DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, Fox does. I'm only taking them out for a test drive.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story contains some adult situations, so be forewarned.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Strap-on, Ryde or Die, Mighty Blue, Defense/Offense

After the Fall
By Sam

Part 35

You may believe yours are the wounds
That only she can heal
    - Duncan Sheik

"A leave of absence?"

"It's only eight weeks," Captain Parish announced as he took a seat in front of Billie's desk. "You have more than that racked up in vacation time."

"And I have to see that IA shrink?" she asked incredulously.

"That's the deal." He watched her trying to absorb the words on the paperwork in front of her. They'd been in a similar situation once before, but back then it was just between the two of them. No hearings and no official documents. Now, the Deputy Chief was involved, as well as Internal Affairs, and Parish knew that being under the microscope was making Billie very uncomfortable.

The lieutenant stood up, unable to handle the conversation in an idle position. "I don't need a shrink," she said, pacing the small area behind her desk.

"IA thinks you do."

"Well, IA can kiss my ass!"

"They have concerns, Billie," the captain warned. "You can't ignore them, and neither can I."

Billie suddenly rounded on him, slamming her palm on the desk as she leaned closer to him. "You think I've gone around the bend, Bob? Is that it?"

Parish looked unaffected by her outburst. "I think something happened to you," he replied calmly. "And you're not dealing with it."

"I think Felicia Ralston would tell you differently," she shot back. "If she could."

Even being well acquainted with Billie's temper, Parish still found her response deeply disturbing. It had only been a week since her ordeal and here she was, spending all of her energy laying the groundwork for a new case involving a pair of arms dealers newly relocated to LA from Western Europe. There was no denying her workaholic tendencies, but even he had to admit that she was pushing herself much harder than usual.

Forsythe had given him a few days to bring her in line, both men assuming she'd be busy using that time to recuperate from her injuries. But, while Parish was still making arrangements to temporarily reassign Hayes and Ray, he'd found out Billie and her boys were already back in action.

And regardless of his own personal misgivings, he was here to put a stop to it.

"Look, you and I go way back," he said. "I think you're a hell of a good cop.one of the best, if my opinion means anything. But, there comes a time when this job can do things to you. Bad things."

"I've seen plenty of bad things," she challenged. "So have you. And we've both done them, as well."

"This is different," he countered with a sober look. After a brief silence, she seemed somewhat mollified by his more composed, relaxed attitude and dropped back into her chair with a weary sigh.

"How so?"

"Did I ever tell you about Tyrone Williams?" he asked.

Billie nodded. "He was your first UC case."

"The meanest son of a bitch I'd ever met in my life," the captain replied with obvious disdain. "Up to that point, anyway. The guy was into everything.drugs, extortion, prostitution, and he had a rap sheet longer than my Mama's memory. It took me four months, but I got him. It was my first time testifying in court. I was gonna be the nail in that asshole's coffin. I was so goddamn full of myself my partner could barely stand to look at me." The barest hint of a smile tugged at his lips, but was quickly replaced with a more serious expression.

Billie watched him, intently. The only time Bob usually shared details of his past experiences with her was when he had a lesson he wanted to impart, and despite her somewhat legendary stubbornness, she knew enough to pay attention.

"A week before the trial I came home one night and found an envelope taped to my front door," he continued. "No postmark, no return address, just my name in big, bold letters. Of course, I was suspicious, so I took extra care with it, just in case. Inside, there was a photograph that had been cut into little pieces. It was a picture of a woman I was dating at the time."

Although she didn't say so, Billie couldn't help but be a bit thrown by the small similarity between his experience and her own, which she knew was precisely the point. "But, you still testified," she commented with an air of respect in her tone. "And you put that piece of shit in prison where he belonged."

"I did what I had to do," Parish acknowledged. "But, I was pretty shaken up by the whole thing. Before that day, I'd never really thought about how my job could touch someone I cared about."

"I'm already well aware of the hazards," she said bitterly.

Parish rubbed his thumb against the gold band on his finger. "When I saw Sara Matthews in the ER, I couldn't help but think about that picture. I wondered what I would have done if Tyrone had decided to stick a knife into Gloria's back instead.and what it would have done to me if I'd been forced to watch it happen."

His words brought a look of surprise to Billie's face. Over the years, the two colleagues had formed a relationship based on mutual respect and hard-won trust. They'd had many conversations about the cases they'd worked, both together and apart, and there was very little they didn't know about each other - on a professional level. But, personal issues were never on the table. Until now.

And though there weren't many things in this world that Billie truly valued, her captain's opinion of her did matter to her. A great deal.

"I didn't go in there to get revenge, Bob," she said softly.

"I never thought you did." Parish got up from the chair and stared down at her for a moment. "Go and talk to Shapiro. Sort this out. Then, get your ass back to work." Without another word he walked out of her office.

Billie stared down at the papers on her desk. Eight weeks. The only time she'd ever been off the job for any extended period of time was when she went to rehab. Of course, back then she'd managed to find plenty of other things to occupy her time - vomiting, diarrhea, and tremors so bad she couldn't even hold a glass of water without spilling it all over herself were enough of a distraction to keep her from missing her work. For a little while, anyway.

"What the hell am I going to do for eight weeks?" she muttered.

"Yo, Boss."

The lieutenant looked up to see Deaq and Van sauntering into her office. Having just come from a party hosted by the Candy Store's latest mark, the two young men were still dressed to the nines.

"What's up with Parish?" Van asked as he dropped, unceremoniously, into a chair, the subtle fragrance of cologne and alcohol settling around him like an invisible cloud. "He didn't even grunt hello."

Deaq immediately picked up on Billie's mood. He slipped a Hugo Boss sport coat off his shoulders and draped it on the back of the empty seat next to his partner. "That brother never comes here with good news."

"No, he doesn't," Billie agreed, her hand coming to rest on top of the paperwork.

Van released a weary sigh. "Something tells me we don't want to hear this."

She focused her gaze on each of them in turn before finally saying, "We have to take a break."

Deaq immediately forgot about the wool and cashmere fabric he'd been fondling just a second ago, his hands tightening on the back of his chair. "Say what?"

Van sat forward, a slight look of panic on his face. "What do you mean by `take a break'?"

Billie's eyes dropped to the small stack of papers under her hand. "Effective immediately, I've been put on temporary medical leave."

"You see?" Van blurted out, giving her his best `I told you so' look. "I knew you should have stayed in the hospital a couple more days."

"No, Van," the brunette quickly countered, keeping her eyes fixed on the top of the desk. "It isn't my physical health that's in question here."

The two men looked at each other.

"Are you shittin' me?" Deaq finally responded.

"I wish I were." Billie stood up and began to pace again. Van and Deaq knew most of what had happened to her, certainly more than she was willing to share with anyone else. But, there were parts of it she would never tell anyone, things that only she and Felicia would ever know. She hated the thought that those intimate details would somehow bind her to the woman forever, but there was little she could do about it.

"How long?" Van asked

"Eight weeks."

The young cop slumped back into his chair and fixed his gaze on the ceiling. "Fucking great."

"Oh, man," Deaq said softly, echoing his partner's sentiments. He straightened up and began to do a little pacing of his own. "What about the Verenkas?"

