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Dead Man's Party... Part 3
by Feral

Disclaimers: There’s a lot that goes on in these two chapters. I’ve got many many plotlines interwoven in this story, and I’m giving you clues to follow here that are starting to become a bit more apparent.

Dedications: Again, I thank those who have offered support and encouragement, that tea towel is now officially a bathmat. Much better. Thank you to Beurre Blanc for her beta and friendship. The woman is the soul of patience, and witty as hell. She makes this whole thing sing. Trust me, I can’t punctuate or keep my infinitives unsplit to save my arse. She also has a tendency to make me go a little easier on the main characters, which is good because I’d have killed one of ‘em off in frustration by now otherwise. Thanks too to Inspector Boxer of the indefatigable ear for voices and to Geonn Cannon ( the god of Squires Island).

Thank you as well to E-scribblers for the reliable and well maintained home, not to mention the very first words of encouragement.

Feedback is always welcome: Please, let me know how you like the story. And be well...feral@e-scribblers.com.

Copyright © 2008 by C. R. Johnson. All Rights Reserved.


Chapter 8

Rae loved the way sunlight willingly trapped itself in Elsa’s long hair, danced in the blue of her eyes and warmed the silk of her skin. It seemed fitting the sun should embrace El, hold her as dearly as Rae did. A spare spray of freckles graced Elsa’s nose and cheeks, another along her shoulders and chest. Rae spent countless hours tracing them with fingers, lips, tongue, their pattern memorized in slow wonder.

So many secret places only she and the sun bent to worship on El’s slender form, places that keyed responses and drew Elsa out of time, into timelessness. Ears, the nape of her neck, the saddle of her shoulder, these were obvious, but that place beneath each shoulder, the dimples and the small of her back just above her ass, the rim of each hip, the hollows of her elbows and curve between thumb and forefinger; all teased small sounds of accelerating desire from Elsa. Rae lived to hear those small, hungry noises, the growls and less-than-articulate grunts and gasps winged through her head and heart, took root in her memory, even colored pain with desire.

Hearing Elsa’s voice call her name, she tried to answer, but her throat was tight, her jaws ached and her tongue felt too heavy to move.

“Rae…”

She felt leaden. Where before she’d been floating, now she seemed to be anchored, pinned by gravity and something more. The small muscles of her face twitched, breaking whatever spell had fended off the connection with her body, and pain, glass-grinding, bone rending pain flooded through her.

“Come back to me, baby,” Elsa whispered, breath teasing at Rae’s ear. “Please, come back…”

With the relentless draw of planet toward sun, Rae turned her head on the rusty pivot of her neck toward Elsa’s voice and was rewarded with a kiss. Tears touched her lips, and she tasted them.

El’s tears

---

Rae was half way to her car when she stopped, looked up at the morning sky and closed her eyes. Despite being alongside the highway, songbirds filled the air with their calls and a cool breeze played at the sweat on her face, tugged at the ends of her shoulder length hair. Like a thief, she stole this one moment of stillness, and breathed deep.

The roar of a jake-braking semi as it rolled into town from the south ripped away the quiet, and she lowered her head in defeat. Her boots needed a shine. She’d washed them off, and used Buecoupe: the shine was ruined.

“Hey Irons! Want to stop by for a beer? I got some Guinness!” Jonas was an ass, but he knew how to drink. Rae shot him a look, saw the same worn expression she knew was on her own face, and offered up a half smile. This morning she couldn’t muster enough ill will to do any less even toward his misogynistic ass.

“Nah, got somewhere I want to be.” The words were out of her mouth before she could censor them, so she let them fall. He, and every other male on the crew, had been bird-dogging her about the appearance of unexpected smiles and an uncharacteristically mellow attitude. And now she’d just dropped a live round on her own feet.

“Oooh, gonna get some TLC?” He wanted to know more. She knew he’d pester and annoy her until she said something either more revealing or damning, and then she’d have to kill him before he could spread the word that ‘Irons is getting some…’, but yup today she’d just grin and bear it. She kept her private life private, and she was damned if she felt up to sparring with Jonas right now. Hell, if what she was feeling over the last 5 weeks was anything to go by, she was going to have to start wearing turtlenecks before August. Even a pinhead like Jonas would figure that one out… eventually.

She walked the rest of the way to her car, keyed in the code to unlock the doors, and slipped down into the grey leather interior. Tim and his damned food poisoning! She hated being partnered up with Jonas.

Unclipping the cell phone from her belt, she keyed in the new number, ignoring the time and giving in to her own desire for the rest of the world to go away – all but a small slice of it.

“Hello?” Elsa’s voice was thick with sleep. Rae found it incredibly sexy.

Plunging ahead before her brain had a chance to second guess, Rae bet on the feeling that had stayed with her since leaving Elsa at her door night before last, and started talking. “I don’t suppose I could talk you into sharing breakfast with me, could I?” This was a half-baked idea and she was pretty sure it sucked, but the pull to see Elsa before tonight was so strong…

A second ticked away. Another. Rae unconsciously held her breath. “I’ve got eggs… and some fruit, I think.” There was a rustle of sheets and Elsa cleared her throat. “Are you off duty yet?”

Rae took it as a good sign Elsa hadn’t hung up, and a better one that she seemed to know it was her. They’d only been dating these past five weeks, but there was definitely something there. “I was thinking of picking something up and invading your space for a little while.” God, that sounded a bit forward… “You sound cute when you wake up.” Even worse…

Elsa let out a small sound that must’ve been attached to a stretch, leaving Rae with a very sudden shift in perspective, and a definite salivation problem. Yup, this was definitely more than just a fling.

“We’re still going out tonight, right? Or is this a buy-off?” Elsa asked, sounding more alert.

Rae realized suddenly that shaking her head wasn’t translating well over the phone and concentrated on forming words. “I have very specific plans for you and a blanket and fireworks in the sky. No change from me.”

“Good.” Good. Rae waited. “Bring something decadent and sweet? It’s Saturday, I’m feeling… decadent. Where are you going?”

“The Calf.” Rae started the engine, the fans starting up, feeding the SHO’s engine. A tap to the window controls, and the breeze found her. Switching the phone to her left hand, she shifted into first and rolled out of the parking lot.

“In that case, Hazelnut Mocha with cream, and a chocolate croissant please,” Elsa requested.

Twenty minutes later Rae was at the door to Elsa’s condo. Her energy was flagging. It had been a long shift and it had ended late with an adrenaline downer. She was half way through her own coffee, surprised she was still on her feet. The exhaustion seemed to dissipate, though, when El opened the door, and Rae breathed in the fresh showered scent of her over the coffee.

El smelled wonderful.

Looking way too perky, Elsa held the door open and waved her in with a spark of lascivious delight in eyes that traveled Rae’s body, taking in the uniform while appraising the body beneath, concern coloring those blue eyes by the time they met up with Rae’s. “Come on in before you fall over.”

Rae stepped into the house, handing off the containers. “Your sugar, as requested.” She bent to undo the laces of her boots to the creak of her duty belt. She had no intention of settling in, but she cringed at the idea of leaving even a trace of her night on Elsa’s carpeted floors. A hard back chair, breakfast, conversation, and the tonic of Elsa’s laughter before she went home for some sleep were what she needed to push back the night just past.

A hand in Rae’s hair coaxed her upright again before she could do more than loosen the knots, and Elsa’s body against hers, and the lips that suddenly covered her own banished any further thought of ghosts.

Taking in a deep breath, Rae wrapped her arms around the slim figure and kissed back. Elsa was new territory: every kiss, every touch, every conversation a discovery. They’d been out five times, and talked by phone or in doorways every night in between, even when Rae was on call. The pull between them was like a drug, and Rae wanted more. They both did.

“You taste good,” Rae managed

“And you are covered in poky stuff.” Elsa leaned back, giving the duty belt and Rae’s badge, nametag, pens and pins a thoughtful look. “Very hot,” she observed, “but not very comfortable.” Her hand brushed past Rae’s ass and fingers clipped through the shears and extra pens she’d shoved into the pouches of her cargo pocket. Looking down, El frowned, and grabbed the ever-present stethoscope from around Rae’s neck. “You’re wearing a t-shirt under that shirt?” El asked.

