~ Aftermath ~
by D

Disclaimers: None. If you're still reading my stuff at this point, you pretty well know what you're getting into. If you don't have an open mind or if you find something you think needs disclaiming, you are still more than welcome to let me know. It won't change anything, but it may make you feel better. Ugliness will earn you a smack to the back of your head.

Thanks: To Phil, Mac and Jeanne for reading through this for me to pick up Pink & Fluffy's dropped letters. Their contribution to making this a better read is much appreciated.

Author's Notes: This was an idea that occurred to me on an interminable flight home from Europe. It was supposed to be a short story - it didn't quite work out that way.

The Storyteller's Cardinal Rule is in effect.

Sometimes it is easy to see what is right in front of us - and sometimes the things that should be obvious are the most difficult to see. This is one such story.

They were enemies from the first - there was simply no other way to describe them... at least as far as they were concerned. Always on the opposite side of every argument. Everything always a fight... a competition. Nothing was easy between them.

And why should it be? They were nothing alike... NOTHING. They only thing they seemed to share was a passion for their work - and even that put them at constant odds with one another.

One would think - watching them - that they hated one another... that there was a deep resentment between them. One wealthy and cultured; the other rough and unpolished. One athletic and strong; the other graceful and delicate. One hot tempered by nature; the other cold as ice. Both brilliant in their own regard; both passionate and sensitive.

Every time they were forced to interact, their colleagues gathered around to watch the sparks fly and place bets as to who would give in... who would take the first swing. Not that they had actually come to blows - YET - but most only believed it was only a matter of time.

Yet neither of them were prepared to give a quarter - both equally unwilling to be the first to lose their self control.

And so it continued... day in and day out. Then without warning, something drastic changed.

They no longer argued - they no longer spoke at all. The animosity most had perceived between them before became all too real, and the atmosphere in the workplace became heavy and unwieldy with unresolved tension.

After only a week it had become completely unbearable - to the point where no one was getting any work done while waiting for things to explode - their co-workers stepped in and decided to resolve the problem. That is when things got interesting.


Blue eyes blinked open and looked around blearily. She couldn't remember what had happened the night before, but judging from the pounding going on in the back of her head, Simone had either gotten shit-faced or someone had slipped her a mickey. Either way, she appeared to be in a hell of a lot of trouble.

She didn't recognize where she was, except that it was outdoors. The sunlight in her eyes and the obnoxious cheerfulness of some stupid twittering bird were proof enough of that. The tickly properties of the grass she could feel against her face and see if she crossed her eyes, along with the oddly fresh air were only further evidence that something drastic had happened.

A low groan pulled her attention from taking inventory and Simone tried to turn her head to find out who had made the sound. Even a rough and tumble city girl like she was could tell the difference in a human sound and an animal one. Besides, when did most animals utter the epithet FUCK in English when they were able to communicate with each other in whatever language it was that animals used?

She slammed her eyes shut when she moved her head, breathing deeply to keep from throwing up at the pain screaming through her skull. Someone was going to die when she figured out what the hell was going on. Then she eased her eyes open again... and groaned herself, closing them once more. Things had just gone from bad to worse.

"I'd blame this on you," came the mumble from almost closed lips, "but you look as bad as I feel right now, Bleeding Heart."

Simone continued to concentrate on her breathing - not willing to get into a debate with this particular woman at the moment... especially if this was just the universe's twisted way of getting revenge for some perceived shortcoming. With any luck, when she opened her eyes again, she would discover that this was all just a bad dream. Then that voice came again and Simone sighed. The situation was fast becoming all too real.

"Still not talking to me, Simone? God, you hold a grudge worse than most society bitches I know. At least with them it is easy to figure out their issue of the week - they snipe."

"Shut up, Miser. I have enough to deal with here without listening to you whine about it. Go bother somebody else, why dontcha? I have no intention of suffering any more because of you."

"Take a look around, hotshot. It's just you and me and a pile of stuff I have never seen the likes of in any of the stores I shop in." Sara got no answer and rolled onto her side before easing into a sitting position. "You all right there, Bleeder? You never miss an opportunity to take a free shot." She reached over to touch Simone's forehead, only to jerk her hand back when the dark head flinched at her touch. "Take it easy, Bleeder - or better yet, you know what? Just forget it; I don't know why I even bother trying."

"You don't - that is your whole goddamn problem. You expect the world to cater to you. Now shut up before I puke all over us both."

Sara was furious, but she was also worried. She had a really good idea what had happened and if what she feared was true, they were going to need each other to get out of this entirely uncomfortable set of circumstances. She'd worry about rolling heads when she got home. Sara closed her eyes - truth was, she felt a little like throwing up herself. Maybe things would seem better after a nap.

Simone lay still... completely unmoving except for the breathing she was controlling by sheer concentration. Death couldn't feel as bad as she did at the moment, and she found herself wishing for it briefly. But before it could become a solid thought, she fell into a light doze.

Neither woman could have said how much time had passed - literally. Watches and cell phones had been removed from their persons. But it was obvious to both of them that quite some time had passed as the shadows were much longer than they had been in their little glade even if there was apparently a portion of daylight left.

Sara breathed deeply - relieved to feel much better than she had been. Simone as well was thrilled that whatever nausea had been plaguing her was gone and except for her exhaustion, almost felt normal.

They opened their eyes virtually simultaneously and the walls returned between them as quickly as they realized the truth of their situation. Simone sat up and looked around, glad her head no longer felt as if it was falling off, but pissed beyond belief at what was going on.

She reached for the pile of what she suspected was camping equipment, only to find a note from her work partner on top. She opened it and read it slowly, then actually tossed it towards Sara before standing and stomping off. Sara listened for a long moment before looking down at the piece of paper she clutched so tightly in her hands, wondering what had directed Simone's anger somewhere other than her and found her worst fears confirmed.

Guys, (it said)
We've had enough of whatever the hell is wrong with the two of you and decided to take matters into our own hands and force the issue between you. You'll find all you need to survive out here for quite a while and if you follow the map that has been included, you'll find food staples left for you every couple days. If you keep up a steady pace, you should be able to make it out of here in about a week or so. But do us all a favor and fix your problems with one another before you return to civilization. We'd hate to have to do this again. - Martin

Sara just blinked at the brazenness of the entire thing. Surely they knew that kidnapping was against the law - and what about the drugging she was convinced had happened to them both? Somebody's ass was going to be hers when they got back - several somebody's in fact - and then they'd find out that this was no practical joke. What would her father say when he heard about all this?

Simone stomped back into their tiny space and resumed going through the pile, separating things out and placing them into smaller piles. Sara watched for a while before she spoke. "Can I help?"

Simone shrugged. "I dunno... can you?"

"You are such a bitch."

"You'd know," Simone countered and continued separating. She finally found what she was looking for at the bottom of the stack - a single, solitary, two-person tent. She growled. Sara saw what she was glaring at and sighed. Things were definitely worse than she thought.

Their co-workers had been kind enough to leave a set of instructions, confident that neither woman had ever been camping before. Simone opened them up to read them - only to find that they were written in a language that she had never seen before. She balled up the paper and flung it from her in great disgust.

"Just fucking great," she cursed and threw the tent aside.

"Careful with that, Bleeder. That's the only protection we've got to sleep under out here. I have no desire to be soaking wet when it starts raining."

"Then you figure out how to put the damn thing up. I'll go collect firewood or something else useful." She disappeared back into the underbrush.

Sara got up and found the instructions Simone had tossed away in her anger - then she understood why. They were written in Mandarin Chinese and while not many knew she was fluent in the language, there was one notable exception to that. Things were getting curiouser and curiouser.


Simone came back and dropped a small load of wood to one side. Then she shook out the sleeping bags and set them on either side of the stack of wood. The small supply of food they'd been given went between them. Then Simone turned to watch Sara wrestle with the instructions, poles and tarp, snickering just slightly when the blonde woman growled.

"Would you like to help me or would you like to chance sleeping in the great outdoors with no protection from those clouds?" pointing to the growing line of darkness creeping up behind Simone.

"Whaddya want me to do?" Simone asked grudgingly.

Sara thought about all the possible responses to that question before deciding to go with stark truth at the moment. "I can read this," shaking the crumpled paper in Simone's direction, "but I can't read and build at the same time. I need you to do the building."

"Of course you do - somebody else has always got to do your dirty work, don't they?"

"Look, Simone," Sara ground out, stopping just short of stomping her feet. "I know you don't like me - I think the entire office is completely clear on that fact. It doesn't really matter." She continued before Simone could interrupt. "What does matter at this point in time is the fact that we have been set up - very cleverly, I might add. We have to work together to make this work at all."

"Look, Miser," refusing to call Sara by name. "I'll work with you only as much as is necessary to get us out of here and home again. When we get back, I'll turn in my resignation and that'll be the end of things, all right?"

Sara shrugged. "Whatever. Can we just get this stupid thing put together before it starts raining?" At Simone's brisk nod, Sara started reading, absently handing the dark-haired woman the correct pieces and parts. The tent started to take shape and Simone's hands were busy trying to keep it together.

Sara took over the last bit, pounding the stakes in place as Simone brought the sleeping bags in and dropped them inside. A rumble of thunder made her hustle to grab the rest of the supplies before the rain began falling in earnest. Sara pushed in right behind her, nearly tumbling them both and the tent to the ground. Simone glared at her for a moment, then moved to the far corner of the small tent. She took one sleeping bag for herself and tossed the other in Sara's direction.

"Guess we should be thankful they're not making us share a sleeping bag as well," Sarah muttered, but it was loud enough that Simone heard. The dark head whipped around and blue eyes bore a hole into green.

"Excuse me?" her voice icy.

"I told you we'd been set up, Bleeder. I'm a little surprised he didn't go that far actually; it would certainly have made his point."

"He who... Martin? His ass is so gonna be grass when we get home. I even know a couple guys who'll take care of the body - no muss... no fuss."

Sara stared at Simone in disbelief. Then she blinked and shook her head. "No... not Martin. He may have signed the note, but only one person in the world with the influence to do this also knows I speak Mandarin fluently. And he is the one who would benefit most from our learning to work together." The confused look grew on Simone's face and she held out her arms impatiently waiting for an answer. Sara sighed. "My father, Bleeder; he owns the company, remember? My father is the CEO of Wainwright Industries."

"Guess he's in for a real shock when I haul his ass up on charges before I walk."

"I guess he is. Right now I'm not so sure *I* won't."

That made Simone snicker. She finished straightening her bed for the night, then rose and picked up a backpack. She rifled through it briefly, then threw it to Sara. "I think this is yours," was her only comment. Simone snatched up the second bag and put it by her temporary bed, then picked up the small cooler and set it between them. "Hope we don't have to cook this stuff or we're gonna be hungry tonight."

Sara didn't answer. She was too busy looking at the sealed note addressed to her in her father's hand - confirmation in and of itself of what she had told Simone about who was behind this little kidnapping. At the moment, however, while Sara's thoughts were buzzing, Simone didn't care. She was still exhausted from whatever machination they had used to get her to this place. She lay down on her sleeping bag and was soon snoring softly from the depths of sleep. Sara sat up enough to be sure Simone was truly sleeping before ripping open the envelope.

Sara, my dearest, (it read)
I am sorry to have resorted to such extreme measures, but something must be done to resolve whatever issue has become between you and Simone. Separately, you're the best we've got and together you're unstoppable, but lately the two of you are only causing disharmony and chaos throughout the company to the point that it is disrupting the work. People are starting to take sides and I am afraid what will happen if something is not done about the situation immediately.
Stay out there until things are resolved between you - one way or another. Do whatever it takes, but fix it, Sara.
There will be someone close by keeping an eye on you both - to ensure that you remain safe and that you can be taken care of in an emergency. Otherwise, they will not interfere in any way. I trust that by the time you are home, you will have forgiven your old man for such drastic interference. Always your loving father, Billy.

Sara looked at the map he had enclosed and knew in an instant exactly where they were. She had spent her summers in this place, investigating every nook and cranny she'd been allowed to explore. Sara had the distinct feel by the signature he'd used that William Wainwright the third had put them somewhere she hadn't been yet.

A second, more thorough glance confirmed her worst fears and she closed her eyes briefly. Screw the charges... she'd kill him for this. Regardless of what happened between now and then, Sara was going to kill her father for putting them in this position when it was all over. She figured Simone would be willing to help once she knew what was going on. Sara dropped her bag down beside her and closed her eyes again. It wasn't long before she joined Simone in slumber.


Daylight woke them with a groan again, though at least this time it wasn't a drug induced hang-over. It was just bright.

"Goddamn it - I was hoping it was going to be a dream. This sucks."

"More than you know, Bleeder... more than you know."

Blue eyes only a moment before glazed in sleep sharpened and glared in Sara's direction. "What do you know, Miser?" For answer, Sara handed over the paper Simone had discovered in her bag the night before. Simone didn't quite snatch it away, but Sara could feel the restraint rolling off her in waves. Simone's face grew red as she perused the note. "You have got to be fucking shitting me. Is the man a moron or just selectively stupid??"

Despite her own anger at her father for his actions, Sara felt her ire grow at Simone's tone. "He is neither. Otherwise he would have settled the problem himself instead of having us do it ourselves. He's a brilliant businessman...."

"... and a lousy father."

"How dare you?!"

"Easily, but whatever. My opinion of your old man is as irrelevant as yours here. What we need to do right now is find those watchers and have them take us home. Then this foolishness will be over with and we can go our separate ways."

"You hate me so much." The statement was flat but Simone could see something unexpected in the green eyes facing her - something that appeared to be akin to pain.

"About like you do me, yeah," she answered with a shrug, but her eyes didn't meet Sara's. "Look, I'm gonna go outside and see if I can find these clowns. No reason to stay here any longer than we have to, right?" Simone didn't wait for an answer, but clambered out of the tent as quickly as possible.

"But I really don't hate you," Sara said to the still, empty space.


Sara had a small fire built and had cleaned up in the nearby creek by the time Simone returned hot and disheveled. Simone threw herself down on the ground in disgust.

"He lied," she accused.

"No... you won't be able to find them. I doubt they are anywhere close. I'd be willing to bet we are being monitored electronically and they are some distance away."

"So we have to play his game until we get back to civilization."

"Well, we have to follow the map, yes. I see no reason for any more conversation or interaction between us than is absolutely necessary."

"Agreed," Simone said, "so let's get started."

"Can you cook?"

"Excuse me?"

"Can you...?"

"I heard what you said - why do you need to know?"

"I thought we could decide on a plan of action. We need to eat and we have to break down and set up camp if we are going to be moving every day. If we can both cook, then neither of us will get stuck doing one thing or the other."

"Yes, I can cook. You?"

"Actually, yes."

"All right... since you started the fire, I'll go ahead and break down the campsite if you want to fix breakfast. I think it might take both of us to do the setting up, but we can worry about that tonight. There are other chores we can split to even up the workload," Simone said in a fit of verbosity.

Sara blinked. That was the longest non-confrontational speech Simone had ever graced her with. Even as she watched, the blue eyes which were regarding her coolly grew even colder at her lack of response. She nodded curtly.

"That's fine. We only have to make it work long enough to get out of this." She went into the tent and dragged out the cooler; Simone snatched up the two backpacks and they each grabbed a sleeping bag to roll up and set aside with the rest. Then Simone started breaking down the tent while Sara turned her attention to preparing a substantial breakfast.

Simone discovered that taking the tent apart was a much simpler proposition than putting it together had been, but that making it ready for travel was even harder. Still, she got it packed up and turned to find Sara plating up what looked to be a respectable breakfast. She accepted a plate with a murmured thanks and dug in with relish.

Sara took a seat across from Simone and focused on her own plate. It wasn't the best she'd ever eaten, but it wasn't the worst by a long shot and she was ravenous.

It only took a few minutes for both of them to clean their plates. Simone stood from her place and walked around to where Sara sat looking at her empty plate forlornly. She extended her hand. "I need to clean up, so I'll wash the dishes if you want to put out the fire."

Sara nodded her head mutely, then watched Simone walk out of sight before she doused the small fire carefully and picked up around the small camp to make sure everything was tidy. Simone came back into camp, hair and face wet from the scrubbing she had given them.

She placed the wet dishes on top of the small cooler and removed a small towel from her backpack, wiping them off before handing one to Sara and putting the other away in her pack with a spoon. She wiped her face off with a dry corner then looked at the wet towel with a frown.

"Clip it to your backpack - it'll dry as we walk." Simone looked her question at Sara and Sara hefted the pack up, offering it to Simone who turned and extended her arms. She slid under the weight, then Sara took the towel from her and clipped in onto one of the many jangling bits Simone had noticed but had no real clue what to do with. She nodded her thanks and snatched up Sara's pack, returning the courtesy brusquely before retrieving the tent pack.

Sara hefted the cooler, thankful for the strap that had been included as she slung it over her shoulder and settled it beneath her backpack. Then she looked at Simone who was waiting with her arms crossed over her chest. Sara arched a brow in question; Simone threw her hands up in exasperation.

"You have the map?"

"Shit! It's in my backpack - can you...?" Simone sighed but motioned for Sara to turn around. With surprising tenderness to refrain from upsetting Sara's precarious balance, Simone eased the pack open and removed the map from inside. She handed it to Sara over her shoulder, then zipped up the compartment and stepped away from the other woman.

Sara accepted the paper, biting her lip for a long moment. Then she pointed. "We need to head east." Simone motioned her ahead with a wave of her arm. Sara rolled her eyes, but took the lead.

They didn't speak - there was no need to. It was fairly smooth walking for the first part of the day and when they stopped for some rest and a bit of lunch, Sara was pleased with their progress. By mutual consent, they dropped their gear and ate trail rations, then stretched out for a short nap.

Simone woke first, stretching slowly to work out the stiffness she could feel settling in muscles unused to this particular type of exercise. She twisted, readjusting her back with a long string of pops. She grimaced, then jerked her head when Sara spoke, causing yet another crack to shimmy its way up her neck.

"That sounds painful."

Simone shrugged. "Nothing I can't handle. You ready?"

Sara yawned and stretched, then nodded as she rose. "Yeah. I think if we keep going at this pace, we should be to our next campsite by late afternoon."

For answer, Simone hefted her pack again, waiting for Sara to do the same. Then they headed out again under a truce of silence.


Simone and Sara were beyond happy to see the small campsite William Wainwright had marked on the map. The journey hadn't been difficult, but it had been long. And since they were unused to the extra weight they were forced to carry, it made for slow going.

When they reached the cleared spot, they dropped their gear as quickly as they could manage and groaned as they fell to the ground. After a moment of complete stillness, Simone stirred and grabbed up the tent bag, shaking it out and watching dispassionately as pieces clanged together as they fell to the ground. Sara didn't even protest, but started sorting through the pieces. Then she opened the directions and started reading as she passed Simone the parts she needed.

In short order, the tent was ready for occupation and the campsite set-up complete.

"If you are cooking tonight," Sara said, "I'll go collect the firewood and water we need." Simone nodded her agreement and went to fetch the small cooler that had been left to mark the spot. She pulled off the cover, surprised to find salmon fillets wrapped in dry ice along with, of all things, ice cream. Taped to the top was another note and she debated whether or not to open it or leave it for Sara - since she felt fairly confident it was meant for her reluctant companion.

She left the note alone and moved the cooler closer to the tent. Then she started clearing a circle for a fire pit.

About that time, Sara reemerged from the woods with an armload of wood. "I know we need more, but I thought this would get us started. This ready?" waiting for the dark head to nod and dropping the wood into the cleared pit. Then she crossed to the cooler. "What's this?" lifting the lid before Simone could answer. Sara chortled when she saw the ice cream, then she saw the note. "You didn't read this?"

"We both know it's not for me," lighting the moss she'd packed between the wood she'd stacked and waiting for it to catch. Then she got up and removed the salmon from the cooler and moved away, leaving Sara to read her missive in private.

Sara ripped the envelope carefully and slid the single sheet of paper from inside.

Dearest Sara, (it read)
I thought to provide something of a treat for the completion of your first real day together. You will find dry supplies for the next couple days hanging in the tree above the cooler, since it is a rather long hike to the next selected campsite. Leave the coolers and whatever trash you cannot dispose of there and someone will be around to collect it after you are both well on your way.
I hope things are going well between the two of you. I have high hopes you can settle this like adults quickly - you are capable of so much together if you'd only try. Be honest with her, sweetheart. It will make such a difference. Trust me - I know. With much love for you always....
Your old man Billy

Sara folded the letter and put it neatly in the envelope, though she made a point to leave it on the cooler for Simone if she chose to read it. Then she left to collect more firewood.

Simone, however, had decided to get through her current trial with as little interaction as she could manage and kept her mind on fixing dinner. She emptied her canteen and picked up Sara's, shaking it to find it was nearly empty as well. She started for the small stream, just as Sara stepped from the brush.

"Hey, I thought that was supposed to be my job, Bleeder. Don't want you thinking I'm not holding up my part of this arrangement," and she placed the wood beside the small fire.

Simone rolled her eyes and tossed both canteens in Sara's direction. "Whatever, Miser. I was thirsty. Figured I'd... you know what? Never mind. It doesn't matter. I need to find something to go with dinner."

"Check the tree."


Sara cut her eyes at Simone before bending down to pick up the two canteens. "Didn't you read the note? Check the tree," motioning to the larger tree where the cooler had been. Then she stalked off towards the creek.

"No, I didn't read the note... not any of my damn business, is it?" Simone muttered under her breath. She walked back to the tree and looked around, spotting it rather easily, although reaching it.... She realized almost immediately that it would take the two of them working together to retrieve it. Simone plopped down on the ground with her arms across her chest and stretched her legs out, crossing them at the ankles and waiting for Sara to return from fetching the water.

After a few minutes, Sara reappeared looking cooler and freshly scrubbed. She noted Simone's position and raised an eyebrow. Simone simply pointed upwards. Sara followed the direction she indicated and let her shoulders drop and her chin fall to her chest.

"I'm going to kill him myself. I don't care if he did give us ice cream." She stomped over to stand beside Simone who stood languidly to her feet. Sara cupped her hands together to give Simone a boost. Simone just bit her lip to keep from laughing.

"You've gotta be kidding me." Sara shook her head.

"No - I don't like heights, and he knows you rock climb at the company gym; so come on and let me give you a boost."

Simone sighed and stepped back a couple paces. "Ready?" Sara nodded and Simone moved so swiftly, Sara barely had time to register her weight before Simone was in the tree. Sara watched with her heart in her throat as Simone lightly moved to the bag and unhooked it, lowering it into Sara's grasp before sitting on the lowest branch and jumping. Then Simone snagged the bag and took it over next to the cooler.

"That was unnecessary, you know. I could have managed." Sara waited but Simone didn't even acknowledge her words. Sara stalked over and grabbed Simone by the shoulder, jerking until blazing blue eyes were gazing back at her, the fury in them clear. Simone pulled out of Sara's grasp roughly.

"Don't do that again," the rage in her eyes easily conveyed through her tone.

"What the hell is wrong with you??"

"We've been forced to work together by necessity to get out of this place. That doesn't mean we have to share conversation or personal space. So, unless it's necessary, just be quiet and keep your hands to yourself and I'll do the same, all right?"

Sara clenched her jaw, but nodded her head briskly. "Fine... whatever. What's in the bag?"

Simone didn't throw it at her, which surprised Sara. Instead she passed it over and stood up, potatoes in her hands as she headed to the creek. Sara watched her out of sight then turned her attention back to the bag. A couple loaves of bread, peanut butter, trail bars, some raw vegetables and a bag of chocolates. Sara smiled... at least they wouldn't starve and with the addition of chocolate, they might not even kill one another before they reached the end of the journey.

Simone returned from the creek, pulling a small penknife from her pocket and poking holes in the potatoes before easing them into the heat. Then she grabbed up her backpack and sleeping bag and went into the tent. Sara listened, not surprised when Simone emerged a few minutes later bearing clean clothes and her towel. She didn't even glance Sara's way as she made her way back to the tiny brook. Sara just sighed and shook her head.

"No, Dad... I don't think being honest is going to help. I don't thing anything is going to help this situation except for it to be over."

Then she placed the bag next to the cooler and moved to set her own things up in the small tent.


Dinner had been an almost silent affair, save for the scrape of utensils on their plates and the courtesies of 'thank you' and 'you're welcome'. Now the campsite was completely quiet save for the crackle of flames and the whisper of the wind as it blew through the trees. Sara was sitting close to the fire, squinting at the map. She didn't know what nitwit had given the instructions on what to remove from them before they were dropped off, but she was less than amused by her missing glasses... especially in the less than perfect light she was forced to use. Simone, for her part, lay flat on her back looking up at the stars.

Sara glimpsed in her direction - wondering what she was thinking about and how they had come to have such discord and passivity between them. At least when they had been fighting it had been fiery and passionate. Surely that had been better than the uneasy truce of nothingness they had now. She sighed loudly and Simone's head turned in her direction. Sara rubbed her eyes and shook her head.

"Problem?" Simone asked carefully. Her voice was completely neutral, betraying neither concern nor antagonism in her tone.

Sara shrugged. "My eyes hurt. The idiot who took all our stuff also took my glasses for some reason. Guess we're lucky he left you your penknife."

Simone leaned up on her elbows. "I'll bet that reason has something to do with this," motioning around their little home away from home. "What better way...."

"... to force us to work together again. Damn!" Sara rubbed her eyes again and pinched the bridge of her nose. "You know the sucky part - I only use them to read with. It's this light...."

"Is it important?" gesturing to the paper Sara still held.

"It can wait to daylight, I suppose," but she trailed off when Simone lay back down and resumed her study of the stars as though the conversation was over. Sara decided to take a page from Simone's book and just enjoy the peace. Real life was usually so hectic that she couldn't remember the last time she'd *seen* the stars... much less *appreciated* them.

Silence reigned but for a change it was comfortable between them.


The next two days passed in similar fashion - the first day taking them out of the treed area and into rockier terrain. It was more treacherous and made for much slower going. Still it didn't require a good deal of communication, so despite William Wainwright's machinations, things remained mostly status quo between them.

They were happy to find the campsite by the time they reached it sometime late that second afternoon. By Sara's best estimate, they were close to halfway to the end and nothing had changed. Simone was still touchy and reactive and Sara was knee-jerk in her responses in return. Their truce was unstable at best, but it seemed to be holding for the moment, which was all either could hope for given the peculiarity of their current situation.

At least the lack of words meant fewer arguments and fights.

They stopped by the now familiar cooler and eased their gear to the ground with a sigh. Though not a forced march, neither of them were dawdling and that made their pace less than leisurely. They were both glad for the chance to stop and rest.

Simone dropped the tent, emptying it out of its carry bag and assembling the pieces with practiced ease now. Sara opened the cooler to find two steaks, another bit of ice cream and the expected note.

Sweet Sara, (it read)
I trust this finds you and your companion well and that you are making great strides towards resolving the issues between you. Considering your rapid-fire pace thus far, I am cautiously optimistic. If not, and you are simply trying to make it to the next marked campsite, please take the alternate blue route marked on your map - it will take you into the more familiar paths of this land, but will also provide you with whatever time you need to insure that things are settled.
I have high hopes for the two of you, daughter, and when you return successful in your quest, I'll arrange for a more enjoyable holiday for both of you to spend somewhere nice.
I hope you know I have only your best interests at heart and will one day find it in your heart to forgive me for this.
Your fresh supplies are in the cave located in Rifleman's Hill; it will require both of you to make the climb in order to retrieve the supplies that have been provided.
Still your loving father, Billy

"ARGH!" Sara screamed and threw the crumpled note on the ground. "So help me, when we get back...." She turned and looked at Simone who continued to put the tent together. Sara stomped over and started to yank on Simone's arm before thinking better of it. Instead she cleared her throat loudly and shoved the letter towards Simone as soon as she was sure she had her attention.

Simone finished the bit she had left then accepted the missive, reading through it with increasingly darkening features. She blew out a breath, easily noting Sara's fury over her father's actions and attitudes. Simone checked over the tent once more, securing the lines tightly and rising to her feet.

