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Thread: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

  1. #17
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    Oct 2000
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    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 17





    “Miguel. Miguel,” Abby cried, pushing weakly against Miguel’s shoulders. “Stop.”

    Miguel wouldn’t be deterred. Before Abby had a chance to protest further, he captured her lips again, this time in a desperate, bruising kiss.

    Against her will and common sense, Abby felt herself respond to the desperation and hopelessness in Miguel’s kiss, but only for a few brief seconds. Guilt soon took over. There were several reasons kissing Miguel wasn’t right, Nick and her feelings for him the most glaring. She’d been on the receiving end of the fallout from one ‘goodbye’ kiss already; she couldn’t return the favor. Well, she couldn’t continue the favor. The favor was already done. Dammit! She pushed Miguel away a little harder this time, before she lost complete control of the situation. “Miguel, stop it,” she gasped for breath. “This isn’t us. This isn’t right.”

    “Why isn’t it us? It COULD be us,” Miguel insisted, MJ’s fragile hopes and dreams spurring him on. “I could make you happy, Abby. We could make each other happy again.”

    Abby closed her eyes against the tears she felt building and sighed, giving Miguel’s hands a gentle squeeze. “Oh, Miguel.” She knew, deep inside, he didn’t really believe what he was saying. He couldn’t. She couldn’t be a substitute for Kay. She wouldn’t. Besides, Kay was irreplaceable. Miguel knew that; she knew that. This was just…temporary insanity. That’s exactly what it was.

    “Why not?” Miguel grew angry, the pain he was feeling making him lash out uncharacteristically. “At least I’d be here. I’m not the kind of man that gets a woman pregnant and disappears. You can depend on me, Abby.”

    Abby recoiled, wrapped her arms around her middle protectively. “That’s not fair, and you know it. Nick…Nick’s lack of involvement in my life and this pregnancy is all thanks to me.” When Miguel started to protest, Abby made a painful admission. “He made a mistake. I guess that means he’s human. But I’m the one who f---ed things up with all my insecurities. He’d be right by my side if I just gave him the chance.” Abby smiled sadly with the admission, the truth of it finally sinking in, and the tears she’d been holding in slipped free, trailing down her cheeks.

    Miguel reached out a tentative hand then thought better of the gesture, raking his hands miserably through his dark hair. “I’m sorry. I just thought…MJ wanted…I don’t want to go through the rest of my life this…this numb, and I thought you, you and I…we wouldn’t be so bad together.”

    “You’re a great guy, Miguel Lopez-Fitzgerald. And yeah. Maybe we wouldn’t be so bad together. If there weren’t a Nick or had never been a Kay,” Abby dropped her voice to a whisper as she said her departed friend’s name. “If I were in love with you, and we both know I’m not. I love you, Miguel, but as my friend, a friend that will always be here for me—even if right now, even if we have to spend a little time apart.”

    “There has to be another way,” Miguel dropped his head to his hands. “The boys…”

    “The boys are why I’m doing this,” Abby interrupted. “Before I was ‘Mommy’s crazy friend Abby.’ Now lines are being crossed that weren’t meant to be crossed and roles are blurring. I’m not their mother, Miguel. I never will be. Kay will always, always be their mother. That’s the way it should be, and nobody should try to take over her place; the shoes are impossible to fill. If I stay, I’ll lose myself. I’ll become a poor Kay substitute, and the boys deserve better than that. You deserve better than that, and someday you’ll believe that. I have to go, Miguel.”

    “I know,” Miguel muttered, threading his fingers through the hand she offered him. “I just don’t know…”

    “Hey,” Abby shushed him with a finger to his lips. “Don’t sell yourself short. You’ll do just fine. You’re already doing a wonderful job. I’m just the moral support.”

    “You’re more than that, Abby,” Miguel wouldn’t let her sell herself short. “We wouldn’t have gotten this far…”

    “You’re a Lopez-Fitzgerald,” Abby grinned through her tears. “Pilar didn’t raise quitters. You’d have been okay. All that testosterone alone,” she joked, taking her hand from his and patting his arm.

    A reluctant smile graced Miguel’s lips at her gentle teasing, but it was erased by thoughts of the boys, and the difficulty he knew lay ahead. “You’ll visit often?”

    Abby sobered. “Not at first. It has to be a clean break. Lingering would only give MJ and Joshua false hope and make things harder for all of us in the long run. I need to keep my distance no matter how hard that is to do.”

    “It’s going to be hell,” Miguel replied.

    Not only that, Abby thought as she leaned her tawny head against Miguel’s shoulder and enclosed his hand in both of hers.

    It just may finish their battered hearts off.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    “Mommy?” Ali called into the darkness tentatively. When her mother was slow to rouse, Ali tiptoed across the bedroom and fumbled for the bedside lamp. Finding the switch, she twisted it, bathing her mother’s body in a soft yellow glow. “Mommy,” she called again, dropping one small hand to Sheridan’s shoulder to gently shake her awake.

    “Ali,” Sheridan replied groggily, still caught between sleep and wakefulness, “what is it, Sweetie?”

    “I couldn’t sleep. And neither could Roo,” Ali replied.

    Sheridan opened her eyes, finding them locked with the identical blue sets of her daughters’ eyes, both sets wet with tears. Pushing herself into a sitting position, she held her arms out for Hope, brushing her lips against the dark curls in a comforting gesture as soon as she received her. She scooted over, inviting Ali to crawl into bed beside her.

    Ali tucked herself under her mother’s arm and rest her cheek against her mother’s chest, letting the steady beat of her heart soothe her like it always did.

    “Bad dream?” Sheridan dropped a kiss to the crown of Ali’s golden head. She was especially sensitive to Ali’s nightmares. Her baby had been through so much. She hated the nightmares, almost more than Ali did. Thank God they didn’t come as frequently as they used to, but they still did and she felt powerless to help her daughter, not knowing how much of a help she already was just by being there to hold her.

    Ali nodded, burrowing deeper under the covers with her mother. She didn’t want to talk about the dreams. Not because she was afraid, because she always felt safe in her mother’s arms, but because she didn’t want to make her mother sad, and the dream was over and done with anyway.

    “You want to stay in here, sleep with me?” Sheridan glanced to Luis’s side of the bed, finding it empty. She barely suppressed a sigh. It wasn’t unusual for him to be called out on police business. She knew she’d find a note on the fridge if she looked out there, telling her not to worry, but she never followed his directions. How could she not worry? She (the pot) had married the kettle hadn’t she? It was impossible, but she could put on a brave face for her baby. The years had given her lots of practice. “There’s plenty of room. It’s kind of lonesome in here without your daddy. It’s silly but I always miss him when he’s gone.”

    “It’s not silly,” Ali reassured her, taking the fist Hope waved about frantically in her own small hand. Hope frowned and more tears welled up in her eyes. “I think she’s hungry.”

    “I think you’re right,” Sheridan agreed, lifting her arm over Ali’s head. Unbuttoning a few buttons on her nightgown, she positioned Hope at her breast. Her fussing stopped immediately as she started to suckle greedily. Sheridan smiled when Ali giggled softly, rubbing Hope’s chubby cheek. She readjusted her arm around Ali, gathering her close again.

    “It’s true,” Ali said. “Daddy says she’s his new spoiled princess.”

    “He’s got three of those you know,” Sheridan just smiled. Ali didn’t
    possess a selfish bone in her body, but she didn’t want her to doubt her place in Luis’s affections, not for a moment. “And he loves us all just as much.”

    “Mom,” Ali rolled her eyes. “I know that.”

    “I was just saying,” Sheridan laughed. ‘Mom’ didn’t sting quite so much anymore. Not with the realization that she was always ‘Mommy’ when it counted.

    “Did you feed me like this when I was a baby?”

    “I did,” Sheridan answered her inquisitive daughter. “Cristian too. Does it embarrass you?”

    Ali took only a moment’s consideration. “No. I’m going to feed my babies the same way.”

    Sheridan’s heart broke just a little at the thought of her baby having babies, but in a good way. “Babies? How many babies?”

    “I don’t know,” Ali pondered the question. “But I can’t have one or three.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because Lissy never has anyone to play with and somebody’s always left out with Jake and Sara and Emmy. Four. I think I want four babies. That way they’ll always have somebody to play with, and they’ll never be sad,” Ali said, pleased with herself.

    Sheridan found herself wondering what Jake would think of Ali’s plans, and the thought made the corners of her mouth twitch. The thought of Luis’s reaction to her thoughts made her smile grow, and she was still smiling when Ali dropped the bomb on her.

    “Mom! You know what that means, don’t you?”

    “Ali,” Sheridan groaned, realizing Hope was asleep and tucking her beneath her chin as she settled back against the pillows, wanting very much to follow her example.

    “Mom,” Ali giggled.

    “Go to sleep,” Sheridan ignored her giggles, reaching past her turn the bedside lamp off.
    “I think I want another little brother this time.”


  2. #18
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    Oct 2000
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    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 18



    Noah did a double take when he walked into the Harmony P.D. and saw Luis sitting behind his desk. “Hey, Boss. I thought sleeping in late occasionally was one of the perks of being Chief.”

    “There’s no such thing as sleeping late with three kids in the house,” Luis answered him, closing out of the window he’d been working in and jotting down a few more thoughts on his yellow notepad. “Kendall should have taught you that.”

    “Are you kidding me?” Noah protested half-heartedly, taking the seat opposite Luis. “Katie and I don’t have sleepovers.”

    Luis gave Noah a disbelieving look.

    “Correction,” Noah grinned. “Mom would like to think Katie and I don’t have sleepovers.”

    Luis felt a smile tugging at his lips. “Wouldn’t all mothers? How is Katie, by the way?”

    “Great,” Noah replied. “Fantastic. Pretty as a picture as always.”

    “Somebody’s smitten,” Luis lapsed into the teasing big brother mode so familiar to him. How many times had he teased Miguel about Kay? Just like this. The thought of Kay made him sober a bit. “How’s Sam? Grace? Are they still…”

    The grin on Noah’s face faltered a bit and his voice grew tight. “Uh, they’re…good. Things are good. Better anyway. Mom’s really throwing herself into helping Katie plan the wedding.”

    “If she’s anything like Theresa…” Luis trailed off with a sparkle in his eyes.

    “There’s nobody quite like your sister, Luis,” Noah laughed. “I’m sure she’s hard at work planning the wedding of the year.”

    “Wedding of the century,” Luis chuckled, shaking his head. When he and Sheridan had gotten married, Theresa had acted like it was Charles and Diana all over again, with a much happier ending, of course.

    “She deserves it. She deserves a good guy,” Noah said, remembering the wide-eyed dreamer from his childhood.

    “She’s got one in Chad,” Luis said, pushing back from the desk and rising to his feet. His respect for Chad had grown steadily over the years; he was one Crane (his lovely wife notwithstanding) Luis didn’t mind welcoming into the family. “Even if he is a Crane by blood.”

    “You married one of those Cranes,” Noah reminded Luis.

    “I did,” Luis agreed with a small smile. “But Sheridan’s her own person. And,” he admitted almost embarrassedly, “she’s very persuasive.”

    “Must be,” Noah grinned, “if she got you to fall in love with her.”

    “Very persuasive,” Luis called back over his shoulder as he took his leave of Noah and retreated to the relative privacy of his own office where he tossed the notepad onto his desk and rubbed his hand over his face and jaw thoughtfully, contemplating what its pages contained—enough to further raise his suspicions about Lissy’s father and his connection, however tenuous, to Alistair Crane.

    Noah was right; Sheridan WAS persuasive.

    Just not persuasive enough.





    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    Nick jerked awake with a start.


    Sunlight spilled in through the windows, and the rays were bright enough to tell Nick that he had done it again. After another restless night without Abby by his side, he’d tossed and turned until he’d fallen into a miserable, fitful state of limbo where he was neither awake nor asleep, until the weary hours had taken their toll. He dreaded the call he knew he had to make to the hospital, telling his staff he would again be late.

    He pressed the heels of his hands hard against his bleary gray eyes as he swung his legs over the side of the sofa, grimacing when the action knocked over the remainder of the beer he’d nursed dolefully last night. Swearing softly, he quickly picked up the upended bottle and placed it on the coffee table then mopped up the mess with his balled up tee-shirt, rationalizing that it needed to be washed anyway.

    To hell with washing the damn shirt, Nick thought as he reached the kitchen and stared at the dirty dishes piled up in the sink. He tossed the shirt and the empty bottle into the trash and crossed to the sink, transferring all of the dishes to one side so that he could run himself a glass of water.

    Polishing off the glass of water, Nick put it into the sink with the others, promising himself he’d clean them up later tonight when he came home, and the hours until he had his work and his patients to keep his mind off of how badly he’d handled things with Abby wouldn’t seem so endless and empty.

    Who was he kidding?

    Nobody.

    Least of all himself.

    Lucky rubbed against the backs of Nick’s legs and meowed pitifully, and Nick sighed as he stooped to pick the animal up. “You miss her too, don’t you?”

    Lucky gave another mournful meow in response and pushed his head against Nick’s hand, desperate for affection.

    “I thought so.” Nick scratched behind the cat’s ears until he started to purr, a soft, comforting sound. “Hungry?” he questioned, carrying Lucky with him to the refrigerator. Peering inside, Nick didn’t find much suitable for human consumption, but there was a small amount of milk left so he took the container out and set Lucky down on the kitchen floor as he searched for a bowl to pour the milk in.

    Lucky meowed impatiently and jumped onto the kitchen counter, lapping greedily from the dish as soon as Nick had it filled.

    Raising a dark brow, Nick crossed his arms and regarded the cat with a level stare. “She’d hang you by your tail if she saw you now.”

    “No,” said a soft voice, somewhere behind him, a soft voice that stopped his heart in his chest. “I think you have that wrong.”

    Nick turned around slowly, disbelief making him blink his gray eyes at the welcome sight before him, the smirk on her lips and the twinkle that shone even through the unshed tears.

    “She’d hang you.”