Billie perched on the edge of her desk. "We're off it, for now."

"And how are we supposed to explain to them that we have to jet for two months?" Deaq demanded to know. "Another week or so and we would have been in, Billie. If we up and split now, that's it."

"I know, and I've given that some thought." She grabbed a pen from her desk and began to twiddle it between her fingers. "Just say you've been called back to New York."

"We'll need a damn good reason," Deaq stated in frustration as he finally seated himself next to his partner and directed his hard gaze at the floor.

"Tell them Van knocked up the boss' daughter."

Van's eyes widened. "Why me?"

Deaq considered it, briefly, before giving her a look of appreciation. "That's not bad."

"Because it's more believable coming from you," Billie reasoned.

"You can't argue with the lady on that one, slick."

"Oh, so I get to look like the asshole," Van argued, giving Deaq a withering stare. "There goes my chance with Elena, you know."

Billie raised an eyebrow. "Elena?"

"We were really hitting it off," he added, still glaring at his partner.

"As in, Lena Verenka?" the lieutenant asked. "A woman we make for at least two execution-style murders?" She looked surprised, although she really wasn't. The Ukrainian woman was very beautiful, and very dangerous, the two most important qualities Van usually looked for in a potential girlfriend.

"I thought I might be able to flip her," Van said defensively.

"No doubt," Billie commented dryly.

Deaq grinned, broadly. "Van wants to play `Spin the gorilka' with Elena." Billie smiled and just shook her head.

"Go ahead, make jokes," Van complained. "But, I think I could've gotten some good intel from her."

"Nyet likely, white boy," Deaq added.

"Okay," Billie said as she took her seat behind the desk. "Plan a meet tomorrow. Tell them you'll be in touch and leave it at that." She looked over at the two men and sighed. "I am sorry this case got fucked up, guys. But, at least we'll live to fight another day."

Van straightened up as a thought suddenly occurred to him. "Hey, what are we supposed to do while you're gone?"

"You'll be temporarily reassigned," Billie announced.

"What?" the two cops asked in unison.

The lieutenant leveled her gaze at them. "It's not a big deal. Parish wants to keep you busy, that's all. You can't just sit around and do nothing."

"Then, how about we work our case?"

"You can't go in without a handler, Deaq," she responded. "You know that."

"Why can't Parish do it while you're gone?" Van suggested.

"Because, he doesn't work that way."

"Did you even ask him?" the young cop persisted.

"No, Van, I didn't." She could see him beginning to sulk and immediately grabbed the papers off her desk, waving them at the two officers. "Look, I'm the one that has to bend over here, okay?" she said harshly. "So, instead of bitching at me about how you might have to push a pencil for a few weeks, how about you two do whatever the hell you have to do to keep under IA's radar while I'm gone."

Van met her gaze, preparing to continue arguing his point. But, it was Deaq who spoke up first.

"You're sure this is just temporary?" he asked, a hint of suspicion in his dark eyes.

Billie reflected back on her earlier conversation with Parish. He told her, in no uncertain terms, if she did what they wanted, if she just followed the rules, the Candy Store would be safe. And with Sara due to be released from the hospital next week, maybe having some time off might not be such a bad thing. At least, it would give her a chance to make up for everything she'd put her lover through the past few weeks.

But, what was really bothering her was the idea of talking to Shapiro. She'd seen the doctor twice before - once, after her first fatal, and again just prior to entering rehab. Where the former visit had been considered routine, the latter had been anything but.

Parish had arranged a meet on the DL, his concern about blowing Billie's cover being paramount to everything else. After less than an hour, the doctor emerged with a recommendation that the young detective be pulled out, confirming the captain's suspicions of drug abuse.

It had been the doctor's job to look out for her, and even though Billie's initial reaction was certainly not one of gratitude, she did come to realize later that the decision had probably saved her life.

But, only she, Parish, and Doctor Shapiro had known of her drug addiction, and yet Roland Hill had somehow managed to discover her secret. Considering the connection between the IA investigator and the good doctor, Billie didn't have to look very far to figure out who was responsible for betraying her confidence.

Once burned. ,

"Yes," she answered firmly.

A heavy silence settled over the three of them as the gravity of what was about to happen began to sink in.

Van couldn't stand the quiet any longer. "So, what are we doing, anyway?" he asked, sullenly.

"Traffic detail, I think."

His eyebrows climbed up to his hairline. "What?"

Billie smirked. At least some things hadn't changed. "I'm kidding."

"Well, it's a good thing Hill is still out of commission," Deaq remarked. "Otherwise, we'd probably be cleaning up after the K-9 patrol."

That imaged brought a brief smile to the brunette's face. "Parish is looking out for you," she said, reassuringly. "I don't know what you'll be doing yet, but he won't put you in a bad spot."

"Umm.does this mean we don't have access while we're gone?" Van queried.

"You're not supposed to touch the goods unless it's related to a case, Van," Billie commented as she cocked an eyebrow at him. "You don't sneak in and take things when I'm not here, do you?"

"First of all, when are you ever not here? And secondly, I can't believe you'd even ask me a question like that, sir," Van replied with mock indignation. "That would be breaching protocol."

Billie nodded. "Which you never do."

"Never," he confirmed.

"Except, when you took my Mustang."

There was a brief pause. "Well." Van looked at his partner for assistance. "Technically, that ended up being related to a case."

"That's right," Deaq confirmed. "And we did get it all fixed up nice," he quickly added.

"Which we would do again," Van stated, suddenly noticing the look she was giving him. "If it was necessary, I mean."

Billie rested her elbow on the desk and pointed her finger at them for emphasis. "If you so much as think about taking any of my rides out of here while I'm gone," she warned, "I'll make sure you never drive a stick again."

Van winced, while Deaq hissed at her and crossed his legs.

"Ooh.that's cold, woman."

"I don't want it."

"You need to start eating, otherwise they're not going to release you."

"I did eat."

"Crackers don't count."

"Well, I'm sick of this food. That's why I've lost weight. If you'd let me order some take-out or something I might be able-"

"Hey," Billie greeted, sticking her head through the door of the hospital room.

Sara flashed a winning smile. "Hey, yourself."

"Did I interrupt something," the brunette asked with a sly grin. "Maybe I should come back." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder and began to back out again.

"Don't you dare leave," Sara ordered, pointing her finger at her lover as if to hold her in place. She turned her attention back to the nurse at her bedside. "Why don't we have a third party settle this dispute?"

"I don't make the food, Sara," the young woman groaned. "I'm just trying to make sure you eat."

"But, you won't even taste it."

"Because, it's against the rules," the nurse replied with the long-

suffering sigh of someone who has repeated herself ad nauseum.

"You're full of shit, Karen," Sara said in a teasing voice. "It's because you know how bad it is."

The attractive young brunette rolled her eyes before looking to Billie for help. "Would you please convince her to eat something while I answer that page?" She quickly turned and left the room, casting a brief look over her shoulder as she walked out the door.

"I think she likes you."

Sara glanced at Billie who was now standing near the foot of the bed with an amused look on her face. "She is kind of cute," the blonde grinned, mischievously. "But, she's a pushy thing. To tell you the truth, she reminds me a little of you."

