I felt with Carly. I never imagined I would feel this way about someone." Jessie chuckled a little, which got her an annoyed look from her sister. "I'm afraid I don't see the humor here."
"I'm sorry, Nic. But I think it is sooo cute! My big sister has finally...amazingly fallen in love."
Nic scowled at her sister's remark. "I know that! But how did it happen so fast? Don't these things take a lot of time?"
Jessie covered Nic's hand with her own and squeezed it gently. "Not when you meet the right person, it doesn't. Love at first sight happens, Nic. I've always believed that. When two souls who are destined to be together finally meet, it's magical and...unstoppable."
Nic smiled at the thought, but an unsettling fear still held her heart.
Carly awoke to the gray predawn light that filtered into the room. She had a throbbing ache in the back of her skull. If she didn't know better she'd swear someone had stuffed cotton into her mouth. It was a struggle just to swallow. The warm body next to her stirred and she realized where she was and whom she was with. Nic was still sound asleep. Rolling onto her side she curled her arm around Nic's larger frame and buried her head into Nic's back. A soft groan came out as a new series of pains pierced her head and she felt a dull ache in her left hand. It took a few seconds before Carly remembered where they had been last night. A good portion of the evening was still foggy to her, but her lips curled into a silly grin at the memory she had of her and Nic dancing. She had been right. Nic had proved to be a great dancer. When they had been on the floor it felt like the whole room had melted away and it had been just the two of them. She had stolen a few glances around the room and hadn't been surprised to find several pairs of eyes watching them intently.
Now, however, she was paying for last night's fun. Normally she would never drink so much, but she had felt so completely safe with Nic that she had decided to just enjoy herself. Perhaps the stresses of the past week had taken more of a toll on her than she had realized. The alcohol certainly seemed to alleviate some of that, though.
Pulling her hand back, she winced at the sight of her swollen and bruised knuckles. How did that happen, she wondered. Her mind attempted to reconstruct the fragmented recollections of last night. Dancing...drinking...talking...it all seemed to be a blur. She didn't even remember coming back to the house, or going to bed. Carly closed her eyes and allowed the images that were swirling around inside her head to come into focus. She had a strong feeling that something...no, that someone had annoyed her last night, but who had it been? Green eyes shot open as the image of a woman with curly brown hair falling backward came into focus. Oh please tell me that I didn't do what I think I did.
Rubbing her eyes with the heels of her hands Carly decided that she desperately needed coffee and an aspirin. She leaned over and kissed her softly snoring companion before rising and moving into the bathroom. She decided to forego the bathroom lights, realizing that they would merely intensify her headache. After a few splashes of cold water on her face she downed the aspirin and headed to the kitchen.
Jessie was utterly twisted into the bed sheets from all the tossing and turning she had done all night long. Now she was wide-awake, even though she knew she should be completely exhausted. Last night actually went well, considering her initial panic at not finding Nic at home when she had arrived. Deciding to wait in the garage had been a good idea, after all. She had been able to fall asleep on one of the lounge chairs that she had opened up and before she had known it Nic had returned. Being back in the house felt a little strange. She wasn't sure how Nic had managed to stay here all these years. The torrent of memories that filled her head was almost overwhelming. The fact that she was sleeping in her old room only seemed to intensify them.
She wished she could close her eyes and go back...back to the time when her family was whole. Staring at the walls that were still painted a muted orchid color she wondered how different life would have been if her parents hadn't died in that awful car crash. Nic probably would have been working for their father's law firm by now. And I would have stayed here, instead of being sent away to Arizona. A part of her still resented Nic for pushing her away. Jessie knew that it would have been a struggle for Nic to take care of a fifteen-year-old, especially under the circumstances. But it was the fact that Nic hadn't even put up a fuss when their aunt and uncle had whisked Jessie away that bothered her most. It was as if Nic had simply shut down. Jessie had pleaded with Nic to go with her to Arizona, but Nic had stubbornly refused, and Jessie had been in too much pain to argue with her sister. Maybe now they had a chance to regain what they had let slip away so many years ago.
Realizing she wouldn't get any more sleep, Jessie padded out of the room toward the kitchen.
Carly was holding her head in her hands while she listened to the gurgling of the coffee machine. The aroma alone made her feel better. She didn't even look up at the sound of the footsteps that were approaching. "I didn't think you'd be up for a while."
"And why is that?"
The tone of the voice that spoke was not deep, which startled Carly. She looked up as a young woman with unruly auburn hair and sleepy eyes walked further into the room. The woman was wearing a nightshirt with a picture of Grumpy, one of the seven dwarfs, on it. Below the picture the question 'Who you calling Grumpy?' was printed. A dim recollection of meeting this woman ran through Carly's mind. Then she realized that this must be Nic's sister. "I'm sorry. I thought you were Nic."
