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

To my beta reader, Pol; you know how uncertain I was regarding this chapter ... you made me believe that I could do it. Thank you for all the research, support and proof reading. Any mistakes made are purely my own!

Back to "Finding Shelter From The Storm" - part 11


Finding Shelter From The Storm

© GB

 

Part 12

 

Valerie Jones stood next to the wall of the destroyed cotton mill.

Ross remained by her side, regarding her solemnly as they waited for news on Tremayne. They knew that the rescue workers had located the agent under a pile of debris and that she was alive.

  “God, what’s taking them so long?” Jones mumbled through tight lips.

“They’re pros. They know what they’re doing. With all the destruction in there they’ve got to take their time or the entire place is likely to collapse ” Ross said quietly. “I wonder how Morrison is holding up?”

Jones rubbed her forehead, the only outward sign that she was distressed over the whole situation.

“I have no idea,” she confessed. “They’ve been through so much lately that I can’t even begin to speculate what toll this is taking on either one of them.”

The fire chief approached them.

“Give me an update.” Jones requested.

O’Brien looked tired.

“ We’ve evacuated two seriously injured men and one woman. So far there are three dead, all men. We’ve found your other agent. She’s trapped under a great deal of debris and I have to be honest … it doesn’t look good.”

Valerie Jones regarded him silently for a moment.

“Are there signs of any others?” she asked.

“No, but there are still areas we haven’t been able to access because of the debris and the instability of the structure. There may be others trapped inside but the chances of survival decline with every passing moment. You know that as well as I do. Time doesn’t work in our favour.”

Jones stood silently for a moment then turned towards Ross.

“You know what I’m thinking, don’t you?

“Farlow?”

“I’m not about to form any opinions, for all I know she’s lying dead beneath the rubble but my gut says she’s managed to pull off another one of her disappearing acts.”

“How?”

“I haven’t a clue.  That’s why I’m keeping all options open.”

The loud noise of a rotor made the trio turn and look upwards.

A helicopter hovered overhead t. It’s rotor wash sending bits of sand and debris flying into the air before the ship settled down in an area that the local police had marked off with lights in the parking lot near by.

“We’ve requested a MEDEVAC for your agent. She’ll need to be evacuated to the Trauma Centre ASAP,” O’Brien explained.

Jones regarded the helicopter and then looked inside the building. She could barely make out the rescue workers frantically trying to save Tremayne.

“How long before they‘re able to free her?” she asked.

“Not long. She’s in bad shape. Both Morrison and Grady are in there working on her.”

“Morrison is working on Tremayne?” Jones blurted out, pivoting on her heels and nailing the fire chief with a glare. “The woman is hurt herself, for God’s sake!”

“I know that, but time’s running out for her partner and she was needed. Agent Morrison has shown that’s she’s more than capable of performing her duties. Do you have any better ideas?” he asked and met her angry gaze.

Jones stared at him for a moment but then relented.

“Let’s just get them both the hell out of there,” she said quietly.

Then all three of them flinched as a heartbreaking outcry carried through the destroyed structure.

"Oh God! I'm losing her. Joan!"

*****

Dawn stared down at the colourless face of the woman she loved.

Checking for a pulse on Joan’s neck, she didn’t detect anything. Her partner had stopped breathing.

Her own heart seemed to skip several beats in pure fear.

Then Dawn’s medical training took over. Immediately she began managing Joan’s airways. With two quick breaths she filled her partner’s lungs. 

“Start compressions!” she yelled.

Mike, the paramedic, scooted over to Joan’s side and began CPR together with Dawn.

Reaching for the backpack that contained the medical supplies, Dawn tore it open. Inside among the supplies and equipment was an Ambu bag. Dawn quickly assembled it and placed it against Joan’s mouth. She pressed the bag once and Mike made five compressions, a pattern that would ensure Joan’s circulation

Dawn could hear Grady working on Joan’s lower limb.

“We’ve got a bleeder!”

Blood was pumping from the damaged artery Joan’s leg.

Grady fought to stop the bleeding.

His fingers moved swiftly over the wound trying to stem the flow of blood. Finally finding the torn artery he quickly pinched it between his fingers while another paramedic tied a belt around the thigh, pulling it tight.

“I need more light here,” Doctor Grady ordered.

A rescue worker aimed another searchlight at Joan’s broken body.

The doctor slowly removed his hand and this time the blood didn’t gush out but merely trickled slowly, thanks to the pressure of the belt above the injury.

Dawn raised her hand to stop Mike’s heart compressions. She felt for the pulse again.

Nothing.

“Keep going,” she murmured huskily.

Her eyes were dry and burning. She wanted to curl up and cry but kept on pressing air into Joan’s lungs. Mike worked tirelessly next to her, pressing down on the brunette’s chest with one hand on top of the other, forcing the blood to circulate through her heart and carry oxygen to her organs.

“Fight, Joan,” Dawn said out loud. “You haven’t quit a single time in your life so don’t you dare do it now! Fight, damn it! Come on!”

Doctor Grady had secured Joan’s leg and was now moving up to Dawn and Mike. Putting his stethoscope on the injured agent’s chest he looked up.

“We have a weak pulse,” he said. “You can stop the compressions for now but keep breathing for her.”

Mike stopped the compressions and leaned back on his heels.

“Is she stable enough to be moved?” he asked.

“We’re going to have to. She’ll lose the leg if we don’t get her out of here now. Secure her neck.  Let’s try to stabilise that leg and get her on a backboard before we try to anything,” Doctor Grady decided.

Mike put a cervical collar on Joan. The rescue team lowered a Stoke’s litter. Inside was a backboard.  The medical team began to manoeuvre themselves to slip the board beneath Joan. They had no idea what injuries she could have sustained in her spine.

“How are her airways?”  Grady asked.

Dawn nodded as she concentrated on the task at hand.

“Can you manage her head while we get her on the board?“

“No”, Dawn replied.  “My hand … I won’t have the strength.”

“The pulse in her left foot is hardly detectable compared to the right one,” the second paramedic alerted them. “We need to move her.”

Mike came up next to Dawn.

“I’ll take over,” he said.

“She’s breathing on her own again but it’s shallow. Let’s do this quick and get her out of here.”

