Subtext Reports
Those crazy posts about the episodes originally posted to the nutforum and saved here for posterity in their error riddled entirety (since they were written 'on the fly'). 
Homecoming Series
A series of five (not so short) stories about Xena and Gabrielle building their life together as a couple. 
Magic Series
Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas find love as they uncover more writings of Gabrielle about her warrior princess. 
Conversations by Campfire Series
Set during Season Four, parts of the episodes are worked into chats between Xena and Gab, particularly the subject of Najara and the bard. 
Changes of Heart Series
My take on what happened after Gabby got Chakram'ed upside the head by Xena in the Season Five ender. 
Bonding of Souls Series
This series picks up where 'Changes of Heart' ends with Xena and Gabby back together. Each 'episode' is an expansion of the episodes of Season Six.
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace
How DID Ares get stuck in that tomb from the Xena Scrolls? This story answers that question. 
The Play
Xena and Gabrielle have to play the leads in a performance for a ruthless king to save Salmoneus' neck. Unexpected consequences and confessions are the result. 
The Queen, the Regent, the Warrior
Xena leaves Gabrielle in the care of the amazons, only to have Ephiny and Gabby fall in love. Xena does return and chaos and secret confessions follow.
The Contest
Ares and Aphrodite battle over Xena's spirit. 
Loss of Virginity
Romantic musings from one of our gals. 
Moment of Truth
Gabrielle does anything it takes to keep Xena out of a battle that's foretold to take the warrior princess' life. 
Thank the Gods For Henbane
At an Amazon festival Gabrielle has one too many henbane brownies, which results in a funny and sexy night for Xena. 
As It Should Be
The Queen gets taken by the Warrior Princess at the Amazon Village.
Family Ties
Xena takes Gabrielle back to home to spend a little time with the 'in-laws'. 
Dueling Cousins
Xena's look-alike cousin, Sappho, has always been competitive but now the Tenth Muse wants the ultimate prize - Gabrielle. 
The End
Alternate 'demise' of Xena and Gabrielle based on the Season Four crucifixion. 
Truth or Dare
Sexy romp between Callisto and Gabrielle set during 'A Necessary Evil' 
November 29th, 1942
A little romance fic between Janice and Mel. 
Inside Outside
Set after the events of 'A Family Affair', it's a scene told through the eyes of four people - Gabrielle's Father, Mother, Gabrielle herself and Xena.
Something To Talk About
Xena and Gabrielle's friends are all surprised that the pair aren't lovers so they consider why not.
Henbane, Horsenappings and Other Obstacles
A 'murphy's law' comedy where everything that can go wrong for Xena and Gabby but, of course, they still end up saving the day.
All That Matters
During Gabrielle's birthday party in' Takes One To Know One', Xena reflects on her love for the bard.  
Warlord
What if Gabrielle was actually the one behind all the folks who influenced Xena's journey toward good? 
Have Yourself a Merry Little Solstice
A little Winter Solstice tale that's available in general (not lovers) and alternative (lovers). .
Little Moments: A Day in the Desert
A tale told through the eyes of Janice and then Mel while on a dig.  
Candy or Chaos
'Classic Xena' general Halloween story with Xena and Gabby return for the Potiedaia Harvest Festival.
Conquering Heroine
Gabrielle is the Conqueror in this piece. How exactly? Give it a read and find out. 
Watching and Waiting
Set after FIN II, Xena watches from afar as Gabrielle moves on with her life. 
1971
Police Office Carol and Protestor Erin clash but find they're fighting for the same things. A short story based on my novel, 'One Belief Away'. 
March 26, 1943
Sequel to November 29, 1942. This time it's Janice's birthday and Mel has some sexy plans for her lover. 
The 10th Muse
In this traditional subtext story that's part French farce; part musical, Gabrielle has a Doppelganger, the Poetess Sappho. It's up to Gabby, Xena and Sappho's friend Aphrodite to guard Sappho during the 10th Muse Competition...Of course they must also try to repair Sappho's damaged relationship with her lover (a woman, and bandmate, who's the spitting image of Xena).

Title: 1971 - Part II

Author: CN Winters (with Tonya Muir)

Fandom: Xena Fanfiction, Xena fanfic, Xena fan fiction, Xena and Gabrielle fanfiction, Xena fiction

Rating: R

Disclaimers: Xena and the gang arenít mine. They belong to MCA/Universal/Studio USA and a bunch of other folks who now own them. It is the musings of a certain warrior princess and her affection for another woman. If the thought of two ladies in love is unappealing please proceed on to another story.

Author Note: Upon examining X and G's relationship I realized they are at opposite ends of a spectrum regarding their 'ideas' in life but their moral foundation is the same - the greater good. How they go about preserving the greater good has always been different. With that in mind I considered what other kinds of people would be similar in recent times. My answer - a flower child and a police officer. It should also be noted that this story was started well over a year ago and long before Gabrielleís India trip and Ďway of loveí fetish. With that, we venture into this uber story. This short story was based on a full length novel called, "One Belief Away".

Synopsis: Flower child Erin squares off against establishment cop Carol and find love in the process. 

Feedback: Please send your gripes and complaints (and compliments too<G>) to cnwinters71@yahoo.com.

1971 Part II

Chapter 9

Carol stood on the dilapidated porch again less than twenty-four hours later. She stuffed her hands in her sweat jacket and rocked on booted heels, lips pursed, glancing at her surroundings slowly. She'd already knocked twice and checked her watch three times, she was beginning to get a little worried that she'd been confused.

Suddenly the front door swung open a crack and Erin shimmied out, pulling the door immediately closed behind her. This action didn't permit Carol to see anything going on inside though she had heard music and laughter.

"Hey," Erin said softly, running a tender hand down Carol's arm. "It's good to see you." She felt a little awkward, torn between kissing the older woman or moving on with the conversation. This confusion wasn't abated when Carol tilted her head sideways, allowing her long raven hair to drape over one shoulder.

"You okay?" Carol asked curiously, glancing at the closed door and her nervous friend. One whiff of the air that had escaped the house with Erin gave her a clue as to what was going on.

"Yeah. Good," the blonde replied with a tight grin, giving up on the welcome kiss and trying to edge her way around Carol and towards the walk, hoping her tall companion would follow.

"Am I interrupting something in there? Did you want to stay?"

Erin eyed her friend cautiously, unable to tell from the stoic expression and shadowed features what she was feeling. "No. I want to be with you."

They stared at each other in silence for a long moment until Carol sniffed dramatically.

The blonde dropped green eyes to study her companion's polished boots. "I didn't, Carol. I swear." She looked back up, pleading this woman to believe her.

"Ever?"

"Tonight," Erin clarified, her heart thumping double time. Though she certainly didn't have a problem with recreational use, her tall companion was an officer of the law. And she so much wanted Carol to like her. The blue eyes revealed nothing.

"I see."

"Carol? I ... let's not talk about this, huh? Let's just go somewhere and they can do whatever they're doing."

"Why didn't you join them? You did last night."

Erin closed her eyes, remembering well the smoke she'd had just before meeting Carol the night before. But that had been different, she was just going out for a good time. Now she knew she wanted more and Carol had admitted to the same, she didn't want to mess it up by advertising the differences between them. She shrugged, answering her friend after a long silence. "I knew you wouldn't approve ... I ... I wanted you to like me." This time when she studied the face before her she thought she might have seen a twinkle in those icy eyes.

Carol decided to let her fidgeting friend off the hook. "Relax, Erin," she whispered gently, allowing a smirk to claim her lips. "I'm just teasing you. I'm not gonna run you guys in. You can do what you want."

Erin studied the features silently before releasing a nervous chuckle. "Don't worry me like that."

The dark-haired woman laughed out loud this time, her face appearing less angular when making the sound. "Didja really think I'd draw my weapon and bust in there?"

Erin shrugged sheepishly because part of her had thought exactly that. "Not used to dating a cop."

"Not used to dating a hippie," Carol returned gently, twining her arm through the smaller woman's. "We'll have to play it by ear."

They strolled down the walk towards Carol's waiting car. "Did you bring your gun?" Erin asked as Carol settled her in the passenger seat. The young blonde's nose was wrinkled in distaste at the thought.

"No gun, no badge. Just you and me, Erin," Carol responded gently, closing the door and trotting around to the driver's side.

The dark-haired woman had been nervous the entire day, discarding outfit after outfit and finally deciding on something daring like jeans and a black T-shirt. Erin wore bell bottoms and a colorful sweatshirt. Her blonde hair was pulled back into several thin braids, revealing perfectly sculpted ears and freeing her pale features of cumbersome wisps. Carol admired her quietly.

"Where are we going?" Erin asked at last. It had taken her several minutes to even come up with the question. It seemed right somehow to just be riding in a car with this woman, enjoying companionable silence.

"Movie okay? Then I thought maybe some ice cream and a walk in the park?" The officer sounded hesitant, unsure if her young friend would approve of such a plan.

Erin smiled, reached over to lay a warm hand on her companion's well-muscled thigh. "That sounds great, Carol," she nodded. "What movie?"

In the end they'd skipped the movie altogether. Standing outside and reading the information on the ticket window proved only how very different these two women were. They decided against Patton and MASH because of the war theme. Across the street from the first movie house, the second offered Clockwork Orange which appealed to Erin but Carol had seen and had no desire to watch it again, especially with Erin, imagining the conversation that might follow. That left Dirty Harry. With quick looks exchanged, both turned on their heels and headed back to the Mustang.

"Ice cream, did you say?" Erin asked gently, humor in her voice.

Carol nodded, pursing lips that poorly disguised a wry grin.

They sat silently in the park not too far from Erin's home, relaxing on a small hill that allowed them to recline slightly. They'd left the car outside the rundown building, ignoring the loud music and waving crowd now settled on the porch. Erin had blushed fiercely as she tilted her head away from her friends and followed the dark woman down the street. It was a pleasant night, chilly enough for the sweatshirts they each wore but warm enough for the cool tang of ice cream to provide a soothing sensation.

Erin finished her cone first, then settled back on elbows to watch the starry night sky. "Orion," she said gently.

Carol had been too busy examining the young blonde to notice the stars. Now she directed her attention upwards and saw the sparkling jewels. "They're beautiful," she acknowledged.

"So are you," Erin whispered, pulling the dark woman's gaze back. Carol finished her cone and stretched out next to her young companion.

"Thank you," she smiled slightly, leaning in close, her face inches from the blonde's perfect ear.

Erin felt the hot breath on her lobe and it sent shivers through her.

Carol's grin turned slightly evil. "You, on the other hand, are gorgeous."

The blonde blushed, tucking her chin into her left shoulder as she turned her face to observe the woman beside her. Carol was smiling easily, her ice blue eyes dancing with merriment and deepening with desire.

It took only a moment of silence to lead to the inevitable. They met somewhere in the middle, tasting soft lips with velvet tongues, exploring, teasing, wanting more.

Slowly Carol moved closer, reaching her arms under Erin's raised back and lowering her gently to the grass beneath them. The change in position allowed Carol to kiss the young woman more deeply, one large hand tangled in blonde braids, the other between the girl's lower back and the ground. Carol's long hair draped over both of their faces, closing the world down to several inches and hot breath.

Erin moaned, feeling her body react. Her hands wandered over broad shoulders and muscular back as she sought more from the woman above her, pressing her tongue deeper, involving teeth and lips.

The taller woman withdrew first, breathing hard. Erin chased her still, raising up to reclaim those lips.

"Easy," Carol whispered, her voice dark and husky, her desire clearly evident.

"Oh God," Erin moaned, still searching. Her small hands applied pressure at the back of Carol's head, tangling in raven tresses, trying to bring her target closer.

"I know," Carol chuckled softly. She stroked the flushed cheek in front of her and waited for those sparkling green eyes to blink open. "I want this so much."

The blonde's brow wrinkled. "Then why stop?"

"Not here, please?"

"People do it here all the time," Erin grinned rakishly, sliding her hand down to cup the dark woman's jean clad cheek.

She shook her head slowly, completely uncomfortable with it. "Come home with me."

"To your home?" Erin seemed surprised.

"Didn't think I had one?" Carol teased, brushing at the blonde's lips with one of her own thin braids.

Erin laughed softly. "Sorry ... no. I knew you did. I just didn't ... didn't think you would want to take me there," she admitted sheepishly.

"Why not?" Carol raised herself higher, lifting her upper body off of the smaller woman. "Maybe I'm sending mixed signals here, but I'm pretty serious about you."

"Not mixed signals, no," Erin grinned wryly. "I just wasn't sure you wanted ... well ... more than this," she blushed. "Do you?"

Sex just for release hadn't really crossed the taller woman's mind. She wanted a lot more from this vivacious person before her. She wanted to get to know Erin better, to understand her, to find out what was in her mind and in her heart. It wasn't until this moment that it dawned on her that Erin might only want a roll in the hay. The young hippie lived in a world where sex was exchanged freely, where one's body was an expression of life. Maybe this was all the blonde had intended. "I ... I think so. I mean ... yes. Do you?"

Liquid green eyes peered at Carol for a very long time before the girl nodded slowly. "Yeah. Not just tonight, not just sex."

"No," Carol responded, dropping her lips back down for another warm kiss. "Come home with me," she repeated, her lips brushing seductively against the blonde's.

Her answer was given when Erin pulled back from the kiss only to hold the dark woman more tightly. Her embrace was steady and sure, as was the whispered agreement when it reached Carol's ear and traveled right to her heart.

 

Chapter 10

Erin managed to survive the teasing of her friends as she bid them goodnight and then allowed herself to be tucked into Carol's car. The blonde remained silent for the trip, so involved in her thoughts of what they might do once reaching their destination that she wasn't sure how long the vehicle was stopped before she noticed.

"This it?" she asked, peering into the darkened driver's seat.

"Mmm," Carol agreed softly, nodding.

It wasn't what the blonde had been expecting. It was a quaint cottage-like home with white picket fence and intricate latticework adorning the shuttered windows. Even in the pale moonlight, Erin could tell it was well kept, the lawn neatly manicured.

"C'mon," Carol said at last, breaking the silence. "You get the nickel tour."

Erin felt oddly out of place as she entered the neat home and stood in the entryway, waiting for Carol to close and lock the door behind them. Sensing the other woman's distress, the officer leaned forward and kissed Erin's lips gently. "S'okay," she assured her, reaching for her hand and squeezing it.

"We're so different," Erin whispered, as if her normal speaking voice might break something. This was nothing like her busy old house with people crawling out of the woodwork and someone always up and about. Her home was filled with laughter and music, it smelled of pot and incense, not wood polish and bleach. She felt horribly out of her element here, as if she weren't upper class enough to stand on this wood floor and be encased in these shining white walls. She tugged at her sweatshirt.

Carol nodded, smiling encouragingly. "Doesn't matter." She turned on the hall light and guided the small woman with her. She showed her everything, turning on all the lights as they moved deeper into the small square home. "Kitchen, dining room, living room. Those stairs go down to the basement. That's where the television is. And there's a bathroom down there. Down this hallway," she tugged the small form behind her. "This is my dad's office-" she pushed the door open to reveal walls lined with bookshelves and a large roll top desk.

Erin froze and started to back pedal. "Your dad? I shouldn't be here. How will you explain-"

"Shhh," Carol wrinkled her brow slightly. Whatever false bravado this young woman had been parading around in had all but disappeared when she was removed from her own environment. "No one's here, Erin. Just you and me. My father's gone."

"Gone?"

"He died two years ago. My mother died when I was born."

"I'm sorry," Erin dropped her eyes. "You must miss him."

"I do," Carol smiled gently. "I keep this room as he left it. I couldn't bear to not come in here and feel him. Are you close to your parents?"

The sudden question startled the blonde. She smiled self-deprecatingly and shook her head. "Nah. I don't need them."

"Where are they?"

"Probably where they were when I left."

"Did they kick you out, Erin?" the dark woman asked gently, studying her smaller companion's profile in the poorly lit hallway.

She shrugged one thin shoulder. "It was by mutual agreement. There's not much to tell. Minos took me in and helped me finish high school and apply to college."

"I'm glad," Carol said softly, brushing soft lips against softer blonde hair. "C'mon. Tour's almost over."

She led her to the back of the hallway, showing her another bathroom, the unused bedroom of her father, and her own room. Erin stepped through the open door without prompting and grinned suddenly. It was as if the atmosphere changed in this room, it felt warm and safe and smelled of the dark woman at her side.

There was a queen-sized bed covered in a beautiful hand-stitched quilt whose bright colors matched the blues twisting through the fabric of the curtains. There was a well-used desk in a corner, covered with loose papers and writing utensils. A bookshelf proudly displayed a myriad of reading selections along with several Police Academy awards. The long low dresser was covered with framed pictures of a dark man and a little girl. Erin stepped forward and examined them more closely.

"He loved you very much," she said softly, fingering a large photograph of the man lifting an obviously squealing girl above his head. Carol was all pigtails and smiles.

The older woman simply nodded.

"How did he die?"

"Killed in the line of duty," Carol answered, her response automatic as if she'd said it a hundred times before. "He was an officer, too. He was killed in a riot downtown, trying to help a young black couple and their baby make it to safety when a racial mess broke out. He was shot."

Erin wrinkled her brow and turned to observe her friend. "I remember that. That was your father?"

Carol nodded silently.

"He was a very brave man, Carol," the blonde whispered gently. "He believed in the greater good."

Carol grinned and laughed. "Yeah ... he did. Boy, he would have liked you."

The smaller woman returned the grin easily, grateful she could give some honor to the memory of her companion's father. They were interrupted by a loud knocking on the front door. Carol scowled.

"What time is it?"

