Disclaimer: Uber Star Trek Voyager, JAG and X-files. No infringement intended since this is an original story. Among other things it is about same gender love between consenting adult women and if that is illegal where you are or offensive to you in any way - please hit your back button! 
Rating: Chapters vary between G - NC-17
Revised May 2, 2001

Finding Shelter From The Storm

© GB

Part 1.

Her body tried to tell her she had been driving for far too long.

The rain was pouring down and although she had the windshield wipers on at their highest speed, the visibility was lousy.

Laura took a firmer grip of the steering wheel and navigated through the unknown streets with a confidence she had obtained from moving around from town to town so many times in her life.

She was not a gypsy or a nomad at heart but since she had decided to quit her designated career more than five years ago and break free, she had not stayed in one place more than three or four months at the most.

She became restless and a bit paranoid if she tried to stay somewhere for longer periods than that. She was always moving on; hiding, of course, but also searching for something she couldn’t identify.

Now she was on her way to a small motel she had heard about in the circles she had moved in.

She trusted Jared, as much as she would ever trust anyone. He had told her about this remote little motel that was simple but clean and most important of all, had no connection to anything she was trying to avoid, as far as she could judge. She usually didn’t leave a forwarding address, but as they said goodbye, she had taken the address he had scribbled on a small piece of paper and shoved it into her pocket.

She squinted through the raindrops, trying to make out the name of the street she was on. It turned out to be the right one and after driving another two hundred yards she saw the bright yellow sign.

River Meadow Motel.

She smiled wryly.

Who had come up with such an impossible, romantic name for such modest building? Perhaps it was pure luxury indoors, she mused. But then again, Jared would never have recommended it unless he thought she would be reasonably safe there.

She pulled into the parking lot and hurried through the rain, wrapping the open rain jacket closer around her. She reached the door and opened it, setting off a faint tingling sound from small bells attached to the doorframe.

“I’ll be right there!” she heard a voice call from a room behind the desk.

Half a minute later, a tall blonde came through the door, wiping her hands on a towel.

“Hi, sorry to keep you waiting. I was drying off Hubert.”

Laura blinked.

“Hubert?”

The blonde smiled faintly.

“My dog.”

“Oh, I see. Well, I have a reservation. Laura Carter.”

“Let me check.” The blonde logged on to a computer and scrolled down a page. “Ah, yes, here you are. Do you know how many nights you will be staying?”

Laura shook her head.

“No, but at least for a month if things work out as planned.”

“One month. That’s fine; just tell me as soon as you know if you need the room longer or if you have to leave earlier. My name is Sunny Stewart and I am the owner. If there is anything you need, just let us know. We don’t have room service but we try to help out when we can. There is a breakfast room and if you order in advance we can make lunch packs and killer subs anytime. Just sign here, please. Your credit card?”

While signing the register card and handing over her Visa card, Laura had to ask.

“Killer subs?”

Sunny smiled, her full lips separating just enough to show a glimpse of perfect white teeth.

“Yes, you know, large baguette sandwiches with everything in them. Almost a full dinner if you ask me.”

The tall, lanky blonde sure didn’t look as if she lived on killer subs all the time, Laura thought, suddenly feeling both tired and every one of her forty-two years.

“Oh, one of those,” she smiled wearily, unaware that she was leaning at the counter for support. She had been driving for twelve hours, only resting a couple of times, and now she was exhausted. “I don’t suppose you have one left over?”

The motel owner pursed her lips.

“I don’t know, but I’ll go and have a look. Here’s your card and your key. Your room is the second to the left, number three. I will check out my fridge and see what I can come up with. Hey, are you all right?” She came around the counter, frowning worriedly as she regarded Laura who realised she was swaying, feeling decidedly light headed.

“I’m fine,” she managed. “Just tired from driving. I’ll get my things and if you can find anything for me to eat, I’ll be forever in your debt.”

Sunny smiled a little.

“You’re sure you won’t faint in my parking lot, then?”

“Quite sure.” Laura grabbed her key, tucked her wallet away and headed out into the rain.

Faint in the parking lot. She had never fainted in her entire life and a little fatigue from driving would not make her do so either.

After getting her large backpack she located her room two doors down from the reception. She opened the door and turned on the light as she; grateful to get out of the icy rain, stumbled inside.

It was a fairly large room. There was a queen size bed, a table with two chairs and a small sofa with a coffee table in front of it. There was a half open door on the opposite wall, which she guessed led to the bathroom. She needed to use it but decided to wait for Sunny Stewart and hope she would bring something edible,

Laura pulled off her wet jacket and hung it on the hook behind the door. With a sigh she sat down on the edge of her bed; the dizziness swept over her again. She lied down, her feet still on the floor, and closed her eyes.

Just for a second, she thought and yawned.

*****

The knock on the door woke her up and the unfamiliar voice outside it made her frown.

