COPYRIGHT: Xena Warrior Princess, and Gabrielle, are the property of MCA/Universal and are used here without permission. No copyright infringement implied or intended. No dinars will be made on this story. The leading ladies resemble our two X:WP heroines. Any character or name resemblance to 'real' people currently living or dead is completely coincidental. The characters are mine... If you want to use them, please ask me first. Download it, print it out and pass it around if you'd like, but be sure to include these disclaimers.

SUBTEXT: Yes, this is a story about two women who are very committed to a caring and loving relationship. Sex is part of that relationship, but not the focus. There are some mildly graphic sex scenes within, but nothing explicit or kinky. If this type of love offends you, if you are less than 18 years old, or if love is illegal where you live, climb on board the anti-subtext train and get outta town.

VIOLENCE: Yep, Xena and her descendants always seem to find trouble!

TIME LINE: This is the sixth installment in a modern day Uber-Xena sequence, starting with "The 'Commitment'" and followed by "A Family in Blood", "Personal Preferences", "Fighting City Hall" and "Visions in Paradise". Since these stories are continuations of each other, there are events mentioned within that will not make much sense if you haven't read them all in order.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I strongly believe that love is love, regardless of how it is packaged, so please don't flame me for believing in something so wonderful. All flames will be flushed down the toilet, however, I do encourage constructive criticism. Send all feedback to warriorx@together.net. A very special thank you to Herbard for beta reading my copy... As usual, you've been a big help, Eagle Eyes! Thanks! :-)

What's In A Name?

By: kd bard

Started 12/28/98

Finished 01/01/99


The red-orange glow of the fire created an aura of coziness as the two women sat huddled together on the couch in the family room, watching the flames dance to and fro along the log. The ballet of flames featured many talented dancers, flitting across the log, jumping into the air, and touching down once more on the rough wood, only to disappear and to later resurrect themselves for another breath taking display of athletic prowess. The ladies were captivated by the sight, eyes glued open, staring at the show in a trance-like state. Every so often, one of them would bring a cup to her mouth, sipping a fragrant mint tea without breaking her trance. The only sound in the room was that of the dancers, sparking and crackling as they moved along the log in graceful choreography.

Finally, a yawn broken the spell, and then a voice...

"Are you tired, love?" the tall dark one asked?

"No, not really, just relaxed, I guess." came the reply as the red headed woman snuggled even closer to her companion.

"This is nice." the dark one spoke again as she tightened her arms around the smaller woman.

"Hhhmmmm" was all the response she got.

The tall one leaned down and kissed the other woman on top of the head. "Are you happy?" she asked.

"Very." said the other.

"Me too." admitted the dark haired woman. "I love you, you know." she added.

"I love you too." responded the smaller woman.

The women sat there again in companionable silence for several long moments, once more captivated by the ballet before them.

Before long, the red haired woman turned again to the dark one. "Billie?" she asked. "Did you notice that Tara was acting funny tonight?"

Billie thought for a moment. "She was a little quieter than usual, now that you mention it. Did she say anything to you, Cat?" Billie asked.

"No,... and that concerns me. You know how verbal our daughter is when she's got something in her head. I'm a little worried about her." Cat replied.

"Well, let's see how she is in the morning, and if she hasn't snapped out of it, we'll take her aside and talk to her after school. Okay?" Billie suggested.

"All right." Cat replied, taking another sip of tea.

Life in the Charland household pretty much fell into a comfortable routine after Billie and Cat returned from their Aruba honeymoon. Cat took additional time off from work, having to recover from the beating she had received at the hands of that insane woman, Callie Cirra, who had smuggled drugs onto the cruise ship, but by the time the children started school a couple of weeks later, she was fine. That was three months ago.

Changing the subject, Billie said, "Gods, Cat, I can't believe Christmas is just a few weeks away. Where does the time go?" she mused.

"I know... We still have a ton of shopping to do too." Cat observed, the word 'shopping' drawing a groan out of the older woman.

Cat smiled to herself. Getting her wife to shop with her was not an easy chore, but Cat had discovered that she did enjoy picking out toys for the children... in fact, the last time they shopped, Cat had to drag Billie away from the Sony Playstation display so the other shopper's children could get a chance to play with it.

Looking down on her lover, Billie asked, "What's the smile for, imp... are you up to something?"

Cat smiled broadly at Billie. "No.. Just remembering our last shopping trip.. that's all!" she replied.

Another groan from the taller woman.

Cat backhanded Billie lightly across the stomach... "Oh don't be such a Scrooge, love. Christmas is only once a year... It doesn't kill you to shop with me."

"Bah, Humbug!." Billie said teasingly.

Cat bolted out of her seat and straddled the taller woman, pinning her shoulders to the couch. Leaning in close so that their noses were almost touching, she said, "Now whose being the imp, huh?"

Billie placed a quick kiss on Cat's lips, then pulled her down so that their foreheads were touching. "Whaddaya say we turn in?" Billie suggested.

"Sounds good to me." Cat replied, getting off the taller woman's lap.

"Go on ahead." Billie said. "I need to take care of the fire first. I'll be along in a few minutes."

Cat smiled and headed up the stairs to their room.

Billie grabbed the poker and started moving the remains of the wood around, spreading it out so that it would be reduced to ash faster. Dropping to one knee, she once again, found herself staring into the fire and thinking about her life with Cat.

Three years ago, she never would have guessed she'd be where she was now. At that time, it was just her and Seth. Her life evolved around her job and her comatose six year old son, who by that time, had been hospitalized for seven months after being hit by a drunk driver while getting off his school bus. Then, Cat stumbled into her life... quite literally, when the naturally clumsy woman joined her aerobics class. That fateful day was the turning point in Billie's life and she thanked the gods daily for it. Now, here she was, living in a comfortable four bedroom house in the suburbs, very much a part of a loving family, with a beautiful wife and three healthy children.

Seth, was nine years old now, and had just started the fourth grade. He was a beautiful child, tall for his age, with corn silk colored hair and sky blue eyes. He was very gentle and laid back in nature. Tara was seven, and a miniature of her mother, with red-gold hair and emerald green eyes. The second grader's mischievous streak never ceased to amaze her mothers. Then there was Skylar, 'Sky' for short. Three years old, with red-gold hair like her sister's and sky blue eyes like her brother's. She was very much a combination of the other two children... quiet and unassuming, but yet demonstrative when the mood suited her.

Billie's thoughts finally led to Cat. Cat was the keeper of her soul... her reason for waking up each morning. She loved this woman beyond distraction and they complemented each other perfectly. Coming just to her chin, Billie had nearly a foot over her in height. Her long red-gold hair fell to the middle of her back, bangs framing a beautiful face and Irish complexion. Billie allowed herself to drown regularly in the beautiful green pools that were her eyes. Though short in stature, Cat's body was well toned from hours of running and weight lifting. One look at this woman was all she needed to start the delightful, yet nagging ache in her groin. Billie signed heavily as she poked at the dying embers. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she could ever be this happy.

Soon, the fire was low enough to be safely unattended. Putting the poker back in the rack, Billie shut the lights off and headed up the stairs to the kitchen. Rinsing her's and Cat's tea mugs and putting them in the dishwasher, she shut off the kitchen light and headed upstairs to bed, stopping at each of the children's bedroom to tuck them in and kiss them goodnight. Confident that all was well with her family, she pushed her way into her bedroom and found her wife already asleep, curled up in a ball in the center of their bed. Billie smiled at the sight as she removed her own clothing and slipped in behind the smaller woman, taking her into her arms and molding her long frame around the sleeping woman. Soon, she too was asleep as a blissful silence fell over the household.


The next morning came way too early as far as Cat was concerned. As usual, she got up at the last possible moment, and had to rush through her shower in order to have enough time to cook breakfast for the family before heading off to work. Billie had already risen, showered and given her several wake up nudges before going off to see that the kids were getting ready for school. Moments later, as Cat was getting dressed, Billie returned to their bedroom carrying Tara in her arms, the child's head laying on her shoulder.

"Looks like we have a sick little girl here, Mama." Billie said, winking at Cat to indicate the less than serious nature of the illness.

Catching the look, Cat approached them and placed her hand on Tara's forehead. Tara did her best to put on a very sickly look. "Hhhmmm, No fever. Where does it hurt, Honey?" she asked.

"Everywhere." Tara said,, swinging her arms out in an exaggerated arc to indicate her whole body.

"Sounds pretty serious, love. Maybe I should call the doctor?" Cat suggested seeing Billie struggling to hide a grin.

"No, Mama, I'll be all right. I just think I need to stay home from school today." the child reasoned in a weak, obviously faked voice.

"Well.... I don't know, Tara. You've got to be pretty sick to stay home from school." Cat said.

Billie caught her eye, indicating to her that she'd call in and stay home with Tara and Skylar today.

Looking back to Tara, Cat said. "All right love." Then at Billie, she said, "Mom, can you stay home with her today?"

"Sure. I'll call in and take the day off." she said back to Cat, then looking at Tara, she added, "Seeing as you're so sick, you'll have to stay in bed all day, all right? We'll want to make sure you're well enough to go to school tomorrow, love, understand?"

Cat grinned at Tara's grimace and reluctant agreement.

"I'll be right back then." she said to Cat, "Right after I put our daughter back to bed, okay?" Bending over and giving Cat a kiss, she grinned at the shorter woman and carried the child back to her room.

Moments later, Billie returned to Cat and enveloped her in a bear hug from behind. Cat let herself fall back into the embrace for a few moments before turning around in Billie's arms to face the tall woman. Reaching up onto her tip toes, she kissed Billie and said, "Make it tough on her, okay? I don't want her getting the idea that she can take a day off from school whenever she feels like it."

"Oh don't worry about that, love... She'll be begging to go to school tomorrow." Billie said. "Anyway, I thought maybe I could get her to tell me what's bothering her... it could have something to do with her reluctance to go to school." she finished.

"Good idea." Cat replied. "Well, how do I look?" she asked, turning around to model her new outfit. Cat had a staff meeting at the hospital today and wanted to wear something other than her hospital scrubs for a change.

Billie wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and began nibbling at her neck. "Good enough to eat." came the answer Cat was looking for.

Cat giggled and pushed Billie away. "Later, my love.... later." she promised. "Right now, I'd better start breakfast before our children call a mutiny." she said, heading for the door, a laughing Billie right behind her.

************************************************************************************************ CHAPTER II

Seth wasn't too keen on having to go to school while his sisters stayed home. "Mom... It's not fair!" he said, pouting.

Kneeling on the floor, Billie took Seth the by shoulders. "Look, Honey, your sister doesn't feel good, so she needs to stay home. Would you rather be sick so you can stay home too? Believe me, Tara won't be enjoying herself today!" Billie explained.

Seth couldn't argue with his mother's logic. "I guess not." he said. "But it still isn't fair."

Billie wrapped her son in a hug and kissed him on the cheek. "Well love, sometimes life isn't as fair as we'd like it to be, but it usually works out in the end. Now, where's that cute smile, I love seeing so much? she teased.

Seth couldn't resist smiling at his mother, showing her his dimples. "That's my guy." she said, tweaking his nose.

Rising to her feet, she reached for his lunch box, opened it and added a package of cookies from the pantry. He watched her with a big smile on his face. She looked down at him, winked, and said as she handed him the box, "Don't tell Mama, okay?"

"Never!" he exclaimed, knowing Cat liked to limit the amount of junk the kids ate.

"Good... Now there's your bus. Have a really good day today, okay love? And remember to get on the bus that will bring you home instead of to the daycare after school, all right?" she reminded him.