"C'mon," she invited, returning the letter to Sara. "Let's go get those supplies. I'm hungry."

Sara just hoped Billy had remembered to leave firewood; otherwise those steaks were going to go to waste, and that would just be a damn shame.

Rifleman's Hill was a rather steep climb, arduous after the speed they'd maintained for the past three days. Halfway up the slick rock trail, they came to the cave. Sara muttered under her breath and edged into the cave first; Simone couldn't stop the smirk that crossed her lips as she picked up on the gist of what Sara was fuming about.

Inside was a travois holding their fresh dry supplies, firewood and a second, small cooler. They exchanged looks and shrugs before Simone lifted one end and Sara took the other. They grunted at the unexpected weight and slowly made their way out the cave mouth with Simone in the lead. She deliberately shortened her stride - the path was narrow and slicker than either of them was comfortable with considering their burden.

They were making good progress - working together and cautiously easing down the hill. So naturally something had to go wrong to upset the balance they'd found.

Simone had been very careful in placing her steps, calling back to Sara when she found rocks or slick spots. Then without warning, Sara hit a rock Simone had missed and the force of her stumble caused Simone to hit a location that sent her skidding. Simone fell backwards and Sara fell forward and they slid several feet before Simone hit a stone large enough to impede their forward progress.

There was complete silence for a moment, then - "Goddamn," Simone muttered, wincing as she shifted beneath the pile of stuff that had slid forward onto her. "That hurts."

"No shit. Ow," Sara moaned as she struggled to sit upright. She grimaced when she saw the tumble of stuff now piled up between her and Simone. "Damn, Bleeder... are you all right?"

"I'd be better without all this shit lying on top of me, but I'll live. You?"

"I've done something to my ankle, but otherwise...." She groaned. "Getting down from here is going to be a bitch."

"Getting *outta* here is gonna be a bitch if you can't walk. I hope your old man wasn't lying, or this is gonna get uglier than it already was real damn quick." Simone gripped the items closest to her and pushed them away from her. With a little wiggle room, she was able to transfer more until she could actually sit up and see Sara's ashen face.

She ran a cursory check over herself, observing a number of scrapes and scratches and absently making note of the muscles that were going to be protesting soon. Simone eased her way back to where Sara still rested, eyes closed as she focused on her breathing.

Simone placed a hand on Sara's shoulder to alert her to her presence, then laid a wary hand on Sara's leg. The blonde woman didn't even flinch... until Simone tried to remove her shoe.

"Fuck, that hurts!" she panted, trying to keep from screaming aloud as the shoe finally came off. Simone ran a gentle hand around the swelling, bruised flesh, then met Sara's eyes. "I don't think it's broken," she said, "but it *is* a really bad sprain. Do you trust me?"

Green held blue for the longest moment as they took one another's measure and then Sara nodded slowly. Without warning, Simone scooped her into her arms enough to place her onto the pallet with infinite care. She looked at their supplies, then back at Sara.

"I think I can get you and all this down in one trip if you can handle being a little squished."

"That's fine," Sara agreed in a whisper. "Whatever it takes to get back to camp. I'd say just leave it here...."

"... but we need it - I know. Wait here," Simone instructed without so much as a twinkle in her eye. But since Sara's eyes had closed to allow her to focus on her breathing again, she didn't even notice.

Simone slowly straightened and began recovering the supplies she'd pushed from the edge of the pathway. The firewood was the most scattered as it hadn't been bundled... simply stacked. She picked it up a piece at a time, laying it evenly on either side of Sara's body. The cooler went at the bottom near Sara's good leg and the dry good went on the other side. They might end up with squashed bread, but at least it would provide a little protection while doing the lease amount of damage.

Simone slipped off her jacket, shivering a little at the sudden chill she was exposed to, and placed it over Sara's body. Green eyes slowly tracked open and Sara looked back at Simone blearily.

"Try to stay still," Simone instructed. Sara nodded and closed her eyes again. Simone went back to the front of the pallet and lifted the ends, moving forward slowly once again. Sara bit her lip to keep from crying out and inch by painful inch, they made their way back down the hill.

When they reached the bottom again, Simone unloaded the travois first, concerned that Sara did not move or open her eyes. The fire was laid and the excess wood placed to the side, and the cooler and dry supplies placed to the side next to their tent. Only when that was done did Simone reach out to Sara, to find green eyes staring back at her pitifully.

"This sucks," she mumbled.

"Yeah and it gets worse. The sun is going down and you need to soak that foot... see if you can get some of the swelling down."

"You look like you could use some soap and water and a few band-aids yourself, Simone." Simone shrugged.

"Maybe later. I've gotta get the fire built before the sun sets and get dinner started. Can you make it to the stream or do you need my help?"

For answer, Sara sat up slowly, handing Simone back the light jacket that had covered her. Simone took her hands and helped her balance as she stood... then caught her as she slipped to the ground with a yell.

"C'mon," Simone encouraged, taking the injured side and supporting it. "Put your arm around my neck." Sara opened her mouth to protest and Simone glared her into silence. "Look, Miser... it's not my first choice either, all right? Work with me here a little."

Sara thought about complaining for the split second it took her to see her own pain and exhaustion reflected back at her from those telling blue eyes. With a nod of her head, she acquiesced and together they made very slow progress towards the tiny trickle of water that appeared to be guiding their travels.

Simone seated her as comfortably as could be managed, then rolled up her jeans as far as she could before slipping the ankle into cold, clear water. Sara gasped at the sensation, holding her breath for a long moment. Then she released it with a discomfited sigh.

"Thank you, Simone."

Simone jerked her head awkwardly but otherwise said nothing as she turned and walked the short distance back to camp. She still had a lot of work to do... especially since Sara was no longer in a position to help much. Not that she blamed Sara for this particular problem - she'd been as unhappily surprised by the turn of events as Simone had. But it didn't change their circumstances either.

She looked at the firewood, wondering how long she could make it last, then shrugging. It wouldn't really matter if she couldn't get it to light - she'd never tried without some sort of packing or kindling wood before. She thought briefly, then created a small pile of shavings with her penknife. Using that as her kindling, she was able to make it catch and from there, laying the wood was easy.

Simone found more potatoes and took them to the creek to wash, surprised to see Sara laying completely on her back with her eyes closed while the water continued to flow over her ankle. Simone just shook her head and got on with her work, never noticing that Sara was observing her through the slits in her lashes.

Once the potatoes were put into the heat, Simone scrounged through the dry supplies to find more of the same. Then she opened the smaller cooler and found a six-pack of soda and another note. Her lip curled, not believing the man's audacity, but she set it aside. It wasn't her business at the moment, and when it was, she was going to have the power of the Family to back her up. She wouldn't let the boys kill William Wainwright the third, but they would for damn sure put the fear of the Family into his ass... one way or another.

"I shoulda just stuck to what I know best," she muttered, then went into the tent to dig through their packs for some sort of first aid kit - which was naturally at the bottom of Sara's pack. Simone left the stuff of both bags neatly stacked on their sleeping bags to make a point, then hefted the kit and her towel and headed back down to the small creek with her flashlight in hand.

She made enough noise to alert Sara to her presence, then knelt close enough to her that she could be seen, but far enough away that she couldn't be touched. Simone poured a generous helping of soap into her hands, hissing at the stinging it caused to the cut skin. Sara sat up, but didn't speak, waiting to see if Simone would ask for help. Simone ignored her, scrubbing her hands until the cuts began to bleed again, hoping to force the dirt and impurities out that way if she couldn't any other.

After a while, she plunged her hands into the icy water, glad for the cold that immediately numbed the feeling. Only when Sara reached over her arms awkwardly and pulled her out by the wrists did she breath, and then she glared at Sara for interfering.

"Don't bother, Bleeder. I know it hurts like a son of a bitch. I also know you need disinfectant poured on them as well as on your face and sides where you got scraped and bullied by that damn hill. Let me help you now. You've done enough on your own."

Simone regarded green eyes for a long moment, but finally relented. Sara felt the thrill of victory, but kept it out of her expression. Instead, she took the towel and patted the hands dry, then moved her attention to the first aid kit between them.

"You get this out of my bag?"


Sara waited for more of an explanation, but none was forthcoming. "All right then," she acknowledged, "let's see what we've got." She looked down at the flashlight and sighed. "I need for you to.... Can you hold it still between your knees?" Simone nodded and together they got the flashlight situated so Sara could see to work.

She worked as swiftly as she was able; Simone sat statue still as the light touch skimmed over her face, ribs and finally her hands. Simone didn't utter a sound until Sara poured disinfectant over her raw hands and then she hissed like a cat. Sara jumped but didn't stop her work until the hands were bandaged and the kit closed.

"All done."

Simone took a deep breath and nodded shortly. "Thanks." Then she gathered the kit and stood, extending her arms for Sara. Sara grasped her wrists, and together they made slow progress back to camp. Sara stopped and blinked at the tidy set-up.

"You did all this with those hands?"

Simone shrugged then opened the tent flap, catching Sara's swift look at her when she saw the packs emptied neatly onto their respective sleeping bags. "I thought it only fair... since I dug through yours."

"Not necessary, but I appreciate the gesture. C'mon...." nodding her head back towards the fire. "This stuff can wait. I don't know about you, but I'm starving."

Dinner was a little more difficult to manage, but they worked together and made it work. The soda and ice cream probably would have been more appreciated had they not been near exhaustion and in serious pain. But neither would take the single shot of morphine that had been part of the first aid kit and aspirin just wasn't cutting it. After a brief struggle to bank the fire, they made their way into the tent, collapsing onto their sleeping bags as soon as they'd pushed the stuff to the sides. They'd worry about that tomorrow. Tonight they were going to try and sleep.


"You sure about this?" Simone asked skeptically.

"My father has to have all the new toys - yes, I'm sure. They'll see we aren't moving and he'll send someone out after us to find out what the trouble is. GPS tracking at its finest."

They'd repacked their backpacks and cleaned up, tasks that, even working together, had taken them most of the morning; now they sat waiting for the ride Sara had assured Simone would be forthcoming. The silence was as comfortable as it had ever been for them - still, neither felt the need to bridge the differences that remained. They were back to where things had been before they had exploded and for them, it would have to be enough. Unlike William Wainwright, they knew some things couldn't be changed... no matter how hard one wished.

They were drowsing in the warmth of the sun when the whirring of a motor woke them from their slumber. Sara sat up slowly, battling her way to an upright position just as the Hummer reached their position. Simone eased up onto her elbows and squinted.

A woman jumped from the vehicle and took one look at Sara's black and blue ankle and Simone's bandaged hands and whipped out her cell phone.

"Sir, I think we have a problem."


The chopper landed nearby, and William Wainwright stepped from the back as though this was an everyday experience. He walked in silence to where his daughter and her companion waited. His step faltered when he discovered the sheer fury written clearly across both visages and the confidence he felt in his idea slipped from his face.


"Don't, Dad. There is not a damn thing you can say to make this better. Just get us home and hope we don't *both* sue you for reckless endangerment and kidnapping."

William Wainwright may have been a man of simple things, but he wasn't a stupid man by any means. He'd known, when he'd undertaken this particular course of action, that he was running a real risk of screwing up his relationship with his daughter if it didn't work out the way that he hoped it would. He'd trusted that by giving Sara and Simone time and space to work things out, they would do so. He'd never expected it to end like this.

Without another word, he motioned to the woman who had first summoned him to this area and she immediately started packing up the campsite. He turned to Simone. "Do you require assistance?" She shook her head at him but did not grant him a verbal answer. He nodded and scooped Sara into his arms before she could protest. Then he headed back to the helicopter with Simone walking right beside him.

The trip back to the ranch was silent - cloying and uncomfortable. Sara had deliberately turned her head away from her father, her anger a palpable thing. Simone kept her attention on the world outside, glad this ordeal was almost over. Billy took the hint and moved as far from the two of them as he could - the navigator's seat in the front.

When they landed at the ranch house some minutes later, several people emerged - one with a wheelchair for Sara; another to help guide it where the grass was thickest; still a third to welcome Simone in and lead her to a room to be seen by the doctor that was kept on staff for the ranch. She followed, knowing her wounds needed treatment first.

Billy watched them go silently, wondering. Something had changed between them, but he didn't for a minute think things were over.


Simone let the doctor tend to her wounds, sitting stoic and silent until his chatter died away awkwardly. He gave her some last minute instructions, then she followed her guide to a large room and was motioned inside.

"There are fresh towels in the bathroom and clean clothes in the closet. Unless you need my help, I will leave you alone to shower in privacy. When you're ready, click the speaker and I'll come back to take you down to Mr. Wainwright's office."

"And if I prefer to talk to Wainwright now?"

The housekeeper didn't blink. "Then I'll take you to him now, but I thought you might prefer to be comfortable first. I believe Mr. Wainwright is with his daughter at the moment."

Simone snorted. "I doubt it." She stood there a moment, considering her options and found serious benefit in not only making the man wait for her to appear, but also in being clean and comfortable when she confronted him the first time. Decision made, Simone shrugged casually. "Whatever... I'll be out in a few minutes. Wait for me."

The housekeeper didn't care for the curt tone, but Mr. Wainwright had instructed her to see to their guests needs, so that's what she would do. Sooner than she expected, the water started running and it ran for far less time than she had anticipated. In only a few minutes, Simone stood before her clad only in a bath sheet.

Simone walked straight to the closet, surprised to find it full of clothing that would fit her. She wondered what the hell William Wainwright was *really* playing at, then mentally shrugged. It didn't matter. After today, she would no longer have to deal with the man unless he continued to be stupid. And even then, Uncle Sal would be more than happy to send the boys to take care of things.

She dressed as swiftly as she could manage - her hands were still stiff and sore. Still, she did it without help - black slacks, white shirt, black jacket and boots... the same clothes she normally wore to work. Only this time, they carried an edgy menace and she played on it. She left her hair loose... unusual for her, but it made a statement she wanted Wainwright to understand. Simone was no longer part of his team - she was Family now.

The housekeeper took an instinctive step back when Simone emerged from the closet and Simone couldn't stop the dark smile that crossed her face at the reflexive reaction. "Let's go," she commanded, and Bunny nodded and was out the door before she realized it.

They were quiet on their way down to Wainwright's office, and the housekeeper ushered her in. "I'll fetch Mr. Wainwright. Please have a seat," motioning to the chairs in front of the desk, but not waiting for Simone to obey before she closed the door. Simone chuckled mirthlessly. Then she deliberately walked around the desk and took the seat behind it, propping her feet on the old mahogany wood top and crossing them at the ankles.

It wasn't but a few minutes before William Wainwright opened the door, apologizing, only to stop midway through a word when he saw Simone's position. He hesitated.

"Sit down," she directed harshly.

"You're in my seat," he stated plaintively.

Simone rose and leaned on the desk, ignoring the pain in her hands and ribs and glaring at him until he thought his hair would fall out. "Sit. Down."

He took the seat closest to him, glad for the support as his knees gave way. He wondered where the mild-mannered employee had gone in the face of the furious stranger that now regarded him with disdain. Surely he hadn't miscalculated *that* badly, right? There was a very fine line between love and hate and they had just needed the impetus to release their passion in a more positive way - he had simply set the stage to allow them to figure that out. No harm done, right?

Simone stared at him for a few minutes, letting him stew in whatever thoughts where meandering through his head. She figured the rage she was allowing to clearly show on her countenance was enough to let him know that he had fucked up royally. What she had to say would certainly put the nail in that particular coffin. Finally....

"Mr. Wainwright, I have something to say to you, and then you are going to provide transportation to take me back to the City. Do you understand?" He nodded, his words cut off by the ice cold tone in her voice and gaze. "Good. What you did was stupid, childish and irresponsible. You had NO RIGHT!!" her voice rising before she took a deep breath to will herself back to calmness. "There is no love lost between your daughter and I, and nothing you can say or do will ever change that. Sometimes people are just made to hate other people - your daughter and I fall into that category. We will never get along... much less like one another. That's how it is."

Simone walked around to the front of the desk and leaned casually against it, studying the man in front of her. The years had been kind to him - he was still ruggedly handsome... blond hair and green eyes very much like his daughter's and obviously a man who did more than sit behind a desk eight to twelve hours a day. There was something in his glance... a sadness that made Simone wonder, but only for a moment. She crossed her arms over her chest, wincing at the pull. Then she caught his eyes again and held them, ensuring her could see her seriousness.

"Mr. Wainwright, have you ever heard of Salvatore Amici?" Wainwright's face paled noticeably and Simone smiled grimly. "I can see that you have. Sal Amici is my uncle - I am the only female child of my generation and the only child of Sal's only sister - she was the baby of her family, you know. Do you see where I'm going with this?" He nodded vigorously, but she continued.

"Uncle Sal is more than a little protective of me, as are my cousins. Would you like to imagine what would happen to you if something like this were to get out?"

"I'd rather not," he admitted candidly.

"Smart man... it's not pretty. Do yourself a favor, Wainwright - leave me alone. And if you're really smart, you'll leave Sara alone as well. She's as likely to throw you off a bridge in cement shoes at the moment as Sal would be if he got wind of this. Capice?"

"Why do you care? You just admitted you hate her."

"This has nothing to do with her; I am looking out for you. I figure you owe me pretty big now, and if she kills you, I lose out on collecting my debt."

He nodded his acceptance of her explanation, then pinched his lip between his finger in thought. "May I ask...?" he asked with uncertainty. At her gesture, he continued though his voice still wavered. "Why did you come to work for me? Was it some sort of set-up or...?"

Her bark of laughter held no mirth and she shook her head. "I came to work for you because you hired me on my own merit. I am good at what I do and I wanted to earn my own place. I never wanted to be involved in the Family business, despite Sal's desire to groom me for a position of leadership. However, now thanks to you, that will change. Sal will be thrilled," she added drolly.

"Does that mean...?"

"It means as of this moment, I am no longer your employee and therefore, no longer your concern. Now you can either arrange transportation back to the City for me immediately, or I will call Sal and have him take care of things. As the heir apparent, I'm entitled to a few perks."

Wainwright rose. "If I could get to the phone...." motioning to his desk. She waved him by and moved to stand behind him looking unseeingly out the window. He set the phone in its cradle and she turned to him, eyebrow arched in question. "It will take a few minutes, but you should be leaving in half an hour at the most. Is there anything...?"

"Yeah... tell me why you did it. The truth, Wainwright... no shit."

"Personal or professional?" unwilling to risk offending her any further than he already had. Even if she *was* bullshitting about being Salvatore Amici's heir apparent, he didn't think she was making up the Family connection. It made too many things that hadn't made sense before suddenly fall into place.

"Both," she replied succinctly.

"Professionally, you would have made an unstoppable team. You have the creative flair and she has the business acumen to be successful on any project you were on. And you would have balanced one another perfectly - more adventure in her life... less impetuousness in yours." He stopped speaking and Simone arched a brow at him.

"And personally?"

He winced. He hoped what he had already said had been enough. Apparently not. "Personally, I think you would have made great friends."

She eyed him skeptically. "Friends... is that all?"

He met her eyes stubbornly. "That is all *I* could push for. Anything else had to be your own doing."


Wainwright sighed. "But there is a very thin line between love and hate. Any hatred that passionate had to have a flip side. I hoped, given the right set of circumstances...."


He blinked. "What? Whaddya mean why?"

"It's not a difficult question, Billy. Why did you hope the hatred between your daughter and me would turn to something else?? No one wants their kid to be gay, even in this age of 'enlightenment'."

"I told you...."

"NO! Not that bullshit again!" She huffed out a breath. "You know what... it doesn't matter. You just do yourself a favor - stay out of my way and stay out of my business. And as long as you keep your nose clean, I'll stay out of yours. You got it??" He nodded but kept his mouth shut. "Good," she said scathingly, her temper at the boiling point.

The phone ringing interrupted their stand-off and Wainwright heaved a sigh of relief. He'd never dealt with this Simone before and now he sent up a silent prayer that he'd never have to again. "The car is here," he informed her. "It will take you out to the runway where my private plane is waiting to return you to the City. My car will meet you there and deliver you home.

She nodded and headed out the door without another word.


Sara returned to work on crutches the following Monday to find Simone's office cleaned out - completely devoid of anything to show she had ever been there. She still hadn't spoken to her father.

Sara had soaked in the tub for an hour as soon as she'd gotten inside. When she was done, the doctor had wrapped her ankle and cautioned her to stay off of it as much as possible. She'd called down to have the jet prepped for flight back to the City, only to discover it had already been dispatched. She gave instructions for it to be recalled as soon as possible and then called down for dinner. As long as she was going to be stuck here, she might as well be comfortable.

Bunny delivered her meal, taking a bit of time to fuss over Sara like a real mother would. She tried to break the ice, encouraging Sara to talk, but all she got for her efforts were one word answers or grunts. Giving it up as a lost cause for the moment, the housekeeper kissed Sara's forehead as though she was checking for a fever. Then she left quietly, wondering what on earth William Wainwright had done to cause such upheaval in the household. All the staff had been told was that Sara and a friend had gone camping but had run into a bit of trouble. Bunny wondered what exactly the real truth was - and wondered if she'd ever find out.

It had taken until the following morning before Sara could fly back to the City and she'd done so without a word to her father. She'd figured he was exercising the better part of valor at the moment, but all she'd felt was relief that she had no need to see him. She'd taken the remainder of the week to recover her wits and heal up the worst of the scrapes and bruises she had acquired.

When she walked in on Monday morning, every eye in the place had tracked to her and just as quickly skittered away. Sara didn't even acknowledge them, her fury still too close to the surface. Instead she went straight to her office, her unfortunate assistant trailing along behind her.

She sat down and went immediately to work. Even without Simone's irritating presence, Sara still had a number of accounts to manage. And while it wasn't the same without an argument to interrupt her on a regular basis, Sara found she could actually get more work done that way.

The thought lasted until lunch.


William Wainwright called Sara into his office just as she was ready to step out of her office and go to lunch. The look she gave him should have turned him to ash in the spot, but since they were at work, no scathing retort followed. Instead, she hobbled down to his office and he closed the door behind her as he motioned her to a seat. She refused and remained standing.

"Sit down, Sara."

"No thank you; I prefer to stand."

He blew out a deep breath. Her ire was still burning very hot. "Suit yourself," he agreed as he resumed his seat. "I thought I told you to work things out with Simone - you were not to return until you had done so." He waited but she made no comment. "So as I see it, you're not even supposed to be here."

"As I see it... neither are you."

"Oh? How do you figure?"

"Kidnapping will get you put in jail for a very long time." He blanched at the seriousness of her tone, but otherwise gave no reaction to her words.

"Be that as it may," he finally relented when it was clear she was not going to continue. "Until such time as the two of you can work things out together between you, you are not to return to work in any capacity."

"You're firing me?!?"

"Think of it as a leave of absence. I'm not cutting you off, Sara...." She held up her hand and he stopped trying to explain his actions.

"You can't," she sneered, "but you know what... I don't rightly give a fuck right now. Don't call me."

"Sara, I'm doing this for your own good!!"

"NO!" she fumed. "You're doing this because you hate to lose! No wonder Mom left!" She opened the door, slamming it against the wall hard enough to make the books shake. Sara didn't care; she limped through the doorway and back into her office.

Her assistant looked up in surprise. "Ms Wainwright?"

Sara took a deep breath. Julie was one of the few people she believed had nothing to do with her fiasco the week before. "Julie, can you find me a box and call the driver to let him know I need a ride home, please?" She cursed herself for not being able to drive today of all days.

"Yes ma'am. Anything else?"

"Come into my office when you're done." Julie nodded and moved from behind her desk to open the door for Sara before leaving for the copy room to collect a box. She had a bad feeling about this.

As expected, Sara had all of her personal belongings in a single spot by the time Julie returned from the copy room. "You're leaving?"

"Not officially," Sara answered wryly. "But I don't expect to be back, either. My father has made my situation here intolerable. I seriously doubt he's going to change his position any time soon and I can't work like this anymore. I'll make sure he finds a place for you. I know Grace was looking for some help...." trailing off when Julie shook her head.

"Not if it means I have to work directly for him. Not all of us were in on the little scheme to get you and Ms Marcone together. Most of us figured you'd work it out or not in you own time, you know... like regular folks do."

"That would have been nice." They finished putting away her personal effects and then Julie hefted the box.

"Come on, Ms Wainwright... I'll walk you down. The car is waiting."

Sara ignored the curious looks that followed her to the elevator. She waited until the doors closed behind them before she looked at Julie. "You decide what you want to do, and I'll make it happen. No reason you should lose your job because of Billy's idiocy."

"You're really pissed with him, huh?"

"Let's just say I don't see spending any time with him in the foreseeable future."

"Do you know what you're going to do next?"

Sara shook her head. "No... it's not like I was planning to have to make a life-changing decision today." The doors dinged and opened and Julie held the door to allow Sara to step through first, then she followed behind. The driver opened the car door and Julie slid the box across the floorboard before Sara slipped in. "You have my numbers... call me when you figure out what you want to do."

"Thanks, Ms Wainwright." Then Julie closed the door and the driver pulled into traffic.


William Wainwright didn't believe for one minute he'd heard the last from his daughter. Sara was many things, but demure had never been among them. He knew she'd be back if only to finish reaming him out for interfering in her life. Yet days became a week and then two, and there wasn't a peep from her - and worse, she refused to see him or return his calls.

He was trying to figure out how to fix the clusterfuck he'd created with his daughter when he received an unexpected visitor in the form of Simone Marcone; he almost didn't recognize her. The pants and jacket were both leather and custom cut to fit her long, lean frame. The shirt was silk, a deep blue that brought out the ice in her eyes.

"Ms Marcone," he greeted, extending a hand and watching as she took a seat across from him without accepting his handshake. The two men that accompanied her took up sentinel posts on either side of the door.

"Mr. Wainwright - did I not make myself perfectly clear? I thought I told you to leave your daughter alone. And yet it has been brought to my attention that she has been dismissed from your employ. Is that true?"

He thought about demanding explanations from her, but the look in her eyes made him more prudent than his first inclination would have made him. "I didn't dismiss her, Ms Marcone. She's on a leave of absence."

"Mr. Wainwright, don't try to dissimulate. I know the conditions you made for her to return to work, and I'm here to tell you that's not going to happen. So if you want to keep your daughter in your life, I'd suggest you learn to suck it up and start eating humble pie."

"Why do you care?"

"I want a solvent business, Mr. Wainwright. Your treatment of your daughter has made the rounds in business circles and confidence in you as a leader in the community is at an all time low. Find a way to fix this situation, Mr. Wainwright."

"Do you like being a bully, Ms Marcone?"

"I'm not a bully, Mr. Wainwright. I am a businesswoman... not of my own choosing either, I'd like to add. So if this is uncomfortable for you, I suggest you look in the mirror. The only one to blame for this entire situation is you."

He stood from his place. "I think it's time for you to go, Ms Marcone."

"I'd agree, Mr. Wainwright," she said as she stood. "But I also think it's time for you to grow the fuck up and stay the hell out of other people's lives. Worry about your business and let everyone else take care of themselves. You'll sleep better at night." She turned and walked to the door.

"May I ask you a question?" Simone turned and arched a brow above eyes filled with impatience. He sighed and pressed on. "What happened between you and Sara? Don't," he said when she shook up her head. "I know something did - you went from antagonistic competitors to downright enemies."

"It really doesn't matter, and frankly it's none of your business."

"Do you understand that I did this for Sara's happiness?"

"I understand you'd like to think so. Mr. Wainwright, don't make me come back here again." The door closed on Simone and her entourage and Wainwright sank back into his chair. How was he going to fix this?


Sara was thrilled to walk down the sidewalk without crutches for the first time in ten days. The cane was something of an imposition, but it was an inconvenience she was happy enough to deal with. Especially since it meant she could get out of the city for a while.