Erin looked to the clock at the bedside, it was almost ten and she told her friend that.

"Let's go see what's up."

It was with poorly disguised dismay that Carol opened the door and let her partner and another man step into the house.

"Randell? What can I do for you? It's late," Carol said quietly. She nodded her head towards the other man. "Will."

Erin stood at the end of the hallway, very much wanting to slip back into the officer's room and wait for her there. She didn't like the looks of this. But Randell glanced down the corridor before the blonde had the opportunity to enact her plan. She couldn't read the look on his face as anything but a sneer.

"You have company," Carol's partner said slowly.

"Yeah," the dark woman acknowledged, holding her arm towards Erin. "This is my friend Erin. Erin, this is my partner Randell and another officer, Will."

"We've met," Randell replied, tracking his eyes from the blonde, to Carol, and then to the man who'd accompanied him. "Carol arrested Erin at that demonstration last week."

Will smirked. "Sleeping with the enemy, huh?" Though his comment was meant more as a joke than anything, Carol paled slightly at the near accuracy of his words.

"What can I do for you guys?" Carol asked softly.

"Oh," Randell brushed by the tall woman, obviously having been in the house before. He walked into the living room and planted himself on the couch, Will followed suit. Carol motioned with her head that Erin should follow but the smaller woman shook her head.

Carol went down the hall and took her hand. "C'mon," she whispered. "They're all bluff and blunder. You'll be fine."

"They already hate me and they don't even know me," Erin continued to shake her head, walking reluctantly behind the dark woman as Carol tugged her along. "I don't want to be a target for their hatred."

"Then let them see you and not what you wear or what you represent," Carol said reasonably.

Logic won out and Erin entered the room slightly in front of her friend, crossing over to the fireplace and sitting on a large wing backed chair tucked into the corner. Carol smirked at her companion's choice of seats which was farthest from the men, then sat on the loveseat beside them.

"We want to talk about the shooting," Randell said immediately.

Carol blanched. Maybe having Erin hide out in the bedroom wasn't such a bad idea after all. But one glance at the small woman let Carol know her interest was piqued and she was here to stay. The dark woman grimaced inwardly, she hadn't thought of the shooting all day. She'd been too preoccupied with looking forward to her date with Erin and then Erin herself once they'd met in the evening. She certainly didn't want to think about it now.

"I meet with the big man on Monday," Carol offered, shrugging one shoulder. "What is there to talk about?"

"What did you see?" Randell asked, trying for levity but not quite getting there.

"You know what I saw, Randell."

"The kid had a knife," he smiled. "You know that. Every cop on the scene knew that."

"What did the witnesses say?"

"That I was an officer of peace doing my job," the smile was more plastic than the deck chairs Carol could see through the sliding glass door in the dining room.

The dark woman sensed her young friend bristle at the obvious lie and wished these men away and for her evening to continue without their annoying presence. She stood up. "I'll only report what I saw, Randell," Carol said softly. "Now if you'll excuse us?"

The men stood slowly and reluctantly. Then they turned towards the hallway, followed by Carol and a lingering Erin.

Will's hand was resting on the doorknob when Randell turned around, raising himself to his full height. "True officers stick together, Carol," he said precisely, his eyes saying more than the words. "There's no room on this force for hippie-lovin' women who don't have the guts to handle a tough situation properly."

The words angered Carol visibly. Her shoulders tensed and her ice blue eyes seemed to shoot flames to the man who was no taller than she was. "I won't be a party to a murder," she said through gritted teeth.

"If I were you," Randell said over his shoulder, following Will out onto the front step. "I'd think long and hard about what's going to happen Monday." He pulled the door closed behind him.

Carol locked it then leaned forward, her forehead on the cool wood. She took deep calming breaths and jumped at Erin's presence when the young blonde touched her hunched back gently.

"Carol?" Erin whispered, realizing now how little her friend had revealed the night before and how desperate her situation might be.

"M'okay," Carol responded with little conviction.

"You're gonna lose your job, aren't you?"

Carol shrugged, turned around to lean her back against the door. "Prob'ly," she sighed. "My Dad would be so disappointed."

So much was revealed to Erin in that one sentence. Carol was proud of her job and the ability it gave her to legally help others. Carol made a difference to at least one person every single day, just like her father had before her. She'd likely joined the force so he'd be proud of her, show her around, talk about her fondly. Now she was in danger of losing that tie to him and a job that had become a large part of her life. "No, no, Carol," Erin whispered softly, sparing a smile for her friend. "He'll be so proud of you for doing what's right. So proud of you for being stronger than them."

"I hope so," Carol's voice was strangled.

"I know so," Erin encouraged, reaching out a gentle hand to rub the taller woman's side affectionately.

"You never knew him," Carol disagreed, confused and frightened, unable to let the younger woman's words penetrate.

"But I know you, Carol. And it takes a great man to raise such a wonderful woman all by himself."

Carol grinned weakly and pulled the small blonde in for a tight hug.

"Do you want to tell me the whole story?"

The dark woman took a deep breath, letting it shudder out of her. "Can we not do it as cop and hippie?"

Erin pushed back to peer at her friend's face and appeared slightly wounded. "Who and who?" she teased gently. "I was thinking we could talk about it just you and me."

The officer smiled gratefully. "How 'bout some coffee?"

 

Chapter 11

The table in the well-lit kitchen was green Formica banded around the edge with ribbed metal. Erin ran her finger's idly along the cool raised surface, shifting to get more comfortable in the matching green vinyl chair. There was a more formal wooden table in the next room but it seemed cozier here in the gentle colors of the kitchen, listening to the coffee percolate.

Carol hadn't said a word since pulling out the chair for her young companion. She was lost in replaying the scene of the shooting so she may better be able to explain it to the attentive blonde. The fact that she hadn't been prompted into beginning her story slightly surprised the dark woman and she turned around and rested her eyes on the small figure sitting at her table. The blonde grinned at her gently, nearly oozing support.

"Coffee smells good," Erin spoke softly, breaking the tension around them. She could feel the awkwardness and uncertainty in the tall figure across the room. Though they'd argued before about Carol's profession, and though the small blonde didn't agree in any way, shape, or form with the establishment that had sucked up her friend, she knew this was not the time to raise those points again. Carol was worried, confused. She needed a friend who would hear her out and help her reach a life-altering decision. Erin prided herself in her ability to be a friend to this woman who was her absolute opposite.

"Did you decorate the house?" Erin tried another conversation starter, letting green eyes wander across the wallpaper border and eggshell paint.

"No," Carol said, turning her back again under the ruse of searching for something in the cupboards. "My mom did. My dad kept the place up as she'd designed it. The picket fence, the shutters, the wallpapers."

Erin nodded, then vocalized since her companion was still facing away. "It's nice."

Carol shrugged. "It's all I know her by ... her decorating tastes. Isn't that funny?"

"No," Erin disagreed, finding it more sad than funny, but knowing the dark woman would bristle at her sympathy. "You can tell a lot from a person by the way they dress or how they surround themselves."

"Yeah?" Carol poured the mugs and sat in the chair opposite her friend.

"Sure."

"What can you tell about me?"

"You wear a uniform," Erin grinned recklessly. "I sense some sort of authority about you."

Though she tried not to, Carol grinned as well. "No. This me," she indicated herself with a wave of one large hand.

"Ah. You're a strong person with independent thought. You don't love often, but you do it deeply and remember it always," Erin whispered, reaching a hand out to squeeze the other woman's muscular forearm. "You're lonely sometimes, you feel you don't fit in at the station or here. This place is more your parents and very little you, but you feel like it would betray their memories to change it. In fact, I bet you'd rather live somewhere else entirely."

Carol's sapphire eyes widened with surprise. "Wow," she stammered. "You're pretty good at that."

Erin smirked, shrugged a slim shoulder. "What can I say? I'm gifted."

"And humble."

"Artists rarely are."

Carol smiled and nodded, dropping her gaze to the slender pale fingers contrasting against her tanned arm. "I'd love to see your work."

"We can arrange that," the blonde said softly, withdrawing her hand to wrap it firmly around her mug. She took a sip, let the biting warmth course easily down her throat. It felt right, somehow, to be here with this woman, sharing their souls.

"So what's your story? If I were gifted, what would I see in you?" Carol asked at last, letting the silence string between them for several long seconds. It was a bold question, really. People didn't like to evaluate themselves, it was hard enough to hear what others saw in you, let alone admit your weaknesses yourself. She thought Erin might decline. She should have known better.

"I run a lot. From my family, from my past, from things that scare me. To escape that part of me, I grasp onto ideals and don't let go. I'll fight to death for what I perceive as another's rights but I won't pick up the phone and call my mother," she shrugged sheepishly, her voice low and rich while unraveling the tale. "I believe in what I stand for ... but I don't quite fit in either. Not in that big loud house with the peeling paint and the crumbling people. Half of whom don't even know or care about the cause they fight for ... as long as they get to fight. I like a lot, love very little ... am afraid to let go." She finished her assessment and glanced to the searching blue eyes before her. She saw undeniable affection in them.

Carol smiled. "You are gifted."

Erin chuckled, drank more coffee. "Now tell me, Carol," she prompted gently, feeling the time had come.

The dark woman sighed deeply and rotated her shoulders as if warming up to pitch a fast ball. Maybe she was, maybe she needed this to be quick and dirty.

When she started to talk, Erin realized that's exactly what she'd planned. Though absolutely factual and riveting, the dark woman's depiction held little emotion. Erin let it go, recognizing it for the distancing it was. Carol finished in a few scant minutes and studied the swirl in the Formica table top.

"There was no knife in Jimmy's pocket?"

"No," Carol whispered. "I know there wasn't."

"He didn't threaten to hurt anyone?"

"No. He said he'd rather kill us than accept my charity. Or something like that ... he'd cut us ... or something."

"It's hard to remember now exactly what happened," Erin acknowledged softly and the dark head nodded.

"But I know there was no knife. I know Jimmy was frustrated and frantic and felt cornered. He was arguing and talking big, about his rights and how we couldn't deny them."

"He's right," Erin said before she could catch herself. She'd not intended to mount the soapbox during this discussion. The blonde grimaced, emerald eyes shining with apology.

Carol offered her friend a reassuring smile. "No, you're right. I knew that. I could have done better."

"No," the smaller woman shook her head fiercely. "No, Carol. You tried harder than any of them. You probably saved that boy's life."

Carol sighed, silently reminding herself that Jimmy could still die. "I don't know what they'll do when I turn on them," she whispered, swirling her coffee by moving the mug. The rippling motion seemed to have her full attention.

"Sometimes it's harder to do the right thing, honey," Erin said gently, the endearment slipping off her tongue with amazing familiarity.

"Yeah."

"Do you have any doubts about what you'll say? Do you think you might ... um," the blonde chose her words carefully, "see their side of the story?"

Carol glanced up immediately, narrowing those blue eyes as she surveyed her companion. "I won't lie for those bastards. I just don't think it'll make a difference."

"Don't know until you try."

"S'pose not," Carol agreed reluctantly, knowing her ethics would never have allowed her to relay a different story from the one she'd just told. Her boss would get the same one in a little over 24 hours. She glanced up at the round clock hanging on the kitchen wall. She hated that clock with the silly goose wearing a bonnet as the face decoration. It was nearing midnight.

Erin took the hint, knowing Carol was all talked out and there really hadn't been a decision to make anyway. She finished her coffee and stood to rinse out the cup. "I should go ... I'm sure you're tired."

Had she been facing the dark woman she would have seen the wrinkled brow and confused expression. "Do you want to go?" she asked hesitantly. Had she frightened the smaller woman off? Was the reality of being with her suddenly too much?

Erin took a breath and turned to face her friend. "I'd like to stay," she said softly. "But I'll understand if you need me to leave. I can get back to the house on my own."

Carol rose from her seat with confidence, reaching around the smaller woman and depositing her mug in the sink as well. She made every effort to touch Erin with her arm in passing. Then she leaned forward and pressed her forehead to the fair one before her. "I would love it if you stayed with me tonight. No strings, you're not promising anything by staying."

Erin sighed and closed her eyes, feeling the heat of the woman's breath and the warmth of the skin of her forehead. "I wouldn't mind."

"Staying?"

"Promising," the blonde whispered.

"Let's go to bed," Carol tugged gently at Erin's hand, leading the smaller woman through the house and turning off lights as they went until they were back in the raven-haired woman's room.

They changed quietly, Carol turning her back to undress and slip on a nightshirt. Erin slid off her jeans and replaced her sweatshirt with the T-shirt the dark woman had provided. Then they slipped into the bed and Carol flipped off the lamp on the nightstand. The silence was nearly deafening.

"Can I hold you?" Erin whispered at last and Carol chortled softly, scooting closer and gathering the smaller woman in an embrace.

"Better?"

"Yeah." Erin turned into the older woman's arms, resting her head on Carol's shoulder and her arm across a well-muscled stomach.

Carol could feel the hot breath on her neck and realized her heart was pounding and she wasn't nearly as sleepy as she thought she was.

The blonde took a deep breath and resituated, her legs rustling faintly against the sheets as she tossed her right leg over her companion's thigh.

Carol jumped slightly at the warm sensation.

"Sorry," Erin whispered and began to withdraw but Carol stopped her with a large warm hand on the small woman's thigh.

"S'okay," she murmured. "I like it." She dipped her head and was not surprised when Erin lifted up slightly to meet her seeking lips.

It started chaste, just as it had before. Slowly, it turned into something more with each shared breath, exploring more deeply.

"I can't believe how you make me feel," Erin murmured between kisses. She shifted her weight so she lay more fully atop the longer woman.

"Mmm," was all Carol could manage but it was obviously agreement. The T-shirt Erin wore was too big and canted off one shoulder at a pleasing angle, giving the dark woman easy access to the smooth fair skin just above the blonde's breast and towards her collarbone. She kissed there lavishly, applying tongue and teeth until Erin was moaning and squirming restlessly. Then Carol returned to the tempting open mouth to kiss her again.

"Carol," Erin muttered and it was more of an affirmation than a plea or a query. The confidence of it allowed Carol to gain the nerve to run a large hand from where it had been resting at the small of the blonde's back, up her side, and towards her front where she cupped Erin's breast.

The hippie gasped, arching her neck back and giving Carol access to the column of her throat. The dark woman took the invitation gladly, sucking on the throbbing pulse point.

Carol savored each moment. She relished the salty taste of Erin's skin, the musky scent that was part her, part laundry detergent, part arousal. The breast in her hand was pliant and warm, the tip of the nipple screaming forth into the T-shirt fabric and wanting more attention. She'd never imagined making love with a woman, in fact hadn't really put much thought into making love at all. Her attention had always been on doing well in school, and then at the Academy, and then proving herself to her father. But now, suddenly, holding and touching this woman was all that she'd hoped for and more.

For her part, Erin was lost in sensations and emotions, melting into the warm body beneath her, getting lost in the delicate touch. She slid her hands down Carol's front and under her shirt to rest on the well-muscled abdomen she found there, the heels of her palms laying lightly on the elastic waistband of the other woman's underwear. The dark woman's skin was warm and soft, the muscles twitching under Erin's searching fingertips as they ventured upwards to stroke the underside of Carol's breasts.

First the covers were too restricting and were discarded to expose their intertwined bodies to the slatted moonlight coming in through the blinds and curtains. The pattern was delicate on the fair blonde's hair, striping her with gold-laced silver. Then clothing became too much and Carol tugged at the T-shirt, broke away from her partner with a raised eyebrow, requesting permission.

Erin hesitated just long enough for the answer to be clear to the officer. They had wanted to slow down. They'd both agreed to that only the night before. Carol smiled warmly, not wanting the young woman to feel awkward even though this reaction was somewhat surprising after the blonde's readiness in the park only hours before. The cop smoothed the shirt back down and tightened her embrace, settling Erin snugly against her. She tucked the blonde head into the nape of her neck and stroked golden hair as they both fought for breath.

"I'm sorry," Erin murmured, her lips moving against Carol's neck, pausing to place a kiss there.

"Shhh," the dark woman countered, squeezing her young friend even closer. "Nothing to be sorry for. We agreed to slow down, right?"

"Yeah," Erin whispered. "God ... it's so much. Feeling you, touching you. Like I'm alive for the first time."

Carol chuckled softly, bouncing the slight body on top of hers and parting blonde tresses with the snort of air. "Me too. I never thought I could feel this way."

"Can you sleep with me here?" Erin queried softly. Her small body was only touching the bed at her legs, one between the dark woman's silken thighs and the other on the outside. The rest of her weight was wholly supported by the lengthy body beneath hers.

Carol considered the question, finding the firm weight quite comforting. She felt safe here in this small woman's arms, felt the world couldn't touch them here where their differences were irrelevant in the darkness and the warmth each provided the other. In that respect, she would have no trouble sleeping with the blonde's slight weight on top of her. However, the fact that her blood was singing and her body incredibly sensitized to the woman's touch assured Carol she would remain sleepless for quite some time. The longer she stayed awake the more she could relish this gentle girl's presence. "Yeah," she said at last. "I've never been more comfortable."

"Me either," Erin murmured, snuggling more deeply into the arms surrounding her, inhaling great breaths of Carol-scented air.

"Sleep, sweetheart," Carol crooned, stroking the woman from the top of her blonde head to her lower back. The motion was completely soothing to both of them. After several long moments, Erin's breath evened in sleep. Carol sighed and pressed warm lips to silken hair. "Good lord, I think I love you," the dark woman murmured, surprising herself both with the emotion and the admission.

 

Chapter 12

Carol sighed as the door slammed closed behind her. She knew the entire precinct was watching her every move. Randell glared at her from the side of the large room, close to where their desks were situated. She didn't want to meet his eyes, knowing the fury she would see there and unable to deal with it at this moment.