"Ill remember Mom." he said, hugging her then taking off on a dead run down the driveway to the bus.

Cat waved at her son and the bus driver as Seth climbed into the bus. Billie would make sure to be waiting at the end of the driveway for him when the bus dropped him off after school. She also insisted that a daycare provider meet the bus, and that Cat did the same when she was home. After the accident that put him into a coma three years ago, she would always worry that it could happen again... to him or Tara, and she planned on taking all precautions she could to see that it didn't.

Stepping back into the house, she noticed that Skylar was just about done with her oatmeal and orange juice. She knelt on the floor next to the child and kissed her on the nose. "Hey Sweetling." she said. "Are you just about done?"

Skylar smiled, then picked up the oatmeal bowl and started licking the bottom of it, getting oatmeal in her hair and all over her face. She handed the bowl toward Billie and said, "More, Mom?"

Billie melted at the look on her face. Now she knew where Cat got that baby girl look.... from their daughter! "Sure, Honey." she said, taking the bowl and spooning a little more into it for the child. Drizzling a little maple syrup and milk into it, she put it on the table in front of Skylar and said, "Stir it up first, Sky." Skylar clumsily stirred the oatmeal and then started eating it happily. Billie kissed her on the head and then went to check on Tara.

Walking quietly up to Tara's room, she peeked around the corner and saw her sitting in the middle of her bed playing with her dolls. Not wanting the child to know that she had been caught, Billie backed up a few steps and intentionally made a little noise to warn Tara of her approach. As she expected, when she entered the child's room just seconds later, Tara was lying under the covers, trying her best to look sickly. The blankets on her bed looked rather lumpy. "Probably the dolls." Billie thought.

Billie sat on the edge of the bed, right on top of one of the dolls, the way it felt under her bottom. She leaned over and felt Tara's forehead. "Still no fever, love. Are you hungry?" she asked.

"Yes." Tara said in a faint voice.

"Well, you'd better eat light... just to make sure you don't get sicker, Okay?" Billie said.

Tara frowned, not liking that idea very much.

Billie leaned in and kissed her head. "I'll be right back, Sweetie." she said, getting up and leaving the child there to stew. Billie knew the child's appetite rivaled Cat's and that she wouldn't appreciate a light fare.

Returning to the kitchen, she saw that Skylar was just finishing up her oatmeal. The child had more cereal in her hair, ears and on her clothes than in her stomach. Grinning from ear to ear, Skylar reached out her arms to Billie. "I all done, Mom." she said.

"Hold on a minute, Sweetie, while I get breakfast ready for your sister, okay?" she said to the small child. Billie placed a small scoop of cottage cheese on a plate along with a sliced up apple and a piece of toast for Tara's breakfast. Where it was nutritional, it was definitely not what Tara would prefer for breakfast.

She walked over to Skylar and looked down at the child. Laughing at the sticky mess in front of her, she lifted the child up and settled her on her left hip. "Okay, Rugrat." she said. "You need a bath!"

"Mom need bath too?" Skylar asked, hoping that her mother planned on joining her for soap bubble fun.

Noticing that Skylar had asked that last question after placing her small oatmeal covered hands on both sides of Billie's face, as well as sliding them up and down her arms, she said, "Looks that way, Honey."

Skylar cheered as Billie headed up to Tara's room balancing the child on one hip and the plate of food in the other hand. Pushing Tara's door open with her hip, she entered, just as Tara scurried back under the covers. Billie pretended not to notice. Walking over to the bed, she placed the food on the night stand. "You sister needs a bath, love." She said to Tara. "And you can see, she's made quite a sticky mess out of me as well, so I think I'll fill the tub with bubbles and join her. You eat what you can and then just lay down and rest, okay? I'll be in to check on you after our bath."

Billie left the door to Tara's room open as she went across the hall to the bathroom and started filling the tub with warm soapy water. She undressed Skylar and sat her in the tub as it filled. Skylar immediately began splashing around and screaming with glee. Taking her own clothes off, she climbed in behind the child and soon, they were having a grand old time splashing and making funny hairdo's, beards and mustaches with the soap bubbles. Every now and then, Billie would spare a glance over at Tara's room to catch the child laying on the floor, watching them wistfully. Finally, after nearly an hour, the water was cooling, so Billie pulled the plug then ran the shower over both her and Skylar to rinse the soap from their bodies and hair.

Billie climbed out of the tub and toweled herself dry, wrapping the large towel around her tall frame when she was done. She then reached for Skylar, wrapped a thick soft towel around the small child and lifted her out of the tub. Standing her on the bath mat, Billie dropped to one knee and dried the child off. As soon as she was dried, Skylar took off running out of the bathroom and down the hall to her room.

"Oh no! Naked baby! Hurry, catch her!" Billie yelled as she ran after the giggling child. This was a favorite 'after bath' game of her's and both her daughters. She would chase them into their rooms, catch them, throw them on their beds and tickle them until they gave up. Only then would they consent to getting dressed. More than once, Billie worried about just how old they would be before they outgrew this game. She didn't really think a teen-age Seth would appreciate seeing his sisters run through the house naked.

As Billie chased after the naked Skylar, she saw Tara run quickly back to her bed to avoid being caught sitting in the doorway watching the fun. "I wonder if she's wishing she had gone to school, yet?" Billie thought.

After successfully getting both Skylar and herself dressed, she settled her younger daughter on the couch in the living room to watch Barney as she checked on Tara. Tara once again was reclining against her pillows, covers pulled up to her chin.

Billie noticed that she had eaten the apple and about half of the toast, but hadn't touched the cottage cheese. Walking over to pick up the dish, she then sat on the edge of Tara's bed and brushed a couple of stray locks off her forehead, saying, "I guess you're not very hungry, huh love?"

"Not for cottage cheese." she said. "Maybe for pancakes, though." she said hopefully, looking up at Billie with such pathetic puppy dog eyes that Billie almost laughed out loud.

Instead, Billie kissed her on the head and said, "Oh no, my love. Pancakes are much too heavy for someone who is sick. How about a glass of warm milk instead?"

"Can I have chocolate in it, Mom?" Tara asked.

Billie didn't have the heart to say no. "Okay... One hot chocolate, coming up." she said, rising to her feet. "Now you just stay here in bed and get some rest. I'll be back with your hot chocolate as soon as its ready, okay?"

"Okay." she said weakly.

Billie returned to the kitchen, barely able to keep the grin off her face. While the hot chocolate was heating, she cleaned up Seth and Skylar's breakfast dishes and washed Skylar's mess from the table and from the chair she had been sitting in.

Finally the milk was ready. Pouring it into a plastic travel mug, she took it to the 'ailing' child, after first stopping to see that Skylar was staying out of trouble. The child was sitting on the couch, intently watching the purple dinosaur sing and dance across the TV screen.

So went the morning. Billie spent the majority of her time loudly playing with Skylar... loud enough so that they could be heard by Tara. She went to check on Tara just often enough to keep her running back to her bed several times an hour. After about two hours of this, Tara just gave up and stayed in her bed, stewing.

Lunch time was pretty much on a par with breakfast. Sitting Skylar at the table, Billie gave her a bowl of chicken noodle soup a peanut butter sandwich, and a glass of milk. The child ate contentedly while Billie brought the same lunch to Tara.

Putting the tray of food down on the night stand beside Tara's bed, she felt the child's forehead for the 500th time that day. Smiling, she said, "Still no fever, Tara. That's a good sign."

Tara was forgetting more and more often to act sick as she broke out into a big smile at the sight of the food Billie had brought. Billie moved the tray to within Tara's reach as the child dove into it. After her 'light fare' at breakfast, she was really hungry and it didn't take her long to eat everything on the tray. Billie smiled again and collected the dirty dishes, saying to her daughter, "Tara, I'm very proud of you. You must really be feeling better... you ate everything on your tray, Sweetheart!"

Tara looked hopefully at Billie. "Do ya think I'm good 'nough now to have cookies for d'sert, Mom?" she asked.

Billie looked skeptical. "Wellll, I don't know, Honey. Maybe we should wait until this afternoon to decide. Let's give your stomach a chance to digest what you just ate before eating anything else, all right?"

Tara frowned deeply. She was definitely not a happy camper right now.

Billie picked up her half empty glass of milk and handed it to her. "Here, love, finish your milk." she said.

The child obediently drank the milk and handed the glass back to Billie, a scowl etched firmly across her brow.

"Thanks, Sweetie." she said, kissing her on the cheek and pulling the covers up higher around her neck. "I'll be back after I put your sister down for her nap."

Billie left and returned to the kitchen to find Skylar, sleeping at the table, with her head resting on the remnants of her peanut butter sandwich.

"Poor baby." she thought as she cleaned the child up and carried her to her room. "Boy, this baby-sitting is hard work!" Billie thought. "All this running around, back and forth between the girls... Phew I'm beat!"

After taking Skylar's shoes off and tucking her into bed, she sat on the edge of it and ran her hands through her hair. "One down and one to go!" she said out loud as she got up and headed to Tara's room.

************************************************************************************************ CHAPTER III

Tara was sitting with her back against the headboard, and her arms crossed in front of her when Billie returned. Billie stopped in the doorway and watched the child for a few minutes, marveling at how much she looked like Cat, both in appearance and mannerisms.

Tara noticed Billie standing there and looked up at her guiltily. Billie continued to lean against the door frame, waiting for Tara to make the first move. Finally, she spoke.

"Mom, can I talk to you?" Tara asked.

Billie walked over and sat next to Tara on the bed. "Sure, Honey, what's up?" she asked.

Tara leaned against Billie. In a tiny voice, she said, "Mom, I'm not sick."

Billie smiled and leaned her head back against the wall. Taking a deep breath, she looked at her daughter and saw tear filled eyes looking back up at her.

Reaching over, Billie lifted Tara's chin with two long fingers and said, "I know, love."

Tara's eyes grew large. "You know?" she said incredulously.

"Yeah. Now do you want to tell me the real reason you didn't want to go to school today?" Billie asked.

Tara looked at her hands in her lap. Several moments passed with no response from the child.

"Tara?" Billie prompted.

Instead of answering Billie's question, Tara asked one of her own. "Mom, do you love me as much as you love Seth and Sky?"

Billie was floored by the question. After a few moments, she composed herself and pulled the child into her lap, one leg on each side so that they were facing each other. Billie lifted Tara's chin to look into the child's face. "Tara, I love you with all my heart. Yes.. I love you as much as Seth and Sky. Sweetheart, why would you ask such a question?" Billie asked, her own eyes becoming moist with heart wrenching tears.

Tara began her tale. "At school, we're makin this Christmas project and we had to write the names of our brothers and sisters and moms and dads down to make cards." Tara paused, not sure how to continue.

"Go on, love." Billie encouraged.

"Mom, some of the kids at school laughed at me 'cause I have a different name than everyone else!" she said, starting to cry.

Billie was confused. "What do you mean, Honey?" she asked the child.

"Mom, how come my last name is O'Grady, and Seth and Skylar and you and Mama have Charland for a last name?" she clarified.

"Oh Tara, Sweetheart." Billie said, pulling the crying child to her chest and holding her tightly. Tara hung on to Billie for dear life, sobbing into her mothers shoulder.

"Mom, the other kids said that you and Mama aren't my real parents! The said I'm 'dopted!" she cried.

Billie pulled the crying child away from her chest to look into her face. "Tara, listen to me... You are not adopted, do you understand? Mama is your real mother. Sweetheart, you look just like her, and your sister looks like you too! Love, you belong to Mama and me, understand?" she tried to explain to the child.