    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    “Just one more measurement,” Theresa promised, pencil between her teeth, “and you’ll be free.” Straightening up, she scribbled some numbers on the pad resting on the arm of the sofa and smiled brightly at Sheridan. “Thanks again for agreeing to be my matron of honor, Sheridan. You have no idea how much it means to me.”


    “You’re welcome,” Sheridan returned the smile as she turned to face her young sister-in-law. “Theresa, I’m so happy for you and Chad.”

    Theresa beamed at the sincerity in Sheridan’s voice. “Thank you, because I’m happy. Happier than I think I’ve ever been.”

    “Chad always has been able to put a smile on your face.” Sheridan nudged Miss Priss over and took a seat on the sofa, leaving room for Theresa to sit beside her.

    “He has.” Theresa brightened even more with the realization, if that were possible. “It’s funny. He was always so supportive of me, you know, with Ethan. I never in a million years thought that I’d…that we’d…”

    “I know,” Sheridan simply said, wondering at the thoughtful expression on Theresa’s face.

    “I don’t think I even saw him as a possibility for me until…” Theresa trailed off, uncertain whether to continue or not.

    “Until Ali,” Sheridan finished for her gently. No other words were needed. Both of them knew exactly what Sheridan meant, and their smiles disappeared as the mere allusion transported them both back to those few days that had taken so much out of both of them.

    Tears threatened to spill from Theresa’s dark eyes as she grasped Sheridan’s hand in her own and squeezed. “Sheridan…”

    Shaking her head slightly as she pulled Theresa into a tight hug, Sheridan cut off the apology on the tip of Theresa’s tongue. Rubbing Theresa’s back comfortingly, she whispered, “I forgave you a long time ago, Sweetie. You just need to forgive yourself.”

    “I know,” Theresa admitted. “And sometimes I think it’s okay. That I CAN do it. But then…”

    “No buts,” Sheridan placed a hand over Theresa’s mouth.

    The stubborn set of Sheridan’s jaw and the determination in her blue eyes reminded Theresa so much of Ali she had to laugh. At least she did her best behind the hand clasped over her mouth. When Sheridan removed her hand, Theresa laughed some more before enlightening her on the source of her change of mood. “You and Ali are just alike.”

    “So everyone delights in telling me,” Sheridan laughed along with Theresa.

    “It’s true.” Theresa wiped at the tears that had fallen from her eyes with the force of her laughter. “Speaking of…”

    “Ali!” Sheridan exclaimed in surprise when Ali scampered through the front door like a little whirlwind. “I thought Chad was taking you to the Book Café for breakfast.”

    “He is,” Ali responded breathlessly as she ran into the kitchen and emerged with Hope’s diaper bag partially hidden behind her back. “We just forgot something.” Ali extracted one hand from behind her back and gave them each a quick wave as she sprinted for the door once more. “Love you, Mom. Love you, Aunt Theresa.”

    “Love you,” Sheridan and Theresa chorused.

    Sheridan waited a beat before she turned to Theresa, blue eyes twinkling. “How far do you think they’ll get before they realize there aren’t any bottles in the bag?”

    “A mile. Maybe two,” Theresa shrugged.

    Sheridan stood up and held out a helping hand. “Blueberry muffins. My treat.”

    “He’s getting better,” Theresa defended with a grin as Sheridan closed and locked the front door behind them.

    “If you say so.”

  3. #19
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
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    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 19





    Nick was still struggling to formulate words when Abby crossed the short distance between them and plucked Lucky and his dish down from the kitchen counter, setting them both onto the floor.

    “Do I need to go over the rules again?” Abby questioned teasingly when it became apparent to her that Nick couldn’t, or wouldn’t, speak. “The coffee table, the television, the kitchen counter…they’re all off-limits. Lucky knows this. You know this. You have to stay firm, Gray Eyes.” Nick’s eyes softened at the nickname, and Abby felt her own throat tighten painfully with emotion for a moment. “I guess it’s going to be all up to me to discipline this kid. You’re obviously nothing but an old softie.”

    “You cry when Bambi loses his mother too,” Nick reminded her, finally finding his voice.

    Abby felt a trembling smile tug at her lips. “I thought we agreed. Some secrets are sacred.”

    Nick stepped closer to her, but he didn’t touch her, something inside him afraid he’d disturb this fragile truce she seemed to be offering him if he did. “Some secrets just aren’t all that…secretive.”

    Abby grinned then through her tears. Sometimes, they were such…teenagers. Fumbling, stumbling, angst-ridden teenagers who let all their ‘issues’ get in the way of getting it right. And this WAS right. Scary. But right. “As plain as the nose on my face? I have to tell you, Gray Eyes, your vocabulary suffers when I’m not around.”

    “Well, what can I say?” Nick deliberately played it light when his heart wanted to tell her his vocabulary wasn’t the only thing that suffered without her. “Not everybody talks as much as you do.”

    Abby’s mouth dropped open in surprise, and she laughed softly as he brushed past her en route to pick up the bags she’d left near the front door. “And I thought you were going to say something profound like you were lost without me. Not call me a Chatty Cathy.”

    “That,” Nick hoped he let his eyes speak for his heart, “should be as plain as your not-so-plain nose.”

    Abby swallowed past the lump in her throat and played indignant, lest she do something typically Abby-crazy and throw herself into the man’s arms and profess her undying love and devotion—confessions of his love be damned. “What about my nose? It’s a cute nose. Our kid could do a lot worse than my nose. A LOT worse.”

    Nick grinned as he listened to her inane babble.

    She really was home--exactly where she belonged.


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    “Chad,” Theresa shook her head disapprovingly as she pushed against Chad’s shoulders, “you know you can’t come up here.”

    ‘Here’ was the studio above ‘Over the Rainbow’ where Theresa was hard at work on the girls’ dresses, not to mention her own wedding dress.

    “No fiancés allowed,” Sheridan teased.

    “And no boys either,” Ali chimed in. “Right, Mom?”

    “Do you hear that, Man?” Chad looked down to Cristian on the step beside him. “They’re tryin’ to form an all girls club on us. That’s sexism, T-girl, and it’s not fair.”

    “Yeah,” Cristian cried, filled with a sense of injustice of his own. “It’s sex…it’s sexish…it’s sexy. And we don’t like it.”

    Ali’s blue eyes grew big until her aunt Theresa and her mom erupted into girlish giggles then she joined them.

    “Chad,” Theresa traced the collar of the tee-shirt he wore with her index finger, a broad smile on her face, “you know how it’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding? Well, it’s all because of the dress, and you know you can’t come up here, because you’ll see the dress and everything will be ruined, and it’ll probably rain on our wedding day.”

    By the time Theresa finished her tirade, her smile was all but gone, and the teasing was over. How she got rain out of him seeing her wedding dress, Chad didn’t know, but he did know that his bride-to-be believed in fate and destiny and a whole host of things. And he didn’t want to worry her or make light of her superstitions when he didn’t necessarily feel as strongly about them. So he relented. “Okay. Okay. Cristian and me…we’ll go on down to the Blue Note. I’ll show him around the studio, show him the works, while you all paint each other’s toenails and engrave wedding invitations. And we’ll have our own policy, won’t we, Cristian?” Chad looked to his frowning little friend. “No girls allowed.”

    “No girls allowed,” Cristian wholeheartedly agreed.

    “I get it,” Theresa answered, once again all smiles. “No girls allowed. Now go on. No peeking,” she warned, giving both Cristian and Chad a gentle nudge down the stairs.

    “Let’s go, Cristian,” Chad held onto the boy’s small hand as they descended the stairs. “You can help me with Aunt Theresa’s surprise.”

    Sheridan laughed at the expression on Theresa’s face when it appeared Chad’s words had had the desired effect, and she realized she’d been trumped. “He knows you so well.”

    “That’s why I’m marrying him.”






    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    “Hey Luis,” Beth greeted with a smile when the bells above the door tinkled and her old friend walked in to the Book Café. “You missed them. Sheridan and the kids left with Theresa and Chad a little while ago.”

    Luis frowned slightly, disappointed that he’d missed them. He’d left so early this morning he hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye.
    Recognizing his disappointment, Beth continued, “They mentioned something about ‘Over the Rainbow’ and wedding dresses. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if you joined them.”

    “Theresa would flip,” Luis shook his head with a knowing grin.

    “You’re not even the groom,” Beth laughed.

    “Doesn’t matter,” Luis laughed with her.

    “No, I guess it doesn’t,” Beth said. “Can I get you anything? Coffee? A muffin? I think Sheridan and Ali left at least one blueberry muffin…”

    “Coffee would be great,” Luis cut her off. “Look, Beth,” he glanced over his shoulder before looking back at her. “I need to talk to you. About the break-in. Do you think we could…”

    “Sure,” Beth grabbed the coffee pot and a couple of mugs and led Luis to a quiet table toward the back of the café. She sat in the chair Luis pulled back for her and poured them both a cup of coffee before giving him her full attention. “Have you come up with anything new?”

    Luis shook his head regretfully. “Nothing.”

    “Nothing,” Beth echoed incredulously. “How can that be? Are there no clues, Luis? No DNA or…something?”

    “Nothing,” Luis repeated. “He’s good, whoever did this.”

    “Or she,” Beth interjected.

    “Or she,” Luis allowed, even though it was obvious he didn’t entertain the same ideas as Beth. “No fingerprints, no clues. Beth, the investigation’s at a dead end here. And since nothing was taken…I’m thinking of shelving the case,” he admitted. “Leaving it unsolved for the time being. I’m sorry.”

    “Don’t be sorry, Luis,” Beth gave his hand a reassuring pat. “I know you did your best. Like you said, nothing was taken. The Book Café’s fine. I’m fine. It’s okay. Really. Ethan’s having Crane security come over to put a new system in soon, and everything will be good as new. Better even. It’s not like I have to keep a lookout over my shoulder or something. It wasn’t personal. Some stranger broke in here, found out all I had to steal was a bunch of books, and a couple of day-0ld muffins, and wasn’t interested. There’s nothing to worry about. Let me get you that muffin and a takeout cup for your coffee. There’s no rule that says the brother can’t see the bride’s dress before the wedding, and I’m sure Theresa wouldn’t mind if you dropped in.”

    “Thanks, Beth. I think I’ll do that,” Luis agreed distractedly, his own mind not so sure as Beth’s that they were dealing with a complete stranger here.

    “Give that adorable baby a kiss for me,” Beth smiled, kissing Luis’s cheek as she handed him a fresh cup of coffee and a small bag containing a couple of blueberry muffins.

    “Will do,” Luis promised with a proud smile. “Beth?” he paused at the door.

    “Yes?” Beth answered questioningly.

    “Take care. Okay?” Luis implored her.

    “Okay,” Beth nodded, her voice soft with promise. “Bye Luis.”

    The door closed behind him and his equally soft goodbye.





    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

  4. #20
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
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    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 20





    “Oh, Aunt Theresa,” Ali beamed as she twirled around in front of the studio’s mirrored walls, wearing her flower girl’s dress proudly. “It’s so pretty.”

    “Fit for a princess,” Sheridan agreed, smiling fondly at her daughter.

    “It’s a work in progress,” Theresa bit her lip as she considered the alterations she’d have to make before the dress would meet her standards of perfection. “But it is pretty, isn’t it?” she finally conceded, her dark eyes dancing with pleasure. “Especially on Princess Ali.”

    Ali giggled and twirled some more.

    Theresa dropped down to sit beside Sheridan, and the pair quietly reveled in the sight before them—Ali, alive and healthy with her flushed cheeks, pirouetting around the expansive room as if she were the only occupant. “She’s back,” she finally whispered, seeking Sheridan’s hand with her own.

    “Yes,” Sheridan replied, her eyes suspiciously moist as she squeezed Theresa’s hand tightly. “She is.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


    “Uncle Chad,” Cristian mumbled, his chin propped on his hands and his small feet kicking back and forth restlessly, “is this where you make your music?”


    Chad crouched down eye level with Cristian. “Yeah. This is the ‘Blue Note.’ What do you think?”

    Cristian looked around the room thoughtfully. “It’s little.”

    “It’s small,” Chad acknowledged. “But you know what they say…”

    Cristian’s lips twitched as Chad’s fingers skated across his collarbone then made their way behind his ear, lightly tickling. “What?” he asked, shying away from the feather-light touch.

    “It’s not the size that counts,” Chad plucked Cristian from his perch in a sudden move that stole the boy’s breath and made him laugh. “It’s what’s in here,” he said, placing a hand over Cristian’s heart.

    Cristian’s brow furrowed. “Like when Daddy says I’m little, but I have the heart of a lion?”

    “Exactly, Little Man. Exactly,” Chad smiled proudly. “This place was built with hard work and a lot of heart. That’s how we’re going to make our music here, and everybody will be able to tell that we put our whole heart and soul into it. Cristian the Lionhearted,” Chad tried the new name on for size. “Has a nice ring to it.” The comment earned him a bashful grin, and he let Cristian recover his feet, ruffling his dark hair affectionately. “Why don’t you go see if your aunt Paloma’s here yet so we can get to work on aunt Theresa’s surprise?”

    “I thought you said no girls allowed,” Cristian crossed his arms across his middle in the patented stubborn Crane-Lopez-Fitzgerald pose.

    “Aunt Paloma’s no girl,” Chad waved him off with a grin. “Today she’s just one of the guys.”

    That seemed to suffice; Cristian was off in a flash.






    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Ethan stepped into the Book Café, shutting the door softly behind him. “Beth?” he turned around to find the front counter empty. “Beth?” A few more steps and a quick scan around revealed that the entire establishment was relatively quiet, very unusual for Harmony in the early afternoon hours.


    Julie finished topping off a customer’s coffee mug and approached Ethan with a warm smile. “Hi, Mr. Crane.”

    “Julie, I thought we agreed,” Ethan frowned. “No more of this Mr. Crane business.”

    “I know, Mr. Crane. I mean, Ethan,” Julie corrected herself with an embarrassed blush. “Sorry,” she apologized meekly. “You’re married to my boss. I can’t help it.”

    The impact of Ethan’s laughter was softened with a kind smile. “Beth doesn’t mind. I promise.”

