Chapter 5

 


When Samantha entered the room her nose was immediately rewarded with an unbelievable orchestra of scents. Her eyes lifted to take in a visual that compared to a botanical garden…reds, yellows, whites, and peaches. Purples and indigos were dappled in the lushest of greens. The agent stood in awe for a brief moment at the sight of virtually every flower imaginable. Her eyes then came to a rest on the sleeping form in the hospital bed. Sam eased the door to the room closed, without making a sound, before she put the duffel bag down and crossed the floor and approached the side of Katherine’s bed.

The young detective was surrounded by what seemed to be hundreds of flower arrangements that represented the best wishes of all the people that had been touched by this young woman’s presence in their lives. Sam stood in silence because she didn’t have the heart to disturb the detective. Quite frankly, she would have stood there the whole day if that were all it would take to protect the young woman of the reality of the day’s meaning. Sam didn’t have to wait long, though, because a moment later, Katherine’s eyes fluttered open.

Sleepy green eyes met solemn blues.

"Hey there." Samantha cocked her head to the side and smiled.

"Hey yourself. You come to rescue me from this hellhole? I can’t stand hospitals. The service is sterile, and beds are uncomfortable, and the food sucks." Katherine complained through an uncontrollable smile.

"So…I should cancel my reservations?" Sam quipped and looked around at the surrounding colors.

Katherine followed her eyes and snorted. "Yeah, I guess I can’t complain about the scenery, but it just doesn’t make up for the rest of the package."

"Well…I saw your favorite doctor at the nurse’s station and he said he was signing off on your release papers. As soon as they get in here with your mandatory wheelchair—"

"Wheelchair? Jeez…D’Shawn isn’t gonna be at the helm is he? I just don’t think I could deal with his perky little self today." Katherine’s eyes drifted away from the dark haired agent for just a moment with a barely perceptible hint of distant pain in her voice.

Samantha thought about that for a moment. She wasn’t quite certain of the detective’s meaning. Staying in a hospital would make Sam more than ready to beat any happy-go-lucky-nut-ball senseless, but maybe Katherine was referring to something else… "Nope…I’ll be your tour guide today. Rest assured, my dear, no one has ever referred to me as ‘perky’."

As if on cue, a familiar voice echoed through the hospital door before it opened to reveal Mr. Perky himself. "Hola lad—"

"Hola D’Shawn." Katherine rolled her eyes.

"Hey Ms. Thang. And you can put those pretty greens back in your head. Doc’s orders. I gotta wheel you out to the front door. If I don’t I’d be violatin’ hospital policy. You wouldn’t want me gettin’ fired and end back at the Berry Farm, would ya?"

Nope…wouldn’t wish that on any tourist.

Samantha offered a sympathetic smile before intercepting the tour guide and her friend’s transportation. "Excuse me…D’Shawn, is it? I’m Special Agent Christopher," Sam flashed her credentials long enough for D’Shawn to barely blink at them. "This woman is presently in my custody. It’s a matter of national security that I, personally, escort her from this room out to the unmarked police car downstairs," Well the patrol car bit wasn’t a lie. "I don’t think you’d want to be this close," Sam indicated the proximity between D’Shawn and the chair he was leaning on. "To a fugitive from justice…on the outside. Hell…you’d be the only thing standing between her and her freedom."

D’Shawn’s eyes narrowed just before a sparkle twinged them. He bit back a smile, trying to keep on a serious face. The orderly figured the tall woman was full of shit, but then again "Ah, hell. You must be with the Feds. I don’t think anyone else could talk a line of bull like that. If it’s all the same to you, though, that’s the story I’m gonna give my supervisor if it comes up."

Samantha and the tour guide gave each other a conspiratorial grin before D’Shawn relinquished control of the wheelchair and left the room. Sam eased around behind the chair and regarded it for a moment before looking up at amused green eyes. "I believe your chariot has arrived, Detective Gabriel."

A knock at the door. "Ms. Gabriel?" A young nurse with medium length curly blond hair peeked in Katherine’s room before entering all the way. "Good morning. Dr. Michaels was called into OR 4 and, instead of making you wait, he said I could go ahead and give you your discharge instructions. Funny. He seemed kinda relieved at getting paged."

"Go figure." Samantha whispered under her breath.

"Hey, I can’t help it if I’m not his favorite patient. I tried to tell him yesterday that I was ready to go." Katherine scoffed in Samantha’s direction.

"Well, don’t worry about him. I’ll go over these papers with you, and then I’ll go find some scrubs for you to wear. The trauma unit had to cut away your clothes when you were brought in."

"Grand." Green eyes rolled at the thought.

"Um—" Samantha spoke up. "Kintrell packed this for you last night." She brought over the duffel bag that she’d brought in from the car, now very thankful for Kintrell’s thoughtfulness. "I’ll bet there’s something in here a little more comfortable than hospital greens."

"Sweet! Let’s see what we have here." Katherine patted the surface of the bed and tried to sit up as Samantha put the bag down next to her. The pain in Katherine’s abdomen was unexpected and forced her to hug herself with her left arm while she braced her weight with her right. She wanted nothing more than to crash back to the bed and curl in on herself. But she resisted the urge and clamped her jaw shut, while sucking in some very deep breaths.

Samantha and the nurse were both on either side of the detective, each having reached up and captured one of Katherine’s shoulders. Katherine started to relax at the affect of the human touch and allowed herself to be lowered back to the bed.

"Why don’t you let me do that for you?" Samantha reached over and pulled the bag closer to the head of the bed. She unzipped it and pulled out a thick pair of sweatpants and an oversized sweatshirt and handed them over to the nurse.

Katherine’s eyes were closed. The pain had already subsided but she didn’t want to look up at the pair of eyes that were surely fixed on her. She was desperate to leave the hospital but she was now scared that her assumptions about her recovery were premature. This is what I get for being cocky. Damn it.

"I’ll go get another nurse to help me get you changed into these."

Samantha glanced back at Katherine and read the emotion on the young woman’s face. "No, wait. If Ms. Gabriel doesn’t mind, I’ll help you get her changed. I’m sure she’d rather not have to wait on another nurse to be rounded up."

Thank you, Sam. Silent gratitude. "That’s fine, I don’t mind. The quicker I get outta here, the better!"

Samantha held Katherine’s eyes for a moment before the nurse interrupted. "But you’re not qualified—"

"Trust me. I’ve probably done this more times than you." Sam’s quiet proclamation struck a chord with the detective, but Katherine decided to tuck it away for a later time.

"Either she helps you or I do it myself. I’m not waiting for another nurse. Everyone’s doing their rounds right now…there’s no telling how long it’d take." The detective’s urging was heeded as the nurse agreed and pulled the hospital sheet down and helped the patient out of her gown.
 


*****


 


An uneasy silence had settled over the two women as Samantha drove back through Downtown. She sneaked a peak at the blond haired detective who was moderately interested in the pedestrians ducking in and out of traffic on the busy street. Katherine’s jaw muscles were working and her eyes were squinting at the bright sunshine.

"Here, put these on." Sam reached into her briefcase and retrieved a hard-shelled sunglasses case. Katherine accepted the case and opened it to find a pair of black wraparound Oakley’s.

"Thanks, but these’ll never fit me." Katherine had taken the glasses out and was examining them.

"Yeah they will. I got them about a year ago. I shoulda tried them on in the store. I dunno, it was an impulse buy. They’re way too small." Samantha spoke as she navigated the traffic.

"Why didn’t you take them back?"

"Hmm? Oh…I don’t know. I guess I never got around to it."

Katherine looked over at her driver, taking in the sharp planes of Samantha’s profile. She blinked a few times and put the dark sunglasses on. They were a perfect fit. "Wow. You were right. Thanks, that’s much better."

Sam bit back a smile. "You’re welcome." And after a pause, "You sure you’re okay?" The agent was a little worried at the quiet that had settled over the young woman after they left the hospital.

"Yeah. Actually, it really doesn’t hurt anymore…just a dull kind of ache. I guess I just sat up too fast."

That’s not what I meant. Sam was surprised at herself for assuming that the detective would just open up to her. "Okay. Well, just so you know…if you need, uh…if you need anything, you just ask, all right?" Jesus, Christopher! You could just tell her that you know what today is. Then if she wants to talk about it, she can...

"Well, actually—"

Whoa. I didn’t expect that. "Hm?"

"Um…" Katherine hesitated and looked down at her lap.

Samantha regarded her passenger and was a little startled to see just lost the detective looked. "Katherine? It’s okay…what is it?"