“Uh, yeah.” It was a tank, but she figured that didn’t matter much. The idea of the starched white cotton sanding her skin through a 24 hour shift was less than attractive, and being unable to shed that starched shirt even if it was heavily soiled was disgusting.

“Strip to it, and dump the pants too. I’ll get you some shorts.”

Suddenly Rae was staring dumbstruck at El’s retreating form as she hurried up the stairs. And the salivation problem was back.

Rae finished her boots and straightened just in time to have a pair of knit boxers in pink and green pressed into her hands.

The smile on Elsa’s face was slow and easy. “Bathroom is to your right, under the stairs.”

Rae felt her eyes narrow. “How did breakfast become ‘get undressed’?” she asked.

“Do you want to keep wearing that, or would you rather relax, cuddle on the couch and share coffee and croissants?” El asked with a cant to her head and her hands on her hips. Dressed in a loose sweatshirt and U of M warm-up shorts, she looked warm and comfortable and inviting as hell.

“You’re right. Stupid question.” Rae pulled her shirt tail from her pants, and started on the buttons. She began to make her way toward the bathroom, only to have El’s hand stop her, held out in obvious expectation. For a second Rae just stared, unable to comprehend.

“Shirt,” Elsa prompted. She smiled as she said it, but when Rae continued to stare, the smile softened to one of tolerant amusement. “You’re exhausted, aren’t you?”

Rae’s expression hovered between embarrassment and gratitude, and she nodded slowly. In the weeks they’d been seeing one another, this was a first, and the fizzle from her overwrought adrenal glands bore just enough of a punch to tell her she was not up to the task of processing what any of this might mean.

Taking Rae’s hand, Elsa instead led her away from the bathroom, and up the stairs, a single look enough to quell the questions Rae opened her mouth to articulate. At the top, she stopped at a door just off the short landing and reached in to flip a switch. The oversink lighting was bright and unforgiving over the double vanity and seemed to scatter over the off white tiling of floor and walls. Elsa walked in first, leaving Rae to follow like a lost puppy.

Towels, washcloth, toothbrush were produced in quick order. “Leave your uniform on the doorknob into the bedroom and I’ll hang it up. Once I know you’re in the shower, I’m going to bring in a different shirt for you and a few other things.” El examined her for a moment, a small line appearing by her mouth as she pressed her lips tightly together, noting the way Rae stood and stared. After a moment, she leaned in and kissed Rae on the cheek. “You need sleep more than food right now, don’t you?” she asked, the line beside her mouth becoming more pronounced as Rae failed to answer. “How about I turn the bed down and you crawl in once you’ve showered? I’ll wake you in a few hours.”

“I shouldn’t…” Rae started, only to have Elsa interrupt her with a soft hand on her cheek.

“Maybe,” she said softly, “it’s time you learned that with me, you can.” She left Rae to unravel the statement on her own, closing the door behind her.

Safely closed in the master bathroom, Rae leaned against the vanity and took a minute to detach her radio and cell phone from their holders before letting her belt and pants drop around her ankles with a heavy thud. Stepping out, she looked herself over in the wall-length mirror. She looked like she’d been up for days, and she’d lost weight on a frame that really couldn’t afford it. How did that happen in just 24 hours?

And why the hell would anyone, much less someone as incredible as Elsa, want anything to do with her?

Rolling her eyes at her own self doubt, Rae stripped and put her clothes where Elsa had asked, making sure her pager and radio were both off. The last thing she needed to hear right now would be an all page for a critical stress debriefing. Bad enough they’d want her in for a circle jerk of examining her feelings about last night, but the idea of hearing that paired, high pitched tone of the page was enough to knot her guts. For a while, she wanted to forget the world and just be… Just before she padded into the shower, she shut off her phone as well.

Rae adjusted the temperature of the water from hottest to merely hot, stepped under the spray, and stretched her arms up over the shower head to let the droplets beat down on her. As the heat did its work, she felt her body start to lose the tension that had kept it running. Christ, she was wiped out.

Did she even eat yesterday? There’d been the early transfer to the cities, then the two runs to the casino. A domestic call. A kid with a dog bite on his ass because he was throwing apples at the neighbors’ Rottweiler for shits and giggles. Oh, and the teenager in flames: that had been a kicker. She didn’t want to think about that though, or the fact the damned chopper couldn’t fly because of weather.

Reaching for the soap, she lathered up the wash cloth and began to scrub as much of the stink of burned flesh and gunpowder from her skin as possible.

Neither she nor Joe had talked much on the return trip from the cities. A call twenty minutes out of town had been their warning of a possible OB transfer and they’d done a turnaround in the time it took to diesel up the truck because Med Trans was too cheap to let second crew get paid for six hours on the road when primary was close. Just another day in paradise.

Without thinking, she’d reached for the shampoo, the apple rosemary scent rising in the steam, opening her senses to the new memories of Elsa, and their making out on the couch last Sunday night, both just skirting the line of letting go of the controls. There’d been a solitary shower after that as well, but it was this scent, and the less definable taste of El’s mouth and skin that Rae had carried with to her bed…

And now here she was in Elsa’s shower, alone.

A knock on the door from the bedroom, and Elsa called out from just beyond the shower curtain that she’d put sleep clothes on the vanity for her, a large glass of iced water was beside the bed and it was turned down. “I’m throwing these in the wash, and you’re climbing into bed. I don’t want to see you until I come wake you up unless you’re…”

Rae stuck her head out from behind the curtain, and startled off whatever else El had been about to say. Face to face now, Rae found her voice, but none of her usual flippancy. “Thank you,” she said. Inelegant, fumbling, and far more vulnerable than she would have imagined, she hoped El wasn’t seeing her as some bumbling fool.

Blue eyes wide, El’s gaze flicked down to where the curtain covered anything of interest, then just as quickly back to Rae’s face, a sudden blush burning her cheeks. In the seconds following, even through the fog of exhaustion, there was no missing the desire that burned in those eyes, nor the way they locked onto Rae’s lips as Elsa nervously licked her own.

Taking a step closer, Elsa took Rae’s wet face in her hands and kissed her lightly on the mouth, then again, more deeply. When she suddenly stepped back, Rae looked as though she’d been bushwhacked, and contrition had taken the place of want in El’s expression. “You’re welcome,” she murmured. “Finish, before I decide to throw out the manual and join you.”

“Manual?” Rae frowned. The word wasn’t finding a home, as her mind skidded on the ‘join you’ part of the statement. Her hand gripped more tightly to the thin fabric of the curtain, her body more than interested, yet some small part of Rae’s self-control reasserted her need to guard her heart. Knowing she was vulnerable, that small part still maintained its supremacy over Rae’s willingness and burgeoning trust.

Perhaps knowing, or more likely simply caring, Elsa kissed Rae’s nose and stepped away before temptation grew to be too much. “The manual that says I get you rested before I exhaust you myself. I want full credit.” She turned and grinned, then scooped up Rae’s clothes and left.

A minute later, rinsing the shampoo from her hair, Rae realized she was still smiling. Stepping from the shower, she found a mug of tea beside the towel on the vanity, and beside the mug, a sprig of lilac that had to be from the bush just off the porch. Had it still been in bloom? She picked it up, breathed in the sweet scent, and caught her reflection in the mirror. Still slightly fogged over, the mirror lent a softness to her reflection, and to the expression she wore as she’d brought the delicate flowers to her face. The picture surprised her. There was something undeniably feminine, almost innocent, in her own face that she’d never considered before. She spent a moment trying to understand what she was seeing, and failed. Whatever it was, though, she liked it, and the way she felt, and she knew without doubt the source was Elsa.

Rae scrubbed the towel through her hair with the intention of getting her ass down stairs and onto that couch. She pulled on the soft sleep shorts and camisole and chuckled at El’s choices. There was perhaps a message in all of this: she wasn’t by any measure butch, but pink wasn’t really her color, and she tended to rebel against pastels. Maybe Elsa just wanted to see a bit more of her softer side, after getting glimpses of it over the last few weeks.