Billie smirked. "That explains why you're giving her such a hard time."

"Come here." Sara held a hand out and waited for Billie to come closer, clasping her lover's free hand and gripping it, tightly, as the brunette leaned down and kissed her. "I've missed you," she said when they broke apart.

"I was just here this morning," Billie replied. "In fact, your little friend there already suggested that I should bring my sleeping bag."

Sara grinned as she pulled the lieutenant down to her again. "What a good idea," she said before bringing their lips together once more. This time the kiss was soft and lingering.

When they finally came up for air, Billie remarked, "Well, you're certainly feeling good."

"Mmm.so are you," the blonde commented as she slipped a hand under the hem of Billie's shirt and stroked her fingers across the warm, soft skin beneath it.

A rush of warmth coursed through the detective's body. "There will be none of that for a while," she chided, gently extricating herself from the young woman's embrace.

"Oh, come on," Sara pouted. "I feel fine, except for a little bit of a backache."

"That's the meds," Billie pointed out. "And, besides, I'm hardly in any shape yet, myself."

The blonde glanced at Billie's arm and gently laid her hand on it. "How'd your therapy go today?"

"Okay," she answered. "It hurt like hell, but it felt good to get it moving again."

"They give you a timetable?"

"The harder I work it, the sooner it will work for me."

Sara made a face at her. "God, don't tell me that's their motto?"

"More like a battle cry," Billie smiled.

The blonde offered Billie a seat on the bed. "So, how's your new case going?"

The lieutenant settled down next to her lover. She couldn't help but be amused by Sara's enthusiastic interest in her work. Only eight days in the hospital and boredom had already set in with a vengeance. Unfortunately, in a few days, Billie would probably be right there with her.

"Actually, its not," she replied.


"I'm taking some time off."

Sara stared at the brunette as though she'd just announced she could fly. "You're what?"

"It'll give us a chance to spend some time together," the detective responded somewhat defensively, as though that were the actual reason behind it.

"Uh-huh." Sara nodded and chewed her lip, eyeing the young brunette, skeptically. "And this was your idea?"

"Not exactly," Billie said slowly.

The blonde arched an eyebrow. "What's going on?"

Billie suddenly got to her feet again and began to walk around the room, too many pent-up emotions forcing her to keep moving. "I've been ordered to take a temporary leave of absence."

"For how long?" Sara asked.

"Eight weeks," Billie answered. "And I have to see a department psychologist. My boss tells me it could have been worse, but I've scored some big points lately." She stopped speaking as she reached the window, opting to stare, vacantly, at the parking lot below.

"Well, that's not so unusual, is it?" the blonde queried. "I mean, considering what you went through."

The brunette turned to look at her. "Professional hazard," she said simply.

"You must have gone through hell, Billie," Sara remarked, frowning as the young woman looked away from her.

The two of them had barely spoken about what happened since Sara woke up in the hospital. Billie had relayed the events to her in brief snippets, insisting she didn't want to impede the young woman's recovery by giving too many details she wasn't ready to hear yet. But to Sara, it all sounded like some kind of police report: Strictly cold, hard facts. There was no talk of what Billie had actually gone through, no discussion about the anger she must be feeling underneath. In fact, the only emotion she even expressed these days was her concern for Sara.

"Would it really be so bad to talk to someone?" she asked gently.

"I'm fine, Sara," the detective stated without looking at her. "I told you that."

"Yeah, you did," she agreed.

Billie turned to face her again. "Then, let's talk about something else."

The blonde stared at her for a moment. "It wasn't your fault." She could see Billie's back go rigid, a clear signal that she was about to withdraw from the conversation. But, Sara was determined to have her say.

"I don't want to get into this."

"No," she said forcefully. "You're not dodging this again, Billie. Every time I try to talk to you I hit the same brick wall." She watched the young woman resume her vigil, blue eyes fixed on some distant spot on the horizon. After waiting in vain for a response, she pressed on. "After Jill's murder, when I was feeling guilty, you told me that the only person responsible for her death was Felicia, and you were right. She's the one who put me in here, not you."

Billie shifted, uncomfortably. "I should have figured it out sooner."

"What are you saying? You think you should be smarter or more intuitive than anyone else?" Sara questioned. "Or, that you should somehow be able to predict things before they happen? Do you really hold yourself to such ridiculously high standards?"

There was a brief pause. "Yes."

Sara hesitated, unsure of how to respond. She had never been the type of person to set the bar too high. If anything, she was just the opposite. Expect very little from yourself, or anyone else for that matter, and you'll never be disappointed. That was what she'd always believed.

Until she met a certain dark-haired, young detective.

"Billie, don't let her do this to you," Sara pleaded. "You can't blame yourself. No one had any idea how sick she really was."

The lieutenant spun around, her face a mask of anguish. "She could have killed you, Sara, and that would have been my fault. I made this personal. I let her get too close."

"You did what you thought was right," Sara argued.

Billie quickly pulled herself together, refusing to hurt Sara just to ease her own conscience. "You have no idea what I did, and I don't even know if I could ever tell you." She put a hand up, bringing the exchange to a sudden halt. "I have to go."

"Billie, wait."

The detective was halfway to the door when Sara's next words stopped her cold.

"I know it didn't mean anything."

Without turning around, Billie replied, "If only that were true."

She immediately walked out of the room, leaving Sara staring after her, frustrated at her inability to get up and follow. With a heavy sigh, the blonde laid her head back and pounded a weak fist against the mattress.

Inside the small observation area just outside of Felicia's hospital room, a nurse sat quietly in front of a computer, occasionally typing small bits of information as different items appeared on the screen. A few feet away, a police officer sat flipping through a magazine, looking bored out of his mind.

Billie had produced her badge before entering the room, pausing in the doorway only long enough for the officer to glance at her I.D. He seemed to hesitate for a split-second before giving in with a quick nod.

The nurse heard her coming and turned around in her chair. "Can I help you?"

The detective approached the glass and looked beyond it, her gaze settling on a lone hospital bed, and the still figure that lay upon it. "Has there been any change?"

"No," the older woman replied as she resumed working. She glanced at Billie out of the corner of her eye. "You can go in if you like."

Billie hesitated. She didn't even know what she was doing here. More than anything, she wanted to just put everything behind her. She did her job, and then some, and now the case was closed.


There were still some unanswered questions, a few pieces of the puzzle that didn't quite fit. But, what had begun as a simple case of catching a couple of robbers had somehow resulted in the biggest bust of her career. Despite never having the pleasure of snapping a pair of cuffs on Felicia's wrists, or watching as she was convicted and sentenced in a courtroom, Billie still got her. She would never be able to hurt anyone else now. And, if by some miracle she ever regained consciousness, she would finally be made to face the consequences of her heinous actions.

With so many thoughts swimming in her head, Billie didn't even realize she'd gone inside the room until she found herself suddenly standing a few feet away from the bed.

Felicia still managed to look almost regal as she laid there, her long, blonde hair neatly brushed back from her face. It was obvious from her appearance that someone was looking after her. Billie figured it was probably Sophia. The woman seemed loyal to a fault.

