Copyright 2004 by Texbard

For disclaimers, see Chapter 1

Chapter 11

The cabana was mostly quiet, save the sound of a light breeze rustling the dry brush just outside one window, and riffling through the branches of a nearby cedar tree.  The refrigerator motor kicked on, its low hum almost deafening, and Carson jumped a little in the chair where she sat reading.  "Damn," she muttered softly, raking her fingers back through her hair and looking around for the mantle clock.

It was late afternoon, the hands on the clock attesting to the fact that she had dozed in between chapters of her book.  Kennedy was in the bedroom taking a nap after a much-needed bath and light lunch.  Her appetite had been nearly non-existent, her eyes focused on something far away.  She spoke very little of the bizarre ordeal the morning had brought, her features drawn and sober.

Carson had tried a few times to get her to talk about it, getting bare nods and few words for her effort.  She'd finally given up, knowing her introspective partner would talk about it when she was good and ready.  If there was one thing she'd learned about Kennedy during their short time together, it was that she was a deep thinker, and some things took her time to process.

So she'd done what she knew would help, encouraging Kennedy to change into her comfortable sweats, and rubbing her back until stubborn blue eyes finally closed and even deep breathing indicated she was asleep.  The afternoon had dragged after that, Carson's attention only half on her book, the other half wandering over all those puzzle pieces Kennedy had laid out.

And now there was yet another piece.

More people ingesting bags of drugs.  She'd made a quiet phone call to the hospital after Kennedy fell asleep, inquiring about the woman and the baby, but all she'd gotten was the run-around.  Another call to Ranger Smothers had been a bit more promising.  Even though the woman had given birth off park property, park rangers had become involved in her rescue, and thus reports would have to be completed and duly filed.  Ranger Smothers would get a call from the hospital when the woman's condition was known, along with the contents of the bag she'd swallowed, and she told Carson she'd let her know how everything turned out.

A barely-audible whimper drew her attention back to the bedroom, and she got up, poking her head just inside the doorway.  Kennedy was curled up on her side, a frown creasing her brow, as she muttered nonsensical words in her sleep.  Carson moved quietly to the bedside and sat down, brushing Kennedy's hair back and rubbing her thumb lightly against her forehead, smoothing it.

At that moment, the phone rang, causing both of them to almost levitate off the bed.  Carson picked it up, speaking quietly as Kennedy rolled to her back, looking around and gaining her bearings.  She listened to the conversation and scooted closer, laying her head on Carson's thigh and receiving a head-rub in return.  Carson's tone was enough to tell her things weren't good, and she swallowed, closing her eyes as Carson hung up.

"That was Ranger Smothers," Carson commented softly.

"And?"  Kennedy opened her eyes and tilted her face upward, wishing she hadn't when she saw Carson's face.

"Honey, that woman didn't make it."  She felt Kennedy's heavy silent sigh, and rubbed her arm.  "But the baby is going to be just fine.  Healthy, full-term, and drug-free."

"I should've worked faster, or something."  Kennedy curled a little more into herself.  "I was completely out of my element, but it seems like I could've done something more.  Maybe …"

"You saved the baby, Ranger Smothers confirmed that.  You got him just in the nick of time.  And his mom, she had swallowed a bag of cocaine - a few bags, actually.  They were lodged up inside of her, and she would have died regardless."  Carson watched a tear trail down Kennedy's cheek, and she brushed it away.

"Sorry," the dark head shook slightly.  "I'm still PMSing, I think.  Mother nature has been thrown way off-course by all this."

"No need to apologize," Carson answered, slipping her hand inside Kennedy's shirt and lightly scratching her back.  "Been a tough few days."

"It feels like the twilight zone, quite frankly," Kennedy sighed, closing her eyes and enjoying the attention.  "You've got your own tough couple of days coming up, don't you?"  Carson looked down at her, tilting her head in question.  "Your mother -- isn't the anniversary of her death coming up pretty soon?"

"Oh."  Gray eyes closed for a long moment.  "You know something.  I've been so focused on other things, I hadn't had a chance to think about that very much."

"Is that a good thing?"  Kennedy rolled to her back, her head still cradled in Carson's lap.  After everything that had happened, a bit of normalcy slipped back into place, as she re-directed the focus from herself and back to taking care of her partner.  She knew Carson didn't like to think of herself as being taken care of, but Kennedy had decided she'd just have to work around that, and try to take care of her as best she could without babying her in the process.

"Kind of good," Carson's features grew thoughtful.  "It's easy to let myself feel guilty if I forget about things, like their birthdays, or to have flowers put on their graves at Christmas, stuff like that."

"But they wouldn't want you to feel guilty," Kennedy stated with some finality.  "They'd want you to go on living your life, and be happy."

"And I am," Carson answered softly, her eyes glowing warmly as she looked down into equally-warm blue ones.  "Happier than I've ever been."

"You really mean that, don't you?" Kennedy's voice was full of wonder.

"Absolutely."  Carson leaned over, kissing her head.  She sat back up, her hand wandering around and rubbing circles against the soft skin of Kennedy's stomach.  "I want to be a family with you.  It's all I ever dreamed of, growing up -- to spend my life with someone and raise children.  The dream came in a very different package than the one I envisioned, but the package is perfect, for me.  I look forward to the next fifty years with you, Miz Nocona."

"A hundred," a husky voice corrected her.  Her eyes grew wide, as the day came crashing in.  "I delivered a baby today."

"Yes, you did."  Carson thought about that, and looked down, patting her own belly for a moment.  "If you decide you really want to deliver one again, I'd do that for you, you know.  I know we talked about it, and I know I said I don't want to give birth, but I think, with you, I don't know … maybe I could do that."

"I think …"  Kennedy sat up, leaning back against a pile of pillows and pulling Carson in next to her.  "… I think what we talked about, Carson, is more than I could ever have hoped for.  I really do think there are a lot of children out there who need a home and need love.  We have so much love between us, you and I do.  I think we could share that with a child or two who need a home.  If you really want to experience childbirth, that's one thing.  I'm pretty sure I don't want to, but if you do, we can look into that."

"No," Carson interjected.  "It's not high on my list of things I have to do, just something I would do for the right person.  But I agree … when we're ready, we should look into adoption.  Maybe adopting hard-to-adopt children, even."

"When we're ready," Kennedy finished.  "And we've got plenty of time for that."  Her face darkened, her voice sad as her thoughts turned back to the day.  "Or at least I think we do.  That young couple today.  I can't seem to put them out of my mind.  There they were, trying to make a better life for themselves.  Now he's a widower with a new baby.  It's so unfair."

"A lot of things in life aren't fair."  Carson peered at her earnestly.  "I learned that from losing my parents.  You have to grab hold of life and live it to the fullest, because you don't know how much time you're going to get.  None of us do.  But I do know one thing."

Kennedy felt Carson's grip on her tighten, and she instinctively pulled her closer.  "What's that?" she whispered quietly, her breath warm against Carson's head.

"I know that I'm blessed to share whatever time I've been given with you."  Her voice quivered, and she cleared her throat.  "I see so much nobility in you, for lack of a better term.  You give so much, Kennedy.  The way you handle your law practice -- the pro bono work.  The way you jumped in to help me out when we first met.  Your love for your family.  The way you look after Pete and Heidi, and the way you care for your family -- you have a good heart, honey, and I'm doubly blessed to have your love."

"You see things I just can't see," Kennedy hugged her tightly.  "I think I've just been blessed to have such loveable people in my life."