Sara had taken the unexpected time off to consider all her options and decided she wanted a fresh start - away from William Wainwright, away from Wainwright Industries and away from Simone Marcone. She was going to even try a new line of work - thanks to her grandmother, she could afford to. First, though, she was going to visit her mother.

"What did he do?" Adrianne Wainwright asked when she opened the door.

Sara chuckled ruefully and accepted her mother's hug once she was inside. "How can you tell?"

"You have the same look I've seen in the mirror every time I've had to deal with your father since long before you were born." She watched Sara hobble across the room to the couch. "What in the world happened to you?"

"Long story."

"I've got the time if you do. Can I get you something to drink?" Sara shook her head.

"Can I ask you a question?" Adrianne nodded and took a seat. "How in the hell did you put up with him as long as you did?"

Adrianne smiled and combed Sara's hair back from her forehead. "I had you," as though that explained everything. "Did he do this to you?" motioning to the cane.

"Not directly, though he is responsible for it."

"Oh I can't wait to hear this."

So Sara told her mother everything, from the moment she'd woken up beside Simone until the moment he'd dismissed her from Wainwright Industries.


Sara shook her head. "Why what? Why did he kidnap us? Why did he fire me? Why is he suffering from a God complex? C'mon, Mom... you're going to have to be more specific."

"Well, Billy's always suffered from a God complex, sweetheart," she proclaimed drolly. "And I'm sure he thought firing you would bring you back into line quicker." Adrianne shook her reddish head. "You'd have thought he'd have learned that lesson with me - it ended in divorce. He kidnapped you and... what was her name? Anyway," before Sara could respond. "He tried to force the two of you to reach the resolution he wanted to end your conflict. You should have filed charges against him, you know. No... my question is why did he think you would be able to resolve the issues between you to his satisfaction by forcing you together in such a manner?"

"He's delusional? I don't know. We never got along, right from the first. And things only grew more strained between us as time went on. If he'd shown any sense at all, he simply would have left us alone and kept our work separate from each other."

Adrianne made note of the odd fire in her daughter's eyes and determined to contact her ex-husband at her earliest opportunity to get the missing pieces of the puzzle. Something more was going on here and Adrianne wanted to know what it was.

"So," she said brightly, turning her attention back to Sara, "have you decided what you want to do for now... aside from knocking your father silly?"

"Actually, yes. I think I am going to go away for a bit - maybe see if I have that creative spark left in my soul anymore."

"Your grandmother would be happy to hear that."

Sara smiled. "I figure she's busy trying to figure out how to strike him down with lightning for being a jackass." Adrianne laughed.

"I never could understand how a woman like Charity Wainwright could have raised a child like Billy."

"Dumb luck," Sara snorted.

"I know you're angry sweetheart, but he is your father. Despite everything - because of everything - he loves you very much."

"Maybe... but for now he's going to have to learn to love from a distance. Otherwise, I might do something more rash than telling him off." She rose to her feet slowly and Adrianne stood with her.

"Do you know where you're going?"

"Rome... for now anyway. Maybe Paris or Barcelona after that. Nothing is set in stone yet."

"Well, keep in touch - a phone call... the occasional email - you know how to reach me." Adrianne opened her arms and took Sara in a firm embrace for several long minutes. Finally, they both pulled back, assuring one another with their eyes and exchanging a brief kiss. "Take care of yourself, little girl. I hope you find what you're searching for."

"Mom, I'd settle for a little peace."

Adrianne closed the door behind her daughter when she left and leaned against it. "What the hell have you done, Billy Wainwright?"


Salvatore Amici sat behind his desk contemplating the man and woman who sat in front of him. He'd invited them in an attempt to understand what had happened to bring Simone back to the Family. Not that he was complaining - on the contrary, he couldn't have asked for a better circumstance as far as the Family was concerned. He'd coveted her skill and acumen from the first, but he had promised his sister to look out for her only child... not to force her into the Family business. He'd been disappointed when Simone had chosen another path, but Sal had kept his word.

Now he looked at her former employer, wondering what could have happened to cause Simone to leave a career she'd loved - despite the antagonism she shared with this couple's only child. Privately, Sal felt Simone had relished the arguments between them - whether she admitted it or not, she enjoyed the fire and passion she and Sara brought out in each other. But that was a matter of discussion for another day. Today was about finding out what had changed.

"I'm not going to waste time with platitudes," Sal said without preamble. "I want to know what caused Simone to leave your employ," directing his words to William Wainwright. "I want to know what happened between your daughter and my niece to drive her away from a job that she loved."

Wainwright flinched under the weight of Sal's stare, his guilt only compounded by the look his ex-wife bestowed on him. He cleared his throat awkwardly.

"I'm afraid her leaving her job so abruptly is strictly my fault, but the reason behind it is their responsibility - Simone's and Sara's." Sal leaned forward in his seat, placing his folded hands on his desk and cocking his head in a listening attitude. When Billy Wainwright didn't immediately continue speaking, Sal growled and glared at him.

"Would you care to elaborate?" he invited, though it was noticeably *not* optional.

Wainwright cleared his throat again. "I was trying to decide the best way to tell it."

"Oh, for God's sakes, Billy. Just tell us the truth," Adrianne said with more than a hint of exasperation. "Personally I think we deserve to know why you did what you did to our kids!"

Sal looked at the woman in front of him, a slight twinkle in his eye. Obviously, Adrianne Wainwright knew something, and she was mightily pissed about it. He turned to her.

"You know something?"

"Only what my daughter shared with me - why Simone left the company like she did." She looked back at Billy and glared. "You knew better... so what I want to know is why you felt the need to interfere in the first place. They were doing their work - what gave you the right...?"

Sal held up his hand. "Would one of you fill me in on why Simone left, please? All she said was creative differences and while I know that those existed, I also know that isn't the reason she left."

Adrianne and Sal both looked at Billy, but he kept his eyes firmly on the ground. Adrianne turned back to Sal. "Let me share with you what Sara told me before she left."

"Wait... you know where Sara is?" Wainwright asked his ex.

"Yes," Adrianne said succinctly. "And no... I'm not going to tell you." She looked back at Sal and filled him in on what she knew, not leaving out any of the details Sara had shared. "Apparently Billy felt their animosity towards each other was hurting morale and productivity."

"I see. And what did you think to accomplish with your actions, Mr. Wainwright? Did you not consider all the ramifications of what you were doing?"

"I thought I had. I believed if they had to and could learn to work together without antagonism or rancor, things would work out like they were supposed to for everyone. Productivity would skyrocket, morale would improve and Sara and Simone would find happiness."

"Why would you think that, Billy? They never pretended anything more than a cordial dislike for one another. What the hell gave you the right to decide that??"

"Because hate is not the only passionate emotion in the world and I know there was more between them - I saw it!"

The silence that fell after his pronouncement was all-encompassing. Not even the sound of breathing could be heard.

"Explain." The statement was cold and flat and Wainwright couldn't miss the edge in Sal Amici's voice.

Billy cleared his throat. "It was late - the office was empty except for Simone and Sara although I didn't know that when I went in. I thought the cleaning crew was working; it didn't occur to me that it would be otherwise." He drew a deep breath. "I'd stopped by to pick up some paperwork I needed for an early morning offsite meeting. I didn't announce myself - there was no reason to. I gathered what I needed from my office and headed right back out." Billy stopped again to swallow.

"I had just opened my office door to leave when I heard Sara literally crash out of her office before tracking her progress right to Simone's door. She didn't bother to knock - she simply slammed the door open and started yelling. From what I could gather, she was informing Simone in no uncertain terms that she was an idiot if she thought she was going to approve the funding for whatever proposal Simone had made. Of course Simone wasn't going to take anything from Sara sitting down and got right back into her face."

"And???" Adrianne asked after the silence dragged on interminably.

"And?" Billy repeated. He shrugged. "They stopped for a long moment, simply staring at one another. It seemed to me like they hesitated for the briefest moment... wanting to reach out to one another. But instead they turned away from each other - Sara back to her office and Simone to her desk. After that, their relationship went downhill. Cordial dislike became outright animosity and they took great pains to never be alone together again."

Billy stopped speaking and silence fell while Sal considered his words. Adrianne just covered her eyes with her hand and shook her head in disbelief. Finally....

"Why did you assume they wanted to reach out to one another? Why assume that there was anything more than anger between them? According to you, that is all you had seen from them... before or since. Why do you believe this was different?"

Wainwright sighed audibly, rising from his seat and pacing behind them while scratching the back of his neck. "You would've had to have seen it - there was just a different vibe for that moment. I was hoping.... I just don't understand why they refused to acknowledge it."

"The point is," Adrianne spoke up before Sal could formulate a response, "that it was really none of your business. If they were bad for morale, then you should have separated them - taken them out of a position to have to interact with one another. Do you realize what you've done? Better yet, do you know how to fix it?"

Billy chuckled nervously. "Fix it? Despite my best intentions, this situation is fucked up beyond all repair. I don't think any further involvement on my part will serve to make things better."

"Perhaps I should take care of this," Sal said after another awkward moment of silence. He folded his hands and pressed them lightly against his lips. "You might have had the right idea, Wainwright; you simply suffered from poor execution."

"You think you can do better?" Billy sneered.

"I know I can," Sal announced calmly.

"And you're willing to risk your niece's wrath?"

For the first time, Sal gave them a genuine smile. "My niece is not here by her own choice, and she has not been happy since she returned to the Family. She'll get over it... eventually."

"And Sara?"

Sal shrugged. "I do not know your daughter, madam, therefore I cannot say for certain. What you and her father need to decide is if it is worth the risk. When you have reached a decision - if it is in favor of taking action to repair things, I will make the necessary arrangements."

"Do you really think it will work, Mr. Amici?"

"I think we have nothing to lose by trying again."

"Do it," Adrianne stated bluntly, holding up her hand to keep William Wainwright silent. "No, Billy... not this time. You don't get a vote. You haven't seen what your little fiasco did to our daughter. I've never seen her so angry...."

"And you want to exacerbate that anger by interfering a second time?"

"It's a little late for you to be worrying about the consequences, Billy. You started this. We're just trying to limit the damage you've done."

"And if it backfires?"

"Then you'll be no worse off than you are now and neither will Sara!" Adrianne drew a calming breath. "Billy... we have to do something. If what you said is true, then we have to try."

William Wainwright sighed and nodded at Sal. "All right, but if it doesn't work, I will take full responsibility. There is no reason to force them to turn their backs on all of us."

"Have a little faith, Wainwright - I'm not going to be a generous as you were."


"Fuck!" Simone griped as she blinked blue eyes open then slammed them shut, groaning as she rolled onto her side to keep from puking as she experienced a distinct sense of déjà vu. "Goddamnit... not again." She concentrated on breathing slowly, hoping to settle the sense of nausea that rolled through her body. "Tell me this is a fucking nightmare and I am just imagining that my life is repeating itself."

"Son of a bitch," Sara grumbled and curled into a ball. "I'm gonna kill him this time. I don't think a jury would convict me after this." Sara closed her eyes again, hoping to dispel the queasiness that made her want to upchuck her guts. When she finally felt a little of her equilibrium return, she forced her eyes open and peered at Simone. "You all right, Bleeder? You look a little green."

Simone opened her eyes, allowing Sara to see her misery briefly before closing them once more. She couldn't hide it and her pride was not worth the effort it took to pretend at the moment. Sara sighed and wondered if Simone felt as bad as she looked and in turn how badly she looked considering she felt like she'd been ridden by an elephant then pooped on for good measure.

Silence fell between them so absolute not even their slow, measured breathing could be heard without serious focus. However, if one had taken the time and the effort to do so, one would have noted that there was only one set of breathing - they were in perfect sync.

Time passed, though neither woman was aware of just how much time had passed. Eventually though, they were able to blink their eyes open without their heads pounding or their stomachs roiling. They did so, sitting up slowly until they were able to take in their surroundings.

It was a large, one room cabin complete with a small kitchen area of sorts, a bathroom sectioned off by glass blocks and a living/bedroom combination with a fireplace. They exchanged disbelieving looks and Simone rose shakily to her feet.

"You don't get to kill him... I do. 'Cause your old man didn't do this - Sal did."

"And you know this how?"

Simone pointed to the dartboard whose background was that of her uncle in hunting attire with an envelope pinned in the middle. "My Aunt made that years ago."

Sara's eyes widened. "Musta been a hell of a marriage," she muttered.

"They're still married," Simone said absently. "But they may not be when I got finished with him." She pulled the envelope from the board and opened it up, reading aloud.

Simone, (it read)
The time has come for you and Ms Wainwright to resolve whatever differences there are between you. The extent and the outcome of said resolution is entirely up to the two of you - unlike William Wainwright, I am not looking for a storybook ending.
I want you to know I am thrilled about your homecoming - however, I am not convinced you are happy in your decision to return to the Family. And I promised your mother to look after your best interests, even when they went against my own. If after this is finished between the two of you, you still desire to be my right hand, I will welcome you back with open arms. No more questions will be asked nor will doubts about your motives be speculated upon again.
As for Ms Wainwright, I have secured the same agreement - once the two of you have reached some sort of solution to resolve whatever is affecting the both of you, she will be allowed to return to her job at Wainwright Industries if it is her wish to do so. If not, her parents will send her on her way in peace and will give their blessing on her new career as a writer and photographer besides.
I am certain by now you realize where you are, by reputation if not by familiarity. Please do not try to leave here - it is currently not safe to do so. We will return for you when it is. That should allow you plenty of time to work things out.
If you do some investigating, you will find that the cabin is well stocked with basic dry good and there is running water. There is, however, no electricity. You will need to chop wood for your fires, hunt game for your meat and essentially learn to survive up there together for the next three to four months. There are emergency medical supplies in the basement, but try not to need them. I have assured Carmena that this is perfectly safe - and it will be as long as you are careful.
I am certain you are cursing my name at this point and to some extent I cannot blame you. I would never have gotten involved in this if William Wainwright had not made such a cock up of his effort to 'fix' things. Actually, if he had left you two alone to begin with, this would have been unnecessary, but we can discuss the semantics of the situation when you return.
Look at this as a business problem that needs an outcome that will satisfy everyone involved. I am certain the two of you will be able to come up with something. We will see you in the spring.

They were mute for several moments after that, trying to absorb the unreality of their situation. "I do not fucking believe this," Simone finally muttered. "I hope Carmena has good insurance on him because I'm gonna kill him and make it look like an accident. Then I'm gonna kill him again just for grins and giggles."

"I have a better idea," Sara fumed. "Why don't we send them to jail together? It'll be just like this for them only it will last for years, and they can be someone else's bitch for a while."

Simone snorted. "Nice to see that mean streak focused somewhere else for a change."

Sara shrugged. "Give me a few. You're the only real target I've got here." She sighed. "Are we really stuck here for the next three or four months?"

"I dunno exactly. I only know this place by reputation; I've never actually been here." Simone slowly stood up and stretched. Sara rose as well and they went to the door - only to find snow on the ground when they opened it. "Dammit!"

Sara looked out at the landscape for a long moment before turning her attention back to Simone who had already retreated back inside. "Where are we?" she asked, shivering and closing the door behind her. She watched Simone drop onto the couch and decided to prowl around the cabin while she waited for an answer.

It was spacious, all things considered. The kitchen had a large, old working woodstove, several large wooden cabinets and a long bar with several stools that separated it from the living area. The bathroom area was large and open with a different function in each corner all separated by half-walls. The living area took up the largest part of the cabin by far. The fireplace sat in the middle of one wall, flanked on either side by full bookshelves. There was a couch in front of the fireplace and two custom length bunk beds against the wall opposite the door.

"Well, that's a blessing at any rate," Sara muttered to herself, crossing her arms over her chest. "At least they don't expect us to share a bed."

"Yeah, that'd be about the perfect end to this stellar day," Simone snarked. Sara opened her mouth to make a scathing retort but Simone continued to speak. "We are so fucking screwed."

"I thought that was what this was about... screwing us."

"Get your head out of your ass for two seconds! Can you hunt... or cut firewood? Because I have never done either and I'm pretty sure we're gonna need those two skills eventually."

"Get *my* head out of *my* ass?? Stupid bi...!" So much for a lasting truce, Sara thought as she blew out a breath. "As a matter of fact, I can do both - I learned on the ranch when I was a kid. But why don't we just leave? The snow is not that deep yet."

Simone blew out her own deep breath, frustrated beyond words at the moment. She was angry... furious, actually... but for a change it wasn't directed at the woman she was once more forced to share living space with. As far as Sara was concerned, Simone was tired to the point of exhaustion. "Look, I don't wanna be here with you any more than you wanna be here with me, but since we're stuck here for a while, I'm gonna try and explain this without getting angry at you."

"That'd be a nice change. Does that mean we're under a truce now?"

"Whatever." She ran her hands through her hair. "You know who Sal Amici is?" waiting for Sara to nod her head after her eyes had widened significantly. "He's my uncle. When his grandfather... my great-grandfather... was young, he was already a big part of the Family business. And he decided he wanted a place to get away from everything... somewhere so remote that no one could reach him... where he needed to arrange transportation in and out before he came here. I don't know how the place was built - it was completed long before I was born.

Since then, the location of this place has been kept secret, handed down from fathers to sons as they reached puberty. Sal broke tradition and brought Carmena once - she hated it. Hence the dartboard," Simone motioned towards the wall. "All I know is that this place is remote and is located far enough north of the equator that snow is sticking to the ground and already starting to pile up before fall is officially over. I don't know what country, what continent... hell, I don't even know which hemisphere we're in, so we could be south of the equator for all I know."

"Well, that's just fucking great," Sara grumbled in an exasperated tone. "Bleeder, I've got to tell you - what my father did was over the top, but this... this takes the cake. Now what?"

Simone shrugged. "I wish to hell I knew."


"Are you sure this is going to work, Amici?" Sal raised his eyebrow at William Wainwright's familiarity. Rocky stepped forward to correct him, but Sal waved him off and the big man blended back into the wall. Wainwright noticed though and cleared his throat awkwardly. "I mean...."

Sal held up his hand. "I do not see that we have a choice at this point, Wainwright. The situation had to be rectified and steps have been taken to insure that the two of them have the time they need to work things out."

"So where did you put them?"

"That does not concern you. What matters now is that they settle whatever is between them without further interference from anyone."

"Mr. Amici, are they safe?"

Carmena covered Adrianne's hands with hers before Sal could open his mouth to respond. "Don't worry, my dear. My Sal knows not to let anything happen to Simone." Her dark eyes twinkled. "Everyone may answer to Sal Amici, but Sal Amici answers to me," she said with a pointed look in his direction. Sal merely smiled and raised his hands, deferring to her summation.

Adrianne Wainwright joined Carmena Amici's laughter. William Wainwright was smart enough to remain silent and straight-faced. He had no desire to meet Rocky up close and personal.


They had gone through their supplies, pleased to have found a well stocked cellar and logs already felled and waiting to be chopped into smaller pieces. There was a good supply of cut wood on hand, extra blankets, a stack of writing tablets and several sketch pads, pencils in a variety of colors and Sara's camera bag with rolls of film.

They had ventured around briefly while they'd been outdoors, satisfied that they had absolutely no idea where there were. The only thing they had been able to determine was the direction of the sun, and that hadn't been particularly enlightening. Happily, there was a small tool shed with all the tools they might need set up next to the cabin as well as a lean-to that covered the already cut wood.

Now they were sitting in front of the fireplace struggling to light it. Though the cabin was solid and well-insulated against the cold, a fire would go a long way towards cutting the chill both felt in their bones. Besides, there was something about a fire that was comforting, and they were both in need of a little of that.

So naturally they fell back into their comfortable pattern of fighting as well, ignoring how much the barbs cut and stung one another.

"Wait... let me get this straight," Simone said as she stood to get some space from Sara. "You were taught to handle an axe and a gun, but you weren't taught to build a fire without matches?!?" They had already searched for matches or a lighter and had come up empty.

"YES!" Sara shouted, standing stiffly. "Didn't I just *say* that?? God, is there something wrong with your hearing as well as your mind that you aren't getting this or are you just purely stupid?!"

"I am NOT stupid!!" Simone growled, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Neither am I," Sara mumbled, suddenly tired. "Look... we can figure this out. I saw Papa do it on occasion, but he died before he taught me. And my father never had the time."

Simone nodded but didn't answer. She had a feeling Sara was leaving a lot out, but ultimately, she didn't think it was her business. "So how do we do this?"

"We need some kindling... something to pack between the logs to help them catch," gratefully accepting the change of subject, though she knew Simone already knew this. She had no desire to air her dirty laundry in front of her worst enemy - eventually they would be out of this place and Sara wasn't going to give Simone any ammunition to use against her when they did. "Newspaper or moss or...." Sara scratched her head. "Hang on," going out the door that went directly into the shed. "Aha!"

Simone's eyebrow sailed into her hairline and she waited for Sara to return. When she did, the second brow joined the first. Sara held a small basket of wood chips. "Kindling," Sara explained succinctly as she knelt in front of the fireplace. Simone nodded and stepped back to allow Sara to work.

Once the wood was laid and the chips were packed into the spaces between the logs, Sara motioned to the two rocks sitting on the mantle. Simone picked up a flint and striker and held them out. "You have got to be kidding me."

Sara shook her head. "It's all we've got," reaching for the tools. She tried several times before her frustration started to get the better of her. Without a word, Simone gently lifted them from Sara's grasp, striking three times before the sparks caught. Sara glared briefly, then decided she was too tired to argue about it. Simone just shrugged and returned the flint and striker to the mantle.

"You hungry?"

It was Sara's turn to shrug. "A little. Still kind of nauseated from that crap they keep knocking us out with. It makes me just want to...."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," Simone replied, rubbing the back of her neck again. "Feels like they smacked me in the head with a slugger."

Unexpectedly, Sara stepped up behind her and gently ran her hands over the back of Simone's skull. Simone froze, unable to breathe. "I don't feel anything," she said, dropping her arms and moving into the kitchen. "What do you want to eat?"

Simone blinked. "Something easy... maybe a sandwich. I'll start cooking tomorrow, but tonight...."

"Yeah - tomorrow we'll sit down and figure out what the hell we need to do over the next few months. Tonight I just want to eat a bite and go to bed. Fur rugs or not, this floor isn't that comfortable." Simone nodded and soon they were eating peanut butter and jelly.

"This isn't the same without milk."

"No, but at least I don't feel like puking now. Top or bottom?" Sara asked, pointing to the beds. Simone shrugged. "I'll take the top then. I think the bottom was made for tall people. 'Night."

Simone didn't even bother to dissimulate - she just followed Sara to the beds and collapsed in hers. With any luck, things would look better when she woke up.


"Okay... this is not better," Simone grumbled as she blinked her eyes open. The sun was up, but the air around her was noticeably cooler than the warmth under her blankets. Still, it wasn't getting any warmer lying there, so she jumped from the bed, cursing under her breath all the way to the fireplace.

She snagged more wood from the wood box, building it up carefully the way she'd seen Sara do it the night before. She stuffed kindling in the spaces and stood up to grab the striker and flint.

"Damn," Sara griped as she stuck her head out into the cool air surrounding her outside her cocoon. "I forgot to bank the fire last night - not that I actually know *how* to bank a fire." The sound of the fire being lit caused her to open her eyes and turn her head. "Hey... nice job on the fire there, Bleeder."

"Many skills," Simone snarked, turning to light the woodstove. "Breakfast?"

Sara bit her lip to keep from making the retort that had sprung to her lips at Simone's biting tone. "Sure... can I help?"

Simone shrugged. "If you wanna. Figure we may as well use up the perishables while we've got 'em and they're still good."

Sara nodded and climbed from the bed, unwilling to jump after having sprained her ankle once before. They couldn't afford to get hurt out here; they were completely cut off... literally on their own. She crossed to the kitchen area, just in time to see Simone jerk her hand from the stove and cradle her arm.

"Let me see," Sara said, reaching for the injured limb. Simone glared at her and clutched it tighter to herself. "Bleeder...." She sighed. "Simone, please. We don't have to like one another, but we do need to work together as long as we're stuck here. There is no one to bail us out if something happens - we have to look out for each other, all right?" Simone held her gaze for a long moment before holding her hand out. Sara looked down and winced. The gash was deep, but cleanly sliced. "Let me get the first aid supplies and clean that up. Then we'll see if we can fix what did it."

Simone waited until Sara had gone to the cellar, then tilted her head to find the ragged piece of metal inside the stove that had done this. Then she pushed against it until it was flush against the side. Sara returned while her hand was still inside the oven and she shook her head. She waited until Simone pulled her hand back out to keep from causing another accident, spending the time preparing the things she needed from the kit and having them ready when she knelt down beside her again.

"Couldn't stand it, hmm? Not that I blame you," she said conversationally as she gently wiped the blood from Simone's arm. Blue eyes widened as the alcohol burned in and around the cut, but otherwise there was no reaction. "This is going to sting a little," Sara warned before sprinkling alum into the cut. Simone took a deep breath and released it slowly, then Sara spread ointment over it before applying a bandage. "All done."

"Thanks," Simone said quietly.

Sara patted her hands and stood. "Thank you for trusting me. Now," she continued without hesitation, "I'll see what we've got for breakfast if you want to finish with the fire." Her tone was nonchalant as though Simone's injury made no difference in the scheme of things. "Then we can sit down and figure out what we need to do and how we want to do them."

"Sounds good," Simone agreed. Then she turned her attention back to the stove while Sara put away the kit and started pulling out items for their breakfast. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.


"Are you out of your mind?? Dammit, Miser - what did you just say to me this morning... about us looking out for each other?? What good is that gonna do if you don't look out for yourself?? God, show a little sense!"

"Sense?!?" Sara blew out a frustrated breath. "Look, Bleeder... as much as I appreciate the unexpected concern, I'll be all right. I needed to get this finished so we don't run short of firewood when the weather turns!"

"Whatever," Simone huffed. "I don't know why I bothered trying. You do what you want. I've got work of my own to do." And she turned and walked out of the cabin before Sara could respond.

"That could have gone better," Sara muttered and looked at her hands. They were cracked and bleeding, a result of her day's activities. She had cut and chopped firewood until it was stacked in rows against the entire backside of the cabin. But despite the pain she knew she was going to have for the next few days, Sara felt more comfortable knowing they had firewood sufficient to last for several days if necessary.

If anyone had asked, she wouldn't have been able to explain why she felt such urgency, but the fact was, for the first time in her life, Sara was terrified. She had never been in a situation even remotely like this and the feeling of being out of control was unnerving to say the least. The fact that she was stuck here with her worst enemy, who she didn't exactly hate, just added insult to injury.

Sighing, Sara continued on to the bathroom, running cold water over her hands until the blood was gone and she was able to wrap them. It was awkward and several times she cursed herself for shrugging off Simone's help. But she managed and finally sat down, her whole body crying in relief. Despite the fact that she exercised regularly and was considered fit, nothing had prepared Sara for the level of activity that would be necessary to survive here or the pain that accompanied it.

She stretched out on the couch, closing her eyes and falling into a light meditation as she willed her body to relax. She never realized when she fell asleep.

It was after dark when Simone returned to the house, noting immediately that the fire was low and Sara seemed to be asleep on the couch. Pushing aside her irritation, she crossed to the fireplace and added wood, waiting until the flames caught again before she rose. She felt Sara's eyes on her, but studiously ignored them, turning to go into the kitchen instead.

Simone carefully stoked the woodstove, smiling in satisfaction when it started to heat and moving the kettle to the center to heat quickly. She moved back to the door and removed her outerwear, then returned to the kitchen to begin preparing something light and hot for supper.

"So did you finish whatever chores you had outdoors?" Sara asked calmly as she sat up, blinking her eyes in the near-darkness.

"Does it matter?"


"No! Look, Miser... we have to share this house - we're stuck here, so there's no real choice at this point. That will involve sharing chores and space to survive until whenever the fuck Sal plans to come get us from our personal little hellhole. It doesn't mean we need to share conversation or anything else that requires us to interact on a personal level. You've made it more than clear that you don't trust me enough for that and I am too damn tired to keep fighting with you about it. So you take care of your part of the work and I'll do mine, and other than that, we'll just mind our own business."