The desk sergeant muttered something unintelligible when she passed him, but she knew it wasn't good by the snickers from the other officers standing nearby. Unable to decide what to do, the dark-haired cop walked right out the front door so she could be out of the stifling building. She tried to remember the weekend instead, which had been much more pleasant.

She and Erin had slept in, warmly embraced in each other's arms. Then they'd gone downtown for breakfast and a stroll in the open area of shops. The blonde had been animated and energetic, constantly making Carol laugh out loud, often doubling over and fighting for breath. It was at those times that Erin would rest a warm hand on the other woman's back and laugh with her, the connection of souls and bodies too much to deny.

Carol took a deep breath, raising her face to the sky and feeling the sun's warmth drown her. She'd taken Erin home after lunch, kissing her gently and holding her close on the front porch until the sound of Minos clearing her throat had interrupted them. They'd both flushed with embarrassment and said good-bye. Between missing the warm body at her side and dreading this meeting, Carol had slept horribly.

"Hey," a soft familiar voice interrupted her thoughts and Carol opened her eyes to glance down the sidewalk. Erin sat on the curb, wearing a long dress and her hair free of braids again. Carol almost burst into tears at seeing her, the relief so overwhelming.

"Hi," the dark woman responded softly, tugging self-consciously at the uniform she wore. She walked over and sat on the curb next to the blonde.

"You'll get your uniform dirty," Erin admonished gently, bumping the taller woman with her shoulder.

"I don't care," Carol assured her. "Why are you here?"

Erin smiled, reached a hand out to tentatively touch the dark-haired woman's knee. "I thought you could use a friend."

"Yeah," the officer replied gratefully. "I do need a friend."

"Here I am," the blonde murmured.

"Here you are," Carol confirmed. "Thank you, Erin," she whispered, taking a deep breath.

"Was it bad, honey?" Funny how the endearment seemed so natural.

Carol shrugged. "He had me retell the story three times. The first two he hinted that I should change it slightly. The last time he flat out told me."

"And you told the same story?"

"Every time," Carol nodded, covering her face with both her hands.

Erin moved her fingers from the dark woman's knee to take a hand and pull it away so she would be able to see her companion's face. "I'm proud of you, Carol. You did the right thing."

"Then why do I feel so bad?" the officer asked, tilting her head sideways to meet the emerald eyes peering her direction. She found in them affection and compassion. It was almost her undoing.

"Cuz the whole thing just stinks. It's a bad situation any way you look at it."

"No argument here."

They sat silently for a few minutes, soaking in the late morning sunshine.

"How long have you been waiting?" Carol asked suddenly. She'd been in with the Chief for hours. What had started as an inquiry had turned into an inquisition.

Erin shrugged, the corner of her mouth lifting upwards in a smirk. "A while."

"It means a lot to me that you came here ... just to support me," Carol responded softly, squeezing the fingers that were laced within hers.

"Wouldn't be anywhere else," Erin assured her friend with a warm smile. "Do you have some time?"

"Close to lunch?" Carol asked, confirming that when she looked at her watch. "Yeah. I'm supposed to meet with the desk sergeant at one to get my assignment," she grimaced.

"Not good, huh?"

Carol snorted and shook her head. "Prob'ly not. What did you have in mind?"

"You wanted to see some of my work?" Erin asked, standing and tugging at her companion's hand, which she still held.

The dark woman accepted the prompting and stood as well, fairly towering over her smaller friend. "I'd like that a lot. You sure you can take me there like this?" Carol asked, indicating the uniform she wore.

Erin hadn't really thought of that or the questions that would arise if she saw people she knew. But more than anything she wanted to be with Carol. She could sense the dark woman's uneasiness. The morning meeting had shaken her up and she was both depressed and confused. Erin had waited for close to three hours, often questioning the stupidity of sitting on the curb and watching the morning mist break with the rising sun. She'd especially questioned herself when cops had hassled her, threatening to take her in. She'd agreed to leave only because she wanted to be here for Carol, not in another jail cell. So she walked around the block and regained her seat once they'd left.

During all this time the only thing she'd thought about was how much Carol would need her and how much she needed to be there for her friend. She hadn't considered what would happen now. How she wanted to embrace her companion and kiss her, wipe away the fears and uncertainty she knew lingered there. How that would be awkward for both of them in their separate circles. Finally, Erin raised green eyes to her companion, meeting dubious blue. "I don't care what anyone thinks, Carol," she affirmed softly. "Let's go."

Carol smiled and followed the younger woman down the sidewalk towards the college campus.

XXXXX

Erin led her friend slowly across campus, chatting the entire way about the weather or activities at the house. The ongoing babbling was welcome, the young woman's lilting voice easy on the officer's rattled nerves and soothing her immensely.

Carol provided comments where necessary but otherwise allowed the walk's conversation to belong solely to the blonde at her side.

They walked through the Student Union towards the back of the building where Erin opened the door for her friend, ushering her into a room which served as a gallery for student art. Carol followed willingly, stepping just inside the room and waiting for Erin to come to her side.

"This way," the smaller woman encouraged, leading her companion towards some paintings on the back wall and standing silently in front of them. Carol tilted her head, studying the signature first and then the art itself. There were three pieces side by side, all were signed simply with Sky. One was of sunrise coming over the college campus, washing the buildings in orange and red. The common grass areas should have been open and green but instead were littered with lifeless bodies, each calm as if sleeping. But the flavor was different, the question remained whether the crowd was sleeping off an overindulged night or dead where they lay.

The next painting was of a child, long brown hair and deep brown eyes, wearing a blue gingham dress. She was sitting in the grass in front of headstone, hugging a stuffed bear in her arms. The bear wore a uniform, the grave presumably belonged to her father. The emotions and expressions in the child's face were nearly tangible and touched Carol deeply. She turned to the young woman who was looking at the paintings as well. "That's amazing," the officer said softly. "You're very talented."

Erin blushed and shrugged her shoulders. "I paint what I feel. My drawings are better ... oil and water color really aren't my preferred medium." She pointed to the third piece of art hanging with the others. It was a charcoal drawing of Rainbow at the park, bandana around his neck, tongue lolling freely.

Carol smiled at the familiarity of the work. "Do you have a drawing of the little girl?"

The blonde nodded. "Have drawings of all my paintings. They start there."

"I'd like to see it. What do you call it?"

Erin shook her head. "I don't name them. Gives them preconceived interpretations, don't you think? I want people to get what they can out of them, not what I think they should."

The dark woman pursed her lips in thought and nodded. The rationalization made sense.

"There ya go!" Erin shrugged, turned to her friend.

"It's wonderful, Erin. I really am impressed," Carol smiled, running a warm hand down the blonde's arm. "Is there more?"

"Not here. I sell some from time to time. There's a small private gallery downtown that has one but it's not one of my favorites. One in another place on campus. The rest I keep at home."

Carol glanced at the works one more time, her eyes lingering on the mourning child, before stepping back and walking towards the door. "Lunch before I go back?"

"Sounds good," Erin agreed readily, following her friend through the Union and back out to the daylight.

They agreed on a deli down the street and were silent for the small journey, ordering their sandwiches and taking seats on the small outdoor patio. "I checked on Jimmy," Erin said cautiously, not sure that Carol would want to talk about this.

"Chief said they didn't know about him."

Erin nodded. "They don't think he's going to make it. I guess the bullet did extensive damage to his stomach and spleen. It nicked his spinal cord on the way out."

Carol took a deep breath and swallowed it, knew her eyes were welling with tears. "Thanks for finding out for me."

The blonde reached a hand out and touched Carol's arm. "It's not your fault, honey. You know that."

"Seems like I should have been able to prevent it. Has he been conscious?"

"No. And there were a couple of uniforms crawling around."

Carol snorted, slowly chewing a bite of her turkey sandwich before responding. "They're probably waiting to tell him what happened when he wakes up. Arrest him or something."

"The blood work came back clean," Erin provided.

This caught the officer's attention and she looked at her friend. "How did you get that information?"

"I'm pretty persuasive when I want to be," the blonde grinned. "He wasn't on anything, that much was evident."

They ate in silence for several long minutes. "Was it really bad?" Erin asked softly. "Your boss? Was he hard on you?"

One broad shoulder shrugged. "He knows I was telling the truth. He also doesn't care. I'm sure they'll clear Randell and make me a desk jockey or something."

"I think Randell's an asshole."

"I think you're a smart woman," Carol leaned forward conspiratorially.

Erin laughed, watched her friend finish off her sandwich and soda, then wipe her mouth. The blonde did the same.

"Walk me back?"

"Love to," the smaller woman smiled, falling into pace beside the dark officer.

They stopped outside the station, standing awkwardly and watching each other. "Are you gonna be okay?"

Touched by her young friend's concern, Carol nodded. "Yeah," she paused. "You up for dinner tonight? I'd love to see you," the officer asked the question sheepishly, her pale eyes bouncing from the small woman to the buildings across the street.

Erin smiled warmly, reaching out to tangle her fingers with Carol's and squeeze gently. "Same here. Can I come to your house about six?"

"Sure. How do you get around anyway?"

"I've got feet," the blonde said with mock indignation.

Carol raised one dark eyebrow until it was hidden in her bangs.

"And a bus pass," Erin relented with a grin.

They took a few steps apart as Carol started towards the front door. Then she stopped suddenly and turned around. "Erin?"

The blonde stopped and turned as well. "Yeah?"

"If ... if you wanted to stay ... tonight ... that would be great."

The small woman smiled, the grin nearly swallowing her face. "Okay."

Carol returned the smile and started back towards the station. She took a deep breath and steeled herself for the worst.

XXXXX

Top of her class at the academy, medals of valor since she'd come on duty, and here she was filing papers. Carol growled darkly into the small archive room, shuffling through the manila folders she held and placing the appropriate ones on top of the 'A-E' filing cabinet. The rest she set aside for later perusal.

It had taken only a minute for the desk sergeant to lead her back here and gruffly explain filing and archiving. Being a 'good ole boy's' shop and filing being a job for a woman, there were literally years of it backlogged, sitting in stacks throughout the small room. First she'd gone through the filing cabinet and pulled out all the files over ten years old to put them in boxes labeled to go to records. Now she was just starting on the piles of work. She'd decided to do the alphabet a section at a time because the entire thing was just too daunting otherwise.

Frustrated, the officer ran a hand through her bangs, grateful at least that the station had air conditioning or this small room would be unbearable. Check that, more unbearable. She looked at her watch with some relief, realizing that in about twenty minutes she could head home and start dinner for Erin. She was planning to spend the night with the small woman and forget about work and its draining drudgery. Suddenly, life didn't seem so bad after all and she caught herself actually grinning and she filed away the folder on Daniels.

She stopped at the grocery store on the way and let herself into the small house while juggling two brown paper bags. She'd never thought to ask what her young friend liked or didn't like but knew a couple of safe items from their few meals together. So she'd planned on grilling chicken and having a pasta salad. With that thought in mind, she went right through the house, placing the bags on the kitchen counter, out the back door to start up the grill. Once the flames were licking at black coals, she went back to her room to change out of her uniform and into jean shorts and a T-shirt. She still had about thirty minutes until Erin was due so she went to work boiling pasta and cutting up fresh vegetables to go into it.

The doorbell rang not too much later and Carol set down her knife, wiping her hands on a convenient dishtowel, before walking down the short hallway. She opened the door to reveal Erin standing on the stoop. The blonde grinned and held up a bag, which Carol took as she motioned her inside.

"Hey," the officer said softly, bending to place a very gentle kiss on the woman's fair cheek.

"Hi," green eyes flashed a smile as Erin placed her palm on Carol's taut stomach. "Smell's great."

"We'll see. Come in, come in. There's iced tea in the refrigerator, help yourself." Walking behind the woman back to the kitchen, Carol opened the bag slightly and peeked inside. "What did you bring?"

"Dessert. Better put it in the freezer."

Carol grinned as she placed the four individually wrapped ice cream sandwiches next to the ice cube trays. "Great idea."

"Hot today," the blonde said lamely, grimacing slightly at her awkwardness as she poured herself a tall glass of ice tea and topped off Carol's.

"Sure was. Did you have class this afternoon?"

"Yeah. Professor let us sit on the lawn for it, though. So that was cool. Those stupid old class rooms don't even have working fans," Erin said with distaste.

"Yuck," Carol agreed, resuming her position at the counter chopping vegetables. "Chicken's about ready to go on the grill," she motioned with her knife to the breasts which were in a shallow bowl soaking in dark brown teriyaki sauce.

Erin nodded silently, taking a seat at the small table and running her fingers through the condensation on her glass.

Suddenly Carol realized that the blonde had only been carrying the bag of ice cream sandwiches. She couldn't help the feeling of disappointment and it must have shown on her face because Erin's brow wrinkled slightly.

"What's wrong?" the girl asked slowly.

Carol tried to shrug it off. It wasn't a big deal if Erin didn't want to stay. "Nothing."

"Unh unh," the hippie shook her head. "Tell me."

The officer grinned sheepishly, pausing in her slicing lest she lose a fingertip due to her distracted state. "I thought you were staying the night. But you didn't bring anything."

Erin chuckled dryly, taking a drink of tea. "I didn't realize it was a slumber party. I brought me and a toothbrush," she patted a large checkered pocket on her dress. "Should I have brought more?"

The dark woman blushed imperceptibly, feeling foolish. "No, of course not. I thought you might have changed your mind."

"Nope," Erin paused a minute while she looked around the clean room, taking in again the decorations she'd seen over the weekend. "Have you?" she asked suddenly, turning her attention back to Carol's long form where the woman had resumed slicing a cucumber.

"Nope," Carol chuckled. "We're pretty pathetic, aren't we?"

Erin laughed, nodding. "I've never really ... cared before ... if someone liked me or not," she admitted hesitantly.

"Well, relax. Because I like you."

"You relax, too," the blonde responded, finishing her tea quickly and standing for more. She paused by the chicken. "Should I put this on?"

Carol glanced over her shoulder at the boiling pasta. "Few more minutes," she decided after some thought.

With a nod, Erin continued to the refrigerator to refill her glass. After she was seated again, she decided to broach the touchy subject that had been eating at her. "How was your afternoon?"

Carol paused a moment in her slicing before she continued. She finished the cucumber and moved the pasta to a cold burner before she responded. "Coulda been worse."

"Coulda been better?"

She shrugged. "Sure. Randell went out on our beat with some rookie. I got to spend the afternoon in the filing room."

"Doing what?" Erin asked, fearing her friend had sat in the corner like a punished child.

"Umm ... filing," Carol responded with a grin. "Filing ... room ... you put files in there." She drained the pasta in a colander and ran cold water over it, tossing the tight curls and letting the water run all through it.

Erin let out a sigh of relief. "Were they nice to you?"

Carol just cast her an awed look.

"Okay ... were they not mean to you?" the blonde grinned.

"You're good at that."

"At what?"

"Word nuances," Carol replied, tossing the pasta with the freshly cut vegetables and then a light Italian dressing.

"Thanks ... I think," Erin looked at her in puzzlement.

"No, they weren't mean. Just not friendly. Not that they ever were, but now it's cold. I imagine they're trying to figure out how to get me transferred out of the station."

"Will they fire you?"

"If I don't keep my nose clean. I'm sure they're looking for any excuse. I have an appointment at the shooting range tomorrow for recertification. Hmmm ... what a coincidence."

"When did you find out about that?"

"After lunch," Carol knelt in front of the refrigerator to clear a spot for the salad, then she slid the large glass bowl inside. Then she moved across the kitchen to the back door, leaving it open when she went to toss the chicken on the grill. "Come out here and sit," she called.

Erin obliged, finding the grill situated on a small wooden deck. Two nylon chairs sat with their backs to the house and Erin took one of them, cradling her glass of ice tea in her palms. Silence reigned for several long minutes.

"What are you thinking?" Carol asked at last, taking the chair next to Erin's and leaning back in it.

Erin quirked a grin and looked at her companion's profile before looking across the small backyard. "I'm thinking I should come up with something really supportive to say but the truth is I can't. I know that you're one of the few officers who cares about all of us but I also know it's an establishment of closed minds and brutal training."

"You think it's a good thing this all happened?" Carol asked softly, her eyes closed as her head tilted back to welcome the sun's rays.

"No ... I mean ... it's not a bad thing. It's an opportunity for change and growth. You've stood up for yourself and your beliefs."

"And where did it get me?" Carol groaned.

"Don't give me that self-pitying bullshit, Carol," Erin said crossly. "You know you made the right decision. I'm only sorry the Force wasn't what you wanted it to be. If it were, I may not be who I am."

"Whaddya mean?"

"I wouldn't be anti-establishment. I wouldn't be participating in demonstrations and sit-ins and doing my best to hamper your colleagues," she grinned recklessly. "I'm not an idiot. I'm not one of those potheads looking for a cause. I'm educated and down to earth and I believe in a cause worth fighting for."

"The greater good," the dark-haired woman murmured.

"Ah. You have been listening," she paused, attempting to lighten the mood. "Of course a good toke has its benefits."

Carol laughed, eyes still closed. "I know you're not an idiot, Erin. You're intelligent and creative, you have a great depth of understanding and acceptance. But what I can't figure out is how you ended up here, with Minos and the others."

"It's where I want to be," Erin shrugged, puzzled. "I like Minos and the house and the classes I take. What I do, I do for me, not because I don't have a choice. I've chosen this, all of it: the drugs, the rallies, the lifestyle. I'm happy where I am."

"What about your parents?" Carol asked carefully.

"Fuck 'em," the blonde replied flippantly. "Is that chicken done yet?"