“Ms Carter? Are you all right? I’ve brought you some sandwiches and coffee.”

Oh, right, the motel. Sunny Stewart.

Laura got up and stumbled over her backpack on her way to the door. Regaining her balance she opened it and let the blonde in.

“Sorry, I think I fell asleep,” she mumbled, regarding the small mountain of sandwiches on the tray Sunny was carrying.

“That quickly? You must be exhausted. Well, here’s some food and … oh, dear, are you all right?”

Laura had felt her knees buckling and she had no way of stopping herself from staggering a little to the left.

She was bristling with impatience. What was wrong with her? Was she coming down with something or was she just beginning to get to old to be gallivanting around the country this way?

“I’m fine, just tired,” she managed but the motel owner put the tray down on the table and carefully guided Laura to a chair with a slender arm around the smaller woman’s shoulders.

“You’re pale and trembling,” she said worriedly. “I think you must eat and then sleep for as long as you can.”

Laura wanted to object but the genuine concern in the blonde’s voice kept her quiet. Weakly she grabbed a cheese sandwich and took a bite.

“These are good,” she muttered around the food, shooting Sunny a look. “I’ll be fine now, thanks.”

The blonde didn’t seem satisfied with that.

“Do you mind if I stick around and have a cup of coffee too?” she asked casually. “I don’t want my newest resident to topple over and injure herself. Besides, I really could use some coffee.”

Laura stopped chewing and just stared at her.

The nerve of this young woman baffled her.

Tall and blonde and with a figure that would sell thousands of magazines, she just stood there and invaded the privacy of a paying guest. Just like that.

“Aren’t you needed at the front desk?” Laura asked dryly.

Sunny pointed at her belt. There was a small white device clamped there.

“No, I have my pager on. If anyone rings the bell out there, I’ll hear it. And I have my cell phone. Please allow me to stay, Ms Carter. You really look pale.”

Laura gave an exasperated sigh. The girl was impossible.

“All right then. By all means, have some coffee.”

Sunny reached into a cabinet Laura had not seen yet and pulled out two mugs. She poured steaming black coffee from the thermos she had brought and handed Laura one.

“I was out of milk but you look like a black coffee kind of person,” she said, smiling faintly.

The older woman nodded.

“I guess you are a mind reader too, then.”

“No, just observant.”

And confident, Laura mused, regarding the blonde over the rim of her mug. Beautiful in a cool, almost detached sort of way. Either Ms Stewart was very caring or very curious or did she have coffee in the middle of the night with all her guests?

As if the young woman had indeed read her mind, she put her mug down and cocked her head a little.

“I normally don’t invade my guest’s privacy like this. I … well, you seem sort of familiar and I’d never forgive myself if you were taken ill all alone in here.”

“I assure you I’m fine. Just tired and hungry, that’s all. I will be as good as new after a good nights sleep,” Laura claimed, forcing a smile to sound sincere.

Sunny didn’t seem convinced, on the contrary, she raised an eyebrow in disbelief but didn’t say anything as she kept Laura company when she finished her midnight snack.

“There, now I will shower and go to bed. Thank you for being so …thoughtful,” Laura said firmly.

Sunny got up and headed for the door, bringing the tray and empty thermos with her. Then she turned around, frowning a little.

“Are you sure you will be all right? Do you need a wake up call in the morning?”

Laura flinched. Good Lord, what was she thinking of? She had an appointment tomorrow, or later today really, since it was way past midnight.

“Yes, please. Wake me at eight in case I don’t hear that thing,” she said motioning at the radio alarm clock by the bed.

“All right, I will,” Sunny smiled.

She had a special smile, very cautious, like smiling was almost foreign to her. Laura found it curious that a young, beautiful woman was running a modest motel all by herself. Although the motel was not quite as run down as the rest of the neighbourhood, the woman still seemed as if she was out of place here.

“Good night.” The older woman closed the door behind Sunny and exhaled wearily. She felt better but having driven almost six hundred miles in one day had taken its toll on her. She needed to sleep. Tomorrow was so important.

She had to get that job; otherwise this whole trip would be for nothing. Everything depended on the outcome of tomorrow; it was her chance to finally regain her freedom.

She had called ahead and set up the interview. She was almost out of money and the deposit she had filled up her fake Visa card with had made a huge hole in her meagre budget.

If she didn’t land the job tomorrow, another unfortunate consequence would be that the sandwiches Sunny had made her would be among the last she would eat in a while.

Laura pulled off her clothes, let them lie where they fell on the floor, and went into the bathroom. It was small, tiny even, but immaculately clean. She showered quickly and wrapper herself in a bath towel. Without even bothering to check herself in the mirror, knowing that she would look her worst after such a day, her auburn hair tousled, her blue-grey eyes all grey and not in the least blue and her narrow lips pressed even thinner; she headed for the bed and slept the moment her head hit the pillow.