"Well, that's a first," Jessie stated flatly while she grabbed two cups from the cupboard. "I assume you are waiting for this?"
"Yes, please," Carly implored her.
Jessie poured out two cups of the enticing liquid and sat down next to the blonde. You're quite pretty, Jessie thought. If you look this good just getting out of bed, you must be a knockout when you're trying to impress someone. "So, how's your head this morning?"
Carly groaned. "How do you think?" She took a tentative sip of the coffee and savored the jolt that it gave her system.
"Lousy," Jessie replied.
The blonde smiled. Apparently a wry sense of humor runs in this family. "I wish I remembered more about meeting you last night. Everything is still kind of fuzzy for me, I'm afraid."
Jessie ran her hand through her hair in an effort to bring some order to it. "Well, you were sort of out of it last night." She noticed the blonde's bruised knuckles. "Let me get you some ice for your hand. It looks like it hurts."
Carly released the coffee cup and idly stared at her hand. The truth was her head hurt far worse than her hand did. She watched the young woman go to the refrigerator and return with an ice pack. Though she was trying, she couldn't seem to remember the woman's name. God, I don't want to ask her.
"By the way, Nic told me about your brother. I'm glad he's going to be all right."
Carly laid the ice pack against her tender knuckles, wincing a bit as she did. "Thanks. If it wasn't for Nic, we'd both be dead right now."
"What do you mean?" Jessie asked.
Carly met the woman's eyes. "Nic didn't tell you everything?"
"Apparently not," Jessie remarked. Her annoyance was clear in her tone. It was just like Nic to leave out all the important details.
Carly filled Jessie in on the events of the past week. The fact that her sister had been cut, shot and nearly killed frightened Jessie beyond measure. It also made her grateful to Carly for being there through it all.
"So, now we're waiting to hear when they will give her the award."
Nic walked into the room, catching the last sentence and not being a bit surprised at the dark, smoldering look she was receiving from her sister. "Good morning," Nic said in a most cheerful manner.
"Nic! Last night when you and I talked I think you left a few things out!"
"I'm sorry, Jess. It was all done and over with. I saw no point in bringing it up, I guess," Nic replied as she crossed the kitchen to get to the coffee. As she passed by Carly she bent down and placed a kiss her head, careful not apply too much pressure, since she suspected her lover had a wicked hangover. "How's the head this morning?"
"Hurts like hell," Carly admitted. She was glad Nic had come downstairs at that point. It was driving her mad that she hadn't been able to remember the womanís name. Jessie, Carly wondered, is that short for something else?
Nic noticed the ice Carly was applying to her hand. Her lips curled into a smile at the memory of Carly decking the brunette at the bar. She poured a cup of coffee and wiped the smile away before she sat down between Carly and her sister. "Sorry to hear that." From the corner of her eye Nic saw Jessie glaring at her.
Jessieís nostrils flared. "Well, I think it would have been nice if you mentioned it anyway. After all, you were nearly killed!"
Nic rolled her eyes. "Jessie, don't overreact. I'm fine."
"This time!" Jessie shoved the chair away from the table and glanced at Carly. "Thanks for filling me in, Carly. If it wasn't for you, I never would have found out, I'm sure." Before either Nic or Carly could say another word, Jessie stormed out of the kitchen.
Nic let out a sigh before taking a long sip of her coffee. She should have told her sister everything, but it had been so late and she really hadn't seen the point...
"You should go talk to her," Carly prodded, sipping her own coffee. She could feel the pain pills working as the throbbing pain in her head began to subside.
Reaching out, Nic brushed her hand over the blonde's arm. "How's the hand feel?"
"It's sore, but the ice is helping."
"That was quite a punch you threw."
A wave of heat climbed up the blonde's neck making her embarrassment obvious. "I'm sorry about last night. I don't know what came over me," Carly said without raising her head.
Nic lifted her lover's chin so that they were looking into each other's eyes. "Don't worry about it. Besides, I think it was cute."
"Oh! God! Not cute...anything but CUTE," Carly moaned.
"What? What's wrong with cute?" Nic asked, wide-eyed.
Carly twisted her chin away. "I wasn't being CUTE! I was..." Memories of last night came back to her. She scowled at the thoughts. I was being stupid last night, that's what I was being, Carly thought.
Nic waited for Carly to finish her sentence, but only silence followed. Blue eyes regarded the blonde. I better not tell her how adorable she looks in that nightshirt, either, or I'll probably get slapped. When Carly continued to remain silent, Nic asked in a soft voice, "You were what, Carly?"