Sara kept waiting for Simone to offer her the chance to agree... or not as was the case in point here, but she didn't. Instead, she turned back to her preparations and left Sara sitting with her eyes wide and her mouth open. It took a full minute for her body to catch up with her racing mind.

"Waitaminute... since when do you get to make a decision like that?? What gives you the right...?" She sputtered for a moment. "This is not a dictatorship!!"

"You said your piece - I said mine. Discussion over," Simone declared flatly as she turned her back to Sara.

"I don't think so, Bleeder... not by a long shot. And I've got all winter to prove my point." Simone closed her eyes and grit her teeth together when she heard Sara's growled vow, though there was no change in her posture to indicated her frustration to the woman watching her closely for a reaction. Simone had one thought before forcing her attention on tuning Sara completely out.

I wish I had my goddamn iPod.


The next few days were an exercise in futility and frustration for both women. Sara's effort at breaking down Simone's walls was almost constant and only Simone's focus on her meditation allowed her to tune Sara out with any degree of success. For a week this went on - Sara keeping up a running dialogue and Simone all but ignoring her.

Simone spent as much time outdoors as she could manage, scouting out the area around the cabin and trying to determine where they were. She was having little success, which only added to her frustration.

Sara could do little until her hands healed, but she couldn't bear to be stuck inside alone. She tried to follow Simone, but found it nearly impossible. Whatever training Simone had been given on stealth in the City had somehow carried over to her ability to disappear in the woods. So instead she pulled out her paper and pencils and started writing, letting the words flow from her and putting her thoughts and frustrations down on paper. It was slow going with her painfully healing hands, but she found a sense of peace from doing so.

After a week of playing cat and mouse with one another, Sara's hands were sufficiently healed that she could return to cutting wood. First, however, she needed to go hunting. Their fresh food was nearly gone and they would need the fresh meat to supplement their diets.

"I need to go hunting tomorrow," Sara said as Simone handed her a plate. "We don't want to dig too deeply into our supplies too soon... not knowing how long we will actually be here."

Simone nodded but didn't say anything else. Sara frowned but didn't try to force the issue. She finally understood what Simone meant when she claimed to be too tired to fight anymore. She really wasn't up for it either any longer, and if it meant they lived in silence for the next few months, then so be it.

The following morning, Sara was up and out before Simone could even start breakfast. Simone's ire grew at her carelessness, knowing all too well what happened when Sara did not eat regularly. Still, Sara was correct in her assessment of their needs and Simone couldn't fault her logic. She just wished Sara would take better care of herself instead of expecting Simone to do it for her.

Simone went out into the lightly falling snow, hauling in a load of firewood and stacking it neatly in and around the wood box. Then she decided to try her hand at cutting - despite the animosity she still felt towards Sara, Simone saw no reason for the woman to suffer needlessly carrying the heaviest and most physical parts of the load that living here was.

It was slow going at first and her handiwork was much less precise than Sara's had been, but Simone was quite pleased with her effort. At least she would be able to contribute more than cooking and cleaning to their forced cohabitation.

"What the hell?!?" Sara's strident voice brought Simone whirling around, nearly losing her grip on the axe. Only a supreme effort on her part kept the tool from flying out of her hands and into some part of Sara. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Simone's frown cut deep creases in her forehead. "Trying not to give myself a goddamn hernia apparently. What the fuck does it look like??"

Sara dropped the animal hide she was carrying and leaned the gun against wood she had previously stacked. Then she started pacing back and forth. "God, Simone... what were you thinking?"

"I was thinking that I could learn to do this to help out!!"

Sara took a deep, calming breath. Now that Simone was talking to her... for whatever reason... she didn't want her to suddenly clam up. She held up conciliatory hands before she removed the axe from Simone's grip. "And if you want to learn to chop wood... well, that's wonderful and it's a great way to work out a lot of frustration. But," she added before Simone could cut in, "there are some things you need to know to do it safely... especially in this weather. And it's probably better if you don't start out without supervision - or at least someone nearby in case of an accident."

Simone pondered Sara's words for just a moment. "All right," she conceded, recognizing the experience behind her words for what it was. "I think I've done enough for today anyway. My hands...." Before she could finish her sentence, Sara had reached for Simone's hands, but Simone was quicker, pulling them away from Sara's grasp.

"What the...? Simone, let me see."

"No, Miser... no way. I told you we didn't need personal interaction and while your mouth protested, your actions have shown you absolutely agree with me. You don't take care of yourself and you don't let me take care of you. I can manage on my own just as well as you can, thanks." And with that, Simone stalked back into the cabin, walls firmly back in place. Sara watched her disappear around the corner before letting her shoulders sag in defeat.

"Dammit - I am such an idiot!" Then she picked up the rifle and animal hide and followed Simone inside with shuffling steps. It was going to be a long night.


"I owe you an apology," Sara said after she'd put the gun away and dropped the meat into the stockpot Simone already had sitting ready on the stove. Her words caused Simone to spin around so quickly she had to catch herself on the countertop to keep from falling over.

"Excuse me?! Since when do you apologize for anything??"

Sara took a deep breath and counted to ten before replying. "I am making an effort here. Please either meet me halfway or shut up so I can try to apologize before it turns into another fight." Simone nodded but kept her mouth shut. "Thank you." Sara sighed. "You were right, and I'm sorry. I said we had to work together and then turned you away instead of asking for help when I needed it. That was wrong of me and I'm going to try to do better."


Sara blinked. "Why?!? Why what???" her anger increasing with her volume. "Why did I say we needed to work together or why am I going to try to do better??"

"Why apologize? You could have simply made an effort to do better without this whole apology crap. I'd've wondered what the hell you were up to, but at least that would've been normal for us. Not once in the years we've known one another has either of us ever apologized for anything. Why start now??"

"Because we do need to work together and it would be easier if we're not always waiting for the next attack. And like you, I've gotten too damned tired to keep fighting with you all the time about everything. I don't expect us to be friends despite the interference in our lives that keeps forcing us together, but maybe we'll at least be able to come to some sort of equitable arrangement that allows us to have an occasional civil conversation that doesn't include 'pass the salt' or 'it looks like more snow is on the way'."

Simone actually grinned briefly at the thought and Sara held her breath. "That could be nice," she agreed, "as long as it is not constant, idle chatter."

"Yeah, you've never been one for meaningless chit chat, I noticed." Simone shrugged.

"Never saw the point."

"I always had to play the political game for my father, so I learned how to make inane conversation at a very early age. Great for cocktail parties but pointless otherwise. I think it's one reason I picked up such a litany of curse words - they were unacceptable in such company and therefore perfect as far as I was concerned." She clenched her hands and winced. Simone noticed and moved away, leaving Sara to follow her movements with her eyes - eyes which widened when Simone returned with a jar of lanolin.

"It'll help with the stiffness. Sal knew I'd need it in this weather," she added without giving a further explanation. It was on the tip of Sara's tongue to ask, but she let it go in the interest of the truce they had established. Maybe later, when the peace between them had lasted a while, she'd get up the nerve to ask. But not right now - things were too tentative.

"Thanks," she said, rubbing some gently into her hands and sighing in relief. "Um... I need to take care of the hide. Do you know how to cook rabbit?"

"I never have before, if that's what you're asking. I just thought we'd have stew."

Sara nodded. "Here," pulling a few ingredients from the cabinet. "These spices are ones I know go well with it. You may want to experiment and see what works best for you. Let me go wash out this hide and set it to drying."

Simone nodded, eyes following Sara's form into the bathing area. She was turning out to be quite the surprise.


The next few days passed awkwardly. Sara and Simone made an effort to communicate normally, but found after years of relating to one another by fighting almost constantly, maintaining level conversation took supreme effort from both of them. So there were a lot of silences between their sporadic dialogues. But some of their conversations....

"How did we wind up with such nice bathroom facilities?" Sara asked at the end of one particularly long day. The weather had picked up and turned into a blizzard before either woman had been aware of what was happening. So they'd spent the day moving as much wood as they could safely manage.

Now they were stretched out in front of the fireplace recovering, simply enjoying the experience of not moving. Sara's words broke into what had been a fairly pleasant silence and caused Simone to roll her head to one side and arch an eyebrow in surprise.

"Excuse me?"

Sara chuckled in embarrassment. "That was some segue, huh? Sorry, I was just experiencing a wave of consciousness and you caught the tail end. This place is solid, but it's also somewhat primitive - no electricity, no modern appliances, no way to communicate with civilization or even return on our own. And yet we have a modern bathroom with running hot water. Not that I'm complaining, mind you - not even close - but how did we end up with that particular creature comfort?"

"Carmena," Simone answered succinctly.

When she didn't say anything else, Sara prompted, "Would you like to elaborate?"

Simone shrugged. "Sal was trying to convince her what a great place this was, but he knew there was no way she'd spend any time here using an outhouse that had seen only men before. So he built a dream bathroom for her. He even had his engineers utilize the nearby hot springs to insure she would have plenty of hot water at her back and call."

"Only it wasn't enough," Sara commented, with a glance at the dartboard. Simone chuckled.

"Not even close. I never got the details... no one did. But Sal did end up taking Carmena on a very extensive trip to the old country afterwards. And he never tried it again. In fact...."

"Yes?" when the silence threatened to engulf them again. Simone shook her head.

"I think this is the first time anyone has stayed here since then."

Sara took her time and looked around again, noting the care that had been taken to make them comfortable during their enforced exile. "Kind of a shame... I mean, it's nice in a rustic sort of way. It certainly could have been worse."

"My opinion of Sal's intelligence after this stunt is not particularly high; however, even he is not stupid enough to have made it any worse. If not for our sake, then for his own."



"I would like to meet her some day."

"I'm sure we can figure something out. She'd like you."

"Do you really think so?"

Simone shrugged. "Sure... doesn't everybody?"

"You don't," came Sara's soft rejoinder, eyes focused on the fire in front of her. She felt Simone stiffen beside her. "Why?"

"Leave it alone, Miser; we're under a truce. Don't start something you don't want to finish," Simone growled.

"Please stop calling me that, Simone. I hate it!! I always have." She sighed. "Why can't you let it go already? Why does everything between us always turn into a fight??" Simone stood up to pace in front of the fireplace, only to be stopped when Sara stepped into her path. Sara reached out to Simone, only to have Simone flinch away from her.

"Let it alone, Miser."

"Dammit, Simone!"

"No! Just... just leave it, Sara - please," Simone pled, walking away from Sara. Her body language screamed for space and Sara dropped back onto the couch in frustration, giving the other woman whatever privacy she could afford her in their enclosed living area.

Goddamn, Sara thought forlornly. One step forward, ten steps back.

Something had to give... soon.


Simone looked out the window, eyes unseeing on the white darkness just beyond. She let her thoughts travel back years - to the time when she and Sara were in college together.

They'd met in the dorm that first night of college and right away there were sparks between them. It wasn't deliberate on either girl's part - they were simply two strong-minded people who did not agree on anything.

It was always that way between them - conflict and confrontation on every possible subject. If one said up, the other said down; if one said right, the other swore it was left; if one chose in then the other would choose out just on principle and so forth and so on it went between them. Simone got the feeling that Sara enjoyed their verbal battles as much as she did and they sometimes went out of their way to spar with their words.

Sara rushed her chosen sorority and became a sorority girl. Simone stayed away from that scene, preferring to focus her concentration on her studies. That, of course, only gave them both more fodder to use against one another.

The rest watched them in amusement - wondering when they two of them would figure out there was a thin line between love and hate and they had crossed from one side to the other.

Things went that way for three years, then Sara became president of her sorority and moved to the house for her final year. That was when things went to hell.

Simone's cousin Felicia had come to the college, wanting to spend one year with her only girl cousin. Despite the difference in age between them, Simone and Felicia had been great friends. Their fathers had been brothers and they'd spent lots of time at one another's house. Simone was looking forward to spending a little time with Felicia before they were both so busy with real life that they would no longer see each other except at the odd family function. Maybe they would be able to find a way to keep in touch when Simone left for graduate school in the spring.

Felicia decided she wanted to rush a sorority and when she couldn't talk the younger woman out of the idea, Simone recommended Sara's. Felicia took Simone's advice and soon found herself part of initiation ritual hazing. Every night, Felicia came in so late and so tired she could barely crawl into bed, but on the last night, she didn't come home.

At four in the morning, Simone was out searching for Felicia only to find her in their room when she returned from her search. She was passed out drunk on her bed and Simone shook her head in disgust. She hoped Felicia would be sick enough in the morning that she never got that drunk again. Simone felt her ire towards Sara grow - turning their arguments into something less teasing and more biting... faulting Sara for making Felicia falling down drunk as part of her hazing ritual.

The following month, Felicia came into their room crying and Simone immediately moved to comfort her and find out what was wrong.

"I'm pregnant," she whispered after many minutes of crying. "Simmy, I haven't been with anyone that I know of. How did I get pregnant?? Do you know what my father is going to do when he finds out?"

Simone bit her lip to keep from yelling obscenities. When she felt she had herself under control, she asked quietly, "Lish, what do you remember about your sorority rush week?"

Felicia thought back carefully to the events that had led to her induction into her sorority. "I have never been so tired in all my life. Who knew there were so many things that could be cleaned with a toothbrush?" not mentioning some of the things she'd had to 'clean'.

"What about the last night? The night you came home falling down drunk."

"I remember drinking some really good punch, and there were a lot of frat boys there from our corresponding fraternity. There was some dancing..." she paused, scrunching her forehead up in thought. "But I don't remember much after I became the filling part of a sandwich between one of the sisters and one of the frat boys."

"Do you know who the frat boy was?"

Felicia shook her head. "I would probably recognize him if I saw him again... maybe, but I don't know. I was pretty wasted. Why?"

"What's the next thing you remember?"

"Waking up here the next morning praying to die from the hangover I had."

Simone had sighed and embraced Felicia a little tighter. "I think you were more than drunk, Lish. I think you were under the influence of roofies." She hesitated when Felicia flinched in her embrace. "Sweetheart, I think you were raped."

Felicia stiffened then collapsed, her breathing rapid and shallow. "God, Simmy... what am I gonna do now? I can't be pregnant - my father'll kill me."

"Let me worry about that, Lish. We'll figure something out together."

A month later, Felicia was dead - an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol after an abortion Simone had learned about after the fact.

That had solidified the anger and animosity towards Sara in Simone's heart, and Sara learned very quickly how to bite back as hard as she could in self-defense.


Simone came back to the present when she realized Sara was puttering around quietly in the kitchen. Her anger grew exponentially and before it could manifest itself physically, Simone snatched her jacket from its peg by the door and rushed out into the cold, stormy night.

Sara watched her go, knowing no amount of interference from her would be welcome and would probably, in all actuality, lead to a physical confrontation. She recognized the signals from the times they had been close to violence before, feeling the tension that had been in Simone's tall frame echoed in her own. She wondered which part of their drama Simone had been remembering and let her mind trace back to the more recent altercation that had ultimately brought them to this time and place.

After her senior year, Sara had left Simone behind and transferred to a different school to get her MBA. It had been so peaceful not to be constantly exposed to vitriolic tirades and Sara found herself relaxing and enjoying her last year of college. When she was done, graduating with honors, her father had offered her a year's sabbatical in Europe before coming home to assume some of the financial responsibility for Wainwright Enterprises.

So she had taken him up on his offer and gone off to explore the Old World before settling down in the new one.

On her first day at work, she'd had the distinct displeasure of running into Simone Marcone... literally. She was coming out of her father's office and turned to say something to her father with a smile as she exited. With her focus on Billy instead of the hallway, she plowed into the body coming around corner with a hot cup of coffee. She started to apologize, only to freeze when she recognized the voice cursing under her breath.


The dark head jerked up, disbelieving her ears. When blue eyes met green, Simone's expression went cold, then blank. She didn't answer, but simply stepped around Sara without a word and went into an office further down the hallway. Sara turned back to her father who had come to the door just as Simone had walked off.

"You two know each other?"

Sara nodded slowly. "We've met," she stated but she didn't add anything else. Billy looked at her slowly, trying to gauge her feelings but her face remained impassive. Finally he nodded.

"Good. I think the two of you will make a great team on some new projects we have coming up soon," ignoring their interaction. "Now go settle in; I'll give you a few days to get your feet under you and then I'll bring you up to speed. I think you'll like it here, honey. I'm glad you're home." He reached an arm around her shoulders and hugged her to him.

"Me too, daddy - thanks."

Billy had been true to his word and started putting them together on assignments. At first things had been tense, but Simone and Sara had kept their distance, speaking through aides and subordinates. Eventually, however, they found it necessary to interact with one another and that led to their first big blowout... things picking up where they had left off over two years before.

For over a year this went on, with each fight becoming a little more volatile... a little uglier. And yet it never crossed into the personal - always focusing their anger on the aspects of their jobs that continued to bring them into conflict.

Then one night... it all changed.

The building was empty except for the two of them and Sara had found a number of overcharges in the budget Simone was supposed to be working under. She huffed and got up to confront her.

"Simone, what the hell is wrong with you that you can't manage to complete a project under budget??" she asked after blowing into the room without knocking.

"Do you know how to knock, Miser?? The door was closed for a reason. So get out."

"I don't think so, Bleeder. I am damn sick and tired of going through this every single time we have to work together. None of the rest...."

"I don't care about the rest," Simone grated as she rose and leaned over the desk. "I do the job Billy pays me to do. Deal with it!"

"Who the hell do you think you are?"

"I know who I am... do you?"

"What the... why don't you grow the fuck up?!?"

Simone's eyes actually grew colder and her jaw clenched almost painfully tight. "I did that already... the night I found my cousin's dead body in her bed after she committed suicide for being raped and having an abortion of the pregnancy the rape caused. All because I told her your sorority was the best to rush," tears filling her eyes but Simone refused to allow them to fall. "It's your fault she died as much as it is mine."

Sara's eyes widened as she realized what Simone was talking about. "Felicia Marcone was your cousin," she stated flatly. "Oh God... I didn't realize.... Simone, you have to believe it wasn't my fault. I would have never...."

"The real shame of it is that I could have loved you, Sara. I did love you." Without another word, Simone snatched her purse from her desk and walked to the door. "I can't live like this anymore. I'll turn in my two week notice tomorrow." Sara wrapped a hand around Simone's arm only to hesitate at the look of loathing Simone turned towards her. "Don't," Simone commanded in a biting tone.

Sara slackened her grip but didn't release Simone completely, her own ire coming to the fore. "Don't you!" she countered fiercely. "You don't get to just walk away!! What gives you the right to accuse me of something like that without allowing me to defend myself?? What gives you the right to make that kind of declaration to me and then just walk out??"

Simone removed Sara's hand from her arm none-too-gently though she took care not to do any real damage. "Goodbye, Sara."

Sara remembered how much those words and all her discoveries that evening in Simone's office had shown her... how much they hurt. Simone had successfully avoided her for the entire first week. Then they had woken up alone on a wild part of the ranch, the victims of a kidnapping to force them to resolve their differences with one anther, and she remembered all too well how *that* turned out.

Sara started when the door slammed open, admitting the snow-covered, frozen form of Simone. Sara moved to help her, only to be stopped by Simone's voice.

"Leave. Me. Alone."

"No, Simone... not this time. Not ever again."

"Dammit, Miser...."

Sara cupped the frozen face in her hands. "No, Simone... not any more. My name is Sara and it is time we settle things between us."

Simone didn't move, but Sara felt her slump in capitulation. Gently, she removed her icy outerwear, hanging it up carefully to dry before leading Simone to her bed. "Lay down, Simone. I'll fetch the extra blankets and fix you some tea. Then we'll talk."

Simone closed her eyes and rolled onto her side away from Sara, wishing it would all just go away. Sara bit her lip and pulled the cover up around her, then moved to the kitchen. She could use a cup of tea herself.


The whistle of the teakettle brought Simone out of the light doze she had fallen into. She blinked open burning eyes, wondering just what she'd done in a previous life to have warranted such a crappy present one. She closed her eyes again, rubbing them to alleviate the itching and sighing when she felt Sara sit on one side of the bed.

"You probably need to sit up to drink this. I added a dash of milk, but if you need anything else...."

Simone turned over onto her back and slid into a sitting position braced against the wall. She tucked the covers up under her armpits and accepted the cup from Sara... or trying to - only to realize her hands were still too stiff to bend.

"Sorry," Simone mumbled, lips stiff as well. She shivered.

Sara bit her lip and rose, setting their tea on the counter before looking at the fireplace. "Will you trust me?" Simone held her eyes for a long moment before nodding and Sara felt exposed to the core. She took the trust with a relieved sigh and moved the couch against the bar before crossing back to the bed. She reached up and jerked the mattress from the top bunk, grunting with the awkwardness and weight when it fell to the floor.

Simone watched with interested eyes, her curiosity greater than she wanted to admit. Sara dragged it over to the fireplace, putting it as close as she dared. Then she replaced the blankets and added the extras before beckoning Simone.

Understanding that she would be immensely warmer closer to the fire, Simone pushed the covers aside and shivered hard before standing and walking slowly to the nest Sara had just created. She shivered again and slid under the covers, allowing Sara to tuck her in.

Sara grabbed their tea and motioned to the empty side of the mattress. "Do you mind?"

"No... please," she croaked out before clearing her throat. "Thank you."

"Are you ready to talk now?"

"If I say no, will you leave it alone?"

"Simone, we need to...."

"Why, Miser??? Why do we need to do anything? We've already moved on and found new lives. We only need to get along well enough to survive here until spring." Her voice was tired, but there was an edge of sadness and remorse in her tone. "We never got along - what happened with Felicia just pushed it all over the line for me and there's no going back from that."

Silence for several long heartbeats. Then Sara put her tea on the floor and slipped from the bed, towering over Simone with fury in her green eyes. "First of all - my name is SARA... not MISER. If you need help remembering it, I can have it tattooed to your forehead. Secondly, how dare you?!? How dare you assume... what gives you the right to think you can continue to make decisions that affect both of us without even talking to me!! This affects me too!!"

The rage was warming and Simone welcomed the strength it lent to her as she stood to face Sara. "How dare I???" Blue eyes glowed with her anger and she let her mouth run without considering her words. "I'm not the one who pretended to be someone else in college! 'Sara Carrington'?? Who the hell was Sara Carrington?? And I'm not the one who had to come home to work for Daddy!!"

"No... you ran away from your 'Family' didn't you??" she sneered. "Organized crime a little too dirty for you, Bleeder? Is that why you tried to do something legitimate?"

"Don't you dare...!!"

"Oh... it's all right for you to rip into me, but not for me to retaliate?? Grow the fuck up, Simone - if you can't run with the big dogs... stay the hell on the porch!"

Unexpectedly, Simone broke into course, bitter laughter. "You think you're a big dog??" She dropped back onto the mattress gracelessly shaking her head. "Well, I suppose when you're the Queen Bitch...."

With a roar, Sara launched herself at Simone. Simone caught her and rolled them over until she was on top of Sara, looking down into green eyes that darkened under her stare. Their breathing was erratic and they froze. Then Sara pushed Simone off of her and rolled out of the bed.

"I hate you, Simone Marcone," Sara said flatly as she turned her back to Simone. "I don't know why I even bothered trying - you don't give a shit." She moved to the window and looked out on the white darkness beyond the glass. "So we'll do things your way - we only have to survive til spring, right?"

Simone gasped as the pain Sara's words caused her lanced through her body and came to rest in her heart. She felt the darkness settle around her, making her colder than she had ever been.


The silence was oppressive and Simone felt like she was drowning under the weight of it. For seven days, Sara hadn't spoken a single word. She had acted as though Simone was a complete non-entity and it was driving Simone crazy. Sara kept to her chores, hunting on days when it was clear and helping to keep the wood pile stocked. Laundry took up nearly a day on its own. The rest of her time she spent reading and writing, taking pictures occasionally when time and weather allowed.

For her part, Simone cooked and did her share of the wood cutting, taking care of her laundry and finding various chores around the house to fill her time while Sara was out. When they were indoors together, she spent her free time sketching and drawing. More and more she found her pencil drawing the woman she'd cut herself off from and it angered her, but this time, her anger was directed at herself.

Simone couldn't figure it out - she had finally accomplished what she'd set out to do. Sara hated her with the same intensity that Simone felt. And yet all she felt was angry and incomplete within herself. It wasn't supposed to be like this... was it?

On the morning of the eighth day after their fight - several weeks into their stay and yet months from their release date - Simone waited for Sara to set out hunting before she left the cabin as well, headed in the opposite direction. Although she didn't for a minute believe that Sara would deliberately shoot her no matter how she felt, Simone was all too aware that accidents happen and usually in a single instant of inattention.

She headed out to an overhang she'd discovered during her first walkabout. She'd been thrilled to find it and had used it as an escape anytime she needed to get away - as long as there wasn't a blizzard happening. Simone looked around, grateful for the blue skies and started climbing up to her plateau.

Despite the cold, Simone smiled as she reached the spot, looking over the mountains and valleys that surrounded her. The view was breathtaking and Simone felt the peace of it invade her soul. For hours she sat there, simply breathing. Only when the sun started to slip below the shorter mountain did Simone realize how long she'd been sitting there and she rose to make her way back to the cabin.

Her stomach growled and she realized it had been a long time since breakfast. She sighed, glad the trip home was downhill. Simone knew she'd have to rebuild the fires, but she just couldn't bring herself to care.

Simone crossed the threshold just as dusk settled over the cabin, noting immediately that the fires were lit and Sara was sitting on the couch writing. The scent of stew floated through the air and Simone's stomach growled again in appreciation.

"Smells good." Sara didn't comment - didn't even acknowledge Simone's presence. Simone pulled off her jacket and hung it by the door. Then she moved to the kitchen area and scooped up a bowlful of fragrant stew. "You want some?"

Sara continued to ignore her and Simone sighed loudly. She placed her bowl and spoon firmly on the counter with a loud thump, then came around to stand in front of Sara. She snatched the pad out of Sara's hand, causing her to stand up. Her eyes blazed then dropped to the floor.

"What the fuck...? Give it back, Bleeder."


"Damn you, Simone! Give it back and leave me alone. That's what you wanted. That's all I want now. Just leave me alone."

"No. You said we needed to talk."

"You didn't want to - I decided to respect that. So give me my stuff and leave me the hell alone."

"No. I can't stand this anymore."

"Tough - you made your choices. Live with them." Sara snatched the notepad away from Simone's slack hands and walked over to her bunk, crawling in and turning her back to Simone. Simone's shoulders slumped in defeat, but she let Sara go because she was right. She had caused the situation - she would have to be the one that fixed it.


"I was twelve years old when I went to live with Sal and Carmena," Simone said softly into the silence hours later. "Mama and Papa died in a plane crash and Sal and Carmena assumed responsibility for my care." She heard Sara shift quietly in her bunk and hoped she was listening. Simone had decided that the only way to fix the situation of her own making was to talk to Sara until she was willing to listen or willing to talk. Either way, it was the best idea she'd been able to come up with, so she took a deep breath and continued speaking.

"I was terrified - I had never been away from my parents before and I was old enough to understand how permanent this was." Simone smiled sadly in memory. "Carmena immediately took me under her wing, making sure the boys didn't tease." She chuckled and waited. After an interminable time, Sara's curiosity got the best of her.


Simone smiled - first hurdle crossed. "Actually, Carmena did worse. She forced them to take dance and deportment lessons with me. They blamed me at first... thought it was my idea for us all to be doing 'girly' things together. Then they found out the truth - that Carmena wanted them to take them and was using me... the only girl in the family... as an excuse to do it. It was comical - none of us wanted to be there. The boys and I actually bonded because of that. It made Carmena happy, though I don't think she has ever realized exactly *why* we bonded."

"Do you have a lot of cousins?" Sara asked after another long silence.

"All told? Yeah... Sal had five brothers and one sister. Each brother had three to five sons - Sal had five."