*****

A gentle hand shook her shoulder and still her clouded mind did not react in its usual guarded manner.

“Ms Carter? Good morning. Ms Carter?” a full, pleasant voice said above her.

Laura reluctantly opened her eyes and peered at the stranger hovering above her. Before realising where she was and who was in the room with her, she felt under her pillow for her gun but it wasn’t there.

“Wow, hey, it’s just me. Remember? Sunny, I own the motel?” the tall blonde said quickly and rose from the bed where she had been sitting to reach Laura. “I called you on the phone three times and when you didn’t answer the door, I had to open with my key. I’m sorry if I scared you.”

Embarrassed, Laura briefly closed her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Sunny,” she said hoarsely, “I must really have been out of it.” She rose on one elbow and blushed profusely when the still damp towel fell off her a little, revealing her right breast before she could catch it.

“Don’t worry. Are you sure you are all right?” the blonde asked carefully.

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“Well, it’s just that … you were moaning and tossing a little when I came in. It looked like you were having a nightmare.”

She had had the dream again and with her usual luck, this young woman had witnessed her anguished throws of terror. Great.

“I get them sometimes,” Laura smiled crookedly, “but I’m okay now. Thanks again.”

Sunny nodded and stood up. “Okay. I’ll see you at breakfast?”

Laura shot her a look, but the warm expression in the clear blue eyes of the motel owner was disarming, to say the least. Unless she wanted to really sound ungrateful …

“Yes, of course,” she smiled quickly and her throaty voice was even huskier than usual as the faint memories of the bad dream suddenly flashed before her like ghosts.

Sunny left and Laura hid her face in her hands.

“Good Lord,” she moaned out loud to herself. “What kind of motel is this? I have been here for one night and already Ms Motel Owner thinks I’m losing it and that she has to keep an eye on me for my own good. Laura, my dear, is that ‘lying low’?”

She chastised herself into the bathroom where she took another shower and also washed her hair. She arranged the auburn tresses in a strict hairdo and pulled out a wrinkle free power suit, that was perfect for its purpose, from her backpack.

A cream coloured silk tank top matched the green jacket that came with a narrow skirt, ending just above her knee. Pantyhose and black pumps completed her look. Before putting on her jacket she strapped the special made gun harness on and found her missing gun at the bottom of her backpack, checked the ammunition, made sure the safety was on and attached it to the holster.

She buttoned her jacket and regarded herself in the full-length mirror. She was pleased to see that there were hardly any signs of yesterday’s fatigue. She tried smiling and even though it was a fake grin, it lit up her face and masked the deadly look in her eyes.

She could do this. She could. Now, breakfast.

*****

Sunny was bringing more thermoses of coffee and hot water when Laura Carter entered the room.

The incredible transformation from the wet, weary traveller from yesterday almost made the blonde drop everything.

A cool looking business woman, with perfect clothes and makeup had taken her place and if Sunny had not actually been sitting on this stunning woman’s bed forty minutes ago, she would not had thought it possible.

Laura walked up to her and smiled politely.

“Good morning again, Sunny. Is it okay for me to call you that? Or do you prefer Ms Stewart?”

Sunny swallowed as the other woman’s discreet perfume reached her and for a moment she forgot the question. Then she pulled herself together and managed to answer without stuttering.

“Sunny is fine, Ms Carter.”

“Then you must call me Laura,” the older woman suggested, her commanding tone not making it as much a suggestion as an order. “Where do you want me?”

Sunny swallowed again, Laura’s choice of words making her a little nervous.

“I think you will enjoy the table over there, by the window. We don’t have much of a view, but from there you can look at our small garden, at least.” She pointed out the table.

“You will join me, yes?” Laura said as she started filling up a plate with bread and jam and pouring coffee into a mug, really intended for tea. She swiftly placed it all on a tray. Her obvious efficiency surprised Sunny; it was such a contrast from last night and just a moment ago this morning.

“I … uh, yes, I’m done here. I’ll be happy to.” Sunny felt her cheeks go warm again.

Laura dipped her head and walked over to the table. There she sat down with her back to the wall behind her, her eyes locked on the bemused motel owner.

Sunny filled a cup with coffee, grabbed a muffin and followed her. She pulled out a chair across from the other woman and sank down with a sigh.

“Busy morning?” Laura asked after sipping her coffee, glancing around the room at the other guests coming and going.

“Yes, the motel is pretty full, I think we only have about three more rooms available.”

“We?”

“Hubert, my staff and I.”

Laura smiled, a slow stretching of lips that ignited into a full, broad smile.

“Hubert. What does he do around here? Make the beds?” she joked.

Sunny smiled faintly. “He has his work cut out for him. He keeps guard.”

“And what does he guard? Your safe?”

“No, he guards me,” Sunny answered and the tiny smile on her lips disappeared.

Laura put her mug down. She looked serious and an unexpected expression of what could only be true sympathy came and went on her elegant face.