"Well, I guess neither one of us really got what we wanted, did we, Felicia?" she said softly. "I know you wanted me to kill you.and a part of me wishes I had."

She stared at the older woman's face with a strange curiosity. This was the first time she'd ever seen her like this. Quiet. At peace.

It was unnerving.

"Jason Coolidge said you came to the gallery to get some money. It must have been quite a stash for you to take such a big risk. I just wish I could've seen the look on your face when you realized that Jill had gotten there first."

There was no response. Of course, Billie wasn't expecting one, but a part of her almost wished the woman would wake up, just so she could have the satisfaction of telling Felicia that her horrible plan had failed.

Thankfully, Sara was going to be all right and her doctor indicated there would be no permanent damage as a result of the stabbing. Billie's arm was healing, and provided she stuck with her therapy, complete mobility would return within a few weeks.

But, there were other wounds that would take much longer to heal. Maybe it was because of that Billie now found herself here, facing the woman who'd inflicted them, needing to find a way of taking back some of the power she felt she'd lost.

Her eyes lingered on the blonde's face for a long moment. "I've never been the kind of person to dwell on my mistakes for too long. I prefer to learn and move on. But, after what you did to me." Her throat tightened against emotions that were still so fresh and raw. "I'm still trying to figure what I'm supposed to take away from all of this." Felicia remained completely motionless, save for the slow rise and fall of her chest.

Having seen enough, the young detective turned and walked to the door, stopping to cast a final glance over her shoulder. Lying there, Felicia Ralston looked just like anyone else. Nothing at all like the dark, insane presence that now plagued Billie's dreams.

"I guess you really did know my demons better than I did," she whispered before slipping, quietly, from the room.

Sara shifted onto her side and released a soft sigh, a tiny glimmer of awareness beginning to filter through behind her closed lids. Although the volume was down, she could tell the T.V. was still on, the soft, bluish light warming the room as she opened her eyes, blinking several times before finally taking notice of a dark silhouette seated in the chair beside her bed.

"Billie?" she said softly, her voice still thick with drug-induced sleep.

The brunette leaned forward, bringing their faces close together. "I'm sorry for leaving the way I did."

"You okay?"

"I guess.yeah." A look of uncertainty flashed across her shadowed features, and she was suddenly grateful for the darkness. "I went to see Felicia."

Sara instantly became more alert. "Why?" she asked, adjusting her position and tucking an arm under her pillow.

"I don't know," Billie answered, honestly. "Maybe I just needed to reassure myself that she was really out of commission."

"You want to talk about it?" Sara prodded gently.

The detective shook her head. "I don't think I'm ready to do that just yet."

Sara could see how much Billie was hurting. The young woman was almost painfully secretive. It would be so much better if she would just open up on her own. But, the chances of that were slim to none.

She reached over and brushed her fingertips along Billie's cheek. The pull back was subtle, but she still felt it.

"It's late," Billie said as she got to her feet. "I just came to apologize. I didn't want to worry you."

"Please don't leave," Sara implored.

The detective looked indecisive. "You need to get some rest."

"I don't want you to go," the blonde said quietly.

At that moment, looking down into Sara's captivating, blue eyes, Billie was unable to deny her anything. She sat down on the edge of the bed and slipped her arm around the blonde's shoulders, pressing her face into soft, honey hair, her eyes shut, tightly. After everything the two of them had been through, she was profoundly grateful just to feel the familiar warmth of her lover's body against her own.

They sat that way for a while, neither one feeling compelled to speak. Sara's head was bowed as she stared at her hand resting on the inside of Billie's thigh. Struck by a sudden impulse, she lifted it and removed a small silver ring from her finger, holding it up in the semi-darkness as she presented it to the young woman beside her.

"This belonged to my Mom."

"She gave it to you?" Billie asked.

"No." The one, single word was tinged with bitterness. "I was cleaning my Dad's bedroom one day and found it on the floor underneath the dresser." Sara stared at the silver band pinched between her thumb and index finger, her mind trying to conjure up an image of her mother. But, the details were now blurry and faded, stored deep in the memories of a young child. "My Dad said she used to wear it all the time. He was kind of surprised that she left it behind."

Billie looked at the small piece of jewelry. She already knew every little detail of the ring. She'd studied it, lazily, when they were in bed together, her fingers seeking it out whenever Sara's hand touched her body. It was always there on her lover's finger, something familiar to her in the dark.

Like a talisman.

"It's pretty," she remarked, admiring the contrast of shining silver against a thin inlay of black onyx and turquoise.

Sara hummed in agreement. "For a long time after she left, I used to fantasize about her coming back for it," she confessed, shaking her head in disbelief at her own naïveté. "But, I finally figured it out. I mean, why the hell would she come back for some ring after walking out on her own daughter, right?" The blonde shrugged her shoulders, casually, having long since buried the pain of her mother's abandonment. "I guess the woman just never got attached to anything." The arm around her pulled her tighter, and she lifted her eyes to Billie's, seeing the love and compassion that resided there.

With a soft smile, Sara reached up and removed her lover's hand from her shoulder, repositioning it to rest in her lap. "Here," she said as she slipped the ring onto Billie's finger.

"What?" Billie immediately protested. "No, Sara. I can't take this."

"I want you to have it."

"But, it was your mother's," the brunette insisted. "You should keep it."

"I am keeping it," she responded as Billie gave her a curious look. "So long as I have you, I'll have it."


Sara pressed a finger to Billie's lips to silence her. "It only means something to me if you wear it," she said softly.

The young detective parted her lips to offer another argument, but her lover quickly halted her words by moving in and capturing her mouth. Billie's response was immediate, any further protestations forgotten as she gave in to Sara's desire.

When their lips finally parted, Sara could see Billie's eyes glistening in the soft, blue light.

"Thank you," the detective whispered.

Sara smiled. "Your welcome."

Billie looked down at the band on her finger, seizing the opportunity to squeeze the moisture from her eyes. The feel of Sara's hand under her chin made her lift her head to meet her lover's gaze. "I don't know what I would have done." If you'd died was what she meant to say, but the huge lump in her throat made it impossible to even utter the words.

Sara knew Billie had suffered many losses in her life. People she cherished. And loved. Maybe that was why she was so well practiced at hiding her feelings. Exposing them to someone, as she was trying to do now, was rare. And seeing the tormented look on her face made the young blonde realize all the more just how deep those emotions really were. She caressed Billie's face with the palm of her hand, holding the young detective's gaze with one of equal intensity, before finally softening it with a lazy, sexy smirk.

"I'm like a bad penny, Billie Chambers," she warned as her hand slid down to fondle the ring that now shined on her lover's finger. "And you'll never be able to get rid of me."

Part 36

Why must I feel this way
Just make this go away
Just one more peaceful day
    - Aaron Lewis

With a toothbrush clenched between her teeth, Billie shook her wet hair free from the towel and tossed it aside, grabbing her clothes off the bed before heading back into the bathroom. She turned on the faucet and quickly finished brushing, taking a few seconds to rinse with a mint mouthwash. Long strands of damp hair clung to her face as she lifted her head and caught her own gaze in the mirror.