Well, if El wanted vulnerable, today was her day, because Rae was only one step away from dead on her feet. Avoiding the bedroom at all costs, not sure she was ready to immerse herself in Elsa without her being present, or fall as deeply asleep as her body was likely to between sheets, she left the bath by the same door she’d entered and headed down the stairs.

She found Elsa in the kitchen, putting away dishes from where they rested in the drainer. “I thought you’d be out by now.”

Rae shook her head. “I was promised cuddling on the couch.”

Carefully, as though watching a drunk trying to keep her keys, Elsa dried her hands absently on a towel. “Are you hungry?”

“Too tired,” Rae admitted, shaking her head.

As if the conversation had been the key to some grand pattern, Elsa raised a brow and studied Rae anew. Lips drawn tight and eyes narrowed slightly in study, she motioned for Rae to take a seat on one of the bar stools near the counter. “I’ve just got to finish up,” she said, reaching for an apple and handing it to Rae. “Apples are like Jello, there’s always room.”

“I detest Jello,” Rae mumbled.

“No one detests Jello.”

“I do,” Rae managed around a bite. “Feels funny in my mouth; kinda oogie.” Her second bite practically devoured a third of the apple, and she allowed only a second’s question when a bowl of mixed fruit appeared in front of her, complete with a glass of orange juice.

“Oogie?” El had been by the toaster doing something, watching as Rae had finished the apple and moved on to the fruit, a tiny smile guarding whatever she might be thinking. “Is that even a word?”

“Probably not...” a bite of melon disappeared between even, white teeth, “…but it’s how it feels.” The smell of blueberries and the sound of the toaster popping up went unnoticed. Bagel and cream cheese were next on the counter, taking the place of a now empty bowl of fruit. Elsa sat herself down opposite Rae, and bit into a bagel of her own.

“Anything else about it you object to?” Meaning Jello.

“The florescent colors are creepy, and it jiggles. Food shouldn’t glow, and it should sit still.”

“Words to live by,” Elsa teased. She took another bite of her bagel and nodded toward Rae’s. “Eat that would you, please? They’re going to waste. Expiration date is close.”

Rae’s eyes were starting to droop, and there was a lack of guardedness in her manner and speech that made Elsa think she might be seeing a shade of what Rae was like as a little girl. She obeyed the request as easily as a child at bedtime, after too long a day at the lake.

It would be so easy to take advantage, to lead Rae up the stairs and into bed. There was no doubt they were both not only willing, but wanting… and Lord knew she was cute like this, pulling on every heartstring Elsa had.

El’s eyes fell to a spot of color cradled in Rae’s hand, the delicate blossoms of lilac El had collected less than an hour ago. It had been an impulse, a silly romantic gesture she was hoping would put a smile on Rae’s face, lead her into sweet dreams. She thought the woman would have teased her, shrugged it off as nothing of importance. But Rae had said nothing, and she’d felt a pang of disappointment, until now, seeing that despite the bone-weariness, the petals were held like a treasure.

Keeping silent, she watched as Rae lost even more steam. The ‘Little Engine That Could’ was about to slide down the tracks and land on its caboose. Elsa waited a few more bites, hoping to get as much fuel into Rae as she could, then realized they’d reached the point of diminishing returns. “C’mon,” she said softly, reaching across the island to take Rae’s hand.

It was surprisingly easy to lead Rae into the living room, and there was no comment when Elsa stopped to pick up a book before settling onto one end of the couch and patting her lap. The idea seemed so right, Rae didn’t even hesitate, despite the new intimacy of the position. Her body would easily cover the length of the couch, but curled on her side, facing Elsa’s knees, she fit with plenty of room to spare, and as Elsa’s hand began to comb through her still damp hair, Rae began to lose the fight to keep her eyes open.

“Do you want me to turn on the news?” Elsa asked, continuing to feather through Rae’s hair.

“No, thank you,” came the response on a sigh. Rae’s hand brought the lilacs to her face, breathing them in. “Thank you for the flowers though.” The words were almost lost in a whisper as Rae sank deeper toward sleep. “They’re beautiful.”

“My pleasure.” Elsa kept combing her fingers through the softness of Rae’s hair, fluffing it in the warm air of the house. As Rae slept, she laid her own head back against the couch and closed her eyes, the smile on her face one of absolute joy.

Chapter 9

Humming.

Elsa was humming. Rae tried to concentrate on the melody, follow the strains of El’s rich voice. She’d heard the tune before, knew it as one El would hum in moments of simple pleasure.

A touch ghosted through her hair, the fingers familiar and sure, waking Rae further, leading her as she willingly followed. Elsa was calling…

“Ahh, there’s my girl,” Elsa murmured. She was close, and there was a smile in her voice; the lazy smile she wore in early mornings, or when cuddling on the couch over long talks or old movies. For some reason it always accompanied a caress, just like now.

A twitch of Rae’s lips took on the more courageous venture of a full-fledged smile, but that gave way almost immediately to the startled grimace and a sudden stab of pain.

A kiss soothed and Rae wanted to turn into El to deepen it, but the muscles of her neck felt like dried oak, knotted and unyielding. She managed a grunt, but no more, before Elsa was kissing her the way she’d wanted, and moving didn’t seem as important as it had. The caress of El’s lips woke other parts of her, reminding her she had a body, but as the desire to touch Elsa’s face became a slight twitch of fingers, the movement was swallowed by another wave of agonizing pain, and the pleasure of the kiss was lost.

“Shh… Don’t try to move. Did I hurt you?” Elsa asked.

Don’t move… Rae processed that, wondered when she’d last moved and why that command seemed so important. Were they playing? She searched the largely congested vaults of her memory and came up empty. She opened her eyes…

…and saw nothing.

---

Blackness. The choking stink of dirty socks and male body odor startled Rae as something was wrapped round her neck and began to squeeze.

---

Ice grating at her left brow.

Blood, thick on her tongue.

---

The taste of Elsa on her tongue, filling her nostrils…

“You gave me your socks.”

“What?”

“You saw something outside that scared you…”

---

Blackness. The choking stink of dirty socks and male body odor startled Rae as something was wrapped round her neck and began to squeeze. She felt Elsa fall against her and reached out blindly to catch her even as she clawed at whatever began choking her. She locked her right hand on El’s arm, instinct telling her to hold tight and not let go, to pull her in, cover her with her own body before she was wrenched away.

Something narrow jabbed hard into her gut and brought her to her knees, tearing loose her grip on Elsa. A second jab, this one to her ribs, curled her onto her shoulder, icy grit from the lot grinding into her face through whatever covered it as she gasped for breath. She was in slush, a puddle deep enough to drown in, and a foot pressed down against the back of her neck, mashing her deeper.

She could hear Elsa cry out, accompanied by the ring of unfamiliar laughter and the scrape of keys…

---

Ice grating at her left brow.

Blood, thick on her tongue.

The grinding of dualies on damaged bearings, spinning slowly toward a stop.

Trying to breath, choking.

far off Sirens, …

---

Far off sirens.

Dark green light.

El’s blue eyes, and that look she’d started to wear around her, the one that did strange things inside her chest: “You gave me your socks…”

She could hear Elsa’s gasp…

---

Elsa crying out.

“Jesus! What the fuck was that, man?” A male voice, unfamiliar.

The sound of the SHO roaring to life, the whine of the fans as the engine breathed.

---

The turbine whine of a chopper revving up.

“Rae, open your eyes girl, I wanna see those green eyes of yours, c’mon.”

---

Blackness. The choking stink of dirty socks and male body odor startled Rae as something was wrapped round her neck and began to squeeze…

She could hear Elsa cry out…

---

“El…” Her throat felt like it had been scorched and the name came out as a squeak. The sound surprised her, and tightened muscles that had felt disconnected and languid before the sudden snap of pain took her breath away. Nausea gripped her, and cold sweat beaded her brow and upper lip.

“I’m here. Try not to move,” Elsa soothed. Fingers twining their hands together, her voice took on an uncharacteristic urgency, one that pinned Rae’s attention as firmly as would a siren. “Babe, listen carefully, I know this is confusing, but you’ve been hurt. You have a concussion. There are dressings over your eyes.”

It was a dream, a terrible dream, it had to be. Just some sick horrible nightmare of worry and fatigue. El was here with her, she was fine, their baby…

Just a dream.