Carson laughed lightly, the bed shaking slightly with her movement.  "And I think we're going to need insulin if this gets any sweeter, huh?"

"Too true," Kennedy joined her laughter, stopping only when she moved a little bit in the wrong direction, and her shoulder injury made its presence abundantly clear.  "I think I'd like to try to do something for that man and his baby.  Maybe I can help speed up the green card process for him.  Having a child who is an American citizen certainly won't hurt him any, but I've represented many people who were trying to get work permits and obtain citizenship.  I just feel so badly for him."

"They made their choices."  Carson flopped back against the pillows, her hands tucked behind her head.  "I don't know if they understood what they were doing was wrong, but my gut tells me they did."  She rolled to her side.  "I feel badly for her that she died, and doubly bad for her son, who will never know his mother.  Lord knows, I feel badly for him most of all.  But they had to have known that if you're swallowing something in order to take it across the border, it's probably wrong.  Even if you don't understand the language, the nature of what they were asked to do should have clued them in, don't you think?"

"I think people are desperate for a better life," Kennedy responded quietly.  "I've seen so many of them.  They come from one-room shacks in the middle of nowhere, many of them with no clue where the next meal is coming from.  Then some drug lord come along and waves a magic carrot in front of their faces, makes big promises of a better life.   I don't know, Carson.  It has to be awfully tempting to do that one wrong thing in exchange for what they are told is waiting for them on the other side of the border."

"I suppose," Carson relented.  "I do think it's a wonderful idea to help out that baby's father, though.  I don't care how foolish his parents were, that kid deserves a break, considering how he's started out his life.  Why don't we spend another couple of days here -- tonight and tomorrow, and then head back to your folks' house."

"Sure, long as we head back to Austin in time to be there for your birthday," Kennedy reminded her.

"Can we spend my birthday out on the boat, just the two of us?" Carson almost pleaded.  "I know you had some big plans and all, but …"

"How about we pull the boat in to Louie's on the Lake, eat a nice dinner, and then drop anchor out in some private cove and share a bottle of champagne under the stars? Ooof …"  Carson hugged her so tightly, it squeezed the breath out of her.  "Shoulder.  Careful."

"Oh, sorry."  Carson eased up.  "That sounds perfect.  I'll call Southwest Airlines and book us on a flight home, and then we need to take you car shopping."

"Truck shopping," Kennedy corrected her.  "Gotta have something big enough to pull the boats or the horses."

"Alight, then.  Home Wednesday night, truck shopping Thursday, champagne under the stars on Friday."  She snuggled up, curling herself against Kennedy's side, watching as the sun began to sink below the hills outside the window.


The wing of the small hospital was quiet, save the hum of air conditioning, and the soft padding of Kennedy's boots as they brushed against the linoleum floor.  She wrinkled her nose in reflex, remembering her own stay there earlier in the week.  It seemed ages ago, and she felt an odd sense of being off balance, the more she thought about it.  Shaking her head to clear it, she rounded the corner and stopped for a moment, gathering her wits as she closed the distance to the large observation window overlooking the neo-natal ward, which bore all of four beds, and off to one side, what appeared to be an incubator.

Three of the beds were occupied by tiny newborns, and she glanced toward the incubator, grateful it was empty.  She studied each baby, and her eyebrows rose at the name placard on the bed she was seeking.  It was the only Hispanic baby, the other two obviously white, including one with a shocking headful of red hair.  "Kennedy Gonzales?" she spoke softly to herself, since no one else was around.

A nurse opened the door on the inside, and entered the ward, moving about for a moment before she looked up and spied Kennedy through the window.  She smiled and made her way back outside, wiping her hands on the edge of her scrubs top as she approached her. "May I help you?"

"I …um …"  she gestured toward the baby.  "I came to see baby Gonzales there."

"Are you family?"  The nurse eyed her speculatively, appraising her dark hair and skin, which could easily mark her as Hispanic, but she stopped as she studied intense blue eyes that stood out sharply against the tan features.

"No.  I just …" she held out her hand.  "I'm Kennedy Nocona."

"Oh!"  The nurse's face lit up with a broad smile.  "You're the woman who brought that little one into the world.  The father asked after you, and said he wanted to name the baby a masculine name similar to yours, but when we explained your name could be for a girl or a boy, he simply named his son after you.  I hope you don't mind.  We really don't have control over what folks name their children, and …"

"No."  Kennedy held up one hand.  "No worries.  I was a little surprised, but it's alright.  I guess."  She trailed off, mumbling mostly to herself.  "I just wanted to talk to the father for a bit, see if there was anything I could do for him.  I'm an attorney back in Austin."

"Oh," the nurse interjected.  "We know all about you.  I was in the class a few years below yours.  I used to baby-sit your younger brother, after you went away to school.  Pete, right?"

"Yeah, that's right," she glanced at the nurse's nametag.  "Rosemary."

"How is little Pete, anyway?  I guess he's not so little anymore."  She smiled in memory.  "He was a quiet one most of the time.  Real easy to take care of."

"He's okay," Kennedy dodged the question as best she could.  "Living in Austin and going to school at The University."

"Oh, that's nice to hear.  He was always a smart little boy.  Reading and asking all sorts of questions."  She touched Kennedy on the arm, a friendly gesture, and one Kennedy fought not to shrug off.  She pondered that briefly, realizing she was pricklier than usual, and chalked it up to PMS.  "Let me go see where that little one's father went.  I think he was in the break room a little while ago.  My charge nurse speaks Spanish, but she's off duty at present, and he hasn't tried to talk to anyone else."

"I speak Spanish," Kennedy offered.  "Anything you need me to interpret between y'all?"

"No, not really," Rosemary led her down the hallway.  "We're keeping an eye on the baby, and the mother will most likely go to the county cemetery.  He's said enough we know he doesn't have the means to send her body back home.  Poor man.  He's lost as a little lamb, that one is.  He'll get immunity if he wants to stay in this country, since his son was born here, but beyond that, well … he needs some help."

"Let me talk to him."  Kennedy followed her into the break room, her eyes squinting at the sudden shock of too much florescent lighting glaring against mostly-white floors and walls.  "I have some resources in Austin -- can get him on some food stamps and help him maybe find some work, if we can rush through a green card for him, which I think I can probably do, given his situation."

"That would be ever so nice," Rosemarie patted her arm again.  "I'll just leave you two to talk.  Would you like a coke or anything?  The machine only takes quarters, and it's down to Dr Peppers and Orange Crush.  The coke man won't be by again until tomorrow."

"Orange Crush will do," Kennedy answered absently.  She walked slowly across the room, making sure the man saw her approaching.

He looked up and smiled briefly, before anguish returned to his features.  She could tell he had been crying, and she did her best to project sympathy as she sat down at the table across from him and began talking to him.  He introduced himself as Jaime Gonzales, and soon they were deep in conversation as to how he came to be where he was, his loss of his wife, and what his plans were for the future.

An hour passed, and she looked up as Carson entered the room, her steps hesitant as she closed the distance.  "Hi."  She glanced at the man, smiling at him and nodding as his eyes registered recognition.  "Hola," she repeated for his benefit.

"Hola," he returned, looking down at his folded hands.

"I’m sorry for your loss," she waited as Kennedy expressed her sympathies to him, and he looked up, his eyes full of unshed tears.  He rattled off a brief reply.

"He says thank you, it means a lot for people to care about him and his situation, given he wasn't supposed to be here in the first place," Kennedy took Carson's hand and squeezed it, as she said something else to the man, who first registered surprise, and then he nodded briefly, and said something else.