The effects of another lousy night's sleep were beginning to show. Her tired eyes were dull and bloodshot, the slightest hint of darkness underneath them. Fortunately, she'd learned how to hide the signs of physical strain and sleepless nights a long time ago. Eye drops and a little makeup would do the trick.

She pulled a plain, white cotton blouse off the hanger behind her, ignoring the pain in her shoulder and slipping it over her head. Her movements were still a bit slow, but it was a relief just to be able to get dressed using both of her hands. Sara was being released from the hospital today and Billie had promised herself there was no way her lover was coming home in a taxi. Plus, she had something special planned for the two of them, so she'd been working the arm non-stop, despite her therapists numerous admonishments. With a brief glance at her watch, she ran a brush through her hair, pulled on a pair of chocolate brown pants and headed back into the bedroom.

A soft knock on her front door immediately ended the detective's internal debate over shoes, and she slipped on the low heel closest to her before heading out to answer the door.

Her hand gripped the doorknob and she leaned forward to look through the peephole, an old habit she'd only recently picked up again. She stepped back in surprise. It was just about the last person she would have expected to find on her doorstep.

There was another knock, this time more insistent, and Billie opened the door, revealing a diminutive, older woman with dark hair, pulled back severely from her weathered, hard face.


"Lieutenant Chambers." Felicia's servant nodded once in greeting. "I apologize for stopping by unannounced, but this will only take a moment." The woman's voice and expression gave away nothing.

The detective was certainly intrigued. She took a step back and motioned with her hand. "Would you like to come inside?"

"That's not necessary," Sophia replied in an emotionless tone. "I've merely come here to deliver something to you at Madame's request."

Billie looked taken aback. "What?"

The young woman's uneasiness was plain to read and Sophia garnered a small bit of satisfaction on her employer's behalf. "I received this last week," she explained, taking an envelope out of her purse and presenting it to Billie, who took it from her and removed the letter inside, reading it over with a puzzled expression. "As you can see, it was postmarked on the day you shot her."

The subtle change in Sophia's tone was enough to draw Billie's attention away from the paper in her hand. For the first time, she could see something in the older woman's eyes. The unspoken accusation was certainly clear enough.

"I did what I had to do." Billie knew her response was less than sympathetic, but given the circumstances, she wasn't feeling particularly charitable.

"I'm in no position to refute that assertion."

"Alright, so what is this gift?" the lieutenant questioned somewhat irritably.

Sophia bent down and reached for something just out of sight, using both hands to lift it up and hand it to Billie. Though covered with a dark cloth, there was no mistaking what it was.

"A painting?"

The servant waited, silently, as Billie accepted the item and set it on top of a small table. She rested it, carefully, against the wall, fingers searching for a seam to remove the cover. Not being completely ignorant of her charge's unusual fixation on the young detective, Sophia couldn't assuage her curiosity as to what the woman's reaction would be.

Billie lifted the fabric and stared at the canvas, an almost painful look of recognition forming on her face. "This was hanging in the foyer that led to the gardens," she said softly, speaking more to herself than her unexpected visitor.

"She asked me to tuck it away the morning after you came to the house for dinner," Sophia commented. "At the time, I had no idea what for."

In light of everything she now knew about Felicia, the images seemed even more disturbing than Billie remembered. The raging waters, moonless night, and the lonesome young soul waiting ashore.it was a critical piece of the wealthy woman's troubled psyche, a blatant and raw display of her worst childhood memory.

"When did she paint this?"

Seeing the way Billie's fingers traced across the canvas in quiet reverence, the older woman was beginning to better understand her employer's unusual request. "It was many years ago, before she met Mr. Ralston."

The brunette's eyes strayed to the top of the frame, once again noticing the damaged corner. "Do you know how this happened?" she asked, lifting her hand to the burnt edge.

"No," Sophia answered honestly.

Billie looked over at her. "I'm surprised the police allowed you to remove it from the house."

"Madame's attorney arranged it," she explained. "I brought the letter to Mr. Rosewood shortly after receiving it. I wasn't sure if it would still be appropriate to bring it to you, considering the circumstances, but then I realized that it wasn't up to me to question Mrs. Ralston's motives. She merely asked me to bring it to you, and so I have."

The detective raised an eyebrow, but didn't respond. Sophia was a smart woman. And careful. Considering who she worked for, she obviously needed to be.

"I'll be on my way now."

Billie put a hand out to stop her. "Sophia, wait."

The dark-haired woman turned back to face her. "Yes?"

Trying to get a read on Felicia's servant and confidante was an exercise in futility, but Billie found she couldn't just let her leave. There were still so many unanswered questions. Unfortunately, Sophia had already been interrogated by some of LA's finest, who had nothing to show for it. If the woman did have any knowledge of Felicia's crimes, she was extremely adept at hiding it.

But, with everything that was now known about Felicia's life, both past and present, there was one question Billie couldn't help but ask.

"Why are you still taking care of her?"

Sophia's eyes remained locked on Billie for a long, tense moment. "There's another note inside, addressed to you. I didn't open it." She turned away from the young brunette without another word.

Billie leaned against the doorframe, watching Sophia's back until she disappeared from sight. Slowly, her eyes strayed to the painting a few feet away, and then to the envelope still clutched in her hand.

She stepped back inside her apartment and closed the door. Peering inside the envelope, she could see a small gift card. Her name was written across it in a flourish.

There was absolutely no point to this, Billie told herself. It was all just a continuation of Felicia's mind games. The woman always had a calculated purpose. She always planned ahead. And she always knew the right way to get under Billie's skin.

The young detective took the card out, tore the seal and removed the note. It was a single sentence:

I'm sorry for your loss.

It took a few seconds for the meaning of the words to sink in.until Billie remembered when Felicia mailed it.

Sara was supposed to be dead.

Her fingers curled around the paper, crushing it in her hand as she turned and slammed her fist into the wall behind her.and pulled it back again. And again. And again.

She just wanted it to stop. All of it. The horrible guilt, the anger at having lost control of everything, not by choice, but because someone else had taken it away from her. She'd been rendered helpless to save herself and someone she loved. It was the single, greatest fear of her life.

But, working undercover had been a way for her to bury that fear. She could create a persona, be whoever she needed to be, all the while leaving her real life untouched and hidden away. She didn't have to worry about friends or family, because in that life, they were little more than memories she left behind while she slipped into someone else's skin.

She never contacted them. She never spoke of them. She never worried about them. To her alter ego, they didn't even exist.

But this time there had been no facade to hide behind, no guise for her to don. This was her life.

And Sara's.

She knew Felicia was dangerous. She also knew the woman was fixated on her. And that was exactly what she wanted her to be. It was her way in, and she didn't even hesitate to use it.

The physical aspect of it didn't really bother her. She'd played plenty of people before. She allowed Felicia to kiss her, touch her, because she wanted to feed that obsession, hoping it would ultimately lead her to the truth. And it did.

But, it cost her.

What Felicia did to her was.invasive, personal. In some small way, it was almost like being raped. The total loss of control, the vicious brutality, both physical and emotional, that left her feeling hurt and violated in a way she'd never known before.