Sunny had not realised last night, or this morning, what a beautiful, graceful woman Laura Carter was. All wet from the rain and hopelessly dishevelled this morning, she had looked older and dead tired. Now she radiated some special energy that seemed to reach far beyond her compact form.

“You need a guard here, Sunny?” she asked in a low, throaty voice. “I thought this was a pretty calm neighbourhood even though it has seen better days.

Sunny shrugged.

“The neighbourhood is fine. I grew up here. But there are guests that are not so fine and after learning that the hard way, I found Hubert at the dog pound. He’s never let me down.”

The older woman’s eyes turned from a level blue-grey to a solid, dull grey.

“You were attacked?” Her voice was not more than a whisper, but the menacing tone was evident. Sunny wondered again who this chameleon was and if she really wanted to know.

“I was,” she confirmed calmly. “I used to have room service here but one evening … well, let’s just say, there was a man and his friend who thought they could order just about everything. I was lucky that Jared was still on duty and within earshot.”

Sunny thought she could see Laura flinch but wasn’t sure.

“This Jared, he helped you?” the older woman asked, her hands clenching around the coffee mug.

“Yes, he did. The men both ended up in the hospital and the police took Jared into custody. He was out on parole and these guys were some businessmen from some hole somewhere. They knew the Governor and before I could testify and set things straight, Jared had escaped and I haven’t seen him since. We keep in touch though.”

Laura’s eyes narrowed and she set her jaw as she regarded the blonde.

“You know.”

Sunny nodded.

“In a way. Only that Jared recommended you. I don’t know anything else.”

The other woman looked out the window, seemed to pay particular interest to some birds on the tiny lawn and then looked back at Sunny.

“That’s why you came with the sandwiches and paid me the extra courtesy of watching out for me,” she stated flatly.

To her dismay, a fierce crimson red coloured Sunny’s cheeks again. That was true in part.

“Uh … yes,” she admitted and averted her eyes.

“But?” Laura demanded gently.

“Well, I knew you must mean something to Jared. He’s never sent anyone to my place like this before. Either he really cares for you or you have helped him and he’s returning a favour. He must trust you and since he does - so do I. You also looked … very tired and vulnerable.”

That description of herself apparently did not suit Laura Carter in the least. She pressed her lips thin together and after finishing her sandwiches in silence she wiped her mouth on the napkin next to her. Putting it down on her tray, she looked at Sunny with a determined expression on her face.

“Sunny, I think if Jared trusts us both we probably can do so as well,” she said carefully. “But you don’t have any obligation what so ever to take care of me. I’m perfectly capable of handling things myself. Yesterday was a hard day; I drove most of the day and in bad weather at that. Please don’t feel you have to do anything for me that you wouldn’t do for any other guest here,” she gestured towards the other guests.

Sunny couldn’t put her finger on why she knew for a fact that this woman was not as self-confident as she tried to sound, Obviously Laura put on a good performance, but there was something, perhaps the mere fact that she had seen this woman completely vulnerable gave her away.

“I promise not to smother you with unwanted attention,” Sunny smiled innocently, which rendered her a stern glare from Laura. “I will only do things for you that I want to.” That remark made the other woman frown warningly and Sunny applied her most angelic look.

“Well, I have to get going. I’ll be away all day but if you could sign me up for a huge killer sub with everything, please,” Laura said a little exasperatedly.

“Consider it done,” Sunny replied happily and watched the other woman rise and remove her tray and putting it in the tray rack by the door. To the blonde’s surprise she stopped just outside the glass door and looked back at her breakfast companion.

Sunny wondered if Laura knew what a sweet smile was playing on her red lips right then.

*****

Impatiently glancing at her watch, Joan clenched her teeth and sighed.

On how many occasions had she wasted her time like this, waiting for that damn physician? She leaned over the railing, trying to get a view of the myriad of people down there, to see if Dawn were one of them. There were several redheads but her assigned partner was nowhere in sight.

Dawn Morrison had a certain kind of style, both in personality, clothes and the way she walked. Her appearance breathed style and elegance as well as a strong determination. Joan didn’t think she had ever seen the woman hesitate even once. She was capable, strong and very feminine which confused and threw a lot of people off balance.

Joan had not liked her at all when they were first teamed up together, but now she appreciated the other woman’s experience and inner drive, admired her even.

“Joan? Hi, sorry I’m late. Headquarters delayed me. Here, they pulled this out of the computer as I was hovering above them.”

The diminutive redhead sudden appearance at Joan’s elbow did not startle her in the least; she was used to Dawn’s way of appearing out of the blue.

“Hi, yes you’re late. I’ve been getting dirty looks from the security people around here for the last twenty minutes.

Dawn frowned.

“Well, what do you expect when you stand around here looking like that?”

She was obviously referring to the brunette’s long, black trench coat and cowboy boots. She wore her short, dark brown hair brushed back from her face in soft large curls. This seemed to contradict the strength she radiated.