"I told him you were my fiancé," Kennedy watched Carson blush.  "He says he is surprised, but that he wishes us well in our life together."

"Gracias," Carson spoke softly, then turned to Kennedy.  "You said to give you an hour and a half before I picked you up.  If you need more time, I can …"

"No.  That's fine."  Kennedy stood.  "Mr. Gonzales is going to come see me in Austin in a few weeks, after his wife is buried and the baby is able to travel.  I'll make arrangements for his bus fare out of the office fund."  She nibbled her lower lip, and continued.  "We need to talk, and then I need to go see Ranger Smothers.  Mr. Gonzales has filled in a lot of missing pieces for us, I think."  Her eyes darkened, anger clouding them for a moment.  "There are a few rats yet to be trapped out there."

They bid a brief farewell to Jaime, then paid one last visit to the baby ward, where Kennedy introduced Carson to her new namesake.  Then they were off in the truck for Big Star Lodge.


A bright orange fire crackled in the fireplace of the third floor family room, and Kennedy leaned a bit closer from her seat on the wide stone hearth, absorbing the warmth.  Carson sat on the couch next to her, one hand resting on Kennedy's knee.  Aileen and Joseph entered the room and took seats in overstuffed chairs across from them.  Aileen carried a tray with a carafe of coffee, along with three empty mugs, and a fourth mug full of decaf for Kennedy.  She quickly poured up cups for herself, Joseph, and Carson, and sat back, her face a study in worry.

"Sorry to be the bearer of more bad news," Kennedy prefaced her story, which she'd already shared with Carson during their ride home.  "Pete may be in more trouble than I originally thought he was, but I can't be sure."

"Go on," Joseph replied stoically.  "He's at the sheriff's office with his new attorney even as we speak.  I hope he has the good sense to tell the truth."

"Hope his lawyer has the good sense to get him a decent plea if he's involved in all of this," Kennedy added.  Aileen dropped her eyes and sighed, and swiped at her face, before she looked back up, her eyes brimming with tears.  "Sorry, Mama.  I don't ever want to hurt you, but you need to know what all has been happening down in the park, or at least what I think is happening."

"He's my baby," Aileen answered softly.  "The thought he might have done something to hurt you or us is bad enough.  The thought he is involved in something that could land him in prison …" she trailed off sadly.  "Go on," she continued quietly, echoing Joseph's words.  He reached over and took her hand, squeezing it in comfort.

"Jaime and his wife were part of a large group of Mexicans who were recruited to smuggle drugs into the U.S. in exchange for promises of jobs, housing, and citizenship."  She frowned angrily at the lies told to innocents in hope of a better future, especially the false hope of instant citizenship.  "They were told to swallow bags of cocaine and heroin, some of them swallowing as many as three or four bags. They weren't told what was in the bags.  He didn't even know it was cocaine.  Then they were loaded into rafts a ways up river from the park.  He said they were on the second of two rafts full of illegals that were sent down river the day he and his wife set out."

"We think we saw the first raft full a little while before Kennedy was shot," Carson interjected.

"Does Ranger Smothers know about that?"  Joseph asked.

"Yeah.  I told her about that early on, but I didn't realize it was significant until I spoke with Jaime.  I need to fill her in on Jaime's story," Kennedy continued.  "Anyway, two women began to get sick while they were floating down river, and the guy guiding the raft pulled over to put them off on land.  While they were pulled over, another few people began to get sick, and chaos erupted among the illegals.  None of them wanted to stay in the raft, and they overcame the guide and his companion, and managed to wrestle their guns away from them."

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," Aileen muttered softly, reverting back to a Catholic upbringing she had long since left behind.  "What happened after that?"

"Jaime wasn't sure about all of it, but he said he thinks the raft guides were murdered by some of the illegals -- they were dragged off in the brush by two big guys, and the big guys came back without them.  They set the raft adrift and everyone set out on foot in small groups.  He and his wife were with a couple of other folks when she went into labor, but the cowards left them, afraid of being caught and sent back to Mexico.  And I imagine those two dead women they found in the park are two of the women who got sick on his raft."

"Why do you think Pete might be involved?" Joseph asked painfully.

"Jaime described four men who were involved in getting them all loaded on the rafts before they set off down river with the other two guides.  He didn't have names, but he described Tom to a tee, as well as Pete."  She swallowed, looking up at the anguished faces of her parents.  "I can't be sure, Pa, Mama.  I hope I'm wrong.  Just there aren't many Hispanic-looking young men around here who also have blue eyes."

"Dear God," Aileen gasped.  "How many felonies has he committed?"

"None, I hope," Joseph stood and paced back and forth in front of the fireplace.  "How about the other two men?  Did he describe them?"

"Yeah," Kennedy peered up at him.  "He said they spoke 'differently' from the other two, and I finally figured out he meant they had funny accents.  Sounds like it might be the two guys who murdered Tom, given what Rick had to say.  Whoever they are, I'm betting they're still out there, and maybe looking for their brick of heroin and trying to round up all their escaped drug carriers."

"You need to talk to Smothers right away," Joseph turned to face her.  "Even if it implicates Pete," he added quietly.  "Can you …?"

"Pa." Kennedy stood and joined him.  "I plan to talk to Pete and his attorney before I talk to Ranger Smothers.  Even if I have to sign on as secondary counsel to keep the conversation attorney-client privileged.  I have to know everything he knows before I talk to her.  If there's anything I can do to get him immunity, you know I'll do it.  Much as I'd like to punch his lights out right about now."

"I won't believe it!"  Aileen rose abruptly.  "I can believe he was using drugs.  It's not like my other children haven't gone down that path, but I can't believe any of my offspring would knowingly be involved in something so heinous.  I didn't raise my children to be criminals.  Shea, you do what you have to do, but I'll never believe my baby helped murder innocent people."  She burst into tears and swiftly left the room.

"I have to go after her."  Joseph clapped Kennedy on her right shoulder.  "Can you hold off going to Pete's attorney until I have a chance to calm her down?  I'd like to go with you, if you don't mind."

"Sure," Kennedy nodded grimly.  "Go on, Pa.  She's seen enough upset from us, that's for sure."  Joseph visibly started at her words, remembering other times he'd had to comfort his wife over things their children had done.  "Shea …"

"Go on."  She turned away, moving to the window and looking out at the bleak cloud-covered sky.  She heard the soft padding of his feet against the hard wood floor, and looked down sadly, leaning in until one cheek rested against a cold windowpane.  She closed her eyes and drew in a long shaky breath.  She knew her mother had suffered because of her -- had seen the same scenario at least a dozen times when she was in high school, but somehow, her mother's pain had never hit home until that moment.

"Hey."  Carson touched her on the arm, lightly brushing her fingertips against Kennedy's forearm.  "Someone had to tell them.  I'm sorry it had to be you."

"So am I," Kennedy opened her eyes and looked over at her.  "So am I," she repeated, so low that Carson barely heard her.  Comforting fingers curled around her wrist, and she allowed herself to be led back to the hearth, where Carson urged her to sit back down.

"Com'ere."  Carson took her into her arms, rocking her gently.  Sometimes, Carson reflected, when you don't know what to say, a hug could speak volumes.  Even she couldn't believe Pete was the man in question, despite Jaime's description, but if he was, she vowed to see Kennedy through, just as Kennedy had helped her through her own crisis not so long ago.