Dawn rose to her feet, feeling dizzy and a bit nauseous. Reluctantly she got out of the way and moved further down along Joan body.

Grady and the other paramedic were now in place.

“Give us a hand with the board.”

Dawn manoeuvred the board so that it was readily available.

On the count of three the team rolled Joan and slipped the board beneath her back. Quickly they secured her to the board while Mike stabilized her neck and monitored her vital signs.

“She’s doing good.”

“OK,” Grady commented as he inspected their work and checked his patient.  “Let’s get her in the Stokes. Mike?

On his command all four of them gently lifted Joan, Dawn using her one good hand, and placed her into the litter. Rescue workers began passing down extra lines to help secure the basket. 

They placed the IV bags inside the litter.

“Hang in there Joanie, hang in there,” Dawn whispered leaning over the basket.

“Let’s do it people.” Grady called to the rescue workers above.

Slowly the rescue workers lifted the litter from rubble.

“How are you doing?” asked Grady.

“Okay,” Dawn nodded, fighting back the tears,

“Come on, let’s get up there and see how she’s doing.”

Both Grady and Mike helped Dawn climb up out of the debris.

By this time rescue workers were already placing warming blankets on Joan and hooking her up on a small portable monitoring unit. They had place an oxygen mask over her mouth and nose and a small tank was providing her with a hundred percent oxygen.

Grady went directly to Joan. After checking her vitals he quickly examined the tourniquet on her leg. 

“Let’s move!”

A team lifted the litter and walked as quickly as they could among the rubble.

Dawn staggered behind them, not wanting to let Joan out of her sight.   Mike offered a hand to steady her.

They emerged from the building. Valerie Jones and Ross joined them.

“They’re taking care of her now,” Ross said seriously. “There won’t be room for you in the helicopter but my partner and I can drive you to the Trauma Centre.”

“She’s not doing well either,” added Mike. He turned to Dawn. “You can go with your folks here or we can put you in an ambulance but you need to be seen too. That arm has to be examined.”

Dawn felt her knees give in and to her dismay she had to lean against Ross.

“All right,” she accepted. “Let’s go.”

Jones came up next to them.

“I have to stay on a while,” she said, carefully regarding Dawn. “I’ll join you as soon as I can.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Dawn whispered and then looked at Mike.  

 “And thank you, Mike. Tell the rest of the team how grateful I am,” said Dawn as tears began to fill her eyes.  She was feeling very weak now, the events and her injuries catching up with her.

“Don’t mention it Doc. It was our pleasure.”  Turning Mike looked at Ross. “You better get her out of here now.”

Ross nodded.  He bent down and put his arm around her shoulders and under her knees, lifting her up.

Despite her weak attempts to object he carried her to his car. His partner opened the passenger door and Ross placed Dawn on the seat, fastening the seat belt for her.

Dawn looked at him as he took the driver’s seat.

“Thank you,” she said again, her voice trembling.

“No need for thanks,” Ross said sincerely.

“I know. But still …”

“Let’s go and see how your partner is doing.”

Dawn hesitated.

“She’s in bad shape,” she mumbled.  

Ross extended a hand, placing it on her shoulder in an encouraging gesture.

“You know Tremayne,” he said. “She is one tough lady. She won’t give up on herself … or on you.”

Dawn shot him a look.

“No …” she said slowly and then in a stronger voice, “no, she won’t.”

He started the engine and turned the car around.

Dawn inhaled deeply and bit her lip.

“Please, keep fighting, Joan,” she whispered to herself. “Don’t give up, darling.”

 *****

She opened her eyes slowly.

The bright light in the room stung her eyes and she blinked several times, trying to clear them from the tears that formed.

Her head ached and she groaned softly.

Scattered images drifted in and out of her mind. She tried to grasp them, examine them to make some sense of the flighty memories they formed.

There ought to be someone, she thought, someone special. She couldn’t remember.

She tried to raise her hand to rub her aching forehead. Something pulled at her and she tried to focus on her hand.

There was an IV hooked up to her arm.

She was in the hospital.

Weakly she tried to sit up when a gentle hand pushed her back into the bed by pressing down on her shoulder.

“No, just relax and rest, dear. You’ve been through a terrible ordeal,” a kind female voice said. “I’ll just get the doctor for you now that you’re awake.”

She heard disappearing footsteps and then the sound of a door opening and closing.

What terrible ordeal?

Then memories flooded her mind so fast it made her head spin and ache even more.

Images of Laura injured at the motel, of herself driving Vincent’s car with Laura resting on her lap, of making love in the old people’s cabin … Then the bitter recollection of finding Laura’s short note when the older woman had left her behind at Jared’s place.

Sunny shifted in bed, trying to find a position that didn’t bother her head as much.

“Laura,” she whispered.

The door opened and closed.

“Miss Stewart, it is good to see that you are awake.”

A man in green scrubs stood next to her bed, regarding her with calm grey eyes.

“I’m Doctor Hudson,” he said. “You have suffered a severe concussion and have several contusions and lacerations. We had to stitch up a nasty gash in your head.  I’m still awaiting the results of some x-rays but for the most part you are a very lucky young woman to be alive.”

Sunny tried to get up on her elbow. The nurse, appearing to the left, lowered her firmly to the bed.

“Easy now,” the nurse said gently. “You have to be careful.”

“Laura?” Sunny mumbled, tears beginning to run down her cheeks. “Have you any news of Laura Carter?”

The nurse and the doctor exchanged looks.

“No, I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “We haven’t admitted any patient under that name.”

Biting her lip to prevent the sobs working their way through her aching throat, Sunny tried to remember that other name, her foggy brain not co-operating at all.  

“No, not Laura … not really Laura,” she mumbled, causing the people by her bed to lean over her. The doctor took out a penlight and flashed it at her eyes.

“Grace,” Sunny tried. “Her name is really Grace … but that is a secret … so … perhaps you wouldn’t know her anyway. Grace? Have they brought in anyone called Grace?”  

“No, I’m sorry, Miss Stewart. There’s nobody by that name here,” the nurse said compassionately. “Is it a friend of yours? Was she in the same accident?”