    “Please?” Julie beseeched as she twisted a strand of her hair nervously around her fingers. “Let me call you Mr. Crane. It’d make me feel a whole lot better.”

    “Okay,” Ethan relented, blue eyes twinkling. “Julie,” he placed his hands palm down on the counter as he looked into Julie’s bright eyes, “about your boss…” He tossed a glance over his shoulder, indicating Beth’s conspicuous absence. “I thought we were meeting for lunch.”

    “Oh, right,” Julie waved the coffee pot in her hand around animatedly as she spoke. “I promised to tell you.”

    “Tell me?” Ethan prompted, watching in amazement as she wielded the coffee pot like a wand without spilling a drop of the steaming liquid.

    Julie crammed her free hand into her jeans pocket, extracting a crumpled sheet of lined paper a minute later and holding it out to him.

    Ethan took the note from her hand and skimmed over it, keeping one ear tuned to Julie’s nervous babbling.

    “Lunch is still on at the Lobster Shack. The Lobster Shack is great, don’t you think? Beth just had a few errands to run. Last minute stuff. She promised to meet you there, and if she’s not there by noon, just order for her. She said you’d know what she likes. You’re her husband, after all,” Julie finally paused to take a breath, beaming up at him. “I think it’s so wonderful, you know, that you know her so well to know what she likes. My boyfriend Jeff…we’ve been dating since sophomore year—that’s three whole years—and he still can’t order for me. But he’s nice. He’s really great. Not as great as you, but there’s only one you, and Beth’s so lucky to be married to you, because you’re such a nice man, Mr. Crane. You’re nothing like your grandfather. You or your aunt. Your aunt is SO nice, by the way. And those kids! Oh those kids! Isn’t it sad about the oldest little girl? How she had cancer and all? But she’s all cured now. Well, not cured. I don’t think you ever get cured from something like that, from leukemia or any kind of cancer. It just goes into remission and lurks until it comes back again.” At Ethan’s stricken look, she placed a comforting hand on his arm and changed subjects dizzyingly fast. “I think you should order the steak. I know it’s the Lobster Shack, and this is Maine, and hello, it’s a seafood restaurant! But the steak is really good. Scrumptious,” Julie promised. “I think you should have the steak. You can’t go wrong there, Mr. Crane. Mr. Crane? Bye, Mr. Crane,” she leaned over the counter to wave at Ethan as he gave her a quick smile and a polite goodbye and made his escape. “Nice talking to you!”

    The customer from earlier approached the counter, holding out a couple of bills and tucking them into Julie’s hands.

    Julie smiled brightly, taking the money and placing it in the register. Dropping some change into the man’s open palm, she thanked him and invited him to return to the Book Café soon.

    Ethan’s wallet-sized likeness smiled at Julie from his vantage point beside the cash register.

    “Such a nice man,” Julie mused, her smile taking on a dreamy quality as she picked up the picture for a closer look. His eyes really were quite…

    “Thanks, Julie.”

    Beth seemed to appear from thin air, and the sound of her voice, so close, had Julie whirling around and a small shriek escaping from her lips.

    Beth only smirked, pried the picture from Julie’s nerveless fingers, and gave the girl a friendly wink. “Mooning over my husband again? Should I be worried?”

    Julie blushed and busied herself by grabbing the tray Beth had abandoned upon her return from the upstairs apartment. Supremely embarrassed, she mumbled, “Right. Chief Lopez-Fitzgerald won’t leave his wife for me so I’m going after your husband. Not likely.”

    The reminder of Julie’s previous crush on Luis made the smirk on Beth’s lips soften into a gentle smile. “Julie?” she placed a calming hand on Julie’s fidgeting hands.

    “Yeah?” Julie placed the two cleaned and rinsed coffee mugs back onto their rightful shelf and waited for the other shoe to drop, Beth to tell her she was fired for lusting after her husband, the world to swallow her up whole.

    “You’ve got good taste.”

    Too stunned to speak, Julie simply stared at Beth as she left, a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. She certainly hadn’t considered it that way.




    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    “What?!” Katie exclaimed, the telephone receiver cradled between her ear and shoulder. “You can’t be serious!”

    A couple of feet away from her, Ellie pretended to be busily at work, but the wheels of her chair squeaked and groaned a little under her weight as she scooted just a fraction closer.

    Frowning at Ellie’s not-so-subtle attempts to eavesdrop, Katie turned her back to the other woman, dropping her voice to a hushed whisper as she again addressed Nick—her exasperation with him still loud and clear despite the diminished volume. “What are you thinking? What about your patients? You’re going to get yourself fired.” As Katie watched, line two lit up, indicating an incoming call, and she whirled back around and glared at Ellie when it appeared the other woman wasn’t going to make an attempt to answer the phone.

    With a heavy, beleaguered sigh, Ellie stabbed at the offending flashing button, her voice dull as she intoned, “Pediatric Oncology. How may I help you?”

    Katie let out a thankful breath that the voice on the other end of the line had engaged Ellie’s attention elsewhere and returned her own attention back to the task at hand, blasting Nick. “This is the third time in two weeks. Look. I know you’re taking the separation from Abby hard…What? She’s there?” Flabbergasted, Katie fumbled behind her for purchase, clumsily knocking over the first object she came into contact with—Ellie’s coffee mug. Wincing at the daggers of death the blunder earned her from Ellie, Katie mouthed ‘Sorry’ and dabbed at the lukewarm sludge with her jacket sleeve when a frantic scan of the desk top yielded no napkins.

    Ellie replaced the phone on the receiver with a resounding thud and jerked the mug from Katie’s fumbling fingers, thundering down the hall, in the general direction of the break room.

    Katie chewed on her bottom lip anxiously as the details of Nick and Abby’s ‘reunion’ reached her ears until one comment sent up red flags. “You’re not supposed to tell her she talks too much, you idiot,” she blurted. “Honestly, how hard is it to admit to her that you love her?”

    Ellie returned just in time to catch the last part of that phrase, this time making no pretenses about eavesdropping.

    Covering the receiver with one hand, Katie frowned. “Do you mind?”

    Ellie huffed and rolled her eyes. “This is the children’s oncology ward. Not the Love Connection. Not Gossip Central. Some of us have jobs to do.” She scowled blackly when her mini-tirade garnered a response directly opposite of the desired one.

    Katie nodded, her green eyes lighting up as she said, “Dr. Taylor says he’s glad you take your job so seriously, Ellie. Harmony Hospital just wouldn’t be the same without you.” While Ellie was preening over the ‘praise,’ Katie took the wind out of her sails. “Oh, and Abby wants to know if you got the flowers. She’s sorry they’re late. She felt bad about embarrassing you and wanted to apologize. The florist didn’t have any Venus flytraps. She hopes you weren’t disappointed with the daisies.”

    Steam practically poured from Ellie’s ears, and she promptly grabbed a pitiful little bouquet of daisies and their garish vase and tossed them both into the small wastebasket beneath the desk. Grumbling under her breath, she grabbed the wastebasket and again marched away, spouting something about a REAL break.

    “Poor Stu,” Katie sighed, some small measure of guilt licking at her conscience about the real giver of the flowers, one of their hospital orderlies. “He’s going to be so crushed. Although…I don’t know what he sees in her.” She twirled the phone cord around her fingers as Nick repeated his earlier message. “Okay. Okay, I’ll page him. I promise. I’m sure he won’t mind checking in on your patients one more time, especially since it’s actually for a good cause this time. Yeah. Just don’t screw it up, okay. Gotta go. Bye.” Katie returned the phone to its cradle and grabbed the mouse in front of her, one click of a button bringing the Harmony Hospital paging service to the computer screen. Her fingers tapping over the keyboard, she felt a happy laugh bubble forth, and she settled her chin in her palm and decided to stop fighting it, letting the ridiculous smile that had threatened throughout the latter part of her conversation with Nick escape and take over her face.

    It was about damn time.




    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~





    “How did you know about the daisies?” Nick asked as he seated himself on the sofa beside Abby, careful to keep a respectable distance between them.

    “Oh,” Abby’s hazel eyes twinkled merrily. “I have my ways. The walls at Harmony Hospital have ears.”

    “Oh,” Nick nodded in understanding. “I know the ears you’re talking about. The ones frequently seen around the Oncology Ward wearing the latest dangly fashion.”

    “Dangly?” Abby sputtered. “Fashion? Aww…you’ve been watching my Tivo again.” She grinned at him as she brought her knees up, wrapping her arms around her legs. It felt good, not hating him. She didn’t know why she hadn’t tried it earlier. It took a whole lot less energy, and energy was something precious to her lately.

    Nick shifted his body, facing her, drinking her in. “You know I don’t know how to operate that damn thing.” Then, just because he wanted to see her flustered, he leaned in closer, so close he could see the tiny flecks of gold in her eyes, and pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose.

    Breathe, Abby. Breathe, dammit. He kissed your nose, not your…oh boy! Not going there. Shut up, shut up, shut up. It was SO not right to think such salacious thoughts about the man that only two days ago she would have sworn had his picture in the dictionary, directly under ‘bastard.’ “What the hell was that for?” she finally blurted.

    Slowly, Nick returned to his original position, his head propped in his palm and smiled at her, his gray eyes dancing. “You’re right. It IS a cute nose.”

    Abby tilted her head to the side, her tawny hair spilling over her shoulders as she searched his face and eyes. “I can’t believe it,” she smiled, unable to help herself. “You’re flirting with me.”

    “Yes,” Nick smirked. “The evidence suggests I am.”

    “You have been watching my Tivo! The evidence? Hello. C.S.I. Come on, Gray Eyes, admit it,” Abby wheedled, unconsciously relaxing and inching closer to him.

    “Now why would I do a silly thing like that?” Nick teased, scooting closer to her as well, only stopping when their knees brushed together.

    “Because you missed me?” Abby braved a whisper, her eyes suspiciously bright. She needed more than insinuations and cutesy words.

    “That goes without saying,” Nick replied.

    “Dammit!” Abby exploded. “Why don’t you just say it? For once, just give me a straight ans…” The rest of her outcry was cut off by Nick’s lips on hers. The kiss was gentle and demanding all at once, and when it ended, the distance between them was gone and somehow, she was in his arms.

    Cupping her face in his hands, Nick kissed her again before staring into her glittering eyes and giving her a straight answer. “I missed you.”

    “You missed me.” She meant it as a statement. Still it lingered in the air between them as a question.

    Stroking her hair back from her face, Nick pressed a tender kiss against her forehead and drew her into a hug, tucking her tawny head beneath his chin before he answered her again. “I missed you.”

    And she believed him.

  5. #21
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 21






    “There’s a rumor going around that this is a ‘No-Girls-Allowed’ Club,” Paloma greeted Chad with a smile and Cristian with a quick stolen kiss to his cheek.

    Too polite to wipe her kiss from her cheek, Cristian unwittingly delivered a different blow. “You’re not a girl. You’re just one of us guys. Right, Uncle Chad?”

    Paloma’s bright smile dimmed briefly, and Chad internally winced, but before he could make any apologies for the innocently spoken comment, Paloma’s smile was back, bigger and brighter than ever.

    “Since I’m one of the guys, does that mean I get to be a part of your super-secret surprise?”

    “Uh huh,” Cristian nodded, dark eyes happily alight.

    “So,” Paloma clasped her hands together, her own dark eyes dancing, Cristian’s obvious excitement contagious. “What is it? What’s the surprise?” Silence stretched for several long seconds, and meeting Chad’s eyes over the top of Cristian’s head, Paloma arched a brow in question to which Chad just smirked.

    Shoulders shrugging, nose crinkled in thought, Cristian bit his lip with a small frown, finally making a concession that had both Paloma and Chad unable to suppress their delighted laughter. “I don’t know. But it’s a good surprise. Right, Uncle Chad? Aunt Theresa’s going to like it?”

    Chad grinned at them both. “I promise. Aunt Theresa’s going to love it.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~





    Theresa hadn’t exactly welcomed his arrival, judging from her surprised shrieks of indignation and her frantic orders that Sheridan rush to cover his eyes. She hadn’t exactly kicked him out either. One of the perks of being the big brother, Luis decided as he let his daughter pull him deeper into the open studio while his wife effectively blindfolded him. He couldn’t control the grin that stole over his lips as he teased them all. “If I’d known it was a matter of national security…”

    “Haha, funny guy,” Sheridan’s breath against his ear made him shiver as she slowly removed her hands from his eyes, trailing them across his broad shoulders in the barest of touches before stepping in front of him and voicing a gentle reminder, the humor of the situation reflecting back to him in her own twinkling blue eyes. “Luis.” Her lips twitched. “Be nice.”

    “You’re not supposed to be here, Daddy,” Ali scolded him then, arms crossed across her chest and feet tapping impatiently against the floor. “It’s bad luck.”

    Sidestepping Sheridan, Luis peered down at her miniature, unable to tamp down his smile at the likeness as he questioned her. “Why?”

    Thinking it over for a second, Ali frowned then answered, “Because Aunt Theresa says so.”

    “Because Aunt Theresa says so,” Luis tested the weight of the words on his own tongue, his grin only growing broader when his kid sister reappeared, looking bright-eyed and flustered and more than a little annoyed with him. As a peace offering, wanting to smooth her ruffled feathers, he smiled at Theresa and winked at his girls. “I guess that’s as good a reason as any.”

    “It better be,” Theresa grumbled half-heartedly as she let herself be wrapped in the familiar comfort of Luis’s hug. Giving his shoulder a playful punch when he released her, she demanded some answers. “Luis, what are you doing here?”

    Luis held up his hands in mock offense, capturing her small fist before she could strike again in her irritation. “What? I need a reason now?”




    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~





    “Sorry I’m late,” Beth apologized, hurriedly kissing Ethan’s cheek before taking the seat he offered her. Unfolding her napkin over her lap, she glanced at her plate, brows knitting tightly at what she found there. “Ethan? What’s this?”