“What?” Joan asked innocently.

“You know what,” Dawn grinned. “You look like an accident waiting to happen if someone gets too close.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“Well, shall we?” Dawn said, indicating towards the suitcase at her feet. “If I drive the first couple of hours, you can catch up on your reading. Unless you get motion sickness?” She looked overly concerned and Joan shot her a look.

“Did you say motion sickness?”

“Yes?”

“I never get motion sickness and you know it.”

“Well, just trying to be nice.”

Joan glared at her.

“Sure. Hand me the folders,” she said testily, reaching out for the thick folders Dawn carried under her arm while hoisting a backpack on to her left shoulder.

Dawn smiled angelically and took the lead out of the large building.

*****

They were just out of the inner city and driving down the freeway when Joan lifted her gaze from the papers she had browsed through.

“Do you think it’s her?” she asked.

“Yes, I do. I have every reason to think it actually is. Grant it, we have been close before but this time we have more than one source confirming it. This could be it, Joan.”

The brunette shook her head, more in astonishment than disbelief for once.

“Imagine, after three years, we might actually get close enough.”

Dana smiled crookedly.

“Close enough to secure her, I hope. We can’t afford to miss this time. Our unit’s on its way down there and I hope nobody jumps the gun on this one.”

Both women recalled just a little over a year ago when they had been so close and a local policeman had been too cocky and indeed jumped the gun. They had lost months of work and missed their target.

“When did you eat last?” Dana asked her passenger.

“Oh, just an hour ago. Why? Are you hungry?”

“No, I’d rather just drive for as long as I can before we pull over. If you take over driving after lunch that will be fine with me.” She glanced at Joan and smiled.

“That is unless your endless thirst for diet coke is not catching up with you before then,” she teased.

“First accusations about motion sickness and then you belittle my favourite beverage,” Joan groaned. “This is going to be a long trip.”

“You think? No, I’ll be good. I promise,” the redhead smiled innocently.

“Yeah, right.”

*****

She was once again driving down that street, only this time she knew the way well. This was fortunate since she was in too much pain to be able to concentrate on any notes with written directions.

Laura felt inside her tailor made jacket and frowned at the dampness on her tank top.

It had spread all over her left side.

Dizziness threatened to overcome her.

Relief washing over her as she made out the sign at the motel was not surprising, only its strength. She was happy to be there and once she was safe in her room, she’d take a look at the wound.

Pulling into the parking lot she stopped the engine.

Carefully she reached for her purse and tried to open the door but that proved to be too hard since it was on her left. Fumbling with her right hand stretched across her chest to reach the door handle, she moaned when a stabbing pain added to the dull, throbbing ache.

A loud bark and a huge furry face next to her car almost scared her to death.

“Oh, God …” she groaned. “Hubert, you took five years from my life there, boy.” She peered through the window.

The big dog was standing there, his head tilted and looking like he was trying to make up his mind if she was friend or foe.

Whimpering quietly she forced her stiff left arm to work and managed to open the door. A gush of wind and rain made her shiver and then Hubert was close to her, sniffing at her hand.

“I am a friend of you mom’s,” Laura whispered hoarsely. “Just let me get out of the car and I’ll clear out of your parking lot.”

The dog didn’t move much, just backed off a couple of steps.

Laura inhaled sharply and then got up from her seat.

Shooting pain surged through her. Then a flash followed by complete darkness suddenly blinded her. She could still hear the panting dog but understood that she was on the verge of passing out since the rest of her senses were failing.

“Oh, no … Hubert, this isn’t good. Fetch your mommy, fetch Sunny?” She started slipping down the side of her car and heard the sound of his large paws disappearing between the cars.

She had no idea how long she had clung to the car when Sunny’s voice was close to her ear and a long, slender arm circled her waist, pulling her up a little. Laura moaned and tried to pull back. Sunny’s arm brushed against the wound and the pain almost took what was left of her consciousness.

“Laura! How long have you been out here? What happened to you?”

“I need a little help … going to my room …” Laura managed between cluttering teeth.

“You’re so cold. Here, lean on me.”

The older woman’s legs were stiff and uncooperative, Sunny had to almost drag her to her room. It was only about ten yards but it felt like a hundred. Her side burned and she was so dizzy.

Inside, Hubert automatically sat down just inside the door. Laura sank down on a chair and slumped sideways at the table.

“Thanks,” she said, “now I can manage on my own.”

Sunny wiped the rain from her face and watched her calmly.

“I don’t think so. You are pale and obviously in pain. What happened … oh!”

The blonde quickly took a step forward and yanked Laura’s jacket open. Blood had soaked her most of the front of her tank top and spread onto her skirt. “You’re hurt!”

“It is worse than it looks. I just have to clean it. It is superficial, really.”