A touch smoothed through Rae’s hair, Elsa taking a breath before continuing. “Your arms and legs are being held down to keep you from hurting yourself. Please love, I know it’s hard, but I need you to try and understand.” Urgency became promise as lips feathered over Rae’s brow. “Don’t fight. I’m here. I’ll keep you safe. I’ll always keep you safe…” There was something practiced in the speech, as though Elsa had made this plea before.

It was difficult to breathe, her throat, her chest… She didn’t care. All that mattered was Elsa and their baby.

“Shh,” El whispered. “Hush. I know you hurt. Breathe slow and light. The nurse is on her way, she’ll give you something for the pain.”

---

“Too tight?” Elsa’s voice was in her ear, the heat of her breath washing across Rae’s temple.

Rae shook her head, not wanting to talk, afraid it might break the spell and she’d wind up trapped being just herself again. She loved it when they played, loved letting go and letting the moments just happen - no plan. When Elsa had tied her hands to the headboard, she’d been surprised, but the blindfold…

“Are you afraid, Rae?” El asked.

Brows drawing together, puzzled, Rae again shook her head.

Elsa drew a hand along Rae’s flank, the heat of her touch translating through the cotton shirt with ease. She had shifted on the bed, was settling astride Rae’s legs, leaning down over her, not quite touching. “Do you want to be?” Elsa’s voice was husky, hungry, promising all manner of things – if Rae would only ask.

The shudder that ran through Rae’s body was undeniable. Elsa tuned in to it, and immediately gentled. “Do you want loose, babe? Tell me what you want.”

It took a moment, but Rae shook her head, “I want you to show me,” she whispered. “Please baby, please…”

“My love,” Elsa soothed, her hands moving up to Rae’s and twining them as her body lowered just enough to brush belly and breasts. “Let me make you feel...”

---

Concussion… brain… injury to brain, causes confusion, memory problems and personality changes…

“Rae, stay here, c’mon, get out of your head and concentrate on me.” Elsa’s tone had an edge, demanding her attention. Rae didn’t want to argue. She always lost when they argued…

---

Tim hated it when she got lost in her head. That’s what he called it in his more charitable moments, ‘lost in her head’, and El had embraced the term with altogether too much relish for Rae’s taste. They’d even started to tag team her, said they knew something was wrong when she wandered off inside her own thoughts for any length of time.

The fact they were usually right did nothing to mitigate her irritation at the process of drawing her out. Sometimes a girl just had to think! And while Elsa was quite good at gently coaxing Rae out of her shell, Tim had all the finesse of a sledge hammer.

And he was wielding it now.

“Would ya pull your head out for a while and join us lesser mortals so we can get back to the barn?” Today wasn’t one of his more charitable days, apparently, and he was looking at her over the top of the run sheet he was working on as though he was ready to throw it at her.

“She’s your patient, you figure out how to word it.” It wasn’t like she hadn’t had to get creative on her own sheets often enough, while he howled with laughter. Besides, she wasn’t even laughing at him; she was just leaving him alone so he could finish the damned report.

When he glared at her, she shrugged and began to recite: “85 pound female, nonagenarian, complaining of shortness of breath. Alert, disoriented: name, place, time. Pupils pinpoint, non-reactive, track equal bilaterally, airway clear, respiratory rate…” she thought back, “twenty-two.” Rae rolled her eyes. Respiratory distress my ass. If she lived to be a thousand years old, she’d never understand nursing home logic. “And… um, ‘mood elevated’,” she added. “Throw in your head-to-toe and when you get to CMS just note upper extremities: strong distal pulses, hand grip strong, locked on medic’s left tit.” She tossed him a look when she said it, making sure he knew any objection would fall on deaf ears. “Make sure you mention the restraints, and you might want to enter in that you protested -- a lot. It’ll keep the lawyers happy.”

He was looking at her like he wanted to strangle her. “I can’t write that! And it’s a pec, not a tit. C’mon, a little help here!”

As if she hadn’t helped enough today… She’d been on patient care for three runs to his one, and she’d intervened on his behalf on that one. He stood six foot two and weighed two hundred pounds for Christ’s sake: he could probably have used the woman as a weight for biceps curls and not broken into a sweat! Drugged out of her gourd with staff too scared to go near her, she’d latched onto him like a limpet.

“Your nipple then?” That would work.

“Aw shit Rae, now I know you’re just yankin’ my chain!” Rae schooled her features carefully – no concession. At last Tim looked back down at the run sheet and asked quietly, “How do I spell ‘nonagenarian’?”

She cocked her head to the side and looked at him a moment longer, then retreated, back into her head. He watched her chew her lip absently, swore, and continued writing. He was on his own now, and the slight purpling of his throat and ears told her he knew it, and didn’t like it at all.

“C’mon, what bug crawled up your butt this morning?” His frustration had finally gotten the better of him again. “Hell, I’m surprised you even noticed I was in trouble back there the way you’ve been preoccupied today.” He tapped her head with his pen and she made a grab for it. He was expecting the move, however, and she missed. Like all medics, they were both highly covetous of pens, their own and those of others. The highest compliment a medic could give was the sacred partner trust of the ‘passing of the pen’. On the obverse, the highest torment was hearing an ER doc ask ‘may I use your pen?’ and having no choice but to hand it over. Like nurses everywhere, doctors steal pens. Silly, considering they don’t have a clue where said pen has been, or if the medic has bothered to clean it.

“Hard not to, the way you were squealing,” she shot back, “and what goes on in my head is none of your business!”

Oh, shit! As soon as she said it, she wanted to recall it. She might as well have waved a red flag in his face. Stupid, stupid, stupid…

Tim’s jaw dropped theatrically while his brows headed for his already receding hairline, and the gleam in his eye that had been absent almost from the time he’d gotten too close to the patient from 24b, miraculously returned. “Oh, now I get it,” he said, nodding sagely. “What did ya do this time?” The man seemed to have discovered is inner sadist sometime since he and Donna got married, and he was clearly enjoying himself now. Suddenly he viewed himself as some kind of relationship guru, always willing to dispense advice to his colleagues, no matter Rae and El had been together for over eight years already, while he and Donna were just celebrating their second Christmas together. “You’re on the couch again?”

“Probably.” Rae grumbled. “I hate Christmas.”

---

The rattle of curtain rings announced an arrival, Rae nearly missing the sound as Elsa and her own thoughts vied for attention.

“Good morning, Ms. Rae Irons, I’m Walter.” A happy, rich voice, wrenched Rae from her thoughts. Elsa, still at her side, still holding her hand, was running fingers through Rae’s hair.

Rae turned her head toward the voice out of habit, and immediately whimpered.

“How are you feeling today?”

Rae cleared her throat and swallowed, absorbing encouragement from El’s quiet presence. She could hear Walter moving around the bed, going about his work, as she began to formulate an answer.

“I’m just going to check your lines and these drains. Take your time.” The sheets were moved along Rae’s side, her body exposed briefly. She could feel a light tug where lines entered her body and the realization scared her shitless.

Restrained and sightless, her only option was to take refuge in bravado. “Mm kay.” The words were little more than a croak, and rasped out of her throat as though from the flat of a file, and it frustrated her. Someone - not Elsa - touched her right hip, startling her. Reflexively she tried to reach out with her right arm, jarring her shoulder, and nearly making herself vomit with pain, even though she had managed little more than to open her hand. Something was wrapped around her wrist, pinning her arm to her body.

“None of that now. I’m sorry I startled you. I’ll try to be more careful,” Walter said gently. A hand, big and powerful and calloused with hard use clasped the hand she’d tried to raise, and Walter asked for the other.

“I’m still right here, love,” Elsa assured her, as she relinquished her hold.

Rae got the impression that Walter was a big man, able to stretch his arms across the bed without effort. His grip was almost a caress, his skin dry and warm despite the hardness of calluses. When he moved down to her feet, Walter warned her first, those big hands checking her pedal pulses, smoothing over her toes and heels.

Elsa had resumed the clasp they had shared, her thumb smoothing over Rae’s knuckles as though to soothe them both.

“Can you tell me your name?” Walter asked.

After wandering in circles a few times inside her head, Rae managed to croak out her first name.