    The corners of Ethan’s mouth twitched as he gently mocked her, “It’s the cow that started the Chicago fire.” When she looked unamused, he gave her a small appeasing smile. “I thought you’d like something different for a change. This steak comes highly recommended.”

    Beth mirrored Ethan’s smile, and for the next few minutes, her attention shifted to the plate in front of her.

    When the silence lengthened past the point considered companionable, Ethan cleared his throat and made another attempt at conversation. “Did you take care of all of your errands?”

    Beth’s only answer was a blank stare.

    “Earlier. At the Book Café,” Ethan elaborated. “I stopped by to pick you up for lunch, but Julie said you had to run some errands.”

    “Oh,” Beth’s lips curved into a somewhat nervous smile. “Errands. That’s right.”

    Shaking off the vague impression that she was keeping something from him, Ethan lay his own fork down, lifting one corner of his napkin to his mouth before speaking again. “So…Julie. She’s,” he racked his brain for the right word, finally settling on the most innocuous one that sprang to mind when he thought of the chatty young girl full of nervous energy, “nice.”

    Beth tried to hide her laughter behind her own napkin.

    Looking as befuddled as ever, Ethan frowned, the glass in his hands pausing mid-air just inches from his lips. “What? She IS nice. A little nervous maybe. Exceedingly talkative for sure. But still nice.”

    Men could be so clueless sometimes, Beth mused as a little chuckle broke free. “Julie’s nice. I’m not saying she isn’t nice, Ethan.”

    “Then what ARE you saying?” Ethan questioned, his glass still hovering close to his mouth. “And what is it that you find so funny?” he practically demanded, the color in his cheeks rising the more Beth’s mirth grew.

    Leaning in close, Beth placed a comforting hand on Ethan’s thigh and a pressed a tiny kiss to his humorously sputtering mouth. “I love you, but you are so blind.”

    “There’s nothing wrong with my eyesight,” Ethan insisted, the color in his cheeks traveling all the way to his ears when Beth kissed him again, smiling broadly the entire time.





    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    “Biiiiiirrrrr!” Kendall cried, pointing at the tiny winged creature as it flitted across the sidewalk in front of them.


    Shifting Kendall’s slight weight to his right arm, Noah wrapped his freed left arm around Katie’s shoulders, tugging her close and pressing a kiss to her hairline as they searched out the table he’d already staked out when he’d arrived earlier, intending to treat his fiancée on her lunch break.

    “That’s right, Sweetie,” Katie smiled encouragingly at Kendall and his wide-eyed excitement. “Bird.”

    “Bir!” Kendall exclaimed again, squirming in Noah’s arms.

    Seeking permission from Katie with a quick look into her eyes, Noah dropped his arm from her shoulders and crouched low, setting the toddler onto his feet on the plush green blades beside the sidewalk.

    After a wobbly start, Kendall took off at a breakneck speed, giggling breathlessly as the bird skillfully eluded his childish attempts to capture it in his arms. “No, no!” Kendall wagged his finger accusingly as effort after effort proved fruitless. “Bir, stay,” he ordered sternly. “Nowa,” he looked to Noah for help, sandy blond locks falling forward into his eyes.

    “We really need to get him a dog after we’re married.” Noah’s silver eyes danced with amusement. Katie’s expression of surprise made him linger, and for a few seconds longer, Kendall’s requests for aid fell on deaf ears. Gently gripping Katie’s elbow with one hand, Noah used the other hand to tuck a flyaway strand of blond hair from her ponytail back behind her ear, his palm tenderly cupping her cheek. “What?” he wondered aloud, concern seizing him when he saw the suspicious sparkle of tears barely held back in her eyes.

    Her heart full, Katie tried to smile as her eyes welled further, forcing a single tear to trickle down her cheek, and she ducked her head, laughing in embarrassment when panic flashed across Noah’s dear, handsome face. “Nothing. It’s nothing,” she insisted as he raised his other hand to her face, his thumbs brushing away the tears that continued to escape down her cheeks.

    “I mention getting our son a dog once we’re married, and you start crying,” Noah searched her eyes for answers to his unasked questions. “No way is this nothing. Katie…talk to me. Dammit,” he swore softly when a shaky sob erupted from Katie. Resting his forehead against hers, he dropped his voice to a pained whisper, going over the last few minutes in his mind and wondering desperately what he had said or done to set this chain of events into motion. “At least tell me this…good tears or bad tears?”

    Gripping Noah’s shoulders tightly, Katie mustered up her best smile, hoping Noah could see that it was genuine. “Good tears,” she sniffled. “Definitely good tears.” When Noah looked relieved but still confused, her tears turned to soft laughter, and she pressed her mouth against his in what she hoped was a reassuring kiss.

    “Katie, I…” Noah frowned slightly when Katie’s finger to his lips stopped any questions he might have voiced. The frown only deepened when she shook her head, her green eyes still bright with tears as she breathed a question he’d never expected to hear from her.

    “This is really happening, isn’t it?”




    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    “Abby,” Nick called over his shoulder as he forked stir fry onto the plates in front of him. “Lunch is ready!”

    At his feet, Lucky meowed plaintively, obviously trying to pull the pitiful act on him again.

    The feline was a master at the act, not having to work too hard before Nick snatched up a morsel of meat and fed it to the little beggar while keeping an eye out for Abby. It wouldn’t do to have his ass handed to him on a platter not six hours after they’d effectively kissed and made up. Well, the kiss was a given, but the making up…at least they were on their way, which was more than he’d hoped for this morning when he’d woken up without her in his arms again. “Abby,” he called again, a small part of him worrying that she’d already changed her mind about him, about them, and snuck out of her bedroom window, escaping down the fire escape. When she didn’t answer again, he tossed Lucky a stern glare, warning him to even blink at the still steaming food, then he left the room in search of her.

    Her bedroom yielded no sign of her, and the bathroom was just as empty.

    He found her in the last place he expected to—his bedroom. Now the baby’s room.

    Her head bowed, tawny hair spilling over her shoulders, Abby gripped the rail of the bed in her hands. At Nick’s touch on the small of her back, she relaxed her grip, flexing her fingers before lifting the small white teddy bear nestled amidst the blankets in her arms and hugging it close. She had tears in her eyes when she finally faced him, and with much effort she finally spoke. “I’m sorry. I heard you. I just…”

    “Shh,” Nick soothed, gently taking her by the elbow and steering her toward the only other piece of furniture in the room, a rocking chair he’d purchased because the image of her sitting in it rocking their child to sleep with lullabies on her lips had been so strong, so real the scent of talcum powder intermingled with baby lotion and a familiar vanilla fragrance had assaulted his senses. Taking a seat in the chair, he opened his arms to receive her, his heart threatening to split wide when she acquiesced and relaxed enough to let herself be held. For a while, her quiet sniffles and the creak of the chair were the only sounds in the converted room, and Nick’s fingers tenderly stroked her silky hair, the gesture meant to comfort.

    Her fingers tracing patterns on the soft cotton of Nick’s tee-shirt, Abby was the first one to break the silence, her voice barely more than a whisper. “Sometimes it still doesn’t seem real.”

    “The baby?” Nick murmured against her temple.

    “Our baby. My baby,” Abby choked out. “Nick, what if…”

    “It won’t,” Nick cut off her painful question, unable to let her finish it. “Abby, I promise…no matter what happens with us, I won’t let any harm come to you or our child. I promise. Do you hear me?”

    “Another man made me the same promise once, and he fought like hell to keep it, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t, and I never held her. I never got to say goodbye. I never got to kiss her and look for myself or her father in her little face. I don’t think I can do it again. I KNOW I can’t,” she said, fresh tears welling in her hazel eyes as her fingers slid from his shoulders to burrow in his dark hair. She inhaled a shaky breath as she pressed her forehead against his forehead, the tears in her eyes slipping free.

    All out of answers for her, Nick cradled the back of her head and directed it toward his shoulder, offering the only thing he could—the comfort of his touch.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Ivy never had warmed up to conducting her business in the library—too many ghosts—so she’d spent the better part of the afternoon in the Solarium, studying the file her private investigator had built up on one Abigail Stone and trying to piece together the turn of events that had led to her and Antonio Lopez-Fitzgerald crossing each other’s paths.


    Antonio had disappeared from Harmony around the same time as Martin. Deep down Ivy had always suspected Alistair’s involvement in Martin’s exile from his home, but would Alistair do the same to Antonio? Who had convinced Antonio to leave the mother and brothers and sisters that loved and needed him?

    Questions whirled, unanswered, in Ivy’s mind, and she lifted a hand to her brow, frowning at the headache she felt building behind her eyes. Forgoing any further scrutiny of the file for the moment, she tossed it onto the table in front of her and picked up the crystal decanter to pour herself a drink.

    Today, when she had spent so much time contemplating and searching through the past, she sipped brandy in Julian’s memory.

    Ah, Julian.

    He’d lived his whole life under his father’s thumb until the day he died a hero’s death and took the first steps in bringing a family back together.

    Ivy wondered if she could have grown to love such a man over time. God knew she didn’t love him when she married him; her heart was Sam’s and no one else’s.

    She wouldn’t lie. She had grown to care for him, almost without wanting to. Deep down, in their hearts where it counted, existed a common thread—a love for someone forbidden to them.

    For a brief moment, she entertained thoughts of Julian’s reaction to learning Chad was the son he’d never completely given up as lost. She couldn’t help but think the two men would have found a way to forge a relationship as father and son.

    Thoughts of fathers and sons led where they inevitably led, and she fingered the locket about her throat as her eyes grew sad.

    What of Ethan and Sam? Was she any better than Alistair for keeping them from knowing each other as they should—as father and son?

    Thoughts such as these left Ivy awash in feelings of regret, and she was tired of the feeling; she had made her choices and now had to live with them.

    She finished off the brandy she’d been nursing and reached for the file with her other hand.

    She had to live with them and move on and continue to protect the one she held most dear.




    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~






    It was days like today where the reality of his little girl’s death slammed into Sam with all the subtlety of a Mac truck.

    When Grace had called his cell phone earlier, he’d been in the middle of his morning visit to the Harmony PD. Retired or not, he couldn’t cut ties with the place completely, and though he’d never mention it to Grace, he relished the chance to get away from his thoughts and the memories tied up in their home that were a little too painful to relive with such startling clarity day after day.

    Kay had lived and breathed in that house for most of her life. She’d played forbidden games of catch in the living room with Miguel over Grace’s objections and come to him for help gluing back together the shattered evidence of her indiscretions. She’d pleaded with him to spare her the well-meaning lecture welcoming her to womanhood that Grace had anticipated for years by taking her to the drug store and promising not to get out of the car when she made—in her words—“the most mortifying” purchase of her life. That house was where she shared her first kiss with Miguel; on the doorstep with him turning the lights on and off when things got a little too involved for his liking. And she had placed his first grandson in his arms in the kitchen, declaring it didn’t feel right taking him home without introducing him first to the place she’d grown up—the place she promised he’d spend many more days and nights to come.

    Grace coped by immersing herself in the details surrounding Noah’s upcoming wedding to Katie. Sam himself coped by making frequent visits to his old haunt, escaping, if only for a little while, the place where he saw his daughter’s face around every corner. Miguel and the boys coped with the help of an understanding friend.

    Until today.

    Sam didn’t blame Abby for the fallout of what must have been a difficult decision; he even understood her motivations. He wished he could say the same for his wife.

    Rocking their youngest grandson in her arms, his cries for Abby now hoarse, Grace’s blue eyes held nothing but anger.

    At Kay’s death, for Abby’s abrupt departure, Sam didn’t know anymore, and right now, hours into a vigil he somehow felt wasn’t theirs to keep, he was too tired to care. He rubbed his hand over his face roughly when deeper into the house he heard the slamming of a door and sighed as MJ vented his frustrations in the only way he knew how. How were they were going to get past this?

    If this was what the aftermath was like when the shock and numbness started to fade for real, Sam selfishly wanted to spare MJ and Joshua for a little while longer.





    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    With a pensive sigh, Hank flipped his cell phone shut and slid it into his jeans pocket, Miguel’s somberly delivered words remaining with him for several long seconds, seconds in which, one by one, three pairs of brown eyes lifted to his face and regarded his troubled expression with open curiosity.


    “Dad?” Jake eventually prompted, frown lines deepening on his young face. “Dad,” he waved a hand in front of Hank’s face, finally garnering his attention, at least a small part of it.

    “What?” Hank answered distractedly.

    “Dad,” Sara rolled her eyes in exasperation.

    It was Emily, tugging impatiently at his belt loops that finally brought Hank back to the present. “Can MJ and Joshua come play, Daddy?”

    Lifting Emily easily onto his hip, Hank brushed a wayward strand of her long brown hair behind her ear with affection and answered her question with a shake of his head.

    “But why?” Emily pouted.

    “Does MJ have the yucky throw ups like Caleb?” Sara asked, looking concerned until she remembered a cast-aside piece of advice she’d given MJ at their last game. “I told him he’d get the cooties if he sat beside Caleb in the dugout.”

    “No,” Hank’s reply was vague. “He’s not…sick. He just doesn’t feel like playing today.”

    “What about Joshua?” Emily wouldn’t be deterred.

    “Maybe HE’S got the cooties,” Sara muttered under her breath, kicking at a loose stone at her feet.

    “Him either,” Hank responded, his earlier cheerful mood all but dissipated as he mulled over the brief phone call with Miguel. He was still having trouble believing what he’d been told.

    “Maybe YOU got the cooties,” Jake shot his little sister a quelling look.

    Narrowing her eyes at all three of them and mumbling something indistinguishable, Sara crossed her arms against her chest and impudently struck out on her own, leaving Jake to stroll beside his father and Emily in silence again.

    “Hey!” Jake admonished when Sara quickly darted across the street a few minutes later, when the traffic lights changed and the coast was clear. He didn’t always make a big show of it, but he took his job as big brother just as seriously as the next guy. “You’re supposed to wait for me or Dad,” he reminded her, breathless from his own sprint across the street to catch up with her.

    The proud smile Sara sported slipped away as she argued, “But I looked both ways! Just like Dad said.”