Sunny simply stared her down; Laura blamed it on the blood loss. Nobody could stare her down if she was at her usual clearheaded state of mind.

“Allow me to help you,” the younger woman said. “I’ll go over to the reception and get the first aid box. I hope it isn’t something I can’t handle.”

Laura rolled her eyes but nodded. Since a hospitals and doctors were out of the question, perhaps it was a good idea.

“All right,” she whispered.

Sunny got up and hurried out the door.

“Guard her,” she ordered Hubert who barked and then hummed deep in his throat. Not a growl, more like a ‘yes’.

The blonde was back within twenty seconds.

“Miriam is covering the desk for as long as I need her to,” she said and sank down on her knees next to Laura. “She knows I am in here, but not why. She can be trusted though. They all can.”

Laura was nauseous now and dared only nod. If she opened her mouth she was sure she would vomit.

With careful hands Sunny removed her by now severely blood stained jacket. The green material was almost black where the blood had saturated the fabric. She also calmly and carefully removed the empty harness. Laura glanced at motel owner but the composed face didn’t betray anything.

“I’ll have to cut open the tank top,” the blonde warned Laura, opening the box she had brought and taking out a pair of medical scissors.

“Just do it,” the older woman said through clenched teeth.

Sunny cut the silky fabric along its seam on the uninjured side. She then pulled it off, very gently, careful not to cause more pain than necessary. Still, Laura groaned quietly and swayed.

“You must lie down,” Sunny said.

“No, go on.”

“But you almost fell just now. Please, let me help you to the bed?”

“No. Clean it here and put a bandage on it.”

“I have news for you, Ms Carter. This is my motel and I give the orders around here. Sit up if you insist but at least lean on my shoulders with your right hand, otherwise you will fall on top of me when you pass out and then of what use would I be to you.”

The shivering woman seemed to recognise the seriousness in the younger woman’s voice. She smiled faintly, a crooked, wry smile but complied. Slowly she lifted her right arm and rested it along Sunny’s shoulders.

“There,” the blonde said. “That didn’t kill you.”

Laura had to smile again. Not many people dared to order her around and then mock her about it, wounded or not. This young woman had guts and the shoulders she was leaning were slender but strong.

“Thank you for doing this,” she whispered huskily.

Sunny shrugged as she cleaned the skin around the wound.

“It isn’t like you could go to the ER or anything, is it? They are obligated to report gunshot wounds to the police.”

Laura flinched and cried out from the sudden pain.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” Sunny exclaimed and held on to the older woman. “I am too blunt sometimes, I didn’t mean to make you jump like that.”

Laura forced the tears of pain back.

“I know. Just finish it. It is just a flesh wound, isn’t it?” she asked. She had felt the bullet from the gun held by the man closest to her, brush her side but didn’t think it had gone through her. It had felt like a severe scratch.

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been shot before.

“Yes. There’s a tear and you’ve bled some but it has stopped now. I think if we keep it clean and keep a close eye on it, you should be fine. We must get you some antibiotics though. I can take care of that. Miriam’s cousin is a doctor.”

We? Who were we? Sunny was assuming she was still going to be able to stay?

She had to move on and keep moving for a while. She would rest up for the night and then hit the road tomorrow. Pity, it had seemed like a nice place at the outskirts of this medium size city. She could have stayed here for a couple of months if she had not been set up.

The lead she had been on for some time now had sent her to the right place but somebody had blown the whistle on her and now she had to move on …

Laura regarded the blonde head next to her.

Sunny wore her long, blond hair in an austere ponytail and was focused on putting the large bandage on the older woman’s side.

She was so beautiful and Laura felt a strange pang of remorse over not being able to get to know her better. There was something about her that sent small shivers down her back; she wasn’t sure why. It had been a long time since she had allowed herself to really look at another person, to let her mind wonder about them.

“You are beautiful,” she suddenly said and a second later blushed fiercely, mortified that she had spoken her mind out loud. She must really be out of sorts after the long drive yesterday and the loss of blood this evening.

Sunny quickly glanced up at her, a smile playing at the curve of her full mouth. She raised an eyebrow enquiringly.

“Thank you. So are you.”

Laura closed her eyes briefly.

“Well, you are,” Sunny insisted.

“Liar, but thanks,” Laura smiled wearily.

“There, all done. You must drink lots of fluids now. And not just coffee,” the blonde smiled back. “I’ll help you get washed up and then I’ll bring you lots of juice.”

“Just bring the juice and I’ll handle the washing up myself,” the older woman insisted sharply.

Sunny looked like she was going to object but shrugged and left the room after again telling her dog to guard Laura.

*****

“Dawn? Dawn! Are you all right?”

The soft whisper of her roommate made the doctor jump.

She had been standing at the balcony window, staring out into the rain completely lost in thought. They had driven more than sixty miles and she was stiff and sore from sitting down for so long. Standing here, listening to the rain hitting the window had been soothing.