“Yes, she is … she was … I have to find her. You have no idea how important it is that I find her.”

Now the tears flowed down Sunny’s alabaster cheeks, dampening the tousled blonde hair as they trickled down her temples.

“I was so close,” she murmured almost incoherently. “I was so close, I could see her. She looked so small when she faced those men. I wanted to shoot … but Joan wouldn’t let me … I should have shot him … oh, God … I should have shot him when I had the chance …”

Slowly Sunny drifted into unconsciousness again.

“I’m worried about the concussion and the fact that this seems to have been an emotional trauma for her as much as a physical one. Make sure somebody sits with her. She might wonder off in this frame of mind she in.”

“She’s a beautiful girl,” the nurse mused. “I saw the ruins of that old building on the news. Can you believe that anybody in there made it?”

The doctor shrugged.

“Apparently there is a great risk that this Grace … or was it Laura, didn’t.”

*****

Dawn was furious.

She had been in the emergency room for three hours. She’d undergone a thorough examination and a series of x-rays. She and the chief of emergency services had gotten into it.  He wanted to admit her for observation and she wanted nothing to do with it. After a heated discussion agent had relented to follow up with her own physician and sit still long enough to have her arm put in a cast.

She was sitting on a chair in front of a young ER intern that conscientiously was putting a cast on her sprained wrist. There were no fractures but in order to stabilise the stretched ligaments and the joint the resident orthopaedist had recommended a cast.

Dawn only wanted out of there to check on Joan. She had tried to explain this to these idiots but none of them would listen.

She was sending all of them, including Ross, who had stood by her side as if guarding her, exasperated glares.

Now she was tapping her foot impatiently, realising that this probably made the young man in front of her more nervous and slowing down his work.

“There you go, ma’am,” the intern said and looked just as relieved to see her get up as she was in doing so.

“Thanks,” she said and nodded briskly.

She left the room and began to walk towards the elevators.

“You scared that kid half to death,” a voice to her right said, making her jump.

“Ross!” she exclaimed, almost stumbling as she turned to look at the man next to her. “Surely you have better things to do than baby sit me?”

He smiled.

“Actually I don’t,” he replied amicably. “I’m under orders as of two hours ago to not let you out of my sight. Monroe’s disappeared.”

“What?”

“The metro police found the ambulance that was supposed to transport Monroe here, empty. Our agent was in the ditch next to it.”

“Is he alright?”

“Yes. They found him in time. They probably drugged him. By the way, in addition to Monroe, the driver and the attendant are missing as too.”

“They got to him,” Dawn whispered. “Is there anyone …”

“Yes. In addition the hospital’s own security we have our own agents and some of metro’s guarding the hospital and both Tremayne and Stewart.”

“What about the other surviving goon?”

“Jones informed me that he died half an hour ago. He never regained consciousness.”

Dawn leaned against the wall.

“Have you heard anything about Joan’s condition?”

“She was still in surgery fifteen minutes ago.”

“Any news on Farlow then?”

Ross shook his head.

“No. Nothing. She’s either deeply buried under the larger stacks of debris or she’s gone.”

“How could she be gone? There wasn’t anywhere for her to go, to hide, after pushing that detonator.”

“You know her better than I do. Don’t you think she might have chosen that particular building for a reason?”

Dawn considered this.

“Yes, I suppose so.” She began to walk again. “Come on. I want to check on Joan.”

They reached the reception where they both flashed their badges. They needed to identify themselves in order to get passes for the elevators and the doors to the wards. This was normal procedure on all the ICU wards at the Trauma Centre.

“Is Sunny Stewart also on this ward?” Dawn asked as they rode the elevator.

“No, She’s on the second floor.  She regained consciousness earlier tonight. She’s out of danger physically.”

“What does that mean?”

“She was apparently very upset when she woke up.  She tried to leave the bed, IV lines and all.”

Dawn sighed, closing her eyes briefly.  

“Poor girl,” she mumbled. “She’s been through so much these last few days.”

“I can only imagine,” Ross mumbled.

Dawn regarded him solemnly.

“Can you?” she asked. “Can you imagine how confused and lost she feels? She meets this charismatic woman who turns her world upside down. She follows her on a trip that turns into a vicious hunt within less than twenty-four hours, only to be dumped without any explanation and then blown up?”

Ross stared at her.

“Hey, calm down,” he said, raising his hand defensively. “I’m sure I don’t understand this completely but there is no need to bite my head off.”

Dawn sighed.

“I’m sorry, Ross,” she said. “It’s just …”

The elevator stopped and they got off.

“It’s just that you are worried sick about Tremayne,” Ross filled in.

Dawn nodded, looking at him cautiously.

“She and I have worked together for a long time.”

“I know.”

They two agents came to the entrance of the unit and pressed a buzzer. Through the glass door Dawn could see the layout of the unit. Everything there was state of the art, the newest in technology and it ha a reputation for having one of the finest staffs in the world.

The design of the unit allowed medical personnel to monitor all critically injured patients from one central command station where monitors and computers provided constant feedback on each patient’s condition.

All walls were made of plexiglas allowing for full visibility. Each patient had at least one nurse, sometimes two or three, assigned to them, depending on their condition.

A woman dressed in light green scrubs approached the door. Her badge identified her as Nurse Walters. She pressed on the intercom.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

Ross flashed his badge again, together with the visitor’s badge that he had received at reception.

“I’m Agent Ross, this is my colleague, Agent Morrison. We’re here to inquire about Agent Joan Tremayne. Last we heard she was still in surgery.”

The door slid open. 

“Please, follow me.” Nurse Walters said and pointed towards a waiting room where several people were sitting awaiting word on their loved ones. The room was comfortable with several couches, chairs and a coffee machine. “Have a seat and wait here.  I’ll check with the OR and see how they’re progressing.”

She turned and walked away.

Dawn sank down on the nearest couch, relieved to sit down as her legs had begun to tremble.

“Coffee?” Ross asked, motioning towards the coffee machine.

“No thanks, I’m hyper as it is,” Dawn grimaced.

A tall man with jet-black hair approached them.  “How’s it going?”

He reached out and shook Ross’s hand.