Tara reached up to rub her eyes, then looked at Billie. "Are you my dad?" she asked.

Billie just stared at the child. "Gods, Cat, where are you when I need you? I hope you won't be angry with me, but I've got to tell her." she thought.

She took the child's face in her hands. "Tara." she began. "You know that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby, right? That was explained in the book Mama bought that we read to you and Seth, remember?"

Tara nodded her head yes.

"Well, love." she continued. "You know that Mama is your real mother, right?"

Again, Tara nodded.

"And you know that I am not a man, right?" she added.

Once again, Tara nodded, then said, "So you can't be my dad!"

"No, Honey, I'm not your dad." Billie said, regret filling her voice.

"Then, who is my dad?" Tara asked, tears once again falling down her cheeks as the child dissolved into tears.

Billie pulled her close, rubbing her back and kissing her head. She let the child cry for a few minutes until she had calmed down. Once again, Billie held her at arms' length.

"Tara... Your dad did a very bad thing. He hurt your Mama when they were in college together, and he went to jail because of it. He was still in jail when you were born." Billie explained.

"Does my dad love me?" Tara asked.

"I don't know Honey. I'm not even sure if he knows that he has a daughter." Billie explained. Then, she asked the dreaded question. "Do you want to know your dad, Tara?"

Tara thought for a moment then looked Billie straight in the eyes and said. "No... He is a bad man and he hurt Mama. I want you to be my dad.... you never hurt Mama, and you never hurt me or Seth or Sky." she said firmly.

Billie bit her lip and tried to hold back the tears.

Tara reached up and took Billie's face in her small hands. "Do you want to be my dad? she asked.

That did it!. Unable to hold it any longer, Billie once more, pulled the child in and held her close. Sobs racked her body for long moments. Finally, she turned and whispered in Tara's ear, "I want that more than anything else in my life right now, love." Tara just held on tighter.

It wasn't long before Billie realized that Tara had fallen asleep in her arms. Not wanting to disturb the child, she slid down onto Tara's bed and stretched out so that Tara was laying on top of her, using her whole body as a pillow. Physically and emotionally exhausted from their ordeal, both girls were soon fast asleep.


Billie and Tara just barely woke in time to meet Seth's bus at the end of the driveway. All three girls were there to meet him as they walked hand in hand back to the house.

"Got any homework, Scout?" Billie asked Seth as he dropped his school bag on the floor near the kitchen door.

"Yeah, a little." he replied grumpily.

"Well, I'll give you a hand with it after dinner, okay?" she said, noticing that something was bothering him.

She dropped down to one knee in front of her son and reached up to run her palm down the side of his face. "Are you all right, Honey?" she asked.

Seth shifted from foot to foot for a moment before meeting his mother's eyes. "Mom, I got into a fight a recess today." he said, causing Billie's eyes to narrow. "Some kids were making fun of Tara, so I decked them."

Billie tried very hard to hide a grin. Clearing her voice, she said, "What were they saying about your sister, Seth?"

"They said she was adopted and that she was a bastard." Looking into shocked expression on Billie's face at his choice of words, he asked "Is that true, Mom?"

Billie stood up and pulled out a kitchen chair. Sitting in it, she pulled Seth over to her and sat him on her knee. Taking one of his hand, she said, "Seth, Tara is not adopted. Cat is her real Mama. Those kids were just being mean." She kissed him on the forehead and continued. "You were very brave to defend your sister today, love."

"Well, she would do the same for me." he said.

"That she would!" Billie chucked thinking about how feisty her daughter was. Looking back at Seth, she said, "Hey, how 'bout a treat and a game while we wait for Mama to get home?"

"Cool! What kind of game?" he asked.

"Well, why don't we have some cider and donuts, then we'll all decide together. Okay?" she suggested.

Seth shook his head enthusiastically. "Good... Now run into the living room and get your sisters for me, will you, Sweetie?" she said.

As Seth ran to collect his sisters, Billie dropped her head to her arm on the table and groaned. "By the gods, Cat, we've got a lot to talk about tonight!" she thought as the children charged into the kitchen looking for their snack.


Cat came home to sound of screeching and laughing coming from the family room in the basement. Dropping her coat and purse on the kitchen table, she went to investigate.

Sitting on the bottom stair, she looked over and saw a long legged Billie, tied up in knots with Seth and Skylar wrapped around and under various body parts. Tara sat cross legged just a few feet away and yelled, "Right hand on yellow?" Picking up their right hands, the three contestants tried in vain to reach a yellow dot without falling. Soon, they were all in a heap on top of the Twister mat, laughing hysterically. Tara jumped onto the feet and dove right on top of them. All three children attacked their tall mother and soon a full fledged tickle fight had begun. Three against one were odds that Billie just couldn't beat, so she surrendered, declaring them the champions.

The kids did a little victory dance around Billie who was out flat on her back on the floor, trying to catch her breath. Cat started clapping her hands getting up and giving a little curtsy to the victors. "Congratulations, my brave knights. I see you have slain the dragon!" she said, pointing to Billie, who just laid they grinning.

Seth put one foot up onto Billie's stomach and said, "That we have, Oh fair maiden."

"Well, Sir Seth," Cat said, approaching her son. "Would a kiss from the fair maiden do as a reward?"

"You bet!" Seth said, smiling and accepting Cat's kiss and hug.

"Hey, what about Sir Tara and Sir Sky?" Tara objected loudly, her hands on her hips.

"Oh, heavens, we can't forget them, can we?" Cat said, dropping to her knees to kiss and hug the girls.

Skylar jumped up and down clapping her hands. "Play again!" she said enthusiastically.

Cat chuckled and said, "Why don't you three brave knights play again, while I talk to Dragon Lady here, okay?"

Seth volunteered to be the spinner as Tara straightened out the mat and positioned Skylar to start another game.

Billie reached her hands to Cat to help her up off the floor. Billie immediately enveloped Cat in a warm, loving hug whispering in her ear, "We have a lot to talk about, my love".

Cat pulled back and questioned Billie with raised eyebrows. "Tonight." Billie said, "After the kids are in bed, okay?"

Cat could tell by the tone of Billie's voice and the look on her face, that whatever it was, it was serious. She nodded back and allowed herself to be pulled into another hug.

Suddenly, Billie pulled Cat back to arms' length and said, "Wait a minute here...Dragon Lady?"

Cat just said, "Oops!" and flew out of Billie's arms and up the stairs, with six feet of fire breathing dragon right behind her.

************************************************************************************************ CHAPTER IV

"They told her what!" Cat demanded in a loud voice as she paced back and forth across their bedroom. Billie was sitting on the bed, with her hands in her lap, feeling very out of control of the situation. She always knew that Cat had a temper when riled... she had just never seen it quite this bad before.

"They told her she was adopted." Billie said again.

"Why those little bastards!" Cat ranted, once again pacing. "If I get my hands on them, Arrrgghhh!" Cat screamed.

Billie stood and caught Cat on one of her many passes by the bed and held her close. "Cat, Honey, calm down. This isn't going to solve anything.... Please."

Placing her forehead on Billie's chest, took a deep breath and said, "All right... I'm calm." Pushing out of Billie's embrace, she walked a few feet away and turned around. "Billie, what brought all this on?" she asked.

"Well, it seems that Tara's class was working on a Christmas project and making cards for each family member. The first thing they had to do was list the first and last names of everyone in their family...." Billie began.

"...And her classmates noticed that her last name was different from the rest of us." Cat finished for her.

"Exactly." Billie said, watching Cat fly into a rage again.

"Why those insensitive little brats!" she said, once again, pacing the floor. "I'm going to school tomorrow and...."

"No you're not, Cat." Billie said.

Cat turned sharply towards Billie. "What do you mean, No I'm not?" she said, eyes blazing.

Billie stood and walked over to Cat. Taking her by the shoulders, she said. "You don't need to worry about the kids picking on Tara again... Seth took care of it."

"Seth?" Cat said, confused.

Billie grinned that crooked smile that was so effective at melting Cat's heart. "Yeah, it seems that a few of the kids were bad mouthing Tara at school today, so Seth decked them at recess."

Cat was shocked. "Our Seth? Our mild mannered son?" she asked.

"Yep!" Billie replied proudly.

Seeing Billie's grin, Cat admonished her tall lover. "Billie, you know, it's really not funny... I hope you discouraged him from fighting in the future." she said, trying to keep a grin off her own face.

"No, I didn't. In fact, I told him that I was proud of him for defending his sister." Billie replied.

"Oh gods!" Cat exclaimed. "What am I going to do with you two?"

Billie smiled and kissed Cat on the forehead. Pulling back, she said, "Question is, what are we going to do about this whole situation?"

"Well first, I have to convince Tara that she isn't adopted." Cat said.

"I've already done that, Cat. In fact, we had a long talk today about moms and dads." Billie said.

Cat looked at her, a frown etching her brow.

Seeing the worried look on Cat's face, Billie said. "Cat, maybe you'd better come sit down and I'll tell you all about it."

Pulling Cat over to the bed, they sat down, facing each other. Billie took Cat's hands in hers. Looking the smaller woman in the eyes, she said, "Cat, I told Tara about her father."

"You what!" Cat exclaimed, jumping up and walking a few feet away. "By the gods, Billie..."

"Damn it, Cat, will you calm down and get your ass back over here?" Billie said forcefully.

Hearing the uncharacteristic tone of voice coming from her wife had an immediate calming affect on the angry red head. Cat meekly walked back over and sat down again. "Okay, Billie... what did you tell her?" she asked, trying to keep a tight reign on her anger. "Calm down Cat. You know Billie loves Tara and wouldn't intentionally hurt her." she told herself.

"She started by asking me if I loved her as much as Seth and Skylar." Billie said. Seeing the confused look on Cat's face, she continued. "I think she was trying to justify why they had my last name, but she didn't". Billie explained. Continuing, she said, "Then she got into the confrontation at school about being adopted. I think I pretty much nipped that in the bud, convincing her that you are indeed her real mother." she said. Taking a deep breath, Billie continued once more. "This is where it starts to get sticky, Cat. She asked me if I was her dad." Cat's eyes opened wide at that comment.

"How did you handle that question? Cat asked.

"Well, I mentioned the book you picked up... You know, the one about 'talking to your kids about sex'?" Seeing Cat nod, she continued. "Well, I reminded her that it took a man and a woman to make a baby. She's pretty quick, Cat. It didn't take her long to realize that I couldn't be her father because I wasn't a man, so she asked me who her father was."

Billie looked intently at Cat, watching the play of emotions cross her lover's face.

"What did you tell her, Billie?" Cat asked, apprehension clearly written across her words.

Billie squeezed Cat's hands tighter. "I told her that you knew her father in college, and that he had hurt you very badly and was in prison because of it." Pausing for a moment, Billie took a deep breath and looked intently at Cat, trying to gauge her reaction. Cat appeared to be relatively calm, so she continued. "She wanted to know if her father loved her, Cat. I told her that I wasn't even sure if he knew he had a daughter....Does he know, Cat?" Billie asked.

"Yes... he knows." Cat replied, dropping her gaze to her lap.

Billie raised her chin again with two fingers, bring blue eyes in contact with green. "Cat, has he ever seen Tara... or even shown an interest in her?" Billie asked.

A tear rolled down Cat's cheek. "No... In fact, his reaction to the news of my pregnancy, was to blame me for letting it happen." she replied.