She slammed down the calm and collected demeanour she usually showed, especially around Joan, and turned around.

“Sorry. What is it?”

“You okay?” asked the other woman, dressed only in a large tee shirt, apparently on her way to bed.

“Yes, of course. I’ll get ready for bed too. We have forty more miles or so to go.”

“Remind me why we couldn’t go by plane?”

“You know why. We have a leak in the organisation and we have no idea what information they have on us. We have to travel in the least conspicuous way. No plane, no charter, no helicopter, nothing like that. We drive. That gives us time to get more information from my contact. We cannot afford to miss her again, Joanie.”

She wanted to kick herself for her slip as soon as the uncalled for nickname was past her lips. Damn, she had to watch herself.

Joan only raised an eyebrow at the way Dawn just addressed her.

“I know,” she just said, her voice gentler than it had been all day.

“Well … um, I’ll get ready then,” Dawn stuttered, furious with herself for dropping her guard like this. She grabbed her small bag with toiletries and rushed into the bathroom.

Staring at her flushed face in the mirror, she groaned inwardly.

Joan was being very polite. She had to suspect something.

Dawn’s mind raced as she ran the shower.

She was bound to. This was not the first time she had overstepped the boundaries of their working relationship. She remembered the time about six months ago when fatigue and frayed nerves after a stake out going way wrong. She had ended up fighting Joan’s restraining arms, desperate over the loss of two rookie agents.

She had never been held with such abandon and tenderness in her life and … Dawn blushed again as she undressed, memories of how she had clung to the other woman, screaming in outrage and pain over the senseless loss of lives, swirling through her mind. She had lost it that night, it had taken her weeks to regain her composure and she knew Joan had understood only too well.

They had never talked about it since, but not a day had gone by when Dawn didn’t think about it. She could feel those strong arms holding her back, stopping her from entering the building going up in flames from the explosives. She could hear that calm voice reassuring her that she had done everything possible; there was nothing more she could do.

She had never been sure, though. She still carried the feeling that she could have anticipated it. That was when they had realised that there could be a traitor high up in the organisation. How high, they didn’t know. They worked on a need to know basis now, with Dawn as the only contact between their team and the organisation. They needed to bring this woman in. Many lives depended on it, not to mention the woman’s own.

She just prayed they would make it this time, before it was too late.

*****

Dawn came out from the bathroom, looking posh as usual in her classy outfit; a soft blue satin nightgown, going all the way to her feet. Dawn was a very petite woman.

Joan smiled inwardly and regarded her calmly.

She had noticed Dawn’s slip of the tongue earlier and it had been very interesting, not to mention informative, to watch her cheeks turn red. Joan had acted as if nothing happened, as if she hadn’t noticed, but her heart had jumped.

Calling me Joanie, huh, Dawn? She smiled.

“What’s so funny?” Dawn frowned.

“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking,” the brunette smiled even broader.

She had curled up on her bed, zapping through all the channels on the small television-set at their disposal.

Dawn folded back her covers and climbed into her bed.

“Are you going to watch it for long?” she asked tersely.

“No, I was waiting for you,” Joan said amicably. “I’m rather tired.” And you are as nervous as a cat in a dog yard, Dawn, she added to herself.

“Oh, okay. Well, goodnight then.” The redhead lied down and switched off her light.

“Yes, goodnight. May I hit you if you snore, Dawn?” The room went dark as Joan did the same.

“That won’t be necessary since I don’t snore.”

“You woke me up four times last time we shared a room.”

“I did not.”

“Oh, yes. You kicked me twice and one time you snored so loud, the neighbours were pounding on the wall.”

“Very funny. The fourth time, then?”

Joan smiled angelically into the darkness.

“You used me as a pillow. There I was minding my business, trying to get back to sleep and you just yanked me across that queen size bed and held on for dear life.”

There was a total silence. It stretched out for so long, Joan wondered if she had shocked the life out of her partner.

Then there was a sharp inhale of air.

“Tell me you’re joking, Joan.” The mortified tone in Dawn’s voice took all the fun out of teasing immediately.

“I’m joking,” the brunette offered quickly.

“Joan …” Dawn’s voice was a mere whisper.

“I promise.”

“Why did you say it, then? Do you find it that hilarious to do this to me, to throw me?”

She did? Joan was surprised. She didn’t think anything threw Dawn. Her partner was so cool and collected all the time and constantly on top of things.

She cleared her throat.

“Well, you did kind of hold on to me. It was just a couple of weeks after that show down at the warehouses. You were having a rough night.”

“Don’t patronise me,” Dawn growled in the darkness. “Tell me the truth now.”

Joan sighed. She sure had a big mouth, she chastised herself. To bring up the worst night in Dawn’s professional life and her own too, for that matter.

“Dawn, please,” she said softly, trying to avoid the subject but knew it was in vain. Dawn were if nothing else, stubborn as a mule.