Taking the not-so-subtle hint, Carol let the subject drop again. She felt rather like an open book to the young blonde, whereas she still knew very little about the hippie. "Lemme check," the officer said, rising to her feet and moving towards the grill. On her way past Erin's chair, she felt a feather light touch near her elbow. She glanced down into vibrant green eyes that flashed apology. Carol simply smiled and ran her fingers gently through the woman's bangs before resuming her trip to the grill.

"I'm just not ready ... to talk about them ..." Erin said slowly.

The dark woman waved her off with one hand while poking the meat with a fork in the other. "No sweat, Erin. You don't owe me anything. We're here for dinner and some company, right?"

"Yeah. Thanks."

After dinner, they sat on the couch in the downstairs TV room where the cement basement walls kept the room pleasantly chilly. Carol had scrounged up a notebook and pencil for Erin and watched the young woman intently as she sketched everything from daisies to skyscrapers. It turned into a game of sorts, Carol calling out items and Erin drawing them in sure gentle strokes. The officer was completely astounded by the young woman's talent.

Erin was tucked solidly into Carol, the taller woman having one arm across her midsection and the other in her lap. Carol's mouth was only inches from Erin's ear, the soft breath when she spoke all but distracting the young artist.

"Horse."

"Easy," Erin chastised, sketching the lines quickly and fluidly, giving her horse a diamond on his forehead and some spots over his haunches. "Challenge me," she said, putting some final wisps into his tail.

"Umm ... a field in the winter," the dark-haired woman replied smugly, quite proud of herself. How did one draw a field of snow with a pencil and nothing else?

Erin nodded slowly, flipping the page and setting to work. Carol watched the pencil tip dance across the paper, tilting her head when the image didn't make sense and she couldn't follow the young woman's train of thought. Then, slowly, she saw it: a field with a tree dripping icicles, patches of snow mingled with dead grass, an overturned wooden wheelbarrow blanketed in a carpet of snow. The young artist even sketched in the grain of the wheelbarrow and footprints from it. She penciled the bark of the tree, added her short signature across the bottom corner.

Carol gasped softly, causing the blonde to grin. "You are amazing."

"Thanks."

"This is what you should do for a living."

The hippie shrugged. "Nah. This is what I do for my heart. Give me another one." She was enjoying the challenge and the camaraderie.

Taking the hint that harder subjects were better, Carol pondered a moment. "Here we go. A soccer team of young boys who've just lost their first game."

"Good one," Erin nodded approvingly and dove into the request.

They passed the evening like that, wrapped in each other and listening to the television drone on while they merely absorbed the sense of belonging they'd both been missing so terribly.

Later, they made their way to Carol's bedroom, changing into nightclothes and crawling into bed. Hesitantly, they snuggled next to each other.

"Thank you for coming over," Carol murmured, tightening her hold on the blonde, relishing the feeling of her body touching along the length of the smaller woman.

Erin grinned, rolled her head slightly so she could kiss Carol's shoulder. "Thank you for asking me."

"I didn't sleep well last night," the officer admitted sheepishly.

"You were worried about your meeting today, that's understandable," Erin acknowledged.

"And I missed you," Carol whispered, having trouble confessing the feelings.

"I missed you, too," Erin responded. "We'll both sleep better tonight."

 

Chapter 13

"Are you sure about this?" Carol asked, looking over her shoulder on several occasions.

Carol and Erin hadn't seen each other since the morning following their dinner and had agreed over the phone last night on lunch today. Erin had claimed the food at the cafeteria was the best in town. The place was packed as they stood in line, waiting to pay for their sandwiches and sodas. The officer could feel all eyes upon her. She could honestly say she had never felt more uncomfortable in her life. Even the third day of her boring filing assignment was fun compared to the eyes of the students boring into her back now.

"Relax," Erin soothed. "They don't bite. Honest."

Carol smiled. Erin had a way of calming her like no one else ever did. The cop had heard just this morning that Jimmy had died in the night of his wounds and needed, more than she wanted to admit, Erin's soothing presence to assuage her rattled nerves. It turned out Erin had also heard the unpleasant news and was equally drawn to the dark woman, needing to offer her silent support. Though Jimmy's name hadn't yet come up, and wasn't likely to, it was in the back of both women's minds as they absorbed each other's presence.

When they reached the cashier, Carol started to dig into her pocket.

"No," Erin insisted. "You made dinner the other night." She handed over the bills to the cashier who now had a raised eyebrow. "Is there a problem?" Erin asked the cashier bluntly.

"No. No problem."

"Good then you can keep the change," Erin smiled. "Come on. Follow me," she told Carol.

Carol obeyed. They were on Erin's turf now and it was best if she let the honey-haired woman lead. They walked down a long corridor, paper-sacked lunches in hand.

"Here," Erin said as she came to a lazy stop. She pointed to a framed picture on the wall. The colors were brilliant and the contrasts had no distinguishable features.

"What's this?" Carol asked.

"It's one of my other works."

Carol didn't know what to make of it and she cocked her head from one side to the other - wondering just what the hell it was. One thing was certain, it wasn't like the other paintings she'd already seen or the sketches they'd played with just a few nights before. Finally, she decided to ask.

"What the hell is that?" Carol chuckled dryly, shaking her head.

Erin joined her laughter, not offended in the least. She'd expected such a reaction after Carol had seen her other work.

Erin chuckled again. "It's modern abstract art ... Kind of like Warhol's work ... that bastard," she swore under her breath.

Carol laughed. She'd never heard Erin swear outside of topics concerning her parents. It was kind of endearing and humanizing. "I take it you don't like Andy's work then," Carol responded with a grin.

"Oh I loved his work at one time. Minos met him at a party on campus when he was up here a few years back. They talked about art. She shared some sketches. Son-of-a-bitch, he stole her soup can idea!"

"You mean the Campbell thing with the-

"Yeah! Dirty prick. Makes me wonder how many other works of his are original. Maybe he just goes campus to campus and steals ideas."

"Why didn't she say anything?" Carol asked.

"Who's gonna listen to a college freshman. Honestly?"

"Ya got a point," Carol said going back to examining the work. After a few moments Carol turned back to Erin, "I like it," she announced.

"Oh really?" Erin asked skeptically.

Carol paused a moment. "No, I'm just trying not to offend you," Carol laughed nervously. "Look I'm sure it's a wonderful abstract painting. I'm just ..."

"Not into abstract art?" Erin offered.

"Exactly!" Carol sighed.

"Good, cuz neither am I," the hippie grinned. "I did this piece sophomore year and my instructor just loved it. Many famous painters line the walls here," Erin added with a wave down the corridor. "Since he loved it who was I to say no, I gave it to the University. Maybe someday the fact my name is on this it will mean something."

"You said before you didn't want to do this as a living?" Carol asked, indicating the painting with one large hand.

"I'm majoring in political science and communications. I have dreams of my art being something some day, but I'm not a dummy," she grinned.

Carol reached out and stroked the length of Erin's arm. "Dreams are wonderful, I think if we stop dreaming we stop living."

"Honestly?" Erin questioned with a raised eyebrow.

"Oh, absolutely." Carol replied quickly. "Why do you ask?"

"You didn't strike me as a dreamer, Carol. You seem so deep in reality is all."

"Perhaps, but everyone should have dreams," Carol answered.

Erin came within inches of Carol looking up into the deep blue of the officer's eyes. "And what about you Carol? What are your dreams?"

Carol let out a ragged sigh. "To be the best cop I can be. To be a leader of men and women. But with all the things that are happening ... well, it feels like my dreams are dying before my very eyes."

The reality of Carol's predicament almost knocked Erin off her feet. She knew the situation looked grim but it was more than just Carol's occupation - Carol's dreams were fading too. And Carol was right. Dreams are what keep us going. But in the same light, dreams can change. The dark woman had remained somewhat stoic about the change in assignments and the treatment from her co-workers but Erin could tell how much it bothered her.

"But you know what, Carol?" Erin said trying her damnedest to sound optimistic. "We can always re-invent our dreams, adapt them to fit our life."

"Yeah," Carol grinned trying to put up a good front. "You know what I'm dreaming right now?"

"What's that?" Erin asked playfully, trying to keep the course Carol was setting.

"I'm dreaming of a ham on rye," she said, waving her bag. "Let's eat!"

Erin laughed lightly and took Carol by the hand, leading her to the exit. "I know a perfect place by the student union. Let's go."

Moments later they were under a huge weeping willow, eating their lunch - sharing their sandwiches. Carol had to commend Erin's assessment of the cafeteria quality. It was pretty damn good for school food. Heck it was even better than the deli she and Randell often frequented during lunch. They sat finishing up the last of the meal when they noticed Stan making his way over. Erin tensed at first but pushed it down. Carol was the woman she was falling for, uniform or not, and she refused to let the officer's exterior be a problem for her in front of her friends. She certainly didn't want the dark woman to think that she was embarrassed to be seen with her.

"You okay?" he asked suspiciously as he walked up, his eyes shifting between the officer and his friend.

"I'm fine, Stan," Erin replied with a smile. Suddenly her expression shifted to questioning. "Hold on. Aren't you supposed to be in World Geography now?" Erin realized, looking at her watch.

"Yeah, but Minos sent me to find you. I've been looking all morning," he replied. He did a double take on his next glance to Carol. Realization washed over his face: it was the same woman that was in his kitchen. "Oh my God, you're a cop?!" he exclaimed.

Carol and Erin looked at each other and burst out laughing. "No Stan, she's just got a thing for police apparel," Erin said sarcastically between chuckles.

"But don't worry," Carol added calmly, taking a drink of her soda. "It's not contagious."

Erin and Carol looked back at each other and started to laugh again.

"Whoa, man, that's heavy. A cop huh?" he sighed, shaking his head. He looked up to see two sets of eyes burning into him. "I mean it's not bad or anything. I think ... nah, it's kinda groovy," he said nodding his head repeatedly. "So are you two kinda ..." He let the sentence hang, not sure where he wanted to go with it or what he really wanted to say.

"Yeah ..." Erin answered with a bashful grin. "Kinda," she added in after thought. "Anyway, you said you had a message or something."

"Oh yeah! Minos said your mom called about your dad. Or was it your dad called about your mom? Shit, I don't remember. I was half toked when she told me to find you." Stan froze, realized what he just said and in what company he had said it. Erin didn't notice. She was too deep in thought. "Anyway, you're supposed to call home. Gotta run. See ya."

Stan made his way from the pair as Carol grinned and shook her head at the now paranoid message boy. She might have been in the uniform but she wasn't always a cop. Carol was going to make some joking comment to her young companion but the expression on Erin's face altered her words.

"What's wrong Erin?" she found herself saying instead. The girl had grown as white as a sheet in the course of the thirty seconds it had taken Stan to deliver his message.

Erin came back from her thoughts at the sound of Carol's voice. "Do you think you can find your way back without me?"

"Sure," Carol answered, rising up along with Erin. "Is everything all right, sweetheart?" Carol could see Erin was shaken by the message and not just emotionally. Her young love interest was physically vibrating.

"I don't think so," Erin said, a sob teetering on the edge of her voice. "I can't explain now. Can I call you at home later tonight?" The question sounded like a plea.

Carol smoothed large hands over Erin's arms, hoping to calm the young woman's jumping nerves. She'd never seen Erin this unsettled before and it frightened her. She wanted to demand that the blonde tell her everything right then but she kept her voice flat and even.

"You can call me any time you like," she answered instead.

Erin nodded and started to make her way home but Carol couldn't let her leave like that. She stopped Erin and brought her into a tight embrace, nearly crushing the young woman against her.

"I love you," Carol whispered into the honey-hair.

She wasn't sure how it slipped out but it felt so natural and she hoped the confession didn't cause Erin more distress. She was relieved when she felt the woman's tension ease just a bit and her returning grip get firmer. But soon after, the blonde pulled back a few inches, her hands gently tugging Carol's head down.

"I love you, too," Erin returned the whisper. She reaffirmed her words with a light, affectionate kiss to Carol's lips. "I'll call tonight. I promise."

With that Carol let Erin leave her embrace. Only after the girl was out of sight did she make her way back to the station house.

XXXXX

Carol was further frustrated by her treatment in the afternoon. Once she'd successfully completed rearranging the files and boxing up the archives, the desk sergeant had given her another assignment.

"You've got to be kidding me?" she groaned, looking at the slip of paper she held in her right hand. She glanced from the script on the page to the sergeant.

He smiled gleefully, his grizzled appearance actually seeming to soften with the smile. "All yours, Johnson. Do us proud."

"C'mon, now," she complained. "This is rookie stuff."

The sergeant raised one bushy eyebrow. "Are you refusing an assignment, Johnson?"

"Of course not," she replied softly, promising herself she wouldn't complain again, no matter how hard they made it on her.

She checked a black and white out of car pool and made her way to the address on the page. Pulling up in front of the corner store, she shook her head ruefully before sliding out from behind the wheel and closing and locking her door.

"Mr. Barnes?" she called as she opened the door to the small grocery store. "It's Officer Johnson. Hello?" The tall woman closed the door behind her, the jangling of bells disturbing the silence of the store. "Mr. Barnes?"

"In here," he called from the back room and Carol made her way through the main aisle and around the cash register to the storage room beyond. A gentle breeze floated in from the back door which opened out onto an alley. It was in this open doorway that she found Mr. Barnes and his latest unfortunate victim.

Mr. Barnes was an elderly man who gave every appearance of being fragile but he had a hot temper that immediately flared any time he thought someone might be insulting him. Apparently the milk delivery man had offended him today and had found himself in an unpleasant position. Wiry Mr. Barnes had the tall white uniformed man backed against the wall just inside the door, a broad mop held across the taller man's throat.

"What's the story, Mr. Barnes," Carol said cooly, trying not to sound as bored as she was. They got a call about once a week from the cagey old man and it was always something painfully inane.

"Young lady," he began, glancing away from his prey long enough to run a discerning gaze up Carol's lanky form. "This thief tried to trick me out of two quarts of milk! I run an honest business here and I won't be taken advantage of!"

Carol ignored the slimy feeling of being leered at by a seventy year old man and instead turned her attention to the guy in the uniform. "What's your name?" she asked shortly.

"Ben. Ben Casings," the man responded. He sounded more annoyed than frightened and that humored Carol slightly.

"Okay, Ben. I'm Carol Johnson. Station sent me down to see if I could help you guys work this out peacefully." She turned her attention back to the elderly man still wielding the mop. "Put down your weapon, Mr. Barnes. Ben isn't going anywhere. Are ya?"

"Not much point to it," the man agreed affably. Carol guessed him to be in his early thirties. He was calm and collected in his white uniform with his short hair and clean-shaven face. He didn't look like a thief. Of course, none of Mr. Barnes's victims had been proven a thief yet.

"Officer Johnson, I won't be made a mockery of," Mr. Barnes declared.

Too late, Carol thought to herself, biting back the sigh at the edge of her lips. "Of course not, sir. Put down the mop and we'll get to the bottom of this."

Slowly, Barnes lowered his weapon and let the fabric end thunk on the floor and echo in the small concrete room. "Where's your partner? Can they send a lady out on her own? Doesn't seem proper," he gruffed, beady eyes traveling from the relaxing milkman to the tall officer.

Carol shrugged. "On my own today. Now, let's start at the beginning."

It took nearly two hours to go through the inventory on the truck, in the store, and the delivery orders to determine that the elderly storeowner had not, in fact, been cheated out of anything. Luckily, once the man saw all the proof and paperwork in front of him he had the good sense to back down and apologize to the unfortunate delivery man who was now well behind schedule. After bidding Mr. Barnes goodbye, Carol walked out into the alley with Ben.

"Sorry about that," she said with a slight grin. "Happens about once a week. Didn't your company tell you?"

"Nah. Started new just yesterday. I think they were trying to initiate me."

Carol laughed, shaking her head. "We do the same to rookies ... send them to Mr. Barnes here for a day of counting stock. You can press charges if you're so inclined. He did hold you at mop point. If you want to, you'll have to come down to the station and fill out a formal report."

Ben shook his head, opening the door to his truck and climbing up inside. "I'll just pay more attention next time I work with the old man," he sighed.

"Most do," the dark woman agreed, her thoughts already wandering back to her house and how empty it would be. She'd hoped Erin might be able to come over tonight but the mystery phone call could very well prevent that. She checked her watch.

"Get off soon?" the man asked, leaning an elbow on the steering wheel.

"Huh?" Carol looked up. "Oh ... yeah." It wasn't until just this moment that she noticed how the man was looking at her. His expression was gentle and hopeful and while Carol certainly didn't find him unpleasant he didn't do a thing for her either.

"Interested in maybe a cup of coffee when you get off? I have to deliver quite a bit more but I could meet you around, what, six?"

She found herself blushing at his attention as she smoothed a wayward wisp behind her ear where it had escaped from the French braid. "No thanks," she smiled.

"No really, just a cup of coffee. I find you really intriguing." He made an obvious glance at her finger. "You're not married."

"No, I'm not," she agreed. "But I'm involved with someone. I do appreciate the thought," she assured him, trying to let him down easy, flattered by his gentle attention. "If you change your mind about the charges, c'mon down to the station." Not waiting for his response, she waved at him slightly and then made her way down the alley around the corner of the building towards her parked patrol car. Involved with someone, she mused. And she told me she loves me. She realized the grin on her face probably made her look plain goofy but she didn't care.

XXXXX

Hours later, Carol moved quietly around the house. She'd put on a TV dinner, not wanting to make a meal for just herself, and was now walking through her father's office, tilting her head to read the spines of the books in shelves. She wanted something to curl up with, to distract her from the fact that she was lonely. She'd been alone a large part of her life, never making close friends or lasting relationships, but this was the first time she remembered feeling lonely.