"That bastard!" Billie swore, wiping the tear from Cat's cheek, then pulling her in for a hug. "She's better off without him, Cat." Billie added.

"But Billie... now that she knows about him, she may want to see him." Cat feared out loud.

"No, Cat. I asked her about that. She vehemently said that she didn't want to know him because he had hurt you." Billie replied, soothing Cat's fears. "Cat, she asked me to be her dad." Billie added.

Cat looked at Billie, and noticed the tears running down her cheeks now. "And how do you feel about that, Billie?" she asked.

"How do I feel? Cat, how can you even ask that?" Billie said sharply. Then seeing that she had hurt Cat's feelings, she added. "The real question Cat, is when do we start adoption proceedings?"

Cat smiled and flew into Billie's arms. "Right away, love." she said into Billie's shoulder. "Right away."

************************************************************************************************ CHAPTER V

Billie went to work the next morning with one goal in mind...to determine what it would take for Billie and Cat to officially adopt each other's children.

Even though Tara's need to feel wanted, to feel like she belonged to Billie prompted this action, the more Billie looked into the issues, the more she realized that this was something she and Cat legally needed to do to protect themselves and the children. Among other things, legal adoption guaranteed all three children an equal share in inheritance rights, financial support from one or both parents in the form of child support in the event of divorce or separation, rights to health insurance and benefits from both Billie's and Cat's employers, the right for either parent to make legal decisions about the children, such as those surrounding medical or educational issues, and the right to social security benefits. Most of all, it required both biological fathers to relinquish their rights, thereby protecting the children from future custody battles.

Just before noon, Billie has in the archives room, searching through documents on adoption and family laws, when her friend and coworker Art McDonough poked his head in. "Hey Charland." he said. "I'm calling in an order for lunch.... you interested?"

Billie looked up from the dusty law volume she was reading and smiled. "Sure Art... Ham and cheese on rye... mustard... diet cola." she said, looking back down at her research, she added, "Thanks!"

Instead of going off to place their order, Art walked further into the room. Looking over her shoulder, he briefly scanned her reading material and said, "I wondered when you'd get around to that."

Billie looked up and raised her eyebrows at him.

"Well it does seem like a natural next step." he said, defending his comment. "Need any help?" he asked.

"I've spent the entire morning looking the process over, Art. It seems to be pretty cut and dry. Our state allows the adoption of children among same sex couples, so that's not a problem, however, getting the two fathers to relinquish their rights might be." she explained.

"Well, the fact that the two of you are legally married, and that the kids have actually been living in a family environment with the two of you for the past three years, should help speed the social study part of the process." Art observed.

"Social study?" Billie questioned.

"Yeah... the judge will choose someone to investigate you and Cat. Someone will actually visit your home and interview both of you and your friends, and maybe even the kids." he explained. Seeing Billie frown, he added, "I know...It seems like a personal intrusion, however, it is in the best interest of the children. Don't worry about it though... With the support of your friends and family, including moi, here, you'll have no problem."

Billie groaned at the thought of her privacy being invaded, but at the same time, inwardly acknowledged that the children were worth whatever they had to go through to make things legal. "Thanks for the support, Art." she said. "My real concern here is getting Brian, and Tara's father, whose name by the way is Gerald Manning, to legally give up their rights to the children." she said. Once that is accomplished, it is basically a matter of paperwork and formalities in court." she explained.

"And if they don't willingly give up their rights?" Art asked.

Billie looked at Art. "Then we petition the court to forcefully terminate their rights based on abandonment, failure to support, and possible moral corruption." she said.

"Ouch! You are one nasty bitch!" he teased Billie.

"You don't know the half of it, Art. Piss me off or mess with my family, and you'll see just how nasty I can get!" she said.

"No thank you... I think I'll just stay on your good side if that's okay with you!" Art exclaimed. "I'll go order us some lunch, then come back to help you fill out and file the forms."

"Thanks, Art." Billie said, not lifting her eyes up from the brief she was reading.


While they were eating their lunch, Art and Billie started discussing how they were going to serve papers on the two biological fathers.

"Well, they're both in jail. I know where Brian is, and it shouldn't be too difficult to find which prison Manning is in. I can ask Jimmy in criminal law to do a search of the prison files on the 'Net to find him." she said, pausing to take a bite of her sandwich. "I think the best way to serve them is by having the local sheriff personally deliver a certified summons. That way, we'll be sure that they actually received it." she explained. "If we have proof that they received the summons, and they choose to ignore it, then they will loose their rights by default. If they contest it, then we take it to court."

Art nodded while he chewed his lunch. "Okay then... let's get started on these forms."

By the end of the working day, they had two forms filled out for Brian... one for Seth, and the other for Skylar, except for some minor information on Skylar's form about Cat. Billie would bring the form home with her that evening to complete it.

On her way out, Billie stopped at the criminal law office at the firm and found Jimmy. Approaching him, as he sat busily reading an article on the net, she put her arm around his shoulders and said, "Hi Jimmy, old buddy, old pal!"

Jimmy looked up and said, "I smell a favor when I see one, Missy!", then grinning from ear to ear, he asked, "What can I do for you, girl?"

Jimmy was very much a small town lawyer. In fact, he still wore plaid suit coats and a bow tie to work. Nearly retirement age, he was a comforting fixture around the office. He did his job well and thoroughly, and despite his age, and constant grumbling about 'new fangled technology', ie, the Internet, he mastered it in no time and provided an invaluable service to the rest of the firm with his surfing skills.

"Jimmy, I need to find someone." Billie said. "He committed a violent crime almost 8 years ago, and was sentenced to a 10 year prison term. Do you think you can help me out?" she challenged.

"Shouldn't be a problem... You said about 8 years ago, huh?" he asked.

"Almost 8." she said, mentally calculating Tara's exact age and adding 9 months.

"Okay. What type of crime was it, and where was it committed,?" he asked.

"Rape... Northern California... State University." Billie answered.

Jimmy looked up at Billie and saw the pain she was trying to mask behind the sea of blue.

"This is personal, isn't it?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"Yeah... it is." Billie replied.

Putting on his professional facade once more, Jimmy asked, "Name?"

"Gerald Manning." came the reply.

"Okay, Missy, give me a minute and I'll have an answer for you." he said.

Billie watched as the 'Contacting Host' message seemed to take forever to declare 'Document Done' at the bottom of the screen.

"Got it!" Jimmy declared. "Gerald Manning... Convicted of raping one Caitlain O'Grady, med student, Northern Cal State U." he read. The file contained some pretty graphic photographs of a battered and bruised Cat in the emergency room at the hospital.

"Damn." he heard Billie whisper near his ear as she scanned the screen over his shoulder.

Without taking his eyes off the screen he said, "That's your Cat, isn't it?"

"Yes, Jimmy, it is." she admitted.

"Could I ask why you're looking for him?" Jimmy said. "... if I'm not being too forward, that is" he added.

"No, it's okay, Jimmy. Cat and I are trying to legally adopt each other's kids, and we need him to relinquish his rights to Tara." Billie explained.

"Well, I hate to disappoint you, Billie, but according to this, he was released from prison nearly a year ago." he read from the screen.

Billie felt like someone had punched her in the stomach.

"What did you say, Jimmy?" she asked.

"Says here, he served 7 of 10 years... and was released on good behavior." Jimmy said, pointing to the information as he read it from the screen.

"Shit!" Billie exclaimed out loud, standing up and running her hands through her hair. Leaning back over Jimmy's shoulder, she asked. "Does it give a forwarding address, Jimmy?"

"Sure does... Here, let me print it out for you." he said, pressing the 'print screen' button on his keyboard.

A moment later, a sheet of paper was ejected from the printer, complete with a name, address, phone number, and photograph of one Gerald Manning. Taking the paper from Jimmy, Billie placed a kiss on his cheek and said, "Thanks, Jimmy... I owe you one." then headed out the door.

************************************************************************************************ CHAPTER VI

Billie was late getting home. In fact, she arrived just as the family was sitting down to dinner. Cat met her as she walked in the kitchen door and stood on her tip toes for a kiss. Dutifully, kissing her wife and drawing her in for a hug, Billie whispered in her ear that she had a few forms to fill out, and some news to discuss with her later that evening.

Cat took Billie's face in her hands and looked hard and long into those blue eyes. Seeing the distress she was trying to hide, Cat asked, "Bad news, love?"

"Yes and no." Billie answered, then added, "After dinner, love...okay?"

Cat nodded her head and released her hold, allowing Billie to greet the rest of her family before sitting down to eat. Billie made her way around the table, kissing and hugging each child, then returned to Cat to help her bring dishes to the table. Soon, she was sitting in front of her filled plate, listening to the kids chatter about school.

Cat was sitting to her left, distracting her by rubbing her foot up and down Billie's leg. Billie looked over at her and raised an eyebrow while reaching her left hand over and placing it on Cat's thigh. "Distract me, will ya?" Billie thought wickedly as she allowed her hand to roam north, causing Cat to squirm in front of the kids.

By the time dinner was over, neither woman could remember a word the kids had said. For all they knew, they had just agreed to take them to Disney land next week.

Shooing the children into the other room to play, Cat and Billie worked together to clean up the supper dishes. Before she knew it, Billie had Cat trapped between her own body and the kitchen counter. Turning around in the embrace to face Billie, Cat reached up and circled the taller woman's neck, bringing her head down for a tongue clashing kiss, while Billie's hands made their way around Cat's backside, cupping two firm cheeks and squeezing tightly. Groans could be heard coming from both women.

Billie broke the kiss as she lifted Cat onto the counter top, standing between her spread legs and pulling her closer. Chest to chest, Billie started nibbling on Cat's neck. Cat had thrown her head back to allow greater access to her pleasure points, while grabbing two handfuls of dark hair, pulling her tall lover's mouth closer to her neck.

"Gods, Billie, that feels good." she said.

A sound from the other room caused them cease the intimacies, however, Billie stayed standing where she was between Cat's legs. They made it a point not to disguise their affection from the children, however, foreplay was discretely hidden.

Turning around so that her back was to Cat, Billie leaned against the counter while Cat's arms circled her neck, coming to rest in front of her, just above her breasts, while she rested her chin on the taller woman's left shoulder.

"Hey, love." she said to Seth as he came barreling into the room.

"Mama, can we have some milk and cookies for dessert?" he asked.

"Sure, Honey." Cat replied. Billie moved to allow her to jump down from the counter. "But not in the living room, okay? Why don't you go get your sisters while I'll pour some milk for you." she told her son.

Seth turned around and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Tara, Sky... Milk and cookies... in the kitchen." Turning back to his mothers, he grinned.

"I could have done that, Scout!" Cat said as Billie chuckled.

Within seconds, the two girls joined their brother at the table and were happily munching their dessert.


When the kids were done their dessert, Cat suggested they watch the 'Grinch' Christmas special that was coming on TV that evening. Billie sent the kids along to the family room ahead of them, giving Seth strict instructions not to let his sisters go near the fire she had started in the fireplace just moments earlier.

With the kids out of earshot, Billie took Cat into her arms and held her tight. Cat could feel the tension in Billie's tall frame. Pulling back, she looked at her wife and said, "Billie... You obviously have something to tell me that I'm not going to like... You're strung as tight as a bowstring. Out with it!"

Billie led Cat to the kitchen table. "Sit here." she said, walking over to the stove and turning the burner on under the teapot. Pulling two mugs out of the cubbard and adding mint flavored tea bags to them, then returned to sit across from Cat.