    “You can’t cross the street by yourself,” Jake stood firm as they watched their father cross the street with their sister in tow. “You’re still too little.”

    “Am not,” Sara stubbornly refuted.

    “Are too,” Jake rolled his eyes. “You’re not even in kindergarten yet.”

    “I’m going this year. Tell him, Dad,” Sara stood toe to toe with Jake, hands on her hips and brown eyes stormy, ready to do battle as Hank sidled up next to them, his own lectures on shooting across the street like a loose cannon dying on his lips.

    It seemed the Little Buddy had already hit his highest points for him anyway, and Harmony wasn’t exactly the L.A. freeway during rush hour. But before he could warn Sar about rushing into the finer points of education like homework, afternoon nap time, and the occasional brush with detention, they were at it again. Placing Emily on her feet and cautioning her not to wander off, Hank took a deep breath and put on his much-used, tattered referee hat. He’d recognized early on that you trapped more flies with honey so he decided to lay it on thick. Turning to his irate little daughter, he gave her a thumbs-up. “Good job, Sar. You looked both ways just like I taught you.”

    Jake’s mouth dropped open in disbelief. He started to stammer out a protest, desperate to wipe the smug smile off of his sister’s face when his dad continued.

    “But your brother’s right.”

    Now Jake wore the smug smile.

    Hank struggled not to let his own smile show; playing the part of stern father was always a bit of a stretch for him, but he prided himself on his ability to fake it when he needed to. “I know you’re starting kindergarten this year, and you’ll officially be one of the ‘big’ kids…” Hank winked at Jake over the top of Sara’s messy brown mop of hair when he rolled his eyes, hoping he could get his son to play along. “But,” he stressed, earning a displeased scowl from Sara and a momentary glance of interest from Emily, “you’re not one yet. That goes for you too, Emmy.”

    “Okay, Daddy,” Emily singsonged before returning to her previous activities.

    Activities, that as far as Jake could tell, seemed to be twirling until she was dizzy and singing nonsense songs. Somehow, Jake had a feeling there’d be plenty of scuffles in his future; he was going to have to start working out soon.

    “But Dad,” Sara protested.

    “No ‘but dad’s’ to me,” Hank cut her off. “Looking both ways is fine, but it’s not enough. Until I say you’re old enough, you don’t cross the street alone. Either one of you,” he looked from Sara to Emily and back. “Cross only with an adult or Jake.”

    “But Jake’s no grown-up,” Sara complained.

    “No,” Hank acknowledged, taking Sara by the shoulder and waving a beckoning hand to Emily as they started moving along the sidewalk again. “But he’s your big brother, and that’s more than good enough.”

    Jake, lagging behind, couldn’t wipe the goofy smile from his face.

    “Who says we cancel the park plans and go visit Mom instead?”

  6. #22
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 22





    “So,” Hank began, perching on the edge of Gwen’s desk and grinning down at her in her high-backed leather chair slyly, “nice digs. Good view, too.”

    Purposely ignoring his ill-concealed attempts at innuendo, Gwen responded with a thoughtful smile. “I’ve always enjoyed the ocean myself.” She smirked when she felt the toe of Hank’s shoe nudge her leg.

    “Oops. Sorry,” Hank lied, brown eyes sparkling much like Jake’s when he was up to no good. “Nervous twitch.”

    Leaning back in her chair, Gwen crossed her arms across her chest, shaking her head at him. “You really have to come up with some new material, Bennett.” Inspecting her manicured nails, she murmured, “I’m getting a little bored.”

    “Bored!?” Hank played along with her little charade, even as his pride admittedly bristled a little bit. “Bored,” he scoffed, mirroring her pose and crossing his arms across his chest. Looking around at the spacious office Ethan had outfitted her with as his vice president, Hank wondered aloud, “What do you do for fun around this joint anyway?”

    “The usual,” Gwen shrugged nonchalantly. “Brunch with the mayor, a few corporate takeovers before a late lunch with the governor’s wife, followed by tennis at the Club with his mistress, a game of solitaire here and there, and my regularly scheduled date with my husband over the phone.”

    “Date?” Hank’s ears perked up.

    “Yes, date,” Gwen’s mouth twitched at the corners. “He’s a little…” she trailed off, searching for the right word.

    “Lost without you,” Hank helpfully inserted with a twitch of his own lips.

    “Lost without me,” Gwen looked at him wonderingly. Holding his gaze, she felt the need to comment, “The long hours I’ve been working aren’t just hard for him.”

    Employing one of his many reputable talents—the art of playing dumb, Hank schooled his expression into something more serious and sat up straighter as he delivered his reply, “The kids are adjusting.”

    Beckoning him forward with a crook of her finger, Gwen leaned in until they were inches apart and whispered, “I’m not talking about the kids, Bennett.”

    “Oh really?” Hank prodded as noses bumped and lips touched for the barest of seconds. “Are you saying…”

    Rolling her eyes at his attempts at gaining a heart-felt confession from her, Gwen gave his shoulders a playful push before sinking her fingers into his hair and pulling him into a longer, more involved kiss. Breaking away, she pouted because she knew it’d bring the smile she’d fallen in love with back to his face. “I miss you, you big dope.”

    “Phone sex not doing it for you?” Hank teased, earning himself a mock-outraged punch to his shoulder. Eyes twinkling he continued, “Because, Babe…I have to say…I was starting to find it a little bit of a turn-on.”

    “You’d better find everything about me a turn-on,” Gwen wagged a finger in front of his nose good-naturedly until he teasingly captured it between his teeth. “Phone sex included,” she warned, albeit an octave lower.

    “You know what I’d REALLY consider a turn-on,” Hank let her wonder at the possibilities, a leering grin on his face and a no-good sparkle in his brown eyes as they shifted back and forth from her increasingly incredulous face to the gleaming surface of her brand-new desk and back.

    “Oh my…you’re not seriously suggesting…Bennett!” Gwen finally hissed, a deep red blush staining her cheeks as she tried to put some distance between his advancing mouth and hers. Holding her hands up defensively, she groaned as she felt his hot breath against her ear, “Hank.”

    “Admit it,” Hank nipped at her earlobe with his teeth, chuckling when he felt a shiver run through her, “the idea’s crossed your mind once or twice.”

    “Ethan’s office is just down the hall,” Gwen reminded him on a shakier breath than she would have liked.

    “And?” Hank prompted as if that little tidbit of information held no importance for him.

    “And our kids…”

    “Are taking a tour with Shane,” Hank finished her thought for her. “I slipped him an extra 20 to take his time.”

    “So you planned this?” No longer melting into an undignified pile of goo, Gwen straightened in her seat.

    “Are you kidding, Babe?” Cluing in to his wife’s change of mood, Hank opted to shift gears, but his humor fell a little flat. “Nobody plans sex on a desk. It’s a spur of the moment type of thing.”
    Gwen just looked at him, poker-faced.

    “And there’s nothing remotely romantic about it,” Hank continued to backpedal furiously. “Sure, it’s hot…”

    “Yeah,” Gwen deadpanned, “having my stapler tattooed on my bare ass is just so sexy. And romance? Who needs romance? Romance is over-rated. Twenty bucks, Bennett? Ethan tips the coffee girl more.”

    “Come on, Babe,” Hank whined under her withering glare. “You know I’d pay a million to spend the night with you. Just so you could tuck me and the kids into bed.”

    Softening a little bit, she slid her fingers underneath the collar of his shirt, gently massaging the back of his neck before she leaned in and kissed him briefly on the lips with a sigh. “I’m still not fooling around with you in my office.”

    Feigning a look of disappointment that wasn’t all pretend, Hank offered up a hopeful suggestion that had Gwen dropping her head against his chest in helpless laughter. “What about that supply closet I saw around the corner?” His brown eyes gleamed with mirth and contentment as he held her close, winding strands of blond around his fingers, and teased her with a few more suggestions that put a blush on her cheeks and a wicked sparkle to her eyes.

    That’s how Shane and the kids found them, nearly half an hour later.




    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    The park was surprisingly quiet for late-afternoon, but Sheridan found she was thankful for the relative peace.


    After assuring Theresa that no details of her wedding garb would be revealed to Chad—not that he’d had a chance to see much anyway—Luis had suggested lunch. Naturally, he’d invited Theresa, and when they went to retrieve Cristian, the invitation was extended to Chad and Paloma.

    A burger and fries was by no means the most nutritious combination out there, but the kids, even those of the grown-up variety, had enjoyed the good company and the summer sunshine, and it was with great reluctance that they’d parted ways; Luis to the police station, Theresa with Chad and Paloma back to ‘Over the Rainbow’, and Sheridan to her current location, cradling her dozing infant daughter in her arms while she watched Ali gleefully push Cristian higher and higher on his swing.

    “Mommy,” Cristian squealed as each push from his sister took him closer to the puffy white clouds that seemed to dominate the blue sky, “I’m flying!”

    “I see that,” Sheridan smiled at his enthusiasm, sharing a look of affection with her likewise beaming daughter. “Careful, Ali. We wouldn’t want to accidentally send your brother to the moon.”

    Ali giggled softly and played along, slowing the swing’s progress, the
    action brought on more from a need to catch her breath than any real fear on her part. “Then you’d have to rescue him.”

    “Mommy?” Cristian’s mouth hung open in disbelief. “But what about Daddy?”

    Merely holding the swing’s chains between her hands and swaying her little brother from side to side, Ali released one hand to playfully ruffle the dark spikes of Cristian’s hair. “Daddy can’t fly, silly.”

    “Mommy can fly?!” Cristian’s eyes grew wide then they narrowed in concentrated thought, apparently wondering why he’d never caught her or Abby exhibiting this special shared talent of theirs. “Just like Tinker Bell?”

    “No,” Ali teased, tickling Cristian’s sides and making him squirm away from her unexpected attack, “more like Superman.”

    “Ali,” Sheridan gently chided, humor in her eyes as her little son eyed her with much skepticism, approaching her on the park bench on reluctant feet. “I think you mean Superwoman,” she winked. Wrapping one arm firmly around Hope’s warm weight, Sheridan beckoned Cristian with her free arm. When he climbed onto the bench beside her, she draped her arm across his small shoulders, hugging him to her side and kissing the crown of his head.

    Wiggling his dangling sneaker-clad feet in front of him, Cristian turned inquisitive brown eyes on her. “Is it true, Mommy?”

    Her own eyes were dancing as Sheridan answered him, barely keeping a straight face, “Yes, Sweetie. It’s true. Your mommy can fly.”

    Peals of laughter escaped Ali then, and Cristian frowned, pouting slightly as he demanded to know the source of her complete loss of composure. “What’s so funny?”

    “Airplanes, Cristian. Mom means airplanes,” Ali was kind enough to enlighten him between giggles.

    If it were even possible, Cristian’s brown eyes grew even wider with this new revelation, seemingly even more impressed. “Really?”

    “Really,” Sheridan replied.

    “Wow,” Cristian breathed.

    Sheridan simply smiled at his awe-struck expression.

    “Big airplanes?” Cristian wondered.

    “Sometimes,” Sheridan nodded. “Believe it or not, Kiddo, your mommy used to be cool.”

    Still utterly enthralled, Cristian turned to face her, eyes shining with excitement. “Will you teach me?”

    Taking a moment to consider his request, Sheridan quickly came to a decision, unable to face the thought of disappointing him and anticipating the chance to strengthen a bond unfairly neglected in the past year. “If it’s what you really want, and Daddy agrees that you’re old enough and responsible enough…yes. Yes, I’ll…Cristian,” Sheridan called after the little whirlwind presented her with a hug fierce enough to leave her momentarily breathless and an escape so quick the encounter could have been just a figment of her imagination. “Wait a minute.”

    Cristian skidded to a stop, but only for a few seconds.

    “Where are you going?”

    “To tell everybody,” Cristian called over his shoulder. “I see Zac. And Carson.”

    “Everybody,” Sheridan shook her head, laughing softly as she pressed her cheek against Hope’s sun-warmed curls. “What? Ali?” she questioned when she found herself under her eldest daughter’s gentle, almost proud scrutiny.

    “Nothing,” Ali murmured, dropping down into Cristian’s abandoned swing and twirling, a small smile playing at her lips.

    “Ali Katherine Lopez-Fitzgerald,” Sheridan persisted with an arch of her brow. She sighed in exasperation when her gesture was mirrored by her daughter, only with the addition of the tiniest of smirks that—if you asked her—was ALL Luis. “I’m still your mom, you know.”

    “Mooomm,” Ali singsonged.

    “Okay,” Sheridan conceded, but not without some small measure of disappointment. As far as she was concerned, it was a mother’s prerogative to be a little nosy. Still, she decided to drop the subject. “I can teach you too, if you want.”

    “Maybe,” Ali assented. “But Cristian first, okay?”

    Sheridan held her arm out, welcoming Ali into Cristian’s vacated spot at her side. “Has anyone told you what a great big sister you are lately? Because you are,” she murmured into the sweet smelling gold wisps of Ali’s hair. “You’re awesome.”

    Ali smiled, laying her palm flat against Hope’s back, mesmerized for a moment by the gentle rise and fall the baby’s peaceful breathing created. “It’s because I have a cool mom.”

    “Wow,” Sheridan felt herself growing misty-eyed as she studied Ali’s profile. “What is this? The mutual admiration society?”

    “Mom,” Ali rolled her eyes good-naturedly.

    Sheridan laughed, blinking away the happy tears stinging the corners of her eyes. “I guess I have proof that your halo’s on a little crooked.”

    “Now you’re just being silly,” Ali giggled in accusation, curling her feet beneath her and leaning more fully against her mother’s side. After a few moments of companionable silence, she sighed then ventured to ask a question that had been bothering her for a long time. “Mom? Will I still be in Lissy’s class next year? Ella says I missed too much school, and I’ll have to stay back a year.”

    “Ms. Kinsay doesn’t think so,” Sheridan reassured her. “She thinks you’ll be ready to start the new school year in the same class as Lissy. She’s confident your daddy and I will be able to catch you up this summer. But you’re going to have to work hard.”