“Miguel, have you two met before?” asked Ross, motioning towards Dawn.

The man turned towards Morrison, “Hi, I’m Miguel Rodriguez. I’m sorry about your partner.”

Dawn stood and shook Rodriguez’s hand.  “Thanks Are you the security detail?”

“Yes, for this floor. Jones is taking no chances.”

Dawn nodded.

At that moment Nurse Walters appeared with one of her colleagues. 

“This is one of the surgical team members who has been working on Agent Tremayne, Dr Kennedy.”

“How’s she doing doctor?” Dawn asked.

The physician motioned all of them to sit down. Taking a deep breath she began to inform them.

“I’ll be honest, it’s not good, she said quietly. “We’ve managed to stem most of the internal bleeding but there is a lot of damage.  It’s going to be a while before we’re finished.  We’ll keep you updated but you’ll have to be patient. ”

“How is the leg? asked Dawn. 

“We’ve re-established blood flow to the limb. If we’re lucky we’ll be able to save it.”

Dawn nodded.  

The doctor rose. 

“I’ll keep you informed on our progress.”

Dawn felt her heart flutter nervously in her chest and got up again. Restless and more scared than she had been in her life, she began pacing the room. Over and over she relieved the past days in her mind. 

“Please God, get her through this” she silently prayed.

“Why don’t we go and see how Miss Stewart is doing,” Ross suggested softly. “Miguel will come and get us as soon as there is anything new about Tremayne.”

Dawn looked gratefully at him.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll go crazy if I have to wait in this room … it’s claustrophobic!”

Ross grinned.

“Come on.”

The two agents road the elevator to the next floor and approached the nurse’s station. The nurse directed them to a room at the far end of the ward. She hoped this meant that Sunny was doing better.

They showed their badges to the policeman at Sunny’s door. He examined them and motioned them to go inside.

“Go ahead,” said Ross.  “I’ll stay out here.”

Pushing the door opened she nodded at the nurse sitting at Sunny’s bedside.

“Hello. Is she awake?” she asked in a low voice.

“She’d drifting in and out of sleep,” the nurse said, shaking her head. “She’s very agitated at times. Are you a relative?”

“No, but she’s … a friend.”

“Here, take my seat. I can sit over there and work on her chart,” the nurse said in a friendly manner.

Dawn sank down on the chair.

Sunny was facing her and the bruises on her left cheek and forehead made her look even younger. She seemed fragile. The blonde normally portrayed such strength and a certain aloofness. Now she looked like a child with the dishevelled blonde tresses hanging around her battered face.

Dawn reached out and captured a restless hand that moved over the blanket as if searching for something.

“There now,” she hushed. “Don’t go pulling out your lines. You need that stuff, you know.”

She found herself talking to the girl like she was a child.

“You’ll be okay, Sunny,” she mumbled softly. “We got you out in time. It was Hubert, you know. He found you. He crawled with me through all that rubble and found you. I don’t know where he is now, but I am sure he’s being treated like the hero he is.”

Tears ran down her cheeks. Raising the arm with the cast, she wiped them away with trembling fingers, trying to not sob out loud.

“We found Joan too,” she kept talking, her voice little more than a whisper. “She’s in a bad way Sunny, but they’re fixing her up now. She’ll be out of surgery soon.”

Slowly Sunny’s eyelids fluttered open and pale blue eyes looked dazedly at Dawn.

“I’m sorry Dawn. If she dies … it’s my fault. I would gone crashing down with that ledge if she hadn’t forced me to leave.”

“Then you both would have been lost. Joan knew what she was doing Sunny and she would not want you blaming yourself for any of this.”

“And Laura?  What about Laura?” the blonde asked huskily.

Dawn shook her head remorsefully.

“No trace of her yet,” she said.

“None?”

“No.”

This should have been bad news for the motel owner but instead she seemed to sigh in relief.

“She’s not there,” the girl mumbled.

“Sunny, there’s a ton of the debris that hasn’t been examined yet.”

“She’s alive.”

“We’d all like to think so but we can’t be certain until the entire building has been searched.”

Sunny rolled over on her back.

“She had a plan going in there. She planned to get Monroe and perhaps she knew she’d die trying. But I know she’s alive. I can sense it.”

Dawn regarded the blonde sorrowfully.

“I hope you’re right, Sunny, I really do.”

The sound of the door opening made them both jump.

Valerie Jones entered the room.

Dawn’s heart skipped a beat.

“Joan,” she croaked before finding her voice again. “Is she … ?”

“They’re still working on her,” the older woman said calmly.

She walked up to Sunny’s bed.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, her tone of voice softer.

“I’m okay,” Sunny said cautiously. “How about yourself, ma’am?”

Jones made a face.

“Mind if I sit down?” she asked and sank down next to Sunny’s feet without waiting for a reply. “I’m getting too old for this stuff.”

Dawn regarded her former boss. She had obviously found time and opportunity to change clothes and brush her hair. This probably meant that she had had to deal with the press after Ross left the site.

“Have you been checked out at the ER, ma’am?” Dawn asked casually.

Jones shot her a look.

“Yes, yes. They assured me that I was fine. I could have told them that.”

Dawn felt sorry for the staff. Valerie Jones had no doubt completely run them over.

“Any news?” Dawn asked.

“I don’t know how much Ross has briefed you. We have three dead at the site; one dead at the local hospital and Monroe is missing. They found the agent assigned to guard Monroe unconscious next to the abandoned ambulance about ten minutes from the local hospital. There’s no trace of Farlow but the rescue workers are working through the largest pile of debris right now so we’ll know soon enough.”

Jones looked at Sunny.

“This must be hard on you. Is there anyone that we can call? A family member or friend?”

Sunny shook her head.

“No. When the doctors say I can leave, I’ll just go home.”

“But surely …”

“No, ma’am. I have a concussion, that’s all. They just have to rule out any serious complications before they release me. I’ll go home and wait for Laura.”

Dawn and Jones exchanged surprised looks. There was such conviction in Sunny’s voice.

“You seem very certain,” Dawn said.

“I am. She’s alive,” Sunny said. “You would‘ve found her by now if she was still in that building. She was standing right next to all those men when she … pressed the button. You found all of them so why haven’t you found her? It’s not logical.”