And at the very core of it was the attempted murder of the woman she loved. Watching it happen, the feeling of being absolutely helplessness was unlike anything she'd ever experienced. Even Alexa's murder, despite the guilt and inevitable feelings of culpability that were to follow, had not been caused by Billie's own hand. It was a simple, horrible case of revenge. There were some things she could have done differently, but there was simply no way for her to have known what was going to happen.

But, that wasn't the case with Felicia. Billie knew Sara was at risk. The confrontation between them at Felicia's warehouse had been a clear warning sign that the wealthy woman viewed Sara as a threat. At every turn, Felicia attempted to sabotage their relationship, going so far as to use it to manipulate Billie, attempting to draw her in even further. And the detective had been an all too willing participant in her own seduction.

She put her lover in harm's way. Not realizing the extent of the danger Felicia posed was no excuse. Sara nearly died because Billie had refused to step back.

Cradling her bleeding hand, Billie pressed her forehead to the wall and dropped, slowly, to her knees, hot tears running down her flushed face. She could scarcely take a breath, her chest tightening as she tried, desperately, to hold it all in, afraid to let go, even now, alone and with no one to witness her breaking down.

But, she couldn't.

All of the emotions, the pain she'd buried so deep, felt as though they were suffocating her, and the only way to survive was to just give in and release it.

Outside of Billie's door, Sophia stood and listened, silently.

"It's time for you to make good on our agreement."

"I already did."

"I'm afraid that information, while somewhat entertaining in the abstract, was not my ace in the hole."

"That's not my problem."

"Oh, I think it very much is your problem. My office agreed to re-

examine the allegations leveled against you in exchange for your cooperation."

"I have cooperated. I gave you something no one else could. It wasn't easy for me to betray a confidence."

"Yet, miraculously, your career aspirations overcame your delicate sensibilities."

"You didn't leave me any choice."

"On the contrary, you had two very clear choices. You opted to save yourself. Now, I'm assuming that your predilection for self-

preservation still outweighs your good conscience."

"What do you want?"

"You and your old friend, Billie Chambers, are about to become reacquainted, which presents an ideal opportunity for you."

"You mean for you."

"Funny, I don't recall being the one about to embark on a new hobby in license plate manufacturing."

"I can't believe you really expect me to use this situation to help you."

"What I expect is for you to bring me something I can use."

"She'll never confide in me. Not with our history."

Roland Hill closed his eyes and settled back against his pillow, a large file folder sitting open on his lap. He was beginning to feel the effects of another dose of percosette and welcomed the hazy, numbing sensation as it settled over him.

"I think you're wrong about that," he replied, a smug grin spreading across his thin, pale features. "In fact, I'm betting that a blast from the past will be just what the doctor ordered."

Sara caught a glimpse of Billie coming down the corridor and breathed a small sigh of relief. She knew it was irrational for her to worry so much. Felicia was certainly no longer a threat to them, and Billie wasn't even working for the time being. Still, fear wasn't always an emotion driven by logic and it would definitely be a long time before either of them slept easy again.

"I'm sorry I'm late," came Billie's slightly breathless apology.

"No problem." The blonde's eyes dropped from her lover's face to her right hand, which sported a rather hastily wrapped bandage.

Billie caught Sara's eye. "Later, okay?"

"All set?"

Sara glanced behind her at the nurse now hovering at the back of her wheelchair. "Admit it, Karen, you're going to miss me." She turned and shot Billie a covert wink.

"Not if you don't leave," the young brunette quipped.

Billie picked up the small travel bag resting on Sara's lap. "You ready?"

"I am so ready."

The three women set off for the elevator, Sara and Karen making small talk and trading good-natured barbs. Billie smiled to herself, knowing all too well how her lover could ingratiate herself to others so quickly. Her bold, flirtatious personality easily disarmed even the frostiest demeanor.

When they finally reached the lobby, Karen stopped and turned to Billie, who had fallen in step just behind them. "I can wait with her while you pull the car up to the door."

"It's already out there," the brunette replied, noting the rather dubious expression on the young nurse's face. "Rank has its privileges," she added.

"Oh, right."

As Karen stepped away from them to activate the automatic door, Billie leaned down and whispered in Sara's ear. "Why do I suddenly feel like a third wheel?" The blonde just smiled, sweetly, and caressed the side of Billie's face with her fingertips.

They headed through the doors and into the blinding sunshine. Sara took a deep breath and sighed in relief at finally being out in the world again. "What a beautiful day."

Billie grinned at her. "Yes, it is." As she led the way to a row of cars parked at the curb, she could see Sara glancing around with interest.

"Which car?"

"This one."

Sara's eyes narrowed, slightly. "Hey, this looks familiar."

The detective ran a possessive hand along the edge of the dark, green hood. It was still hot to the touch. "I almost didn't bring it," she admitted. "I've kind of had some bad luck with it."

"I think we've had more than our share of that already."

Billie met Sara's smile with one of her own. "Right." She pulled the passenger door open and held a hand out to her lover. "Okay, then, let's get you out of here."

Sara stood up, slowly, her muscles still feeling weak and underused from her lengthy hospital stay. She kept a hold of Billie's hand and turned to look at the young woman behind her. "Thanks for the lift, Karen. It's been fun." On impulse, she leaned in and kissed the brunette on the cheek.

"Take care of yourself, Sara." Karen replied, looking slightly embarrassed and spinning the chair around to bring it back through the main doors. She paused just before entering and called out to Billie, "You should take her out and buy her a decent meal. I heard the food here sucks." The young nurse smiled and went back inside the hospital.

"Oh, yeah," Billie commented with a slight smirk. "She's got it bad."

Sara bumped her shoulder against the young woman, playfully. "She does not."

"Uh-huh. For a while there I had to keep waving my hand in front of my face to make sure I was still visible."

The blonde looked her lover over from head to toe with deliberate slowness. "There is no way anyone could miss seeing you."

Billie winked and jerked her thumb toward the car. "Let's blow this joint."

"With pleasure." Sara got in and waited for Billie, who went around and tossed her bag into the back seat before slipping behind the wheel and starting the car. As the detective's hand closed on the gear shift knob, another hand came to rest on top of her own, gentle fingers touching the bandage that covered up the damage she'd inflicted.

Billie knew there were unspoken questions behind that touch, and she wasn't really sure how to answer them. But, having Sara sitting there beside her, knowing how easily it could have gone the other way, she was more determined than ever to tear down the barrier she'd erected around herself.

"I hit a wall," she finally said.

"I'm assuming you mean that literally," Sara remarked, her fingers still lingering on Billie's hand.

"And figuratively." The young brunette speculated for a moment. "At the very least, I've come to realize a few things. Not all of it good, mind you, but I guess that was the point."

"The point of what?"

"It's a long story."

"I think we both have a bit of free time."

"Not here," Billie replied, flexing her hand against the tightness of the bandage. She quickly put the car in motion and reached over, giving the blonde's thigh a gentle squeeze. "You feel up to taking a little ride?"

"Sure," Sara said with a smile. "It'll give you a chance to show me what this baby's got."

Billie withdrew her hand and replaced it on the stick, easing down on the clutch and shifting the car, smoothly, feeling the deep vibrations of the engine's barely restrained power.

"Okay, let's go."

The Mustang drove swiftly along the windy road, climbing higher into the hills. The day was picture perfect, the haze of the city finally giving way to the crisper and cleaner mountain air.