"Billie, you're scaring me." Cat said. "Tea is a comfort food... what's wrong?"

Taking Cat's hands, she began to speak. "Well, there's good news, and some not-so-good news... what do you want to hear first?" she asked.

"The good news." Cat replied.

"All right... The good news is that the adoption process is really quite simple once we have the proper forms filled out... and the fact that we're legally married and have been living as a family for several years is a real benefit." she said. "I also think, we need to discuss this with Tara and Seth before I file the forms. Maybe after their program tonight, we can put Sky to bed and sit down with the older two, okay?" she asked.

"All right." Cat agreed. "Now tell me the bad news, Billie." she said, just as the teapot started to whistle.

Billie immediately rose to prepare their tea, while Cat took a deep breath, impatiently waiting for Billie to return to the conversation. After adding honey and a drop of milk to the mugs, Billie stirred them and carried them to the table, putting one down in front of Cat.

Cat lifted the cup to her mouth and took a sip. "Oh, this tastes good, Billie, thanks." she said. "Now, enough stalling, love. Spill it!" she demanded.

Billie took a deep breath. "Well, there are actually two pieces of bad news, Cat." she said. "First, one of the requirements for a hassle free adoption, is that the biological fathers legally relinquish their rights to the children.... In other words, we need them to sign forms, agreeing to give them up." Billie explained.

"And what do we do if they refuse to give them up, Billie?" Cat asked nervously.

"We file a 'termination of parental rights' suit against them based on abandonment and failure to support." Billie said. "It could get messy, but with their criminal records, we have a very good chance of winning that argument."

Cat wrapped her hands around her mug and deeply contemplated the reddish liquid inside. Finally, she spoke. "Okay... okay, that's not so bad... so we may end up with a fight on our hands, but one that we can win. I can deal with that." she said, looking to Billie for support.

Billie smiled at her confidence and determination. "That determination is one of the reasons I love you so much." Billie thought to herself.

"Now give me the other piece of bad news." the smaller woman demanded.

Now it was Billie's turn to contemplate her tea. After several moments, she looked up at Cat and said, "Cat, Manning was released from jail almost a year ago. I have a forwarding address, but it's a year old and may no longer be any good." she said.

Cat was shaking with fear and rage. "How?... How... Billie, how could they release him without notifying me?" she asked.

"I don't know, love. That is one question I plan on asking." Billie responded, reaching over and taking Cat's hand in hers. "What I am more worried about, Cat is him coming after you when he receives the termination of parental rights summons."

Cat's eyes widened with terror. "Do you think he will, Billie?" she asked, her voice breaking.

"I don't know. It could go either way...He's been out of jail for almost a year and he hasn't tried to find you. Cat, he may have just decided to put that part of his life behind him and move on. He might be happy to give up rights... and responsibilities, for Tara." Billie said, trying to sound encouraging.

"Or, he might decide to come after me.. us!" Cat added. "Billie, I'm scared...!"

Billie pulled Cat into her arms. "I know, love, I'm scared too. I'll go ahead and file the summons for Seth and Sky tomorrow, at least we have Brian's incarceration to protect us, but as far as Manning is concerned...."

"File it, Billie." Cat said suddenly.

Billie held Cat at arm's length away and asked, "Cat... are you sure?"

"Yes... Billie, I'm tired of being afraid. I knew the day would come when he'd be released... I just wished I had had some time to prepare for it. Billie, I need to do this for us... and for Tara." Cat explained.

Pulling Cat back into her arms, Billie rubbed her back and said, "Let's hope that things go well and he agrees to sign the forms, love, but if he doesn't cooperate, he'll be called here to attend the hearing. If that happens, I'll do everything I can to protect you, love. I swear, I won't let him lay a hand on you."

"I know you will, Billie. I love you and trust you with all my heart." Cat replied, tightening her hold on Billie's waist.

Kissing Cat on the head, Billie said, "Okay.... Let's go watch the Grinch steal Christmas." Rising to her feet, she pulled Cat up and once more held her close for long moments. Finally, they drew apart and headed for the family room.


After the Christmas show ended, Billie invited the kids to play a game of Chinese checkers as Cat put Skylar to bed.

Seth, knowing they weren't usually allowed to stay up after 9 pm on a school night, was a little concerned. While they were arranging the marbles on the board, Seth asked, "Mom, is everything okay?"

Billie smiled at her son's perceptiveness. "You're too smart for your own good, Seth Michael Charland." she said, ruffling his hair. "But to answer your question... yes, everything is okay." "At least for now!" she thought. "Mama and I have something we want to discuss with you and Tara... that's why you didn't follow your little sister up to bed."

Right on cue, Cat returned to the family room. All eyes turned to her, the checkers game forgotten.

The kids were sitting on the couch, and Billie on the ottoman opposite them, with the coffee table holding the checkers game between them. Cat walked over and snuggled onto the ottoman with Billie so that they could both talk to the children face to face.

Leaning forward, she addressed the children. "Seth, Tara, Mom and I want to talk to you about adoption. Do you know what that means? she asked.

Tara immediately tensed, looking at Billie. Billie saw the panic in the child's eyes and reached out to take her hand. "Tara, Honey." she began. "Remember our talk yesterday?" She continued after receiving a nod from the child. "Well, we want to know how you and Seth would feel about me adopting you and Skylar, and Mama adopting Seth. That means, both Mama and I would be your real parents... just like you wanted, Sweetheart. Mama is already your real mother, just like I'm Seth's real mother. If I adopt you and Sky, and Mama adopts Seth, then we will both be your real mothers. Understand?"

"Cool!" Seth said.

Tara smiled. "Yeah, Cool!" she echoed.

Cat and Billie just looked at each other and smiled.

"In that case," Cat said, "Off to bed with you both... school tomorrow!"

"Ah Mama!" they said in unison.

After making sure the fire was safe, Billie followed her family upstairs and helped Cat tuck the children in. Making the rounds to kiss each one, they met in the hallway outside Skylar's room and fell into each other's arms.

"Now if the rest of this adoption issue goes that well, we'll be on easy street." Cat observed.

"They're worth what ever it takes to make it legal, love. I hope things go well, but we need to prepare for a fight if it comes to that." Billie said.

"Well, let's hope it doesn't come to that." Cat said. "Are you ready to call it a night, love?" she asked looking into the tall woman's eyes.

"No." Billie said. "I'm ready to take you to bed, though." she said, raising her eyebrows up and down suggestively.

Cat's face broke into a warm smile, that little wrinkle Billie loved so much, appearing just above the bridge of her nose.

Billie leaned over and scooped Cat up behind the knees. Pushing their bedroom door open with her hip and then closing it behind them, she carried her charge over to the bed and laid her down, gently lowering her long form over her. For several minutes, they just laid there, looking into each other's eyes and exchanging tender kisses.

"Have I told you yet today just how much I love you, Cat? Billie asked.

"You tell me every time you look at me, love." came her reply.

Billie moved down to place light kisses along Cat's jaw line, working slowly toward her ear, taking the sensitive lobe between her teeth. A moan escaped Cat's throat as Billie's tongue flicked into her ear canal. Billie felt a shudder of desire rock her lover's body as she moved down her neck to the base of her throat, allowing her tongue to dip into the little indentation between her collar bones.

Reaching down, she lifted the hem of Cat's shirt and pushed it upwards, forcing Cat to raise her arms over her head. Billie pushed the shirt up over Cat's head, and pulled it off, throwing it to the floor before returning her attention to the supple flesh beneath her.

Billie moved from the base of Cat's throat to the valley between her breasts, tenderly caressing the soft skin with her mouth. Continuing to move south, she placed tender kisses across taut abs, causing Cat to suck in her breath at the delightful sensations, before dipping her tongue sensuously into her navel, drawing a deep guttural moan from Cat's throat.

Shifting her weight slightly to the side, Billie reached down and unbuttoned Cat's jeans. While placing butterfly kisses on her mouth, she slowly lowered the zipper and slid her hand inside the waistband and down one of Cat's legs under the denim material. Cat grabbed Billie's head by two handfuls of dark hair, and pulled her in for a more passionate kiss. "Patience, my love." Billie whispered as she felt Cat's desire rapidly escalate. Coming up onto her knees, Billie slid Cat's jeans and socks off, adding them to the shirt on the floor.

Billie sat back on her heels and looked at her wife, lying there, clad only in lace bra and panties. Her own desire rose as she let her eyes feast on the beauty before her. Well toned, but shapely legs, hip bones protruding slightly above a flat stomach, abs tight enough to bounce a quarter on, full breasts, delicate neck and shoulders, slightly muscular arms, and a face beautiful enough to put the most attractive runway model to shame. "Gods, Cat, what you do to me!" she exclaimed, running her hands over the delicious body before her as she once again lowered herself over her lover.

"Off." Cat said, pushing at Billie's shoulders.

"Huh?" Billie responded, looking at Cat with confusion written all over her face.

Cat smiled. "I said, off... Take these off." she said, indicating Billie's clothing. "I want to feel you, love."

Relief flooded the taller woman's face as she smiled. Climbing off Cat to stand by the side of the bed, she started peeling her clothes off, stopping when she too was clad in just bra and panties.

"Now come here, lover." Cat said, reaching out for her.

Once more, Billie lowered herself over Cat, skin against skin, breasts against breasts as she kissed her tenderly. "Billie, you are so beautiful." Cat exclaimed. "It took all the control I had not to throw you on the table and ravish you in front of the children at dinner tonight." she said. "You reduce me to mush with one look. That crooked smile of yours sends my heart into flip-flops."

Testing the waters, Billie smiled crookedly at her.

"Oh gods!" Cat groaned as she once again pulled Billie's head down to her by two handfuls of hair. This time, there was no denying her. Locking her legs with Billie's she surprised the taller woman by flipping them over, successfully putting her on top. Straddling her wife, Cat sat up straight and threw her head back, running her hands down her own body in a sensuous display that she knew would drive Billie crazy. Billie reached up to place her hands around Cat's waist, trying to pull the woman back down into her.

"Oh no, lover, not yet." she exclaimed, grabbing Billie's hands and pinning them above her head. Cat leaned over, her nose coming to within an inch of Billie's, her hair falling forward to frame their faces. Still holding Billie's hands above her head, she began kissing the taller woman, passionately invading her mouth with her tongue before moving down to her neck and shoulders.

Letting go of Billie's arms, Cat reached under the taller woman and released the catch on her bra, freeing the deliciously full breasts trapped inside. Throwing the bra aside, Cat sat up once more, then leaned forward and cupped the fullness with both hands, rubbing the nubs into attentiveness with her thumbs before feasting on them with her mouth.

"By the gods, Cat!" Billie shouted, arching her chest closer to the smaller woman as desire racked through her body. Reaching back to release her own breasts from their lace prison, Cat's bra soon joined the growing pile of clothes on the floor while she leaned over and allowed her breasts to contact Billie's. Refusing to be denied, Billie grabbed two handfuls of her own and brought Cat's breasts to her mouth to return the pleasure that she had been given.

Soon, both women were wriggling out of control, their hands and mouths teasing and tasting every bit of skin within reach. The pile of clothes grew once more as their panties joined the fray. In a frenzy, Billie physically turned Cat around so that they could each feast on the other, delving deep into the core of their very beings and sending them crashing into oblivion.

When it was over, Cat turned around and climbed up her lover's body, laying her trembling form over the taller woman.

Billie wrapped her arms tightly around the smaller woman and kissed her tenderly, blending their essences together.

"I love you Cat." Billie said.