"I was protecting what's mine, that's what I was doing," she replied, "and I swear, Nicole, if you tease me about this we are going to have our first fight!"
Nic sat stone-faced. She hadnít expected that. If Carly had not added that last part, Nic would have teased her, but she could see the seriousness in Carlyís green eyes. "I wonít say a word," Nic vowed, raising her hands in a gesture of defeat.
Carly smiled triumphantly. "Good," she said drinking down the last of her coffee.
With that settled, Nic rose and lightly rubbed Carlyís back as she walked behind her. "Iím going to go talk to Jessie. Keep that ice on there for a while longer, okay?"
"Yes, boss," Carly retorted, saluting the taller woman as she walked out of the kitchen.
On her way upstairs Nic thought about what Carly had said moments ago. In her whole life she had never imagined she would like someone feeling possessive about her let alone want it, yet here she was with a funny feeling fluttering around inside her. The cold, hard truth was that she wanted to belong to Carly...body and soul. Now we just have to work out the details, Nic thought.
"Jessie? Can we talk?"
Jessie sat on her old bed with a big brown teddy bear wrapped tightly in her arms. She wanted to tell Nic no, but she knew that that wouldnít solve anything. "Yeah, come in."
Nic walked in and was greeted by a flying teddy bear. With a quick duck she avoided it. "What was that for?"
"You just make me so mad sometimes! Why must you be so damned strong and silent?
"Jess, Iím sorry I didnít tell you everything. It was late and we were both tired." Nic sat down on the edge of the bed.
Jessie pulled her legs up so that her chin could rest on her knees. To Nic she looked every bit the way she had when she was fifteen. "I just think that you could have told me, your sister, whatís been going on lately." Jessie looked up into her sisterís impossibly blue eyes. How many time had I wished for those eyes when I was growing up, Jessie wondered.
"Well, I can let you in on something..." Nic didnít finish the sentence in the hopes that it would entice Jessieís curiosity.
"Iím going to be playing basketball again."
"Youíre kidding," Jessie remarked.
"No, Iím not kidding."
"Arenít you too old for that?"
"No, Iím not too old. Iím only going to be thirty. You just said I donít tell you anything. Well, that would be one of the reasons why I donít."
"Nic, Iím just teasing you. I think itís great! I guess I just wanted you to share something more personal."
Nic wrestled with the idea of telling Jessie. Maybe it would help, Nic thought. She hated to admit a weakness of any kind. But, then this was her sister. Who better to share this with? "Iíve been having some nightmares again."
Jessie stretched her legs out and leaned closer. "What kind of nightmares?"
Nic looked away. She didnít know if Jessie would remember the horrifying nightmares that Nic had experienced after their parents had been killed. "Theyíve been about Carly."
A look of surprise crossed Jessieís face. "Whatís been happening in them?"
Slowly Nic turned to face her sister. "She dies in them."
Nic had felt better after she had spoken with her sister. They had been apart for too long. She was glad, too, that Jessie and Carly were getting along so well. When she left the house the pair was planning a shopping trip to the local mall since Carly was in need of additional clothing. Since shopping was never high on her list of fun things to do Nic begged off, insisting she needed to go to the firing range.
So, at ten oíclock she strode into the station and reeled with astonishment at the round of applause she received upon entering the squad room. She attributed the adulation to the fact that everyone must have heard about the Mayorís award. She accepted the congratulations from her fellow officers gratefully, though it did unsettle her to be the center of such attention. She went to her desk to check her messages then proceeded to the basement.
After securing a pair of ear mufflers to her head, Nic walked down the narrow corridor to booth ten. The protective mufflers dulled the staccato rhythm of gunfire coming from the other booths. Pulling her Sig Sauer from her shoulder harness she slid a full magazine into the grip and placed the other four magazines onto the counter in front of her. With the push of a button she moved the paper target, a silhouette of a human head and torso, to the mid-range setting. Within seconds a tight cluster of shots penetrated the target. Replacing the empty magazine with a new one she selected a smaller target and moved it back twenty-five feet, then repeated the process.
Nic thoroughly enjoyed target shooting and that fact was obvious to anyone who watched her on the range. After finishing with the third clip she became aware of the lack of gunfire in the room. Several occupants in the nearby booths had stopped to watch the display Nic was putting on. The distance and size of the target appeared to be irrelevant to her as she managed to repeat the same cluster of shots on each. Adrenaline surged through her as she emptied her last clip in a flurry of gunfire into the smallest target, which was at the furthest distance.