"Was it hard? Going from being an only child to one of six, I mean?"

Simone gave it some thought. "Not like you'd think. I missed my folks terribly - I still do. But I had my own space and the boys were good to leave me alone when I needed it. Once we bonded, I had my own personal bodyguards... whether I liked it or not," her tone wry.

Sara chuckled lightly. "Made dating tough, huh?"

"You have no idea. Carmena said I was lucky that I never had an awkward stage." Simone snorted. "I had to become a bookworm in self defense. No one bothered me after that and the boys didn't have to play protector." She sighed and Sara waited. "I know they meant well - hell, they were probably under orders from Sal to take care of me. But they tended to go overboard a little."

"So you hid your light behind a bushel, so to speak?"

"So to speak. It was better than having them beat up boys who looked at me a little too long."

"What about the girls who did?" Sara asked bluntly. "You can't tell me they didn't notice."

"I dunno... I tried not to be noticed by anyone or to be aware of anything beyond my studies at that point in my life. It made things less complicated."

It was Sara's turn to snort. "I'll bet." She rolled over, ready to end the conversation before Simone started asking questions she wasn't certain she wanted to share the answers to anymore. Despite Simone's obvious effort to make things right between them by opening up a little, Sara was still angry and hurt. "Goodnight, Bleeder," she stated firmly, closing her eyes and blocking Simone's sigh from her consciousness. Then her eyes popped open again when Simone replied.

"Goodnight, Sara."


The following morning the temperature in the cabin had dropped severely and Simone was shaking so hard before she reached the fireplace that she couldn't grasp the wood properly. The sound of it crashing to the floor brought Sara sitting upright in her bunk, looking at Simone with baleful eyes in the instant it took her to register the profound cold.

"What the hell?" She climbed carefully out of the bed and shivered violently when the cold of the floor seeped through her socks. She crossed to the fireplace and gazed at Simone. "You all right?"

"Y... yeah... it j... just slipped - m... my f... fingers froze. Sorry, I d...didn't m... mean to w... wake you."

"Let me help," Sara said, a cold chill running up and down her spine. "Damn... why is it so cold in here?"

Simone shook her head. "I... d...dunno," clenching her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering. They lifted the wood from either end and dropped it into fireplace. A second piece and Sara knelt to pack tender between the pieces with shaking hands. Simone snatched up the striker and with supreme effort managed to start the fire. Sara snatched the blankets off their beds and handed Simone's to her before wrapping hers around herself and sitting as close to the fire as she could manage.

For several minutes they sat shaking and shivering silently, unable to do more than grit their teeth together to keep them from trembling. Slowly... very slowly, the room started to take on a hint of warmth and Simone unclenched the muscles that had frozen painfully from the cold until she could move. She rose from her place beside the warm fireplace and hobbled to the kitchen with a single piece of wood, still wrapped in her blanket.

"I d... don't get it," she mumbled to herself, thrusting the wood into the still warm oven. "I b... banked the fires last n... night j... just like I... I always d... do." She stirred the ashes and breathed a sigh of relief when the wood caught flame almost immediately.

"Down draft," Sara replied succinctly through clenched teeth.

Simone shook her head and put the kettle on to heat. Knowing it would be a few minutes, she moved back to the fireplace, taking her place opposite Sara on the stone ledge. She didn't speak - she wasn't sure what to say after the conversation of the previous evening.

When the kettle began to whistle, both women were warm enough to shake off their blankets. Simone went to pour up their tea and Sara took the blankets back to the bed. And so they began their normal routine for the day....

... or what would have been normal had not both of them immediately headed outside for the woodpile as soon as they finished their tea and they were sufficiently dressed. Without words, they immediately settled into a pattern. Together they moved the large log into place and they took turns cutting it into small pieces to be chopped and split. When the pieces were the correct size, they moved them indoors - first into the cabin and then into the shed.

By the time lunch arrived, they had made some progress and were glad for a bit of a break. After a short lunch, they returned to their work with still no words spoken between them. There didn't seem to be a need for them. First Sara would cut and Simone would carry and stack, then they would alternate. By the time darkness fell, they'd made a huge dent in the logs Sal had had felled for them.

"I found something yesterday while you were gone," Sara announced briefly as they entered the cabin near sunset. She motioned Simone to join her near the cellar door. "I don't know how we missed this before." They went down into the cellar, but instead of staying in the main area, Sara led Simone into the darkest corner and leaned against the wall.

The wall shifted and revealed a little cubbyhole. Simone looked at Sara expectantly, then realized the darkness hid her expression. "What is it?"

Sara shrugged, a motion Simone could feel due to their current closeness. "I don't know - I wasn't going to go in here by myself."

"Good girl," Simone muttered almost inaudibly. Sara started to stiffen, thinking she was being pandered to before understanding the tone of concern in Simone's voice. She put the thought away for later study. She was still mad at Simone, right? Simone's voice broke into Sara's thoughts. "Do you want to investigate?"

Sara shook her head. "No... not now."

"All right," Simone agreed amenably, wondering at Sara's hesitation. She took Sara's hand, a little surprised that she didn't immediately jerk away, though Simone noticed that Sara refrained from clasping her hand more firmly than necessary either. "C'mon. I need to start dinner." Sara removed her hand from Simone's to climb the ladder.

"No, not tonight, Bleeder. We can eat sandwiches - we busted our asses out there today," she added as she emerged from the cellar. "If you're as tired as I am...."

Simone nodded. "I'd rather crawl into that tub and relax for a while."

"Go ahead. I'm going to lay down on the couch for a few."

Silence fell again, but this time, there was a little less tension between them. Not much... but a start.


"Why Miser?" Sara asked much later that night when they were curled up into their own beds. She couldn't stop the hurt that crept into her voice and she hardened her tone to keep the pain the moniker caused her out of her words. "It's not true! I am not stingy and selfish!"

"It needled you," Simone replied simply after a moment of silent thought. "You were mocking me with Bleeding Heart, so I figured I'd return the favor."

"But you *are* a bleeding heart, Simone... or you were! You fell for every cause that came along - always involved in some sort of protest or other... whatever cause was hot on campus that week."

"No I wasn't," Simone returned quietly. "I had a few volunteer activities, but they were the same activities my entire college career." She shrugged, and though Sara couldn't see the movement, she heard the change in Simone's tone. "They're the same things I support now."

"Oh... I thought...."

"You thought what?" Simone prompted when the silence dragged on too long.

Sara sighed. "It doesn't matter - I was apparently incorrect. Besides, I knew it aggravated you, and until things turned nasty in our senior year, it was fun. It made you bristle up and get defensive. Some of our best arguments happened when I called you Bleeder."

"You baited me intentionally?!"

Sara snorted. "Of course I did - just like you did to me. It was part of the charm of our relationship once." Simone didn't make a comment; she knew Sara's words for the truth. When the quiet turned awkward, Sara cleared her throat. "Simone, why do you blame me for what happened to Felicia? I never condoned that sort of behavior... never would have allowed it to happen if I had known what was going on."

"Why didn't you?" A beat. "You were the chapter president - why didn't you know what was going on?? Wasn't that part of your responsibility?"

Sara sat up, scrubbing her hands through her hair in agitation. "You can't do that, Simone - you don't get to lay all the blame for this at my feet!!"

"Why not? Why the hell not??"

"That was never part of the initiation ritual and you know that! Felicia was an adult - a young adult, but an adult nevertheless when she rushed the sorority. I'm not saying what happened to her was her fault," forestalling Simone's vehement protest. "It wasn't, and if I'd known about it, we would have done something... anything... to find justice for her. But Simone... it wasn't my fault. And it wasn't your fault either." Sara took a deep breath. "What happened to Felicia was a tragedy, but it wasn't your responsibility and it wasn't mine. That lies with jerk who raped her, Simone."

"That doesn't absolve you of your part of the responsibility, Sara! You were the chapter president - you should have been aware!"

"You're right... I should have, but I wasn't. I can't change that. I can only live with the guilt I've had since it happened and the added guilt of now knowing Felicia was someone important in your life. I am sorry though - I'd fix it if I could... no matter what it took."

The silence which followed was only broken by Simone's harsh breathing, but inexplicably, it was less oppressive than it had been before. Baby steps, but at least they were making progress. The real question was... progress towards what?


The next three days were clear and the two spent as much time outside taking care of things as they could manage. Sara went hunting, determined to lay in as many supplies as she could. Simone, on the other hand, headed back to the woodpile knowing their continued survival depended on the wood lasting them until warm weather or Sal arrived - whichever came first. And Simone had serious doubts that it was going to be enough.

So she fell to work with a will - dragging the big logs across the snow to the chopping block and slowly turning them into firewood.

There was silence between her and Sara again, but although it was still uncomfortable, it was more thoughtful and less menacing than it had been. At least the air did not bristle when the two of them were in the same room and for that Simone was grateful. She just hoped for continued clear weather so she and Sara could maintain the space they'd found. It was easy to maintain a truce when they were away from one another twelve hours a day and both of them were too exhausted at night to do more than fall into bed and sleep until dawn.

Still, the weather couldn't last and the morning of the fourth day after their last conversation brought the sound of howling winds and swirling snow as another blizzard passed over them. Simone slowly crawled from the bed, hissing with the pain and residual ache her activities had caused. Sara did the same, sore and achy from the amount of walking and climbing she'd had to do in the course of her hunting.

Sara went directly to the fireplace to stoke it while Simone moved into the kitchen to start breakfast. It didn't take long and they were done with morning chores and ablutions and had curled into opposite corners of the couch to absorb the warmth while the storm rolled around them.

After a while, Sara rose and retrieved her writing pad and pencil, resuming her seat and beginning to put her thoughts down on paper. It took a while, but eventually she noticed Simone flexing her hands and chanced to wonder what had happened while she had been out hunting during the day. But she figured that Simone wouldn't welcome her curiosity and she returned her focus to the tablet in front of her. Given their fragile truce, there was little else she could do, right?

Simone felt Sara's eyes on her but couldn't bring herself to share her problem - namely that her hands were stiff and swollen from the damage she had done to them augmenting the woodpile. It had gotten progressively worse over the course of the three days of hard labor, to the point the Simone simply couldn't hold a pencil and that bothered her more than she was willing to let on. Her art was her life. So she closed her eyes and hoped Sara would be smart enough to simply mind her own business.

She should have known better.

Simone knew herself to be drifting in and out of the twilight edges of sleep when she felt the tiniest touch of silky fingertips every so gently exploring her hands. But it was Sara's muffed gasp that brought her eyes reluctantly open.

Sara didn't say a word - she saw no reason to disturb the delicate balance they had achieved between them. Instead, she rose form her spot on the floor beside Simone and retrieved the first aid supplies she needed. Then she cleaned them carefully and bandaged, mindful of the damage that had been inflicted on them. When her self-appointed task was completed, Sara stood and put things away before moving back to her corner of the couch.

"Thanks, Sara," Simone said, closing her eyes again to keep the barrier between them. Sara gave her a long look before turning her attention back to her writing. She never even realized when the focus of her words changed, but she would... eventually.


"Do you realize that Thanksgiving is this week?" Simone asked some time later. She'd fallen asleep after Sara had taken care of her hands and had only just woken up. She flexed her hands surreptitiously, then was forced to look down at them. Whatever Sara had used on them had worked wonders - they were still a bit stiff, but far less painful than they had been mere hours before. Sara waited until Simone looked up and met her eyes.


"Yeah... thanks."

"So... Thanksgiving, huh?

"Yeah. I don't know why it occurred to me. I was just thinking about how long we'd already been here - trying to figure how long we might have left."

"Not halfway yet," Sara commented, "but closer than when we started. So," before they could get into *that* discussion, "are we going to celebrate?"

Simone shrugged. "Do we want to? I'm not sure we've got anything to be thankful for, given our current circumstances."

"Things could be worse, but I'm willing to go along either way. Thanksgiving wasn't a big deal with my family for as long as I can remember. Probably since my parents divorce was less than amicable."

"Let me guess... your father drove your mother nuts."

Sara snickered. "How'd you guess?"

"I've met your father," Simone responded dryly. "An exceptional businessman but his interpersonal skills leave something to be desired."

"Funny, my mother said something similar."

"What's your mother like?" Simone asked after a few minutes of silence. She couldn't have told why she asked, except that she thought Sara might be willing to share. And Simone wasn't ready to study her reasons for wanting Sara to be willing to share things with her.

Sara looked at Simone speculatively, wondering what was behind the question. Simone met her gaze showing nothing but genuine interest.

"You'd like her - she's frank and outspoken and secure in the person she is."

"She sounds a little like Carmena. They'd probably make great friends."

"Probably. She and my Grams got along better than Grams ever did with my father, and he was her son. I've about come to the conclusion that my mother married my father more because Grams coveted her for a daughter-in-law and because Mom loved Grams like her own mother than because of how she felt about Billy."

"You don't think she and Billy loved each other?"

Sara pinched her lip in thought. "I think they loved each other - I think they still do to some degree, actually. I'm just not sure I think they were ever *in love* with one another, if you know what I mean. At least, not as I understand 'being in love' to be. Sometimes I wonder if the only passion between them was in their fighting."

Her words fell into an embarrassed silence as the same thought passed through both their minds. Kinda like us? They looked at one another and then looked away. Simone cleared her throat, then rose from the couch. "I think I'm gonna go check out that little cubbyhole you found. You wanna...?"

"Uh... yeah. Let me put my stuff away. We need a flashlight or something." Simone hefted a lantern and Sara nodded her approval. "Good choice."

Sara tucked her notebook and pencil under her pillow and returned to join Simone in the kitchen. Simone raised her eyebrow at Sara's actions, but she kept her comments to herself. They were treading a fine line at the moment and Simone preferred not to cross it... at least not for something so trivial. They could always find something real to argue about later.

First, however, they were going to go investigate whatever little surprise Sal had in store for them.


"This is making me a little crazy," Adrianne confided to Carmena as they sat at lunch together a few days before Thanksgiving. "I've never not known where Sara is... not like this anyway. Are you sure...?"

"Oh yes - Sal knows not to put Simone in danger... for the memory of his dead sister as much as for his own sake." Carmena raised an eyebrow at Adrianne. "She is the only daughter in the family, just like her mother was and she's like my own child. He doesn't want to explain to me that something has happened to her." She smirked just slightly. "He wouldn't have told me about the situation in the first place if I wouldn't have noticed Simone's absence immediately."

"He runs the town, but you run him?"

"Something like that," Carmena chuckled. "Let's just say he knows what his limits are and that makes us both happy."

Adrianne snorted. "I should have done that with Billy."

"Bit of a wild card?"

"More than a bit. I can't imagine what he was thinking when he started all this. I mean, regardless of what is or isn't between our daughters, he should have known better than to interfere. They're grown women for God's sake! What did he hope to accomplish?"

"Have you asked him?"


"Have you asked him? Come on, honey - how long were you married?"

"Too long," Adrianne commented with a sigh. "We were great in bed - it was everything else we screwed up. Communication was never our strong suit."

"I hope our children can figure that part out sooner rather than later. Great sex can make up for a lot, but if they can't communicate, it's going to be a very long few, lonely months for them."

"I just hope they get this resolved. I'd hate for all of this to have been for nothing."

Carmena nodded. "Agreed. And with luck they'll find the treats Sal left for them."


"He wouldn't put them out of touch for the holidays without giving them something to celebrate with."

"Just an old softy at heart?"

Carmena grinned. "Just remember you didn't hear it from me."

"Your secret's safe with me." Dessert was served and they turned their attention to other conversation.


The cubbyhole was still open a crack when they made it down into the cellar. Simone passed Sara the lantern and led the way to the dark space. "Wait," Sara commented, pushing her way forward to stand beside Simone. "We do this together."

"We will, but one of needs to hold the light while the other one opens the door. I figured I was better suited to open the door," motioning down the length of her body. Sara narrowed her eyes and set the lamp on the floor to put her hands on her hips.

"Are you making a crack about my height or my physical condition?? Because I assure you...."

"Hey," Simone relented, holding up her hands. "I didn't crack on anything. Just because you're sensitive about your size...."

A growl was the only warning Simone got before Sara was completely in her personal space. Before she could react, they fell against the doorway, pushing through it as they fell to the ground.

"Oof!! What the hell?? Get off me!" Simone shouted as she pushed Sara to one side, careful not to hurt her.

"Like I want to be here!" Sara snarled, rolling with Simone's motion to push her off, though she didn't rush to move any further away on her own. Instead she looked around the deeply shadowed room. "Wow," she said softly as she climbed to her feet.

Simone rolled from her back and pushed up to stand beside Sara, then she went out of the room to fetch the lantern they'd left behind. She held it up to her eye level and they looked around the small space. There were shelves on one side with a few boxes of colorful ornaments, a roll of garland and a small artificial tree. There were a couple rolls of bright wrapping paper and some ribbons.

On the other side was a small stash of dry groceries suitable for a holiday celebration. On top of the stack were two envelopes and Simone reached for them, handing them to Sara. Sara took one and passed the other back to Simone.

"Mine is from my father," she shared after ripping it open. "Yours from Sal?"

Simone nodded and shifted the lamp in her grip the read her note.

Simone, (it read)
I am hoping you discover this before the holiday season, but I am banking on the fact that two women cooped up in the small space this cabin is will snoop every possible crevice and corner. This was where your great-grandfather made hooch and where we kept the good liquor when we were here.
I took the liberty of picking up a gift or two that you might like to give to Sara if you have reached some sort of equitable arrangement between you. If not, you can leave them. They will mean little to anyone else. They are in a box marked with your name; the box is locked with your mother's birthday.
I hope things are going well for you both. I know this seems harsh, but something had to be done to correct Wainwright's interference. With luck, this will be enough, because we both know you were unhappy coming back to the Family, despite your knack for the business.
Be well, my dear. And remember that your aunt and I love you very much.

Simone shook her head. "Unfuckingbelievable."

"No kidding." Sara looking at her own note.

My Dearest Sara, (it read)
I'm really not sure what to say to you at this point. I never thought my effort to get you and Simone to see the truth between you would become so convoluted and out of control. That was never my intention - all I wanted was your happiness and now it is completely out of my hands - though I am beginning to understand that it never was in them to begin with.
Be that as it may, I agree that drastic measures are required to fix this situation and to that end I am not going to prevent Sal Amici from taking whatever steps he feels are necessary to bring this entire debacle to some sort of conclusion. At this point I would be satisfied for you and Simone to simply survive this ordeal intact and with some sort of civil truce.
You're probably wondering why I didn't put a stop to this before it went this far - the truth is I think you and Simone still have issues to work out before either of you can find the happiness and peace you both deserve. When this is all over, Sal has promised you will never have to acknowledge one another again if that is what you decide to do. But it will be your choice... your decision - yours and Simone's.
We did agree that you shouldn't be denied the opportunity to celebrate the holidays if you chose to, so Sal has arranged the trappings and trimmings and your mother and Sal's wife Carmena put together the makings of a nice holiday dinner. At my request, Sal has included a gift for Simone in case you have reached some sort of truce and want to give her something. It is in a box with your name on it and the lock combination is your grandmother's birthday. Totally your choice to give it to her, of course, but it might be a nice gesture, especially if the two of you are getting along.
Your mother will probably never forgive me for any of this, but if it works, it will be worth it. Don't fall into the same trap that I did. Nothing is worth the cost of holding on to your anger, no matter the reason behind it. See you in the spring.
Your loving father, Billy

Silence for a few moments while they each considered the words they held, then the sound of crumpling paper brought Sara's head up abruptly to meet Simone's eyes, flinching at the fire burning brightly from them. She cleared her throat gently.

"So, um... what do you want to do?"

"Aside from killing Sal from putting us into this ridiculous situation, you mean?" Sara nodded.

"Do you want to celebrate?"

"No, not really," Simone answered honestly. She noticed the almost imperceptible sag of Sara's shoulders. "Let's see how we feel closer to the holiday. Right now, I'm just...."

"Really, really pissed?"

"Yeah - I'm tired of feeling like we're being manipulated. And then Sal has the balls to say it's for our own good. It's okay... everything will be all right," stated in a pandering tone. "ARGH!" she growled in frustration. "Why the hell couldn't they have just left it alone?? I wasn't unhappy - were you unhappy?"

"Simone, we can worry about all this later. And if we decide to celebrate, it will be our choice... not theirs. What we do while we're here is up to us - not them. Don't give them that kind of power."

"Why are you so calm about this all of a sudden? What did your old man say to you?" reaching for the paper Sara still held in her hand. Sara jerked her hand away.

"It doesn't matter. What does matter is that now it is up to us." Simone turned thoughtful and Sara cocked her head in question. "What?"

Simone shook her head. "I'm not sure. I think I may have an idea." She glanced around the room. "Sal said this used to be a hooch room. If that's the case there should be another room - some sort of communication room."

"Why? What could they hope to reach out here? And why hide it if only the men of the Family came out here to start with. Why not put it in the main room so there was easy access?"

Simone grinned. "One of the things that has made my Family the success that it is, is there is a certain level of paranoia involved in everything. It keeps everyone on their toes."

"That explains a lot," Sara murmured. An arched eyebrow made her clear her throat awkwardly. "Well, it does," she retorted defensively. "So where would this room be?"

"If it exists? Somewhere down here. There's still plenty of space - the cellar only takes up half the space upstairs."

"So you want to look for it now?" Twin growls met her question before Simone could reply. "I guess that would be a no," Sara said with a chuckle. "C'mon. Let's go get something to eat. If there is a radio room down here somewhere, it'll still be here tomorrow."

Simone smiled and picked up the lantern and Sara sucked in an unconscious breath at the picture she made.

"Good idea. There's always tomorrow," she agreed. "Besides... I can't believe Sal would make it that easy, but I need to try."

"I know... so do I. Now c'mon," tugging gently on Simone's hand, mindful of their condition. Together they left the cellar without a backward glance.


When tomorrow came, the storm was still raging, so Sara and Simone decided to head back downstairs and see if they could discover the elusive communications room. It didn't take them long to get started - they emptied out the small cubbyhole, then began searching for a hidden room.

Inch by inch they went, scouring walls and shelves until Sara knocked a bottom shelf askew, causing the back wall to swing open. She and Simone exchanged glances and without a word, Simone lifted the lantern from the shelf she'd placed it on and started towards the opening.

"Hang on a minute, Simone. I found it - shouldn't I get to lead the way?" Sara asked with her hands on her hips.

Simone arched an eyebrow and her lips quirked in amusement. "Does it matter?"

"Yes. I want to go first!" Sara didn't stomp her feet but her tone was petulant enough to give that impression anyway. Simone laughed which only caused Sara's face to flush in anger and embarrassment.

"Whine much?" Simone taunted. Sara snatched the lantern from Simone's fingers, turning away and stepping into the room while biting her lip to keep from gasping at the electricity she felt running through her system at the touch. Then she realized belatedly that what she thought was electricity between them was really electrical current running through her body and she was helpless to stop it.

Simone took a few seconds to process what was happening when Sara stopped walking and started convulsing - her scream horrific. She didn't stop to think - she simply reacted without hesitation. In one long stride, she was at Sara's side, knocking her to the ground and away from whatever raw wire she'd had the misfortune to touch. The action pushed Sara off the wire, but it also caused the lantern to slip from her grasp, crashing to the ground and shattering.

Simone watched in horror as the kerosene rapidly spread and caught fire. She jerked Sara up into a fireman's hold and carried her out of the room, snatching up the note that had been propped up on the ancient equipment. As soon as she was out of the radio room, she placed Sara on the floor, searching in the darkness for the keystone shelf to shut the door once more before the flames could escape.

She heard it close with a whoosh, relishing the silence over the flames' crackling... until she realized there was only one set of breathing - hers. It was harsh and rasping and she held it for a long moment, then she started searching for Sara's pulse.


"Oh no!" Simone screamed as she slammed her fist into Sara's chest. "No way, goddamn it!" starting chest compressions to force Sara to have a regular heartbeat. "You don't get to die on me, Miser! You don't get to leave me here by myself!! Breathe, damn you - BREATHE!!"

A long inhalation followed by a hacking cough and a moan and Simone cradled Sara's body into her and held on. For her part, Sara clung to Simone, breathing in her scent and doing her best to figure out just what the hell had happened. All she knew for certain was that Simone had been cursing at her and she hurt like a mother after twenty-four solid hours of labor without drugs.

After several moments of silence filled with nothing but the sound of their breathing, Sara gingerly tried to sit up. Simone sat up with her, never releasing her gentle hold.

"You all right?" Simone whispered into Sara's sweat-soaked hair.

"What happened?" Sara's voice was hoarse and she wondered why it hurt so badly to speak. "Why is it so dark in here?"

Simone cleared her throat. "You stepped on a live wire. I'm not sure what it was connected to - a battery or something. I didn't have time to look; I was too busy knocking you off the current. Unfortunately, the force of impact knocked the lantern from your hand and when it shattered..."

"A fire started," Sara finished breathily.

"Yeah. I closed the door to extinguish the flames and I can't smell any smoke, but I dunno if it actually worked or not."

"We should probably check."

Simone shook her head. "Let me get you back upstairs and then I'll come back down here and...."

"No, Simone! I'm not letting you...."

Simone stood and scooped Sara into her arms, the adrenaline still rushing through her system. "You don't have a choice," gritting her teeth together and holding a weakly struggling Sara against her as she pushed through the darkness towards the cellar steps. "You nearly fucking died on me and I'm not putting you in danger again!! You scared the shit outta me," she said more softly.

Sara reached a trembling hand up and tenderly cupped the face she couldn't see. "Simone...."

"No, Miser. I can't do this - I can't watch you die. That's too much to ask of me."

"But it's all right for me to watch you, is that what you're saying, Simone??" deliberately calling her by name. Disbelief colored Sara's voice, but she ceased her struggles as Simone slowly made it up the stairs she had crafted at some point while Sara was out hunting. Only now did Sara recognize her effort and realize how thankful she was Simone was gifted with her hands, not even pausing for a suggestive leer at the thought.

Simone carefully placed Sara on the couch and clasped their hands together. "Sara, I know you don't like me; I don't blame you for that, but please trust that I'm looking after both our interests - that's what I do now. The truth is you're too weak right now to help me if there is a problem and I honestly don't know if I can do what I might need to do if I am worried about you collapsing again. I won't be but a minute or two... promise."

Sara's response was as perfect as it was unexpected. She leaned forward, capturing Simone's lips with her own even as she tangled her hands in the dark hair to pull Simone even closer. Simone, taken completely by surprise with Sara's actions, fell into the kiss, literally. Her hands wrapped smoothly around Sara's waist to rest lightly on her ass... only to clench the firm muscles reflexively when Sara's tongue snuck out to trace Simone's full lips. She responded to Sara's quest, opening her mouth in invitation and moaning when their tongues met for the first time.

The kiss went on for an eternity and was over in a heartbeat. Sara eased away from Simone slowly, nipping and licking with lingering tenderness before leaning their foreheads together while breathing one another's air. Finally able to speak, Sara pulled back just enough to look into Simone's deep blue eyes.

"Not liking you has never been my problem, Simone," Sara confessed shyly. "You go do what you need to do, but be quick. Otherwise I *will* come after you. And you call me if you need help."

"I will," Simone promised, tracing Sara's lips with her fingers for a brief moment. Sara's eyes fluttered closed and her breathing hitched again before she caught Simone's slender fingers in her own.

"Go," Sara commanded in a voice that was low and husky from more than the screaming she had done earlier. "Go," she repeated, "before I can't let you go alone."

Simone lifted their hands to her lips, brushing a kiss to Sara's knuckles before releasing her grip. "Be right back."

"Damn well better be," Sara muttered, though it was loud enough to garner her a brief, flash of a smile before Simone disappeared into the darkness once more, this time holding a candle to light her way. "Keep her safe," Sara murmured prayerfully then closed her eyes, willing the time to pass quickly.


It was dark when Sara opened her eyes again and she was alone. She sat up slowly, blinking her eyes and trying to figure out what time it was and where the hell Simone was. Then she realized that it wasn't actually dark - the storm had simply worsened. That, however, did not explain Simone's continued absence.