    Ali nodded in understanding, lightly tickling her fingertips across Hope’s chubby cheek when her round, liquid eyes blinked open sleepily. “Hey, Roo,” she breathed. “Think I can do it?”

    Hope’s answering coo had the desired effect: Ali was all smiles.

    “Well,” Sheridan declared with sparkling eyes. “I think it’s unanimous.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

  7. #23
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 23






    Each night brought a new dream to Abby, a wish unfulfilled.

    In her dream, she saw a little girl, a little older than Ali, a little more slightly built, with a tangle of tawny hair. The curving slant of the handwriting on the paper before her was all hers, but the hands, the long, slender fingers that moved the pencil across paper were courtesy of her father.

    The paper bore no name, but its title made Abby’s heart feel large and swollen in her chest, and when she pressed a kiss into the sweet-smelling mass of hair, she couldn’t help a little teasing about the family portrait. The baby, in particular, exhibited more than a few other-worldly qualities; obviously they needed to have the talk again. “How many times have I told you the baby is NOT an alien?”

    The reply was swift and expected; sometimes Abby had to wonder at the wisdom of moving to the same neighborhood as Hank and his gaggle of misfits. “Jake says all babies look like aliens; their heads are too big for their bodies.”

    “That’s because they’re growing so fast. And our baby’s? Isn’t,” Abby voiced a pointed reminder. Though she did have to admit…

    “You’re just saying that because you’re the mom, and you have to be nice,” came the answering giggle.

    Abby didn’t have to see her face to know she was rolling her eyes. That gesture? As Shane would say, definitely courtesy of her mother. “Did you brush your teeth?”

    “Yes, Mom.”

    Abby run through the mental checklist they covered every school morning. “What about your homework? Did you make sure it’s in your backpack?”

    Painted toes wiggled in their flip-flops as slim shoulders heaved in a beleaguered sigh. But she didn’t have to waste her breath on a reply.

    Entering the kitchen already dressed for work, Nick answered for her en route to the coffee pot. “I put it in your purple folder last night after I checked it. Smart girl,” he commended with a smile. “She only missed one algebra problem,” he nodded to Abby over his morning brew, “and just like her mother, she has a way with words.”

    “Thanks. I think,” Abby muttered somewhat grumpily at the twinkle in Nick’s gray eyes as he approached her, slinking his arms around her waist and pulling her close to him for a morning kiss.

    “Trust me,” Nick grinned at the way she melted into his kiss. “That’s a compliment.”

    Abby smirked. “Are you insinuating I talk too much?”

    “Did I say that?” Nick’s eyes continued to twinkle at her as he lifted a hand to her cheek, his thumb gently ghosting over the dark circles ringing her eyes. Parenting two spirited children was still a learning process for her, for them both, and it wasn’t without its sleepless nights and countless adjustments. “The baby’s asleep.”

    “Finally,” Abby breathed in relief, a sentiment echoed by the small girl crouched before the back door, sending Lucky off to take care of his usual morning business.

    Nick chuckled as he placed a kiss atop the crown of Abby’s head. “They warned us it wouldn’t be easy.”

    “I never expected easy,” Abby retorted as she sidestepped him to run her fingers through her daughter’s tangle of hair, smoothing it into some semblance of order. “Getting you to profess your undying love for me was hard enough.”

    “Please,” a small voice whined, ducking her head to avoid her mother’s attempts to tame her wild mane. “You’re making me sick. If you start kissing again, I’m going to puke.”

    “How ‘bout I tell your mother I love her instead?” Nick teased, picking up the Bratz backpack and shouldering it along with his own bag. Grabbing his car keys from the kitchen counter, he tossed them into her waiting hands. “Wait for me in the car. Wouldn’t want to make you sick,” he winked.

    She was gone in an instant, a blur of tawny hair and a quick wave of her father’s hands.

    Turning his full attention back to Abby, he set the bags down again and framed her face with his hands, engaging her in a lingering kiss goodbye. He let his hands travel down her arms to her much smaller hands, encasing them in his own before bringing one to his lips, pressing a small kiss to the palm.

    Curling her palm against his cheek, Abby felt a powerful tug at her heart when he pressed his lips to the precious metal that encircled her finger, recalling the admission that had finally bound her to him forever. “Go on,” she gave him a soft, serious look. “She already missed homeroom last week when we slept through the alarm. A couple more tardy slips, and she’ll be joining Jake in detention.”

    “His teacher really didn’t appreciate his protest against the indignity of wearing tights in the school play, did she?” Nick grinned at the memory. He paused in the doorway, voicing a gentle reminder, “Get some rest while the baby’s sleeping. Okay?”

    “Is that a polite way of saying I look like crap?” Abby arched a tawny brow at him in question.

    Nick wisely chose to leave the question unanswered; his wife had a considerable talent for twisting his words, and he didn’t want to leave her on a sour note. Instead he smiled at her and adeptly changed the subject, “Don’t forget. Sheridan’s picking her up after school.”

    Nodding, Abby’s eyes sparkled as she crossed her arms across her chest and pinned him with a look that stopped him in his tracks, even as a car horn sounded outside. “Where are you taking me?”
    Impatience—apparently another quality her daughter had inherited from her.

    Nick couldn’t control the smile that made the corners of his mouth twitch, and he tipped his head in the general direction of the car where several more beeps of the horn escaped. “You’re worse than her. How many times do I have to tell you? It’s a surprise.”

    “Pilar has the phone number. I know you gave it to her in case of an emergency,” Abby threatened.

    “Well,” Nick grinned as he carefully backed through the door and down the first couple of steps, his gray eyes twinkling at her in challenge. “Why don’t you just ask her then?”

    Groaning in frustration, Abby threw her arms up as she advanced on him again, grateful his position on the steps put them eye to eye, almost. “I swear that woman was Sydney Bristow in a past life.”

    Laughing at the mental image created by her comment, Nick slid his arms around her waist as she looped hers around his neck and pulled her flush against him. “She can keep a secret better than Father Lonagin,” he teased.

    “Please,” Abby pouted. “Just a little hint. So I know what to wear.”

    “No,” Nick refused, gently disentangling her arms from his neck as he kissed her lips in apology. “You’ll look beautiful no matter what. She’ll be late again,” he murmured against her hair as she changed tactics and snaked her arms around his waist, hugging him fiercely.

    “Just a little,” came Abby’s muffled reply. Laying her palm over his heart, she nuzzled the hollow of his throat and whispered a truth that still broke her heart a little sometimes, so intensely did she feel it. “I love you. Both of you. Don’t go. Stay. You’re a doctor. You can write her an excuse.”

    Kissing her temple, Nick wore a rueful expression as he let her go and bent to retrieve the bags he’d placed by the door earlier. “You’re acting like this is goodbye forever when it’s see you in a little while. She’s coming back, Abby; she’s just spending the night with Ali. I’m coming back. You’re not going to lose us, either one of us, ever again. Got that?”

    “I think I’m starting to get it through my thick skull,” Abby forced a tearful laugh. She longed for the day when letting them out of her sight, even for a minute, became a little less painful. Until then, she’d just have to learn to muddle through somehow. “Go on,” she waved Nick off as she crouched down to pick Lucky up, gratefully accepting the cat’s easy affection. “I’ll be okay,” she promised. And if she wasn’t…well, Nick didn’t have to know that. She, like Pilar, was pretty good at keeping secrets.

    “Don’t forget,” Nick called over his shoulder as he strode down the walkway, turning to her as he got into the car. “We have a date.”

    “You better not be late,” she warned, waving at them as the car backed out of the drive. Two hands waved back, and as they traveled further from her sight, she realized with a pang that this morning was just like yesterday morning and the morning before that. All she could remember as they faded from her vision was a tangle of tawny hair.

    Her daughter’s face was but a blurry memory.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



    Ali was in her bedroom, thumbing through “The Secret Garden” while Cristian was passed out, sprawled at the foot of his bed with Max keeping loyal watch when Luis padded down the hallway on bare feet. Raking a hand through his damp hair, he froze as a floorboard creaked underfoot just outside the nursery. Satisfied, the small noise hadn’t woken the littlest Lopez-Fitzgerald, he crept onward, arriving in the living room with a small triumphant smirk on his lips.


    Raising one golden brow at him, Sheridan noted his attire, or lack thereof, and complimented him on his improving skills of stealth where their baby daughter was concerned. “You’re getting better at that.”

    “Practice,” Luis grinned as he took a seat on the couch behind her, his hands immediately gravitating toward her shoulders.

    Sheridan’s head lolled back appreciatively at the massaging motion, her eyes slipping shut blissfully as she murmured, “That feels wonderful.”

    Brushing her blond curls aside, Luis leaned down to place a kiss at the juncture of her neck and shoulder. “What can I say?” he teased in a low voice. “I have talented hands.”

    Reaching back awkwardly to swat at his arm, Sheridan rolled her eyes and laughed, “Luis, you’re terrible.”

    “That’s not what you said last night,” Luis whispered into her ear, grinning at the very visible shiver his words sent through her. He laughed at the blush that stole across her cheeks as her mind recalled the stolen moments of the night before.

    Twisting around to face him, Sheridan made a futile attempt at glaring at him. “Wipe that smug look off of your face right now, Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald, or I’ll…”

    “You’ll what?” Luis challenged, enjoying the way her blue eyes sparked at him. “You won’t do anything.”

    “Really?” Sheridan looked affronted. “Why is that?”

    “Because I’m the father of your three beautiful children, and you’re madly in love with me.” Luis smiled as he watched her melt before his very eyes. He nodded to the scrapbooks and photographs scattered across the coffee table in front of her, to one picture in particular of a young girl, barely in her teens, standing before a small red airplane next to another child, a boy just a few years younger than she. “Is that you?”

    Sheridan nodded as she handed them the photograph, watching his face as he studied it. “That’s Ethan beside me.”

    “Must have been strange,” Luis mused. “Calling you his aunt when you two were so close in age.”

    Sheridan shrugged as if she hadn’t given it much thought. “Ethan and I have always been close. I don’t know what I would have done without him,” she said, leaning back into Luis’s open arms as he slid down from the sofa to seat himself behind her on the floor.

    Resting his chin on her shoulder, Luis pressed a kiss to her jawline, his breath fanning warmly across her skin. “What’s with the plane?”

    “That,” Sheridan smiled, “is the first plane that I ever flew. This picture was taken after my first solo flight, which Ethan was brave enough to accompany me on.”

    Luis laughed in disbelief, making no attempts to hide his smile even after his wife’s strategically placed blow to the arm that had taken up residence across her abdomen. “I’m sorry,” he apologized half-heartedly. “I just don’t think Ethan and brave belong in the same sentence.”

    “Luis,” Sheridan chided with a barely perceptible smile. “Be nice.”

    Luis wrapped his arms more firmly around her in response, stretching his pajama-clad legs out around her. Getting back on subject, he asked, “Why flying?”

    “I don’t know,” Sheridan murmured softly, seemingly transported back to the past for the next several seconds. “I guess I liked the feeling of freedom it gave me. The way it made me forget…it made me feel closer to my mother somehow,” she admitted quietly as her fingers caressed the worn edges of the photograph. “That and I was always on the lookout for a new adventure,” she said, brightening up the dimly lit living room again with the light from her smile.

    Smiling with her at first, Luis grew somber after a few moments of reflection, lifting one hand from its resting spot against her warm skin to sift through the photographs, coming to some of the Spanish landscape she’d traveled and been enraptured with before coming home and crashing into his life. “Do you miss it?”

    “Sometimes,” Sheridan answered honestly, feeling him tense slightly behind her. “I met a lot of interesting people, visited some of the most beautiful places in the world, Luis.”

    “Harmony pales in comparison,” Luis conceded, drawing on his own limited experience.

    “In some ways,” Sheridan concurred, shifting in his arms again so that she could look once more into his eyes. “But Luis,” she began. “Harmony has something that nowhere else in the world has. You,” she whispered earnestly, cupping his cheek in her palm and trailing her thumb across his lips. “That makes it the most special place in the world to me.”

    Luis pulled her closer and planted a firm but tender kiss on her lips, his eyes shining bright when he released her. He started to speak, but Sheridan beat him to it, turning back around with a grin on her lips.

    “Raising three of your children is adventure enough for me.” She giggled when he pulled her back against him, attacking her neck with loud kisses and trailing wandering hands across her belly. “Children that just happen to be down the hall,” she pointedly reminded him when one hand got a little too adventurous. “Unless you’re ready to give Cristian the S-E-X talk.” She laughed outright when Luis snatched his hands away, placing them in the safest place he could think of—back on her shoulders. She moaned softly as he went to work on the tensed muscles there. Dropping her chin against her chest, she closed her eyes, letting his strong, capable hands work their magic. “He asked me to teach him today.”

    “Hmm?” Luis hummed, his mouth pressed against her shoulder blade.

    “To fly,” Sheridan answered, limbs liquid and voice breathless. “I told him I would. If you were okay with it, and we both decided he was old enough.”

    Pushing down his immediate reaction to the idea, Luis tried to approach the situation more rationally, but he still had some reservations. “He’s too young. He’s never even been on an airplane. What if he doesn’t like it?”

    Sheridan winced as his hands kneaded a particularly sore spot, her eyes squeezing shut at the pain. “He IS young,” she granted. “And he may not like it. That’s why I wanted to take him up with me a few times. See how it goes.”

    Luis started to comment but realized her suggestions were reasonable, and any immediate refusals might lead her to believe he didn’t trust her with their son’s well-being when the truth was he trusted her with HIS life.

    Seeming to read his thoughts, Sheridan reminded him with an amused laugh. “I got you to New Mexico in one piece, didn’t I?” Then more seriously, “I won’t do it if we’re not in agreement.”

    “What about Ali?” Luis finally asked, his hands stilling on her shoulders.

    “She wants me to teach Cristian first. I think she sees it as a way of making up to him all the time we spent with her at the hospital this past year,” Sheridan answered.