Someone else entered the room now, a nameless someone Walter spoke with in tones too soft for Rae to hear over the cicada chorus in her head. She tightened her hand around Elsa’s, and felt her lean even closer to hear her.

“Where…?” Rae whispered.

“Immanuel St. Joe’s,” Elsa answered. “In the ICU.” Her voice was gentle, intentionally calming.

Despite the tone, Rae tensed, unable to avoid shaking her head in denial. “Nnn…” Even as the ground glass pain tore at her muscles and their attachments, she pulled at the restraints until El’s hand tightened in her own, until finally El reached up to place her hand, light and soft, over Rae’s heart. “Baby, stay here with me, don’t go back there anymore. Please.”

---

The scream of the turbines winding up. The pop-click of a disposable ditch ventilator. The creak and sharp pain of her ribs. Something in her throat. Something in her throat…

---

She’d cried herself out, and had started counting the tiles of linoleum that lined the long hallway outside of surgery. Someone was running a buffer further down the wing: she kept waiting to hear it bump into a wall and ricochet back, but the sound never came.

“How old do you think they were?” Tim asked suddenly, startling her out of her fugue. “I mean, there were what, four of them? How old do you think they were?” For some reason the question seemed important to him.

And not so much to Rae. “Just kids. Thirteen, maybe as old as fifteen?” She could feel her control beginning to slip again, her hands beginning to shake.

“She’ll be okay Rae,” he said, hanging onto the platitude as comfort, offering it up without really thinking.

Suddenly she couldn’t stand being near him. His hurt was an affront, one she wanted to eliminate in a fit of rage she barely controlled. Well fuck him! Rae was on her feet, striking out down the hall, as far from him as she could get without losing sight of the surgical wing doors.

Her body’s need for tears had apparently not yet passed, and she swept a hand across her eyes to clear them away, angry at the show of weakness. If she looked weak, Tim would try to comfort her, and the last thing she wanted right now was that.

---

She heard El’s gasp…

---

A whimper of hurt slipped from Rae, born of the same hell as the tears that began to soak the dressings over her eyes.

“No, love. That was a long time ago. I’m fine. Do you hear me, Rae?” Elsa knew. She knew, and immediately she began talking Rae out of the anguish that had gripped her. Low and careful, Elsa brought her mouth close enough to share their breath, lips brushing. “I’m fine. I’m here, and I love you. Come back.”

“S… Sssorry.” The word sounded like a rusty hinge, and there was a sharp, cutting pain as her vocal chords made another attempt to join the effort.

Elsa, as prepared as anyone reliving this conversation for the third time, still found herself choking up again. It was an old wound, but one which had never truly healed; Rae still carried the weight of responsibility - the burden of guilt she had shouldered over what had happened so many years ago.

“That was a long time ago, Rae. You’ve been in an accident and your memory is still foggy. It’s coming back, it’ll take time and you need to be patient.” Elsa took a steadying breath. “We’ve never let go of one another and we’re not letting go now,” she said resolutely. “Hold on to me.” The grasp they shared tightened.

For Elsa, the bitter truth was that Rae bore that guilt under a false premise. She hadn’t failed. She’d held the two of them together by force of will as much as heart. Hearing this apology repeated, knowing it was so deeply ingrained in Rae’s being, opened Elsa to too many old wounds of her own. And for the third time is as many days, Elsa regretted being forced to traverse those levels of hell yet again.

“No apologies, no guilt. Just hold on to me, and we’ll be fine.” Elsa took a deep breath and shared a look with the nurse. After a nod of encouragement Walter left the room, his checks done.

Alone now with Rae, Elsa bent her head close to Rae’s ear and in a soft, calm voice, she began. “Can you hear me, love?” A careful nod was Rae’s response, and it heartened her. Perhaps this time would be the last she needed to tell this tale. Please let this be the last…

“There was an accident on the rig; black ice they think, maybe a deer. You were in the back with your patient. They found you both at the bottom of the slope and brought you here by chopper.”

The rhythmic thumping of blades as they beat the air, turbine whining as the engine revved to speed. Her head felt like it was going to split open, but El was telling her something, and she’d asked her to listen…

“You were in surgery by the time I got here, and you’ve been back in twice more since. There was a lot of damage.” Elsa took a slow breath and forced herself to keep going. “It’s been awfully close, love.” Despite the repetition, she remained incapable of speaking of Rae’s near loss without having to force the words. A flare of defiance, of pure raging fight, railed against the possibility of what that loss would mean, and the cold edge of that emotion pressing down on her was something Rae didn’t need right now. So she skimmed across the details, protecting them both.

Elsa watched Rae’s face, wishing for the thousandth time she could actually see into her eyes. So much of Rae’s communication was through her eyes. The very real possibility that Rae would never again be able to see was such a minor detail when Elsa allowed herself to give in to the monumental fear of losing her. Even so, she craved that sparkle in Rae’s eyes that was just for her.

“I nearly…” Elsa choked, and took a breath before trying again. “Rae, losing you is something I won’t survive, so you stick with me, okay? Okay?”

Another tiny nod from Rae was her answer.

Movement at the window alerted Elsa to the nurse’s return, and that meant the doctor was on his way, if not already here. Looking back at Rae’s face, she noted the tightness of her jaw, the set of her mouth. “Does your head hurt again?”

“Uh huh.”

Two words. Two! Elsa felt instant elation at Rae’s response. Words – real, intelligible words! Rae had answered, not just babbled, not just asked the same repetitive questions, or whispered the same apologies. If this was progress, they were turning a corner at the heady rate of a snail, and yet Elsa’s heart soared.

Something occurred to her, and she thought back over the last few minutes. And then it struck her: when Walter had asked Rae how she was feeling, then gone on to check…

“Rae?”

“Mmm?”

“Did you just tell the nurse that you were feeling okay?” she asked.

When Rae’s lips lifted, no more than a shade of her normally wide grin, El knew, and despite everything, or perhaps because of the tension and fear she’d been riding, like a rowboat in a typhoon, she felt laughter bubble up inside her.

“Oh God, I love you,” she breathed into the shell of Rae’s ear before kissing the corner of her mouth. “Rae Irons, only you would say you were okay after being bounced around like a hacky-sack.”

“’y am,” Rae said, and as she heard El break down into a combination of laughter and sobs, she wondered what she’d done now... She was fairly certain, however, that she was forgiven, no matter what it was.

---

She woke with her face pressed into El’s lap, one arm around El’s waist, curled up like a kitten. She couldn’t recall at first how she’d gotten there, or even how she knew for sure it was El’s lap she was face down in, but the fact was undeniable. So was the realization, as she emerged from the fog of sleep, that she’d been merging dream with reality and her body had very definite ideas of what should come next.

“Happy?” Elsa’s voice was light, amused, and it brought Rae out of the semi-stupor of waking to pull in her arms and roll to look up, blinking. Before she could really focus, she felt Elsa’s hands smoothe over her face, combing through her hair with long, delicate fingers. “You’re adorable when you wake up. Did you know that?” She watched as Rae sat up, and chuckled as she shook off enough of her daze to smile, one arm across her legs, green eyes level and curious.

“You take in a deep breath, and let it out slowly, like you’re tasting the world.” Elsa settled her arms on Rae’s shoulders, keeping her so they were face to face. “You did it twice just now, the second time much deeper than the first…” Her eyes took on a mischievous twinkle. “I wonder why that was?”

Rae felt a blush wash over her face, even as a part of her rose to the challenge, though not in the way Elsa might have imagined. Taking one of El’s hands in her own, she placed a light kiss on the knuckles, turning it over as El’s amused smile faded, and her breath hitched with a sudden flush of arousal. Rae placed another inside the curve where thumb met wrist, less gently now, with a slow swirl of her tongue on El’s pulse. “How long have I been asleep?” she asked a moment later, keeping her expression much calmer than El’s heart rate - or her own - made her feel.

Lips parted as though ready to speak, brows high over reddening cheeks, Elsa stared.