Five figures sat around the county jail break room table.  Pete and Kennedy merely glared at each other, Carson looked down at her hands, folded in her lap, and Joseph sat quietly, feeling twice his age.  Only Pete's attorney scribbled furiously away on a yellow legal pad, the scratching noise sounding unusually loud in the otherwise quiet room.

The hum of the coke machine interjected itself over everything, until Kennedy finally got up and stalked glumly over to it, inserting a few coins and punching one of the buttons.  Nothing happened and she pushed it a bit more forcefully.  When nothing happened, she backed up, swung her right leg back, and gave the machine a savage kick, causing not one, but two Dr Peppers to come rolling out.  She grabbed them up and sat back down, slamming the drinks down on the table, before she more quietly slid one toward Carson.

"Thanks," Carson eyed her warily.

"Welcome."  Kennedy fixed her gaze back on her brother, who shot daggers back at her with his eyes.  She picked up the drink and began pulling at the tab.

"Kennedy.  Maybe you should …" Carson trailed off, too late, as Dr Pepper spewed out of the can, spraying both Kennedy and her brother liberally.

"Dammit!" Kennedy shot out of the chair and knocked her left elbow against the table in the process, hitting her funny bone and sending jolts of pain up into her still very tender shoulder.  "God-dammit!" 

"Serves you right!" Pete shouted, rising along with her and grabbing at a handkerchief in his pocket.  He wiped the sticky cold beverage from his face and neck, and sat back down.

"I didn't do anything!"  Kennedy shouted back at him.  "Just wanted to come home and have a nice holiday with my family and my girlfriend.  You had to go and ruin all of that, now didn't you?"

"Shea …"  Joseph briefly touched her arm, pulling back when she swung around instinctively, almost slugging at him before she realized it was her father and not Pete.

"Sorry, Pa."  She raked her fingers back through her hair, inadvertently knocking her sunglasses off her head.  "Son of a …" she knelt down and retrieved them, placing them in her shirt pocket.

"I understand your anger at your brother," Joseph studied her intently, his tanned face lined with worry and frustration.  "You have plenty to be angry about, just with what happened out at Armadillo Flats with your drink.  But you shouldn't assume the worst without having all the facts."

"Pa, just …" she trailed off, waving one hand at him generally.

"Anything else?"  Pete's attorney looked up calmly from his notepad, family squabbles being commonplace in his line of work.  He'd spent the better part of an hour listening to Kennedy's questions to her brother, and advising him as to which ones to answer and which ones to remain quiet on.  Most he advised silence, at least in Carson and Joseph's presence, since neither of them could claim attorney-client privilege on any information they gained from him.

The single greatest fact that had slipped out is that Pete knew Sam Greene, the man who was being held for trespassing and vandalizing some of the tent sites.  Sam, it turned out, was a few years younger than Kennedy, and had gone to high school with her.  Pete had met him at Armadillo Flats.  Sam was one of Tom's dealers.  Once Kennedy learned that Pete knew Sam, what little trust she had in him had completely dissolved.

"Shea," Pete addressed her, his voice filled with angry frustration.  "I had nothing to do with those people in the raft.  I had nothing to do with Sam trying to scare y'all in the park.  I didn't know about any of that.  I swear.  I know you don't believe me."  He looked down, pounding the tabletop with his fist a few times.

"No."  Kennedy stood.  "I don't.  Every time I turn around, you're connected to people who tried to hurt us … kill us.  You all moved out of the garage apartment?"

"Yeah," he muttered sullenly.

"Good."  She looked over at Carson. "Let's go."

Carson stood quietly, casting a final sympathetic glance at Joseph.  She looked Pete directly in the eyes, and shook her head sadly.  "I spent several days wanting to just beat the stuffing out of you."

"I …"

"Hush!"  She crossed her arms over her chest and rocked back on her heels.  Pete's jaw clamped shut.  "Twice this week I've almost lost the most important person in the world to me."  She looked over at Kennedy.  "One of those times we know you were partly responsible.  The other …" she looked down, studying her hiking boot laces.  She looked back up, gray eyes silver with fire-laden anger.  "For your sake, I hope you weren't.  You do anything else to hurt her, and you will answer to me for it."

She turned and left the room, brushing past even Kennedy, who watched her in stunned silence before her feet caught up with her brain, and she took off after her.  She stepped outside and saw only her father's truck and her mother's truck parked side by side in the parking lot.  They'd taken the two vehicles so Kennedy and Carson could head on down to the park to talk to Ranger Smothers. "Carson?" she called out softly, before spotting a bit of blonde hair just to the side of the cab of her father's pick-up.

"Over here," Carson called back, not moving from her spot.

Kennedy made her way down the steps and to the side of the truck.  Carson was leaning against the cab, arms crossed, looking up at the sky.  "Looks so big," she remarked, as Kennedy closed the distance.  "Blue sky.  Fluffy clouds.  Looks so peaceful.  Like no one should have a care in the world."

"Carson …"

"You know what?"  Carson turned to face her.

"What?"  Kennedy reached across, brushing blonde bangs off her forehead.

"I'm glad I'm an only child."  She closed her eyes, still feeling waves of anger coursing through her body.  "I wouldn't have done well with sibling relations, I don't think."

"Sweetheart, no one would do well in these circumstances."  Kennedy's own anger began to dissipate.  "I want so badly to believe him.  But I think until I find another blue-eyed Hispanic-looking male around here, I simply can't.  Bad enough he warned Tom about us going to the sheriff.  I believed he didn't realize the consequences, but now I wonder.  Maybe I don't know him at all."

"You think he was in a lot deeper, don't you?"  Carson leaned back again, and Kennedy joined her.

"Don't know what to think, but I don't think he's being completely honest.  He's holding back something, at least from me he is.  Maybe on his lawyer's advice.  Maybe because of Pa being there."  She shifted, moving so the sun wasn't in her eyes, then pushed her sunglasses down into place.  "He never was a very good liar.  None of us were."  His eyes shift downward, just a bit, when he answers some of my questions. And he does this thing with his face -- it gets too wide open, as if he's straining every facial muscle to keep from giving himself away.  He was doing that a lot in there."

"Maybe Ranger Smothers can get some information from the sheriff for you, once his lawyer leaves."  Carson dug the truck keys out of her pocket.  "You want to head on down there?"

"Yeah, let's, before it starts getting dark.  I'd like to have one evening of peace tonight, if that's possible."  She moved around to the passenger side and climbed in, as Carson released the automatic door locks.

Carson started the engine and steered the truck out onto the highway, driving in silence toward the road leading down to the park. "She's in the Rio Grande Village office, right?"

"Right." Kennedy reached over, dropping her hand down on Carson's thigh as she drove.  "Sorry we have to drive all the way back down there, but she said she couldn't get up by us until sometime tomorrow."

"No problem."  Carson flexed her leg muscle slightly, enjoying the sensation of Kennedy's fingertips as they absently trailed up and down against the soft denim.

Kennedy leaned over and turned on the radio, cuing up the country music station, before she sat back, closing her eyes and humming along with the music.  It felt good to just sit back for a moment, and block out everything save the music, the motion of the truck, and Carson's steady presence next to her.  She smiled as she heard Carson join in, harmonizing with her along with a timeless love song.  It was a sweet moment, and she allowed it to soak in, overriding everything that had happened in the past week.

They were going to be alright.  One eye popped open and she glanced over at Carson's utterly serene face as she quit humming, and began to sing out loud, "The sweetest thing, I've ever know, is loving you."  Carson looked over at her for a split second, before turning her eyes back toward the road again.

Yeah.  Despite everything, they were going to be just fine.