Katherine cleared her throat. "Um. If it’s uh…not too much trouble…do you think you could drive me to…the, uh…impound lot? I’d like to see, uh…I’d like to get something out of the glove box of my Jeep."

Sam’s eyes knit together. It was a request that she wasn’t expecting, but she was certainly more than willing to oblige. "Of course. But are you sure you’re feeling up to it?"

"Yeah, it’s something I’ve gotta d…I’ve got to uh…get. Some important papers, ya know?" Katherine realized she was babbling.

"Sure. Besides, it’s on the way to the bridge."

Bridge? Katherine looked back up at Samantha who was trying to stay focused on the busy traffic. She was about to say something when the sound of a cell phone blared and caused her to jump. Instinctively, she went for hers before she remembered that it wasn’t on her waist.

Samantha glanced at her and smiled. "It’s mine. Kintrell put all your stuff in a box for you. It’s all in the trunk." The dark haired woman retrieved her phone from her waistband and flipped it open. "Hello?"

-Hey Sam. How ya doin’?

"Hey, Kimber! I’m fine. I take it you got my message?" The agent spoke fondly into the small phone.

-Yeeessss. Honestly, I don’t know what you’d without me. I can’t believe you didn’t have any food in that house.

"Hey! It’s not like I’ve been around the past few months. If I had gotten anything, it would’ve just spoiled—"

-Yeah, yeah, yeah…excuses are like assholes, ya know—"

"Mhmm…I’ve got thousands of excuses, but only one of the other, thank you very much. Look Kimber, I really do appreciate you doing that for me. I’ll, uh, cook you dinner some time to show my gratitude."

-Oh no you will not! I’ve tasted your cooking. How’s about you just buy a round of drinks next time we get together?

A wry grin snuck across the agent’s face. "Deal. Oh yeah, didn’t get a chance to thank you for the greenery in my house."

-No problem. A house that awesome needed some damn life in it!

"You’re a peach, dear. I’ll call ya after a while."

-Okidoki! And, hey Sam?

"Yeah?"

-It’s great to have you back. The smile could almost be heard through the phone.

"Thanks Kimber. It’s pretty damn nice to be back. Give Adam my best, huh?"

-I will, hon. Take care.

Samantha closed the phone and returned it to its place on her waist. She regarded her friend again. "Sorry. That was my real estate broker. She’s the one who made sure my house was ready. I…left a message for her to, um, pick up some groceries for me."

A blond brow arched just above the top of very dark glasses. "No food, huh?" The detective’s lips pursed in preparation for some choice words, but she was cut off.

"Oh, lookey, here we are." Samantha eased the car into a space near the front of the city impound lot and parked it as quickly as the automatic transmission would allow. Whew. That was close. She eased herself around to the passenger side of the Crown Vic to make sure that the small detective wouldn’t need any help getting out. Katherine moved slowly to start with, obviously unsure of her own capabilities, but her movements became stronger and more confident as she approached the front office.

Samantha followed the smaller woman very closely and it was a presence that didn’t go unfelt by the detective. Katherine was again struck by the familiar comfort she felt at having Samantha nearby.

The two women were met at the door by a heavyset man in his late forties. "Detective Gabriel? Oh my God! I didn’t expect to see you for a while. I mean, the shape of your Jeep when they brought it in…I figured you’d be laid up for a while."

Katherine winced inwardly and clamped down on her jaw, hoping to maintain her composure. The date hadn’t escaped her and she was feeling the tension grab a hold of the last of her inner strength. How much more could she take? She’d gotten this far without losing it. Jesus, Katherine, it’s just a car. Katherine paused at the thought. "Banged up pretty bad, huh?"

"Yeah, sure is."

"Davey, I need to get something out of the glove box."

"Okay, but I thought—" He stopped briefly at desperate green eyes. "Sure. Um, come on in here. It’s inside, in the back-bay." Davey held the door for Katherine and her dark haired companion. Samantha sensed the uneasiness from the heavy set man, and wondered what he was holding back. She continued to follow the young detective, her mind fixed on Davey. Sam was so deep in thought that she hadn’t realized Katherine had stopped short of the bay door. Samantha nearly slammed right into her.

A muffled yelp.

"Whoa. Sorry bout that." Samantha caught hold of Katherine’s shoulders to keep from knocking her over. Concerned blue eyes searched the depths of green pools that were beginning to liquefy despite the detective’s determination to bite back the tears.

Katherine cleared her throat. "That’s okay. Um. It’s pretty nasty back in the bay." The young detective considered the tailored suit the agent was wearing and was silently grateful for the excuse it was now offering her. "Look. Why don’t you wait out here, I’d hate for you to get dirty."

"But—" A soft protest.

"No. I really do feel fine." Katherine patted her midsection. "It doesn’t hurt…promise. I’ll be back in a second."

Samantha’s brows furrowed. She wanted to argue with the smaller woman but decided against it. "All right." Sam tried to relax her face. "But yell if you need anything."

A faint smile of gratitude, and Katherine disappeared through the bay door.
 


*****


 


Samantha sucked in a deep breath before turning to look at Davey. The older man regarded her for a moment then offered her his hand. "I’m sorry, I’m not normally that rude. I’m Davey."

Sam returned the gesture. "Hi there, I’m Samantha Christopher. I’m helping Detective Gabriel with a series of cases."

Davey released her hand but not before a curious look danced across his round face. "Hm. You new to the department or something? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before."

Sam clamped back the irritation of having to explain the situation, as her thoughts seemed to want to wander to what her friend was doing. "Uh, no. I’m with the FBI—"

"Oh! Samantha Christopher. When Sgt. Kintrell stopped by…hell, you just missed him by ‘bout 15 minutes…he said that the only person to have access to the Jeep was Sam Christopher of the FBI, I guess I assumed it was a male agent. I’m sorry."

"No apology necessary. What did Sgt. Kintrell want anyway?"

"He just wanted to see the damage for himself. The Crime Scene Techs had already processed it for evidence at the scene…we’ve just been holding onto it, waiting to hear what Detective Gabriel wanted done with it."

"Hm…"

"To be honest with ya, I was kinda hoping that she’d just let her insurance company handle everything. I mean, Kintrell already got everything out of it for her. He, uh. Well, neither one of us, really…wanted her to see the aftermath of the wreck."

Ah ha. I knew you were holding something back. "Really? How come?"

"Well. Her daddy bought her that Jeep when she graduated from the academy. Her dad…uh."

"It’s okay, Davey, I’ve heard about her father."

"Well, uh…you probably know how close they were then. That Jeep was her pride and joy. Kinda like the one tangible thing she had left of’em, ya know?"

She knew. Shit! "Davey, I’ll be right back." Samantha squared her shoulders and brushed passed the older man. "Dammit." The curse was whispered as Sam eased through the bay door in search of her friend.
 


*****


 


Katherine was standing next to the crumpled frame of her Jeep. Part of her knew that it was totaled before she ever got to the impound lot, but the rest of her had been clinging to the futile hope that it would be salvageable. It wasn’t. She had succeeded for several moments to reign in her emotions, but her mind was at war with her heart. It was a car…it was a hunk of metal that didn’t mean anything, right? Right.

Now she fought with the memories that were forcing their way into her mind. The day she’d graduated.

She was so proud knowing her father was in the audience watching as the badge was pinned to her chest. She felt his eyes on her when she spoke the words of the oath that she was determined to uphold. No one else in her family bothered to come to the ceremony. No one else approved of who she was or what she was doing with her life. But her daddy was there…he shouldn’t have been wasting his energy like that, but he came and he supported her…because he loved her and she was simply the pride of his life. The newly sworn San Diego Police Officer glimpsed her father in the crowd after the ceremony was over. It took mere seconds to spot him…she ran straight toward him.

"Pumpkin, I’m so proud of you, you know that?" The declaration was all she needed to make up for a lifetime of rejections from her mother. They walked outside, arm-and-arm, into the parking lot, then a slight tug on her arm as her dad led her toward a strange car. When they got up to it he just stopped. He turned to her and smiled. Katherine knew then that the Jeep was hers…before her dad even handed her the keys. She remembered being so happy that she didn’t know what to do. The joy and pride she saw in his eyes was reflected in her own…she did what felt natural. She reached up and consumed his frail body in an embrace.

As Katherine stood next to her Jeep now, in the enclosed bay, she remembered the comfort of her father’s embrace and realized, in that hazy moment, how much she missed him. The ache became too great for her to resist. First her body trembled. Then came the tensing of all her muscles; her eyes closed tight and she clenched her teeth together trying to bite back the inevitable. The sobs worked their way up from deep within her gut, and passed through her dry throat and out into the open for the world to hear. Katherine sucked in whatever air her body would allow. The sensation that was flooding its way through her brought about a release of pent up emotion that she wasn’t prepared to handle.