“Tell me.” The cool voice next to her betrayed no emotions.

“You were having a bad dream and when you wouldn’t wake up I leaned over you and you … well, you needed to be close to somebody I guess. And I was there. I just held you for a little while, Dawn, just to ease you back to sleep. It wasn’t like I tried to take advantage of you or anything.”

The joke fell and died instantly.

“You held me?”

Suddenly Joan could detect all sorts of emotions in Dawn’s voice; trepidation, fright, embarrassment and something else that she couldn’t identify.

There was a rustling of sheets and then Dawn’s light was switched on again. The redhead swung her legs over the edge of the bed, facing Joan, staring at her with huge eyes.

“Why have you never told me this?” she demanded to know.

Joan resisted the urge to roll her eyes. This was the Dawn she knew. Like a dog with a bone, not letting go until she had all the answers. She also had an eerie notion for knowing when there was something to be found out.

“Dawn, look …”

“No, you look. I want to know why you didn’t tell me.”

Joan sat up too, sighing exasperatedly.

“You’re one tough cookie,” she groaned. “All right, all right! You were so vulnerable that night, sobbing my name, hugging me close and trembling in my arms. I know how you hate to show any sign of weakness, even to me, so I thought, why tell you? Why embarrass you? I am sorry that I took this teasing thing too far, I really am. I sometimes have my foot planted firmly in my mouth.”

Dawn had a fair, almost transparent complexion normally, but now she had lost all of her colour.

“Oh, God …” she managed.

“Don’t worry about it …”

“Oh, God …” the redhead hid her face in her hands. “Oh no …”

“What? What is so wrong with being human, normal, vulnerable – like the rest of us?” Joan exclaimed. “I don’t hold it against you, you know. It only makes me … like you more.”

Dawn flinched and stared at her.

“What?”

Joan waved her hands in the air.

“You know. You’re quite intimidating, now and again. It’s not like I think you’re super human or anything, but that night … it was hard to see you that upset but it felt good to be able to help you out, to … well, comfort you.”

The brunette held her breath and waited for the blow to come. She hardly recognised her own audacity to talk to her superior like this. The doctor seemed dumbfounded, like she lost the ability to speak at all.

“Dawn?”

Dawn rose from the bed and looked down at her partner. Her eyes were narrow, hiding her feelings well. Then she sighed and sat down again, this time on the edge of Joan’s bed.

“I’m blowing this way out of proportion, aren’t I?” she offered with a tiny smile that went straight to the brunette’s heart.

“Well, knowing you, perhaps not. But you and I have worked together for a long time now. I’d like to think that we are friends too? And you have been there for me so many times … Don’t take this away from me,” Joan asked seriously. “It meant a lot to me to be able to hold you and help you through that, even if you had no idea about it at the time.”

Dawn smiled and patted her knees.

“Sorry, Joanie.”

The nickname hung between them.

“You are probably the only one who could get away with calling me that,” Joan smiled, raising an eyebrow.

Dawn laughed.

“I am, huh? Well, then, as long as you don’t think you can call me Dawnie.” She shuddered.

Joan smiled broadly.

“Aha, I have a new threat to hold over your head, haven’t I?”

“You wouldn’t?”

“Oh, but I would …”

Dawn shook her head.

“You are a good friend, Joan. There’s nobody I trust more.”

Joan felt an embarrassing blush creep up her cheeks and of course Dawn noticed it right away.

“Oh, my … Joan Tremayne is blushing. That’s a first, I think.”

“Dawn …”, the other woman growled. “Don’t push it.”

“Hm? No, no I won’t,” Dawn relented.

Joan suddenly took Dawn’s right hand in hers.

“Are we okay?”

The doctor nodded slowly.

“You sure? I don’t want you to think … I mean …” Joan lost track of what she was going to say. Dawn was sitting really close and her scent was all around them. The softness of the hand she was holding, the same hand that could easily neutralise a fully-grown man or pull a gun fast as lightning, was all of a sudden taking over her thoughts.

“Joanie?”

“Um … I …” Joan stared at the tiny woman sitting so close and looking curiously at her.

Without thinking she pulled her close and hugged her. Dawn yelped and inhaled sharply, apparently taken by surprise. Then she hugged her partner back, burying her face in her short curls.

“Oh, Joanie,” she breathed.

“I know. Truly, I know,” Joan whispered back.

This sent a series of tremors through the redhead’s body and Joan held her even closer. She knew, of course she did.

Dawn pulled back and stared at the other woman, as if searching for something in her eyes.

“We better get some sleep,” she said.

“Yes.”

“Are you all right?”

Joan nodded. “And you?”

“I’m okay,” she smiled wryly.

The brunette smiled back.

“Good. And you know, if you have a bad dream, I’m here.”

Dawn covered her eyes with her hand.

“I will never hear the end of that, will I?”

“Nope.”

*****
Continued in part 2
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