Dawn had to agree.

“We just have to wait and see,” the agent said, squeezing Sunny’s hand. “In the meantime, you have to rest. Even if it’s a mild concussion, you’re pretty banged up.”

Sunny nodded.

“Yes and so are you.”

Dawn smiled crookedly. “True.”

“If Farlow is running again,” Jones said thoughtfully, “I hope she surfaces soon. We need to get her statement and the government would need to debrief her regarding her research. She will always be a target if she’s the only one with the information.”

Sunny looked at Dawn.

“I have never asked,” she said in a low voice. “I certainly never questioned Laura about her motives for running, not even when she began to share some details with me. I know this research of hers was controversial and classified, but …”

“But you’re curious?” Jones asked. “Well, we can’t give you any details, of course, but I think you deserve something for being dragged into this and even more for being instrumental in finding Farlow.”

Valerie Jones cleared her throat softly. Dawn got the impression that she was stalling.

“Excuse me nurse, could you step outside … just for a moment?” 

The nurse looked at the three women and nodded.

“Call me immediately if there’s any problems.”

“You have my word on that,” replied Jones as she watched the nurse exit the room and closed the door behind her.

“Grace Farlow was the head scientist of a project sponsored by the government several years ago,” the older woman continued. “Her work entailed finding a way for the human immune system to disregard transplanted organs. She wanted to accomplish this without having to suppress the immune system to the extent that it made the patient vulnerable to infections, which is the case today. She discovered a way to fool the body, to make it think that the DNA of the new organ was identical to its own. Then, as a side effect to this, she also discovered a way to seemingly alter the bodies DNA strands. This was what alerted the government and also what made her a target for the organised crime.”

“Why would they be interested in DNA research?” Sunny asked, looking puzzled.

“The research indicated that there was also a way to alter a person’s DNA, or rather, the outcome of a DNA test. Imagine that somebody kills or rapes someone. The police find traces of semen or blood. They test it. Then they have a suspect. The DNA match is close, but doesn’t match to a percentage that can convict him or her. They might have the right person in custody – but the test won’t be able to show it because of the alteration done after the crime.”

“But won’t such tampering show up in tests?” Sunny asked. “Wouldn’t that in itself be suspicious?”

“That’s a valid question but who would think to test for a technology that nobody knew existed? Who knows if it would leave a trace? It might end up looking like a body substance normally found in humans. We have no way of knowing. This is why it has been so vital to find Farlow before the bad guys got their hands on her.”

“She’d never sell out,” Sunny said darkly.

“You forget, we thought she already had. We know different now but we still need to make sure that her research doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. That is why it is important that we find her, dead or alive.”

“Which would you prefer?” Sunny whispered. “For her to be dead? That would solve a lot for you.”

“No. We’re not monsters.”

“To her, you’re probably all monsters.”

“But you aren’t. So if she’s alive, she’ll come to you, don’t you think?”

Sunny shook her head.

“Not until she’s ready. That time may never come.”

With that she closed her eyes.

It was as if she couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing Laura again.

*****

She had no idea how long she had been unconscious.

Her muscles ached and she could hardly breathe for the pain in her left side. She realised she must have sprained or broken a rib, perhaps several.

Everything around her was dark but she had to start moving.

Coughing against the dust she began to crawl. Her ears were still ringing from the explosion and the thunder when the roof caved in.

The old wooden tunnel had proved to be sturdier than she could ever have hoped for. Finding it on the old blueprints had set her plan in motion but there had always been the doubt if it would work or not.

Laura coughed again, gasping out loud as pain shot through her. Her body had taken more beating these last weeks than it had during her entire run before that.

Not to mention her heart.

She wheezed against the dust and kept crawling.

She couldn’t start thinking of Sunny right now. She had to keep going.

There were things to take care of. She had to pay Gordon for the goods. He was a lowlife but he had come through for her and didn’t deserve to have that boss of his leaning on him.

There was also the not so small matter of the Bureau.

 She would have to give herself up and would do so as soon as she learned the fate of Monroe and his goons. Eliminating Monroe and his accomplices should have wiped out the connection between the Bureau and the organisation that was after her and her research.

Laura stopped to rest, grimacing at the pain that seemed to increase with each move she made.

The Bureau would probably be eager to cut her a deal for the opportunity to get everything she could recall of her work documented and kept in a safe place. The government would see to that.  They were greedy both for the initial purpose of her research as well as the more accidental outcome of it.

She smirked.

Of course there would be money and power connected to both angles of it.

She sighed and began to crawl again.

The wooden tunnel, originally built to carry all the water the old mill had needed from the Potomac River, had saved her.

Its construction reminded her of a how they made wooden barrels. It had become rotten with time and it would leak profusely if anybody tried to use it for its old purpose. It ran along the entire old machine hall with several openings through the floor. She had prepared two of the lids and kicked the closest one of them open when she realised that the time had come.

She had thrown herself down the tunnel as she pressed the button of the detonator.

Laura bit her lip and crawled on.

She had a long way to go and all she could hope was that the end of the tunnel didn’t emerge too deep under water.

If that were the case, it would be a cold, cold swim.  

*****

Valerie Jones stood outside the room where the medical staff had just finished attending to the unconscious Joan Tremayne. Her gaze never left the face of the dark haired woman in the ICU bed.

The staff had let Dawn into the room after cautioning her that she could only stay for a short while.

Now the agent had halted just inside the door as if reluctant or afraid to approach the bed.

Tossed between hope and despair several times this evening, Dawn Morrison showed apparent trepidation. The reality that Joan might not pull through this ordeal was staggering.

The doctors had been guarded about Joan’s chances. She was in critical condition and it would be a while before they knew the outcome.

Dawn had volunteered to call Joan’s family but Jones had claimed that it was her duty as the senior officer in charge.

The relief on the younger agent’s face had proven Jones’ suspicions right.  Dawn was not up to facing Joan’s family yet. Especially when the prognosis was so uncertain.

Jones had notified the branch office nearest Joan's parents and had sent two agents to break the news to them. Her greatest fear was that the Tremaynes would see it on CNN before someone notified them. She then followed it up with a personal phone call and talked to both of Joan’s parents. They had been horrified to learn of their daughter’s injuries and would come to the hospital first thing in the morning.