As Rae reveled in the reaction, she became reluctantly aware of urgent cues in their surroundings. The TV was on, a woman’s voice droning a warning, key words demanding Rae’s attention. Severe thunderstorm, 70mph winds, rotation, possible Tornado SW of Deep Falls… The light in the room was wrong, green and watery, deepening in a stillness that warranted concern in and of itself. Still holding El’s hand, Rae slipped off the couch and knelt beside her, taking in the map and crawler on the screen.

“There’s a storm coming in.” Elsa’s voice was thick with residual desire, and she cleared her throat before repeating the words in a more normal voice. “I need to close windows before it rains.”

---

Snowing.

Snow, falling onto her eyes, but she didn’t blink. The stink of diesel fuel, and the tink tink of cooling metal.

Someone gasped, and her chest came alive with crushing pain while the stars fell from the night sky…

---

The curtain slid back with a slow tapping slide of rings and though Rae couldn’t see who it was, there was a definite sense of crowding that told her more than one person had entered the room. Elsa didn’t move from her place at Rae’s side, but she did begin to stifle her laughter at their shared joke. They were going to be okay. And her Rae, the one who could minimize even the most horrendous hurts so long as they were hers to carry, her Rae was still here, whether the doctors knew it yet or not.

“Hello, Ms Irons. I’m Dr Jenson.” His voice was soft, and he moved in close alongside the bed. From the slight echo off the walls, Rae guessed he was glancing from her to the monitors. “I know you can’t see me through the dressings, so I’ll let you know what I’m going to be doing so I don’t startle you. Is that acceptable to you?”

Rae cleared her throat and managed a nod in agreement.

“Good. I’m going to be examining you while we talk. First off, can you tell me your name?”

Swallowing, hoping to work up some moisture to lubricate the grinding pain in her throat, Rae answered, “Rae Irons.” She may not have been able to see, and it sure as hell was distracting having every syllable feel like it was made of barbed wire when she uttered it, but she felt El’s body respond to the words, and felt some of the tension she was sensing ease into something closer to relief. El was scared, and Rae hated anything that scared El. The fact it was her condition simply magnified Rae’s compulsion to fix this.

“Very good. Where do you live, Rae?” Rae wondered if it was just her, or did everyone feel like a trained seal at that tone of voice.

With El. No, that’s not what he was asking. Where did she live? She could picture the house, could hear El’s laughter floating out the windows while she talked with her best friend Emma on the phone. They’d known one another forever… wait, no, stay on point here… where did she live? Grey house, dove grey, that had taken forever to get right, with brick and slate trim she’d worked on over an entire week. The front window was a huge multi-paned affair, sealed and she needed to re-glaze the outer panes…

---

The crunch and whump of metal reverberated around her, tearing at the air in tormented chorus.

---

Damn it, what was she supposed to be…? Home. Where was home? Clearing her throat, she concentrated, ignoring his hands on her body. “721 Spalding.” It hurt like hell to answer.

The silence that followed made her wonder if she’d misunderstood. That was right, wasn’t it? Yeah, 721 Spalding, where the bushes needed to be trimmed before they started to grow out of their symmetrical shape and Mr. Lambert next door began to complain.

Jesus, what the hell happened to my throat?

“Excellent. I’m going to put my hands in yours; I want you to squeeze my fingers as hard as you can, without moving your arms, especially your right arm.” She did as he asked, though the rotation of her upper arm was unavoidable the way he moved her. As she concentrated on the tasks, her brain seemed to waken just a bit more. She nearly blurted out “Deep Falls,” when the name of her town came to her, but was distracted when he asked her to hold her left arm straight in the air. He ran her through some finger exercises, and tested the sense of touch on her fingers, her palms, the back of her hands.

“Good. Now I’ll ask a few more questions, while I move on and examine your legs. Can you tell me where you are?”

The neurological exam bothered Rae, but the effort it took to concentrate on the doctor’s instructions left her little capacity to puzzle out why. “ISJ, ICU,” she croaked, as El took her hand again, waiting quietly.

Her nose itched, and she tried to lift her hand to scratch when the restraints stopped her. “Why am I…?” She cast around in her head for the right word and could only come up with a picture of a green and black box. She read the name in her mind’s eye, and started again. “Posey’s?” What a stupid sounding word. She didn’t like being in restraints, not like this anyway. The longer it lasted, the more vulnerable she felt, and the more nightmarish the possible explanations seemed to be.

“You’ve been recovering from a rather severe concussion; you’ve been pretty confused the last week or so. We’ve had to keep you restrained, but I think we can remove those now,” he answered lightly.

She recalled how the nurse had said ‘none of that now,’ then apologized for startling her. She spent a second trying to put that together with her vague sense of unease, and as a consequence she missed the doctor’s next question. Her wrists were being untied and she failed to answer as she flexed her left arm and rotated her right wrist, until after he repeated himself.

“What is the last clear memory you have before waking up, Rae?”

---

Tearing metal, the whump as the side of the module slammed into the ground, nearly wrenching her from where she held on. Arms around her…

---

Rae took time to put words together for an answer. There’d been an argument with El, she remembered El’s hurt expression… then Tim was beaten up by a little old lady… oh, yeah, “Casino run.” She wondered if this guy knew how much it hurt to talk, to have the tones pounding around inside her head as she rasped out the words. “Mustard.” The last word satisfied her they’d recognize the run. Her lack of vision kept her oblivious to the looks of confusion El and the doctor shared.

“When was that?” He asked.

Mustard… from the lunch buffet. Benadryl. The woman had taken Benadryl and the first responders had her feet up because her blood pressure had tanked. “Mid afternoon.”

“What day?”

Day? A week was made up of days, days into minutes… no hours. Hour. An hour was 60 minutes. Count pulse for 6 seconds add zero…

“Rae, what day?”

Her mouth answered before her brain caught up. “Tuesday.” It had been Tuesday, hadn’t it? Even to her own ears, it sounded like a guess.

“Do you remember anything at all about what happened? How you got here? Anything?” He had an extraordinarily gentle voice and Rae wondered if she knew him. Had they passed in the halls? Had she brought in patients for him? Did he care for El in the past? Had he nicked one of her pens?

“Nnn…” It was hard to breathe out enough or open her jaw enough to make an ‘O’ and she wasn’t sure she wanted to expend the effort. The task seemed inordinately difficult.

“I don’t want you to worry too much about your memory. It’s going to take some time for you to flush all the drugs from your body,”

Rae knew that word. “Drugs?”

“Medications – the anesthetics, the sedatives and so on – while you were ventilated. Some of them take a long time to be cleared from the body. And your head took a pretty hard hit.” He paused for a moment, then asked, “Are you in any pain at the moment?”

The need to answer was less than the need to keep the ringing of her own speech out of her head. She waited.

When it became clear Rae wasn’t going to respond, El spoke up. “She was complaining about her head, and I know she tried to use her shoulder.”

Rae turned her head toward El’s voice, the weariness in it catching her attention. A squeeze of her hand and she felt lips on her forehead.

“I’m okay, babe, I’m just glad you’re back is all,” El whispered.

Back? Back from where?

“I want you comfortable, but we wanted to bring you up out of the fog you’ve been in, so we really do need you to tell us if you hurt,” he said, then mumbled something to someone else. “Dr Singh, your neurologist, will be in to see you soon. In the mean time, how about I answer any questions you may have?” Something, a chair, Rae realized, was pulled close to the bed on her right side and she could hear him settle in.

She very slowly turned her head toward where she could hear his breathing.

If he was surprised by the care with which she moved, he didn’t let on in any way she could discern.

Questions. He wanted her to ask a question but he didn’t tell her what to ask… no, wait. That wasn’t right. God, it was hard to think. What the hell happened to her? “Why…” she grew frustrated and clamped her teeth on her temper. They were just words! What was so damned hard about words? So her throat hurt - big deal! She just needed to concentrate and ask what the fuck was wrong with her. Just ask!

“Why am I…wrong?”

There was silence for a few seconds and Rae imagined El and some faceless guy sharing a look. She didn’t like how that made her feel. When he began, there was a false briskness to his voice that grated even more harshly on Rae’s sensibilities. What the hell was she so damned angry about?