    Luis felt the familiar guilt coursing through his veins, tensing against the almost physical blow he felt every time he was reminded of the way Ali’s illness had monopolized their time, shortchanging Cristian in the process. Logically, he knew they’d done the best they could, but that still didn’t lessen the self-reproach he felt. Responding to the need he knew Sheridan had, he gave his consent. “See how he likes it and go from there.”

    Sheridan nodded, leaning back into him fully again and resting her head on his shoulder. Reaching out to the coffee table, she plucked another photo from the stack, laughing softly with Luis at the cross-eyed expression that Ali and Lissy had managed to capture on Hope’s pink-cheeked face. “You know…Ali’s already campaigning for another little brother.”








    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

  8. #24
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Posts
    489

    Post Re: Believe (Shuis, Gwank, cast)

    Chapter 24





    “Here are those files you asked for, Mrs. Bennett.”

    Momentarily taking her eyes off of her computer screen as the files were placed on her desk, Gwen smiled a genuine smile at her eager-to-please intern. “Thanks, Erin. I appreciate you taking the time to look them up for me.”

    Erin flushed with pleasure. “It was no problem, Mrs. Bennett. If there’s anything else,” she trailed off.

    “Call me Gwen. Please,” Gwen told her. “Mrs. Bennett makes me feel old.”

    “Oh!” Erin exclaimed in mortification. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Bennett. I didn’t realize…oh, I’m doing it again.”

    Brown eyes dancing with amusement, Gwen let the young girl off the hook. “It’s okay. Really. You can call me Mrs. Bennett if you want to. I know my husband never gets tired of hearing it.”

    Relaxing marginally, the young woman smiled at the mention of Hank. “Your husband’s a very nice man, Mrs. Bennett.”

    “Yes, he is,” Gwen replied, her fingers ceasing their typing, and her gaze connecting with Ethan’s over the unsuspecting girl’s shoulder. “Good morning,” she greeted warmly when she noted a tall cup of coffee in each of his hands.

    Erin whirled around in surprise, nearly upending the cups and necessitating a trip to the dry cleaners for her boss. “Mr. Crane!” her voice escaped her in an unflattering squeak. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

    Ethan’s blue eyes twinkled as he teased, “I can be quite sneaky when I want to be.” When Erin didn’t seem to get the joke, he held out a cup of coffee in offering. “There’s cream and sugar in the employee’s lounge that Gwen showed you.”

    Erin beamed, wrapping two hands around the steaming cup and stumbling over her thanks. When she’d finally managed to string together a few words of appreciation and the door had shut behind her, both Ethan and Gwen released a sigh of relief followed shortly by soft laughter.

    “She’s new,” Gwen admonished Ethan when he continued to laugh, his cheeks and ears flushing pink in his merriment. “Ethan Crane,” she warned, scooping the files into her arms and tucking them safely away in a desk drawer.

    Quieting finally, Ethan simply smiled at her, saying, “Mrs. Bennett.”

    Rolling her eyes good-naturedly at him, Gwen walked around to the front of the desk and took the seat opposite him, curling her legs comfortably beneath her as she took the gift of caffeine that he offered. “A visit from the President,” she mused as she sipped the hot liquid carefully. “To what do I owe this honor?”

    “Just checking how my Vice President was settling in,” Ethan answered her. “Shane said the kids seemed impressed last week.”

    “Hank’s a little in awe of the helicopter pad himself,” Gwen smirked at the kid in the candy store look her husband had sported when they’d ended their own little tour in that particular destination. “He wanted to know if he could go out for a spin sometime.”

    “I leave the flying up to Aunt Sheridan,” Ethan stated, getting up and walking toward the windows where he gazed at the whitecaps of the ocean in the distance. For several long moments, he seemed to be lost in thought.

    “Ethan,” Gwen frowned. “Is something wrong?”

    “No. Nothing’s wrong. At least I don’t think so,” Ethan responded, albeit distractedly. “Gwen,” he turned serious blue eyes on her. “Do you consider me a friend?”

    Dumbstruck for a moment, Gwen refrained from answering at first, considering her feelings on the matter.

    “I know I treated you badly. You and Theresa,” Ethan sighed regretfully. “I’m sorry, and I still don’t know how you found it in your heart to forgive me. And I can’t believe I’m asking you this, because how could YOU consider ME a friend? But I want you to know…whatever else happened between us in the past, I’ve always considered you to be one of the best friends I’ve ever had.”

    Standing up and moving closer to him so she could look him fully in the eye, Gwen set her coffee cup down on her desk and took one of his hands in her own, squeezing it reassuringly. “You are a friend. We may have fallen out of favor with each other in the last several years, but we’re working to make things better again. God knows it’s not easy, but we’re doing it. If it makes you feel better, I don’t want to carry around a voodoo doll with your name on it and poke its eyes out anymore.”

    Her comment seemed to bring a little more levity to the situation because Ethan laughed, a sharp, painful sound, but a laugh nonetheless.

    “I’m not teasing,” Gwen raised a brow at him, brown eyes deadly serious even as they sparkled. “There was a time that I wanted to burn you at the stake. But I’m over it. I really am. I have Hank now. You have Beth.”

    Ethan flinched at the mention of Beth and turned his back to Gwen, but the damage had already been done.

    Voice laden with suspicion, Gwen gripped Ethan’s shoulder, turning him back to face her. “Ethan? Talk to me.”

    “It’s nothing really,” Ethan tried to shrug off her concern. “It’s just…” he began, only to stop again, trying to formulate his thoughts into the right words. “Since the break-in, Beth’s been behaving…strangely.”

    “Strangely how?” Gwen questioned in confusion. The woman’s place of business had been broken into. She reckoned she had a little room to be spooked and act accordingly, and she told Ethan that.

    “No,” Ethan wouldn’t be convinced. “It’s not that. In fact, the strange thing is how calm Beth is about this whole break-in. And the errands. She’s always running errands, breaking our lunch dates, even working late. It almost seems like…”

    “Seems like what, Ethan?” Gwen gently prodded, searching Ethan’s stricken blue eyes.

    “Like she’s seeing someone else.”





    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    “Oh there you are!” Ivy’s blue green eyes lit up when she saw Beth descending the stairs at the back of the Book Café. “Beth, Darling. I was wondering if you could join me for a cup of coffee?”


    Beth nodded at Julie as Ivy took her by the arm and led her to a quiet, abandoned corner of the establishment, and the girl filled up two coffee mugs to brimming, painstakingly making her way to their side. When she had served them and went on her way, Beth turned inquisitive eyes on her mother-in-law.

    Ivy dismissed the spark of suspicion in the younger woman’s eyes and took a dainty sip of her beverage before bestowing a mega-watt smile upon her. “I think the contractors did a wonderful job repairing the damage, don’t you?”

    “They did,” Beth agreed, leaving her own coffee untouched as she leaned back in her seat, crossing her arms over her chest defensively. Sure, Ivy had always been civil with her, nice even, but deep down she couldn’t help feeling it was all an act, and always she waited for the other shoe to drop. “I could have paid for the repairs myself.”

    “Nonsense, Darling,” Ivy demurred. “You’re a Crane now. Cranes take care of Cranes.” When Beth’s brows rose incredulously, Ivy was quick to amend her statement. “I mean now. All the bad apples are gone.”

    Though Beth shared the same sentiment, she’d never ventured to declare it so publicly. At least not in front of a Crane, and especially not Ivy. “I’m sure you didn’t come all this way to chat about new security systems and repaired windows.”

    Ivy’s lips twitched appreciatively at this bold new side to her daughter-in-law, and she decided there may be hope for the girl yet. “No,” she admitted as she opened her pocketbook and withdrew a handful of pamphlets that were disconcertingly familiar to Beth. “I didn’t.” Nudging the pamphlets forward, she kept her eyes carefully trained on Beth’s expression as she lobbed the ball back into her court with a regal arch of her brow and tap of her manicured nails.

    Beth swallowed hard as her fingers closed on the pamphlets only to have them pulled just beyond her reach by Ivy.

    “Care to explain these?”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    “So,” Theresa commented offhandedly, holding up the three newest swatches of fabric she’d been considering for the suit Joshua would wear as her ring-bearer. “You’ve been spending an awful lot of time with my fiancé.”


    Paloma rolled her eyes at the sheer ridiculousness of the possibility that her sister was jealous and shook her head when Theresa held out a swatch she didn’t particularly like. “Not that one. The other one,” she pointed to the one Theresa held in her right hand.

    Ever curious and determined to get her way as always, Theresa persisted, bumping shoulders affectionately with her younger sister. “So?”

    Knowing it would drive her crazy and laughing on the inside, Paloma remained tight-lipped, not giving Theresa the satisfaction of an answer. Instead, she changed the subject, fingering the satin sleeves of the gown she knew she’d be wearing as part of the wedding party. “What if I can’t fit into this gown when the time comes? What then? Who plans a wedding after Thanksgiving? Do you know how crazy you are, Theresita?”

    Theresa giggled. “Are you planning to eat so much, Loma? You’ll never find a man that way.”

    Paloma feigned insult. “Who says I need a man? Not every girl thinks Prince Charming was that much of a catch.”

    “Paloma,” Theresa’s laughter died down. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”

    “No,” Paloma looked at her sister oddly. “No!” her jaw dropped open in disbelief. “Theresa, I promise. My dislike of Prince Charming is not a result of lusting after Cinderella for myself.”

    Theresa snorted unbecomingly. “Good to know. Not that there’s…”

    “Theresa,” Paloma interrupted her with a quick elbow to her ribs.

    “What?” Theresa rubbed at her side, bemoaning her ‘injury’ in looks if not words.

    “Shut up.” Paloma tried to play it straight but couldn’t stop herself, dissolving into giggles of her own just seconds later. “I don’t need a man. I don’t want a man,” she lied. Whether it was convincing or not she couldn’t say.

    “Don’t tell me you’re considering becoming a nun,” Theresa teased. Dropping her voice to a whisper and looking around in the paranoid way she had whenever she discussed things she’d rather her mother not hear come out of her mouth, she started to giggle nervously, like a schoolgirl. “It’s too much fun.”

    “Seriously,” Paloma rolled her eyes at her sister again. “Are you in high school? I’ve had sex. I know what it is. This wedding business is leaching away your brain cells and making you stupid. Is this how you acted when you were chasing Ethan because some things are becoming clearer to me now.” Beside her Theresa stiffened, and her voice sounded really small, and Paloma officially felt like a heel. “Theresa, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…look, I’m sorry. Okay?”

    Tears of hurt glimmered in Theresa’s large brown eyes before she looked away, withdrawing into herself. “I’m in love. I’m happy. And I guess I’m silly when I’m both of those things because I’ve never been both at the same time. Is it such a crime to want everyone else to be as happy as I am?”

    “Oh, Theresa,” Paloma sighed, sliding her arms around her sister’s waist and squeezing her tightly until she yielded in her arms. “Don’t mind me. I’m just a grouch,” she muttered against Theresa’s shoulder. “I’m just jealous I don’t have someone that loves me as much as Chad loves you. Did I tell you he really is working on a surprise for you?”

    “Really?” Theresa’s eyes lit up in excitement.

    “Yeah,” Paloma grinned, Theresa’s enthusiasm contagious. “You’re going to love it.”




    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    Walking into the Blue Note and watching her son for a few moments undetected, Eve couldn’t help the smile that overcame her. Chad’s joy in music was pure and untainted, and it was obvious to her that here he was in his element. A woman’s voice, both familiar and unrecognizable to her, sung an old standard about life and love and longing, and the clarity of the emotion she heard tugged at something within Eve, making her eyes mist over at memories she thought she’d buried deep. Clearing her throat, she decided she’d hidden in the shadows long enough and announced herself, “She’s doing more than just singing the song.”


    Startled to find he was alone no more, Chad relaxed when he realized the identity of his visitor. Turning the tune up with a nod of his head, he concurred. “She feels it.”

    Eve crossed the small distance between them and took the empty seat beside Chad, closing her eyes as she listened. When she opened them, she found Chad staring at her with an unreadable smile on his face. Smiling somewhat nervously back at him, she remarked, “I think she has something special.”

    Turning the music off with a flick of his wrist, Chad voiced his agreement. “I do too.”

    Eve’s smile faltered as they drifted into a self-conscious silence, and she searched the recesses of her mind for something to say, all the while cursing the awkwardness of the situation she found herself in with her own son. While Chad had embraced Sheridan as a member of his family wholeheartedly, it seemed all he’d ever be able to approach her with was wary civility. Remembering the rocky start they’d gotten, and the short but tangled past they shared, she supposed it was all she could hope for in the present while working toward something more. “You said something about a surprise for Theresa on the phone?”

    The ice broken again, Chad’s face erupted into a grin as he began to fill Eve in on the details.

    Feeling herself being swept up in her son’s excitement, Eve couldn’t, wouldn’t disappoint him, not believing the words leaving her mouth as she agreed to do her part and realization began to slowly waken up her senses.

    Maybe that something more wasn’t so unattainable after all.



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    “Good morning, Dr. Taylor,” Ellie batted her eyes prettily at Nick as he ambled past the front desk, whistling a cheery tune under his breath.


    “Morning to you too, Ellie,” Nick inclined his head at her with a smile, looking at Katie wonderingly when he noticed her roll her eyes at him. “What?”

    “Please,” Katie groaned. “Don’t encourage her.”

    “I’m not encouraging her,” Nick looked puzzled. “I was just being nice to her. You should try it sometimes.”

    Katie’s mouth dropped open in incredulity. “I have. I do. Sometimes,” she admitted somewhat sheepishly. “She’s not the easiest person to be nice to,” she finally huffed, crossing her arms across her middle as they walked further down the hall, en route to a patient’s room.

    Pausing in front of the room at the far end of the hall, Nick rapped his knuckles against the closed door, waiting to be admitted. When muffled acquiescence reached his ears, he entered the room, Katie following behind him. “Good morning,” he greeted, smiling as he tugged at the bare toe peeking out from beneath the covers.