Her knees chose that moment to buckle. She could feel it happening and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Frankly, she didn’t want to. Katherine wanted to crash to the ground, head first and be knocked into oblivion. It hurt so much. The pain, the anger, the fear, the loneliness. Dammit, I just wanna die. It was a silent plea for her father to rescue her from the pain of life. He heard it. He reached his arms around his baby girl and caught her before she fell into forever. He brought her close and held her tight…

"Shh… I got you. Katherine, it’s okay. I’ve got you."

"Hm?" Katherine blinked several times. Green eyes were open now and darting about the bay. She tried to order her thoughts and realized that she was sitting on cold concrete, strong arms wrapped around her midsection encircling her own arms. The form behind her wasn’t a ghost or an apparition…it was a living, breathing being and it was familiar. "Sam…mmy?"

A smile tugged at the corner’s of Samantha’s lips, at the nickname her brother had given her so very long ago. A nickname no other person had ever used.

"Yeah, it’s me. It’s okay, I’ve got you." Samantha just held on to the smaller woman. A whole new set of sobs surfaced and, surprisingly, Katherine let them go. Sam kept her arms wrapped around the detective, her left arm now around the smaller woman’s waist and her right arm across Katherine’s chest. Sam was gently squeezing Katherine’s left shoulder with her right hand. The touch alternated between the gentle squeeze and an even gentler rubbing motion, as the agent rocked the smaller woman back and forth. The movement seemed to be working as Katherine’s body was no longer convulsing from the sobs, and the crying had subsided. The smaller woman remained where she was while her breathing regained a more even and natural rhythm.

"Samantha…"

"Hm?"

"Thank you."

There was quiet understanding. The dark haired agent put a gentle squeeze back in the embrace. "It’s gonna be okay. C’mon, I think it’s time we got you outta here." Katherine allowed herself to be pulled to her feet.

Katherine stood in silence, with her head down and her eyes closed. A deep breath through her nose rewarded her with a spicy scent that she recognized as the agent’s perfume. It was such a relief from the petroleum smells of the bay. As soon as the scent registered with the detective’s nose she looked up to see nothing but the lapel of Samantha’s suit jacket…just before the agent consumed her in an embrace.

Sam still wasn’t quite sure why she’d done it. She allowed herself the admission that she was extremely protective of the people for whom she cared. There was no question that she cared about the woman now wrapped securely in her arms, but a nurturer she was not. The silent hug went beyond protectiveness. Samantha somehow knew that Katherine needed the embrace, needed the contact…not to keep her from crashing to the ground…not to help her to stop crying…but for no other reason than the fact that she needed to be held.

Katherine accepted the hug willingly and gratefully. It was something she needed, wanted…right here and now, at that moment…from this person. That thought shook the detective just a bit. She opened her eyes and released her hold on the taller woman. "Yes please. I wanna go…"

"You got it." Samantha kept an arm around the smaller woman and ushered her out of the bay.
 


*****


 


It was almost noon by the time Samantha made it through the tollbooth on the Coronado side of the bridge. She was at a major loss for words herself, and she welcomed the quiet calm that had settled over the small detective. Katherine had found it necessary to explain her actions in the bay as they walked out to the detective’s unmarked police car.

"Samantha, I’m really sorry about that. I just wanted to see the damage for myself…I, I guess the reality of how bad the wreck was kinda hit me harder than I’d expected it to." Katherine knew she was babbling, but she couldn’t help herself.

"Katherine, it’s okay—"

"No it isn’t. I was just acting like a big baby. I mean it’s a car for Christ’s sake—"

"Katherine—"

"Shit, that’s what you have insurance for right? Lord knows you pay enough for it. Hell, it was about time I thought about getting a new car, anyway." Katherine’s voice was beginning to waver and she cast her tear-filled eyes away from the agent. The two women were standing at the passenger side of the Crown Vic, alone in the parking area of the impound lot. "I could even… uh, get a green one, huh?" The young woman’s bottom lip was trembling.

"Katherine." Samantha gently grabbed Katherine’s shoulders, trying to steady her.

"He really wanted me to have a green one—"

Samantha hooked her arm around the smaller woman’s neck and pulled Katherine’s head into her shoulder. "Shh…it’s gonna be okay." Quiet sympathy settled over the raven-haired agent as she tried, again, to comfort the small detective. The sympathy gave way to a rush of guilt for the pain the detective was suffering. It didn’t matter how she looked at it…what was happening here was her fault, Mars had targeted this woman because of Samantha. Sam made a mental note to call a friend about a car…and another mental note to deal with her ex-partner. Luckily, Katherine’s eyes were still buried in the crook of Samantha’s shoulder, which kept her from witnessing the purely evil look that had staked its claim over the Huntress’ steely blues. Goddamn you Mars.

Samantha glanced over at the small woman who was now asleep in the car seat next to her. Katherine had dozed off shortly after they pulled away from the impound lot, the emotional release had simply taken its toll on the detective and Katherine’s body relented to it’s demand for rest. Samantha closed her garage door and opened the pantry door to her house before disarming the alarm system. She then slid back to the Crown Vic and eased open the passenger side door.

Katherine didn’t even stir when Samantha lifted her out of the car and carried her into the house. Sam opted for laying Katherine on the comfortable living room couch. You’ll be pretty disoriented when you finally wake up, young lady. At least I can keep an eye on you out here. The agent retrieved her favorite pillow and a warm blanket from the master bedroom. After removing the detective’s shoes, Sam effectively tucked the sleeping woman in on the couch and perched herself on the nearby love seat. The book she’d chosen to read would have proven to be a thoroughly efficient means to quietly pass the time were it not for the heavy sleep that won over her own consciousness.
 


*****


 


The sounds of the ocean crept into the agent’s mind enticing her dreamscape to fill with peaceful contentment. She was ambling through the rushing foam of the tide as it crept up the shore toward the sea wall. The western sky was painted several shades of coral giving way to faint hues of lavender as Apollo’s crimson chariot melted into the Pacific. The usual weight of her loneliness was lightened by a sense of happiness so completely foreign to her that she paused at the edge of the shoreline. The waves continued to crash and close in on the dark haired woman, soaking the legs of her khaki cargo pants. She looked down at the water and her happiness eased into joyful bliss…she wasn’t standing alone. Hey…

"Hey..." Samantha spoke into the emptiness of the living room as she reached out to the disappearing daylight, a lazy smile draped across her face. When the air slipped through her grasp her hand came to rest on her chest and her body lifted off the back of the love seat. She blinked several times trying to focus her thoughts and wondered how her feet got dry so fast…what the? Sam sat in the dusk filled room and allowed the unwanted realm of reality to belay the joy that had saturated her dream. She quirked a brow and rubbed her face as she looked at the couch next to her. I hope I didn’t wake her…

"Katherine?" Well, so much for keeping an eye on her. The couch was empty; the soft blanket that had been covering Katherine was now intertwined in the agent’s long legs. Samantha leaned back against the love seat and listened to the quiet of the house for just a moment. Ocean waves were crashing and the agent found the sound soothing and prominent in her ears. Sam looked up at the open French doors, a smile turning the corners of her mouth. It was at that moment that she smelled a hint of garlic vying for her attention. The salty air won out, though, and Samantha sauntered to the doors that opened onto an enormous cedar deck. The agent’s efforts were rewarded…rewarded?!

"Hey there."

Katherine had been leaning over the back rail of the deck looking out at the sun setting in the western sky. The pinks and purples of the evening horizon brought out the highlights in the golden woman’s hair. The detective turned at hearing the voice behind her, and relaxed her already peaceful face into an inviting smile. "Hey sleepy head."

"Phhtt… you’re one to talk."

"Ah yes. I was wondering how I made it from the car to the couch…not that I would know, but…I don’t think I’m a sleep walker." She didn’t remember falling asleep, only waking up in the agent’s home. Katherine wasn’t one to favor strange places but she somehow felt at ease in this place. A grumble in her stomach had prompted her to stir from the comfort of the soft leather couch and search the possibilities of a meal.

"Nah…my garage is just a huge transporter room…" The agent wagged her eyebrows. "I hope all your particles were reassembled properly." Samantha’s heart stirred at the smiling eyes looking back at her.

"Yeah, although, my nose was attached to my forehead…not a problem though. I’m a whiz at molecular-manipulation-devices." Katherine found so much comfort in the patter between her and the taller woman. "I hope you don’t mind but I sorta took the liberty of showing myself around your kitchen. Your house is absolutely gorgeous, by the way."