The father had first insisted that they come immediately but Jones had managed to convince him that his daughter would need them well rested and able to support her the next day when she was hopefully more awake. Mr Tremayne had reluctantly conceded.

Jones then asked to speak the agents who were standing by at the Treymane’s home.  She instructed them to make arrangements for the family to fly to Washington on the first flight headed east in the morning.  

She also warned the agents to stand by at the Treymane’s home and deal with the press who were sure to show up on their steps at any moment.  The word was already leaking out and the press was beginning to go into one of its feeding frenzies.

With that handled Jones had turned her attention to Morrison. She was worried for the doctor.

Jones guessed that both Dawn and Joan needed to have the first conscious moments alone. The looks and the touches the two agents had exchanged earlier had indicated a far long gone intimacy that had not eluded the older woman one second.

Dawn was now taking two hesitant steps towards the bed.  

“How is she doing?” a deep voice asked next to Jones, making her jump before she caught herself.  

“Ross!” she exclaimed. “Don’t do that!”

“Sorry, ma’am.”

Jones glared at him.

“Tremayne isn’t out of the woods yet. Morrison is staying with her a little.”

They both looked through the glass walls.  

Then there was a faint movement in the bed, a slender hand moving aimlessly as Joan seemed to reach some level of consciousness.

This gave Dawn back some of her assertiveness. The agent moved forward, taking the searching hand in hers and leaning over the bed.

She pressed her lips on Joan’s forehead without hesitation, obviously not caring that someone might see. Jones noticed that Dawn’s shoulders began to shake and realised that she was crying.

“Come on, Ross,” she said, pulling at her subordinate. “Time for you to brief me, but first of all … give me some coffee. I promise I’ll be nice to you if you can arrange for something else than that poison in that machine out there.”

Ross had lost cohesion in his jaw as he witnessed the moment of tenderness in the ICU room. He only nodded absentmindedly. Jones dragged him away by a firm grip around his arm.

“Oh, by the way, Ross,” Jones said in a velvety voice. “If you mention to anybody what you just witnessed back there, you’re busted down to minding the parking lot. Is that understood?”

This woke the man out of his reverie. He blinked twice, realising that she was dead serious.

“Mention what?  By the way, could I interest you in a cup of Starbuck’s?”

*****

Dawn couldn’t take her eyes off the bruised face of her beloved in the ICU bed. She had been almost certain that she would never see Joan alive again and when that brave heart had stopped beating …

She shivered and tears of relief flooded her cheeks.

“Oh, Joanie …” she whispered and kissed her forehead again.

Joan’s brown hair lay matted against her head but still she was as beautiful as she had ever been. A blackening bruise extended from her forehead, across her temple all the way down to her left ear. She had suffered no serious head trauma and that the CAT scan was clear. That was the good news. The rest of the news had not been positive.

A team of surgeons had worked on Joan for hours. There had been internal bleeding and the spleen had been damaged. 

Both the vascular surgeon and well as the orthopaedic surgeon had worked on the crushed leg to stabilise and restore the blood flow to the damaged limb. It was questionable whether they had been successful or not.

There were tubes and lines everywhere. Joan looked to so small and helpless among all this technology and antiseptic environment.

Tucking back an errant strand of hair behind Joan’s ear with trembling fingers, she felt her knees buckle. As if the nurse on duty in the room had sensed this happening, she pushed at the back of Dawn’s knees and she gratefully sank down.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, not taking her eyes off Joan.

“She’s coming to,” the nurse said encouragingly when Joan shifted a little in bed.

They had extubated her before bringing her down and the doctors were pleased with her O2 saturation.

Now the brunette stirred again and opened her eyes halfway.

“Joan? I’m here with you,” Dawn said quietly and tried to meet the other woman’s eyes. “Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.”

First there was nothing but then a faint, almost undetectable tremor passed through Joan’s fingers.

Dry lips moved without sound at first and then there was a hoarse whisper.

“Dawn?”

“Right here, darling,” Dawn whispered, her voice betraying her completely at the wonderful sound of her own name being said with such longing. “I’m right here.”  

Now the fingers in her hand squeezed hers more insistently.

“What …”

Joan’s choked and then coughed weakly. Dawn put her arm under her partner’s pillow and helped her up just a little to assist her.

“There you go, just cough, it’s good for you.”

Joan coughed twice and then moaned, as pain seemed to surge through her.

“Hurts …” she whispered.

“I know, I know. I’ll ask the nurse …”

She didn’t have to. The nurse looked at the chart and then gave Joan more morphine from the standing order that Joan’s doctor had signed.

It was only a matter of minutes before the pain subsided and Joan’s eyelids grew heavy again.

“There. Rest now. I’ll be here when you wake up and so will your mom and dad,” Dawn promised. “You’ll be fine. You did everything right and you’ll be fine.”

Tears ran down her cheeks as she pulled the now relaxed hand to her lips and kissed it. Turning her head and rubbing her wet cheek against it she noticed the nurse smiling warmly at her.

“They said on the news that she saved a girl’s life,” the nurse said quietly.

“Yes, she did. She saved the girl on the second floor,” Dawn nodded.

“She’s a brave lady, then.”

“Yes.”

“They also said that you risked your life to save them both.”

Dawn turned her face towards the woman she loved.

“I had to.”

*****

The jogger ran to the beat of his favourite reggae music.

Having run the same route every day for a little over three years he didn’t pay much attention to the surroundings. He needed the exercise in his job as an executive officer of a large industrial company.

Sometimes he would actually jog all the way to work but most of the time he settled for his usual five blocks.

He turned a corner and reached a large construction site. The workers weren’t there yet. He was very early, and he set a faster pace as he passed the naked iron bars and blocks of concrete.

It was the blanket that caught his attention.

A dirty hospital’s blanket, the name of the hospital still visible through the mud, hung from a cement mixer.

Normally he would not even bother to look, but he had watched the news like most other people in DC last night and with astonishment watched a most unusual turn of events unfold before his eyes.