The park road was rough, more rutted and bumpy than usual after the recent rains.  Maintenance on the back roads was negligible at best, and anyone driving less than an SUV was usually in for a teeth-jarring experience.  Luckily, the large F150 extended cab truck took the ruts easily, although jostling of its occupants was unavoidable.

"Urgh."  Kennedy tried not to complain as a particularly deep crater sent jolts through her still-injured leg.  She looked over at Carson, who was doing her best to avoid the pitted parts of the mostly-vacant back road.  They'd stopped in Panther Junction for coffee and hot chocolate, and talked and sung most of the way up to Dugout Wells, but driving, and the monotony of the autumn-brown landscape had driven them both to silence, mostly, save the occasional comment if there truly was anything note-worthy to see outside.

"Sorry," Carson apologized.  "Didn't see that one until we ran through it."

"No worries," Kennedy idly caressed her leg, feeling the slight tension as Carson kept proper pressure against the gas pedal.  "Don't mean to be such a big baby."

"Honey."  Carson laughed lightly.  "If I'd been shot twice, drugged, and had to hike several miles with a migraine, while trying not to bleed to death, and major PMS, I'd probably still be lying somewhere out in the middle of the desert."

"No.  I would've carried you," Kennedy smiled, patting her leg.

"Or killed me."  Carson turned the steering wheel abruptly, dodging another deep pothole.  "'Cause I would have been a pain in the behind if I'd gone through all of that."

"Was I?"  Kennedy frowned.  She couldn't recall much of the time after she was shot, up until she was in the helicopter on the way to the hospital.  Most of it was starting to fade into the recesses of her memory, she suspected as a defense mechanism.

"Oh, gosh no," Carson practically chirped.  "You kept trying to be so heroic.  You were so heroic, come to think of it."  She smiled a little bit, shaking her head.  "Good to know that you're an easy patient -- you must've been a dream for your mother to take care of when you were sick."

"Didn't get sick much."  She sat back in the seat, propping her good leg up on the dashboard.  The seat was pushed back as far as it would go, in deference to her long legs.  "I don't remember missing much school due to illness.  Due to fun is another thing, though.  If there was even a remote prospect of something more interesting going on outside of school, I always found a way to sneak out."

"And still graduated top of your class.  Amazing."  Carson tried hard to picture the hellion her lover had been growing up.  Even hearing some of the stories Aileen and Joseph had helpfully shared, she still couldn't reconcile the relative juvenile delinquent of Kennedy's youth with the model citizen she'd shaped into as an adult.  The woman had so few vices, she was hard-pressed to even think of one, other than cursing, perhaps.  Sweets on occasion, and more recently, Kennedy sometimes consumed caffeine, mostly in the form of a Coke, or the hot chocolate she was currently nursing.  She frowned, trying to think of anything else.

"What's wrong?"  Long fingers traced a line up Carson's leg.  "You look like you have a bad taste in your mouth.  Is my derelict childhood bothering you that much?"

"No."  Carson's features relaxed.  "Actually, I was trying to think of your vices, and can't come up with much other than a bit of salty language and that there hot chocolate.  I swear, you have it so under control in every area, it puts most of the rest of us to shame."

"I can think of  a few things I have a voracious appetite for."  A frank grin graced Kennedy's features and the wandering hand meandered higher, her fingertips just brushing against the side of Carson's breast.  She laughed, as the expected blush appeared on her lover's cheeks.

"You saying I’m a vice?"  Carson collected herself, capturing the hand and kissing the knuckles before she released it.

"Yep."  Kennedy nodded gravely.  "One there is no 12-step program for.  Not that I'd follow it if there were.  Some vices make life worth living."

Carson smiled a little bit, keeping her eyes on the road.  It still surprised her, this turn of events in her life.  She couldn't recall anyone before in her life making her feel as special as Kennedy could with just a few words, or a look, or a touch.  A part of her greedily soaked them up, these little endearments and turns of phrase, tucking them into a place that she knew had needed love for a very long time.  Now she had it in spades, and the warmth and surge of energy it brought to her was almost overwhelming at times.  Like right now, she had the sudden desire to just pull over and park the truck, and jump Kennedy's bones, quite honestly.

It was mortifying on a level, yet it made her feel wondrously alive and primal, all at the same time.

"You know what I'd like to do?"  She glanced over at Kennedy, who was watching her with keen interest, her eyes shining with something akin to adoration.

"Uh-huh."  She trailed her finger across a still-flushed cheek.  "Me too.  Hold that thought for a few more hours, and I promise I'll make it up to you."

"All this open space, and no one around for miles to see us, if we were to pull over for a while."  Carson peered at her hopefully.

"No one except those guys up there."  They'd just come around a bend, and Kennedy gestured toward a car that was pulled over to the side of the road.  "Probably blew a tire on this miserable excuse for a highway."

"Man, that would suck."  Carson forgot her lust for a moment, squinting to make out the car and the figures next to it, one of them kneeling behind it with what appeared to be a spare tire propped up next to him.  "Glad I know how to change tires."

As they drew nearer, one of the men stepped into the road and flagged them down.  Carson sighed and slowed, pulling up next to the car and putting the truck in park, as Kennedy lowered the electric window on her side.

"Need some help?"  She draped her arm over the open window edge, studying the vehicle and the two able-bodied men.  "Our cells won't pick up out here, but we're headed to the ranger station down at Rio Grande Village.  We can make a call for you when we get there.  Got a jack in the back here if you need it."

One of the men approached, the sun reflecting off dark skin and black hair.  He drew closer and Kennedy frowned as he looked up, his eyes as blue as her own.  They both reacted at the same time, Kennedy to a man who fit her brother's description, and the man to her own dark features and blue eyes. 

"Jose, it's them!"  He drew an automatic pistol from his jacket and pointed it directly at her head.  "You won't be going to Rio Grande Village today."

"What the …?"

"Shut up!"  The man's face contorted in anger, and she felt the pistol pressed firmly against her temple.  He looked past her at Carson, and Kennedy realized she could hear Carson breathing.  "Blondie, if you don't want to see her pretty head splattered all over the inside of the truck, you'd better get out of it now.  And no lip, you hear me?"

"Carson, don't."  Kennedy didn't dare turn to face her lover, and she felt a rush of adrenaline, as she heard the inevitable click of the automatic locks, the creak of the door opening, and the brush of Carson's jeans as she slid out of the seat.  She closed her eyes, identifying the crunch of hiking boots against the road's surface, and opened them again to see 'Jose' with another gun, this one pointed at Carson.

"Now," the man next to her pulled the truck's passenger door open.  "You too.  No talking.  You both just do as I say, and no one will get hurt."

Kennedy licked her lips, her throat as dry as the desert dust.  Her eyes met Carson's, which were wide with fear.  There was no trace of the former blush, her features drained almost entirely of color, and Kennedy recognized a gray tinge to Carson's face.  "She's gonna pass out," Kennedy croaked.

"Catch her!"  The blue-eyed man commanded, and the man holding Carson just managed to do so, as her legs buckled and her eyes rolled back in her head.  "That'll make things easier."

Jose dragged Carson's limp body toward the car, and popped open the trunk.  It was an old Chevy Impala, with ample space, and suddenly Kennedy realized what they intended to do.  Her mind raced, thinking of every safety rule she'd ever known.  She mentally cursed herself for breaking the first one -- don't ever stop for a stranger.  It was a rule that had never applied in the small town of Alpine before.  Now it was too late for the first rule, and the second was no good either--there would be no running, not with Carson passed out, and besides, the running rule was only a good idea if there wasn't a gun pointed at your head at point-blank range.  Not good odds the shooter would miss.