"No problem…and thank you. Wait a minute. The kitchen?"

"Yeah…the big, shiny room with the stove and refrigerator…"

"You’re funny. But there’s no fo…Ooohh yeah…" A look of remembrance.

"Yep. I found enough fixins for a baked chicken dish…don’t worry, it’s pretty safe."

Samantha regarded the pleasant aroma that had reached the French doors. "Mm…it smells really good. How long till it’s done?"

"Oh, probably about 45 minutes. Plenty of time for you to change into something a little less X-Fileish."

The dark head dropped and regarded the wrinkled suit. Sheepish blue eyes raised drawing a quirked blond brow. "Eyeah…You need any help in there?" Not that Samantha knew the first thing about culinary mechanics, but she could try…

"Nope got it all under control, go on, go on." Katherine urged the rumpled agent back into the house.

"Are you sure you’re feeling up to cooking? You’ve had a helluva day."

Blond head cocked to the side, right brow arched in mock anger and hands planted firmly on her slender hips. "Samantha Christopher, if you don’t march your hind end up them there stairs this very instant…" Katherine’s right hand flew off her hip and indicated the staircase leading up to the second level, her accent thoroughly saturated with southern tones.

"Okay, okay." Samantha’s long arms raised in defense. She’s pretty damn cute when she’s… The agent turned her head quickly, hoping she could beat the flush that had crept up her neck.

Samantha entered the huge master bedroom suite and started shedding the suit, pausing when she saw the grease stain prominent on her upper rear thigh. You weren’t kidding, that bay was pretty grimy. The agent smiled though, because the stain brought fond memories to mind. Memories of when she was in high school, when she’d leave the classroom and retreat to the small, but popular garage operated by a man named Ogre. Well his given name was Orville but no one ever dared call him that to his face. No one but Samantha.

Ogre was about six feet ten inches tall and weighed all of 320 pounds of solid muscle. When beach bumming was out of season, Sam spent her free time at Ogre’s garage. He was more a father to her than the blood related one that took credit for raising her, and her time with Ogre kept her from causing too much hell raising. Ogre had taught her everything he knew about cars and helped her to develop her love for vintage autos. Hmm…I suppose now is as good a time as any. Sam slid over to the bedside table that contained a selection of remote controls and a cordless phone.

The agent picked up the phone and dialed a number. She hadn’t called Ogre in several years, but her memory rarely allowed her to forget much of anything.

Three rings.

-What?!

The harsh bark was still there and brought an instant smile to the agent’s lips. "Orville, don’t you ‘what!’ me."

-Who the hell…wait a minute. Samantha waited patiently while her voice registered with the man on the other end of the line. Sam? Is that you?

"In the flesh. How the hell are ya old man?"

-I know you didn’t just call me old. I’m still young enough to take my belt to your backside, young lady.

Samantha was smiling wide. "Okay, I give. Look Ogre, I’m not gonna keep you but I need to ask you for a favor."

-Mhmm. Just like a woman. Don’t hear from’em in years. Not till they need somethin’.

Samantha’s face sobered just a bit. It was true. Not long after her brother died she’d all but cut off any communications with her friends. She’d met Kimber and Adam at UCSD and Ogre, well, she’d known him for as long as she could remember. But when she decided to immerse herself into the deep cover required for her…duties, she simply couldn’t face the people for whom she cared. Frankly, she didn’t feel that she deserved the grounding force of compassion and love. With a deep breath, she spoke into the phone. "I know Ogre, I’m sorry. It’s been way too long."

-That’s okay Peedab. You in town for a while, or do you gotta dine and dash?

Samantha had never been aware of the tabs that her friend had kept on her over the years. He had ties and connections that not even she could imagine. Ogre knew about the house in Coronado but he couldn’t quite accept the notion that this woman was settling down…not after everything she’d been through. "No, I’m here for good. The Bureau’s gonna let me make San Diego my home base…if you can believe it."

He could believe it.

-Fantastic! Well young lady, what can I do ya for?

"I need you to keep your eyes and ears open for a newer model Volvo, probably a 99—"

-You lookin’ to buy one? Didn’t think Volvo’s were your style, Peedab.

"Oh God no. Actually I’m looking for one that was involved in a hit and run recently. It should have front-end damage. The owner will be very particular about who does the work but he’s gonna want to be really quiet about it…may even wait several days to have it fixed."

-This wouldn’t have anything to do with that police detective that was hit, would it?

"Yeessss it would…how’d you know?" Samantha’s lightened tone faded.

-Hell, it’s all over the news…how she cheated death…already released from the hospital--

Shit! Mars’ failure all over the six o’clock news. "Ogre…I need whatever I can get on this guy. He’s almost as good as me at making himself scarce and I need to track him down. Problem is…well, let’s just say my plate got filled kinda quick since I got back in town."

-Can you get me a picture and name and stuff?

Samantha heard the seriousness seep into the older man’s voice, and she knew this request would be handled. "Yeah, I sure can. You’re fax number still the same?"

-Yeah, but send it through e-mail. That’ll be a lot more secure.

E-mail?? My ol’ friend’s gone hi-tech. Sam scribbled the address on a pad that she’d pulled from the top drawer of the bedside table and thanked her friend before saying goodnight.

A few minutes later and Samantha was standing under the pulsating water of two shower heads, one on either side of the huge shower stall in her master bath. She just stood there letting the water pound out the tension that had knotted the muscles across her broad shoulders and strong back. Ducking her head forward allowed the spray from the front nozzle to massage her scalp. The steam and lavender scent from her body wash further relaxed her to the point of incomprehension forcing her to nearly jump out of her sun bronzed skin at the voice calling from the other side of her bathroom door.

"Huh?"

"Sam…hey, dinner’s ready. How formal are you about where you eat?"

"Coffee table…" The agent’s voice drifted over the sound of the water and through the bathroom door. Of course, the two-word response was all she could offer after her heart had just dropped to the floor. "Jesus…" Followed on a whisper.

Excellent! Katherine grinned to herself and returned to her task in the kitchen.
 


*****


 


Sam didn’t waste time with drying her hair, only dressing in a worn pair of khakis and a faded burgundy t-shirt. When she finished her decent from the staircase and entered the living room she truly was rewarded. The aroma of garlic and Italian herbs piqued a response of utter delight from her palette. Katherine had just brought out the last of the plates and dishes and was arranging them in the most convenient order on the coffee table. The little detective was so intent on her task that she didn’t hear Samantha come up behind her.

"Saaaamm!" Spoken loud enough for the detective’s voice to travel up the stairs.

"Yes ma’am?"

"Jee-sus Christ!" Blond hair spun around, nearly slapping Sam in the face before the smaller woman came to a sudden stop in front of the agent. Luckily, the pitcher of iced-tea had already been placed on the coffee table otherwise the living room and mistress of the house would be sharing equal parts of the sweet liquid. "For the love of all that is holy in this world…would you please not sneak up on people like that?!"

"But I wasn’t sneaking…" Innocent baby-blues.

"Fine! Cop-a-squat there on the couch and I’ll just go change my britches."

"Britches?"

It was an unpleasant look from the detective but a look that bade the agent to obey and plant her long frame on the couch. "Do you drink iced-tea or—"

"The sweeter the better."

"Ah…I knew there was a reason I liked you." Katherine didn’t really allow much thought about it before plopping herself down on the couch next to Samantha. "Oh…I’m sorry, do you have enough room?" Katherine started to get up and move to the love seat, but hesitated at the agent’s voice.

"That’s not another banana reference is it?"

"Uuhhh…no." A shy chuckle. "I just didn’t wanna crowd you." Katherine was still leaning forward but had cocked her head back toward the agent.

"There’s not enough of you to crowd a flea…sit back, you can see the TV better from here anyway." Katherine did just that and proceeded to have one of the most enjoyable dinners she’d had in a very long time.
 


*****


 


"That was amazing. I can’t believe you made it from stuff you found in my kitchen."

"Evidently, your real estate broker understands the benefits of a well stocked kitchen."

"She should know better…about the closest I ever get to making Italian food is nuking Chef Boyardee."

The little blond grimaced. "Yikes! No my dear…anytime I cook for you, you can rest assured, it won’t be pasta-in-a-can." Katherine stuck the tip of her tongue out in mock disgust.

"Hm…you better watch what you ask for. I may just hold you hostage and force you into servitude as my own personal chef."

"Well, I can certainly think of worse places to be held against my will. This house is awesome. It’s kind of a beach-front-mountain-chalet…the heated pool is a nice touch, too, by the way."