---

Weightless. The world spun on a crazy axis, and it seemed like even sound had abandoned them. Centripetal force was drawing her away from her grip on the cot…

---

“Head to toe, you’re doing OK, actually. You have a hairline basal skull fracture, and of course, the concussion that goes with it. That explains your loss of memory. We expect you’ll recover that in time, but you’ll have to be patient, and you should expect there will be gaps for a while yet. You’re also likely to get headaches, and you might get ringing in your ears at times. We don’t expect any long term losses, although…”

The pause this time was ominous – a very loud silence.

Rae swallowed, waiting. This she needed to focus on, to think about what was being said, but the silences between the words felt – funny, and she realized what he wasn’t saying was making her nervous. Skull fracture, concussion, loss of memory… okay, that explained a lot. But still…

Rae heard a heavy intake of breath as he measured the words, “We are concerned about your vision.”

Oh.

“The MRI scans show damage to your optic nerves Rae, and we’ve been unable to assess just how severe or permanent that damage is just yet. We couldn’t really assess you until you woke up – until you could respond reliably. Over the next weeks we should have a better idea of how affected your vision will be… and what our options are.”

Our options? Our?

She felt El’s thumb caress her knuckles and realized she’d tightened her grasp. “And?” There had to be a reason she couldn’t or didn’t want to move. The rock solid strength of El’s hand anchored her, and in all the world, there was nothing more miraculous than that.

“Your back and spine were compressed in the wreck, and there is swelling, but it has markedly reduced over the last few days, and we’re optimistic. You’re able to move all your limbs now, and you have good sensation. Your strength is as dependent on the shape you were in prior to the accident as well as the work you’ll be doing in rehab. That’s a big plus for you: that -,” she seemed to hear him smile, “ - and your stubbornness, which your partner has made very clear we can all count on.”

“The rest of your injuries we expect to heal quite nicely. Your right collarbone has been repaired surgically and we want to keep that stabilized for a bit longer so the ligaments and plate can do their job. Your lungs look good now, and the chest tube should be out soon. Your ribs are stable, but it’s going to be a bit difficult to take deep breaths for a while. The RT will work on that with you. The retro-peritoneal bleed was operated on a few days ago, and the surgeon has requested the drains stay in place for another day or so. After that, the only things of consequence are the tib/fib fractures of your left leg. You probably have enough hardware in there to alert homeland security when you travel, but I can write you a note…”

Apparently that was Rae’s cue to laugh. She didn’t bother to pick up on it, or to respond. She was busy chewing over what she was hearing and trying to put it all in the proper compartments – every one of them a sieve.

---

Sliding, her right arm useless to slow her, her nose taking the brunt of the impact as ice scoured her cheek, jaw and ear. Her ribs creaked, grinding, as her body followed…

---

As she cranked back the awning, thunder rumbled low and ominous, drawing Rae’s eyes to the sky where billowing castles rose in majesty, growing kingdoms of cloud and light, all rushing ahead of an ugly bruised front that roiled with power. The wall of cloud swallowed the south western horizon, growing before her eyes. Sunlight held no sway there, resisted by the ramparts, forbidden entry. Pure white edged lightning veined the darkness, revealing fingerlings and threads, tendrils reaching out from the boil of hell above to earth below.

The storm was still building right over them.

“That can’t be good.” Rae stepped back toward the door without taking her eyes off the storm and felt the first whispers of a breeze pull at her hair, rushing toward the front and raising the small hairs on the back of her neck. From across the river, she heard the first wail of town sirens, each whistle along the ridge and into the valley sounding in a chorus of warning. Take shelter. Go. Now! “Possible severe thunderstorms’ my ass!”

---

Crisp hairs against her cheek. Arms holding her tight as pain tore through her. “Hush girl, they’re coming.”

---

Spinning, she pelted back into the house and shut the door behind her. She finished the last two large windows in the living and dining rooms, meeting Elsa in the entryway. “Basement?” she asked.

Shaking her head, Elsa nodded at a folding door opposite the small bathroom. “Closet.” A heavy quilt was in El’s arms, and she dropped it to pull open the hall closet. An armful of coats and sweaters were dumped without ceremony on the island of the kitchen, and when she returned, Rae had swept the deep square closet floor clear of all but one pair of hikers, and had covered it with cushions from the couch.

Elsa used the remote to turn off the television and click on the stereo, powering up the receiver and the preset local station. Almost immediately a male and female voice began reeling off reports of small twisters on the ground in areas southwest of town, and others in communities nearby along the front.

It was a conspiracy, Elsa decided. A damned conspiracy. As soon as she got her hands on Rae, something always happened! So much for fourth of July. Things were going to be a bit soggy if not battered. She again met Rae near the closet doors.

“Go, I’m right behind you.” Rae said, scooping up her own boots and following Elsa into the small enclosure before closing the doors.

It was a narrow space, the one bare light in the ceiling throwing little illumination as they settled onto the cushions. El shook out the quilt and turned to find a pair of balled up socks and her hikers held out towards her and a calm, but very insistent expression on Rae’s face. “You want me to wear your dirty socks?” she asked.

---

She couldn’t see. Something over her head…

---

Rae smiled and waited for Elsa to give in and take them, the smile becoming a grin when she finally made a disgruntled noise and accepted. Pulling her own boots on over bare feet, Rae watched as Elsa slipped on Rae’s old socks and did the same with the hikers, grumbling as she went.

“Finally get the woman where I want her and we wind up in the damned closet…”

“What?” Rae asked, not sure she’d heard right.

Frustration evident in her expression, Elsa finished tying one boot and stretched out a hand to pull herself into Rae’s arms and kiss her. Deeply. It was the kind of kiss that left no room for ambiguity or question. “If that damned thing hits this town and you get called back, I will kill someone with my bare hands,” El threatened. She let go of Rae reluctantly and bent to finish tying her shoes.

---

“How long…” she began, “have I -” She had structured the sentence carefully in her head and damn it, she was gonna say it! “ - here?”

Elsa answered, as though El and the doc had practiced this. “It’s been nine days, love.”

Nine days. Over a week. Lying here like a lump of nothing. Being unzipped and zipped back up by strangers. Tied down… tied down…

“We’ve been keeping you heavily sedated…” Dr Jensen continued delicately.

Both women shut him out. Head injury, concussion, basal skull fracture, loss of memory, eyesight, spine, tied down…

Watching her, El could almost see the wheels turning, the catalogue of physical and mental discrepancies beginning to form some horrendous structure for Rae to use to rebuild herself. Rae would circle that structure, seek out weaknesses and flaws, and when she found what could not be ‘properly’ repaired, the ruthless part of her character would begin the work of demolition.

Elsa had no intention of sitting idly by and letting that happen. Rae no longer had the right to tear herself down. Not for the nearly nine years. Not since they’d become a couple. “Enough for now,” El said. She needed to put a stop to this, find some way to bolster Rae’s sense of self before momentum took over.

“’kay.” Rae sounded like a little girl, afraid and a bit lost.

“I love you.” Elsa said, full voice. “Hold onto that and don’t you dare ever let go!”

---

Elsa lowered her head onto Rae’s shoulder, and felt Rae’s arms encircle her. The local disk jockeys could be heard with an extension of a tornado warning for Deep Falls that would last the next 45 minutes before a canned explanation of the dangers and do’s and don’ts of tornado warnings began. “This so sucks,” she whispered.

Chuckling, Rae couldn’t help but tease her. “Unless you’re claustrophobic, it doesn’t seem so bad to me.” She was enjoying the feel of El’s head on her shoulder, her breath wrapping around Rae’s neck and washing beneath the camisole she wore, to caress her breasts. Her body was very aware of El’s closeness, and she had no reason worth pondering to pretend otherwise.

“I have plans for you, Rae Irons. And they involve a hell of a lot more than the inside of a coat closet,” Elsa murmured, placing a kiss to the juncture of Rae’s throat and collar bone, smiling when she noted the hard swallow that garnered from Rae. “God, I am so crazy for you, I feel like I’m going insane sometimes, just looking at you. You’re always just out of reach…” She wrapped an arm around Rae’s waist, threading it through the embrace that held her.

“Out of reach?” Rae asked, her throat dry.

---

Maroon and yellow: in that narrowed slot of vision she caught sight of the cot, and knew she had to reach it.