Part of her was also concerned for her young friend's well being. When Erin had left, the hippie was obviously nervous or upset about something. Carol realized she knew very little about the spunky blonde aside from her arrest record and her big heart and zeal for life. She couldn't even begin to imagine what had caused her friend such concern.

Finally, the dark woman settled on an old favorite of her father's, one she had read many times herself, and carried her selection back with her to the kitchen. She tossed the paperback on the table and cracked the oven to peek at her dinner. The ringing phone startled her.

"Hello?"

"Hey," the soft voice was immediately recognizable.

Carol sat down, relieved to hear Erin but also immediately concerned by the defeat she heard in the now familiar tones. "What is it, honey?"

"I ... uh ..." the young woman sounded like she had either been crying or was about to soon. "I need to leave town for a few days, I wanted you to know."

"What's wrong?" Carol inquired gently, wishing the blonde were here so she could hold her tight and comfort her.

"Something at home," she sighed, obviously struggling with how much to share.

"Erin," the dark woman said softly, her husky voice lilting warmly into the phone. "You don't have to tell me anything you're not ready to. Nothing could change how I feel about you."

The blonde laughed dryly, little humor actually in the sound. "God, I wish I were there right now."

Carol hopped up. "I'll come get you, Erin. We can talk for awhile, or let me just hold you," she wondered if she sounded as desperate as she felt. "Are you at the house, sweetheart?"

"No ... no," the blonde stammered. "I mean, yes I am. No, you don't need to come here. I'm packing some stuff and then Minos is going to take me to the bus station. My bus leaves at eight."

"Can I come by and pick you up? I'll sit with you until you need to leave."

Her request was answered by ragged-breathed silence.

"Erin, I know I'm pleading ... and maybe I sound too desperate. But I can tell how much you're hurting. I love you. I want to help you," the dark woman's voice was no more than a whisper when she finished and she could hear across the line that Erin was crying now.

"I don't feel right dragging you into this mess," the blonde said at last. "It's something I started a long time ago and it's not right for you to have to be involved."

"I want to help you, Erin. Let me do that." Had it always been so hard for this small woman to accept someone's assistance? How had Minos ever gotten in?

Erin was quiet for a long moment before she took a deep breath. "I'll be ready to go in twenty minutes. That would give us time for a coffee while we wait."

"I'll be right there," Carol promised. "Bye." She barely waited for Erin's response before she hung up and turned off the oven. She dragged the aluminum dish out and set it on the cold burners before finding her keys and coat and heading out the front door.

 

Chapter 14

Erin and Minos sat side by side on the top step of the dilapidated porch. Carol parked the Mustang right in front of the house and made her way cautiously up the walk. The two women sat very close to each other, the older one's arm around the slight blonde's shoulders, her head tilted as she spoke to Erin in muffled tones.

The night was clear and warm, the breeze doing little more than ruffling Carol's bangs, giving no relief from the humid day. The dark-haired woman walked up silently, kneeling in front of the two on the step. Minos looked up first and for the first time since they'd met, Carol saw gentle acceptance in her gaze.

Minos grinned meekly, murmured something to Erin, then kissed her cheek warmly and went inside, leaving the two lovers on their own. Carol took up the recently vacated seat.

"Hey," the officer said softly, reaching out a large hand and stroking her young friend's hunched back.

"Hi," Erin looked up and smiled weakly, wiping her sleeve across watery green eyes.

"I ... I want to ask you some questions, Erin," Carol said slowly. She'd thought about this the entire drive across town. "If you don't want to answer, that's okay."

The blonde nodded.

"Are you walking into a dangerous situation going home? Will they hurt you?" the officer asked carefully.

"No," Erin sniffed, wiping her eyes again. "They won't hurt me. Probably tell me how worthless I am and what an embarrassment," she let out a watery laugh. "They'll try to make me stay ... but they won't lay a hand on me." Though she spoke the words with a certain amount of conviction, she couldn't help but wonder if it were the truth. Her mother had never physically hurt her and never would, of that she had no doubt. Of course, the state of her stepfather's health would be the determining factor in his own ability to hurt her. She decided to leave that out, easily sensing her dark companion's concern.

"Are you afraid to go back?"

"A little. I never planned to. I kinda burned some bridges, ya know?" Or the bridges were burnt for me, she thought. But I never tried to stop the flames.

"Yeah," Carol agreed, using her large hand to rub up and down the small woman's back.

"If I stay too long, I might not be able to graduate."

"How long do you think you'll be gone?" Carol asked moving her hand up to smooth away long strawberry blonde hair. The smaller woman's cheeks were wet and glistening in the porch light.

She shrugged, tilting her head to meet concerned blue. "What do you see in me?"

It was such a sad, insecure question from this young woman who had an uncanny ability to exude confidence. It nearly broke Carol's heart. "I love you," the dark woman said gently. "You're warm and funny, brilliant, witty. What's not to like, huh?"

Erin grinned slightly before looking away, letting her emerald gaze travel across the darkened front yard to the street beyond.

"No matter how they make you feel, Erin, or what they say ... they can't take away what you are inside. You know that."

"Yeah," the blonde chuckled softly. "Yeah. It took me a long time to realize that ... what I could be without them, in spite of them. The skin's still a little soft sometimes."

Carol slid closer and wrapped her arms around the small woman, relieved when Erin relaxed in her embrace. "A couple days, you think?"

"Prob'ly," Erin's response was muffled by the dark woman's shoulder. She sighed. "My father, stepfather, is really sick. My mom asked me to come back."

"So it could be awhile?"

"Maybe. But I have to graduate, Carol. I didn't come this far not to."

The officer nodded, pulling the smaller woman around so the blonde straddled her lap. The new position allowed Carol to embrace her companion more tightly. "How far away is home?" Carol questioned, tilting her head into blonde tresses.

"This is home," Erin responded without hesitation.

Carol chuckled softly, kissing the head tucked beneath her chin. "How far away is your mom?"

"Ten hours by bus."

"If you need to come home for exams, I'll come get you. Okay? And then take you back to your mom's."

"You would do that?"

"Of course, Erin. You have to graduate. You've worked too hard."

"I love you," Erin murmured, snuggling deeper into the strong arms.

"C'mon," Carol began to disentangle herself. "Let's go get that coffee?"

"Yeah," the blonde wiped at her tears one last time, using Carol's broad shoulders to push herself to a standing position. "Thank you for coming over," she smiled shyly.

The officer returned the smile and gently ruffled her companion's hair. "This your bag?"

Erin nodded silently and followed Carol down the walk and towards the waiting car.

XXXXX

Erin crept silently into the room, looking left and right. She spotted her mother on the far left side of her father's hospital bed. Tubes, wires, and machines were littered around his area.

No one had met her at the bus stop, not that it had surprised her necessarily, but the inconvenience of hitching a ride across town had slowed her down considerably. When she'd arrived at the house, there was only a housekeeper there. It wasn't the large Hispanic woman, Maria, she remembered from her youth but instead was a svelte young blonde. She imagined her stepfather had had something to do with that change. Maria had been a wonderful woman with a huge heart, raising Erin and caring for her as if they were blood. In fact, it was Maria that Erin had cried for on the nights after she had left. Never once had she shed a tear for either of her parents.

The blonde housekeeper had been rude and disdainful, her brown eyes looking down an aquiline nose at the young hippie before her. Had Erin not been so out of sorts from the long bus ride and the hassle to get here, she would have launched a few choice words in this woman's direction. Instead she simply asked which hospital they were at and then began the mundane duty of hitching another ride across town.

She'd ended up walking for about five miles, weary from her lack of sleep and emotional turmoil. But all of that seemed to leave her now as she peered at the two people in front of her.

God. How long had it been since she saw them last? Five years, perhaps? The gray in her mother's hair had shocked Erin for a moment. Breathing hard, heart pounding, she crept closer.

"Mother?" she approached cautiously. She didn't add more, instead waiting to see what move, if any, her mother would make.

"I didn't think you'd come. Busy with your own life 'n all," her mother replied.

Erin let the comment go. She could argue the point that her mother was just looking for a fight like always but instead of provoking it she simply let it slide off her back. "What's wrong with him?"

The tone of the word 'him' didn't go unnoticed by mother or daughter. Erin didn't mean to let her disdain out but it just tumbled forward before she could stop it. She wanted to chalk it up to how tired she was, how drained, how much she longed for Carol's comforting presence. But the reality was that she could never think of or speak of this man fondly.

"I know how you feel about David. You never-"

"If you say the words, 'got a chance to know him' I swear I will walk right out of this room," Erin barked, any pretenses at being friendly jumping out the window into the sunlight beyond. "And I will never look back. I'm tired of the rhetoric mother. It's trite, cliched and not worth listening to anymore - as you pointed out ...I have my own life and all."

"Why do you hate him so?" her mother pled. She was an older version of Erin with darker hair. She still had the same green eyes and fair skin. Her light brown hair was streaked with gray and pulled back into a tight bun, so fitting of the woman herself. Erin tried, but she couldn't remember a time when she'd looked at her mother and felt anything but distaste. Distaste for a woman who couldn't stand on her own two feet and say enough is enough. A woman who wouldn't defend her daughter to a man's brutality because she was afraid he'd leave her and she'd had nothing to fall back on: no schooling, no skills. She was raised to be a wife and a mother, knew no other tasks and gave up her maternal instincts to support the man who put bread on her table.

Erin took a moment to consider the words, tilting her head in thought, trying to rein in the overflowing emotions that threatened to break the dams of her restraint and come pouring forth in vicious outlashing. "He always thought he was someone he's not, like my father. That man is not my father." She spoke the words neutrally, stepping closer so she was close enough to touch her mother but not daring to do so.

"He was the closest thing you've had to a father for years, Erin. People lose parents but you have to move on. You can't blame us for everything in your life." Her mother sounded weary and her words appeared rehearsed. Had she stayed up nights having imaginary conversations with her missing daughter? Had they looked for her? Had they cared? Obviously her mother hadn't had too much trouble finding Erin this time. Did that mean she'd never even tried to before?

Erin started to chuckle cynically, not believing for a moment that either had done anything but celebrate her disappearance. "Who's blaming anyone here? Do you have a guilty conscience, Mother? Do you finally see that the years that man spent drinking have caught up to him?" Erin crept closer to get a better look at his face. "I'm surprised he's lasted this long," she smirked defiantly, hating the cold side of her that was coming forth but unable to control it. The hatred she felt for the man was thick and heavy in her stomach, the bile that rose scratching her throat and coming out in heartless words.

"That happens to be my husband you're talking about," her mother argued, still not raising her voice, still appearing weary and defeated.

"And I happen to be your daughter," Erin spat harshly, taking a step back, shaking her head. "But that didn't seem to matter to you did it? You did every single thing that drunk told you to do because you had no backbone, no spirit to stand up for what was right. You never stood up for me, not once. In all the drunken battles I had with that man, and I use the term loosely, you never stood up for me. You were never there for me. Now the SOB is on his way to the other side and you need me to prop you up? Well, sorry, Mother, it just doesn't work that way." She willed herself not to cry, not wanting her mother to see how much she hurt. She felt the salty prickle of tears against the corners of her eyes and she pinched the bridge of her nose in an effort to hold them off.

"I asked you here because I thought it would be your last chance to make amends," her mother answered beginning to tear up herself, letting go of her husband's hand to reach towards her daughter. The irony of that gesture was not lost on Erin but it simply wasn't enough. Not after all this time and all the heartache.

Erin's face was dark. Cold. Unreadable. "I love you, Mother, but I don't like you. And if a peace with him is what you're looking for, well, let's just say that any hope of that dashed with this scar," she said revealing her arm.

She didn't have to explain. Her mother remembered quite well how Erin had gotten it and she could no longer meet her eyes. All Erin could do was sigh in defeat, dropping her arm to dangle by her side - nothing had changed after all these years, she thought glumly.

"Look, Mom," Erin began, her anger deflated when she realized how pointless it was. She couldn't change things, never had been able to. "For what it's worth, I hope he pulls through for your sake. But don't ask me to do the 'Leave it to Beaver' scene. That just isn't gonna happen." With those final words, Erin turned her back to her mother and began to make her way to the door until her the other woman's plea stopped her.

"Wait!" she exclaimed softly. Erin slowly turned to face her mother, wondering what would come next. She watched as the older woman struggled for something to add, some reason to keep her there a bit longer. But instead of words, she heard her mother sigh in defeat. "Take care of yourself, Erin," she replied softly.

Erin tried her damnedest to grin through the pain. It was the end of a chapter in her life and she could almost hear the book slam with harsh finality. I have no family. "Always."

With that she walked out without a backward glance.


Carol had spent another tedious two days at the station filing more reports and aggravating her dust allergies in the precinct basement. Today had been especially long due to harassment by her fellow officers and chiding remarks about her floating through the halls and to her ears. To make matters worse, she'd worried about Erin's predicament since the blonde had left. The young woman was certainly shaken about the news she had received. Given the beatnik's reluctance to questions regarding her family, Carol knew things in Erin's world weren't so rosy either.

They had shared coffee at the bus station in relative silence that night, Carol reaching out constantly to stroke the other woman's arm in quiet support. Though she had never been a woman to show physical affection, her need to touch and reassure Erin was palpable and Carol found herself responding to that need without questioning how it would appear in public. She hadn't cared. Erin's slight shoulders had been hunched in agony and though the tears had stopped flowing, her green eyes had remained haunted. They'd hugged as Erin climbed on the bus, Carol murmuring gentle endearments that were returned in kind. Then the tall officer had stood silently aside and watched the bus pull out into the dark night, making a right turn and disappearing in its journey towards the highway.

That haunted look had stayed with Carol constantly during her menial tasks and she hoped her young friend was coping with whatever horrors being home had brought.

As the officer changed out of her uniform she heard a knock at the door, glancing at the clock, she realized it was just past six and she hadn't been expecting anyone. In her oversized shirt she went into the hallway and looked out the peephole. She was more than a little surprised to see her petite flower child standing outside.

"Erin?" she asked as she opened the door. The shock was evident in her voice.

"Is this a bad time?" the hippie asked softly. "I can come-"

"No! No!" Carol said gently pulling her inside. "I wasn't expecting to see you so soon. I've been so worried. Come on in, sweetheart."

Erin was edgy, fidgety. But she soon sported a devilish grin when she saw Carol's state of half-dress.

"Didn't mean to catch you with your pants down," she teased.

Carol quickly realized just what Erin was referring to and promptly blushed. "Yeah well, maybe I was in the middle of something when you knocked," she teased with a suggestive tone, heading back to the bedroom again.

"Fantasy is healthy," Erin retorted, following behind the officer. "At least that's what a beautiful woman told me once."

Carol turned to see Erin beaming at her - full and bright. But even though she carried a smile Carol could tell the young woman carried something greater underneath it. Perhaps not sorrow so much as ... frustration? Carol's curiosity got the better of her and she had to ask.

"So what brings you home so soon?" Carol tried to pose it conversationally, as she pulled on a pair of bell-bottomed jeans and snapped the waist. Erin shrugged at first and took a seat on the bed. Carol removed her uniform shirt next revealing the T-shirt underneath. Erin still hadn't spoken and Carol proceeded to her closet to find something more comfortable to wear.

"You have a wonderful back," Erin replied. "Great definition in your shoulders - very firm, very strong."

"Very evasive," Carol teased gently, smiling softly to take away any sting the words may have carried.

Erin knew she'd been busted and had to grin in response. "Okay, I'll give you a point for that one ... I am being evasive."

Carol wasn't sure how to approach her growing sense of despair. She decided honesty was best.

"It worries me that you won't tell me," Carol confessed.

"Why?" Erin asked, leaning forward a bit, giving Carol a little more attention.

Carol quickly took off the T-shirt, replacing it with a fresh one. She took a seat on the bed.

"I'm not sure," she answered. "It just feels like you don't trust me. Like you can't open up to me. I wish you could see that there isn't anything you can't tell me or do that would make me love you any less. It just feels like ... you won't let me in sometimes."

Erin considered the comment. It was the last thing in the world she wanted. She valued Carol's trust in her and she thought she had been doing well to convey her feelings in return. But apparently not, and the longer she considered it the more misty eyed she got. Carol noticed Erin's discomfort.

"Hey!" Carol exclaimed tenderly. "Please don't cry. I didn't mean to hurt you."

Carol's concern was Erin's undoing and the tears began to flow freely. Carol gathered the young woman in her arms, pulling her tight against her, beginning to rock her gently.

"Shhh, it's okay," Carol reassured. "I'm not putting any pressure on you here, Erin. I just want you to know you have a place to go. Somewhere safe, that's all ... You're safe with me."

Erin knew Carol was right. She had finally found a home. A real home. Someplace where she could just be herself. Something she was never permitted to do before - not even in Minos's house - because even there she had a role she was expected to play.

Erin took a few gulps of air and wiped her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said, managing a grin. "I need to stop crying on you. Looks like I got your new shirt all wet," she added pointing to the tear spots by Carol's breast.

"Yeah, but it will all come out in the wash," the officer teased back, trying to relieve the young woman's tension a bit. "So how 'bout it? Think you can tell me?"

Erin smiled but soon felt her lip quivering. She loved Carol so much. And Carol obviously loved her too. It was a unique situation - one that brought a caldron of emotions forth. Emotions Erin didn't even know she had. But instead of giving in to the tears again, she took a deep breath.

If Carol wanted to know all, she would tell all.