Billie had helped pass the time by regaling Sara with stories of how the car they were driving in had been nearly demolished on two separate occasions, and the lengths to which she'd gone to salvage it after the second incident had left it a crushed and twisted wreck. Van and Deaq's high school pranks notwithstanding, Billie's high-speed rollover had managed to do more damage to it than they could have dreamed of.

They finally arrived at their apparent destination as Billie pulled off the road and followed a small narrow driveway leading down the side of a particularly steep hill. When they reached the bottom, the area opened up just in front of a house perched against the rock face.

After parking the car, Billie got out and went around to offer Sara a hand getting out, which she gratefully accepted. The blonde took a moment to stretch her thin frame, working the stiffness out of her back.

"God, I'll be glad when I feel more like myself, again."

Billie put an arm around her. "Let's go inside for a minute."

"What are we doing here, anyway?" Sara questioned as she looked around curiously. The house was fairly large, although a bit rustic looking, at least on the outside. A huge garden covered the front yard, wildflowers lining the stone walkway, their subtle fragrance enveloping her as the warm breeze blew her hair away from her face.

"I want to show you something."

The two women started toward the house, taking their time walking along the path that led to the front door. A few stairs brought them up to the porch and Billie fished a key from her pocket and unlocked the door. She shot a glance at Sara, whose attention was already focused on the inside, feeling a slight twinge of anxiety and silently chiding herself for it.

She allowed the blonde to enter first, admiring her graceful movements, but knowing they were also serving to hide her discomfort. Billie could feel the beginnings of a slow burn and tried to push the angry thoughts out of her mind. This moment was about Sara, what she needed, and what would help her get over her horrible experience. The detective's own issues would have to wait.


The detective stared at her lover from the open doorway. "Huh?"

Sara furrowed her brow. "Are you alright?"


"You look a little pale."

Billie shook her head and smiled, sheepishly. "No, I'm fine. Sorry, I guess I just zoned out there for a minute."

"You're acting very strange," Sara said with a suspicious look. "What's going on? What are we doing here?"

"Come on," Billie said as she walked over to the blonde and slipped a supportive arm around her, gently urging her along toward a set of glass doors on the right side of the room.

As they walked, Sara's eyes roamed the interior of the house. The first floor was entirely open with high, cathedral beamed ceilings and gleaming hardwood floors over every inch of visible space. On the far wall was a large fireplace, constructed of white stone and darkly tinted glass. Oddly, despite the lovely furnishings, the house looked devoid of any signs of occupancy, which only served to increase her curiosity to a near fever pitch.

The lieutenant pushed the doors open and led Sara out to a deck, one side jutting out from the rock and following a peculiar kind of zigzag pattern as it worked its way around to the front of the house.

The blonde felt slightly breathless as she stepped forward and took in the sight of the canyon spreading out below them. The deck hung over a steep drop, leaving nothing but a bird's eye view of the tree tops. With the horizon slowly turning a deeper shade of orange and purple, the spectacular scene before her was almost total perfection.

Staring soundlessly, something else suddenly caught her attention and she dropped her gaze to the small table near the railing. It was set for two.

"Oh, Billie."

"I thought it was a nice spot for dinner," the detective said casually. "Are you hungry?"

Sara's lips parted and she turned to the brunette standing beside her, looking more than a little overwhelmed. She slipped her arms around Billie's waist and pulled her closer. "It's so beautiful."

Billie lifted a hand to Sara's face and stroked her thumb, lightly, against the blonde's cheek, her gaze intense. "I wanted to do something special," she said softly, planting a delicate kiss on her lover's lips.

"Well, I'd say you've succeeded," the blonde replied in a husky voice. One of her hands slid down over Billie's hip, cupping her from behind and pressing their lower bodies together. The feel of such close contact made Sara's heart beat faster.

"Do you like the place?" Billie asked, trying not to focus on the fingers that were beginning to stroke the back of her thigh.

"Mmm." Sara's lips brushed against Billie's cheek and began closing in on her earlobe. "It's very private," she murmured from beneath a curtain of chestnut hair.

"Yes, it is," the detective sighed, tilting her head back as a tongue teased the skin at the base of her throat. "I think it would be perfect for us." She had to stifle a groan of disappointment as Sara ceased her ministrations and pulled back to look at her.


"The owner's looking to unload it to recoup a little money from some bad investments," Billie explained. "So, I made him an offer."

"You're actually buying this place?"

"If you feel up to it, we can close tomorrow."

Sara stared at her. "What do you mean we?"

"We, as in, you and me." The silence stretched on for a little longer than Billie would have liked. Sara stepped back, her eyes downcast, and rubbed the tips of her fingers against her forehead. The detective recognized the familiar gesture of anxiety. "Is there something wrong?"

"Can we sit down for a minute?" Sara asked, still avoiding making eye contact.

"Yeah.sure," Billie replied with uncertainty.

This time it was Sara who took Billie by the hand and led her to the small table and chairs, motioning for her to sit down as she did the same. They sat there quietly, each woman alone with her thoughts.

Finally, Sara's blue eyes fixed on Billie and she reached across the table and clasped her right hand, seeing that she had the detective's full attention. "Up until a couple of months ago, I wouldn't have thought twice about this," she admitted as her fingers found the ring that used to reside on her own hand. "I never used to have any qualms about taking anything from anyone."

Immediately, Billie understood. "Look, I know what you're thinking, but that is not the situation here."

"Billie, I have no money and no job. I know it's not forever, but at least living together in that little apartment doesn't make me feel like I'm taking advantage of you."

"Buying the house was my idea."

The blonde nodded in agreement. "I know. And, if you really want it, you should buy it. I just.I just don't feel right being a part of it, that's all." Sara's other hand came to rest on Billie's forearm, squeezing it gently. "I'm sorry if it seems like I'm being ungrateful."

The young lieutenant's gaze drifted out to stare at the city skyline, just barely visible in the distance. Despite her disappointment, she was surprised to feel a small sense of relief. She'd been so concerned that her lover would think the suggestion had been driven by some misplaced sense of guilt that it never even occurred to her that Sara might be dealing with some guilt of her own.

"No, it doesn't," she finally replied. "I guess I jumped the gun on this one. And I certainly can't fault you for having scruples."


Billie turned back to look at her. "What?"

"I've never had scruples before," Sara said with a sly grin.

The detective smirked. "Yeah, well, you'd better watch out. They can be a real bitch."

The sound of Billie's cell phone startled both women.

Sara released the brunette's hand and leaned back in her chair, not bothering to hide her annoyance at the interruption. "Is that thing an actual appendage now?"

"Sorry." Billie pulled the phone off her hip and flipped it open. "Chambers."

The blonde watched her lover, waiting for the subtle indicators that told her who was on the other line. Most often it was Captain Parish, with whom Billie was usually focused and serious, occasionally brash, but almost always respectful. If it was someone else in the department, she had the tone of authority in her voice. But, the third option, the one she was currently observing, told her it was either Van or Deaq.

"I already did," came Billie's response as she caught Sara's eye. "And we were just about to have a bite to eat. So, quit prattling and tell me what you want?"

Sara rolled her eyes. It was Van.