"I love you too, my warrior." replied Cat as she drifted off into dreamland.

Billie laid there for a few more moments, reveling in their love. "I have so much to lose if things go wrong." she said to herself, thinking of the potential problems they might encounter with Tara's father. "I promise to protect you, love." she said, placing a kiss on Cat's temple. "No matter, what, I will protect you." Finally, she let herself join her love in peaceful slumber.

************************************************************************************************ CHAPTER VII

Finding Manning wasn't as hard as Billie thought it would be. As she suspected, the forwarding address left with the prison was no longer valid, however, as a condition of his early release, he had to report to a parole officer on a weekly basis. Soon, 'termination of parental rights' forms were filled out and filed for all three children. Now it was a matter of waiting for the responses.

Brian's response came quickly through his lawyer. In a statement read to Billie over the phone at work just four days after filing the forms, his lawyer quoted him as saying, "There's no way in hell I am going to give up my children to a couple of fricken dikes!"

Billie was so angry, she hung up the phone on him. Grabbing her coat and car keys, she stormed out of the office and drove 50 miles to the correctional center where he was incarcerated. "Cat was right." she fumed to herself. "I'm all through being afraid... time to take some action."

Pulling into the parking lot of the jail, she went in and announced herself to the guard at the desk. Since this was an unplanned visit, she was asked to wait while they notified Brian that she was there. Moments later, the guard came back and escorted her to a locked room, containing nothing but a table and two chairs. She paced back and forth while she waited for Brian to be brought to her. She had to physically force herself to remain calm as he walked across the room and smugly sat down on one of the chairs. The guard stood inside the room near the door.

She approached the table, placed the forms there, and leaned over, placing her hands on the edge of the table, but not sitting down. This gave her a height advantage over him, forcing him to look up at her. "Brian." she said as calmly as possible. "I'm only going to ask you this once. Please sign these release papers... If you care at all about Seth and Skylar, you'll sign them."

Brian just smiled and said, "Go to hell, Bitch!"

"Have it your way, then." she said calmly. In reality, she wanted to rip the bastard's head off, but losing control would only hurt her case, so she just gathered up the forms and walked to the guard who let her out before leading Brian back to his cell.

Sitting in her car in the parking lot of the jail, Billie had to take several deep breaths before she was under control enough to drive. "Okay, Brian." she said out loud. "You want to play hardball, Asshole? Well we'll see what Mommy and Daddy have to say about this." she finished before pulling out of the parking lot.

Brian's family was wealthy and relatively influential in the community, however, they were also very socially conscious about appearances. Billie intended to plead her case to them, hoping they would strong arm their son into signing the papers. If they refused to cooperate, she planned on going to the press with her story.

Sitting in their parlor just a half hour later, she waited for Mrs. Charland to appear. Finally, a matronly woman waltzed into the room, carrying a superior air about her. Billie had always hated her ex-mother-in-law for flaunting her wealth and status like that.

"Billie, how nice to see you." the woman said with a saccharine smile, obviously lying.

"Mrs. Charland." Billie said.

"What can I do for you dear?" again, the smug air came across in the question from the older woman.

Billie thought to herself, "Any self respecting grandmother would ask about her grandchildren first, you bitch.". Out loud, she said, "Mrs. Charland, I have come to request your help in a very delicate matter."

Mrs. Charland listened quietly while Billie recounted the events of the last three years, obviously surprising the woman when she revealed Skylar's existence. It seems that Brian did not tell his parents that they had a granddaughter as well as a grandson. "And so, Mrs. Charland." Billie said, "I am here to ask you to encourage Brian to give up paternity of these two children so that they can be adopted by myself and my wife. We have been living quite happily as a family for three years now and we wish to make them legally ours... both or ours." she finished.

"Do you really expect my son to listen to me, Billie?" the older woman asked.

"I expect you to use your great influence over him.... yes. I also expect you to be motivated by the desire to keep this procedure as quiet as possible." Billie said, letting the subtle threat hang in the air.

Mrs. Charland obviously caught the threat as she said, "I will see what I can do, Billie. You should be hearing from Brian's lawyer shortly."

"Thank you Mrs. Charland." Billie said as she turned to go. Stopping near the doorway, she turned around and opened her purse. "Oh, by the way." she said, fishing around inside the purse for something. "Seth and Skylar are very beautiful children, you would be proud of them." she said, handing her a recent photograph of the three children.

Mrs. Charland accepted the picture and studied it carefully as a tear rolled down her face. Billie just turned as walked out the door.

Sitting in her car, Billie couldn't believe how pumped up she was over the encounter with Brian and her ex-in-laws. "Gods, it felt good holding that threat over the old hag!" Billie thought. The adrenaline was still flowing out of control through her veins that night when she went home and recounted the events to Cat.

Making love to Cat that night was an experience to remember. 'Battle lust' flowed through her veins as she savagely took her wife to Elysia and back several times before finally working through her adrenaline rush. Not that Cat minded... Oh no, she secretly enjoyed it when Billie's wild streak let loose while they were making love. Just thinking about the raw passion that came out of her lover during these encounters had the ability to curl her toes. She may have come out of it with a few bruises the next day, but they were well worth the experience she got while receiving them.

Two days later, a large envelope appeared on Billie's desk with termination of parental rights forms completely filled out and signed by Brian for both children.


"Gods, I am beat!" Billie said as she carried dozens of Christmas presents into the house then collapsed on the couch.

"Gee, Let's see, three hours of shopping and you're still alive... imagine that?" Cat teased, knowing how much Billie hated shopping.

"You should have let me stay in the Arcade while you shopped, you know... then I wouldn't be in such a foul mood." Billie complained.

Cat just scowled at her wife. "Billie, you're such a big baby sometimes... Christmas is less than two weeks away and we're almost done our shopping. Trust me, love, you'll survive this... husbands and wives all over the world do this every year."

"Almost done?" Billie exclaimed. "I thought this was the last of it!" she said, indicating the multitude of packages around them.

Cat walked over to Billie and leaned down, placing her hands on the back of the couch on either side of Billie's head. Kissing her, she said, "Just a few more things love...won't take long. Now, how about helping me hide these so we can collect the Rugrats from Jen's?"

Billie hated it when Cat bribed her with kisses. She always lost that battle.... How could she resist? Smiling, she placed a long passionate kiss on Cat's mouth, then released her, grabbing several bags of gifts to tote downstairs into the storage room. Once all of the packages were stowed away, Cat called Jen to let her know they'd be over soon to pick up the kids.

Jen was a cherished friend. She and her husband Fred had become very close to Billie and Cat over the past three years. They were the closest thing to family they had around them, except for Cat's parents, who lived a few blocks away in the summer time, but who moved into their vacation home in Florida for the winter. In fact, they were scheduled to leave right after Christmas.

As they approached Jen and Fred's house, they noticed the kids playing in the front yard with Stevie and Karissa, building several snowmen from the snow that had freshly fallen the night before.

"Mom!, Mama," the kids exclaimed together as they saw their parents approach.

Seeing them run towards her, Cat put her hands up and said, "No you don't!", just a little too late to stop them from tackling her into a snow bank.

Billie just stood there and chuckled, not seeing the snowball, thrown by Stevie, heading in her direction until it hit her on the back of the head. "Why you little stinker!" she said, picking up a handful of snow and making her own weapon to throw back at the child.

Soon, the front yard erupted into a full fledged snowball fight. Looking out the front window and seeing the melee going on in the yard, Jen squealed with delight as she grabbed her coat and gloves and entered the fray, followed closely by Fred. After about a half hour, four very wet and tired adults called a truce, and retreated to the house, while the children continued to play out front. Jen immediately put on a fresh pot of coffee to brew.

Sitting around the breakfast bar in the kitchen, the adults enjoyed their coffee and each other's company, talking about Christmas plans and life in general. The subject soon turned to the adoption proceedings.

"Well, we have release papers for Seth and Skylar, thanks to 'Big Bad Billie', here." Cat said affectionately, having already told their friends about Billie's encounter with her ex-mother-in-law, "But we're still waiting to see what happens with Tara's father."

"Jen, Fred." Billie said, getting their attention. "Part of the process is a social study. The judge will appoint someone to basically do a personal background check on us and to visit our home. They'll also want to interview friends and family."

"You don't even need to ask, girlfriend." Jen said, coming around to hug the seated Billie. "We'd be happy to." she finished, placing a kiss on Billie's cheek, then going over to do the same to Cat.

"Thanks, guys." the two women said in unison, causing them all to chuckle.

A noise at the door drew their attention as a snow-covered Skylar dragged herself in. "I cold." she said. Cat immediately got up to tend to her daughter.

Seeing an opening, Billie took Jen's arm and dragged her into the living room.

Before Billie could open her mouth, Jen silenced her by placing two fingers on the taller woman's lips. "You don't know what to get her for Christmas, right?", Jen asked.

Billie just drew her eyebrows together in a look of hopeless despair and said, "Help?"

Jen just chuckled. "All right... I'll help... But you're gonna owe me big time for this one - got that?" she said, smiling.

"Anything!" Billie said

"We're gonna have to do this while Cat's at work. Can you take a break about midday on Monday?" Jen asked.

"Sure." came the reply.

"Okay... I'll meet you at the food court in the mall at 12:30." Jen said.

Billie had just enough time to nod her approval when Cat came into the room. Seeing her wife and best friend's heads together made her suspicious.

"What are you two plotting now?" Cat asked.

"Oh nothing!" said Billie, putting her arm around Cat's shoulder and leading her back into the kitchen as she winked to Jen over Cat's head.

Jen shook her head. "You are so transparent, my friend." she thought, chuckling.


On Monday, Billie met Jen as arranged and then spent two hours shopping for Cat. When they were done, Billie had purchased several nice items, including a very sexy teddy and garter belt ensemble from a fancy lingerie store. She thanked Jen a thousand times before finally walking her to her car.

"Just remember, Ole Tall One." Jen said to he friend. "You owe me for this."

"Big time, Jen... big time!" Billie agreed, hugging her friend before climbing into her own car to return to work.

Sitting down at her desk, she noticed the light on her answering machine was blinking. She was undecided as to whether to listen to it or not. Art approached her and said, "Your phone has been ringing off the hook... you'd better check that - it might be important."

Punching in her password, she waited patiently for the canned phone mail introduction to finish then pushed '3' to listen to the message. It was from Cat... a very hysterical Cat.

Billie was instantly on the edge of her seat.

"Billie!... Oh gods Billie!... she's gone! Billie... please be there!... please!" screamed the voice through the phone.

Billie was on the phone instantly.

"Billie!" The voice on the other end said after only one ring.

"Cat!... Cat, Honey...!" Billie began.

"Billie!... She's gone... Tara's gone! She's disappeared from school." Cat sobbed into the phone.

"Cat... Sweetheart, I'm on my way home right now, love. I'm on my way..." Billie said.

"Please hurry!" Cat replied.

Billie hung up the phone and grabbed her coat and keys, rushing home as fast as she could. While pulling into their driveway, she noticed the police car out front. Throwing the car into park, almost before it came to a stop, she flung the door open and ran to the house, meeting Jen on the stairs. Jen had tears running down her face as she led Billie through the house, pushing the detectives out of the way so she could get to Cat.

Cat flew into Billie's arms as soon as she saw her. Billie wrapped her arms around the sobbing woman, holding her close and sharing her tears. After a moment, she led Cat back to the couch and sat down with her, keeping her arm firmly around her shoulder. Seeing that Cat was too distraught to speak, she looked up at the officers, and asked, "What has happened to our daughter?"