Now he slowed down and cautiously approached the cement mixer. It was a huge machine and there was no way he could reach the opening without anything to stand on.

He saw a wooden box about five yards away and dragged it to the mixer. With some hesitation he crawled up on it and peeked inside.

His stomach overturned and still he found the strength to reach for his cell phone and dial 911.

There was no doubt that the police would be interested.

Sticking out of the almost solidified cement was a naked foot.

*****

She hated these things but somebody had to address the media. The public affairs guys at the Bureau had insisted that she head the press conference.  She had not been amused.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Valerie Jones began, “can I have your attention please. I will read a brief statement and then I’ll try and answer your questions. At least the ones that won’t interfere with our investigation.”

The crowd of men and women of the press went quiet, all of them yielding to her commanding presence. Those who knew of her realised that their only chance of getting a question answered was to play by her rules. None of them were very interested in getting their heads chewed off on national television.

“Last night there was an explosion in what was known as Paxton’s Cotton Mill in the Alexandria industrial area along the Potomac River,” Jones began, pretending to read from her notes.

She knew it all by heart.

“I can not go into detail as of the origin of the explosion but facts are that three people were killed instantly, two more have subsequently died and three others were injured. We are unable to release the name of the dead yet since all of the next of kin have not been notified.  We expect to have this information for you later today.”

“So you know the identities of all involved?” a young man asked.

The older reporters held their breaths.

Jones regarded the novice reporter over her reading glasses.

“Later,” she said, not sounding unkind at all.

“The injured persons are two agents under my command, Agent Dawn Morrison and Agent Joan Tremayne. The third injured person is a woman whose identity must remain confidential. Otherwise it would jeopardise both our investigation and her safety. I trust that you will respect and honour that.”

She shot the crowd a look that said it would serve in their best interest if they did so.

She folded her papers neatly and looked up from the podium.

“Now if there are any questions …”

The room exploded in a cacophony of voices.  

“Was this bombing aimed at your agents?”

“I cannot confirm at this point that it was a bomb,” Jones answered politely.

“Why is this a matter for the Bureau?” a seasoned reporter asked from the first row.

“Agents were involved in this case from the beginning.”  

“Which case would that be?”  

“No comment.”

“Are the agents badly injured? Can you describe their injuries?”

“Agent Morrison is out of the hospital with minor injuries. Agent Tremayne under went surgery last night. Her condition is listed as guarded but stable.”

“Is it true that you were in the building yourself, ma’am? Were you injured?”

Jones shot the reporter a look.

“I was there. As you can see I am fine.”

There was a brief silence as that piece of news hit them.

“Why were you in the building?”

“Was it a stake out that went wrong?”

“Were there threats prior to the bombing?”

“The shoot out that took place just blocks from the scene?  Is there a connection?”

The questions exploded again.

“In the order of which the questions were asked,” Jones said, not raising her voice for a moment, forcing the members of the press to quiet down in order to hear her replies. “I was there at the request of my subordinates. No, it was not a stake out. I still can’t confirm or deny if it was a bomb and we are currently investigating the shoot out you referred to, to see if it was connected to the explosion.”

The reporters inhaled simultaneously to shout out the next question on their mind but she forestalled them.

“I regret that I don’t have any more time to answer your questions. There will be an update delivered by my next in command this afternoon. Good day, ladies and gentlemen.”

The objections to what the media obviously regarded as a very meagre press conference followed her out the door. Ross was there, grinning at her.

“You handled them well, ma’am,” he said.

“I hate these things. It’s like swimming with a bunch of piranhas and you’re lunch.”  She shook her head. “I surrender them into your capable hands and our media relations department from now on. I did my bit Let the pro’s take it from here. I have an investigation to head and a case to solve. I don’t have time for this. I have two meetings today with two directors that are demanding answers. I also have to go to the hospital to check on Tremayne and Stewart. By the way, I got in touch with Jared Malachai this morning. No matter what the girl says, she’s going to need someone to pick her up when she’s discharged.”

Ross nodded.

“Have you talked to Morrison this morning?”

“Yes, she’s starting to sound like her old self again. She handled the news on Monroe’s demise pretty well.”

“She wanted to kill him with her bare hands last night so I’m not surprised.”

“I know. I think it’s only dawning on her now that Tremayne might make it.”

“Well, you can’t blame her for being frantic,” Ross mused. “Tremayne actually went flat line in her care.”

Jones shivered and then squared her shoulders.

“Last night will haunt us for quite a while,” she conceded.

“This entire mess will have tremendous repercussions throughout the Bureau. God, when the Senate Judiciary Committee gets its hands on this!” 

“How did the Bureau become so comprised?”

“It began with Monroe. He obviously recruited others into his scheme. We need to find out how this all went undetected for so long.

“Do you think there may be others?”

“I don’t know. What we do know is that Monroe and four other agents under his command are dead. Tremayne lies in critical condition. Morrison came close to getting herself killed as well. This is the worst scandal to hit the Bureau in its history.”

“Is it possible that the agents accompanying Monroe didn’t know what was going down?”

“Possible, but not likely. Right now Ross, we’re in the damage control mode until we gather more facts and talk to Grace Farlow.”

“So you’re assuming she escaped?”

“Yes, at least for the time being. I want to clean up our own house then we’ll deal with Farlow.”

Ross looked at his superior.

“What are you up to, boss? I know that look.”

Jones smiled enigmatically.

“Ross, my good man,” she drawled. “I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.”  

*****

She had reached her hotel room soaking wet.

She didn’t have to swim in the Potomac but the rain had mercilessly drenched her as she made her way towards the city. She had not dared to stop a cab, not that any DC cab drivers would have picked her up in the state she was in.

Laura lied shivering between the thin blankets on her bed, dressed in double layers of sweats trying not to shiver.

This was not the first time over the years where she had wondered if she would get warm ever again.

The enormity of what she had done was finally taking its toll. She had had to kill before but never this deliberately.

When she pushed the detonator she knew that it was more than likely that the men in front of her would die and she with them. To think she actually pulled it off, that she made her way down the narrow tunnel, was in retrospect nothing short of a miracle.

She looked at her watch.

She had to go out in less than an hour to take care of some things. She needed to make sure that the money reached Gordon.