Sara rubbed her chest, wincing at the ache and wondering what exactly Simone had needed to do to keep her from dying. She took as deep a breath as she dared and expelled it slowly, then stood and headed for the cellar.

She went down the stairs carefully, seeing what appeared to be a hint of light coming from the little cubby. Sara called out, "Simone?" The effort hurt - she had only spoken in whispers since she'd come to in Simone's arms some time earlier. "Simone?!" There was no answer and Sara moved as rapidly as she could in the dark to reach the door, pushing it further open and slipping inside the near darkness. "Simone?" realizing that the bare light she could see was actually coming from the radio room.

Again there was no answer, but this time Sara heard Simone's muttered cursing and she stepped into the dimly lit room, finding it to be quite bright after the darkness of the cellar.

"Ow, goddamnit! Fuck, that hurt!"


Simone went completely still. "Sara?" Her tone changed before Sara could answer. "Shit - are you all right?

"What the hell are you doing? You were supposed to make sure the fire was out and then come right back upstairs! What were you thinking??" Sara flinched at the effort required from her body to allow her to speak with force and fury.

"I was thinking that I might be able to salvage some of this equipment," Simone answered shortly, rising to her full height.

"What about your promise?? You promised me that you would be right back!! Does your word mean so little...?"

"Don't go there, Sara. Don't say something you'll regret," her voice flat and her eyes angry and frustrated.

"Simone, you scared the shit out of me!! I thought something had happened...."

Simone took a deep breath. "Sara, I did come back up, but you were sleeping so deeply you didn't hear me when I called you." She didn't mention the fear she herself had felt when Sara didn't respond to her voice. Only when she felt Sara's steady breathing beneath her touch did she sigh in relief and return to the cellar. "So after reading Sal's note, I came back down here to see if I could salvage anything." The fire in her eyes died when she got a better look at Sara's face. "Hey... you all right?" Sara nodded and crossed her arms over her chest, wincing with the motion. Even with the low light, Simone caught the flinch and gently uncrossed Sara's arms, massaging her knuckles tenderly with her thumbs . "Sara, look at me."

"I'm sorry, Simone. I...."

"Hush," Simone commanded in a tender tone that garnered her a smile from Sara. "I should have stayed by you until you woke up. I just... when I read Sal's note, I thought I'd try to see if I could make it work. I didn't realize I'd been down here so long."

"You really scared me, Simone. I thought something bad had happened to you."

"Shh... I'm sorry, Sara. The worst thing that happened to me is a couple of smashed fingers and a slight burn and a scratch." She looked around the room and shook her head. "When I get my hands on Sal...." She shook her head again. "C'mon. There's nothing more I can do in here today and I think you should probably sit down before you fall down."

"Are you saying I look bad?" Sara asked with a small, mischievous smile.

"I'm saying you look like you'd appreciate a hot bath and a little rest after the beating I gave you earlier."

Sara's brows nearly popped off her forehead. "You beat me?? What the hell for??"

"To save your life, Sara." Simone enunciated each word slowly and carefully. "You stopped breathing - I had to do something. I did what it took!" her voice rising in inflection. Sara eased her hand from Simone's grip and cupped her face.

"Yes, you did... thank you, Simone. Now can we go upstairs? I'm exhausted."

Simone looked around the mess the radio room had become and nodded. "So am I." She picked up the lantern she'd brought with her the second time and took Sara's hand in her own. "All right if I lead this time?"


Together they headed out of the cellar and back upstairs, without a word about the kiss they had shared earlier.


The night had passed in relative silence. Sara had soaked for a while in the tub and then she and Simone had shared the simple, hot meal Simone had prepared. Conversation was sporadic at best, both of them exhausted from the day's events and a little afraid to broach the elephant in the room that now sat between them. Things were awkward in a way they never had been before and it was more uncomfortable than even their worst fight had ever been.

Nervous and embarrassed, they retreated to their own corners, turning in early and calling it a night. Maybe sleep would give them a miracle resolution to this new self-consciousness.

The weather cleared a bit by the following day and Simone went out to bring in more firewood, forbidding Sara to do much more than rest. Sara, still a bit drained from her ordeal the previous day, had been almost meek in her compliance. The truth was, they both needed a bit of space to breathe in as the air in the cabin had been heavy with innuendo and things left unsaid too long.

Sara had instead taken over the kitchen duties and found a bit of respite in her writing. It helped her look at things objectively, though it did nothing to give her the courage she needed to talk to Simone. It would have been so much easer to have simply thrown her onto the bed and been done with it. Maybe with the sexual tension now so obvious between them finally acted upon....

But Sara was certain that would do nothing but fuck up any chance they had at becoming anything more than enemies to one another. And she wanted to be more than enemies - truth be told she wanted to be more than friends. She wanted the brass ring - everything Simone had to offer... friendship, antagonism, love, passion, sex.... Sara wanted forever. First she had to develop the gonads to talk to Simone about it... easier said than done.

Meanwhile, similar thoughts were running through Simone's mind, the physical labor doing nothing to keep her mind from playing out any number of scenarios. It was nothing new - it had happened on more than one occasion after some of their most fantastic fights. Only this time, she had an inkling that Sara desired her the same way. So why the hesitation? What was holding them back? Was there too much hateful history between them to overcome at this point, despite how they might feel?

And that was the biggest issue - how did Sara *really* feel? She had admitted to liking Simone, but did that mean she *like* liked her or that she simply liked her as opposed to hating her? Great... now I sound like I'm back in junior high, Simone thought, rolling her eyes at her own inner dialogue. Maybe she's just looking for a friend or a fuck buddy, grimacing at that description. Simone would rather remain an enemy, distant and untouchable, rather than share that sort of casual intimacy. She wanted it all... or nothing. The only thing she needed to figure out now was what Sara wanted. And to do that, they were going to have to sit down and talk.


"So tell me about the note from Sal," Sara asked some time later. Simone had brought in more than enough wood to restock their supply, and after restocking the outside woodpile, she'd finally come in to eat a late lunch and thaw out. Sara decided to open up the conversation between them with something innocuous. Besides, except for the dull ache in her chest, she felt human again and her curiosity had reasserted itself.

For answer, Simone got up from the couch they were both seated on and went to the kitchen counter. She picked up the envelope with her name on it, then passed it over to Sara. Sara removed the paper from the envelope and unfolded it, perusing the written words slowly.

Simone, (it read)
If you have found this, then you are either incredibly brilliant or very, very lucky. Personally, I'm going with brilliant - you have never disappointed me in that regard. And since you grew up listening to the stories of the cabin and the things that went on there.... Be that as it may, since you *have* found the radio room, I will tell you that it is still functioning, albeit on a limited basis. In other words, you can call out, but it will only reach me. Don't try to figure it out - just assume with the right contacts and resources, anything can be accomplished.
So if you've found this, let me know. The battery is new so there is plenty of juice and everything is in working order. Although we cannot come to get you until spring due to the vagaries of weather in your area, it would give me peace of mind to hear from you.

Sara stopped reading and looked up at Simone with an incredulous expression on her face. "You have *got* to be kidding me!" she said flatly. "He actually thinks...."

"I don't think he and Billy have a whole brain cell between them at this point," Simone snorted. "Even for Carmena... even if I could get the damned thing working again... I wouldn't call to put his mind at ease. They've fucking pissed me off!" She got up and started to pace. "I don't think they understand the danger... do you know how close.... Goddamnit, Sara - I could have lost you yesterday and...."

"Simone... SIMONE!!!" Sara took Simone's face in both hands and forced the furious blue eyes to meet hers unflinchingly. Whatever she had been about to say was lost in the crush of their lips together and Sara just let the passion take them for a long moment. She tangled her hands into Simone's dark hair to keep her from moving and felt Simone's hands slide around her waist and down round her ass.

For long moments the kiss went on as they devoured one another, tongues dueling and hands clenching - the fervor of their embrace overriding any sense of propriety. There was a frenetic energy that surrounded their first coupling, and yet their passion was unhurried... almost gentle. Clothes came off in haste, no thought given to the damage being done to remove them. Their mouths remained crushed together, tongues warring for dominance and hands searching as they undressed. Only when they were completely naked did they separate and gaze unabashedly at one another.

Then Simone captured Sara's lips again, edging them back towards the lower double bunk. When she felt Sara's knees hit, she pushed her slightly, mindful of Sara's still healing body. With her eyes she asked Sara to move to the head of the bed and Sara complied without conscious thought.

When Sara was spread eagle on the bed, Simone stopped at the foot and let her gaze rake up Sara's body from her toes to the top of her head and back down again, lingering on several strategic areas that made Sara squirm under the intensity of Simone's scrutiny.

"So beautiful," Simone murmured reverently without moving.


The plaintive sound from Sara's voice put a fire in Simone's belly that was reflected in her blue eyes when she met Sara's green ones. Simone crawled up the bed, letting the touch of her fingertips play havoc with Sara's senses and create goosebumps in their wake. Up muscular legs to six-pack abs, over ribs just visible under the surface. Around full breasts across the collarbone and up the sensitive neck until she could trace Sara's full lips. Sara reached out with her tongue, laving the digits thoroughly before sucking them into her mouth. The subsequent moan from Simone was exquisite and it forced Simone's body down on top of Sara's to meet in an explosion of sensation as skin met skin for the first time.

Sara brought her hands up into Simone's hair, forcing her down until their lips met again in a passionate embrace. Sara held them tightly together until lack of air forced them apart... but only long enough for them each to suck in a breath before Simone brought them together again, robbing them each of the air they had just breathed.

For long moments, they kissed, exploring and learning contours and textures and flavors. Then Simone pulled back slowly, nipping gently then moving her lips down Sara's jaw line until she reached Sara's ear. She bit down, then shivered when the rush of hot air blew by her ear.

"God, Sara...."

"Love me, Simone," gasping when Simone's lip began traveling down her neck towards her breasts. "I need to feel you." When she finally felt wet heat surround her nipple, she surged up, arching her back and clenching her hands in Simone's hair. Simone groaned and suckled harder, shifting to the other breast.

Sara urged her back up until their lips met again, and they allowed their passion to take over - until all that was left in the world was the two of them.


It was late the following morning when Sara and Simone finally blinked their eyes open, gazes meeting shyly as their lips creased into smiles. Sara lifted her head from Simone's shoulder and slid up so she was able to bend her head slightly and capture Simone's lips in a tender kiss.

"Good morning."

Simone cupped Sara's face, gently tracing the planes and hollows that had taken on a new preciousness in her eyes. "Yes, it is," she agreed quietly. Sara waited but Simone didn't add anything else. She clasped the hand still delicately touching her face.

"You all right, sweetheart?" watching the smile blossom across Simone's face as the moniker registered.


"Would you prefer something a little less generic?" Sara asked with a wicked twinkle in her eye. "Sugar Lips? Honey Buns? Love Slave?" squealing in laughter when Simone's free hand ran up her ribs. "What?" she squeaked, struggling not to squirm under the ticklish touch, only to find herself at the bottom of a very small pile. They stared at one another and their laughter shifted into something much more serious as they breathed the same air and the atmosphere around them became charged once more. Simone leaned down and plundered Sara's mouth, swallowing their mutual moans at the feelings that raced through them from the mere touch of lips and tongues.

Only when Sara felt Simone's hands traveling up to her breasts did she pull back slightly, forcing Simone to release her lips.

Sara slid her hands back around to cup Simone's face once more, studying the depths in the blue eyes. Simone searched the fierce green eyes intently, waiting for Sara to speak.

"I need to know something," Sara whispered, not breaking eye contact. Simone remained quiet, but her eyes widened just slightly. "I need to know what you want from this... from me."

Simone held Sara's eyes, finding what she needed to see before ducking her head for another kiss. Only when she felt Sara melt into her did Simone release her lips, leaning their foreheads together. "Forever," she answered softly. "I want forever."

That was all Sara needed to hear. She tangled her hands back through the silky dark strands of Simone's hair and brought their mouths together again. Any further talk would wait until later - for now, Sara had the answer she needed and it was enough.

Sara rolled them over, determined to memorize every inch of the body beneath her. Then Simone reached out a trembling hand to Sara's face, tenderly tracing the delicate bone structure beneath silky soft skin. Sara, easily reading the fear and hesitancy in her eyes, caught Simone's hand in her own and brought it to her lips. "Simone, this is a forever kind of thing for me too. I want it all... and I want it with you."

"How long?" Simone asked, her voice hoarse and low. Sara gave her a confused look. "How long have you felt this way?"

"Felt? Forever. Acknowledged? I knew in college, but before I could get up the nerve to say anything, things turned nasty between us and I put it aside as an impossibility." Sara sighed. "This isn't because you're the only one around right now, Simone, because I don't just want sex with you," her hands stroking random patterns over bare skin. "I want love and friendship and passion and fighting and making up. Simone," she breathed, "I want a home with you."

Then there were no more words... at least not in sentence form. It would be well into the evening before they spoke again.


"So... about Thanksgiving...?"

Simone grinned down at the woman currently wrapped around her like an octopus. Sara couldn't see her expression, tucked under Simone's chin, but she heard the smile in her voice when she answered. "I think we should celebrate. Suddenly I have a great number of things to be thankful for - idiotic, interfering fathers, stupid, meddling uncles... ack!" squeaking in alarm when Sara squeezed her hard around the middle. She brushed a kiss into the blonde hair. "Beautiful, sexy nemesis cum lover."

Sara snorted. "Nice choice of wording there, hot stuff." She felt the blush travel up Simone's torso and into her face. "I like it." Sara let her hands travel over the naked skin she could reach. "Every. Single. Word."

"You just like watching me blush," Simone accused. Sara leaned up on an elbow until she was able to look Simone in the eyes.

"Damn right I do," she agreed without hesitation. "For so long, the only response I got to see from you was anger. Now that I have access to everything, I am going to go after as many as I can... especially the cute ones."

"I am not cute," said with a growl and a glare.

"Oh yes you are. And I intend to make sure the whole world finds that out when we get home."

"Saaaaaarrrrrraaaaaaaaa!" Simone whined.

"Siiiimmmmoooooooonnnnnne!" Sara teased back, then leaned down to kiss the full lips that were pouting at her. "All right... maybe not the whole world," she relented when they separated, "but I do intend to enjoy each and every part of you that you're willing to share with me - especially the cute ones."

"I am not cute!"

"You're right... you're gorgeous. But your reactions are cute."

Simone growled and rolled them over carefully in the small bed. "I'll show you cute!" she started, before she was interrupted by the growling of two starving, underfed bellies. They shared a wry look that transmuted into chuckling. "After we get something to eat." She lifted herself carefully from the bunk, then proceeded to dress with haste.

"Please don't cover up on my account," Sara smirked, then yelped when Simone dragged the covers completely off her body. "Holy crap it's cold out here!!" Sara jumped up and bundled up as quickly as she could manage. "Whaddya do that for??"

For answer, Simone simply lifted an eyebrow and smirked. Sara reached out and pinched her butt, then took off running. Simone grinned maniacally and took off after her. It took a few more minutes before they made it to the kitchen to fix a little dinner.


Thanksgiving passed quietly for them, a day spent talking and sharing. Sara had gone hunting again the day before and Simone had spent an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen trying to come up with something special. As it happened, they ended up eating the usual and not minding - they had more interesting things to focus on than the repetitive diet that had been forced upon them. Sara shared a bit about her writing and Simone in turn showed Sara some of her art.

They talked... really talked... about things that mattered to both of them. And they talked about things of absolutely no consequence at all. They shared memories of their childhoods, both of them soberly realizing how solitary they had been.

"Do you ever wish you'd had siblings?" Simone asked solemnly. They were sitting on opposite ends of the couch playing footsie and having toe wars with one another. With Simone's question, though, Sara's face sobered and she pulled her feet away, curling them under her until she could crawl into Simone's arms. Simone didn't hesitate, but opened her arms wide to receive Sara. Sara curled into her, breathing in her scent for a long moment, before looking up and smiling into concerned blue eyes.

"I had an imaginary friend," Sara confessed. "My parents were always fighting when I was little, so I never had any friends over. Then when they separated and I went to live with my mom, well... I kept the imaginary friend. I knew it was the closest I'd ever get to having a little brother or sister."

"I had one too," Simone acknowledged. "I needed one right after my parent's died. I couldn't explain to anyone how I felt... not even Carmena."

"Sometimes I miss that imaginary friend," Sara said shyly. "I especially missed her once I met you."

Simone chuckled. "Did you really?"

"Oh yeah... but there was no way I was going to be caught arguing out loud to myself about you and how much you infuriated me. Though I will tell you that my sorority sisters got an earful more than once."

"Does that mean we're going to shock them at our class reunion?"

"Oh, sweetheart, I'd say that was a no-brainer. Wait... we're going to go to our class reunion together?"

"You don't want to?" relaxing her grip on Sara before finding her face clasped between Sara's hands.

"I'll go anywhere with you, hot stuff. Anytime, anywhere, anyplace."

Simone tightened her hold on Sara, bringing their lips together and twisting until Sara was lying beneath her on the couch. When Sara pulled away to breathe, Simone shifted her focus, trailing her mouth down Sara's neck. Sara tilted her head to give Simone better access, and they lost themselves in one another for a long space of time - redefining the meaning of Thanksgiving.


Little changed in the weeks leading up to Christmas... as least as far as their survival was concerned. They still spent a majority of their time ensuring the woodpile was constantly stocked and prepared for the next storm, as well as trying to vary their diet with their limited supplies. The difference now was they did things together. Even if they spent the time in silence, it was comfortable as long as they were together.

Nights were spent in conversation and love making, sharing bits of themselves neither had done with anyone else before - childhood stories, dating disasters, family holidays, travel experiences - all things that shaped them into the individuals they were now.

They had taken advantage of things Sal had left them for Christmas, spending one night decorating for the holiday. They had been giddy as two kids, arguing about the placement of hanging ornaments and chasing one another with tinsel strands.

Now, as close as they could figure, it was Christmas Eve and they sat cuddled together on the couch. They had decided it was the safest option? after nearly setting the cabin on fire popping popcorn. It was interesting to experience how different cooking old-fashioned popcorn was from simply popping a bag into the microwave.

"Well, at least now we know how to create a smoke field if we ever need to hide from anyone."

"We're never gonna get that smell out of here, ya know."

"We can always open up the windows." Blue eyes cut in Sara's direction. "No, huh?"

"No. I have no desire to see how many shades of blue I can become before frostbite starts forming on my ass or my nipples end up with icicles hanging from them."

"I'd warm you up."

Simone snorted. "Yeah, but with my luck, your lips would be frozen shut."

Sara waggled her eyebrows. "You warm my lips, I'll warm your...." reaching for Simone's breasts even as Simone caught her lips in a passionate embrace. For several long minutes the kiss went on, until the need for air became paramount.

"You were saying?" Simone asked with a smirk.

"No, I wasn't," Sara denied and forced their lips together again. When they separated, lust-glazed green eyes stared into passion-darkened blue. "Will it always be like this for us, do you think?" Simone's brow furrowed in question. "Will I always lose my train of thought when we kiss?"

"Maybe. I'd like to think that things will always get better between us, that the passion we have always shared will continue to be present throughout our lives."

"And if it's not?"

"Then we fight and make up," Simone answered with a leer.

"You are a very bad girl."

"Yep. Whatcha gonna do about it?"

"That's for me to know...." Sara replied as she rose and tugged Simone up by the hand, leading her over to their now shared bed. The world disappeared from her view behind a blindfold, and Simone soon found out exactly what Sara knew. She decided to be bad more often.


Christmas morning dawned bright and clear, the sun shining and the temperature well below freezing. Sara and Simone exchanged glances still tucked beneath the layers of covers they had buried themselves beneath the night before.

"Good morning," Simone whispered.

"Merry Christmas, beautiful." They kissed. "Guess we need to get up, huh?"

"Only if we want to," Simone replied with a smile, turning onto her side and propping her head up on the palm of her hand. "It's not like we have a schedule to keep or family showing up to worry about. We'll eat when we get hungry and we get it fixed. Our time is our own."

"I know... it's just I've never not had obligations and responsibilities on Christmas. There was always rushing from one parent to another when they were both in town. Otherwise, I spent the whole holiday break being shuffled from one parent to another. My grandparents on both sides provided the only bit of stability I had."

"What was that like?"

Sara frowned. "My grandparents? Or the shuffling?"

"The shuffling... though I'd like to hear about your grandparents if you want to share." She let her fingers trail over Sara's skin, smiling at the goosebumps that followed her touch. Sara inhaled sharply then caught Simone's hand in her own.

"You're making it very hard to think."

"Is that a bad thing?"

"It is if you wanna talk," tangling their fingers together. Simone brushed a kiss over Sara's forehead and leaned back contentedly when Sara snuggled into her. "This is nice."

"I take it shuffling wasn't?"

"Not really. I got lots of presents - my folks were always trying to outdo each other. But it didn't make up for the lack of a real family. I loved going to my grandparents though - either side." She looked up at Simone and then scooted closer, tucking her head under Simone's chin and relishing the full body hug that followed. "All my grandparents were friends, so a lot of times they would do something together with me." Sara sighed. "Those were good times."

"Tell me about your favorite memory."

Sara's gaze went inward, then she broke into a smile. "I think it was the Christmas I was ten. Grammy was still alive and she and Papa got together with Grandmother and we all went down to Disney World for the holiday. We were there for a week and I've never had so much fun."

"Maybe we could go together sometime. I've never been."

"I'd like that. Now, c'mon. I'm hungry. And I wanna see what I got you for Christmas."

"You didn't peek?"

Sara shook her head. "No - I thought you deserved the first look. Besides, I figured Carmena probably knows you better than I do."

"Maybe when this started, but I'll bet you could give her a run for her money now."

"You think?"

"I think. You know more about me than almost anyone."

"I have a feeling I haven't even scratched the surface," Sara commented. "So," after a brief pause, "are we getting up?" Grumbling bellies made them look down before their eyes met and they chuckled. "I'm guessing that's a yes." Sara slid from the warmth of the bed and shivered as she got dressed. She looked down at twinkling blue eyes. "Problem?"

"Uh uh... just enjoying the show."

Sara rolled her eyes. "C'mon, voyeur. Let's have breakfast and then maybe we can go outside and play for a while. Been a long time since I had this much pristine snow and no responsibilities to interfere with my enjoyment of it."

"I should warn you I am a snow war champion. Remember I have all male cousins and when we got together...."

"Put your money where your mouth is, Bleeder," Sara said with an evil grin just before jerking the cover off Simone's naked body, drawing a growl from her. It didn't last long - Simone was too busy trying to get dressed.

"Brr... that was mean, Miser. There's gonna be payback, you know."

"You can try." Another rumbling from empty tummies. "After breakfast."


They came back to the cabin hours later - disheveled and red-faced with cold and laughter. Without words, they moved to stoke the fires and begin their dinner preparation. Once the meal was in the oven and cooking, they moved to the sofa and curled up together contentedly.

"You cheated," Sara complained, though the smile was obvious in her voice. Simone snorted in laughter.

"You wish. I beat you fair and square. I told you I was a snow war champion."

"I want a rematch."

"Bring it on."

"Can we exchange presents first? I wanna see what I got you."

Simone sniggered a little bit. "There's something a little wrong with that statement."

"Next year we'll do the shopping ourselves. But for now, I'm curious about this year."

"You wanna make a guess?" Simone asked. "You wanna see if you know your mother as well as she thinks she knows you?"

"Sure. You game to do the same?"

"Why not? Go get yours and I'll go get mine and we'll see how well they did."

They went to the tree and each grabbed the box that bore their name, then crossed back to the couch and sat down to unlock the boxes they held. With a snick the boxes opened to reveal several smaller, gaily wrapped packages inside.

"Well, that's interesting."

"Yeah... not what I was expecting either." Sara lifted out three different sized boxes and put them beside her, dropping the empty container to the floor. Simone did the same, and they looked at one another before exchanging the first box.

"Sweater," Simone said succinctly after a gentle shake.

"Silk underwear," Sara replied, getting a raised eyebrow and sultry look from Simone. Sara chuckled. "The long johns kind. My mother knows I use them for pajamas in the winter."

Each woman opened her box to reveal correct guesses. They traded their second box - these completely different in size, shape and weight. Sara's was about a foot square and heavy for its size. Simone's on the other hand was rectangular - about three feet in length and a foot high and wide. Though it weighed about the same as Sara's package, it seemed lighter due to the size of the box.

"I'm afraid to think of what this might be," Sara confessed. "Knowing my mother it is some sort of defensive weapon in case our fighting continued to escalate." Simone glanced up at her with profound hurt in her eyes before dropping her gaze back to her lap.

"I would never...."

Sara scooted over, regardless of the packages between them, and cupped Simone's face in her hand. "I know that, sweetheart. But my mother doesn't know you yet. She has no idea what you might be capable of and even though my father never laid a hand on her, her experiences with him left her much less trusting of mankind than she used to be. Although," Sara mused aloud, "it could be weights for me to work out with. I do have an exercise regimen at home, though it certainly doesn't compare to simply trying to survive here."

Simone snorted. "That's the truth." She looked at the box in her lap. "If I didn't know better, I would say this is an electronic piano, but I'm not sure I get the point," motioning to their primitive, if cozy, surroundings.

They pulled the paper off and Simone sat stunned. While it wasn't a piano, it was a piece of electronic equipment - it was in fact a boom box. "What the fuck?" She and Sara traded confused looks. Sara blinked and shook her head.

"I dunno, but I sense a bit of conniving going on here," Sara said as she lifted several packages of batteries and several CDs from her own box. "This is music to dance to," she commented as she looked through the titles before passing them over to Simone.

"I don't dance," Simone replied flatly.

"I thought you had lessons." The glare from Simone was answer enough. "That's okay - I'll teach you."

"I don't think so," Simone said curtly. "I don't dance." She got up and moved into the kitchen, ostensibly checking on the progress of their dinner. Sara didn't take the hint and followed her.

"Simone, what's wrong? I'd like to. It could be very erotic and I think you'd be a wonderful dancer."

"You'd be the first then," Simone snorted, slamming the oven door shut with no small amount of force.

"What?? Are you kidding me? You're all about grace and rhythm. Who told you you couldn't dance?"

"The dance instructor. She was pretty nasty about it to all of us kids - made it seem like a chore instead of her job, but she sure could suck up to Carmena when it came time to pay the bill. Sal actually put a stop to it."

"What happened?"

"Guido came to pick us up one day and he was deliberately early. He's Sal's youngest brother and the boys had complained to him about the lessons, knowing he'd speak for them if he decided they weren't blowing smoke up his ass. Now you'd have to meet Guido to understand, but he has the unique ability to blend into his surroundings - the instructor never even saw him until we got ready to leave."

"What did he do?"

"Withdrew us from her school and told her we'd never be back. And he was right - we never went back. And I never tried to dance after that. It wasn't fun."

Sara wrapped her arms around Simone's waist. "Bet I could change your mind."

"Think so?"


"What do I get if you're wrong?"


"You said you bet you could change my mind. What do I get if you're wrong?"

"I'm not. How long til dinner?"

"About twenty minutes."

"Take the boom box out of the package while I wrestle with the batteries. I'm gonna show you."

Bemused, Simone did what Sara asked, watching her slip the batteries into the compartment, then choose a CD. In another moment, music was playing and Sara extended her hand. After a moment's consideration, Simone took it and let Sara lead them in a slow dance.

"See, I told you that you could dance," Sara commented as they rocked together.

"Except this isn't dancing," Simone retorted. "Not really. This is junior high stuff... nice as it is," squeezing their bodies closer together for emphasis.

Sara sighed. She should have known Simone wouldn't make it easy. She pulled them to a halt and leaned back just enough to look Simone in the eye. "What would you prefer - waltz, tango or salsa?" Simone looked at Sara with wide eyes and Sara just smiled. "Let's go take dinner out of the oven and let it cool a bit while I teach you to waltz. We'll move on to the sexy dances when you're ready."