"My ... stepfather is in the hospital," Erin began. "We never got along. He liked to drink. I liked to wear flower child clothes. We clashed, quite a bit. He knocked me around sometimes, was very physical. But the worst of it was how often he told me I was nothing. That if I were worth something, they would love me. He said my drawing was wasteful scribbles ..." she trailed off, looking up to meet gentle blue eyes. "I believed him, ya know? I was young and stupid and I thought that I was a bad person and that I deserved his words and his abuse. It went on for years, I was young when my father died and my mother remarried shortly after. I started hanging out with a kinda rough crowd at school, came home less and less. Maybe did some things I shouldn't have done, which made me believe that he was right all along: I was worthless."

Carol didn't dare fill the silence but instead waited for Erin to continue. She could sense the sadness in the other woman and imagined the horror of her upbringing. Carol's father had been warm and supportive, always encouraging her and loving her despite mistakes. It was obvious Erin had never had that. Not only had the man abused her physically, but he'd belittled the girl, crushed her spirit. Minos must have done a lot to bring back the vibrancy that Carol witnessed now day-to-day. Only occasionally did the cop get any insight into the insecure girl hiding behind the brash woman. Despite her obvious differences with Minos, Carol was grateful to the other woman for what she had done for Erin.

Finally, after some calming breaths, Erin bared her arm to Carol. "I got this from a broken beer bottle - Miller by the way, in case you're curious," she added, trying as always to keep things light. "I got in late one night, senior year in high school, and he started in with his patented tramp speech. I was slutting around with the boys, so on and so forth," she waved a hand as if the whole thing were negligible. "Truth be known I was with Minos helping her move out of her house so she could come here to where we're at now. He hit me some, yelled at me a lot," she realized she was downplaying it. She remembered vividly cowering on the front porch of her childhood home, tucked into the corner. She'd covered herself with her arms, feeling the toe of his boot connecting with her ribs. She'd wondered vaguely why she'd even come home. "He broke the bottle over the porch railing and tried to slice off part of my anatomy," Erin chuckled nervously, no humor in the rasping sound.

Carol didn't buy into it; she just listened intently and sorrowfully to Erin's tale.

That had been the final straw. In all of his abuse, he'd never done anything so violent and the reality of the sharp glass glistening in the moonlight had been too much for her. She'd leapt to her feet, shoving at him but not completely escaping his attack. "Well, I moved and he got my arm instead. I ran into the house. Packed a quick bag. Got my schoolbooks and left. I never went back. I went to Minos and she took me in. I think she'd been waiting for me to make that decision. She knew what he was doing to me but I was so stubborn, even then, that she knew she couldn't tell me to walk away. I had to make that decision myself." She sighed, shrugged her shoulders, bringing the story to the present. "Seems all his drinking has caught up to him. The nurse said he had a heart attack. His liver is shot to hell. I'm not sure why my mom called, really. Maybe she thought he and I could make amends ..."

Carol didn't speak as Erin paused. She felt her anger for a man she never met brewing deep inside her but she didn't dare let it show. She didn't want to frighten Erin back into her reclusion since she had made such a stride in stepping forward and opening herself up. When Erin didn't continue, Carol knew she would have to speak so she tried to pick her words carefully.

"I don't know what to say," the dark woman answered honestly. "I'd say I'm sorry but you're not a woman who takes pity, that much I know. I guess all I can say is that it's in the past. You've moved on and you're a very bright, talented woman who's got a cop who's crazy about you in every way."

Erin began to cry again and Carol immediately apologized, shaking her head at her own apparent insensitivity. Her apologies, however, were soon stifled as Erin put her hands up to stop her.

"I'm not crying now because I'm sad," Erin said swallowing tears. "I'm happy for the first time in my life. I'm happy. I feel like I found what I've been looking for." Carol wasn't sure where Erin was going so she held her tongue. "It's you," Erin chuckled. "All my life," she whispered as she met Carol's eyes. "It's you."

Carol's fingertips found Erin's tear-stained cheek and wiped it dry, the digits cool on the blonde's flushed skin. Erin tilted her head slightly as her lips captured the officer's flesh lightly and lovingly. The kissing of the fingers soon lead to the palm and then the wrist. Carol could feel where Erin was going, the heat was radiating off of her in huge suffocating waves, leaving no doubt as to the young woman's intentions.

"Erin," Carol sighed reluctantly, meeting emerald eyes. "You're very emotional right now and I think-"

"Make love to me, Carol," Erin whispered, cutting the dark woman off. She didn't want excuses or pity or to be protected from her own heart. She wanted to be loved. She needed the physical manifestation of the emotions she felt thick and heavy in the room.

Carol didn't respond for a very long time, torn between listening to the thrumming in her body and the nagging voice in her head. She wanted this, knew Erin did too. They hadn't actually been subtle about where this relationship was going but she'd wanted the first time to be perfect and she wasn't sure this qualified. Erin's gentle features were streaked with drying tears, the dark circles under her eyes told of great tension and little sleep. She looked weary and frazzled, as if she might shatter at any moment. But Carol knew that wasn't true. Erin had more strength than she did, certainly, and had spent years building walls to protect herself. This latest development would not be her undoing.

The passion in the jade eyes was unmistakable, however. The pupils had dilated, leaving the surrounding irises to darken and sport flecks of gold. Carol looked deep into Erin's eyes, realizing what she was being offered, and rationalized with herself that their first time would be perfect regardless of the events leading up to it. With that conviction, she leaned forward and captured coral lips that parted easily for her, inviting her in.

"I love you," Carol whispered sincerely as their lips parted. "But remember, if you want to stop at any point-

{{{Carol never finished her sentence. Erin snared her lips once more with intent, making sure to show Carol that stopping was not an option. The kiss Erin stole made Carolís heart skip a beat and the result was a great wetness between her legs and an overwhelming need for pressure there. Some kind of pressure. Any kind of pressure.

The urgency of her arousal was intense as Carol, gently yet swiftly, lead Erinís back to the bed. She settled herself softly on top of the smaller woman so their legs intertwined. When Erin began to ready herself for the next series of kisses her leg shifted accidentally, enacting drawing a deep moan from the woman above her.

ĎShe likes that,í, Erin considered silently. ĎLetís see if . . .í

Once more she moved her leg, getting a similar response. The look on Carolís face told Erin she was doing all the right things. And the sounds she was making only fueled Erinís growing desire even more. And wWith that desire came a movement of her own, reaching and searching for a similar contact from Carol. Carol was more than happy to oblige, forcing her hips downward to meet Erinís thrusts which were starting to come more and more frequently.

But soon that wasnít enough. Both women needed more flesh to touch, more skin to kiss. And in doing soIn response to that gnawing need, Carol worked the buttons free on Erinís dress. She was delighted to see that Erin was totally naked underneath. The sight of Erin half-dressed and waiting for her to taketo be taken her made Carolís heart melt and her passion swell. Both had ragged breaths as Carolís eyes examined and admired Erinís body.

Carolís hand tentatively reached out to stroke Erinís the blondeís breasts. Sheíd touched Erin before but it was never this intense,. Nnever a skin upon skin contact. She was unsure of many things:. Whether Erin would Erin allow her such a pleasure and wondered if she would she be able to give Erin the young hippie the pleasure properly?.

Erin sensed Carolís sudden uneasiness but instead of talking or giving instructions, she took hold of Carolís wrists gently, giving permission to explore,. Sshowing her how to explore touch and what she liked. The gesture and the tutelage of tender fingers and burning friction put Carol at ease once more, allowing her arousal to be the leader in her movements again.

Seeing and feeling Carolís confidence gave Erin the power to seize a little bit of control. She pulled Carol close and rolled the larger woman over as their lips locked together for the hundredth time that evening. Carol whimpered a protest when Erin rose but soon smiled as she watched Erin working the buttons on her fly. Moments later Carolís jeans lay in a heap on the floor at the foot of the bed. Erin took the opportunity to rise to her full height and pull her dress from her shoulders, watching it puddle next to Carolís bellbottoms.

"God, youíre so beautiful."

Carol wasnít sure if sheíd spoken the words aloud or if they were just screaming in her head. Erinís sudden sly grin gave her the answer. Hypnotically, she watched Erin the hippie straddle her lap and, pulling her into a sitting position by the hands. Once upright, Carol felt Erinís hands travel over her breasts and down her stomach, stopping at the edge of her t-shirt. After a quick tug and hoist, the shirt joined the other articles on the floor. Without delay, Erin went to work on the satin white bra.

Things hHowever, werenít going to play and Erin found that kissing Carol while trying to achieve this task just wasnít get itworking. She couldnít help it and started to laugh, not wanting to break the mood but unable too refrain from chuckling at her own ineptness.

"Having trouble?" Carol teased, relieved at the release of tension. "Here," she said, reaching behind her to unclasp itthe offending article and finally sending it clear across the room.

"Thank you," Erin chuckled.

"Anytime," Carol answered in a smoky voice. The seductive tone was all Erin needed to get things back on track, rebuilding the passion that had taken a short intermission to the comical side of the situation of Ďfirst timeí blunders.

Erin gently pushed Carol back to the bed with her body as they kissed, her long hair tickling and exciting Carol all at once. After a few quick kisses, the blonde Erin pulled back, placing her fallen hair behind her ear. She looked deeply into Carolís eyes.

"Do you trust me?" she asked sincerely, needing an answer before proceeding.

"Absolutely," Carol answered without hesitation, nodding for emphasis.

That was all Erin needed. She could see the sincerity in the depths of the taller womanís eyes. The sparkling sapphire was diluted by passion and trust.

She The young hippie worked her way down Carolís body with tender kisses, growing more and more firm as she went. Her hands stroked delicately across her loverísí skin in the process, building the want between them. And, oh, how she wanted Carol. She could feel the azure-eyed beauty study her movements, soaking up everything around them. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes Ė all of them were more than either woman had expected or experienced in their young lives. This was heaven, Erin decided as she started to suckle Carolís breasts for the first time. This was what living was all about Ė not the physical sensations (although that was a wonderful factor), but the need to belong to someone, to give yourself to someone one, to love and need someone as much as you were loved and needed.

Carolís hand immediately shot up to the back ofcradle Erinís head. Her The officerís back arched off the bed the instant Erinís lips made contact on with her nipple. Carol didnít think sheíd ever want the sensation to end but soon she found she had needs lower, pulsing in time to the blondeís gentle lips and tongue that needed tended to. Her hips began to buck and Erin read her beautifullyeasily, giving up the prize sheíd discovered minutes before won, moving ever-farther south on the raven-haired beauty.

In one swift pull, Carolís panties meet the same fate as her other clothes revealing to. Erin saw the glistening skin between Carolthe other womanís legs. She couldnít contain her moan at the sight and as a result Carol couldnít contain her chuckle.

She wasnít quite sure why she laughed. Perhaps it was just her nerves fear of the unknown. She had a pretty good idea of where Erin was heading and what her intentions might be. Soon she realized that Erin had either ignored the giggle or had missed it entirely Ė too focused on the body before her.

Carol felt a flush wash over her body as Erin settled herself between herlong legs. And when Erinís hair and lips brushed her inner thighs, her need for nervous laughter passed, being replaced by the wanting ache for attention at her center. Carol closed her eyes and simply enjoyed Erinís teasing touches. They didnít stay closed long, however, as she felt the tip of Erinís warm, moist tongue stroking her intimately.

"Oh, God!" Carol exclaimed, her legs opening reflexively opening.

"Thatís it," Erin answered, stroking her loverísí inner thighs with her fingertips, moving to her center to gently part her lips. "Open up, Carol. Give yourself to me."

With that, Erinís tongue began alternating between long and sometimes quick strokes across Carolís sex. The tall woman had never had Carol didnít have a lover before, but she wasnít exactly an angel, either. Sheíd spent time pleasing herself. Butthough none of those times compared to this moment. Nothing sheíd ever experienced had felt this way Ė as her body begged for release.

Erin was wonderfully surprised as she felt Carol grow wetter under her tongue. She had tasted her own juices over the years of her sexual experience, but it didnít hold a candle to how Carol delighted her pallet palate.

A few more moments were all it took. Carolís orgasm ripped through her body at lightening speed, coming around and around again as her body convulsed in pleasure. When Erin heard her name on Carolís lips, a mangled sound of pain and pleasure it seemed, Erin knew sheíd finally found her destiny. Her home.

Carol didnít rest. She had to give this gift to Erin. She had to make the petite woman feel the same thing. She was determined. Erin was once more surprised as she felt herself being lifted to Carolís side, her back quickly coming to rest on the bed.

Carol straddled Erinís leg,. Hher arousal from before still evident from between her thighs. Carolís The officerís time for issuing affectionate kisses had passed. She wanted this woman before her. She wanted her now.

Carolís hand shot down to Erinís center as her lips claimed her nipples; tugging and pulling them into even more erect points. Erin loved the contact;. Nneeded it the contact. Her body strained and bucked and thrust against her lover. Carol took her hand away to start her decent just as Erin had done moments before. But Erin stopped her.

"Please," the young woman begged. "Donít take your hand away. Keep stroking me, Carol. Please, just keep stroking me."

Carol would do anything for Erin and if stroking is was what she needed now, thatís just what she would do. When she returned her hand, Erin gave a grateful moan and resumed her movements. Carol pushed herself to one elbow so she could watch her young lover. The erotic movements Erin was making fueled her desire all over again, once more bringing a new wetness to her center. Erin arched and groaned in what seemed like seconds later. Her body vibrated the bed and Carol felt suddenly consumed with the need to wrap herself around the quivering young woman.

Maybe it was the newness of it or their shared arousal, but it was over all too quickly. They lay afterwards, naked and sweating, each trembling, clutching tightly to the other, almost as if a promise to never let go of each other.

Erin leaned back to see her lover's cheeks were wet with silent tears. "What is it?" she murmured, concerned beginning to rise. "I donít want you to think I didnít want you to taste me. I just needed release quickly, Carol. I didnít-"

"No," Carol interrupted, pressing her lips to the blonde's sweaty forehead. "Itís not that," she assured. "Iím very satisfied," the dark woman grinned rakishly. "Itís just . . . Llike you said before ... I'm happy," she said, using the blonde's earlier explanation of her tears. "It was perfect. I feel part of you." }}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

"Perfect?" Erin chuckled. "Hell, I couldn't get your bra off for at least five minutes."

Carol laughed, too. "Maybe that's because you're out of practice ... you burned yours years ago," the cop teased. That remark earned her a chuck to the ribcage courtesy of Erin's elbow. The officer replied with mock-pain. "And yes, despite the fact that we had ... undergarment problems," she paused with a huge grin, "it was perfect. Not the dime store novel kind of love scene, mind you. But perfect just the same."

Carol couldn't help but grin as she thought back to the moments before, wrought with hesitant exploration and adjusting strength with tenderness that was firm enough to provide reaction. Love had guided them, however, to understanding and soon the movements had become more practiced and confident, more about pleasuring and less about doing things right.

Already, Carol found her fingers trailing across moist skin to dance along the blonde's spine to the small of her back. Erin lurched her hips in response, aroused again, her heartbeat quickening.

"Well you know what they say? Practice makes perfect," Carol murmured, nipping a pale earlobe and then sucking it in to lave with her tongue.

"Ugh," Erin moaned. "They teach you that at the firing range?"

Carol chuckled. "They most certainly did not teach me this at the firing range. This is more of a 'hands-on' learning experience. Situational training they call it. Placing you in a scenario and seeing how you react. So far I think we've both passed with flying colors."

Later that evening, they left the bed only to find some sustenance in the old white Frigidaire. Even then they couldn't keep their hands off of each other, sharing morsels of food and kisses with equal abandon.

"Have you been to Minos's yet?" Carol murmured, kissing Erin deeply before popping the last tidbit of food into the smaller woman's mouth.

"No. Came straight here."

"Does she know you're back?" Another kiss.

"No."

"Should you tell her?"

Erin grinned devilishly. "She can wait. Touch me again."

It was all the invitation Carol had needed. Tossing her dishes into the sink, she swept a giddy Erin off her feet and carried her back to the dark, musty bedroom.

 

Chapter 15

The week had been stressful for Erin. Not only did the visit with her mother leave her feeling drained; her last week of school with finals wasn't much better. She imagined she had done well but it had been hard for her to focus. Of course, not all of her thoughts were jaded reminders of recent events. She had some very pleasant erotic thoughts of the past week, which also provided a delightful distraction from her studies. She'd spent most evenings at Carol's house trying to study but usually ending up entwined in the taller woman's long arms and legs with books tossed aside.

Now as she skipped down the stairs of Minos' house she felt a bit of relief and relaxation settle over her spirit: aside from waiting for grades and graduation, school was done, she'd confronted her mother, and things were going well with Carol. As she rounded the corner into the kitchen, she saw the house engaged in the usual Friday night toke-fest, which actually started more Friday afternoon than Friday night. She caught only half the argument between Stan and Bill as she watched Minos' lighting up.

"I can't believe Joy was dry," Bill argued.

"I told you not to worry. Joy assured me this weed was just as good as hers," Stan countered. "So just relax and light up would ya?"

"Well, I've got that rally meeting tonight and shit ..." he said looking at his watch, "I'm already gonna be late."

"Come on," Stan insisted. "Just mellow out and hang with us awhile."

Erin offered little to the conversation. She just strolled over to Minos who offered the petite blonde a hit off the doobie. Erin inhaled deeply, pausing to let the drugs work into her lungs, soothing her mind. Two joints later she found it harder to stay upright, her eyes glossing over at a startling rate. She reached for her bottle of Pepsi and watched it literally melt before her eyes. Something was wrong. Very wrong. She couldn't remember how long she had sat there. She tried her damnedest to focus on the things around her but it was of no use - everything was melting.