She steeled herself, as Carson was lifted into the trunk with a thud, and commanded herself not to fight, as she was shoved toward the car.  "I can get in," she muttered, grimacing as rough hands grabbed her wrists and pulled them behind her back.  She felt something wrapped around them, though what was binding her, she couldn't tell.  Her shoulder screamed in agony at the angle of her left arm, and she bit down on her lip until she tasted blood.  She was part lifted and part pushed over the trunk's edge, as they shoved her next to Carson, and then darkness closed over her with a loud thunk, as the trunk was closed.

It was pitch black inside, and her senses careened off track as claustrophobia threatened to choke her.  Her breathing went irregular, and she could feel sweat against her skin, beneath her long-sleeved shirt and her jeans.  With both of them in the trunk, the space was tight.  Her knees were shoved up almost beneath her chin, and she had unfortunately landed on her left side with a great deal of her weight pressing against her injured shoulder.

She could feel Carson behind her, and gritted her teeth, reaching backward with her fingertips, straining her arms until she felt what she identified as Carson's leather belt, along with one denim belt loop.  They were back-to-back.  She heard the door to the Impala open and close, and mentally reviewed their situation, waiting for the inevitable rumble as the engine started up.  Her nose wrinkled at the stink of exhaust fumes, and she braced herself as the car was set in motion, its poor shocks making her feel every bump in the road as if she were being pounded against them.

Okay, she thought about what to do.  Carson would eventually come around, and would surely be terrified, so she had to be prepared to deal with that.  The bumping and rattling of the car was making her shoulder ache, and her hands were tied.  She tested the bonds, feeling around a bit until her fingertips closed around the dangling end of a piece of rawhide twine.  She pulled at it, and succeeded in tightening it more around her wrists. "Great," she muttered.

Her eyes strained in the darkness, but found nothing.  Not a single pinpoint of light.  Maybe if she could turn over, she could see light from inside the car.  She attempted to flip over, but couldn't quite get her knees up and in the right direction, and every time she lifted her body too much, the car hit a bump and pounded her back down again, making her teeth rattle.  Releasing a frustrated breath, she reached behind her again, looping one finger through Carson's belt loop, and giving it a tug.

One of the safety rules stated that if you ever did find yourself in a stranger's car, to not let them get too far away, if you could possibly help it.  She tried her best to poke around with her feet, searching for perhaps a trunk release from inside the car, while she continued to give gentle tugs to Carson's jeans.  "Carson," she spoke as loudly as she dared.  "Come on sweetheart, wake up."

She tugged a bit harder and felt a bit of stirring, then heard a gasp followed by a confused whimper.  Then another gasp, and she felt a tremble in the body pressed up against her.  "Baby, I’m here."

"K … Kennedy."  Carson's voice was thick with confusion.  "I can't see.  Where are we?"  The smell of exhaust reached her nostrils, and they hit a bump that pushed them even closer together, and she quickly remembered everything.  "Oh, god, those men.  Kennedy!" Her voice rose in panic, and Kennedy feared she'd pass out again.

"Listen to me."  Her voice was soothing, but commanding.  "We're in their car trunk."

"Oh, god."  She could hear Carson's breathing quicken.  "Where?"

"Not sure, but we haven't gone too far, yet, I don't think.  You weren't out that long."  Another lurch of the car caused her to bite the inside of her cheek.  "Ouch!  Dammit!"  She took a deep breath, realizing she was scaring Carson worse.  "Sorry.  I’m okay.  Sweetheart, I need you to try to do something."  She inched her fingers up until she found the small of Carson's back.

"O … okay."  Her voice trembled, and Kennedy knew her lover was near tears.  "What can I do?"

"Your hands aren't tied.  I need you to try to roll over toward me, so your stomach is against me.  My back is to you.  Can you try to do that?"  It was tough not to succumb to her own rising sense of hopelessness.  People shoved in car trunks didn't usually live to tell about it.  She banished the thoughts as she felt Carson stir, and then groan.

"Tight squeeze," Carson muttered.  A particularly violent jerk of the car made her hit her head against the trunk.  "Ouch!"  She saw stars, and turned, only to feel something digging into her arm.  "Dang!  Ouch!"

"You okay?"  Kennedy tried to make herself smaller, pressing herself as tightly against the backside of the trunk as she could, and bracing herself with her good leg, trying to avoid rolling around as the car continued to rumble over the bumpy back road.

"Yeah.  Screw or something scraped my arm, but I … ugh …" Carson pushed against the trunk lid, forcing her body into a strange twisting motion, and suddenly she was curled against Kennedy's back.  "Okay, I turned, now what?"

"Try to untie my hands."  She felt Carson's breath, warm against the back of her neck, and close as they were, swore she felt the pounding of her heart against her shoulder blade, despite their jackets.  Carson's hands pressed against her back and moved down, until they found her hands.

Carson felt gingerly around, identifying the thin strip of leather.  "Hold on."  She reached down, digging into her jacket pocket and shoving her hand against Kennedy's backside in the process.

"Hey, save the groping for later," Kennedy managed a small chuckle.

"Not groping, sorry."  Carson's hand disappeared, and Kennedy heard the blessed click of a Swiss Army knife.  "Hope I don't slice any fingers off," Carson halfway joked.  "Hold still, honey, and I'll do my best here.  Hopefully we won't get tossed in the wrong direction at the wrong time."

"Baby, I trust you, just do it."  She felt a light brush of lips against her neck, and then the cold smooth side of the metal blade against her palm.  A tug or two, and then here wrists were free.  "Thank god I fell in love with a girl scout."

"Honey, you fell in love with a lesbian.  Knives come with the territory."  She got the knife closed and slipped it back into her jacket pocket, as the fear slammed her in the guts all over again.  "Kennedy?"  Her voice was very small.  "Now what are we gonna do?"

Kennedy felt Carson curl against her, her body shivering in the darkness, her teeth chattering from fear as much as the rattling of the car. Carson's arm slid around her waist, just as she lifted herself enough to get her hands in front of her again.  Her fingertips had started to grow numb from the tight binding bite of the twine, and she wiggled them until she felt the tingle of blood rushing back into her hands.  "Let me feel around here and see if there is some kind of trunk release.  You do the same back there, okay?"

"Okay."  Anything to stay busy, and take her mind off the fact that she was in the trunk of a car in the middle of no where, headed for god only knew where.  She reached up and carefully ran her hands all along the metal surface that was really much too close overhead.  She could feel Kennedy doing the same in front of her, and their breathing became labored as they both strained to reach as much of the trunk lid's surface as they could.  The combination of fumes, darkness, and rattling was making her stomach queasy, and she pressed her tongue against the roof of her mouth, determined not to throw up.

"Nothing."  Kennedy finally gave up.  "It must be somehow between this back part here, and the outer part where the lid closes over it.  I did find a tire iron, but it's not much good with nothing to pry open."

"You could maybe bust out a tail light?"  Carson asked hopefully.

"Those don't go all the way through either.  How flat can you make yourself back there?  Can you get to where you're on your back?"  She felt Carson's attempts to scoot backward, and grimaced as Carson inadvertently pressed against her left shoulder blade in the process.

"Okay."  Carson touched her neck with her fingertips, the only skin she could easily get to.  "I'm kind of on my back, but it's an awful tight squeeze."