---

“Mmm.” Elsa snuggled her head even closer beneath Rae’s chin, as she placed her other hand on Rae’s opposite shoulder and began to smooth her way down toward the swell of Rae’s right breast. “Always just…” She squeaked in surprise when Rae’s arms shifted, unexpectedly picking her up and depositing her in her lap. She giggled as the boots on her feet got caught in the quilt and they had to renegotiate the move until she’d finally settled in facing Rae, straddling her legs, her arms around Rae’s neck. “Oh, that’s much better,” she whispered on a kiss.

Rae agreed, but was too busy concentrating on the kiss and running her hands along El’s back and ass to say so.

“Rae?” Elsa kissed her again, this time on the jaw, her voice soft and inviting.

“Hmm?”

“Do you think I can I take off my boots now?”

---

“We’re alone.” Elsa told her. They’d given Rae something in her IV for pain, and it was only a matter of time before she’d be out cold.

Rae swallowed and felt El’s hand tighten gently. “I’m scared,” Rae murmured.

Understanding wasn’t what Rae needed, and El knew it. “So was I, but now I’m feeling a little more confident.” She kissed Rae’s lips, lingering as she felt her begin to relax. “I can’t lose you, Rae.”

“mm here.” She was losing her battle to stay awake, giving in because she had no choice.

Elsa kept their fingers entwined, and kissed Rae’s knuckles, watching a dopey smile take up residence on Rae’s lips. “Yes love,” she whispered gratefully, “you are.”

---

Elsa smiled, as if over something obvious that Rae was missing. Shifting in Rae’s arms, she extricated herself from Rae’s embrace and straddled her hips, reaching down to grasp the hem of her shirt and pulling it over her head.

Rae’s hands had gone to El’s hips to steady her: those hands trembled now as El leaned forward, lips brushing softly against Rae’s.

Then El was standing, not bothering to step to one side, skimming her hands beneath her waistband to step a second later from both shorts and panties, tossing them aside with a foot, her body displayed in the partial light of storm and one bare bulb. She settled back over Rae’s hips with a satisfied look, releasing the front clasp of her bra and shrugging it off.

Naked and obviously comfortable with Rae’s eyes on her, Elsa took Rae’s hands in her own and placed them on her breasts, letting their weight rest in Rae’s palms, sighing at the warmth of her touch. She arched her back, knowing full well what she was doing to Rae, and skimming the wet heat of blond curls across the thin bare stretch of Rae’s exposed belly. El hissed at the brush of contact, wanting more, before looking into Rae’s eyes in wanton challenge. This wasn’t El’s first choice for their first time, but it would do, and what she was feeling was not going to be reined in with any degree of ease. She gave it her best shot nonetheless, too scared to move, as though the spell might break.

“Do I have to sit on your face to get you to react, Irons, or are you going to come get what you want?” Elsa had taken hold of the camisole Rae wore, only to catch her breath in surprise when Rae shifted beneath her, pinning her lower legs and lifting her off her knees in arms much stronger than she had expected. She whooped in delight, then began to laugh as Rae, now sitting like a Buddha, lifting her by force of strength alone, licked the flat of her belly and nuzzled the slope above her hip before lowering her back to meet her eyes. “Hey, that’s ticklish…” El tried to squirm and found herself suddenly completely off the ground. Elsa found she enjoyed the feeling of vulnerability before Rae’s aggressiveness.

“Deal with it, Robinson,” Rae growled, ducking her head beneath El’s arm, the flat of her tongue gliding over Elsa’s ribs before flicking over a nipple, teasing El’s already sensitive skin. Rae changed tactics, suckling as El sank her hands into her hair and guided her. She delighted in the gasp of breath as Elsa arched further in reflex, feeding her more. She used one hand to protect the back of El’s head as she leaned El’s shoulders into the wall behind her, changing the balance and easing the strain. She traversed the valley between El’s breasts, losing herself in the sensations beneath her tongue.

“God, you’re beautiful,” Rae whispered between nips. “Gorgeous.”

“Harder.” Elsa breathed into Rae’s hair as she planted kisses there. She hooked one knee over Rae’s left shoulder to free Rae’s hand, the other leg round Rae’s waist, and arched her back again when Rae sucked harder, teeth grazing across her areola. “Yesss.” She had to reach up to find the coat rack, to gain some leverage and some portion of physical control to make it easier to grind her sex against the muscles of Rae’s belly. “Yes Rae, harder.”

Ahh, a woman who knows what she likes. Rae bit down lightly, moving her head as she continued to suck, tugging El’s flesh with her and rolling her eyes upward to check as Elsa hissed, correctly interpreting the encouragement to continue along the line of her jaw and neck. The subtle, clean taste of El’s skin, the slight changes of taste and texture between ribs and breast and areola, the fine down of invisible hairs that lifted in goose flesh on El’s arms: Rae took it all in with wonder, wanting it all at once, yet desperate for the sweet agony of a more detailed, unhurried exploration. She wanted more, wanted to take her time and drink in every sensation, every taste and scent. The woman was a drug, and Rae was hooked.

Elsa tightened a hand in Rae’s hair, gripping hard, adding a layer of sharp pain she’d learned over the last weeks Rae would respond to. “No more waiting, Rae. Please.” There was a tremor in her belly that she understood all too well, one that told her this was right. She could feel its counterpart in Rae’s belly against her open sex – part fear, part exhilaration – completion.

Rae began to trail her lips down the centerline of El’s torso, her hand reached up from where it had been on El’s ass to follow along her spine with a light stroke of her short nails, the sensation pinning El in time, the path unhurried. Reaching El’s pelvis, Rae slowed even more. She wanted the use of both hands, and eased her right one from behind El’s head with a quiet word of warning, “Careful.” A nipple rolled beneath the back of her hand as it passed, then again as she turned that hand to palm El’s breast. She watched in wonder as El gasped in pleasure, perfect lips bowed into an open expression of desire.

Blond curls, wet and glistening, painted Rae’s chest and shoulder as she shifted El higher in her arms, angling her own hips and legs to keep her balance and handle the strain, glad when Elsa helped by pulling on the coat rack. As though lifting a bowl to her mouth, she drank, sweeping through the crease of one of El’s hips with her tongue, tasting the salt and heat, before burying her nose and mouth in the wiry patch of gold that guarded El’s sex. She breathed Elsa in; let the scent of her pool on her palate, tumble in through her nostrils and fill her lungs to wrap round her heart.

“Yes…” Elsa hissed, her hips lifting, tilting, then twitching in reflex as Rae tugged at her short hairs with her lips. She gasped in surprise, then purred as Rae’s tongue parted her labia. A groan of pleasure smoothed out of her as Rae’s tongue seemed to unfold and begin a slow, wide rhythm, moving further between her folds with each stroke.

Watching Rae’s eyes close in pleasure, hearing and feeling Rae hum as she teased and drank from her, Elsa started to writhe. Legs trembling, her sex ripening as her body took on the high color of passion, Elsa arched into Rae’s mouth, pushing against her, urging her with guttural requests for more.

Just moments after Rae slipped her fingers inside and mirrored the stroke of her tongue, Elsa folded into a shuddering climax, nearly taking them both down onto Rae’s back with the sudden shift in weight. Rae, consumed by her own reaction to El’s orgasm, was barely conscious of the warning of her inner ear and managed only enough resistance to slow them.

Artlessly, Rae gave in to the fall, slipping Elsa from her shoulder and gripping her hips, keeping her from harm as the wind was knocked out of her, first as she hit the floor flat-backed, and next as Elsa landed on her chest. She made a sound not unlike a squeaky toy and when she could breathe again, and began to laugh out of sheer foolish joy.

They were both laughing: a sound like crystal, strong as silk, and light with wonder.

Stretching out atop her like a big cat, Elsa caught her breath, then kissed Rae again, eyes alight as she let them roam over Rae’s face, as though seeing her anew.

“You taste like merlot,” Rae managed between gasps.

Elsa blinked then laughed. “Merlot?”

“I like merlot.” Rae said simply. “It’s warm and seductive.” She licked her lips. “Definitely merlot.”

Still chuckling, Elsa propped herself up on an elbow and played a hand along Rae’s belly.

“My turn.”


Continued in Part 4

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