Simone swallowed and nodded and they went to the kitchen together. As soon as their food was sitting on the counter cooling, Sara changed the music in the player and held out her hand. "Dance with me."

Simone took the smaller hand in her own and dropped her eyes to their feet. Sara loosened her hand from Simone's waist and guided her chin back up until their eyes met. "Don't worry about my feet. Watch my eyes and feel my hands on your body guiding you. The rest will take care of itself."

Blue eyes held steady on green and it took Simone a moment to realize they were moving slowly in time to the music around the confines of the small room. Sara smiled the moment realization sank into Simone's consciousness. "I told you that you could dance."

Simone pulled them to a stop in the middle of the room, then leaned down and brushed a chaste kiss over Sara's lips. "Thank you," she whispered. "That was fun." Sara's nose crinkled in merriment.

"Just wait til we move on to the good stuff. Now let's eat... I'm starving."


"So whaddya think?" Sara asked as they came back to the remaining unopened gifts. The boxes appeared to be identical - about a foot and a half square and heavy. The sound they made was a shifting rasp, but no rattle or jingle or clinking. Simone studied the package she held carefully.

"Wishfully thinking? I wish it was keys to a hummer that would take us out of here. As much as I like it being just us, I wouldn't be adverse to it being just us in a much warmer climate. I'm tired of the cold."

"I wouldn't complain about the opportunity to see you in a skimpy little swimsuit," Sara confided with a leer. "But I'm thinking there aren't any keys in here - it's not jingling. How about a cell phone?"

"Wouldn't do us any good. There isn't a cell tower anywhere around. Trust me - I've looked."

"Have you really?"

"Yeah - when we first got here I did some exploring. I found a couple places that gave me a great lookout view of a lot of the area surrounding us. There's nothing but a lot of trees and snow and mountains. I didn't see the first telephone wire or cell tower."

"Then how is that radio supposed to work? Something's got to carry the signal."

"I dunno... unless they ran the wires underground. Seems like a hell of a lot of work, though."

"Yeah, unless you really needed to stay hidden."

"I guess," Sara agreed absently. "So if it's not keys and it's not cell phones, what is it?"

"What would you like it to be?"

"Chocolate," came the immediate, succinct answer. Sara's eyes lit up at the mere idea. "That would be wonderful. I miss chocolate." Her eager smile turned to a frown as her brow furrowed. "Although, if it *is* chocolate, someone is going to suffer for keeping it away from us for months on end. Seems like that could be grounds for justifiable homicide."

Simone laughed. "We'll add it to the list." Then by unspoken agreement, they ripped into the paper covering the boxes. Even before they lifted the lids, the scent of chocolate wafted up to them and they groaned in appreciation. "First, though, we're going to enjoy this little bounty," removing bag after bag of chocolates. "Tomorrow will be soon enough to start planning their demises," closing her eyes in bliss as the first taste of chocolate hit her tongue.

The only sound from either of them for the next little while were moans of sincere gratitude. Finally, their eating slowed and they looked at one another.

"If I eat another bite, I'm gonna puke," Sara complained, though her grin belied her words.

"Me too," setting the still full box on the floor. "I think there may be a stay of execution for them for a little while at least. But I'm reserving judgment."

Sara grinned and stood, offering Simone her hand. "Forget about them - dance with me."

"No music?" Simone asked as they started to sway together.

"Nah? this is junior high school again," tucking her head into the crook of Simone's neck. "No fancy moves or rehearsed steps. I just wanna be close to you."

Simone tightened her hold and they danced to music only the two of them could feel in their hearts.


Time seemed to pass decidedly more swiftly now, the tension between them dissolved with the breaking down of barriers they'd held on to for so long. They spent the time not dedicated to their survival talking, dancing and making love. Simone discovered she had an innate grace that made dancing something she actually enjoyed doing. Of course, it didn't hurt that Sara was her teacher either. As far as Simone was concerned, it was the best kind of bonus and she looked forward to the look on Carmena's face the first time she and Sara danced together publicly. She'd never managed to master many of the intricate steps in her original lessons that Sara had added to her repertoire, and she was looking forward to showing them off.

Of course all that assumed she and Sara were still speaking to their families at the next family gathering. Despite her gratitude for how things were working out for the two of them, Simone was still furious at the way they had been manipulated and was confident Sara felt the same way.

Still, they'd shared much in the weeks since Thanksgiving, and for that golden time Simone would ever be grateful. She secretly wondered how long it would last, thinking it was too good to be true and knowing that life had a way of finding balance in all things. Then the world as she had come to know it came crashing down around her and she wondered if she would survive the fall.


It was close to Valentine's Day as far as they could ascertain and they were trying to make special plans that didn't overlap without giving everything away to each other. After spending their days separated, they were glad to collapse on the couch and cuddle in relative quiet. Then one night only a few days before the holiday, Sara decided to break the silence.

"There's something you need to know about me," not noticing how Simone stiffened and held her breath. "Something I've never told another living soul. I got so drunk one night I don't actually remember how I made it home," she said softly. "I was young and stupid and thought I was invincible. I'm pretty sure I drove home given the fact that my car was parked rather haphazardly in the yard and I think I may have sideswiped a couple cars along the way, but...." Sara shrugged. "I can't say for sure exactly what happened. I've always wondered if I hurt anyone, but I could never find any evidence of what took place after we left the last bar. No one I was with remembered anything... at least nothing they were willing to admit to."

"You think they did remember something?" Simone asked without accusation. "I mean, if they were as drunk as you were, isn't it possible they can't remember either?"

"I suppose," Sara reluctantly agreed. "It just... it niggles at me that I can't remember. I've always wondered, you know... if I messed someone up for life and never even realized it."

"I killed a man," Simone announced into the silence that had fallen between them.

"Excuse me?"

"I killed a man," Simone repeated dispassionately. "He was an issue that needed to be dealt with. So I dealt with him. No more issue."

"Excuse me??" Sara got up from the couch and started pacing in front of the fireplace, arms wrapped protectively around her torso. "How can you just sit there so calmly and say that??" She turned and looked at Simone though she never moved closer. "God, Simone! Do you realize you've just admitted to committing murder?? What am I supposed to do with that?"

"Nothing, Sara - not a damned thing. It's over and done with - nothing's gonna change what happened." Simone watched her life crumble before her eyes - so close to happiness and now so far from it.

"So I'm just supposed to accept the fact that you're a murderer? A murderer without any remorse??"

"Why should it matter??" unwilling to justify or explain in light of Sara's accusations. "I'm the same person I was five minutes ago before I said anything. I thought since we were apparently confessing deep, dark secrets you needed to know. It's not something I just randomly throw out to people. I thought you could handle this."

"Handle this?! How does a person handle finding out they're sleeping with a murderer??? I've never been in this position before."

"Does it change how you feel about me?"

"It changes everything!! How I see you, how I see myself, how I see us...."

"I see," blue eyes going white with pain and despair before turning cold and bleak. "In that case, you'll excuse me for the rest of the evening. I won't inflict my company on you any longer than necessary."

Sara reached out, but fell short of actually touching Simone, watching Simone flinch away from her and feeling something inside of her break at the reaction.

"Simone, where are you going?"

"It doesn't matter, Miser. It's no longer your concern."

Sara nearly cried out when the despised nickname fell from Simone's lips, but she didn't stop her from disappearing into the darkness of the night that had long since fallen around them.

When Simone returned some hours later, Sara still sat on the couch contemplating the flames. She looked up at the sound of the door opening, but Simone refused to meet her eyes. Instead, she went directly down to the cellar. Despite her previous resolve, it was time to call Sal. She'd make sure he found a way to get Sara home. Simone couldn't survive another few months of living in close proximity to Sara... not anymore. All she wanted now was to get Sara away from her so she could lick her wounds in private.

She'd hoped for understanding or at least concern and instead she'd gotten censure and accusation. Sara hadn't even seen fit to ask any questions - simply jumped to conclusions. Simone spent hours rewiring the radio, hoping beyond hope that the payoff would be worth the effort. Sara came down several times to check on her, but Simone patently ignored her and continued working until she was so tired her eyes were crossing and she feared electrocuting herself was becoming a real possibility.

And since she wasn't looking to commit suicide, Simone finally straightened from her labor and gathered the lantern that had burned down to almost nothing. Then she stepped over Sara who'd fallen asleep by the hidden doorway and made her way upstairs, tumbling into bed just as the sun crept over the horizon.

Sara awoke a short time later, wondering what had disturbed her and realizing Simone was no longer downstairs. Cursing, she clambered to her feet, rubbing the kinks out of her neck as she mounted the stairs. Sara noted dully that Simone was in bed and hadn't even bothered to wake her. So that was how it was going to be. She shrugged, trying to dismiss the sense of loss and heartache she felt.

Maybe it's just as well, she thought. Maybe this will give me the space I need to come to terms with all this. Surely there was more to the story than Simone had shared. But Sara was smart enough to recognize she might never find out the truth behind Simone's words now - not given her initial reaction in the wake of Simone's confession. The thought made her want to cry. How quickly things had disintegrated - the question was... could she get them back to where they'd been? Did she want to?

She snorted as she pulled on her jacket to go take care of the wood supply. Wanting to was not the issue. Already she could hardly breathe with the pain the rending between them had caused. This wasn't a want - it was a need. Her only real concern now was how to repair the damage she had inadvertently caused with her first response. Could Simone forgive her?

She never saw the tears that rolled down Simone's face when she quietly closed the door behind her.


Sara was thankful Simone had spent part of her evening the night before cording and stacking firewood. It meant she had more time to hunt and more and more that was becoming a necessity as fresh game was more and more difficult to find. She pondered again the seeming lack of thought and preparation that gone into their incarceration in this place and secretly wondered if they were actually supposed to survive.

With any luck, she'd be able to use this time to redeem herself in Simone's eyes. She deserved better than the reaction Sara had given her and Sara knew in her heart that there was much more to the story than simply the comment 'I killed a man'.

So she wandered out to the traps she'd set first, hoping she'd get lucky - finding meat for the stewpot and a way to reach Simone before it was too late and she lost her completely... if that hadn't already happened because of her lack of faith.

Simone, for her part, tossed and turned restlessly for a few hours until she finally gave up sleep as a lost cause. With an exhausted sigh, she ran a hand through tangled hair and rose on shaky legs, then headed back downstairs to the cellar and the hidden radio room.

It took an hour or so for her to make the last connection, but finally, the radio crackled to life.

"Sal, pick up. Damn you, you asshole, pick up the fucking radio now."

"One moment please." The youth who had been manning the radio on the off chance that it was actually used, dialed a number he'd never truthfully thought he'd need to use. In moments, Sal made his way into the room and picked up the transceiver.


"Listen up, you old bastard and listen good - because I'm only gonna say this once." His eyes widened at the venom in her voice. "You find a way to get your ass wherever here is for us and you take Sara outta here, you got me? I want her gone in the next two days. That gives you time to make your arrangements and time to get here and leave. I don't care how you do it, but I want her out of here."

"Simone, what...?"

"None of your goddamn business. But you get this taken care of or I'll start walking. Doesn't matter which direction I go as long as it's away from here. Then you can explain things to Carmena and the boys. I'm sure they'll be understanding about it."

"Now Simone... let's not be hasty."

"You heard what I said, Sal. Two days." She clicked the radio off before he could respond and ripped the wires from the battery. There was no sense behind the action except that it made her feel marginally better. Then she went back upstairs and crawled back into bed. Maybe now she could get a little sleep.


"Get. Up."

The words were almost as frigid as the air around her became when the covers were ripped off Simone's body, startling her into wakefulness. Disoriented, she sat up, pushing her hair out of her face and scrubbing her burning, aching eyes before looking balefully at Sara who stood stock still at the end of the bed with her hands on her hips.

"What the fuck?"

Green eyes glowed with fury. "I'll ask the questions, Bleeder. Now get the hell out of that bed before I drag your sorry ass to the floor."

Simone made it a deliberate point to look Sara carefully up and down before she snorted in derision. "You and what army, Miser? And why the fuck is it so goddamn cold in here?"

Sara didn't answer - she simply took the two steps necessary to grab Simone by the arm and jerked her from the bed, causing her to land rather unceremoniously on the ground at Sara's feet. Simone growled and rose to her full height, looking down on Sara with murderous intent in her eyes.

"Don't do that again," she grit out between clenched teeth.

"Or what, Bleeder? What are you going to do about it?" Sara went toe to toe with Simone, stepping into her personal space and poking Simone in the chest with a rather sharp, pointed nail. Simone snatched Sara's hand away from her body, taking care not to hurt her even while maintaining a firm grip.

"You got some weird sorta death wish, Miser? 'Cause I'm pretty sure I can accommodate you... what with me being a murderer and all."

"I'm pretty sure you can't, Bleeder. But I'm dying to know why you felt the need to lie to me - no pun intended, of course," Sara added with a vicious smirk. Simone caught the serious intent behind those eyes and released the hand she held, backing away and padding to the cold fireplace. Sara let her go, turning and watching Simone for long moments as she built up the fire with shaking hands, wondering if it was the cold or her fury that was giving Simone the shakes.

After a bit, the fire was blazing sufficiently, though Simone had yet to move from her spot directly in front of the fireplace. It seemed as though she was mesmerized by the allure of the flame. Sara sighed and crossed to sit just behind her; she leaned her head against Simone's strong back, gratified when Simone neither flinched nor pulled away. Instead, Simone slumped beneath her touch and Sara wrapped her arms around Simone's body, holding her carefully in place.

"Why, Simone? Why did you lie to me?"

"I didn't. Why did you assume the worst?"

Sara unwrapped herself from Simone's body and rose, coming around to stand between Simone and the flames. She extended her hand, first raising Simone's chin til their eyes met and then offering her a hand up. "This isn't going to be a quick conversation. So we either need to move to the couch or make a nest on the floor. I can't sit on this hard wood for hours with no padding."

Simone nodded bleakly and took the proffered hand, dropping it as soon as she was on her feet. Then she walked to the couch and curled up in one corner and waited patiently for Sara to do the same. They were silent for a while staring at one another until Sara broke the silence.

"I accept that you had to kill a man for whatever reason. What I don't understand is why you deliberately misled me about it. Don't," she continued when Simone opened her mouth to deny the accusation. "You said what you said the way you said it for a negative reaction. Did you like the one you got?"

Blue eyes sparked with anger. "How would you feel - knowing the person who claimed to love you automatically assumed the worst of you??"

"Don't you *dare* lay all this on me, Simone! You deliberately made sure I'd interpret things that way! You never offered one word of explanation - just expected me to know that 'I killed a man' doesn't mean 'I committed murder'... especially considering...."

"Considering what??" Simone broke in. "My family?? Because my family is *Family*," the last said with emphasis. "That automatically makes me a murderer?? Nice, Miser," Simone snorted. "Real nice." She jerked up and went towards the door, only to find her shirt caught and held in Sara's surprisingly strong grip.

"Let go, Miser! I really don't wanna hurt you."

"You won't, Simone," Sara replied with a conviction that surprised Simone. "But I'm not going to let you walk away from this either... not until we get things settled."

Simone followed Sara back to the couch, then wrapped her arms around her bent knees and turned her face back to the fire. Sara picked up their previous conversation without missing a beat.

"Especially considering that 'I killed a man' is not the same as 'I had an accident and somebody died'." She drew a deep breath. "Why did you do it, Simone? Why put it that way? Were you trying to drive me away?" Silence. "Why, Simone? If you didn't want to be with me, why not just say so?? Why do...."

Her words were cut off by the press of lips against hers and Sara surrendered to the heat that flowed through her for a long moment before Sara pushed Simone away from her gently while continuing to cup her face. "No Simone... not yet. We have to talk this through first."

Simone tried to move away from Sara, growling her frustration when Sara wouldn't allow her to do so. Blue eyes held green for a long moment before Simone slumped in defeat seeing the determination in Sara's eyes. She leaned her head against the back of the couch, her eyes never leaving Sara's.

"Are you ready to talk? Tell me the truth?" Sara asked when the silence had gone on for a while.

Simone reached for Sara's hand, tracing the fine bones and keeping her eyes trained there. "It wasn't an accident, but it wasn't premeditated either."

"What happened?" Sara was finally forced to ask.

"Revenge," Simone said, shaking her head. "And anger."

"Tell me," Sara commanded.


"My mother married far beneath her station... at least as far as the rest of her family was concerned. Pop wasn't part of the Family; he was a mechanic working in the town where my grandfather kept a summer home. And always when the Family was there, they used Pop's service station whenever they needed work done on their cars. It's how my folks met."

Sara nodded, not wanting to interrupt Simone's narrative. And though she didn't understand what this had to do with Simone killing a man, Sara was interested in hearing whatever bits of her life Simone was willing to impart. There was still so much they had to learn about one another.

"They were kids at first - no one even noticed the looks they shared or the notes that got passed throughout the year courtesy of the postal service as they got older. Then one year, after my mother reached the age of majority, she and my father ran away... and got married.

My grandfather was furious. Mama was the apple of his eye and he'd had such high expectations for her. He was also hurt that she and Pop sneaked out behind his back - for the longest time he believed my father had no honor... that he'd taken advantage of my mother's youth and innocence and gotten her pregnant. Only when the evidence showed differently did he even begin to relent towards them. Except by then my mother was angry and it would take my birth before there was any softening between them.

After I was born, they all made a concerted effort to repair the family bonds, though we were never part of the Family business or the Family wealth. Pop remained a mechanic and Mama went from being a socialite to a suburban housewife. I was growing up in the typical family - we never did without, but we weren't rich. We weren't even well-off. My pop used to say we did all right."

Simone paused, her mind lost in memories and Sara sat back and simply observed the nuances that washed over Simone's impressionable features. After a few minutes of silence, Sara covered Simone's hand with her own and waited for Simone's blue eyes track to her green ones.

When Simone came back to herself, she extricated her hand from Sara's and stood, walking to the fireplace and gazing sightlessly at the flames that burned steadily. Sara kept her eyes on Simone's slumped form, wondering which part of this whole scenario was causing the bad posture and trying not to take the withdrawal personally. They had suffered through too many misunderstandings and hurt each other too many times by jumping to conclusions that had no place in reality. So she waited.

"When my grandfather died, he left a substantial amount of money for my parents and Sal became the head of the Family. At their request, he put the money in trust for me... all but a little bit. Instead, for my parents' twentieth wedding anniversary, Sal sent them on a trip to the old country. That's when their plane crashed and I went to live with Sal and Carmena.

It was such a massive change for me - I went from being a middle class only child to being the youngest and only girl in a wealthy, powerful family with five sons. The boys were wonderful... they circled the wagons around me... even when it came to those dancing lessons. It was this behavior that taught me that we protect family... no matter what."

"So what happened?" Sara finally asked when the silence dragged on too long. "If they were looking after you so carefully, how did things go so wrong?" Silence. "Simone...."


"Sweetheart, I need to know. And I think you need to share it with me."

"What if you find out I'm right... and I am a murderer?"

"You're not," Sara responded with conviction. "And I was wrong to jump to that conclusion regardless of the garden path you were leading me down. If I had taken a moment to think about it before I reacted, I wouldn't have jumped at all. I'm sorry I leaped to that conclusion so quickly - it's something I'll regret til my dying day. I know better... I know *you* better."

"Do you?"

"Yes!" Sara replied emphatically. "I know your heart, Simone."

"We'll hope you know me better than I know myself then... 'cause I've lived with this a long time."

Sara chuckled softly. "Simone, you didn't earn the nickname Bleeder because you made things bleed. I told you... you earned it because you seemed to bleed for every cause that came around. Despite your tough girl persona, you've always been a soft touch. Do you trust me?"


"Then tell me the rest."

Simone sighed and turned her gaze inward, standing and walking to the fireplace. She leaned against the mantle and her eyes roved the flames unseeingly, looking for answers she wouldn't find there. The fire popped loudly, cutting into the silence of the room and making both women jump in response. Then Simone jumped again when Sara lightly touched her on the back, not having heard her come up behind her. Sara didn't say a word - merely took Simone's hands in hers and kissed them lightly before meeting Simone's eyes.

Sara led them back to the couch, sitting first and patting her lap. Simone reclined her length along the couch and put her head on Sara's lap. Simone took a deep breath, relishing the comfort she garnered being surrounded by Sara's scent, then allowed Sara to guide her head until she was facing the flames.

"Focus," Sara said softly. "Watch the flames and let them relax you." She gently rubbed Simone's temples, smiling as she felt Simone slump against her. "Listen to my voice and let go, lover. Together, we'll figure this out."

"Together," Simone mumbled, eyes drooping. "I like that word."

Sara smiled. "So do I." She continued to rub Simone's head. Just before Simone fell asleep, in that twilight between wakefulness and sleep, she heard Sara's voice - a mere whisper in her ear. "Now talk to me, Simone. Tell me the story."

Simone sighed and opened her eyes, letting the flames become her focus as she started to talk softly. "As we grew up, the boys went into various aspects of the family business and as long as I lived at home, they continued to keep an eye on me. It wasn't until I left for college that their involvement in my life withdrew to a point where I felt like I was on my own for the first time in my life. I wasn't, of course... not as the baby and the only girl in the family. They simply chose watchers with Guido's gift for subtlety. It was kind of nice... a feeling of freedom with a sense of safety."

"I must have made a hell of an impression," Sara said wryly.

Simone chuckled. "They didn't get that close. They were just nearby in case there was trouble. You weren't trouble to them - you were entertainment." Simone turned and glared at Sara when the jostling of her laughter caused her to stop her light massage. Simone bumped her head against Sara's stomach.

"Oof!" Sara grunted, gently pulling Simone's hair before resuming her rubbing. Simone sighed in contentment and forced herself to relax, knowing the worst was yet to come.

"Even though Felicia was my cousin, she wasn't Family, so they didn't keep an eye on her like they did on me. Besides, I was a senior by this point, and they'd let things get a little lax. I mean, no one had bothered me for three years and aside from you and me deliberately annoying the hell out of each other, it wasn't like I interacted with that many people. There really wasn't a lot to protect me from - no one knew I was Family.

After Felicia's death, I withdrew even more and it made it harder for them to keep an eye on me - I never went out. Then one afternoon in the middle of winter, I was taken with cabin fever and decided to walk over to the Rothskeller for a cup of coffee.

I was about halfway there when I saw him... the one who'd raped Felicia and ultimately caused her death. I saw red... couldn't help it. He was chatting up some other poor girl and I just lost it. I stomped over to where they were and lit into him."

"You hit him?"

"Not right away, no. I pushed him away from the girl, yelling at him and poking him in the chest. He shoved me away, and I swung at him. Broke his nose, actually," Simone added dispassionately.

"Then what?" when the silence began to drag on too long.

"He came at me - the girl was long gone at this point - and I braced myself for his weight. Only it never came. Instead, my watchers stepped from the shadows. Two caught him by the arms; the third helped me stand and dusted me off. Then I was sent on my way."


"And??? I signed that boy's death warrant, Sara. I didn't physically commit the act of murder, but I killed him as sure as if I'd put a gun to his head."

"Simone, you can't know that for certain."

"Yes, I can... I do. Frankie called later that day to let me know the problem had been dealt with. Two weeks later there was a fire in an old, abandoned building in the run-down section of town - do you remember?"

Sara furrowed her brow thoughtfully before letting her eyes meet Simone's. "Yeah... the fire marshal ruled it an accident - some sort of a slow gas leak that was ignited by the itinerants that were living there or drug dealers that did business there."

"The gas leak was deliberate and the homeless that had taken shelter there were just innocent victims to hide the murder of Peter Welton."

Sara's eyes widened. "Peter Welton??" forcing her hands to remain on Simone's head though she stopped her massage. "Peter Welton was the frat boy who raped your cousin? You're sure?"

Simone felt the tension in the body beneath hers and she turned carefully to look up at Sara. "I'm sure, Sara. Felicia was finally able to identify him days before she died - both by description as well as by sight." She captured the hand still tangled in her hair, clasping it gently to keep it from trembling. "Why, sweetheart? Who was Peter Welton to you?"

"He was my half-brother."


"Excuse me?" Simone asked when she'd recovered her voice. "I thought...."

"Yeah, so did I until I got to college. Now don't get me wrong - I love my father and he's been a good dad to me. But he's also a jackass. One of the reasons my parents divorced is because Billy screwed around on my mom. Peter was the result."

"Older or younger?"

"Older, but not by much. Apparently, he knocked up some other woman about the same time my mother got pregnant with me." Simone winced and Sara nodded. "Not that mother knew right away. It wasn't until I was almost three did she find out about Peter - he was the straw that broke their marriage."

"Why was he never acknowledged as your father's heir?"

"I don't think Peter's mother knew who my father really was." Sara sighed. "The only reason I found out who Peter was is because I confronted Billy about it after I saw him. He looked just like him."

"That must have been an interesting confrontation," Simone said dryly.

"Oh, you have no idea. It was so bad my mother got involved." Sara cut her eyes at Simone. "My parents have endeavored to remain amicable to one another, but a lot of that involves ignoring one another."

"I'm sorry," Simone said softly.

"What for, sweetheart?"

"For causing your brother to die - for the fact that your folks hate each other."

Sara chuckled sadly. "Not your fault, Simone. And I'm not sorry... not really. My family is what it is - it's all I've known. As for Peter, I never really knew him. I'm sorry he died, but I can't find it in my heart to be sad about it... not after what he did to Felicia. Does that make me a bad person?"

"No, it makes you honest."

Silence fell for a long stretch of time. "So now what?" Simone finally asked.

"Now we go on with our lives and I'd like it to be together."

"What about...?"

"You're not a murderer, Simone Marcone. You need to stop believing that. The question is - what do you want?"

"I want us. I want us for a long time."

Sara grinned. "I like the sound of that... except I want forever, Simone," she added seriously.

"Forever sounds wonderful. Forever sounds just perfect to me."


The sound of rumbling woke them the following morning. They blinked bleary eyes at one another, then Simone sat straight up, wincing at the pain that shot through her neck. She ran to the window, even as Sara commented, "Guess we shouldn't have fallen asleep on the couch."

An odd whirring sound made her tilt her head at the ceiling, then the rumbling became louder and the cabin actually trembled and shook with force.

"Shit!" Simone grumbled. "Dammit, Sal!" jumping away from the window as a wall of snow slammed up against it.

"Sal?? Simone, what the hell is going on here?"

Simone wrapped herself around Sara's body and kept their heads down until the shaking and rumbling finally stopped and all that was left in its place was complete, dead silence and an odd sort of twilight.

"What the fuck was that?" Sara asked in an absurdly calm voice, barely disturbing the heavy blanket of quiet that had fallen.

"The first or the second?" Simone sighed and sat up, pleasantly surprised when Sara followed and tucked her body into Simone's. "The first was a helicopter, probably carrying Sal since I called him day before yesterday and gave him two days to get you the hell away from here."

"You called Sal." Sara's voice was flat and she sat up, pulling away from Simone so she could look into her face.


"You called Sal."

"Yes, I did."

"You called Sal and didn't tell me? What the...."


"After everything... after all we said, you called Sal and didn't tell me," the statement flat and Simone wondered how angry Sara really was.

"Sara, I was furious with you when I called him. Why would I tell you? I needed you out of here quickly - whatever it took. Courtesy was the last thought on my mind. And it wasn't even a thought in my mind when you dragged me out of bed yesterday."

"So Sal knows we're alive?"

"He knows we were at any rate, and that I was absolutely enraged at you."

"All right," taking a deep breath. "So... he's here to pick us up? Because I'm not leaving here without you."

"I don't think so."

"What?!? Why??? Don't you want...??"

Simone took Sara in her arms. "Yes, sweetheart... of course I do. But...."

"So we can call him back, right? We can call him and he can come pick us both up."

"I don't think so."

Sara glowered. "Whaddya mean you - you don't think so??"