"Alright.  I’m coming over you, so get as skinny as you can.  We need to try to switch places."  Kennedy began to roll, as Carson made a slight noise that sounded like protest.  Whatever she was going to say died on her lips.

"Doing my best," Carson pushed herself all the way against what she assumed was the back seat of the car, and braced herself, as Kennedy began to climb across her, inch by inch.  "Honey, you're taking my breath away in a very bad way."  Kennedy was pressing against her, pushing her tightly against the bottom of the trunk, squeezing against her stomach and chest in the process.  With each bump of the car, the air was forced from her lungs in a most unpleasant way.

"Sorry."  Kennedy scooted as fast as she could, ignoring the scraping sensation as her shoulder dragged against the underside of the trunk lid.  "Glad we aren't both claustrophobic," she mumbled.

"Oh."  Carson reached up, finding her face and touching it.  "I forgot about that.  You must be miserable."

"I'd say we probably both are, right about now," she groaned, getting half her body over to Carson's other side.

"Well …" Carson scooted in the opposite direction, freeing a leg from beneath her lover.  "I can honestly say I can think of better reasons to have you lying on top of me, breathing hard."

Kennedy laughed lightly, gasping as her lungs really had no place to expand with the movement.  "Oh, god, that hurts."  She found Carson's lips, brushing her own against them for the briefest second.  "Thank you."

"For what?"  Carson gave Kennedy's behind a gentle shove, helping her roll over a little bit more.  "You must be hurting.  I am, and I'm not injured."

"Thank you for keeping me sane."  Kennedy reached her goal, rolling over so she was facing the back of the back seat.  "I think I would've gone nuts by now if you weren't in here talking to me."

"Oh."  Carson rolled over herself, once more curled against Kennedy's back.  It gave them more space that way, spooning on their sides.  She felt Kennedy moving around, busy at something.  "What are you doing?"

"Trying to see if this seat folds forward."  She shoved her fingers into every crevice, stretching and wiggling them, feeling around for any kind of latch.  "Ah!"  She found one and gave it a test push, and the seat gave way just a little.  "Shhh." She felt Carson go completely still behind her.  She carefully pulled the seat back until it was latched in place again.

"Carson, I'm gonna push the seat open a crack and get my bearings."  She shifted, finding Carson's hand against her hip.  She curled her own around it.

"What are you gonna do?"  Carson kissed her neck again.  There wasn't much else she could do.

"I'm gonna force them to crash the car.  I wish …" her voice trailed off in regret.

"Where's your glock?"  Carson suddenly remembered the gun had been with them nearly constantly since Kennedy had gotten out of the hospital.

"In the truck, unfortunately."  Her fingers curled around the cool metal tire iron.  "Gonna use this iron if I have to."

"You be careful. They have guns." Carson felt the car jerk sharply, and felt her already upset stomach twist into a knot.  She tasted coffee mixed with bile at the back of her throat, and a cold fearful sweat broke out along her forehead and upper lip.  No, she mentally chastised herself.  You will not throw up back here.

"Carson, listen, I might have to .."

"You do whatever you have to," Carson cut her off.

"But …"

Carson wrapped her arm around Kennedy's waist, conveying as much comfort as she could.  "I don't want you to kill anyone."

"I …"

"Hold on.  Let me finish."  She nuzzled Kennedy's hair.  "I don't want you to kill anyone, because of what it will do to you inside.  But if you have to, just know that it isn't gonna change how I feel about you."  She felt a tremor run through the long tense body, and she squeezed her for a moment.  "I got you, honey.  And nothing in the world is gonna make me let go."

Kennedy nodded, Carson feeling the motion.  "Alright."  Her voice shook, and she took a breath.  "Once I get this seat down, you have to be absolutely quiet.  And brace yourself.  My goal at best is to get them to stop the car.  At worst, to crash it.  We have to get them to stop before they get to wherever they're taking us.  Our chances are better now.  They get us somewhere even more remote, or they get to a place where they have reinforcements, they might …" she stopped, realizing what she was going to say.

"Kennedy."  Carson found her ear and got one hand up, stroking the thick hair in the darkness.  "I don't want to die.  I promised you I'd grow old with you, so just do it.  I'll be right here, if you need me."

"Okay."  She closed her eyes, as Carson pecked the back of her neck one more time.  "Hang on, and be quiet."

"I love you," Carson whispered, fervently hoping she'd get to say it again real soon.

"Love you too."  Kennedy patted her leg, then inched forward, once again jamming her fingers into the space where the seat latch was located.  She worked it up and carefully pushed the seat forward, grateful to discover only half the seat moved, rather than all of it.  She peered past the slight crack she made, blinking as bright sunlight nearly blinded her.

Sure enough, both men were in the front seat.  The driver had one hand on the wheel, the other on a cigarette that hung out the partially open window.  The man on the passenger side was fiddling with the radio, making a racket of static as he hunted for a station in the empty vastness of the West Texas air waves.

Okay, she made mental dialogue, now or never.  She edged the back of the seat down, inch by careful inch, until it was lying as flat as she could make it, holding her breath lest she make the slightest noise that might cause one of them turn around.  She slowly began to ease her way through the small opening, and felt a squeeze to her calf.  It almost undid her for a moment, realizing just how much hung in the balance.  She blinked as her eyes stung momentarily, and her chest felt tight with anguish at the mere thought of failure.

Well then. I just won't fail, she resolved, and continued to crawl forward, amazed they didn't hear her.  She realized she needed a plan, and decided quick and decisive was her best option.  Once her hips were past the opening, she pushed up with her knees and grabbed the driver around the neck, jerking his head back against the headrest, as she shoved the tire iron against his throat.

"Stop the car!"  She watched the man in the passenger seat, as he jumped up, just as the driver gurgled in surprise and tried to struggle.

"Dammit!  Jose!  Guns are both in the back window."  He started for it, only to get a sideways head-butt from Kennedy that slammed him back against the passenger door.

"Don't even," Kennedy snarled.  "One move in this direction, and I'll crush his windpipe and then slam this baby into your face."  She hoped the threat was good enough.  There was no way she could turn around to look for the guns herself, and she drew in a long breath, only releasing it after the passenger meekly sat back, facing the road.

"What the fuck!"  Jose almost lost control of the car, and it slowed, just a little.  "Get off me, bitch!  Roberto -- you get your gun.  She can't fend off both of us."

The truth of his words hit home, and Kennedy fought back a wave of panic.  "I'll kill you, I swear I will!"  She pushed the metal tighter against the his neck.

"I can speed up, bitch!"  He pressed the accelerator into the floor, and Kennedy watched the speedometer edge up, until they were doing ninety on the bumpy road.  She fought to keep her hold on him, cursing as 'Roberto' reached for her arm.  Her left ached at the effort of keeping Jose's throat pinned, but she dug in with her feet, pressing them against the seat and bracing herself.

Roberto grabbed hold, and she felt her grip on the iron slacking.  "Dammit!  Don't make me kill him."  She tried to elbow Roberto, as Jose renewed his own efforts to free himself  of her.  Roberto's hand slid up her arm, coming perilously close to the iron, and she smelled liquor on his breath, as he drew nearer.

"Let go of her."

Kennedy and Roberto both jumped, as Carson moved in next to her lover, her own hand wrapped firmly around the handle of a gun.  She waived it in Roberto's face until he gave in, and sat back in the passenger seat in defeat.

"I can still go faster, chica."  Jose increased their speed, and the entire front end of the car visibly vibrated in protest.