"Ms. Charland, my name is Detective Henning, it appears that she was taken from the playground at school this afternoon." the officer said.

"She was taken?" Billie asked... "You mean, kidnapped?"

"Yes Ma'am." the officer said.

Billie was angry. "And just what are you doing about it, Detective?" she demanded.

"We have a description of the man from several of the children and aides, Ma'am. We've put an APB out on him already." the officer told her.

Cat was trembling so hard, she could hardly hold the cup of water Jen had brought her from the kitchen. Billie held her hand to steady it as she drank. Giving the cup back to Jen, Billie kissed Cat on the head and pulled her closer, whispering in her ear, "We'll find her love, I promise you, we'll find her."

"I want to see this description." Billie said.

Detective Henning handed Billie the written description. After reading it quickly, she handed it to Cat and said "His name is Gerald Manning, and he's Tara's father."

************************************************************************************************ CHAPTER VIII

Billie stood in the window of the darkened bedroom, looking out over the Christmas lights twinkling across the neighborhood. Cat was lying on the bed, finally asleep after crying for most of the afternoon. Billie felt a hand on the small of her back. Turning, she allowed herself to be taken into Jen's embrace, the smaller woman rubbing her back in a soothing motion. After a time, Billie raised her head and looked into her friend's face.

"They'll find her, Billie. Don't lose faith." Jen said encouragingly.

"I hope so, Jen." she replied, wiping the stray tears from her cheeks. All types of horrors kept raging through her mind, from sexual abuse, to death. She squeezed her eyes tightly and held her hand to her mouth, once more letting the sobs escape while Jen held her. Finally regaining control of herself, she urged Jen to go home to her family.

"Part of my family is here, Billie. The part that needs me the most right now. I'm not leaving." she said.

Billie just closed her eyes and nodded her head. "Thanks." she whispered, then turned back to the window.

Daybreak found Jen curled up behind Cat on the bed, who was awake and staring at the wall, and Billie sitting on the floor near the window, her back against the wall, her head in her hands. Seth and Skylar had been brought over to Jen's house to stay with Fred and the kids. Suddenly, the phone rang, startling all three women out of their inactivity.

Billie was the first to reach it.

"Hello?" she said tentatively.

"Caitlain?" a man's voice asked.

"No, this is Billie." came the reply.

"I need to speak with Caitlain O'Grady." he said.

"Who is this?" Billie asked.

"Don't fuck with me, lady! Give me Caitlain now or the kid dies!" he shouted.

"You bastard!" Billie yelled.

"NOW!" yelled the voice on the other end of the line.

Billie's rage was almost uncontrollable. Cat was waiting expectantly by Billie's elbow. Covering the receiver with her hand, she said, "Cat, it's him... Jen, please run down to the living room and get the cordless for me. Cat, keep him on the phone for as long as you can, okay?" Cat nodded as she handed her the receiver.

Jen was back with the cordless even before Cat said hello. Billie clicked it on and held it to her ear as she wrapped her arm around Cat's waist for moral support.

"Gerald?" Cat said into the receiver.

"So, you know it's me, huh, Caitlain?"

"Gerald, I need to talk to Tara, please." Cat begged.

"Tara? Nice name. She looks like you, Caitlain." he said.

"Gerald, please... Let her go, she's only a child." Cat tried reasoning with him.

"No, Caitlain, she not just a child... she's bait... a bargaining chip, so to speak." he said.

Trying hard to compose herself, she wiped the tears from her face and said, "Please let me talk to her, Gerald. I need to know that she's all right."

"Oh, she's all right, trust me." he said.

"Trust you? I trusted you eight years ago, Gerald and look at what you did to me. Tara is the only good thing that came out of my misplaced trust of you." Cat said.

"Look, Caitlain, I hold all the cards here... not you. I have spent the past eight years cooped up in that stinking penal institute because of you... now it's time for you to pay!" he said.

"No Gerald, you brought that on yourself, I didn't ask you to rape and beat me!" Cat screamed into the phone.

"SHUT UP! Shut up right now or I'll kill her where she stands... do you understand?" he screamed back.

Cat's eyes widened in terror. Billie's fist closed tightly, her anger boiling to the top.

"No, Gerald, I'm sorry... please don't hurt her." Cat begged.

After a few minutes of silence, he said, "That's better.... just remember who's in charge here, Caitlain."

"You are, Gerald... you are,... just please don't hurt her." she pleaded.

"All right. Now, you want me to sign over the kid to you and your husband, right?" he asked.

Cat looked at Billie who covered her receiver and told her to play along. "Yes... Gerald, that's it, exactly." she said.

"Well, it's gonna cost you." He said. "I want $25,000 in unmarked bills - and NO cops! Do you understand? Is her life worth that to you, Caitlain?" he asked.

"Yes... but I still need to talk to her, Gerald. How else will I know that she's still alive?" Cat reasoned.

"Damn you, Caitlain." he said. A short pause made Cat think that she had pushed too far. "Oh gods, please let her be alive." Cat prayed.

"Mama?" a small voice said on the other end of the line.

"Tara! Tara, baby... this is Mama...Are you hurt." she said, tears running down her face. Billie didn't dare say anything in case he was listening, but she stood there, with one arm around Cat, and Jen grasping the other one tightly as she held the phone to her ear.

"I'm scared, Mama." Tara said.

"It's okay, Honey, we're trying to get you back. Are you hurt, love?" she asked again.

"No, Mama, I'm okay. Please hurry, Mama, I don't like this bad man." she said.

"Okay, Sweetie... We love you and we'll have you home soon. Be brave, my love, all right?" Cat said to the frightened child.

"Okay... That's enough!" Gerald's voice said roughly. "I'll call back in exactly one hour, Caitlain, to let you know where to deliver the money, but let me get one thing straight.... You don't get the kid until I make my escape... Have I made myself clear?"

Billie shook her head no.

Taking Billie's lead, Cat responded, "No, Gerald. How do I know you'll release her later? No! either we get her when you get the money, or I call the police in on this... have I made myself clear?" she asked.

"All right... have it your way, but just so you know... if she dies during the exchange, it's on your head!" he said, hanging up on Cat.

************************************************************************************************ CHAPTER IX

Cat recounted her conversation with Manning for Detective Henning who recorded every detail in his notebook. Moments later, the phone rang.

Detective Henning picked the receiver on the extension at the same time Cat did. "Hello?"

"All right, Caitlain... Here's the deal. I want you to put the money in a paper shopping bag and set it down next to the mail box on the corner of Elm and North streets, then walk away. I'll bring the kid to the mailbox and exchange her for the money.... if you don't do anything stupid, that is. You make the wrong move, or if the money isn't really in the bag, then I take her back with me. If you play it smart and do what you're told, I leave the kid at the mailbox, with the adoption papers, while I walk away. I'll have a gun pointed on her at all times, so if you try to stop me in any way, shape or form, she's dead. Is that clear?" he explained.

"Yes... Yes, Gerald, I understand." Cat said.

"Good... We make the switch at 2 pm tomorrow afternoon." he said, hanging up on her again.

Billie looked at the Detective.

"No luck... he cut us off before we could trace him." Henning said.

"Damn it!" Billie shouted angrily. "You realize we can't let him get away with this don't you? It won't end here... He'll be back... maybe a year or two later, but he'll be back - count on it!"

"Billie, I want my daughter back! Right now, I'll do anything he asks, do you understand?" Cat raged, throwing her hands about wildly.

Billie took Cat's face in her hands. "Our daughter, Cat... our daughter... and yes.. I want her back too, but we still can't let him get away with this. It won't end here!" Billie tried to make Cat understand.

Cat cast her eyes down. "Billie, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it the way it sounded. I just want her back." she said, starting to cry again.

Billie pulled her in close. "I know love... I know." she said.

Detective Henning spoke up. "Are either of you able to raise the kind of cash he's asking for?"

Cat answered him, "Yes... Billie, please give me the cordless, I need to call Daddy."

Cat spent the next 10 minutes on the phone, explaining the ordeal to her father. When she handed the phone back to Billie, she said, "Daddy's wants to kill him."

"Yeah, well, he can stand in line... I get the first shot!" Billie said.

"The money?" Detective Henning asked.

"It'll be here this afternoon." Cat replied.


Doc and Ida arrived a few hours later, carrying the shopping bag of money. For the rest of the day, Cat and Billie paced back and forth, while Doc, Ida and Jen tried to convince them to eat and rest. When they did consent to sleep, they did so in short naps, and always wrapped in each other's arms. They neither spoke to their guests, nor to each other. Silent touches were communication enough between them. Finally, Doc and Ida suggested that they take Seth and Skylar home with them until the ordeal was over.

Darkness fell and like the previous night, Billie spent it standing by the window, while Cat and Jen curled up on the bed together. Come morning, Jen found Billie sleeping upright, her head leaning against the window frame. She gently shook her awake, and lead her to the bed where she pushed her down beside Cat. Soon, they were wrapped in each other's arms, seeking solace for their pain. In minutes, Billie had fallen into a deep sleep.

It was noon before Billie awoke. Jen and Cat were in the kitchen fixing a light lunch when they heard a string of curses come from the upstairs bedroom.

Jen turned to Cat and said, "She's awake. She's going to kill us for letting her sleep so long, you know."

Cat shook her head. "I know, but she can't function on 48 hours with no sleep. She'll get over it." she said, melancholy filling her voice.

As expected, Billie came charging down the stairs, cursing the world. "Why the hell did you let me sleep so damn long?" she demanded as she entered the kitchen.

Cat approached her and wrapped her arms around the taller woman's waist. Billie pushed her away roughly.

Cat was shocked... she didn't expect that kind of treatment from her normally attentive and affectionate wife. Grabbing Billie's arm, she swung her around to face her. "I know you're hurting, Billie... believe me, I know! But that is no excuse for treating me, or Jen, like shit! Do you understand!" she yelled, fire blazing from her eyes.

Now it was Billie's turn to be shocked... shocked into the reality of what she had done. Sitting down heavily in a chair, she dropped her head in her hands and started to cry. Cat approached her and pulled her into an embrace. This time, instead of pushing Cat away, she circled her waist with her arms and cried into her chest. "I'm sorry, Cat. Damn it. Why did this have to happen? I'm sorry... It's my job to protect this family, and I've failed." she said, sobs racking her body.

Cat placed her cheek on top of Billie's head, as Jen silently slipped out of the room to give them some privacy. "Shh, shhh, it's okay, love. It's okay. We'll get her back, Billie, I know we will." she soothed.

Billie looked up at Cat. "I'm sorry, Cat. I'm so sorry." she cried.

"Billie... This is not your fault. All you have ever done is try to make this family strong, healthy and happy... don't ever be sorry for that... please." she begged the taller woman. "I love you Billie. We'll get through this... our love will get us through this, I promise." she finished.

"I love you too, Cat." she said, looking up at her wife.

Cat lowered her head and kissed Billie tenderly.

Jen peaked her head back into the kitchen. "You guys okay now? I'm starving!" she said, trying to lighten the mood.

Cat smiled and Billie stood and opened her arms to their friend. Jen ran into them and held her tightly. "I'm sorry, Jen." Billie said.

"For what?... Having a heart?... No need to be sorry about that, Big Guy... Now, let's eat!." Jen replied reaching up to wipe a tear out of her own eye.