A sudden thud and the resulting laughter around her made her turn to her right. Minos had passed out on the table and the room, filled with roommates and their lovers of the night, chuckled at the sight.

Erin looked over and watched Bill start to make his way out the door. She must have called his name because he walked back to the table, apparently frustrated that he couldn't leave yet.

"What is it, Skylon?" he asked impatiently.

The words were quick and to the point but he sounded like a stretched 8-track tape - the tones long and deep. Erin couldn't reply. She felt herself begin to twitch and jerk. Bill's impatience began to slip from his face and concern took over.

Erin could hear the gagging noise but she didn't know it was coming from her. Bill managed to catch her as she began to tumble out of the chair. He felt Erin lightly grab his shirt and stutter something.

"What?" He asked in panic. "What did you say, sweetheart?"

Erin struggled with the two syllables but finally she spit them out. "Ca - rol."

"Carol?" Bill asked and watched the slightest nod. "You want me to get Carol?" Again another slight nod.

"Woooo! What happened to her?" Stan asked in laughter as he saw Erin on the floor. He looked over and watched as Bill searched frantically through sheets and scraps of paper by the phone. Finally he found the name and two numbers.

"What are you doing, man?" Stan asked as he watched Bill.

Bill simply ignored him and dialed the first number on the slip of paper. Unable to wait, he let it ring three times before hanging up and trying the second number. This time it rang only once before a gruff voice answered, "Police Station." Quickly Bill hung up and looked to Stan with bewilderment written across his thin features.

"You got Carol's number?" Bill asked quickly, thinking the second number might have been written incorrectly.

"Yeah, it's in your hand, man," the drugged-out roomie answered, shaking his head, not sure he understood the worry in his friend's features.

"No," Bill retorted hotly. "This number is to the goddamn police station." He was exasperated, eyes glancing quickly to the writhing blonde on the floor and Minos passed out at the table.

"Yeah," Stan answered without concern. "She's a cop."

Bill ran his fingers through his long hair. "She's what?!" he yelled loud enough to get the room's attention. "Carol's a fuckin' cop?! Just great!" And Skylon had asked for her. Bringing a cop here would be like walking right into the sheriff's office and turning himself in.

"What's the problem?" Stan asked again, still completely confused, not sensing the urgency of the situation.

"Jesus Christ! Look at her! She's trippin' bad, man!" the first man responded, pointing to Erin. "Where the hell did you get that shit?" he accused, indicating the bag of reefers on the table. Bill tore the bag open and ripped the cigarettes apart with trembling fingers. Taking a small weed he sniffed and licked it. "Oh fuck," he nearly cried. "This shit is fuckin' laced, man. Oh shit! We're fucked. We are seriously fucked here, man." He ran his hands through his hair again, tugging it lightly as if willing his brain to kick into motion.

"What are we gonna do?" Stan asked, finally, paranoia beginning to creep inside him as he realized the extent of Bill's words. He looked back to the small blonde on the floor and could nearly feel her agony as she trembled and moaned. "If she dies ..."

"She's not gonna fuckin' die okay?" Bill growled as he returned to her side. "Look, I'm gonna go down to the station house and get Carol. She'll know what to do."

"You can't do that man. She's a fucking cop!" Stan argued. "You can't bring her here ... let her see this."

"I'm not gonna sit here and fight with you! So get your stupid ass over her and help me take her to her bedroom. Skylon needs help and she asked for Carol. Carol will take care of her and figure out how to handle this. She won't want Skylon arrested."

Apparently Bill's words had little impact on Stan who still stood stupidly watching his friend bent over the small woman. With a grunt of dissatisfaction, Bill lifted Erin in his arms and balanced her slight weight before starting towards the steps that would take him to the bedrooms. With his head bent in tender concern, he listened to the young woman beg for Carol. "Just relax," he coaxed as they walked along. "I'll find her, sweetie. I'll bring her to ya," He promised softly. The words seemed to calm her and she appeared less restless when he finally settled her on the mattress in her room. Bill took great care to roll her on her stomach, tilting her head in hopes that she wouldn't choke should she vomit.

Stan had followed them and now stood swaying in the doorway, appearing as if he was going to pass out at any second. Bill turned around and shook his head in disgust, gaining his feet and pushing past his useless friend. "Keep an eye on her," he ordered. "I'll be right back," and with that, he left the house.

XXXXX

"Can I help you, kid?" the desk sergeant asked, barely even looking up from the forms in front of him. He sounded disinterested at best.

"Yeah. Carol please," Bill requested nervously, glancing around him, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

"What do you want with Officer Johnson?" the other man asked, looking up for a moment to scrutinize the lanky kid in front of him. Figures Johnson would keep company like this, he mused.

"There's an emergency. I have to speak to her." Even though he was angered by the other man's obvious disdain, Bill spoke softly and politely. He didn't want to cause any trouble at this point. He had to find his target and get her to the destination as fast as possible.

Luckily, just then Carol walked up the steps from the filing room and she spotted the young man at the counter. Though he looked familiar, she couldn't remember his name, so she slowly walked over and cocked her head at him, wondering why he was at the station. He wasn't cuffed so he obviously came in of his own accord, which seemed slightly unusual. Suddenly, inexplicable concern took hold of Carol and she picked up her pace toward the young man.

Bill was getting frustrated with the desk sergeant's lack of motivation to find Carol when he spotted her out of the corner of his eye. Quickly he raced over, taking her by the elbow to a semi-secluded area.

"What's wrong?" Carol asked. She could see the worry lines deep in his young forehead and she tried to stay calm even as her body hummed with the need for action.

"It's Skylon - Erin," he corrected himself quickly. "She's ... in trouble."

"She hurt?" Carol asked, cold with fear.

"She's really sick. We were ... smoking ... and she got sick. She's calling for you," Bill explained meekly. He knew that he was doing a poor job of delivering the story, he just hoped it was enough to get the dark woman to come with him. "Please come back to the house. I'm not sure what else to do." Begging might help, too, he reasoned with himself.

Without a word, Carol nodded and followed Bill toward the door, lightly shoving him in front of her to hurry him along. As she was leaving, she shouted to the desk sergeant she was done for the day.

"Oh no you're not," he replied, finally showing some action and coming around the desk to confront her. "You've got reports to finish. If you want time off, ya gotta request it from the boss just like the rest of us."

"The reports can wait," Carol replied angrily as her body shook. "I have a personal emergency to tend to," she added, turning to face him and hoping to resolve this reasonably. She was already in enough trouble here, but there was no way in hell she wouldn't go to Erin's aid.

"You're on the clock till five, Johnson. It's only 3 right now. If you wanna keep serving and protecting, I suggest you get your ass back in that cellar," the beefy man said smugly, enjoying this power game. They had done everything they could to make Carol's life miserable. He was secretly pleased to have yet another opportunity to jerk her around.

It only took a moment to make the decision of a lifetime. Some choices were hard to make and were debated privately and publicly, the pros and cons weighed meticulously before an answer was reached. This was one of those choices that was made instantly and on instinct. " Well, I suggest you take this badge," the dark woman responded, ripping the silver emblem from her uniform and tossing it at him. It clanked on the linoleum before sliding to a stop at his well-polished toe. "And shove it up your ass."

Without a backward glance, Carol grabbed Bill's elbow and propelled him out the door. The young man had to drag his chin off the floor and start jogging to keep up with the dark woman's pace.

"Oh God, please be okay, Erin," Carol murmured under her breath as they hit the sidewalk in the mid-afternoon sun.

 

Chapter 16

Carol took the porch steps two at a time, not even bothering to knock and kicking the door open instead. She walked into the house, which was eerily quiet except for the sound of Jefferson Airplane in the background. There were scattering of people in different levels of drug-induced highs spread throughout the lower level of the rambling home and though they appeared relaxed, it was obvious the house was wrought with anxiety. Some of them spotted Carol's uniform and tensed immediately. Without giving the others a second thought, the tall woman looked frantically around for Erin and instead spotted Minos lying face down on the table.

Bill charged inside, having taken a few extra moments to park the car, and watched as Carol pulled Minos from her chair and laid the woman on her back on the kitchen floor, beginning to check for a pulse. He realized that she hadn't found one when Carol began CPR. Stan looked on behind her in shock.

"Call a goddamn ambulance!" Carol barked to him. He paused a moment, more in surprise than defiance before rushing to the phone. Carol looked up and saw Bill watching her. "Come here!" she ordered. "Watch me."

Carol went through the steps just once. "Think you can handle that?" she asked, looking into his eyes, determining if he was sober enough to be of any help. He seemed to be keeping a level head throughout and had watched her movements intently.

"Yeah," he replied, coming to his knees next to Carol to take over, gently nudging the taller woman out of the way.

"Where's Erin?" Carol demanded.

"Upstairs. Her room," he answered quickly.

"Keep that up until she's breathing and have someone down here open a damn window," she ordered over her shoulder as she once more took the stairs two at a time, making her way through the smoke filled room.

Carol slid to a halt upon seeing Erin through the open doorway. She was a shaking mess, lying on the mattress in a fetal position. The dark woman shoved aside her initial reaction and raced to the edge of the bed, falling to her knees. "Erin honey?" she whispered, hesitantly touching the girl's face. Her skin was flushed and warm, eyes dancing beneath the thin closed lids. Carol brushed aside damp bangs with trembling fingers.

Suddenly, the dark woman could feel a presence behind her and looked back to see Stan standing in the doorway.

"Yes?" Carol asked sharply, furious at the ineptness of the man.

"Uh ... ambulance is coming."

Carol didn't have a chance to reply because just then Erin heaved sharply, not giving Carol enough notice to move. Vomit covered nearly everything: Erin, the bed, Carol's uniform. Quickly the officer rolled Erin forward to ensure that her young lover wouldn't choke to death. She used deft fingers to clear Erin's mouth since the girl had little control over her own muscles at this point.

"What was she doing today?" Carol asked Stan.

"What do you mean?" he mumbled, not sure how a recital of the blonde's day could help the situation.

"Drugs," the tall woman growled. "What did she take? We have to tell the doctors what they're dealing with," she lashed out, angrily, her voice dripping with dark sarcasm. Her patience was wearing well beyond thin with this man.

"I thought it was pot but maybe it had something extra. I had a few hits but Minos and Skylon had the most. I feel pretty groovy so I'm not sure why they're trippin'."

Carol didn't give a damn about how Stan was feeling and was about to say just that when Erin groaned and began to cry.

"Shhhh," Carol coaxed, her manner suddenly becoming tender as she wiped the young woman's forehead. She turned her attention to Stan briefly, not wanting to take her eyes from the blonde. "Get me some towels. A cold damp hand towel and some dry ones."

Without question Stan did as asked, seemingly relieved to be away from the woman's wrath if even for a few moments. He stumbled down the hallway towards the community bathroom at the end.

Meanwhile, Carol stripped out of her soaked clothing, leaving only her T-shirt and underwear. As Stan returned with the items, Carol cleaned up the young hippie as best she could with the large cotton bath towels and tossed them aside. She also stripped the bed and tugged off the blonde's gingham dress. Then she placed the cool rag on Erin's forehead.

"Get these out of here and get me some clean ones," she demanded, pointing to the stack of soiled towels. "A larger one; damp like this one. I've got to cool her body down."

Once he left to get more, Carol climbed behind Erin into the now sheetless bed. She lifted the young woman up and placed her head in her lap. Erin flailed for a moment at the change of position. She was obviously disoriented but Carol's soothing reassurances seemed to calm her a bit.

Stan returned once more with the requested cloth and Carol used it to rub down Erin's feverish body. "What happened?" he asked.

Carol could feel her anger burning deep within her. At whom, or what, she wasn't sure. Perhaps it was just the uncontrolled situation. Carol liked having a say in her destiny and as she sat there rocking a mostly nude Erin gently in her arms she realized Erin's fate, as well as her own, was now in God's hands. She very well could lose the young hippie and that hadn't been something she'd planned for.

She wondered just where the hell that ambulance was and why it was taking so damned long. Carol had never been on the other side of an emergency situation. She was always called into the scene as a professional - never had she been part of a tragedy. Never had her heart ached as it did now. Suddenly, she understood the hysteria of victims and family members. For the first time, she also understood the public's frustration with emergency personnel reaction time. No matter how fast she responded to a call she'd never get there quick enough to stop this kind of pain and uncertainty. She realized in the same instant that she'd never have that problem again since she'd walked away from serving and protecting in order to be here now with the woman she loved. The woman she was going to grow old with. The woman who could die at any moment.

"No," Carol whispered aloud to herself and Erin, her husky voice reduced to a strangled plea. "You fight. Don't you give up on me."

Stan realized the dark woman had either not heard his question or had chosen to ignore it but he sure wasn't going to ask again. Instead he decided to wait downstairs for the paramedics. Moments later, Bill appeared in the doorway.

"They're here," he sighed, pushing his fingers through his long hair. He was frazzled and sweaty, the slump of his shoulders concrete evidence of his strained emotions.

Carol simply nodded. "Did she respond?" The man knew what she was asking and he looked at his feet, quietly shuffling without saying a word. "You've done the best you could. Remember that," Carol said honestly, hoping to relieve some of his guilt.

She watched Bill move quickly from the doorway, taking a spot farther down the hall as the two paramedics worked their way inside. Reluctantly, Carol backed away to give them control and they placed Erin on a flat back stretcher to carry her downstairs.

"Both women were smoking marijuana," she told them as they tied down her lover. "My guess is it was laced with PCP - judging by the symptoms of both of them." She was trying to remain focused on the job, wanting to tell them whatever might help them save the young blonde's life.

"Such as?" the paramedic said skeptically, barely affording the tall woman in underwear a once-over.

Carol didn't quite understand this bozo's attitude. Then she realized what it was when she recognized the disdainful look in his eyes. Without the uniform, he assumed she was just another member of the house. She was angered for not being taken seriously and the discussions she and Erin had had about the establishment came into real focus for her for the first time, the young woman's lilting voice echoing in her ears.

"I happen to be an officer of the law," Carol informed him, lowering her voice an octave to let him know she was displeased with his attitude. "And this woman is a dear friend of mine so cut the superior bullshit and listen to me if you want to save some lives today."

The man's eyes widened and he quickly apologized but Carol brushed it off impatiently. She didn't need his platitudes; she needed his medical expertise. "She's been convulsing, vomiting, and sweating. And both have been unconscious."

"We'll check it out, ma'am," said the paramedic responded, respect returning to his voice.

"You do that," she warned in a growl.

"Okay," the chagrined man turned to his partner. "On three. One, two ... three." With that they hoisted Erin up and out of the room. Carol followed them down the stairs and watched from the front doorway as the ambulance doors closed. She released a long sigh as it started its way down the street. Before, in the station house when she'd first been told Erin was in trouble, she'd felt the fear of the unknown. Now, watching the red and white vehicle make its way down the street in its own symphony of sirens, her fear was based on reality. She could lose her lover today as they had lost Minos.

"Come on," Bill said, moving forward to rest a hand on Carol's shoulder. The touch startled her and she flinched slightly under his gentle fingers. "Let's get you some clothes and then I'll drive you to the hospital."

XXXXX

Given Carol's height and size, she fit somewhat comfortably in a pair of Bill's jeans and a bright red T-shirt. They'd arrived at the hospital nearly twenty minutes after the speeding ambulance and had spent the better part of an hour pacing the waiting room. Carol was barely able to control her temper, the desire to see the young woman overriding all reason. Bill spoke calmly to nurses and doctors, allowing his dark companion the distance she needed. Finally, they were told that the hippie had been admitted and was in a room on the second floor.

Carol stopped mid-stride, having heard the words even across the room, and spun on her heels to run down the hall and up the stairs at the end.

Erin was lying asleep in the hospital bed as the dark woman took a chair directly across from her. For several long moments, Carol merely sat and watched the small blonde. She still looked dangerously unhealthy: her skin nearly stark white and clammy. But her breathing was even and the machines continued to beep reassuringly around them.

Slowly, Bill walked in with a cup of coffee. "I didn't know how you take it. Is black okay?" he asked, handing the cup over hesitantly, not sure if the woman wanted companionship. He glanced to the prone figure in the bed, his heart lurching at the state of his gentle friend.

Carol gave him a genuine smile. "That's fine. Thank you very much."

A silence passed between them until Bill asked, "Has she woken up yet?"

Carol shook her head and examined Erin a few more moments, sipping her brew. She cringed as the liquid touched her palette. "Is it just me or does this taste like motor oil?" she teased.

"Hospital coffee is just as bad as the food it seems," he countered good-naturedly, relieved to find the woman in good spirits. A lot of the worry and tension had drained from her broad shoulders once she'd found her young lover.

They both grinned at each other and Carol offered her cup over in a toast, which Bill accepted by clinking his Styrofoam container against hers. "I'll drink to that," she replied.

This lighter moment was a much-needed relief from a day filled with so much tension.

"Well despite the taste," Carol said with a grin, "the sentiment is appreciated."

Bill simply returned the smile and Carol watched as it slowly slipped away, his thoughts traveling to the earlier events.

"Thank you," Carol whispered sincerely. She could feel her eyes growing moist.

"For what?" he asked, truly uncertain of Carol's appreciation. "The coffee?"

"For getting me," she replied. "It took a lot of guts for you to walk into that station house. You did your best back at the house by taking care of Minos." Bill was going to pose an argument but Carol silenced him with a finger. "It may not seem like it but you were a real hero today. I hope someday you see it for yourself. I think Erin has a wonderful friend in you, Bill."

He tried not to smile or blush, given the severity of the situations but he couldn't help himself. "Thank you," he replied with heartfelt gratitude. The compliment meant a lot coming from Carol. "I hope someday I can too, but it's hard."