Billie's eyes widened. "Are you kidding me?" A smile began to spread across her face as she listened to the man on the other line, obviously enjoying whatever it was he was telling her.

An irrational twinge of jealousy made Sara shift her gaze. It was stupid to be bothered by Billie's relationship with the two men. But, there was something in the way she spoke to them, even when she was giving them a hard time.it was a level of intimacy and friendship that was unique to the three of them. No one else in Billie's life engendered the kind of fierce loyalty and protectiveness she displayed for them.

Maybe not even Sara herself.

Of course, she knew that worked both ways. During the time Billie was missing, the two officers were just as anguished and desperate to find her as Sara was. And, as it turned out, their suspicions about the one-time thief, and their own protective nature toward Billie had been the reason they had Sara followed. Ironically, that distrust had saved her life.

While she was in the hospital, they did come by for a brief visit, the obvious awkwardness tempered to some degree by Billie's presence. The young lieutenant was the lynchpin in their strange little quadrangle, and for her sake, they had all made an unspoken agreement to find some way to get along.

But, that still didn't mean she had to like them.

"Yeah, well maybe it'll give you a new perspective," Billie replied and then listened for a brief moment before responding, "You know how to set the spike. Just go with your instincts and try to remember that someone else's ass is on the line. If that doesn't work, you can always play a little Supertramp and meditate. Oh, and feel free to call me if you need any pointers." With a slight chuckle, she hung up the phone and placed it on the table.


Billie nodded, the grin still firmly fixed to her face. "He and Deaq just got their temporary assignments, proving once and for all that my boss actually does have a sense of humor."

"Meaning?" Sara asked curiously.

The young detective's eyes twinkled with amusement. "They're handling a couple of undercover vice detectives." She could see the slightly confused look on Sara's face. "It means they're the point of contact. They get information, give them their orders, take care of any problems that come up and basically help them keep their minds right while their under."

"Which is what you do for them," Sara surmised.

"On a good day."

"And on a bad one?"

Billie shrugged. "I just try to keep them alive."

After a brief pause, Sara asked, "You care a lot about them, don't you?"

"Yeah, I do," she admitted. "We've been through a lot together. And as a team, they've really jelled. They drive me crazy most days, but I honestly couldn't have picked `em any better." With narrowed eyes, she poked her finger in Sara's direction. "And don't you ever tell them I said that."

"My lips are sealed."

Looking to move on to a lighter subject, the brunette suddenly stood up and said, "I hope you're hungry, because I brought enough food to feed a small army."

"I'm starving."

Billie smiled. "I'll get us a drink and then get started."

"How long do we have this place all to ourselves?" Sara quizzed as she watched Billie walk over to a cart near the door and pour them a couple of drinks.

"Well, now that we're passing on it, we only have it for the night." She returned to the table and handed Sara a glass of iced tea, pausing to tap the glasses together in a toast. "So, Ms. Matthews, you'd better soak up the scenery, because tomorrow it's back to our walk-in closet." She smiled, warmly, and took a sip of her drink, her eyes remaining fixed on the blonde.

Sara drew on the cool liquid, slowly, before setting her glass down on the table and getting to her feet. Billie raised an eyebrow as the blonde took her glass from her hand and set it down, as well.

"Well, then, why don't you show me around?"

"I think it's a little soon."

"I was cooped up in that hospital for sixteen days," Sara voiced in a throaty whisper, her hands resting lightly on the detective's slender waist. "And I'm doing fine. We just have to take it nice and slow." She edged them a little higher, using her thumbs to trace the soft underside of Billie's breasts, enjoying the feel of the young woman's breath catching beneath her fingertips. "You think you can do that, Billie?"

Billie closed her eyes as Sara's warm, soft lips teased the corner of her mouth. "Mmm.slow, yes," she purred. "But there is nothing nice about the things I want to do to you.'

Sara smiled against the brunette's slightly flushed skin, pausing to brush the tip of her tongue against her lover's lips before pulling away. But, Billie quickly reached up, her fingers grabbing a fistful of blonde hair as she leaned in and kissed her, desperately wanting to be close to her, to feel and touch every inch of her.

As they moved against each other, minds and bodies fueled by love, desire and need, Billie's hand suddenly encountered the bandage on Sara's lower back, and her fingers traced across it, delicately, refusing to move on, as if needing to stay in contact with it, to remind her of what she had nearly lost.

Their lips finally parted and the two young women stood there, silently, still clinging to one another, both feeling the undercurrent of urgency that always seemed to ignite their physical exchanges. Only now, those raging emotions had somehow taken on new life.

"So, how about that tour?" Sara rasped, still catching her breath.

For a long moment, Billie's gaze remained focused on the blonde's kiss-swollen lips, until she finally planted another long, sensuous kiss on Sara's mouth and then pulled away. Reaching down and linking their fingers together, she began to walk backwards, slowly, toward the door, leading her lover along with a predatory smile.

"Follow me," the detective beckoned softly.

Sara's eyes darkened as thoughts of what that smile meant caused her body to shiver with anticipation.


Sophia placed Felicia's leg back down on the bed, having finished applying a lotion to her skin. It was designed to keep it supple while having the added bonus of providing her an opportunity to massage the woman's muscles, hoping to awaken her with some physical stimulation. There was no telling how long she would remain in this state, or whether she would ever again regain consciousness. But, in the meantime, the servant would continue to prepare for her employer's eventual recovery.

She could feel the eyes of the young police officer on the other side of the observation window following her every move. The few people she'd encountered during her visits to the hospital treated her less than auspiciously, clearly having no understanding of why she would have anything to do with Felicia Ralston. But Sophia didn't let that bother her. She cared very little of what others thought of her actions.

After taking a moment to pour a bit of lotion into the palm of her hand, Sophia sat down beside Felicia's bed and reached for her arm, careful working her fingers around the tape that kept the assortment of tubes and wires adhered to the blonde's arm. She took her time, her strong hands used to years of labor and relatively unaccustomed to fatigue, and continued to talk to her charge in a matter-of-fact tone, as though she were explaining the details of some household chore that had just been completed.

"I delivered the painting this morning as you requested," she spoke to the silent, unresponsive figure. "There was no way for me to be sure it was still what you wanted, given what happened, but it was the only course of action I could take. Of course, should you wish to get the painting back, I have no doubt that Lieutenant Chambers would be happy to part with it. She was quite upset when I brought it-"

The older woman froze, staring down at the limp hand resting on top of her own. The long, delicate fingers curled around her palm looked relaxed and still. For a split-second she thought perhaps she'd imagined it, but as if in response to her silent skepticism, she felt it again.

Felicia squeezed her hand.

The End

Author's notes: Well, that wraps up my little story. I can't believe I've been writing this thing for well over a year! Amazing what one little episode can do. I'm sure to get some grief about loose ends, but it should be fairly obvious that I'm planning on writing another story.two, actually, if the inspiration continues to strike me, although I don't think they'll be quite this long. Anyway, as this was my first time out, I'm very interested in hearing what everyone thought of it, so please drop me a line. And to everyone who stuck with it for the long haul, my sincerest thanks. - Sam

Return to Fastlane Fiction

Return to Main Page