A wave of pain shot through his left hand as Kennedy slammed it with the tire iron, and Jose screamed, jerking it from the steering wheel, as bright red blood streamed off of it.

"Next time, I'll just shoot you, you bastard."   Kennedy ignored his continued screams of pain.  The car was weaving dangerously back and forth and she assessed the terrain, realizing that there were trees and boulders around, but thankfully no canyons or other drop-offs.  "Stop the damned car.  Game's over, asshole."

Jose looked up in the mirror, and blue eyes met blue.  "No."  He growled, slapping at her with his injured hand.

"Jose!"  Roberto's eyes widened, realizing the real peril that they might crash.  "Jose, stop!"

"No!"  Jose pressed down on the accelerator.

 Kennedy looked over at Roberto.  "You wanna die?" 

He nodded negatively, his head shaking vigorously.  "Dios mio, no!" 

"You better be prepared to grab the wheel, then.  Carson, drop the gun and get down in the seat."  Her eyes met Carson's, and the blonde woman complied.  Kennedy's nostrils flared, and she quickly clobbered Jose's other hand.  He screamed in pain, but let go of the wheel, and she managed to keep him from falling forward, as Roberto stared dumbly for a split second.  "The wheel, idiot!"

Roberto sprung into action, taking the wheel most ineffectively, as the car skidded off the road and headed for a small strand of trees.  Memories of a two-lane highway and another crash filled Kennedy's head, as she saw the trees coming up toward them, way too fast.  "Carson!"  She let go of Jose and dove to the side, shoving Carson down into the floorboard and covering her, just as the car impacted the trees with a sickening crush of twisting metal and breaking glass.  The front seat pushed back against them, pinning them against the back one, and Kennedy felt a shower of glass fly back, landing on her back.

Just as quickly, everything grew still, and she heard a moan coming from the front seat.  "Carson?"  She pushed up, squeezing past the two very close seats, until she was sprawled on top of the back one, looking down.  "Carson?"  The fear rose up, closing her throat, as she noted a pool of blood on the floorboard next to Carson's face. "No!"  She got a hand on Carson's shoulder, just as she felt her move.

"I'm okay."  Carson coughed and began to roll over.

"Careful."  Kennedy brushed aside some glass.  "You …" she reached down, as Carson flipped over onto her back.  Blood was smeared across the side of Carson's face.  "Sweetheart, be still.  I think you're hurt."

"Don't feel hurt."  Carson reached up, finding the warm sticky substance on her face, and suddenly the smell of it hit her.  "Kennedy?"  A hundred thoughts ran through her mind, remembering tales of people who were severely injured, and didn't even feel it.

"Hold on."  Kennedy's lips were grim, and she carefully checked very inch of Carson's face, head, and neck, a puzzled expression growing ever larger as she thankfully found nothing.  "Hmmmm."  She studied the blood, and realized it was pooling from a trickle that ran under the seat from the front.  "Don't think it's yours.  We need to get out of the car, baby.   I can smell a gas leak."

"Okay."  Carson gingerly sat up, feeling battered, but otherwise unharmed.  "You alright?"

"Fine," Kennedy grunted, as she tugged Carson up, and they managed to shove a badly-bent back door open.  They crawled out and away from the car, and huddled together in the dirt, and just held each other for a minute.  Kennedy could feel bruises on her bruises, and she was certain the stitches in her shoulder had split yet again, but none of it mattered.

"You sure you're alright?" Kennedy's hands wandered gingerly all over her lover, feeling for any bumps or broken bones.

"I'm fine," Carson answered shakily.  "Just catching my breath."  She snuggled up against Kennedy and closed her eyes, too weary and shocked to do anything but sit there until Kennedy was satisfied she was okay.

Finally, her hands stilled, and Kennedy simply hugged her close.  Carson was okay, and solid, and warm in her arms, and her own personal nightmare subsided, trickling back into her mind and away to a dark place that she hoped never to revisit.  She took the edge of her own shirt, and cleaned the blood off Carson's face, then tucked Carson's head under her chin and kissed it, feeling tears streaming down her own face.  She sniffled and swiped at them quickly, before wrapping her arm back around again, holding Carson tightly against her.

"Think we should check on them?"  Carson finally looked up, eyeing the car and the open gas tank.  She studied the gas that had splattered down the side of the car, but it otherwise did not appear to be leaking.  "I think it's safe, unless the radiator explodes or something."

"I think it would have by now, if it was going to."  Kennedy reluctantly got up, remembering that there were still two guns in the car, and one, if not two, injured bad guys.  "They can go to hell, for all I care."

"Kennedy."  Gray eyes met blue, and Carson touched her face and then ran her hands lightly over Kennedy's arms and body, mimicking her earlier motions, checking her for any injuries.  The thick leather jacket made much of an inspection difficult, and she carefully pushed it down, stopping when Kennedy released a gasp of pain.  "You're hurt."

"Just busted stitches, I'm pretty sure."  Kennedy got up.  "I'll go check on them."

"I'm going with you."  Carson slowly stood, feeling wobbly for a moment after the confinement in the car, and the rush of blood back to her limbs.

"Might not be a good idea."  Kennedy was already headed toward the car, and she sighed, realizing Carson wasn't going to back off.  She gave the driver's door a tug and then a kick, and it popped open and fell to the side, hanging by only the top set of screws.  She peered inside and made a face.  "Ugh.  I think Roberto's dead."

Carson looked in over her shoulder, and was sorry she had.  Roberto's neck was snapped back at a very odd angle, shoved into Jose's stomach by the steering wheel, which was lodged against Roberto's head.  She doubled her courage and looked up again, feeling Kennedy pulling at bits of the inside of the car.  Jose was passed out, but she could see his chest rising and falling.  The entire front of his shirt was soaked in blood, both from his own wounds and Roberto's injuries.

"He's wedged in," Kennedy withdrew from the car.  "They'll need the Jaws of Life to get him out, I think."  She eyed Jose's hands and wrinkled her nose.  She'd smashed his right pinky flat, and the left was covered in so much blood, she couldn't tell what she'd done to it.  "Guess I should wrap up his hands."

Carson went around and popped the trunk, and found some rags in the back.  She'd thought she felt them earlier, and now she pulled them out, and handed them off to Kennedy.  They made quick work of the bandages, and retrieved both guns, then backed away from the car.  Both of them drew in deep lungfuls of clean air, purging the stench of blood, gasoline, and sweat.  Kennedy looked down the long road and groaned.  "Guess we should start walking.  I think we're closer to the ranger station than we are to the truck.  Plus, I'm not sure where the keys are, and I don't want to move Jose to see if they took' em."

"Let's stay close to the side of  the road, honey, in case they have any other friends out here and we need to take cover."  She looked behind them in reflex, but the road was empty of anything other than dirt.

"Good idea."  Kennedy wrapped a hand around her waist, and they set out.  She looked around, trying to gain her bearings, and smiled.  "Well, how about that?"

"What?"  Carson did her best to support the taller woman, mindful of her healing left leg.

"Son of a bitch went so fast, I think it's only another mile or two to the ranger station." She looked over, swiping a remaining bit of blood from Carson's face.  "There.  Better."

"You could wait here, take a load off, while I go get help."  Carson pointed at a downed log off to the side, under another tree.

"No way."  Kennedy tightened her grip.  "I'm not leaving your side for as long as I live."

Carson looked up at her, and pushed some hair out of her eyes.  "Lead on, then.  I feel a hot bath and a warm bed in our near future."

"Oh, yeah."


Continued in Chapter 12

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