The dark haired agent considered that for a moment. "Thank you. I’m actually thinking of having a hot tub put in. It’ll be a pain to design, but if I can figure out a whole house, I suppose I can—"

Katherine sat up straight. "Whoa! Do you mean to tell me that you designed this house?" Incredulous green eyes took in the living room again before resting upon the agent.

"Well, my brother did most of the technical stuff, but the look…the feel…that was all me." Samantha was clearly embarrassed by the compliment she’d just been given by the wide-eyed detective.

"Wow, I believe you missed your calling Agent Christopher." Katherine was again looking around the living room and never saw the pale eyes regarding her with simple interest.

The peaceful moment was short-lived, though, and both women jumped at the very familiar sound of a cell phone. Samantha glowered in the direction of her Nokia as it mocked her from across the room with its whiny voice. The agent narrowed her eyes in Katherine’s direction, drawing a sympathetic smile, before plodding over to the phone and flipping it open.

"Yeessss?"

-Oh there’s my shining ray of light. The gruff voice on the other end oozed with playful sarcasm.

"Kintrell…you’ve just interrupted the most enjoyable evening I’ve had in months."

That got an interested look from the detective.

-Sorry ‘bout that. I tried to call Katherine but I kept getting her voice mail.

"Damn, that’s right…her stuff’s still in the car. Here, ya wanna talk to her?" The question was offered to the sergeant but he wasn’t given the opportunity to respond because Samantha had already tossed the flip-phone to the smaller woman.

"Al?" Katherine’s voice lifted and matched the smile that was forming about her lips.

-Hey Squirt! How ya feeling?

"Pretty damn good, now that I’m out of Satan’s lair…you know I can’t stand hospitals."

-Yeah I know…listen, I’m not gonna keep you on here. It’s bad enough I gotta call you at all with this news, but I figured you’d want some heads up.

The detective slumped her shoulders and cast her darkening green eyes upward. Samantha didn’t miss the change in the smaller woman’s mood and eased herself closer, choosing to perch herself on the arm of the couch. Dark brows creased in silence and waited for the smaller woman to finish her conversation with Kintrell.

"No Al, don’t worry about it. I appreciate the warning…at least it’ll give me some time to prepare." A pause. "Yeah, you too. I’ll see you Friday morning." Katherine let out a deeply inhaled breath before handing the phone back to its owner, who’d developed an overtly concerned look on her face.

"Problem?"
 
 

Chapter 6


 


It wasn’t really a ‘problem’ so much as it was a monumental pain in the ass. Evidently the Public Information Officer had released the announcement that the lead detective in the ‘string of homicides that had plagued the city of San Diego’ was planning a press conference Friday afternoon through the approval and under the direction of the Chief of Police. Katherine had been holding off the inevitable circumstance of a press conference, and thought she would succeed a while longer given the added benefit of an FBI profiler. New people on the team equaled the need for more time to collaborate and share professional expertise, right? Right.

Wrong. The chief had once again succumbed to public pressure and agreed to ‘share, with the public, the findings of the profiler that had been brought in from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.’

"I’d still like to know how the hell the damn press found out you’d been brought in." Katherine asked this question for about the fifth time in the past hour.

She wasn’t speaking to anyone in particular but the dark haired woman who’d occupied the same room with her for nearly a solid 48 hours answered, "I dunno."

Samantha and Katherine had agreed to barricade themselves in the house on Ocean Boulevard and immerse themselves in the IceMan case files. They didn’t have a choice if they were going to make any kind of an attempt at keeping the press conference from turning into a circus fest. Samantha intended to provide a bare bones profile…just enough to satisfy the press but nowhere near enough to spook the killer, which often times happened when a profile was released prematurely.

Samantha Christopher wasn’t much for collaborating and generally detested being cooped up anywhere for any length of time. But she never once tired of the young detective’s presence in her home much less the close proximity required of the two while they read and re-read and dissected and manipulated and rehashed every detail of every IceMan killing under investigation.

It was Thursday night, about 10 o’clock and both women were exhausted. The study, whose elaborate computer system was now buried under mounds of paper and notes and photographs, looked as though a paper-machet grenade had exploded in it. An exquisitely lean, tall frame was slouched in an over stuffed chair, one long leg draped over the chair’s arm. Her eyes were presently fixed on the north wall of the study that was now covered floor-to-ceiling with 8x10 photographs. There were six groups of photos and at the top of each grouping was a photo of the respective victim in pre-IceMan life. Katherine was sitting cross-legged on the floor, to the agent’s left side, with her blond head slacked forward propped up by open palms, her elbows planted on her knees.

Samantha had already decided on the profile that she was going to release at the next day’s conference, but she was tossing the images and facts of the killings about in her head. In each and every case the killer gained entry to the victim’s house without force, only scratching the back kitchen door’s locks in an attempt to fake a break in. Every victim had been dragged up the stairs to her bedroom, as evidenced by the carpet fibers and wood splinters found on her heels. Samantha was convinced that this indicated a small suspect, either in stature or weight, because someone with brute strength would have merely lifted the victim and carried her up the stairs. It also indicated that the victim was unconscious at the time.

They weren’t dead because the amount of blood in each case was consistent with the victim bleeding out from lacerated jugular veins; the victim’s heads nearly severed from the depth of the slicing motion. Also, in each case, the victim’s bed was saturated with her blood and there was no evidence of blood anywhere else in the house. It was believed that the multiple facial lacerations were post-mortem and were used to mar the victim’s facial characteristics. Sam believed that this was a personal statement from the killer and not a means of hindering identification. The IceMan didn’t sexually assault his victims, which disturbed the agent because most crimes of this type were sexual in nature. But it was clear that the IceMan had put his kills on display and detested their beauty…he was jealous…he was…wait a minute.

Samantha sat straight up in her chair as she swung her leg over its arm, nearly kicking Katherine square in the noggin as the detective started to an upright position herself. "Oh my God—"

Deep green eyes were drawn together and pinning the presently stunned agent. "Samantha, I swear to God—"

"They look like you."

"Who looks like me? What the hell are you talking about?" Katherine followed the agents stare.

Samantha’s arm was outstretched and pointing near the top of the wall containing all the photographs. "Look." The long, slender index finger started at the left-most photograph and traced a slow line across the top of the wall hesitating briefly at each of the victim’s photos in life.

Green eyes absorbed the reality of what she was viewing. Samantha continued speaking. "Long, blond hair…small but lean builds…beautiful features…the eyes…and the smiles. I can’t believe what I’m looking at…Jesus, I can’t believe I missed it before. Katherine," Samantha looked down at the small detective next to her. "They look like you. I mean, you fit the victim profile."

"Damn." A touch of fear crept into the depths of the detective’s eyes and her heartbeat picked up a bit. "I guess this is one time I should appreciate my chosen profession." The taller woman looked again to her left and locked eyes with Katherine. Her blond head was cocked to the side and she gave one of her patented goofy looks. "I shore’s hell don’t make ‘nuf money to live in the IceMan’s huntin’ grounds." The wry comment had enough of the south in it to force an uncontrollable laughter from the dark agent.
 


*****


 


The next day greeted Samantha Christopher with a fire burning in her upper abdomen that worked its way in a sinister reverse pattern through her digestive system. She had to swallow several times to quell the urge to run at full-speed to the toilet. When she opened her glacier blue eyes, and confirmed that she was in her own bed and not in some distant ring of hell, she found herself curled in a fetal position.

"Unghh…I knew I was gonna pay for that pizza, but my God." The barely heard mumble floated about the room as the first hints of the morning threatened to impose themselves on the dark agent. Sam forced her muscle-cramped frame to straighten and roll out of the bed that suddenly appeared to be entirely too high off the ground. She forced her senses to focus on the task at hand and negotiated the carpeted floor to the bathroom.

As she made the trek to the porcelain and marble filled room, she became all too aware of why she’d been curled into such a tight ball on the bed, because as she entered the bathroom her diaphragm seized up and drew her body forward. The cramping always brought with it such a wave of pain that it generally took her breath away with each contraction. The constant pain was dull and agonizing enough, but the shock waves racked her entire body with a cruel reminder that death truly does afflict the mortal world.

If it weren’t for the agent’s incredible reach there’s no way she would have been able to get the pill bottles down from the medicine cabinet. The Prilosec had been prescribed to her a year ago to help control the heartburn that had plagued her for years. Samantha fought with the amber bottle and retrieved the required dose of the tiny purple capsules along with a mild muscle relaxant that would help with the cramping. Unable to do anything else, the dark haired agent leaned against the tiled wall and melted to the cold floor, holding her knees close to her chest with trembling arms.
 