Detective Henning hid himself behind a nearby building as he maintained surveillance on the mailbox where Cat was instructed to leave the money. At exactly 2 pm, Cat walked up to the mailbox and left the paper bag full of money where she was instructed, then she returned to her car, in plain sight of the mailbox. When she got there, Doc and Ida were waiting patiently, however, she realized that Billie was gone. "Gods, don't let her do anything stupid... please!" she begged to what ever god might be listening.

Within minutes, a man in a trench coat, leading a child by the hand, approached the mailbox. "Tara!" Cat said, under her breath... a breath she didn't realize she was holding.

The man approached the box and looked into the bag next to it. Satisfied with its contents, he picked it up and slowly backed away, keeping Tara within shooting range if necessary. Tara stood rooted to the spot by the mailbox, not moving a muscle.

After what seemed like an eternity, he backed his way up against his car. He turned and opened the car door, only to be met with a stiff-armed shot to the nose from inside the car. He fell onto this back on the pavement, bleeding profusely from his nose, as a tall shadow was cast over him. Looking up at the stranger, he said, "Who are you?"

"I'm Cat's 'husband', you piece of shit!" Billie said, kicking him hard in the side. He rolled over to avoid the worst of the impact, reaching into his coat pocket as he rolled.

As Billie bent over to do more damage, he pulled a gun from his pocket, and fired it at her. Billie flew backward across the hood of his car and landed face down on the ground on the other side. He scrambled to his feet, grabbed the bag of money, and ran headlong into Detective Henning.

"Freeze, Asshole!" Henning said.

Manning turned the gun on the detective, who had no choice but to shoot him. He was dead before he hit the pavement.


As soon as Manning reached his car, Cat ran across the street and grabbed Tara, holding her close. She looked up in time to see Billie deck him, and for him to shoot Billie.

"NOOOOO! " she screamed. "BILLIE!" By this time, Doc and Ida had joined Cat at the mailbox. Leaving Tara with her mother, Cat and Doc ran toward the fallen woman as fast as they could. Cat skidded to a stop on her knees and rolled an unconscious Billie over onto her back. She had been shot in the head. Blood was everywhere. Cradling the bleeding woman in her lap, Cat cried, "Please... gods, please don't take her from me. Please!" Doc immediately began examining the injured woman.

Circling the car, Detective Henning reached the other side to see Cat cradle Billie's bloody head in her lap. Doc was kneeling beside her, holding his handkerchief to Billie's forehead with steady pressure. Looking up at the detective, he said, "Call an ambulance, quickly!"

************************************************************************************************ CHAPTER X

The ride to the hospital seemed to take an eternity. Billie never once regained consciousness. When they reached the emergency room, she was quickly rushed into triage for immediate care. Doc used his influence and authority to remain with her the whole way. Unfortunately, Cat was waylaid at the main desk to provide admission information on Billie, to the clerk. Moments later, as Cat paced back and forth in the waiting room, Doc came out of emergency care and approached his daughter.

"Daddy!" she said, running to him as soon as she saw him. "Billie..... How is she?" she asked hopefully.

Doc held his daughter by the shoulders and led her to the couch. Cat took this as a very bad sign and started crying hysterically. "No... No, Daddy, please don't tell me she's gone! Please... she can't be... I need her, Daddy! The kids need her!"

"Caitlain, calm down!" Doc said firmly. "She's still with us, Cat. She needs emergency surgery... she took the bullet in the forehead. The bullet is lodged just under the skull. It's pressing on a critical nerve center and needs to removed immediately." he explained.

"I need to see her." Cat demanded.

"Not right now, daughter. The emergency room nurse is trying to locate the anesthesiologist so they can move her into surgery right away." Doc said.

Cat's head perked up. Jumping to her feet, she said, "An anesthesiologist? Daddy, I'M an anesthesiologist.... I'll do it!" she exclaimed.

"No, Caitlain... You are way too close to this one. It's not ethical." he explained.

"Is it ethical to let her die, Daddy?" Cat questioned.

"Cat..." he began.

"NO! I will not stand by and let her die, or suffer permanent damage because the doctor on call couldn't be located fast enough! No! I will do it!" she said again as she barged into the emergency room and announced her intentions.

Doc was right behind her and gave his silent approval to the physician on duty, with a nod of his head. Cat immediately went to scrub while the nurses prepared Billie for surgery.

Moments later, Cat had put Billie under and was monitoring her condition carefully while the head surgeon removed the bullet. During the procedure, she forced herself to detach her feelings from the job at hand. In her heart, the woman lying on the table was her very reason for living, the keeper of her heart, the mother of her children, the other half of her soul. In her professional mind, she was just another patient, whom she was trying desperately to keep sedated and stable while surgeons were fighting to save her life. Two hours later, the procedure was complete and the plastic surgeon was carefully stitching the skin above her right eyebrow to minimize scaring.


Cat stood by the window and looked at the Christmas lights decorating the city. From this position, she could see the church they had been married in, lit up and twinkling brightly. So many happy memories had come from that ceremony less than a year ago. Cat couldn't believe she was standing here now, in her wife's hospital room, watching over her as she fought for her life. "What was it Billie had said while on their honeymoon cruise?" Cat thought. "If she died today, she would die happy?" Cat let her chin fall to her chest as she cried at the memory. "Please don't die, love. Please don't die." she pleaded under her breath.

Cat suddenly felt a pair of arms circle her waist and pull her backward. It was Jen. After retrieving Tara in the kidnapping exchange, Ida went to collect Seth and Skylar from Jen's to bring them home with her. Leaving her own children with their father, Jen went to keep Cat company at the hospital. In fact, Jen was waiting in the emergency room for Cat when Billie was wheeled out of surgery. Seeing her best friend waiting there, on top of the emotional trauma she had just gone through with Billie in surgery, Cat broke down and sobbed uncontrollably in Jen's arms. That was several hours ago. Cat and Jen had been sitting by Billie's bedside ever since.

"Cat." Jen said. "Come sit down... I've brought some soup and sandwiches. You'll need to keep your strength up if you're going to be of any use to Billie."

Jen led Cat to the small table next to Billie's bedside and watched over her, while she dutifully ate.

"Good girl." Jen said, kissing Cat on the forehead as she cleaned up after them.

"Cat" a weak voice said, in barely a whisper.

Cat' s head whipped around to the source of the sound. Billie was awake.

Cat and Jen nearly fell over each other trying to reach Billie's side as quickly as possible. Cat picked up Billie's hand and brought it to her lips. Kissing the back of it, and showering it with the tears that were falling from her eyes, she leaned in and kissed Billie tenderly on the lips as Jen stood by her bedside wiping her own tears away.

"Hi!" Billie said into the emerald green pools staring at her.

"Hi yourself... How are you feeling?" Cat asked through her tears.

"Like I've got the worlds' worst hangover." she replied smiling.

"Look Big Guy," Jen interjected "I know you like doing 'shots', but it didn't think you meant literally!"

All three women started laughing at that remark, Billie grabbing her head. "Gods, don't make laugh, Jen... it hurts! Please." she pleaded.

"Well, I'll go pass the word around that Tall, Dark and Gorgeous here has returned to the land of the living. Okay?" Jen said as she backed toward the door.

"Thanks, Jen." Cat said as she watched her friend leave to make her calls.

Cat turned back to Billie. "The next time you need to stop a speeding bullet, call Superman, got it?" she said.

"Got it!" said Billie. Then turning serious, she said, "Cat... Tara?"

"Tara is fine, love. She went home with Mom. I'll bring her to see you tomorrow. We need to speak to her about this whole mess. In fact, we need to talk to all three of the children about trusting strangers." she said.

Billie just nodded her head. Looking up at Cat, she asked, "Manning?"

"Gerald is dead, Billie. After shooting you, he tried to shoot Detective Henning. Bad move on his part." she explained.

Once again, Billie looked into her wife eyes. "Its over Cat, isn't it?" she said.

Cat smiled. "Yes, love. It's over."


A week later, on Christmas Eve day, Cat and Billie stood before Judge Maria Rocque, surrounded by their three children, Cat's parents, and their dear friends Jen, Fred, Art and Marge. Billie still sported a square white bandage on her forehead, so far, the only visible remnant of her brush with death at the hands of Gerald Manning.

After a considerable amount of testimony, investigations and interviews, the judge was ready to render her decision on the adoption of one Tara O'Grady and one Skylar Charland by Billie Jean Charland, and of Seth Charland by Caitlain Maureen O'Grady Charland.

This was an unusual case indeed, with same sex parents, whom by the way, had forged the state's efforts to legalize same-sex marriages. One of the biological fathers who was incarcerated for rape, kidnapping and attempted murder had 'freely' signed termination of parental rights waivers, while the other biological father had recently been killed by a police officer in self defense while rescuing the child, Tara from a kidnap situation.

After extensive interviews, uncharacteristically conducted by Judge Rocque herself, she was satisfied that the children in question were being raised in a very positive and loving environment. They obviously felt very loved by both parents and the relationship between the parents in question was very strong, based on mutual love and respect for each other and for their children. So, without further ado, Judge Rocque issued the order that made them a family in name as well as in love.


That evening, Cat, Billie and the children huddled together on the couch in the family room. Billie looked at her daughter and thanked the gods that she had come out of the kidnap ordeal unscathed. Cat had immediately arranged counselling for the child, and according to her therapists, she was recovering quite nicely. Tara was curled up tightly in Billie's left arm. Seth's head was lying in Cat's lap while she absent mindedly brushed corn silk colored locks off his forehead, while Skylar sat huddled between them, happily munching a bowl of popcorn. They were watching the tail end of a Christmas show they had rented.

As the credits rolled at the end of the movie, Billie reminded the children that Santa wouldn't come to visit them until they were fast asleep in their beds. Like a shot, all three kids jumped up and headed for the stairs, Cat right behind them to see that they brushed their teeth, and to tuck them in. Before getting halfway up the stairs, Tara stopped and returned to Billie, who was tending the fire in the fireplace. Cat stopped as well, and sat on the stairs to watch the scene play out before her as Seth and Skylar continued up the stairs.

"Mom?" Tara said, approaching a squatting Billie and wrapping her arms around the tall woman's neck.

"Yes, love." Billie said, circling the child's waist with her hands and swinging her around to sit across her bent knee.

"Will Santa still find me?" she asked.

"Sure he will... why do you ask?" Billie said, a little confused.

"Well, my name isn't Tara O'Grady anymore. What if he can't find Tara Charland?" the child said worriedly.

Billie just smiled and kissed the child on the cheek. "Listen love, Santa knows you and loves you, regardless of what your last name is... just like Mama and I. Changing your name doesn't change who you are here, inside." She said, pointing to the child's chest. "Changing your last name was only to protect you and to be sure that you were legally treated the same as Seth and Sky..... Honey, you are still Tara..., and nothing will change that. Santa knows that. He will find you, Sweetie... I promise." she finished.

Tara smiled brightly and kissed Billie full on the mouth. "I love you Mom. Goodnight." She said as she hopped down off Billie's leg and headed up the stairs once more.

"'Night Sweet-Pea. I'll be up for goodnight kisses in a few moments." Billie said as she watched her daughter run up the stairs.

Cat descended the stairs and approached her tall lover. Billie rose to her full height and pulled Cat into her arms, holding her close for long moments.

"Merry Christmas, Love." Cat said, looking into Billie's eyes.

Billie let a stray tear run down her cheek. "Cat, this is the best Christmas I have ever had in my entire life. All I have ever wanted I have right here... in my arms and in my heart.... My love, my wife, my children. We are finally a family Cat, in name as well as blood. Merry Christmas to you too, Love." she finished, lowering her head to claim her wife's lips.


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