The image of Sunny flashed unexpectedly before her eyes.

Clenching her fists and pressing them against her trembling lips prevented the anguished moan to escape. She missed the young blonde so much it hurt. Closing her eyes she could taste the kisses they had shared.

She then remembered the deadly dance Sunny had performed in the garden of the motel where they had stayed the first day of their journey together. The younger woman had practised her marshal art in slow motion only to explode in a series of kicks that seemed faster than the human eye could perceive.

Laura had regarded Sunny with admiration and surprise, wondering who had taught her this. She now realised it could only had been Sunny’s father, the cop.

Biting down on her knuckles, she realised that she had never got around to asking Sunny about why this vibrant, wonderful young woman still had been a virgin. They had barely touched the subject but she knew that if she had insisted, Sunny would have told her. One dangerous moment after another had occurred, leaving them constantly in jeopardy, one way or another. There had been little time for talking about such sensitive things.

Laura didn’t know if she would ever find her way back to Sunny or if she would be welcome if she did. There were so much that could go wrong.

She closed her eyes and tried to rest.

Sleeping was out of the question. She didn’t even try.  

*****

Sunny was looking at the man in the door with tears in her eyes.

“Jared,” she whispered.

“Hi, sweetie,” the tall man said as he walked into the room.

“How did you know?”

“A very nice lady by the name Valerie Jones called and said you needed me.”

Sunny held her breath for a bit and then threw herself into Jared’s arms. He held her close and rocked her slowly.

“There, Sunshine,” he mumbled into her hair. “There.”

She still had a headache, the doctor had explained that it should go away in a couple of days, and she leaned her head on Jared’s shoulder.

“Take me home,” she said in a low voice. “Let’s go find Hubert and go home?”  

“Sure, my dear,” Jared said. “As soon as the doctors release you.”

“Apparently some local police officer is taking care of my dog while I’ve been here.”

“Hubert. Now there’s a lifesaver for you.

Sunny smiled faintly.

“Jarred … have they told you?”

“About Monroe?”

“Yeah.”

“They said he didn’t make it.”

Sunny bit her lip and nodded.

“Valerie Jones stopped by and told me that there still were no trace of Laura … Of Grace Farlow, I mean,” Sunny corrected herself.

“I know. Take that as a good sign. She will always be Laura to you, won’t she?”  Jarred asked softly.

“Yes” Sunny whispered, “always.”

*****

Joan was in agony.

Her chest was on fire as she coughed and coughed against her will.

“Good. One more time,” the nurse said, holding a small pillow gently against the wound.

“No, no … it hurts to much,” the agent wheezed but still had to cough again.

“I know, dear, but it’s for your own good.”  

Joan loathed when somebody said it was for her own good. That generally meant that it was not anything she would like or enjoy.

The door opened and Dawn walked in.

“Hi,” she said. “I just showed your parents to the cafeteria. They were starving.”

The nurse lowered Joan to the pillows and smoothed the blankets over her.

“Good,” Joan whispered and reached out for Dawn. She needed to touch her, to feel the warmth of the other woman’s skin.

Dawn took her hand.

“You have tears in your eyes,” the doctor said worriedly. “Are you in pain?”

“Not bad,” Joan said huskily. “I had to cough.”

“It’s good …”

“… for me. I know.”

Joan glared at the nurse who winked back at her.

Dawn smiled tenderly.  

“Don’t give the nurses here a hard time now. You need them.”

“Okay.”

Joan felt a bit dizzy all of a sudden but kept her eyes locked on the small woman sitting next to her bed. She was pale and had bruises on her face. Her one arm was in a cast. Still she was the most wonderful sight Joan could imagine.

The soft lights in the ICU room reflected in Dawn’s red hair. Her blue eyes darted between Joan and the monitors behind her.

“Being the doctor?” Joan whispered, confused when her tongue hardly were able to wrap around the words.

“Hard not to in this environment,” Dawn grinned sheepishly.

“You … you always …”

Joan suddenly had a strange taste in her mouth. She parted her lips to speak but no words would come; only her breath gushed out of her lungs in shallow gulps of air.

She saw Dawn rise to her feet, heard the chair fall behind her partner.

Then the room went darker.

“She’s bleeding out!” Dawn yelled.

Joan could still hear but everything was black.

Someone quickly lowered the head of her bed.

“Joan, can you hear me?”

She tried to reply but an overshadowing feeling of being extremely cold came over her and now she could hardly hear what they were saying.

The last thing she was aware of was people issuing orders in loud voices and what sounded like an army of running feet.

*****

She entered the bar with her backpack casually thrown over her shoulder.

Putting it down on a bar stool and hopping up on another she ordered an orange juice from the middle-aged man behind the counter.

He added a couple of ice cubes and then poured from a juice carton.

Laura drank the first sips thirstily and then automatically turned her head towards the TV set on a shelf to her left.

The news was on and the news team was reporting from a press conference of some sort.

“We have the latest news on the explosion that claimed lives of five people and injured four.  Here is Louise Garret with the story …”

Laura only stared as her blood turned cold.

“An explosion at an old abandoned cotton mill in Alexandria has claimed the lives of five federal agents and has left at least two others, an agent and an unknown civilian, in critical condition. Three victims were rushed to the D.C. Trauma Centre. One died en–route while two others...”

She doubled over from the pain exploding in the pit of her stomach.

Sunny … oh God … no …

The orange juice burned the back of her throat as it cascaded out of her mouth and onto the floor of the bar.

The man behind the counter gasped and came running at her.

“Ma’am? Are you ill?”

She waved him off as her stomach overturned again and made her gag.

He stood silent by her side as the last of the juice left her.

“Here,” the bartender then said and handed her his dishtowel.

She wiped her mouth and then closed her eyes as she leaned weakly against the counter.  Looking towards the screen she caught a glimpse of Joan Tremayne as rescue workers loaded her on a chopper.

“Will you be okay?” the man asked.

Laura opened her eyes and regarded him solemnly, thinking that he was being very nice to her when she deserved it the least.

“No,” she said, her voice throaty and without any inflections at all. “I’m not okay. I don’t think I ever will be again.”

*****

Continued in the epilogue
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