"We can't call him back." Simone's loosened her arms from Sara's body and dropped her chin to her chest. Sara shifted to look at her, ending her head to catch Simone's eyes.


"I destroyed the radio. I didn't want the temptation."

Sara blew out a frustrated breath. "All right. But he's still coming to get me, right? Surely there'll be room enough for both of us to go. Then we can go somewhere warm together." She traced around Simone's breasts and waist. "I can't wait to see you in a little bit of nothing bikini."

"Me too... I mean I'm looking forward to that too. Except the second sound... the rumble? That was an avalanche." Simone chuckled and Sara tilted her head in question. "I have a feeling that little avalanche is going to cause Sal far more grief than it's going to give us buried beneath it. Wait til Carmena hears he buried us alive."

Sara's features paled and Simone's chuckles ended abruptly. She reached out took Sara's cold hands in hers, caressing them with her thumbs in an effort to stimulate some blood flow. "Sara?"

"Buried alive? I've got to get out of here," jerking her hands from Simone's and standing on shaky legs. She made it to the front door and slid to her knees when opening it revealed a solid wall of cold, white snow. Simone, who had followed right behind her, knelt at her side and took Sara into her embrace.

"Sara, honey... it'll be all right. We have food and hot water and the cabin will stay warm as long as we are surrounded like this. I remember this from school. The snow acts like insulation. We'll just hibernate - do a lot of sleeping."

"You don't understand, Simone - I'm claustrophobic. I can't stay in here," her voice rising in panic. "I can't stay here!!" She struggled in Simone's embrace. Simone held on tight and whispered words of comfort until she felt Sara relax against her.

Simone looked around, knowing there was no way in hell they were going to get out using conventional methods. The open door showed no cracks in the ice and the windows were completely whited out. Her eyes fell on the huge stone fireplace that currently had only ashes in it. "Do you trust me?"

"Yes," came the stark reply.

Simone took Sara's hand in hers and pulled them both to their feet. She led Sara over to the fireplace and seated her on the stone hearth. Slowly and deliberately Simone emptied the ashes into the bucket placed nearby for that purpose, and when she was done, she offered her hand to Sara again.

"We can get out if we climb up the chimney."

Sara shook her head. "No, Simone... I can't."

"Can you if I go first?" Silence. "Sweetheart, I need to make sure the chimney is clear. Will you be all right here for a few minutes while I go check it out?"

"Don't leave me here by myself, Simone... please."

"It's all right, Sara," kneeling down in front of her. "C'mon, baby... breathe for me." Sara kept her eyes locked on Simone's and slowly breathed in and out until she felt her heartbeat slow and reason return to her eyes. "Better?"

"I think so."

"Do you want to try climbing out the chimney?"

Sara shook her head. "I don't think I can manage," her voice a bare whisper.

"It's all right, Sara. You'll get there. But I need to go up and make sure we're clear."

"I'll wait right here," motioning to the hearth and chimney. "I'll try to give you something soft to land on if you slip," weakly joking.

Simone shook her head. "This I can actually do. My pop and I used to clean out the buildings in the neighborhood for extra money every fall."

"You were a lot smaller then."

"So were the fireplaces."

That got a smile out of Sara and she watched as Simone stepped into the fireplace and ducked underneath before her feet disappeared in a shimmy of movement. "The stones are still warm, but not hot," said Simone in a muffled voice. The sound of scraping grew fainter as Simone reached the top then her voice echoed down. "Wow!"

After a few minutes, Simone slithered back down. Her boots landed on the stone with a thump, not noticing the small shower of soot she caused to fall in her wake or the streaks that liberally coated her skin and clothing. "It's clear... and I think I may be able to dig a path to the door. It'll take a few days, but.... Sara?" looking down at the armful of trembling woman she was suddenly holding. "Sara, sweetheart? You all right?"

"I love you."

"I love you too," kissing the top of the blonde head. "What brought that on?"

Sara looked up into blue eyes, her green ones moist with tears. "You'd do that for me? Dig a path out?"

Simone shrugged. "Sure... why not?"

Sara pulled Simone's head down, capturing her lips and kissing her senseless for a very long space of time. When they parted, both women were breathing heavily and Sara looked up at Simone with burning determination in her eyes. "Take me up, Simone."


"You're willing to dig through tons of snow to give me a way out of here. The least I can do is help."

Simone studied the green eyes staring up at her so trustingly. "You're sure?"

"I'd like to try."

"You wanna go first?" Sara shook her head.

"I don't think I can do that. You lead... I'll follow."

"All right. I'll go first. If it becomes a problem and you can't do it, let me know and I'll come right back down, all right?"

Sara nodded and pulled Simone in for another kiss. "For courage," she muttered when they separated. Simone smiled and caressed her cheek lightly, conveniently ignoring the streak of soot she left behind.

"Anytime you need that, you just let me know," she smiled rakishly. Sara blushed. Simone chuckled.

Simone found it was even easier going the second time. There was a lot less soot to deal with and soon she reached the top again, snickering at the amount of blackened snow surrounding the chimney. She turned and called down to Sara. "It's wide open, Sara... come on up, love."

The endearment made Sara flush all over and she forgot her qualms in an effort to return to the warmth of those strong arms. She closed her eyes and ducked, letting her instincts guide her as she focused on her breathing. As she neared the top, she felt Simone clasp her beneath the arms and pull her into a warm, sooty-smelling pile. Sara opened her eyes and laughed, causing Simone to smile - it was a bright white path in a sea of black soot.

Sara took a deep breath and sighed in contentment... until she felt the cold snow start seeping into her pants. "Brrr."

"Yeah," Simone agreed with a shiver of her own. "We should have dressed a little better."

"Next time," Sara stated. Knowing there was a way out, no matter how unconventional made the whole situation a little more bearable. Knowing they were going to work together to make a more conventional exit available to them was even better. Being in Simone's arms just made it perfect.

"Next time?"

"Next time. As long as you are here, I can do anything." The kiss they shared nearly melted the ice surrounding them.


It was slow going as Simone did a majority of the digging and the snow was tightly compacted. Sara tried to hunt, but quickly discovered that the avalanche had changed the entire nature of the landscape surrounding them. All her traps were gone or buried and it seemed that all the wildlife had been scared off. Still, she persevered, knowing they needed protein to supplement their dry diet, but the results were disheartening and Sara grew more and more despondent.

Simone worked even harder, hoping her effort would be enough to make Sara forget about the lack of fresh meat they needed to ensure their continued survival. It took a while, but eventually, one morning, Simone opened the front door for Sara, grinning like a fool at the childlike expression of wonder on Sara's face. "It's not much," she started, but stopped when Sara's fingers covered her lips.

"It's perfect, Simone. We can open the door and I can walk outside and see sky."

"Yeah, but...."

"Simone, it's perfect."

"Sara, it's ten feet straight down."

"Simone, it's ten feet straight up to open sky and air. We can work on it from here now. No more chimney crawling."

"You really hated that, huh?"

"Yeah," she admitted in a small voice. "I tried to be brave about it, but I never want to have to do that again."

"We're still well-insulated, and we have enough dry food to last a while. We'll make it sweetheart."

"I hope so," Sara said solemnly. "I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when Sal had to explain this little twist."

Simone chuckled. "Me too."


"You're sure?"

"Yes, Carmena. I heard the rumble and I watched the snow cascade until the cabin was buried. The only thing visible was a tiny bit of chimney."

"And we're just supposed to wait until spring thaw to go dig them out?? What the hell were you thinking, Amici? Why did you decide to fly a fucking helicopter into an avalanche zone in winter... especially on the flip side of winter when avalanches are most likely to occur? What the hell possessed you...?"

Sal rose from his seat and the two rather large men that were standing sentinel at the doors took a deliberate step forward. Billy Wainwright looked around and straightened, clearing his throat and tugging his jacket down in an effort to collect himself. Sal glared at him.

"Sit down, Mr. Wainwright." Billy stared back, but complied, realizing Sal was waiting on him before he resumed speaking. Once Wainwright was seated, Sal looked around at the other occupants of the room. Carmena sat in her customary place on the couch and Adrianne Wainwright sat next to her. Billy Wainwright had taken the chair opposite Sal.

"Now," Sal said calmly as he resumed his seat. "You will hold your tongue and kindly remember that there are ladies present when you do speak. I went because I received a most disturbing radio call from my niece."

"Wait... you heard from them?"

"No. I heard from her. And she was furious. It seems that what she told you before was true - she and your Sara will always hate one another. And we need to accept that."

"What did she say to you, Sallie?" Carmena asked using his pet name. No one even cracked a smile.

"She demanded I find a way to remove Sara from the cabin within two days or else she would go walking. There's nowhere to walk to. The cabin is literally in the middle of the wilderness."

"And you believed her?" Wainwright scoffed. "If she was so intent on leaving, why wait til now? And why contact you about it? I'm not buying it."

"Mr. Wainwright," the chill in his voice dropping the room temperature to almost zero. "I don't rightly care whether you do or do not buy into the situation. The fact remains that Sara and Simone had been surviving together for several months - whether it was an amicable arrangement only they know, but they were doing so together. Obviously things got to the point that remaining together was no longer a viable option."

"All right," Billy granted, leaning forward in his chair. "Let's say I buy that. Let's say I agree to the fact that they were making their situation work and something happened to end that. Why wait so long to call regardless if they've had the ability to do so since the beginning? Why not call and make that demand sooner - just pretend something went wrong to get them out of there?"

Sal and Carmena exchanged small grins. "You need to understand something about our niece, Mr. Wainwright," came Carmena's dulcet tones. "Something you should already know as her employer. Simone is bulldog stubborn and she will hang on to an idea until she proves her point. Staying with Sara for six months was like a personal challenge. So whatever happened between them was bad enough she felt the need to break their silence."

"Their silence? Are you saying Sara could have called as well?"

"Yes... it would have taken both of them to find that hidden radio room, I think. They're not big like my boys here," motioning to the two gargantuan men standing statue like at the door. "And the doors were heavy."

"Then I wonder why...?"

"For the same reason Simone didn't, Billy. You know that. She hasn't spoken to you since you fired her. You don't think she can be stubborn as the day is long... especially if she thinks she's proving a point?"

Wainwright blew out a breath. "All right," he conceded. "So now what?"

Sal shook his head. "I've talked to some experts. We're going to have to wait a bit before we try to get any equipment up there to dig them out. Any more disturbance of the area right now will only make things worse."

"Can we talk to them? Raise them on that radio?"

"We could... if they were listening and if the radio was still working."

"The radio's not working now?"

"Not since I spoke to Simone. I am fairly confident given the squealing it emitted after she signed off that she destroyed it in her anger."

"So we don't know if either of them is alive and we have no realistic way of finding out until we can actually get in there and dig them out."

"Essentially, yes."

"Great. I hope the thaw is early this year."


The next two months passed slowly for Sara and Simone. Much of their time was spent sleeping in an effort to conserve both food and energy. They did succeed in creating a slope from the front door, but the only purpose it actually served was to give them a bit of exercise and fresh air. There were enough snow storms that they had to maintain vigilance to keep it from accumulating. But otherwise, there was very little physical activity, including the sedate hobbies that had been such a part of their evenings before; even their lovemaking was seriously curtailed although they spent every night curled up together in the same bed.

What time awake they had remaining after chores was generally spent curled up together enjoying quiet conversation. There wasn't a fire to gaze into - they had little need for heat with the insulation the packed snow around them continued to provide and their firewood was a precious commodity. Once a day they lit the stove to prepare a hot meal, but otherwise, it was an unnecessary expenditure, especially as they had a constant supply of hot water.

"Ya know...." Simone commented one evening as they lay curled up together. "I'm glad we finally kissed and made up. I don't have the energy for a good fight right now."

Sara snorted. "Me either," she murmured. "We'll have to work on that when we get out of here."

Simone grinned widely and waggled her eyebrows. "You just want wild, hot monkey makeup sex."

"Duh," she replied pointedly. Silence fell, then Sara spoke, changing the atmosphere from playful to serious. "You know we're running out of supplies. Even having cut back...."

"I know, sweetheart." After the avalanche, Sara had taken over in the kitchen since most of Simone's time was spent outdoors trying to create a better way out for Sara to use that didn't include climbing out the chimney. She'd made an accounting of everything they had left and she continued to keep a close and careful record of everything they used. "I've been keeping track as well."

"I think we'll make it," Sara said optimistically, "but it's going to be close."

"The ground has started thawing. I've seen a bunch of mini-avalanches falling from the surrounding mountains and a lot of the snow's forming waterfalls as it melts. So if Sal is paying real close attention...."

"... they should be here soon."

Simone nodded. "I don't think we can plan on it. I mean, let's face it - the track record between him and Billy sucks unless we're talking about clusterfucks. They seem to excel at those."

Sara laughed. "Everyone needs to be good at something." Simone snickered. "So what do you want to do?"

"I'm not sure there's much we can do except try to hunt again. We still don't know where we are or how to get back to civilization from here. Despite everything, I think we have a better shot if we stay put til Sal gets here."

"I think you're right. Maybe we can find some wintergreen berries or something to supplement what we have."

"Tomorrow, then?"


But tomorrow was going to bring them something unexpected.


It was closer to lunch than breakfast when they finally climbed from bed, having learned that even with chores to do there was no reason to rush to be up. They munched on a few peanut butter crackers before heading outside, breathing deeply as they reached the top of the slope together. The sky was blue and the air was fresh and even the light dusting of snow that was falling couldn't dampen their spirits. Sara and Simone exchanged smiles and a brief kiss before setting out in opposite directions, agreeing the meet back at the cabin before sunset.

Sara was some distance from the cabin and well on her way into the woods when she heard the hum first; it brought her head up into a cocked position. A frown crossed her features and Sara turned her steps towards the cabin, circling around in an effort to find Simone. She soon realized that the snow that had fallen had already covered Simone's tracks and not having a clear idea where she was meant Sara had little chance of finding her.

Instead, she turned her attention to the disruption currently disturbing the peace, hoping beyond hope it was what she thought it was... only to discover a stranger standing at the top of the slope leading down to the cabin door looking down with his hands on his hips. Sara cocked the gun and raised it in his direction, watching in satisfaction as the figure stiffened and froze.

"Who the fuck are you and what are you doing here?"

The man chuckled nervously and turned slowly to face her. "Ah... Ms Wainwright," he greeted her with a gallant bow. "I am Sal Amici." The gun didn't waver and his expression was a perfect picture of surprise. "Ms Wainwright, did you hear me? I'm Sal Amici. I've come to take you home."

Sara tilted her head at him but kept the weapon in place. "Did you expect gratitude, Mr. Amici? Because you're not going to get any from me. It's your fault we're in this situation."

"We? Does that mean my niece is still here then?"

"It does."

"Excellent! Um... any chance I could get you to lower your weapon and take me to her? Or at least allow me to go find her myself?" motioning down the slope.

"She's not there," Sara replied dryly. "And even if she was, I'm pretty sure she's not going to be happy to see you."

"She's alive then?? She didn't leave?" the relief in his voice palpable.

"Did you not hear what I just said? Do you know how long it took her to dig out that space just so we could get out without climbing up the damn chimney??" jerking her head towards the door.

"Why did she remain once she was able to leave? She was furious when she called me to remove you from here... swore if I didn't she'd take a walk. She said it didn't matter where she went, as long as it was away from you."

Even knowing the reason behind Simone's angry tirade to her uncle, hearing things laid out so bluntly still made her heart ache. She took a deep breath to steady the trembling in her voice. "Because leaving would have been suicide... and murder. And while she might have been all right with the suicide part," watching him pale at her harsh words, "I'm pretty sure being a murderer is not something she has ever aspired to being... even as a member of your Family." Sara watched Sal's face harden at her speech, but she held his gaze impassively. Finally, he cocked his head.

"Why would it have been murder? Simone doesn't carry a gun... never has, even after I made her my heir apparent."

"Why did you do that? Even you have to be smart enough to know that's not where her interests lay." Sara ignored the venomous look Sal cast in her direction. "Surely you have at least one son that would love to be the head of the Family. Besides, isn't there some unwritten rule that says the head has to be a man?"

"Generally, yes. But when Simone came to live with us, the boys stopped fighting with each other and started following her. I knew then that she would be the next head. Now, how would leaving you alone here been committing murder?"

Sara sighed. "Things have been exceptionally rough since your first visit. We've been on very limited rations - hunting has been moot point as all the game was either killed, run off or buried and it's taken both our efforts to stay alive. Neither of us would have survived alone after the avalanche."

"So she remained here for your sake more than her own," Sal mused aloud. "Do you believe she would rather remain here if...?"

"I would've preferred never to have been here at all." Simone sneered at him from behind. "The least you could've done would've been to send someone else to do your dirty work, Uncle... just like you always do."

"Ah, Simone, my dear," flinching at her tone and making a half turn to greet his niece while still keeping Sara in his peripheral vision. "I'm sorry I'm late."

"So am I," her tone flat and angry.

"Well, should I take Ms Wainwright out of here then and leave you to it or...?"

"I don't think so. Did you hear what Ms Wainwright just said to you?? Do you have any idea what we've been through in this God forsaken wilderness? You'll take both of us out of here and you'll stay the hell out of her life and mine as well. No more interference."

"You have my word."

Simone snorted bitterly and spit. "Like that has any meaning for me at the moment. Ms Wainwright?" the address drawing a frown from Sara. "I think you can put down the gun," Simone's inflection less than humorous. "I don't think my uncle or his man are going anywhere until we are ready."

"Actually, can we go inside?" he asked shivering theatrically. "Even though it's no longer snowing, I'd like the chance to thaw out before braving the elements again."

"I'll bet you would," Simone snarked. "Wait here until I return. We deserve a little privacy to pack the things you allowed us to have here. Once we're done, you and Ricardo can come in for a few before we leave."

Sal nodded his acquiescence. Ricardo knew how to keep his mouth shut and Sal knew he deserved Simone's anger and more. Still he couldn't help but tweak her a little bit. "So you and Ms Wainwright are getting along now?"

"I don't want the temptation she currently has to shoot you to win out. I don't want to explain it to Carmena."

Sal's eyes widened comically but there was no other visible reaction. "Fair enough," he conceded. "You ladies let us know when you're ready. We'll gas up the doos' while we wait."

Simone and Sara didn't bother to acknowledge his words, already moving down the slope towards the cabin door.


"Ms Wainwright??" Sara asked as soon as the door was closed behind them. "What the hell, Simone??"

"Sara... sweetheart - listen to me. Do you really want them to know that they've won? Especially since in their eyes this was easy - they don't know what we've been through to be where we are now. If we come out of here all friendly and lovey-dovey, they're gonna gloat for years... *all* of them but especially your dad and my uncle. They're gonna feel their actions were justified because their plan worked."

"So we hide what we feel? We get *into* the closet together?" She stopped and thought about what she'd just said and shook her head. "You know what I mean."

"Not hide... just delay. I think our being angry at them is completely reasonable at this point in time. I think we should use that anger and the guilt they're feeling as a way to get away by ourselves for a while - somewhere warm we can indulge in those bikinis we talked about and share fruity drinks under tropical skies. They don't need to know where we're going or that we'll be together. When we come back, we can announce it or not as we see fit."

"You're a very sneaky woman, Simone Marcone. No wonder I love you so much."

"Do you really?" Simone asked a touch wistfully.

"So much, sweetheart... with my whole heart," Sara replied seriously, looking into Simone's eyes and letting her see the truth of her words.

"I love you too, Sara Wainwright... with all of my heart." The kiss they shared was passionate and intense and made them forget their surroundings for a very long moment. Eventually, they separated, eyes locking as they breathed one another's air. Finally Simone cleared her throat. "I supposed we should get to packing before Sal decides he's waited long enough and comes looking to see what's taking so long."

Sara smirked. "That'd blow our secret right out of the water."

"Yeah, and probably kill him in the process if he saw us kissing."

"Because we're two women?" Sara asked as they started gathering things together. "I don't believe that... not after all of this effort to get us together."

"No, because I am the only daughter of his only sister and what we share in private should remain private. He feels that way about all the kids' relationships, but more for me because women deserve more respect in his eyes. The boys learned early not to disrespect their girlfriends or wives and not to flaunt their sexual prowess in front of Sal. He doesn't care if they share stories when the women aren't around, but not disrespectfully and never with them there."

"How charmingly old-fashioned." She stopped and looked at Simone. "How do you know this?"

"I had to cultivate my stealth techniques somehow," Simone said with a rakish grin.

"I'll remember that." Then the two of them finished packing and Sara volunteered to go get the two men while Simone prepared some tea. "I want to know why my father didn't come along. He's as much a part of this as Sal is."

"I'd like to hear that as well, though I have an idea."


"Yeah... remember this place is supposed to be a secret only the men in the Family know about. I'd be willing to bet Sal forbade Billy to come to keep the location under wraps."

"And Ricardo?"

"Sal's younger brother and right hand. Knows how to keep his mouth shut."

"And walk like a ghost apparently. I never even knew he was there until you pointed him out."

"He wouldn't have hurt you - he just wanted to make sure you didn't hurt Sal. Family loyalty, ya know."

"I know. Be right back."

It turned out Simone was right, but conversation after Sal's brief explanation languished. The two men gulped their tea as quickly as the heat would allow them and soon the four of them were prepared to be on their way. Sal didn't even bother to suggest blindfolds. He was fairly certain the reaction he'd get to that idea. He did, however, insist that Simone and Sara be passengers - Simone behind Ricardo and Sara with him. The arrangement just made Simone smirk. So they left the cabin that had been home to Sara and Simone for the better part of eight months, heading into what was an unknown future as far as Sal was concerned.

He closed his eyes and said a prayer and they headed back to civilization.


The ride was interminably long and though there were signs of civilization in the distance, Sal and Ricardo made certain they came nowhere near it. Instead, they drove directly to a small airfield on the far distant outskirts of the populated area.

They drove right up to the private jet Simone instantly recognized. Two handlers emerged from the interior, removing their few belongings from the skidoos without a word and placing them inside the plane before mounting the doos and moving them to a large hanger are some distance away. Sal motioned the two women aboard, waving to the handlers before mounting the steps behind them. Ricardo brought up the rear, closing the hatch behind him.

As if waiting for that signal, the engines roared to life and the jet slowly rolled down the cleared runway before reaching speed and lifting off from the ground, heading them for home.

Deliberately, Simone and Sara took opposite corners, forcing Sal and Ricardo to places in the middle of the plane. Then they stretched out and fell asleep, not waking again until the plane landed for refueling. The door opened and two men entered carrying a large serving tray between them. They put it on the table at Sal's direction, leaving and returning with a second tray.

"Where are we?" Simone asked, but received no answer from Sal nor any of the others. She moved to the window to look out and felt movement at her back. She growled, "Back off, Ricardo." At Sal's nod the man did so and returned to his seat.

"Simone, why don't you and Ms Wainwright have something to eat? We still have quite a ways to go before we reach home and given what Ms Wainwright shared with me earlier, I would think food would be most welcome." Without a word she turned away from the window and returned to her seat. "Come, Simone... do you think denying yourself is going to hurt me as much as it hurts you?"

"I think you need to stop acting like you care. Just get us home - Ms Wainwright and I have managed to take care of ourselves for several months; I think we can manage a little while longer."

"Ms Wainwright?"

"You leave her out of this. She can make her own decision, but this is between us!"


"No, Sal. I mean it. You went too far."

"It was for your own good."

"You'd like to think that, wouldn't you? That would excuse what you did and make everything all right, wouldn't it? I've got news for you - everyone else might buy it, but Ms Wainwright and I know better. You're no better than Billy, except he was able to get us out of harm's way when we were in danger. You *put* us in danger - serious, mortal danger, so I'd say that makes you even worse."

"Now just a minute - I am still the head of this Family!"

"Yeah, you are... and I quit."

"You can't quit!" Sal sputtered furiously. "We're Family!!!"

"Watch me!"


The silence was palpable when they landed and they loaded into the waiting limousine without a word. Once they were underway, Sal turned his attention to Sara. By skill and bad manners, he and Ricardo had forced Simone and Sara to sit next to one another for the final leg of their journey.

"Ms Wainwright, your parents are at my home awaiting your return."

"I prefer to return to my own home."


"Mr. Amici, please. I have no desire to see them or spend any more time with you or your Family," giving Simone a pointed look before returning her gaze to Sal. "Take me home, please."

He held her eyes, then reluctantly nodded, giving instructions to the driver before turning his attention to the window. He didn't even bother to object when Simone instructed the chauffeur to drop her at home after Sara was delivered to her place.

The stop at Sara's was brief, only long enough to see her to the door of her complex. The same happened at Simone's apartment - only Sal tried to reason with her once more. She responded by glaring at him before closing the door firmly in his face.

He sighed and shook his head, walking slowly back to the waiting car. He was not looking forward to going home empty-handed. Carmena was not going to be happy.


"You're positive, Sal?"

"Oh yes, Carmena. She made it clear? in no uncertain terms. They both did, in point of fact. They want to be left alone. I think it's probably in their best interests and our own if abide by the wishes... at least for now. Maybe later we can try again."

"NO!" Carmena barked without raising her voice. "No!" she reiterated, only slightly less forcefully. "No more, Sallie. You and Mr. Wainwright had your chance. You leave those girls alone now. You've tried and failed - they are obviously not meant to be friends and no amount of forcing is going to change that. You'll only succeed in driving them completely away." She stared at both men hard until they nodded their consent. "Good. Now come to dinner. Cook made enough for six, so you'll both need to eat hearty."

They followed her and Adrianne meekly to the dining room, wondering when they'd lost control... of everything.


"Was this what you had in mind, sweetheart?" Simone asked as she passed Sara some sort of fruity concoction garnished with an umbrella. Sara let her eyes sweep up and down Simone's long, lean form as she resumed her seat. Even the few days they had been here had made such a difference for both of them. Already they had lost the gaunt, sallow appearance living in the rough had given them. They both wore the golden sheen that spoke of hours in the sun and had a well-being about them that told of good food and plenty of rest. The radiance they wore came from within and without - loving one another and being loved in return.

"Umm... mostly," Sara replied with a saucy grin. "There's a little more bikini there than I was hoping for, but I can work around it."

"You already have," Simone said with a light chuckle.

"Doesn't mean I can't try again later," leering.

"True. My turn first, though," Simone said, linking their hands and bringing them to her lips. "I've made plans for us tonight."

"You're such a romantic, Simone, Marcone."

"Only with you, Sara Wainwright."

They sat quietly holding hands, sipping from their drinks and watching the sun sparkle on the water. "Do you think Sal and Billy will leave us alone now?" Simone asked, breaking the silence.

"I know they will. Carmena called me the night I got home and told me what happened. She laid down the law to both of them, and only a fool would go against her."

"So when do you want to tell them?"

"Eventually." Simone shrugged and met Sara's eyes. "I want to enjoy us for a while first."

"That's a plan I can get behind." She paused. "So what are we going to do now that we've both given up our jobs and become ladies of leisure?"

"Right at this moment? Not a damned thing. Later, we can sit down and talk about it - do whatever we want, sweetheart. Maybe we should go into business for ourselves. I'm pretty sure that would be the most shocking way to tell them."

Sara laughed. "I love you, Miser. Thank you for giving me another chance."

"I love you too, Bleeder. Thank you for never giving up on us." Their lips met in a passionate kiss, sealing the promises they had already made. Soon, they would make more permanent ones, but for now, in this place, it was enough.


"Did it work?" Adrianne asked Carmena after the waiter had taken their menus and walked away. "Do you think they know?"

"No one suspects a thing. It worked perfectly," Carmena responded with a smile. "They are very happy together. I expect when they finally do decide to come home, there will be an announcement."

"As long as they're happy, I don't need an announcement."

"Take comfort, Adrianne. Your daughter and mine have finally found what was missing in their lives - each other. And it gives them both great joy."

"Good... I'm glad to see the aftermath of our interference turned out so well - especially considering the disaster this could have been."

"As am I," Carmena agreed with a smile. "As am I. Definitely my kind of aftermath."

02/08 - 06/08

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