*****


 


Katherine was in the kitchen sipping on a very rich, very sweet cup of coffee. In the couple of days that she’d stayed in Samantha’s house she felt oddly like it was a second home. There was an easiness and comfort that came with being there and a sense of relaxed companionship she found when she was around the taller woman. It was almost as though she belonged there and she didn’t want to leave and return to the emptiness of her own home.

But common sense was waging its own little battle with all the insecurities she’d been trying to repress most of her adult life. The little detective didn’t want to turn herself into an imposition and risk damaging a friendship that was becoming very important to her. Sam had offered her home as a safe-haven for the detective and Katherine was feeling a little more than foolish at relying on the agent’s protection. I’m a police officer for God’s sake…I can look after myself. No, after the press conference she’d go back to her house and leave the dark haired agent to the privacy of her own home. A sullen mood was rapidly consuming Katherine heart. God help the asshole who’d run her off the road…it was because of him that she was being teased with this brief moment of happiness. Dammit!

The door to the kitchen eased open producing the tall frame of a slow moving, very pale FBI agent. Sam walked into the obnoxiously well lit kitchen and approached the huge butcher-block center island. The heartburn still had a firm hold on Sam’s insides but at least the muscle relaxant was making it possible for her to stand at her full height. She could hide the burning in her stomach but the half-bent stature would have been a little harder to explain. Thank God for small favors. Samantha hated being sick, but more that that she hated for other people to know when she was. I can pull this off.

Green eyes raised from a steaming cup. "Mornin’ Chief." Katherine was generally an expert at hiding her emotions and she didn’t want Sam to pick up on her inner turmoil. She didn’t have a chance to hide anything, though, because when green eyes found dull baby blues, Kat’s demeanor changed from private self-pity to outright concern. "Jesus, Sam, you look awful!" Katherine jumped off her barstool and moved over to the shaky looking agent.

"Gee, thanks." A wry grin.

"I’m sorry…that didn’t really come out the way I’d intended. But Sam, you can’t tell me you’re fine."

"I most certainly am."

"Uh huh. Do you have a fever?" Katherine instinctively reached up and put the back of her hand along the agent’s cheek. She wasn’t warm, kind of cool actually.

Sam’s eyes narrowed in irritation and she slapped lightly at Katherine’s hand in much the same way a child would shoo away a doding mother. "Hmph…stop that. I told you I feel fine."

"Oh, okay. So you always look pale and pensive first thing in the morning, huh?"

"Fine. The pizza must not have agreed with me, okay?" Sam was trying to move past the blond roadblock without much success. If I can get to the fridge…some milk would be just the tick… Katherine reached out and grabbed Samantha by the arm and corralled her over to the barstool she’d been sitting on. Sam unconsciously complied, bile threatening to lurch.

"Siddown." Quiet but insistent. "Here, let me make you some warm milk, it’ll help settle—"

"Ugh…cold milk." Sam was on the stool with her head in her hands.

"Cold milk?"

"Uh huh." Samantha’s typical resilience was fading in the presence of the smaller woman.

"Here ya go." Katherine offered the glass under the agent’s forehead and waited for her to look up then placed it in Sam’s hand.

The sips were slow but the glass remained against the agent’s lips until the contents were emptied.

"Thank you."

"You’re welcome. You sure you’re okay? Have you taken anything for it?"

"Uh, yes, and yes. It just takes a little while to start working." Samantha looked up to find compassionate green eyes regarding her. "How’d you know about the milk. Not many people will drink it on an upset stomach."

A sincere smile. "No you’re right. I was notorious for eating really bad when I was growing up. Indigestion usually followed, and my dad would make me some warm milk. It was like his miracle cure for just about anything." Katherine looked down at her hands briefly. She looked up at a gentle squeeze of her hand. "Uh…Sam. I never thanked you for Tuesday."

"No thanks necessary."

"I know, but it really helped having you there. That was a lot tougher than I’d expected."

Another squeeze of Katherine’s hand. "I know. How’ve you holding up, by the way?" They hadn’t had a chance to talk about Katherine’s father or her reaction to Tuesday in light of the pressure of the press conference. The press conference…the bile churned yet again. Luckily Katherine had resumed her study of her hands and didn’t see the contorted expression on the dark agent’s face.

"I’m fine." She really was fine, and being with Samantha had somehow assured her of that. Katherine quietly lifted her gaze to look into the depths of pained azure pools. "You, however, are not fine! Samantha, honey, maybe you should go lay back down."

"If I did that I’d miss the press conference." Not an unpleasant thought by any stretch of the imagination.

"Uh, yeah…you would. That would sort of be the point." Katherine eased herself around the butcher-block island and circled her arm around the agent’s shoulders. "I can do the conference…we discussed the profile you were gonna issue last night. I can just offer it on your behalf. I mean, if you’re coming down with the flu or something—"

"I should be so lucky."

"What?"

"It’s not the flu. It’s not even the pizza. It’s nerves."

"Nerves? What are you t—"

"Nerves." The agent repeated with self-disgust. "I’ve had stomach problems for years, but…I uh…Oh Jesus! I hate talking in front of groups—" Samantha had never admitted that to anyone. The agent stopped short at the whimper from above her left shoulder. Samantha glowered at her blond companion. "It’s not funny."

"Hmphf…no you’re right. And I’m sorry you’re hurting, but my God, Sam, you’re physical presence, alone, is amazing. You could scare the shit out of a room of death row convicts just by walking into the cellblock. I just find it hard to believe that you, of all people, would suffer from stage fright."

Much to the blond woman’s delight, a dark brow eased itself upward. "Intimidation has never been a problem of mine…but incorporating that with public speaking, well…"

Katherine squeezed the shoulder in her arm. "Okay. I can still give the profile for you—"

"No, no…I’ll do it. I would just keep my distance if I were you. Pizza doesn’t look very good when it makes an encore visit."
 


*****


 


Despite Samantha’s insistence on driving, Katherine had prevailed and reclaimed the car keys from the dark haired agent. A good thing too, because the bouncer in Samantha’s stomach was desperate to eject the Pizza Hut 'thin n crispy' supreme from her body. The front passenger seat of the white Crown Vic stayed reclined for most of the trip over the Coronado Bridge and through Downtown. The seat’s occupant lifted an occasional lid to reveal the barest slit of dazed blue when the driver’s foot fell too heavy on the break or accelerator. "Katherine," the voice was deep and very pained. "If I survive this, I’m gonna kill ya."

Katherine glanced sideways, her only response a quirked grin.
 


*****


 


The huge community room of the police department was designed for large community gatherings and on this particular day it was so tightly packed with bodies that Samantha secretly hoped the fire marshal would descend like an angel from heaven and order everyone to evacuate. This many people must be a fire code violation. Right? Please?

The Chief of Police, in all his spineless glory, was the first to address the frenzy of flashbulbs. Samantha was concentrating on the backs of his shoes, trying to ignore the soft hum of the crowd. She almost jumped at the soft whisper in her left ear.

"Sammy…it’s gonna be okay." Blue eyes narrowed and darted about the room as she looked in vain for her brother. The voice whispered again. "Sam. Honey, you need to calm down." It was Katherine. Sam drew a deep breath and leaned into the whisper. The agent’s breathing slowed. "There ya go. I’ll be right here. Don’t forget what I told you…find one person in the crowd and just lock in on them." It’ll scare the bejesus out of the poor soul, but who the hell cares…as long as she gets through this without hurling on any of the major affiliates.

Sam turned her head just slightly and whispered back. "You wouldn’t be willing to sit out in the crowd, wouldya?" And just where did that come from? It would help though…if she could just lock eyes with…

"If I could get away with it I would."

The Chief relented the podium to the ‘sergeant over the homicide unit’ and when Samantha heard a female’s voice her eyes shot up. Standing in front of the microphone was a thinly built woman with dreadfully bleached blond hair tied back in a pretentious bun. Her voice was painfully nasal and oozed false sincerity. Samantha’s face took on a look that indicated a foul odor had just been presented to her nose. She looked to her left and watched as Katherine rolled her eyes. The small detective leaned closer.

"She’s my other sergeant. She’s actually why were here." Dark brows knit together in understanding, drawing a closed-lipped smile from the detective. "She went to the Chief and convinced him that the investigation was at a point that warranted a press conference. Al tried to ward him off…but Sgt. Kiss Ass there pulls a lot of weight, if you know what I mean."