The Van Allen Mall was bustling by ten thirty when Carly and Jessie climbed out of the cab next to Macyís. The weather had decided to turn colder, which made Carly realize she needed a couple of warmer jackets to wear. Now that she had made arrangements to take a leave of absence she was going to need to get some of her things. She would make a point of calling Carol, her next door neighbor in her Washington apartment complex to see if she could send some things up to Larson.
The mall was already bustling with holiday shoppers. Christmas was only a few short weeks away and now that it was colder everyone was getting into the holiday spirit. After two hours of browsing and buying, Jessie suggested that they get some lunch and Carly eagerly agreed.
They settled on a Ruby Tuesday's that was situated in one of the back corners of the sprawling two-story mall. A waitress greeted them seconds after they were seated and went off to fill their drink orders.
Closing her menu Jessie announced, "Well, I know what I'm having."
Carly dropped her own menu on the table, "Me, too."
"I had a lot of fun this morning," Jessie admitted. "It's been awhile since I've just gone off shopping with a friend."
Carly liked that Jessie considered her a friend, because she felt the same way. Though Nic and Jessie were sisters they were different in many ways. Jessie was very animated and quite funny, while Nic tended to be more serious and brooding. Jessie was only a year younger than Carly and just about the same height and build. "I've had a great time, too. I'm glad you came."
The waitress returned with their drinks and took their orders. Jessie used her straw to swirl the ice cubes around in her glass of Pepsi, seemingly lost in thought.
Carly was busy sipping her own soda looking over the miscellaneous items that hung on the walls of the casual restaurant.
"Can I tell you something, Carly?"
Carly looked into Jessie's eyes, "Sure."
"I haven't told Nic, yet, but there is a reason why I'm here and why I want to stay."
Carly listened, silently pleased that Jessie wanted to stay.
"As a matter of fact, my aunt and uncle don't even know that I'm here. They think I'm driving up to San Francisco to visit a friend."
Carly became concerned at this revelation. "Why didn't you tell them where you were headed?"
Jessie fiddled with her napkin, twisting into a tight pretzel-like configuration. "Because I knew if I told them, they would have suspected that something was up."
"I'm sorry, Jessie, but I'm a little confused here," Carly admitted.
"My aunt and uncle, more my aunt than my uncle, but anyway, they want me to marry someone that I don't want to marry. Since Nic and I haven't been very close, they would be suspicious of my sudden desire to visit her."
"Who do they want you to marry?" Carly asked.
"Mark Rothwell. He's the son of one of their dearest friends." Jessie drank some soda, her mouth suddenly feeling very dry.
"So, why didn't you just tell them you weren't interested in marrying him?"
The young woman chuckled at the thought. Tell Aunt Sylvia 'no'...what a concept. "Suffice it to say that my aunt does not take it well when things don't go according to her plans."
The waitress walked over with two chicken sandwiches and fries. Both women immediately began eating. "Well, if you don't tell her, then what is your plan?"
"I'm surprised you haven't figured that out," Jessie said.
Like someone had switched on a light, Carly realized exactly what Jessie had in mind. "Oh, no. You're here so that Nic can tell them." Carly couldn't help but smile.
"Precisely," Jessie acknowledged. "Now all I have to do is tell her."
Carly finished off the rest of her sandwich and debated telling Jessie about her own plans. It might be nice to confide in someone, Carly thought. After adding more ketchup to her fries she decided to go ahead. "Well since you confided in me there is something I'd like to share with you."
Curiosity filled eyes looked up from the table. Jessie stopped chewing and swallowed her food with a gulp. "Sure, go ahead."
"I'm planning on moving to Larson...permanently."
Jessie remembered Nic saying that Carly was visiting her brother, which indicated that she didn't live in Larson. "That's great, Carly! I'm sure Nic will be thrilled."
"I hope so."
"Why wouldn't she be?"
"Because I'm going to quit my job and look for something here."
Jessie shook her head as she munched on her last French fry. "I don't get it. Why would Nic care about that?"
"She might not, but since I'll be quitting National Geographic..."
"Wow! What did you do there?" Jessie asked.
"I'm a photographer and I've only been with them for a little over a year. I'm afraid Nic might tell me I'm crazy for giving up a career with them. But a career means nothing if you have no one to share your life with."
Jessie smiled as she looked at the woman who had captured her sister's heart. "If you explain it to her that way, then she couldn't possibly give you any resistance."
Carly laughed, "Yeah, right. You can say it, but I doubt either one of us really believes it."
"We'll have to wait and see, now won't we?" Jessie replied with a slurp of her soda and a quirked eyebrow.