    The owner of the exposed toe giggled, snatching her bare foot away and slipping it protectively beneath her blankets as she scooted to the edge of her bed, allowing Nick to perch beside her. Small fingers reached for the stethoscope around Nick’s neck, and an exuberant smile lit up her face when he allowed her to take it, gently placing the earpieces in her ears. “It’s time for Scooby’s check-up,” she announced, placing the instrument just below her stuffed Scooby’s collar.

    Sharing a smile with the little girl’s mother, Katie moved behind her to take a listen at her lungs with her own stethoscope, sweeping her sparse dark curls over her shoulders. Handing her stethoscope to Nick when she was finished, she rubbed comforting hands over the child’s slender shoulders and told her, “Dr. Nick’s going to listen to how strong your heart is now, Lanie.”

    Nodding her permission, Lanie’s dark eyes sparkled intently as she did the same with Scooby, her mother continuing to smile in the background. “You did good, Scooby,” she said, removing the stethoscope and giving Scooby a congratulatory pat between the ears as soon as Nick had removed his own stethoscope from her chest. “What about me, Dr. Nick?”

    Tucking a curl behind Lanie’s ear, Nick assured her that she had just as strong a heart as Scooby, quoting a rate to Katie so that she might record it with the girl’s other vitals. He noted with satisfaction that the IV site on her arm showed no signs of redness or infection and his gray eyes twinkled at the smiley face drawn there. “Katie’s quite the artist, isn’t she?”

    “Uh huh,” Lanie nodded her head vigorously, her dark curls tumbling over her shoulders as she pushed the covers from her waist to show him more of Katie’s handiwork. “Look.”

    Hearts and more smiley faces adorned the bandages covering Lanie’s left leg, and Nick’s gray eyes perused the surgical site as he adorned gloves and gently unwrapped the bandages from the stump, looking for any signs of insufficient healing. “Looking good, Kiddo.” Meeting Lanie’s mother’s eyes across the room as he discarded his gloves in the small bedside waste basket, he gave her a smile of reassurance. “Have you met with a physical therapist yet?”

    “I haven’t made the appointment for them yet,” Katie answered for her.

    Looking at Lanie’s mother again, Nick waved off her worry that she’d done something wrong in not establishing contact herself. “Katie’s going to set you up with a therapist here at the hospital just as soon as she puts some fresh bandages on Lanie’s leg, and someone will come to talk to you about outfitting her with her new prosthesis later today.”

    “What about Scooby?” Lanie tugged at Nick’s sleeve.

    Inspecting the matching bandage on one of Scooby’s legs, Nick declared him ready to be fitted with a prosthesis as well, earning him a beaming smile from the little girl in front of him.

    “Hear that, Scooby?” Lanie whispered into one of Scooby’s ears. “We’ll be twins.”

    “You’re so good with her,” Lanie’s mother uttered tearfully as she gave him a heartfelt hug goodbye. “Thank you. Thank you for everything.”

    “No problem,” Nick answered her, tugging once more at one of Lanie’s bare toes and making her giggle. “I think you’re really going to like Abby,” he told both Lanie and her mother. “She’s one of my favorite people in the entire hospital. Ask Katie,” he said, winking at his smiling nurse as he took his leave. “She can tell you all about her.”


    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    “Clear some things up for me, Tink, because I’m a little confused here,” Hank bumped shoulders playfully with Abby as he followed her to the back of the hospital’s cafeteria, away from the morning hubbub. “You went crawling back to Taylor? Not the other way around?”

    Abby rolled her hazel eyes at Hank as she took a seat at an unoccupied table by the window. “I didn’t go crawling back. I decided to forget about my stupid pride and give him another chance. We all deserve second chances, right?”

    Hank considered her words and couldn’t rightfully say that she was wrong, not without sounding like a complete hypocrite. Nudging at her foot beneath the table, he picked up a piece of bacon from his plate and stuffed it into his mouth before changing tactics, kind of. “So…I hope you’re still making him suffer.”

    Returning his nudge with a more forceful kick to his jean-clad shin, Abby smirked when she saw him wince and reach beneath the table. “He’s sleeping on the couch. Not that my sex life is any of your business. Jeez. You’re worse than Shane.”

    “Good,” Hank said before having the propriety to look a little embarrassed at prying into her personal life. “I mean, not that it’s really any of my business like you said, but I don’t want to see you hurt again. Shane’s falling down on his job as big brother. He’s being too easy on the jerk,” Hank elaborated when Abby arched a brow at him in question. “Come on, Abby. You can’t lie to me. Taylor broke your heart.”

    “Just a little,” Abby admitted, stirring her spoon through her oatmeal absentmindedly. Grimacing at the colorless sludge as it dropped from her spoon in clumps, she gently pushed her tray away and hungrily eyed the bacon and pancakes on Hank’s own plate. “Are you sure you’re going to be able to eat all that?”

    “I’m not holding your hair back if you get sick,” Hank warned, cutting the pancakes in half and sliding his tray into the middle of the table and setting hers on the table behind them. “Gwen will get jealous,” he winked, lifting another piece of bacon to his mouth and chewing with gusto.

    Drizzling maple syrup over her half of the pancakes, Abby decided it was a risk she would have to take. She’d been deprived for way too long. Lifting her fork to her mouth, she closed her lips around the bite and moaned blissfully as soon as the sugary sweetness reached her taste buds.

    “You’re not going to re-enact that scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally’ are you? Because I don’t want people getting the wrong idea about us,” Hank grinned.

    Abby ignored him, digging into her pancakes with relish. Pausing to take a drink from her bottle of water, she asked, “Where are the kids?”

    “The girls are spending some quality time at their grandparents’ house. Jake went camping with Sam and Noah. They thought it’d cheer MJ up.”

    Screwing the lid back on her bottle of water, Abby found herself unable to meet Hank’s eyes.

    “Look Abby,” Hank ventured. “Nobody’s blaming you. You did what you felt like you had to do.”

    Shaking her head at him, Abby wouldn’t be convinced. “Grace blames me.”

    “Grace needs somebody to blame,” Hank said. “She’ll get over it. She just needs more time.”

    “I guess,” Abby tried to smile at him, thankful for his attempts to put a more appealing spin on the situation. Changing the subject, she asked, “How’d you convince Sara to make the trip to Rebecca’s?”

    “It wasn’t easy. Let me tell you…”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    What Hank didn’t know was that the camping trip had been ditched at the last moment for male bonding of another sort: fishing. Or at least they had pretended to fish for the first couple of hours. Now, they simply drifted on the waves, sitting in quiet reflection.

    Too quiet, thought Jake as he rolled his eyes at Noah, snoozing on the deck with the bill of his baseball cap pulled over his eyes, MJ sitting cross-legged beside him, apparently mad at the world. “Hey, Uncle Sam,” Jake called over his shoulder where his uncle loomed. “Have you ever actually caught any fish out here?”

    Seating himself beside Jake with a slight groan, Sam’s immediate answer was a smirk.

    When he shrugged and promised he’d caught a few, Jake knew he was putting him on. Glancing once more in MJ’s direction, Jake lowered his voice. “Are you sure this was such a good idea?”

    Sam did a double-take at the maturity lacing Jake’s question, and he brought his arm down over Jake’s shoulders with a sigh. “Can’t pull one over on you, can I?”

    “Nope,” Jake grinned, pushing away Sam’s hand when it ruffled at his mop of hair obnoxiously. “Hands off the hair. What’s with you people?”

    Grinning back at him, Sam removed his arm from Jake’s shoulders, placing his hands on his knees as they lapsed again into silence. After several long moments had passed, he peered into his nephew’s brown eyes, shading his own eyes from the sun’s glare with a hand to his brow. “Your mom enjoying her new job?”

    Jake shrugged. “I guess.”

    “Crane Industries is a big place,” Sam continued. “I heard you got a tour last week. What did you think?”

    “It was just another boring office,” Jake muttered, never one to understand why grown-ups liked work so much. “With creepy pictures. But the helicopter pad was cool.”

    “Your dad liked the helicopter pad too,” Sam smiled. “What was so creepy about the pictures?”

    Frowning, Jake recalled the way the cold eyes of Alistair Crane had stared right through him when he’d walked past his likeness in the hallway, and he wondered how it was possible for the old man to be related to Sheridan and Ali. “I dunno,” he finally answered. “They just…were.”

    Sam nodded in understanding.

    Spotting a small plane flying in the distance, Jake didn’t let the conversation lag for long. “Did you know Ali’s mom knew how to fly airplanes? Ali says she’s going to teach Cristian.”

    Squinting into the sunlight, Sam looked beyond Jake’s outstretched arm.

    “Do you think that’s them?” Jake wondered.

    “Could be,” Sam didn’t deny the possibility.

    “Uncle Sam?” Jake heaved a long-suffering sigh.

    “Hmm?” Sam cast the boy a sideways glance.

    “How much longer do we have to pretend to fish?”

    Gripping Jake’s shoulder firmly as he levered himself up, Sam couldn’t help the smile that took up residence on his features, and
    he winked at his disgruntled nephew. “Until we catch our dinner.”



    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




    Luis needn’t have worried; his son had taken to the skies like a pro.


    Nearly an hour after they’d touched down at the airfield, Cristian was still reliving the adventure, chattering excitedly and barely pausing long enough to take a breath as he raced to and fro the different small planes housed in the Crane private hangar. Skidding to a stop in front a vaguely familiar-looking aircraft, Cristian’s brown eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped open as his small hand reached out to touch its red surface. “Mommy,” he turned around to face Sheridan, eyes still large with astonishment. “It’s the one in the picture.”

    “It is,” Sheridan conceded, her blue eyes going soft as she regarded the craft fondly. If she closed her eyes and let her mind drift in memory, she could still picture the false bravado Ethan hadn’t been able to hold on to when they were alone, up in the air, with the heavens surrounding them and the ocean stretching on as far as the eye could see, her flight instructor’s voice over the radio their only connection to the world they’d left behind with their take-off. She’d longed to be closer to her mother; flying, somehow, had done the impossible for her—let her believe.

    “Wow,” Cristian breathed. “It must be really old then.”

    “Cristian,” Sheridan laughed sharply in surprise.

    “I’m sure he didn’t mean that the way it sounded,” a new voice joined in.

    Sheridan whirled around to face the owner of that voice, her eyebrow arching curiously as she held out her hand in greeting. “I’m sorry. I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Sheridan.”

    Chocolate brown eyes studied her beneath likewise raised brows, and his hand held hers loosely for but a moment. “Sheridan Crane?”

    “Lopez-Fitzgerald,” Sheridan corrected him automatically as she let her hand drop back to her side. Not having recognized him as a long-term Crane employee and realizing it’d been years since she’d frequented the place and her presence at it might look a little suspicious from his standpoint, she hastily added, “Actually, it used to be Sheridan Crane. I took my husband’s name when we married.” She watched his face as he digested the news, shrugging off a feeling of vague discontent.

    “Lopez-Fitzgerald, huh? Went to school with some boys by the name of Lopez-Fitzgerald. Good guys. Which one did you marry?”

    “My daddy’s the Police Chief,” Cristian announced proudly, finally overcoming his shyness and adding his two cents’ worth to the conversation.

    “You married Luis.”

    It was a statement, not a question, but Sheridan answered it as such anyway. “I married Luis.” Laughing softly, she asked, “How’d you guess?”

    “Guy was always straight as an arrow. Even as a kid.”

    “You knew my daddy when he was little?” Cristian fidgeted beside Sheridan, interest definitely piqued as he stared up at the tall man, his small hand reaching out to tug at the leather jacket he wore despite the warm temperatures.

    “I left Harmony a long time ago. I’m sure he doesn’t remember me.”

    “Luis remembers everyone and everything,” Sheridan laughed, only half kidding as she placed her hands on Cristian’s small shoulders and pulled him close to her.

    “He knows all the presidents that lived in the White House,” Cristian informed him. “I know because I heard him studying with Ali once.”

    Eyes twinkling, Sheridan told him, “Ali’s my daughter.”

    “Hey, Mister,” Cristian continued, the excited edge to his voice becoming more punctuated with each word he uttered. “My mommy’s gonna teach me to fly airplanes. Just like that one,” he pointed at the small red plane looming in front of them.

    “Airplanes, huh? You must be pretty brave.”

    Cristian flushed with pleasure, tucking his face against Sheridan’s side, suddenly overcome with another bout of shyness.

    “Brave, and it seems, for the moment anyway, mute,” Sheridan smiled indulgently. “We’re not starting lessons for another couple of weeks.”

    “Hey!” Cristian’s dark head shot up, and his brown eyes looked at her accusingly.

    “You still have T-ball,” Sheridan gave his hair an affectionate tousle. “And I can’t let Chad take over my job at the Youth Center. You like the Youth Center,” she reminded him.

    “Okay,” Cristian muttered and bowed his head, some residual disappointment still lingering in his reply.

    “I’m the director at the Harmony Youth Center,” Sheridan told their newfound friend, unable to understand why she felt strangely compelled to share so much with him. “My nephew’s been helping me out lately so I can spend more time at home with Cristian and the girls.”

    “Girls? So…you have more than one daughter?”

    “Two,” Sheridan said, smiling proudly. “Ali and Hope. I’d show you pictures, but Luis gave me so much grief about taking my purse with me everywhere that I left it at home. What about you? Do you have any children?” As soon as the question had left Sheridan’s mouth, she felt like kicking herself, especially after witnessing the stricken expression that flickered across his face. “Listen to me. Giving you the 3rd degree when I haven’t even asked your name. Cristian,” she squeezed Cristian’s shoulders lightly. “We promised Aunt Theresa we’d stop by before we met Nana for lunch. Think you’re about ready to tear yourself away from this place?”

    Nodding, Cristian took the keys Sheridan fished out of her jeans pocket, giving an absentminded little wave before taking off in the general direction of the car.

    Sheridan watched to make sure Cristian made it safely inside the SUV before turning her attention back to the man in front of her. “I’m really sorry about before.”

    Brown eyes studied her face and found her to be completely sincere. “It was nothing. You mentioned flying lessons.”

    “I wouldn’t exactly call them lessons. I promised Cristian I’d teach him,” Sheridan replied.

    “How would like to take on a paying client?”

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