Samantha drew a quiet breath, relieved that her developing distaste for Sgt. Kiss Ass was over powering her tumultuous stomach.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Detective Gabriel." Sgt. Kiss Ass stepped aside and allowed Katherine access to the microphone. The sergeant cast a barely noticeable look of distaste toward Katherine as she moved past her. Ice blue eyes were watching in silence and willed the sergeant to make eye contact with her so she could levy one of her own looks. No such luck. The sergeant lowered her head and returned to her seat.

As Katherine addressed the crowd of onlookers her voice took on a life of its own. Samantha found herself being lulled into a place of quiet serenity. The dark haired agent realized at that moment how much she enjoyed listening to Katherine speak. The little detective had a calming affect on the agent that went beyond reason and for the first time that entire morning, Samantha felt completely at ease. But, to be on the safe side, Samantha cast her eyes about the crowd of faces, something she should have done earlier, but simply couldn’t.

Sam decided on a young white male who looked to be about thirty or thirty-two. His reddish-blond hair was unkempt and he looked as though he hadn’t shaved in several days. Samantha quickly realized that he wouldn’t be affected by her staring at him because his deep blue eyes were pinned on Katherine. And it wasn’t the look of interest that was shared by most of the people in the crowd. Katherine had captivated the audience but this man had emotions behind his eyes that screamed hatred. His thin face wasn’t contorted in anger but, instead, was washed in calm resignation. The more the detective spoke the more his eyes burned with anger.

It was all in his eyes.

Warning bells sounded in Samantha’s mind as a surge of protectiveness swelled from the core of her being for Katherine. The man looked vaguely familiar in an almost intangible way. She’d seen him before but…where? It wasn’t in person. Dammit Samantha think! On the news…in the paper…a photograph…a photograph! Shit! The third victim’s husband. How…in the hell…did he get…in here?!

Samantha’s jaw was flexing in pure reflex at her current revelation.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Special Agent Samantha Christopher." A pause. "Sam?"

Clear blue eyes shifted to lock with hazel. Katherine recognized the look on Samantha’s face as concern mixed with…anger. Blond brows knit together as the taller woman raised to her feet and approached the podium. Sam reached her hand out to the detective’s shoulder just as she caught the movement in the crowd. In pure reflex, Katherine allowed her body to relax at Sam’s touch. It was instantaneous. The sound of the hammer locking back and the feel of a strong arm locking around Katherine’s shoulders. The muzzle blast exploded through the community room throwing hundreds of people scattering in every possible direction.

Loud voices boomed over the panic as orders were hurled through the crowd. "Get down! Get down on the ground, NOW!"

Katherine’s mind was still in a cloudy daze but she remembered thinking that she was already on the ground and couldn’t possibly get down further. For God’s sake, people were lying on top of her! Wait. The orders were being yelled from within the crowd of media people…she recognized Kintrell’s angry voice. She smelled fragrant spice…Samantha? Katherine tried to twist around to see who had her pinned to the ground.

"Sam?" Samantha’s hand was shielding Katherine’s head and at the sound of the detective’s voice the agent lifted her hand away propped herself up on an elbow to displace some of her weight from the smaller woman.

"Katherine? Are you okay?"

"Yeah…what the hell happened?"

"Aside from the fact that I just used you as a landing cushion…I’d say that victim number three’s husband would like to have you removed from the case." Samantha lifted herself off the smaller woman and offered her hand to help Katherine to her feet.

"Grrreaaat." Wary sarcasm. "Two attempts on my life in one week. Hmphf…and ya’ll Fed’s think you got it tough." A wry grin from the detective as she elbowed the dark haired agent in the side. Katherine tugged gently on Sam’s arm to pull her in the direction Kintrell had started to walk. "Come on hero…I have a feeling this is gonna take a while."

Samantha followed on, silently. Hero? Hell, I’m the reason for one of the attempts. She ducked her head and took a deep breath and wondered if Katherine would ever forgive her for being the Huntress. God I don’t want to face that, but she deserves to know…
 


*****


 


It was nearly 4 o’clock in the afternoon before Samantha and Katherine were able to even contemplate leaving the police station. Both women had given written statements to the detective’s who were investigating the shooting in the community room. Although no one was actually injured, the incident had taken on an extremely high priority because of the breech in security and because it was an attempt on a police officer’s life. The participants of the conference were supposed to consist of media personnel only, and everyone was to have gone through the security checkpoint. Kintrell was furious and he didn’t hesitate to let everyone know about it. He was desperate to know how an armed, bereaved spouse of a victim of a serial killer had gotten into a press conference designed to address the investigation of the killings.

Unfortunately, the suspect had refused to give a statement without the presence of his attorney, which didn’t bode well for Kintrell’s growing temper. That combined with the fact that his co-sergeant had insisted on being present during every phase of the interview process, Kintrell was nearly to the point of self-implosion. After several long hours of sitting and waiting and not talking, the would-be assassin was processed and booked into the county jail, under a suicide watch.

Katherine was leading Sam out of the detective bureau when she was stopped, rather abruptly, by Sgt. Kiss Ass.

"Katherine, before you leave I need to speak with you."

"Sgt. Ki- um, Sgt. Cannon…I’ve already given my statement. With all due respect, I would really just like to go home." Home…why did Samantha’s leather couch pop into her head? Katherine was beyond being shaken by the incident; right now she was just tired and didn’t feel like being held under a Cannon Inquisition.

"Yes, detective, I am aware of the fact that you gave your statement. I was there, remember?"

How could I forget?

"Detective Gabriel, it was brought to my attention that you have been using your police car while off duty."

"What?" Green eyes widened. "Sgt. Cannon, if I am not mistaken, Sgt. Kintrell allowed Agent Christopher the use of my Crown Vic to pick me up from the hospital and to transport copies of the case files… which was a fairly good move considering the press conference you organized, without my knowledge." The last words were ushered with sufficient hostility to cause the wiry sergeant to back up a step.

"Hmm…yes, Sgt. Kintrell did okay that, and it was a judgment call on his part that will be dealt with."

"What?!" Katherine’s voice raised an octave but the little detective maintained enough tact to nearly whisper the word. Decorum never reached her eyes, though, and deep greens nailed her superior to the wall.

Samantha was standing behind Katherine but her height advantage offered her an unobstructed view of the sergeant. The dark haired agent was becoming angry in her own right but she didn’t want to interfere with Katherine’s chain of command. Sam quietly watched the exchange between the two women, but she’d unconsciously moved closer to Katherine and placed her hand on the small of the detective’s back.

Katherine instantly relaxed at the touch and inhaled a deep breath as she inclined her head allowing her to look down at the sergeant. "Fine…I believe this is the extra set of keys." Katherine was seething, but she controlled it because…because of the presence behind her. The keys were relented to the overtly smug-faced sergeant. "We had to park it down the block because of all the news people, I’ll move it back to our lot before we leave."

"Fine. Will you be at home this weekend, in case anything should come up?" Her words were too sugary sweet to be sincere.

"No…I- I’m not sure…Sgt. Kintrell will be able to reach me, regardless. He is still my direct supervisor, is he not?"

"Yeesss, Katherine, he is." The condescending tone was all she could take, and to prevent herself from being written up for insubordination, the little detective clamped down on her jaw and turned her back to walk away. The dark haired agent stayed right where she was for just a moment longer, locking eyes with the sergeant. Sam’s gaze was steely blue and burned an impression on Sgt. Cannon that sent shivers prickling up her spine. Truth be known the sergeant was certain she’d heard a low growl.
 


*****


 


The late afternoon sun was dipping below the western skyline casting long shadows throughout the streets of Downtown. The vintage red Mustang sat alone in the visitor’s parking lot awaiting the return of its owner, its color deepening as the disappearing sun took with it precious shining warmth. Neither woman had left the A-frame on Ocean Boulevard since Tuesday, forcing Sam to leave her car parked at the police station. Sam hadn’t worried about the fate of the car until this last encounter with Sgt. Cannon, and she half expected the car to have been towed away.

But there she sat, in all her pristine glory and, as Sam approached, she let a smile spread wide across her face. "Now this, Detective Gabriel, is an automobile."

Katherine couldn’t keep the tired grin from tugging at the edges of her lips. She stopped at the front bumper and regarded her tall friend. "I gotta hand it to ya…she certainly is beautiful."

"She?"

"Yes, she. Where’d you find one in that kind of condition?"

"Well, when I found her she was painted in primer and rust with a ragged out beige top. What chrome was attached to her body was tarnished and hanging loose."

Skeptical green eyes glanced sideways at the agent. "Are you telling me that you restored this car?"