Carol was going to reply but Erin uttered a light groan and slowly opened her eyes.

"Erin?" Carol called softly, returning her attention to the blonde and setting aside her coffee.

Erin recognized the voice and willed her eyes to focus, wanting very much to see the familiar face. Finally, the tall brunette's concerned features became clear. "Carol? Is it really you? Where am I? What happened? Are you real?"

Carol had expected this reaction and wouldn't have been surprised if it had been more dramatic. Time was lost for the young woman and her surroundings would be unfamiliar. All of that would pass, the bigger concern was damage to the small woman's vital organs and nervous system. Hopefully such would be minimal if at all.

"I'm real, sweetheart. I'm real," she whispered taking Erin's hand. "Here. Feel." With that Carol guided Erin's hand over her cheek, letting the young woman feel her skin to see she was in fact the genuine article and not some hallucination in her mind.

For several long minutes, the blonde's cool fingers danced on Carol's skin, reassuring her that the dark woman was real. It also gave her an opportunity to awaken more and run green eyes around the stark white room.

"Where am I?" the young woman asked as she began to attempt to sit up. Carol helped with her assent from the mattress by supporting her slight weight and tucking pillows behind her.

"They brought you and Minos here to the hospital. Seems whatever you were smoking had PCP ... angel dust," Carol said to clarify, watching Erin closely for her reaction.

"Angel dust?" Erin asked, surprised. Slowly her mind went back to the conversation in the kitchen about Joy and how this week's weed was from another seller, not their usual contact. "I feel like I've been hit by a truck," she said groggily as she rubbed her face with a trembling hand. Her whole body ached and her head throbbed as she tried to search her memory for more details. It was then she noticed Carol was wearing Bill's university T-shirt. "Why are you wearing Bill's clothes?"

Carol grinned, trying to keep things as comfortable as possible for Erin. "We kind of had an accident. You lost your lunch all over me," she teased as she used long fingers to smooth back Erin's unruly hair.

Erin winced at the image though she couldn't actually recall the incident. Her mind still felt fuzzy. "I'm so sorry," she apologized.

"Hey, what's a little vomit between friends huh?" Carol brushed off with a wry smirk, capturing Erin's chin between her thumb and her index finger. She traced the smaller woman's jaw gently, focusing on the cloudy emerald eyes.

"How's Minos?" Erin asked next, ducking her head from the intense gaze. Because of her movement, she missed the flash of regret in blue eyes.

Carol knew the question was going to come sooner or later and she tried to figure out how to best relate the bad news. She decided the truth, without unnecessary padding, would be the best. "She's ... she's gone, Erin. She didn't make it."

Erin didn't say anything. No reaction whatsoever. Carol thought for a second that perhaps Erin had blacked out again or maybe hadn't heard what Carol had said. But the hippie's voice soon echoed Carol's statement; "She's gone? What do you mean she's gone?" The young woman's voice strained with the question, quavering slightly.

"She was already gone when I got to the house, Erin," Carol explained gently. She still stroked Erin's chin and cheek, moving upwards to push back long blonde tendrils at the woman's temple. "Bill and I tried CPR but ... the doctor thinks she had a brain hemorrhage. She died almost instantly. I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I know how much she means to you."

"No," Erin thought aloud. She was shaking her head, pushing away Carol's tender touches. It was all too much for her. "That can't be," she replied. "It was only weed. Weed doesn't kill you." Erin's voice had begun to rise with the resistance that was building in her mind.

"It's called 'superweed' or 'killerweed' on the street," Carol told her patiently, dropping her hand to rest on Erin's blanket clad knee. She was glad when the young woman didn't resist that touch as well. "It was a very potent formula, honey."

Erin wanted to say something, but she didn't know where to begin, her mind was spinning with sorrow and grief. She was confused by the severity of the situation, since she'd been smoking weed with Minos for years. She'd heard all the stories, read the establishment's propaganda, but had never believed any of it. The reality of the situation was physically painful where it rested in her heart. Soon she gave up trying to speak, trying to come up with excuses or rationalizations, and she simply started to cry, repeating that it couldn't be possible. She just saw her that day. She couldn't be dead - not Minos. It simply could not be so. But she had learned a long time ago that wishing something to be true, didn't make it true. Her friend was gone and she was lucky to have survived.

Bill watched silently from across the room as the two women clung to each other. He was saddened by their loss, yet saw the peace in them from still having each other to hold. Quietly and without comment he made his way from the room, out into the sickly white hallway and towards the stairway that would eventually lead him to the bright sun beyond. Another day, but so much had changed.

 

Chapter 17

Minos was laid to rest in the morning three days later. Erin didn't shed a tear at the service. She just couldn't cry any more. She spent most of her evenings prior to the funeral, sporadically weeping in Carol's strong arms. Her older lover would reassure her that things were going to be okay, that Minos would want her to move on and let go of her grief. So at the service Erin kept her head high and even smiled from time to time. Many wondered just what had changed in Erin since Minos' death. She looked the same, dressed the same but the way she carried herself, the way she acted, was somehow different. She suddenly seemed ... grown up.

At the funeral, Carol stood silently by her young lover's side, surrounded by an odd mixture of people from scholars to hippies to store owners. Minos had touched countless lives and their gratitude showed in grief-stricken faces. And the young hippie she had in cuffs weeks before, the one in which she sensed an air of leadership and promise, oversaw the ceremony with that very same confidence but on a much grander scale.

Erin was relieved to have Carol near her and she leaned against the dark woman who was clad in a simple sundress. Erin had grinned when she'd first seen Carol this morning, thinking the tall woman in the floral print dress possibly the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Carol had blushed and brushed off the compliments with a shake of her head and the wave of her hand. She so rarely wore dresses that she'd actually had to go purchase this one the night before.

Erin would have gone shopping with her lover, however she had an appointment with an attorney who stopped by the house. Although Minos was anti-establishment she wasn't stupid. She had made sure that a will was drawn up naming Erin sole heir to her estate - an estate which contained a bank account of roughly $2000 and the house in which everyone lived. When the other housemates learned of Erin's position many questions began. The biggest being, did they have to move?

Erin assured Minos had named her as her beneficiary for a reason - and that reason being Minos knew Erin had the sensibility and responsibility to oversee the house. No one would be moving. No one would be cast to the streets because of a greedy home sale. Erin hadn't quite decided what course her life would take but she did reassure everyone the situation would remain the same for them.

When the service was over, and all had spoken, the group of people moved to the big run down house and had a reception in Minos' honor. There were sandwiches and salads, soda spilling from the cooler, but no drugs or smoking. In fact, it was that night while curled around each other in Carol's bed that Erin swore she would never smoke again.

Carol was mildly surprised but greatly relieved. She stroked the smaller woman's bare back warmly, placed a kiss on her forehead.

"You saved my life," Erin murmured into the darkness.

Carol shook her head. "No. We were both lucky. The doctors saved your life. I'm not sure what I would have done if you'd died in my arms."

"Let's not think about it."

Problem was there was little to think about that was actually good right now. Carol had walked away from her job and was unemployed. She'd gone back yesterday to clean out her locker, her shoulders heavy with the angry glares of people she had once called comrades. No one tried to talk her into reconsidering and she wouldn't have entertained those thoughts anyway. She had made her decision and she'd make it again. She would always put Erin ahead of herself or her career. The certainty of that had shocked her since she'd spent a life without emotional attachment. But through the faÁade of bravado and political opinions, Carol had seen the young woman's compassion and soul. She knew she wanted to stay with Erin at all costs and could only hope the hippie felt the same.

For Erin, she celebrated the life of her friend as she mourned her death. She graduated with honors and felt no pride as she walked down the aisle with the diploma clutched in a sweaty white hand. Until she'd glanced up to meet ice blue eyes watching her from the crowd. They'd shone with pride and made Erin grin. The only high point of the last few days was the certainty of her relationship with Carol. The tall ex-cop had sacrificed quite a bit for her and, in fact, had seen the young woman at her worst but didn't turn away. She ran a hand along the dark woman's well-muscled abdomen, nuzzling into her neck.

"I love you."

Carol smiled. "I love you, too."

"What are you gonna do about work?" the blonde ventured softly. It was something they hadn't discussed and it seemed a much safer topic here in the darkness of the middle of the night. The tall body beside her moved slightly.

"Nothing."

"What do you mean nothing? You're the best cop they've ever had," Erin whispered.

The dark woman shrugged. "They don't agree with that. Besides, I don't want to go back. Maybe something else will come up. I have some savings from my Dad, I'm okay for a bit."

Erin nodded solemnly, turning her head to place a kiss on warm skin. Something would come up ... or ... perhaps ...

"Carol?" the petite woman questioned, burrowing deeper into her lover's shoulder. "Would you consider a move downstate ... to New York?"

Carol wasn't sure why but she could feel a certain tension in her young lover's body as she asked the question.

"Why do ask?" Carol pondered.

Erin wasn't quite sure how to express herself and made a humming noise as she considered things. "I was offered a job with a new magazine. Gloria Steinem is the editor. With my communications background they think I might make a good reporter, plus they said if they have space they could feature some of my artwork."

"That's wonderful!" Carol said quickly shifting to a sitting position. "But why didn't you tell me?!"

"Well I wasn't going to take it," Erin said honestly. "It's in the city. I'd have to move ... and I didn't want to let you go."

"Oh, Erin," Carol answered. "Don't give up a promising career over me," she said honestly.

"This from Miss Take Your Badge and Shove It," Erin chuckled.

"That was different and you know it," Carol threatened putting her forehead on Erin's, doing her best to look menacing.

Erin simply grinned. "You're not very intimidating when you're naked," Erin remarked. "Alluring? Yes but not intimidating. And sorry to say, it's no different. My life wouldn't feel complete without you in it."

Carol smiled. She understood just what the blonde meant and settled back down with Erin wrapped in her arms once more. A thought occurred to Carol, "Well, why are you telling me now? Do you want me to move to New York with you?"

The amazement in Carol's voice scared Erin. Perhaps she was asking too much too soon. It was a big step but one she was ready to take. She thought perhaps Carol was ready too but then again ...

"I mean not if you don't want to," Erin quickly replied. "I'm sure I could find something locally. I'm not sure why I even brought up that silly job offer. Just forget it."

"No. No," Carol said, stroking her lover's hair reassuringly. "I kinda like the idea actually. I mean there's nothing here for me now."

"You've got your family's house, Carol."

"Exactly," Carol said, "My family's house, not mine. There's very little in this place that's me, Erin. I could sell this place. That would be enough to get us started."

"I couldn't ask you to do that," Erin said sincerely.

"You're not asking. I'm offering," Carol corrected. "There's nothing here for me now. No real home. No job whatsoever," she chuckled. "The only thing I have, truly have, is you ... and I think we should start our life together."

"Yeah," Erin considered it and then nodded in agreement. "Yeah. I'll go to work and you can use the money from the house sale to go to college. NYU is a pretty good school."

"Hold on a second," Carol said putting her hands in front of her. "We didn't say anything about that. Besides, I have to earn my keep. I won't be leeching off you."

"How about this?" Erin offered. "Classes during the day and a few hours someplace in the evenings. Will that make you feel less like a freeloader?" Erin chuckled.

"Yes, it would," Carol said with a grin. "I'm not gonna be a gold digger."

"There's one job that I could hire you for," Erin said playfully as her fingertips traced Carol's areola.

Carol stole Erin's fingertips from her taunting skin and kissed them lovingly. "You forget. I used to be a cop and there are laws against that."

"I won't tell if you won't tell," Erin said quickly as she straddled Carol's waist.

Carol simply gave a light-hearted chuckle before growing silent. She reached up and began to stroke her lover's cheek with the back of her fingers. Erin closed her eyes in reaction and soaked up the feeling of Carol's delicate touch.

"I love it when you do that," Erin confessed softly.

"I love doing it," Carol admitted freely. "We could do this every night if we lived together y'know."

Erin opened her eyes to gaze down at her lover. "So ... we have a deal then," she grinned.

"Yes. Perhaps going back to school for me isn't such a bad idea. I'm sure I could find something to study where I'd be making a difference - if not police work then some other field," the dark woman's mind wandered in thought. She'd wanted to be a cop to honor her father and to prove herself, surely there were other occupations where she could do the same.

As if reading her lover's mind, Erin smiled warmly and traced one dark eyebrow. "I'm sure you'll still make your father proud." She'd known all along that was the biggest disappointment for Carol in her employment fiasco and departure.

Carol gave Erin a genuine grin. This woman could see into her very soul at times - and although frightening now and then, it was the best feeling in the world. "You know I think you're right," the tall dark woman answered. After a brief silence, she pulled the woman closer, tucking her in once more and asked, "Now tell me all about this magazine of yours."

"Well ..." Erin began taking a deep breath. The young woman explained the format, the audience, the political moments behind it. She talked about how Ms. Steinem had impressed her - very forceful but friendly in nature. She discussed ideas for future issues and her chances of her artwork being seen by possibly millions of people. She felt like a chatterbox by the end but Carol assured her that she was very interested.

"What's it called?" Carol asked.

"Ms," Erin answered. "It's aimed for all women - not married women, not single women. It's an expression used to show that a woman isn't dependent on a man for her identity. It doesn't constitute marital status. For me, personally, since I don't need a man, I find that oh so appealing," Erin laughed.

Carol joined in as they began to tumble and twist on the bed. Tumbling soon turned to caresses, caresses to kisses and so forth. By the end of the evening Erin lay sound asleep, exhausted in Carol's arm. The former officer sighed in contentment. Despite all the recent tragedy, grand and small, they had survived. And they were rebuilding their lives, together, as one.

Epilogue

Carol sat silently on the park bench, overlooking the children laughing and playing in the field beyond. The trees were just beginning to change to fall colors: green interspersed with light yellows and oranges. She took a moment to glance down at the blonde nestled on the bench beside her.

Lost in thought, Erin concentrated on the notebook in front of her. She lay on her side, head on Carol's right thigh, pad of paper tucked by her chest. Occasionally she scribbled on it. Carol ran her fingers through the blonde hair tenderly, smiling when emerald eyes glanced up.

So much had happened in the past year. The move had been simpler than it would have seemed: the house selling easily and much of the furniture selling just before closing. Erin had helped the ex-cop pack up her few remaining belongings, including many mementos of her father, and they'd loaded the Mustang and headed out of town.

Moving in together should have been awkward but was far from. Everything about it had seemed natural and easy, even when classes were hard and Erin was rattled by her work, their apartment had always been filled with laughter and love.

Next week, the blonde would be flying to Detroit to do an interview with Rosa Parks and she prepared for that meeting now, sprawled across the bench and her lover. She'd found her work very rewarding: a way to change the world by telling the stories of great civil rights leaders and educating the public on worthwhile causes. And Carol had pointed out immediately with a rueful grin that Erin also didn't have to worry about being arrested in the process, which had its advantages

For her part, the ex-cop was enjoying her classes at NYU studying something she'd always had ties to: law. Locking up the bad guys was in Carol's past but she knew she had to stay connected to the justice system so becoming an attorney seemed the way to go. There were many innocent people, many causes that needed a legal voice behind them. Carol felt that she could be that voice.

Many days were spent like this, both women silently following their own paths while comfortable in each other's presence. Carol smiled again, glanced back to the open book on her left thigh. Her right hand moved from blonde locks to rest on her lover's shoulder.

Not too long after they'd left, Randell was found not guilty by the police review board in the shooting. It was no big surprise to either woman though both were disappointed. The surprise had come later in the form of a phone call from the ACLU who was working with Jimmy's parents. Their attorney did some research and had tracked Carol down to the women's little apartment in the village. He'd asked if she'd be willing to testify as to what had happened that day. Her eyes lit up at the chance to bring her fallen comrades to justice. Though a criminal conviction would have been preferred, the civil suit would be better than nothing. And any monetary impact on the small station would leave quite an impression with quick-triggered cops in the future. The dark woman had easily jumped at the chance. Though the changes in her life had been more than welcome, the events of her leaving the force did still haunt the ex-cop. The feelings of failure plagued her waking thoughts from time to time, leaving her feeling as if there was something more she should have done. Finally, she'd had her chance.

Just last month, Carol had taken the stand, telling her story, the real story. Randell and the others had glared at her in the courtroom, had gone as far as harassing her outside of the legal proceedings. But she knew what she was doing was right and she let the hatred roll off of her, smiling inwardly at the pride Erin would feel. She'd thought of how they would celebrate when she got home, the blonde's enthusiasm more than contagious. She hadn't been disappointed.

It was weeks later that they'd heard the outcome and had reason to celebrate again. The department, as well as Randell, ended up owing $200,000 in a wrongful death suit. Of course, the money couldn't bring Jimmy back. It would, however, make departments and officers more aware of the consequences. If it didn't hit their conscience, they did have pocketbooks and sometimes hitting there hurt more than anywhere else.

Distracted by these thoughts, the words on the page in front of her a blur, Carol didn't notice when Erin rolled to her back, gazing up into the angular face of her lover.

"Hey," Erin murmured, stretching lazily in the warm morning sun.

"Hmm?" the dark woman's blue eyes focused on the upturned face.

"Have I told you how much I love you?"

"I believe you have," Carol grinned, rubbing the smaller woman's stomach.

"How beautiful you are?"

"It's been mentioned."

"How proud I am of you?"

Carol laughed softly, nodding. She bent over to kiss Erin warmly, her lips lingering. "Have I told you that you are the best thing that's ever happened to me? And that I love you more, find you more beautiful, and couldn't be prouder?" she whispered.

Erin chuckled and they shared another kiss in the morning sunlight, listening to the rustle of leaves and the laughter of children

The End

 

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