"Oh, ye of little faith—"

"Depends on how you define faith…but with respect to you, I don’t think little could begin to describe—"

"Let’s leave the banana’s outta this."

"No, no, no…just acknowledging my faith in your skills. Do…I… have any more to look forward to." Katherine knew that was a loaded question but she was relieved that the day was over and she was feeling a little giddy.

A dark, manicured brow rose ever so slowly. "Hm…Detective Gabriel, I have many skills." Katherine’s senses were racked momentarily. She opened her mouth to speak but bit down on the tip of her tongue and rolled playful green eyes. Without another word the little detective moved to the passenger side of the Mustang and waited for Samantha to climb in and unlock her door.
 


*****


 


Katherine had nearly dosed off by the time Samantha turned up Ocean Boulevard. She’d closed her eyes shortly after Sam had pulled away from the police department, feigning sleep, to afford herself a few moments to think. She’d cheated death twice in a week and after each brush with the hereafter the first person she was blessed to see was…Samantha. The agent was a stranger yet she seemed more familiar to the detective than anyone she’d ever known.

Katherine was secretly chastising herself for allowing Samantha to keep her home open to her. The detective was lost in her thoughts. Goddamn it! I’m a police officer… I don’t need her protection, well, hell…maybe I do. No, I don’t! I’m a big girl…I can take care of myself. Jesus, this is ridiculous. Katherine, you’re being selfish.

"Sam?"

"Hey, you’re awake."

"Um, yeah. Look…"

"Hm…whatchya need? We’re almost home."

Home. Katherine was starting to feel a little queasy. "Sam. Look…when we get to your house I’m gonna get all my stuff together, then go back to my place. I- I don’t wanna overstay my welcome and despite recent happenings, I really can take care of myself. I mean, it’s not that I don’t appreciate—" The car had stopped moving and everything was quiet, save the last hush of the garage door closing. Katherine tried to slow down and catch her breath before looking up. She was in Samantha’s garage.

Hesitant green eyes searched the profile of the still being in the driver’s seat. Samantha was looking at the bottom of the steering wheel, unsure of what to do next. She suddenly found herself preferring the notion of being on display in front of the crowd at the press conference…because they didn’t matter.

This wasn’t about protection…it wasn’t about keeping Katherine safe. Well it was, but this…this was more. Samantha enjoyed being around the detective, the companionship…the time they spent together, either working on cases or relaxing in front of the television, it didn’t matter what they were doing. She enjoyed sharing her home with this person…

Sam closed her eyes and tilted her head skyward before turning and looking at Kat. What she saw were the most compassionate, patient eyes looking back. "I’m sorry. I was sort of hoping you felt at home here. I, uh…I’ll drive you back tonight."

‘Hoping you felt at home’? The words echoed in Katherine’s ears. "I do feel at home, but—"

Samantha looked back up. "You do? Well…why are you so eager to leave?" Sam was sitting sideways in her seat confusion saturating her face.

"I don’t, but no one has ever just opened their home like that to me before. I mean, Kintrell would’ve, but he’s got a family—"

"Katherine—"

"I mean, I didn’t want to push you away by being an imposition—"

"Katherine—"

"Huh?"

"You’re babbling."

"Babbling…um, sorry."

"Don’t apologize, you’re cute when you’re flustered."

"Wh—Wait. No, wait a minute, I do not get flustered."

Blue eyes finally sparkled. "Yes you do. Come on…let’s get inside and see what you can cook us up for dinner." Samantha didn’t wait for the detective’s response as she was sure it going to be colorful. The two women walked into the A-frame home together; both feeling a simultaneous relief as Atlas lifted the weight of the world from their shoulders.
 


*****


 


"Samantha!" A blond head popped out of the kitchen to find an empty living room. "How is it that she always seems to disappear the very instant the food’s ready?" Just as quickly as the detective had appeared, she vanished again to retrieve two platefuls of steaming chicken n’ dumplings, well, if you’re a real southerner, it’s a ‘dumplin’. It had taken the better half of the evening to convince Samantha that dumplins really did exist and that people actually consumed them as a delicacy. Albeit a southern delicacy, but a delicacy nonetheless.

Katherine loaded the coffee table with the components of her favorite concoction and turned around as she stood. "Saman—"

The little detective would have been nose to nose with the agent if she had just been about seven inches taller. As it was, Katherine’s dinner call was cut short by a very well endowed, bikini-covered, pair of…"Whaaahhh!! Jesuusssss…"

"Katherine!" Dark brows shot skyward revealing two startled blues eyes. Katherine was already off balance when she’d turned around to call for Samantha, but the shock of finding someone immediately behind her and looking up to see, well, to have her nose buried in Sam’s…cleavage, okay, it was just too much for the detective to process at one time. Katherine rocked backward and tripped over the corner of the couch. The detective probably would have crashed right through the glass end table if not for the strong hands that reached out and grabbed each of her forearms.

Samantha was holding all of Katherine’s weight and had to adjust her footing because gravity was requesting an immediate audience with the smaller woman. "Stop flailing!"

"I am not flailing! Pull me up already."

"I’d love to, but…you’re pulling…me…toward you. Unghh."

"I am…not. Samantha! Goddamn it! I’m…slipping."

Yep…she is. The detective’s head was still dangling precariously above the end table. With a final burst of energy, the agent lurched her body to the left, pulling Katherine with her. God I hope we land on the…KATHUD!

Lacking any and all grace, Samantha had managed to fling the smaller woman onto the couch, safely clearing potentially painful tables. Unfortunately, Samantha’s momentum carried her in the same direction landing her smack dab on top of the detective. Okay, now they were nose to nose.

Two pairs of eyes sparkled in frustration and annoyance, giving each woman time to contemplate a variety of expletives. The words went unspoken. Thoughts went unheard. Emotions went…unchecked. Two bodies were in contact, intimate contact with one another. Katherine could feel the warmth of Samantha’s skin, still damp from the swim in the pool. A chill ran the length of the agent’s spine from the cool ocean breeze that danced in from the open French doors, but the front of her torso was being heated from the body beneath her. It was an amazing sensation. They could feel each other’s hearts beating…beating faster and in tune, becoming one. Blue reflected on green and mixed together in a myriad of twinkling light that would have left Poseidon longing for its embrace.

In a timeless moment, the two women lingered, not moving, barely aware of their own breathing and completely unaware of the world around them, with all its cruelty and violence and hatred. Right here, right now…it was just the two of them, nothing else mattered…no one else mattered. Souls reunited. Samantha didn’t remember leaning forward, but she remembered the contact. It was a sensation that would remain with her until the darkness of death captured her life. And even then, her soul would find a way to carry it across to the other side. The feel of her lips brushing against Katherine’s. The softness, the sweetness, the rush of sensation that flooded the length of her body, its epicenter the very core of her being.

The pressure was the gentlest contact Katherine could have imagined, but it lit a fire of recognition within her that could only be described as desire. She didn’t think she’d been looking for it, but now that she’d found it, the little detective couldn’t imagine how she’d ever lived without it. This felt right, it was perfection and couldn’t be compared to anything of this world.

The pressure of the kiss increased, stirring emotions that neither woman thought possible. Longing for more contact, Katherine brought her arm around Sam’s shoulder and tangled her other hand in raven tresses until she was grasping the agent’s neck, rubbing her thumb along the warm skin behind Samantha’s ear. The motion elicited a quiet moan from the agent and allowed for the gentle kiss to deepen. The quiet exploration became an extension between the women, and made way for two halves to become one. Souls reunited.

Samantha gently eased her lips away from Katherine’s, unable to catch her breath for several moments. Blue eyes fluttered open to gaze upon a face that could only be described as angelic. Its peaceful serenity bore no anger, no fear, only…pure happiness. Samantha was lost in the beauty before her and she didn’t see the green eyes materialize.

"Sam?" The agent was captivated in quiet stillness. "Sammy? Honey, are you okay?" Katherine’s heart twisted at the thought of an emotional bond slipping away. That was mutual…I know she felt it.

A breathless whisper as liquid blue eyes fixed on the most perfect shade of green. "I have never been more okay than I am at this very moment." Samantha traced the curvature of a soft blond brow as she spoke, her bottom lip threatening to tremble. "Katherine…I-I…"

"Shh…I know. I felt it, and it was amazing." Katherine stroked the side of Samantha’s face as a smile brightened her features…a smile that reached deep into her eyes, allowing a single tear to free itself from an azure pool.

Sam leaned into the caress just before clasping Katherine’s hand and placing a feather-soft kiss on her palm. "Amazing…"

Part 4


Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse