~ Sergeant of the Heart ~
by C. E. Gray

Disclaimer: This is an Uber story, so the characters are mine, and the plot. If you wanna borrow anything, ask first. J All work is copyrighted once you submit it on the internet, but for argument's sake, this work is Copyrighted © by C. E. Gray, 2001

Violence/Language Disclaimer: Yep, definite violence in here. There's a soldier in here with one heck of a temper if you tick her off. She's not afraid of four-letter words, either.

Sexual Disclaimer: Sure! Oh, I mean, yeah, it's in here. Not real graphic, but you get the idea. This does involve the idea (heck it revolves around the idea) that two women are in love, and express that love when given the chance. If this bothers you, I suggest you click back, and find something else to read - it's a big Xenaverse out there, folks.

Last Disclaimer: I have tried to make sure most of the scenes in this story are close to being reasonably realistic. However, to the thanks of my muse, I have brought my creative license into use a time or two.

Notes of Thanks: I'd like to thank my beta-reader and best friend, Amber, for putting up with me through all of this. Also, everyone who's given me responses about Taken, my first attempt at Uber fan fiction - I only know how I'm doing if I get feedback. Another thank you to all those who helped me with the bugs in this thing - I think we got 'em all!

If you like the way it turned out, thank them. If you don't, blame the author. J

You can feed this bard at: Y02Mustang@AOL.com I guarantee a response.

Now, enough of the formal mumbo-jumbo. On with the show!

"Fool," said my muse to me, "look in thy heart and write."

- Sir Philip Sydney

Part 2

Chapter Seven

Which wasn't much, since she wasn't family.

"Listen to me," she pleaded, to the woman at the front desk. "All I want to know is where she is, so I can wait and find out how she's doing. I'm the one who brought her here. Please, I have to know that she's okay," she insisted, a tear in her eye.

The receptionist sighed. "She's in surgery right now," she said, and pointed down the hallway. "You can wait there in the waiting room, but it might be a while," she warned.

"Thank you," said Ryanne, sincerely. Carrying Cassidy, who was beginning to get tired as the rush of adrenaline died away, and the excitement ceased, Ryanne sat down in the waiting room, curling up on the couch next to her daughter. When twenty minutes came and went, uneventful, two soft snores could be heard from the room.

A presence in the room, as well as a deep voice, startled the blonde awake. Looking up, she saw a doctor standing above her, and met his eyes. A silent message passed between them, and the doctor smiled, making him look younger than he already did, and Ryanne guessed him to be in his late 30s. He had brown hair styled in a crew cut, with gentle green eyes, and an honest face. The blonde figured they were about the same height, but she couldn't be sure, because Cassidy was asleep on her lap, so she couldn't stand to greet him.

"Are you Ryanne Cole?" he asked, and the woman nodded. "Ms. Jones asked for you just before she went under the anesthetic." He sat down beside her. "My name is Dr. Jules Roads, and I operated on Ms. Jones' shoulder. We tried to reach her mother, but she didn't respond, and Ms. Jones said I was to talk with you. Is that correct?" he asked, kindly.

Ryanne nodded. "Is she okay?"

"The operation was successful," said Dr. Roads, and Ryanne breathed a sigh of relief. "However, the knife did cause some nerve damage. It is possible that Ms. Jones will never regain full use of her left arm."

The blonde closed her eyes, and absorbed what she had been told. It is possible that Ms. Jones will never regain full use of her left arm… the words kept repeating themselves in her head. Ryanne thought back to all the times Kris had lifted Cassidy up into her arms, or tickled her, and the way she commanded such respect. If she was permanently injured, none of that would ever be the same.

Oh, God, she thought, will she be able to do the obstacle course, or be an example to her men? And what would happen to her left handed shooting ability? She remembered the pride beaming from the soldier's face as she told Ryanne of her 98% shooting accuracy, right-handed and left-handed. It'll destroy her if she loses that…

"Will she be able to fire a weapon? Accurately?" asked Ryanne. She asked because she knew Kris would.

The doctor started at the sudden question. "She will probably be unable to hold a coffee cup still, Ms. Cole. I doubt she would be able to aim and fire a weapon," he said, gently, and Ryanne flinched.

"Can I see her?"

Dr. Roads nodded. "She should be waking up soon," he said, motioning that they would talk as he walked her to the room. "Ms. Jones suffered two fractured ribs, a laceration on her jaw, numerous cuts and bruises, and, of course, the injury in her shoulder. She should be able to go home in a week, if all is healing well. I'll be by to check up on her," he said, as he left.

Ryanne entered room 313 quietly, with her sleeping daughter in her arms, and looked in on the slumbering soldier. An IV dripped pain medicine into her body, and the bed was slightly elevated; for her shoulder, Ryanne guessed. The woman wore a hospital gown, and her left arm was strapped to her stomach. The blonde winced when she realized Kris would be unhappy with her restraints.

"Son of a… monkey," finished Kris, upon seeing that Cassidy was in the room. "Hi."

Ryanne smiled at her, and Cassidy woke up at the sound of the soldier's voice. "Hi yourself," she replied, nearing the woman's bedside. In a flash, Cassidy climbed over the railing, and sat on Kris' lap. The tall woman was thankful the girl didn't hurt her ribs.

Kris grinned. "Hey, pip-squeak. How are you doing? Good?" she asked, and the girl nodded. "That's good. What are you doing up here, huh? You gonna make me all better?" Cassidy giggled, and nodded again. Kris laughed as Ryanne lifted her to the ground.

Cassidy tugged on her mother's arm, and spread the fingers of her right hand, placing her thumb on her forehead. Ryanne sighed, and nodded. "Yes, sweetheart. Daddy did that to Kris," she said. The young girl frowned, and crossed her arms over her chest, angrily.

Kris chuckled. "Hey, wipe off that frown, soldier! Attention!" she called, and winced when the action made her ribs hurt. She smiled when Cassidy stood straight, stretching herself until she was as tall as she could be. The tall soldier saluted her, received one in return - specifically a Cassidy style salute - and smiled.

"That's my Junior Sergeant." The girl smiled. Kris fiddled with the strap on her arm, and the blonde woman sighed.

"Cassidy," said Ryanne, fishing a dollar out of her pocket, "I saw a Coke machine just around the corner. Will you do me a favor and get me a soda?" The youngster nodded. "Be careful, okay?" Cassidy clutched the bill, and wandered out the door.

"How do you get this damned thing off?" Kris demanded, trying to remove the restraint.

"Kris," said Ryanne, quietly, "I'd leave that on."


The blonde flinched. "The doctor says the knife caused some nerve damage in your arm," she said.

Kris sighed, and leaned against the bed. "Terrific," she said, irritably. "Well, I guess that means I'll have to work extra hard to regain full use. Hey, have you guys eaten yet?" Ryanne shook her head. "Why don't you and the pip-squeak get lunch, and I'll see what this place serves for a meal."

The blonde agreed. "All right," she said. "We'll see you after lunch, then." Telling herself it was just a gesture of gratitude, Ryanne leaned over, and placed a gentle kiss on Kris' cheek. "Bye." Walking out the door, Ryanne met Cassidy in the hallway, and took her to lunch.

Kris stared at the retreating figure for a moment, trying to decided if that had just really happened.

She kissed me? she thought. Wow. Maybe there's a chance for us after all. No, who am I kidding? She was just thanking me for saving Cassidy. I saved her daughter… was I expecting a handshake? The woman sighed. I wonder what bland crap they try to pass for food here… Pushing the call button for the nurse, the tall soldier's heart was still feeling content from the kiss, no matter why, despite the condition of the rest of her body.

When Ryanne and Cassidy returned an hour later, a nurse was checking the IV, and Kris was asleep. The blonde noticed that the soldier's arm bandage seemed to be even thicker.

"What happened?" she asked.

"She pulled off her restraint, and pulled a few of her stitches. The doctor gave her a stronger bond, as well as a sedative. She should be up soon, but she might be a little groggy," the nurse said, before leaving.

Cloudy blue eyes opened a few minutes later. "Hi, love," said Kris.

Ryanne raised an eyebrow at her, and tried to control the blush that rose in her face. "Uh, hi," she said. "I heard you gave the doctor a bit of trouble."

Kris shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. I can't exercise my arm if they won't let me move it," she said, testily. Then she sighed. "Oh, well." Ten minutes later, her eyes were much more alert, and her speech was a little clearer, as she drank some water from a glass that the nurse had left for her.

"Kris, I need to talk to you," said Ryanne, and the soldier nodded.

"Shoot," she urged, smiling when she realized that Cassidy had climbed up beside her and fallen fast asleep.

"When we first got to the hospital, and you were being taken in on the stretcher…" she began, slowly.

Shit, cursed Kris, realizing what Ryanne was going to ask her. Why'd I have to go and do that? Because you want her to know, and because you want a relationship with her more than you've ever wanted anything before, her mind answered.

"I thought I saw you tell me you loved me," said the blonde, finally, and it was clear to the soldier that she was uncomfortable. "I was just wondering if you really said that, or if I was imagining things."

Kris sighed. What do I tell her? Do I say yes, I love her with all that I am, and chance her leaving, or do I tell her no, and deny my heart?

"Yeah," she said, "but I was kind of fading out, then. I didn't really know what I was saying."

Ryanne nodded, as her heart crumbled. "Okay," she said. "That's what I thought. And… when we came back from lunch, did you call me "love" ?" she asked, hesitantly. She wanted to know what Kris' feelings were, so she could figure out if she had to keep hiding her own, or if they had a chance at a relationship.

Kris kicked herself. The endearment had just slipped out, and now she had to find a way to fix it. "I probably did, but they really had me doped up with pain killers," she lied, and the blonde seemed to accept her answer.

Nothing more was mentioned by either woman on the subject of a relationship, as both were focused on Kris' recovery. The doctor said she was healing well, as far as the sutures went, but she did have severe nerve damage that the surgery had been unable to fix, and while he didn't come right out and say it was permanent, Dr. Roads didn't sound too hopeful, either.

The blonde was with the soldier whenever possible, often falling asleep in a chair beside her bed, glad she didn't have to worry about the café, since Barry said he had hired a few friends, and now had the business up and running again. As much as Ryanne wanted to help, she knew she couldn't go back to that area again, and she wanted to be there for Kris, at any rate.

Ryanne paid close attention to the physical therapist, when the woman was going over what exercises Kris could do to strengthen her arm and help steady it, so the blonde could assist Kris in her therapy while at home, since that's where she'd be staying. Ryanne had decided that all on her own, without even thinking to ask the soldier. She just assumed the woman would know she'd need help.

That, and she really didn't want to go back to her house.

Kris sighed as she put her right arm in her jacket, since her left arm was in a sling. She had been in the hospital for a week, and was going home, where she'd be off work for as long as she needed, until she felt well enough to go back. She'd have to get rid of her old jacket, the one she was currently wearing, since she didn't feel like patching the large hole in the shoulder. But, a new jacket could easily be arranged.

The soldier was surprised when the blonde and her daughter followed her home.

"You really don't have to stay, if you don't want," said Kris, as she walked up to her front door, the blonde close behind. "I don't want to be a burden to you, especially when you're kind enough to offer."

Come on, Kris, her mind urged. Tell her the truth. Tell her you're not sure you can keep your feelings hidden if you're around her much longer. Tell her… oh, Hell.

Ryanne smiled, and Kris knew she was beat - there was no way she could say no to that look, which had to be the envy of the brightest star in the galaxy.

Tell her what, almighty soldier with an iron will?

"You won't be a burden, Kris," insisted the blonde. "You're injured, and I'd like a chance to help you, if I can, since I'm the reason you were hurt."

Kris' eyes narrowed, and she put her right hand on the woman's shoulder, turning to face her. "Stop that right now, Ryanne," she said, sternly. "This is not your fault, do you understand me? You're not the one who attacked me, all right?"

"But, if I hadn't called you…" protested the young woman, tears forming as she realized once again the danger she had practically forced upon the woman.

"Ryanne, I'm glad you called me." The blonde looked confused. "What would have happened if you'd have gone into that house with him? Or called the cops? Cassidy would have gotten hurt." Ryanne nodded, mutely. "You protected your daughter, and you allowed me to protect you both. There's no reason to feel bad about that," she smiled, and Ryanne nodded.

"Thanks," she sniffled, wiping at the unshed tears. Kris opened the door, and Cassidy peered inside, her eyes wide at the sight of the roomy house. The tall soldier gave the young girl a tour, and showed her which room she would be using, and her mother, if she so chose.

The girl was quick to set her stuffed animals on the bed, moving them to-and-fro until she was satisfied.

Ryanne raised an eyebrow at her daughter. "Well, I think that's a lovely bed for you and your toys, Cassidy," she said, and the girl nodded her agreement. "But, where am I supposed to sleep?"

With all the innocence of a youngster who knows a secret, Cassidy bit back a smile, and pointed to Kris. She giggled at the look of utter embarrassment and surprise on both women's faces. The child couldn't understand why her mother and Kris couldn't see what she saw - was she the only one who realized that neither woman seemed to be really happy unless they were together, and when they were with each other, they looked more complete than the first jigsaw puzzle she'd done by herself?

"I, uh, well, I think you can clear the toys off," said Kris, awkwardly, as she reminded herself to have a little talk with Cassidy later. "I mean, if you want… to sleep in here, comfortably," she corrected, quickly.

Soldier, your tongue has never been tied so tight, she scolded herself. You were going to say "I mean, if you want to sleep in here. You don't have to. You're quite welcome to sleep in my bed."

Yeah, then she'd say, "But, where would you sleep, if not on your bed?" Kris smiled to herself. "Who said I wasn't sleeping in my bed?" Kris, you are bad!

"Hey, you all right?" asked Ryanne, waving her hand in front of the woman's face.

"Yeah, sorry," said Kris, coming back to reality with a start. "I was just thinking. So, is anybody hungry?" she offered. Getting an immediate yes from the blonde, the soldier laughed, and led both guests into the kitchen, where Ryanne went to work. She refused to let Kris do anything, except tell her where things were when she couldn't find them, insisting that she loved cooking, especially for more than just her and Cassidy.

"I was thinking of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Is that okay?" she asked.

Kris grinned. "At this point, after a week of hospital food, I think I'm willing to eat just about anything, as long as it starts with an F, ends with a D, and has two Os in the middle," she said. Ryanne paused for a moment, thinking it over, before smiling at the woman's joke.

"Well, that gives me a lot to work with," she said, fixing lunch while Kris went into the bedroom to change from her fatigues - she had no other clothes with her at the hospital, so she'd changed from the gown to the clothes she had worn when she'd come in. Her jacket and shirt were ripped, but her pants were intact. Modesty never being a big issue with the soldier, she wore the clothes as they were, torn or not.

Sensing someone else in the room with her, as she slowly took off her jacket, Kris said, "Hey, pip-squeak, what are you doing in here? Shouldn't you be helping your mom with lunch?" The little girl shook her head, and tugged on Kris' good hand, until the woman got the idea, and knelt in front of the youngster.

Carefully, and with a gentleness that surprised Kris, Cassidy helped the woman slide out of her shirt. Not yet understanding the taboo of nudism in society, Cassidy laid the cloth on the bed, not caring in the slightest that Kris stood before her in nothing but a pair of pants, since a strict bra put too much pressure on the woman's wound, and then retrieved a shirt from the drawer that Kris pointed out to her. Assisting her in sliding her left arm through the sleeve, Cassidy grinned triumphantly when the woman was clothed in a clean shirt.

"Thanks, sweetheart," said Kris, giving the girl the best one-armed hug she could manage. "I think I can take it from here. I'll call you if I need anything, okay?" she asked, when the youngster looked defiant.

Cassidy hesitated. "Cassidy, I appreciate your help, but I'll give it to you in an order if I have to." The child looked hurt, so Kris tapped her chin with her finger, and grinned down at her. The small girl smiled back, when she realized she wasn't in trouble.

"Now, go help your mother. I'll be out in a few minutes to eat lunch with you, I promise." Cassidy seemed to believe her, and with one last hug around her waist, the girl shut the soldier's bedroom door softly behind her.

When she was sure the child was gone, Kris sat down on the edge of her bed, and gingerly removed the sling from her left arm. The staples - the doctor had put in staples when she kept tearing stitches - were supposed to be taken out in the following week, and Kris had learned very quickly that the wound was sensitive to the touch.

Flexing her fingers, the tightened muscles in her shoulder only felt a little twinge of pain, so the soldier decided to try a little more movement. Keeping her elbow at her side, the woman moved her arm out to the side, thoroughly worried when her hand started shaking uncontrollably. When Kris returned her hand to rest against her stomach, the trembling lessened, and ceased completely in a few moments, but Kris' shoulder was not happy with her little experiment, and made its discomfort known - loudly.

Deciding not to change her pants, the soldier wandered out into the kitchen, where she had set the antibiotics and other medicines from the hospital pharmacy on the counter.

"What do you need?" asked Ryanne, concerned by the look of distress on the soldier's face, evident even in her posture.

"Pain medicine," Kris mumbled, finding the bottle she needed, only to be unable to open it on her own.

"Here," said Ryanne, softly. Opening the container, she put one pill in the woman's hand, and then closed the lid tightly. Handing the tall soldier a glass of water, she noticed the scowl on her face, and realized that Kris was unaccustomed to having someone take care of small things she was used to doing on her own.

This is gonna be harder than I thought, Ryanne sighed. But we'll get through it. I'll drag her through the healing process by the roots of her hair, if I have to, she promised herself, and the tall woman in front of her, who was swallowing the medicine with the fervor of hopeful relief.

"It's ready to eat, if you're hungry," said the blonde, gently, taking Kris by the arm - the uninjured arm - and leading her to the table. The soldier ate the sandwich with her right hand, but figured she'd better start getting used to exercising her left hand, and decided to try eating the soup with her injured hand.

It didn't work very well, and she quickly became frustrated. Each time the woman would bring the spoon inches from her mouth, her hand would start shaking, and she'd spill red liquid all over the table, as well as her clothes.

A sharp hand quelled any help from the blonde, as the other two at the table watched the scene with some anxiety. After most of the soup was on her shirt, Kris shoved her chair back from the table, muttered an angry "Damn it!" loud enough for Ryanne to hear, and stormed into her room, quite upset.

Ryanne sighed. "Cassidy, will you go into your room for a while, please? I need to talk to Kris," she explained. The girl nodded, and trotted off to play with her stuffed animals, as her mother spoke with her Army friend.

"Kris?" asked Ryanne, quietly, knocking softly on the door that led to the woman's bedroom. There was no answer, so the blonde took a chance, and opened the door. Kris was sitting on the edge of her bed, her back to the door, resting her head in her hands.

Ryanne sat beside her, and put a gentle hand on the woman's shoulder, saying, "It's all right, Kris. I know you're frustrated, but it's going to take some time, okay? You only got out of the hospital today," she reminded. "Maybe you should do the exercises for a while before you accidentally overdo it."

The soldier looked away, not meeting Ryanne's eyes. "I'm a trained soldier, Ryanne," she said, coldly. "I have taught myself to have excellent control over my body. And now I can't even keep my fucking hand still enough to eat soup."

It was clear Kris was disgusted with herself, and Ryanne felt bad - perhaps she had expected too much from the injured woman. "Kris, I'm sorry," she said. "Maybe the soup was a bad idea."

Kris' expression softened a little, and she met the woman's soft green eyes. "It wasn't you, Ryanne. I'm sorry. Lunch was wonderful, I'm just angry with myself," she admitted.

"Don't be," pleaded the blonde. "You can only do so much, at least, until you strengthen that arm. Your muscles are going to be sore, after the surgery, for quite a while, and you're going to have to work up to things. Take little steps, so you don't hurt yourself, and you'll be back to your old self before you know it," she encouraged.

The tall woman smiled, and gave Ryanne a quick hug. "Thanks," she said. "I'm going to go check on Wind Dancer. Do you want to come with me?"

Ryanne nodded, and said, "Let me get Cassidy. We'll both go. I'm warning you, though, you may lose your horse. Cassidy loves horses," she added, and Kris laughed.

The tall soldier was a little unsettled to see that the Palomino still seemed to walk with a limp, in the same leg.

"Hey, girl," said the woman, patting the mare softly. "I thought I told you to get some rest so you felt better, hm? Did Mickey take good care of you? Hey… where is he?

"Mickey!" she called, and a few minutes later, a small man came walking up to her. The man was about 5'5'', with thick black hair and eyes with the color - and friendliness - of coal. He was a fairly well-built man, with dark skin, and Ryanne wondered if he was perhaps of Indian lineage.

"Yes, Señora?" he asked, politely.

Ah, he's Spanish, thought Ryanne.

"Mickey, Wind Dancer still seems to be limping," she explained. "When I left over a week ago, I left her in her stall, with specific instructions that she was not to be let out for at least seven to ten days. I come back today, only to find that she is still in pain, and in the same leg. Did you let her out?" she demanded.

The man seemed startled. "Oh, no, ma'am!" he exclaimed. "I would not go against your orders. I did just as you said in your note; I fed her in the stall, and made sure she was comfortable, and only walked her around for a few minutes in the morning and just before I left in the evening. I swear to you, ma'am!"

Mickey seemed so hurt by her accusation, Kris didn't have the heart to be angry with him.

Some soldier I am, she scoffed.

"All right," she said, "I believe you. Just keep an eye on her, will you? If she's not doing any better within the next few days, I'll call the vet."

"Perhaps I could take her for you, ma'am, since you need to rest," he offered, glancing down at her sling, as if to remind her that she needed to heal.

Kris shook her head. "I'll call the vet down the road and have him take a look at her, if I think she needs it," she said, and the man nodded.

"Very well, Ms. Jones," he agreed. "If there is nothing else, I will go back to cleaning the tack." Kris nodded, and the man wandered off into a nearby shed, where he was working on polishing Wind Dancer's gear.

Kris introduced Cassidy to Wind Dancer, and, as Ryanne had predicted, the child was instantly taken by the beautiful golden horse. Cassidy was undisturbed by her size, and brushed the mare until she shined, allowing her mother and Kris to help her with the areas she couldn't reach - like beyond the horse's legs.

By the time they were finished outside, Wind Dancer was shining brilliantly, she had her dinner in front of her, she had made a new friend, and Kris realized it was dark. Not only that, but Cassidy was falling asleep in her mother's arms as she was carried inside.

The soldier went into her own room, as Ryanne placed her slumbering daughter in the bed of the guest bedroom, wishing her pleasant dreams as she kissed her goodnight. Then, entering Kris' room to tell her the same thing, Ryanne was surprised to find the woman's sling resting on the bed.

"What are you doing?" asked Ryanne, as the tall woman tucked her Army dog tags inside her shirt.

"Exercising," responded the soldier. The blonde looked like she was going to protest. "Ryanne, I'm not supposed to put much weight on my arm for the first few days, and I'm not expected to ever regain full use. But if I don't keep up with a semi-normal routine, I'm going to get out of shape. Plus, I'll hate myself for giving up, and not trying," she added.

"All right," sighed the blonde. She stood watch as the tall woman dropped to the floor, pumping out 25 one-handed pushups with her right arm, very easily. Then, slowly, she placed her left hand flat on the ground, deciding to do regular pushups until she was ready for the one-handers with her left hand.

Ryanne watched with increasing concern as the woman did one… two… three… four pushups with both hands, each one more difficult than the last. Finally, when the pain became too much for even the hardened soldier to bear, Kris collapsed to the floor on the fifth pushup with a muffled cry of agony, clutching her shoulder as she fought tears.

The tall woman was surprised when she felt Ryanne near her, and allowed the small blonde to soothe her.

"Do you think you can sit up?" asked Ryanne, a few minutes later, when the soldier seemed to have recovered a little. At the woman's nod, the blonde eased her into a sitting position, which made Kris inhale through clenched teeth at the pain it caused.

"Thanks," said Kris, when Ryanne helped her climb into bed.

"Can you get to sleep?"

The tall woman shrugged, and refused her sling. "I'll try," she sighed.

Ryanne was silent for a moment, thinking. "Lay on your right side," she said, suddenly. Kris raised an eyebrow at her, but did as she said. The blonde moved to the other side of the bed, so she had access to the woman's back, and, careful not to get too close to the wound itself, began a gentle massage of the tense muscles in the soldier's shoulders and neck.

"Mm," murmured Kris, surprised, but very pleased, by the woman's decision. No one had given her a massage in many years, and the blonde was excellent at it. The treatment felt especially good, because it came from Ryanne, and made her pain diminish significantly.

Ryanne smiled as she noticed Kris' jacket, which was hanging from her bedpost. "Kris, are you going to wear that jacket?" she asked, and the woman grunted in the negative. "I saw Cassidy trying on one of them earlier, do you think I could sew up the tear and let her wear it?" Kris smiled, and agreed.

The soldier continued to make contented noises until she fell asleep, and Ryanne did not stop with the massage, knowing it would help relax the woman, until she, too, fell asleep.

Sometime during the night, at a little past midnight, judging by the clock on her small bedside table, Kris woke up to the need for more pain medicine. Reaching for the bottle, which she'd wisely brought into her room, along with a glass of water, the woman swallowed the pill quickly, and followed it with a few swallows of water.

She was about to go back to sleep when she heard something; or rather, caught the flash of lights out of the corner of her eye.

That's odd, she thought. No one drives up here close enough for me to see their lights… Frowning, she sat up slowly, and glanced out her window. Her blue eyes narrowed to angry slits at what she saw: Mickey leading Wind Dancer into a horse trailer, urging her on by pulling fiercely on the lead rope.

What is he doing? she wondered. Where is he taking her? I'll corner him in the morning, she decided, as the pain killer kicked in, and made her drowsy - thankfully. Laying back down, Kris was careful not to aggravate her arm or the blonde beside her, who had apparently fallen asleep in her bed. Kris remembered the strong, skilled, yet gentle fingers kneading her back, and closed her eyes, a smile on her face.

Chapter Eight

The next morning, Kris awoke at seven o'clock. She figured the pain pills must have really knocked her out, for her to sleep past dawn. Either that, or her body knew she needed rest.

Glancing down at the sleeping form in her bed, Kris grinned, widely. Ryanne had not awakened during the night, and so had not moved from Kris' bed - a fact which Kris did not mind one little bit. She wasn't about to complain when she woke up to find the woman she loved in her bed beside her, no sir-ee.

The soldier placed a gentle kiss on the blonde's forehead, and her lips lingered on the fair skin for a few seconds, before she pulled back, to find two very awake green orbs staring at her.

"You can't blame that one on the medicine," stated Ryanne, and Kris' blue eyes got huge.

"I, uh, well, uh… damn," she swore. The woman had caught her, knew how she felt, and that only left one question on the soldier's mind. "What are you going to do?"

Ryanne sighed, and got to her feet, turning her back to Kris as she hid a giant smile, pretending to think. Sliding an angry mask over her features, she turned back to face the woman, hands on her hips.

"I guess there's only one thing to do," she replied, surprising the hell out of Kris by leaning over and pressing her lips forcefully against the soldier's, who was still lying in bed.

If Kris hadn't been lying down, she knew she would've fallen. Deciding not to dispute the blonde's actions at the moment, she closed her eyes, and allowed herself to get lost in the velvet sweetness of Ryanne's gentle lips.

When they pulled back, Kris cracked a grin. "I'm not letting anyone claim that but me!" she exclaimed, happily. "Geez, Ryanne, you scared me! I thought you were going to walk out on me, or something," the soldier admitted.

Ryanne smiled, softly. "Well, I'm sorry," she said. "I just couldn't let you off that easy; not after I spent the last week wondering if you knew how much I cared for you, and how badly I hoped you felt the same way."

Kris sighed. "Ryanne, I have a confession to make," she said, and the blonde raised an eyebrow at her. "I knew exactly what I was doing when I told you I loved you, and when I called you "love". I just didn't want you to know how I felt, because I was sure you couldn't feel the same way," she explained.

In response, Ryanne leaned over again, even going so far as to lay next to Kris on the bed, and kissed the soldier, again. The blonde gently moved her tongue to run along the lengths of Kris' lips, and the woman eagerly opened her mouth to allow Ryanne entrance, thrusting her own tongue into the blonde's gentle mouth. Both women moaned softly at the contact, and Ryanne leaned into the soldier's touch when she felt the tall woman caress her cheek.

"Any doubts?" she asked, smiling, as they parted. Kris shook her head, and reached for Ryanne, to take the woman in her arms, but her shoulder quickly reminded her that the pain medicine she'd taken during the night had long since run out.

Wincing in pain, Kris was grateful when Ryanne not only offered her the medicine, but also cradled her in her arms, brushing the hair back from her face until the soldier looked more comfortable.

"Thank you," said Kris, sincerely.

Ryanne kissed her forehead, so glad she could do so without having to worry about Kris having a negative reaction. "You're welcome," she whispered. "You know what?"


"I love you, too." Both women smiled, and turned their heads when the door to Kris' bedroom opened, revealing a sleepy Cassidy. Ryanne made an attempt to move, but Kris gently asked her to stay by placing a hand on her arm, and the woman obeyed.

The child, upon seeing her mother and Kris finally together, climbed up onto the bed beside them, with the biggest grin that Ryanne had ever seen on her daughter. Taking the soldier's right hand, and her mother's left, Cassidy put them together, and laughed happily when the women's fingers remained intertwined, even after she released them.

"So, pip-squeak, are you happy, now?" asked Kris, and Cassidy nodded, enthusiastically. Ryanne looked at them, quizzically, and Kris sighed. "Go on, Cassidy. You can tell her, now."

Pointing to Kris, then to her mother, Cassidy kissed the small blonde's forehead. Ryanne's brow furrowed as she tried to understand what her daughter was saying. "You want Kris to kiss me?" Cassidy shook her head, and then pointed to her eyes. "You saw Kris kiss me?" The girl nodded, and Ryanne chuckled when she saw the slight blush covering the soldier's face.

"We won't tell anybody, will we?" Ryanne whispered, loud enough for Kris to hear, and Cassidy shook her head, laughing.

Even in all the commotion, and what wonderful commotion it was, Kris had not forgotten the scene she had witnessed outside of her window the night before. Tucking it away into the back of her mind, the soldier announced it was breakfast time, which immediately sent both blondes running to the kitchen.

"Wow," commented Kris, a small smile on her face as she followed them. "I might work with an army, but I'm not used to feeding one!" Ryanne slapped her stomach, but quickly kissed her cheek, as well, so the soldier wasn't sure if the blonde knew she was joking, or was actually taking it as a compliment.

After a breakfast of cereal, toast, eggs, and juice, which Ryanne graciously prepared, since she learned very quickly that Kris couldn't cook to save her life, the soldier set out to find her ranch hand, and demand some answers. Sliding her arm in her sling, since she was in more pain than she'd care to admit, Kris wandered out to the stable, and greeted her mare.

"Morning, Wind Dancer," she said. "Where'd you go last night, hm? I sure wish you could talk, girl," said the woman. "I don't know if I'm fit to drag answers out of anyone right now.

"Mickey, can you come here for a minute?" she called, and the man approached her not long after.

"What is it, ma'am?" he asked. The man arrived every day, except Sunday, at 8 and left around dark. Or, he was supposed to.

"What time did you go home last night?" she asked.

"I was in my home by 7, Señora," he responded, unsure of why Kris was asking such questions. "Is something wrong, ma'am?"

Kris shrugged. "I must have been dreaming," she lied. "I could have sworn I saw headlights in my window last night, but it would have been around midnight. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

The man shook his head, but not before taking a quick moment to regain his composure. "No, Ms. Jones."

Kris had a sneaking suspicion of where the man was taking her horse - illegal horse racing was a common occurrence at the old closed-down race track, and Wind Dancer would be ideal for raking in some money. Only problem was, Mickey knew Kris would never agree, so the woman assumed he took her to the games, which were held late at night, and brought her back when it was over. With the Sergeant staying at the base, it would be all too easy for the man to do as he wished, and Jones would never be the wiser.

"One more question, Mickey," she said, before he could turn away. He nodded for her to continue. "Would you mind telling me how Wind Dancer got grass in her hooves, when all she's been on is dirt for the past few weeks?" the soldier demanded. She was bluffing - the soldier hadn't even checked the horse's hooves, but if her suspicions were right, Wind Dancer was being run on a grassy field, as well as dirt.

The frightened ranch hand looked like he was going to pass out. "I… I… I," he sputtered, stepping away from the blaze of blue that surrounded him.

"Spit it out, Mickey," said Kris, grabbing the collar of his shirt with her right hand and pulling him closer until they were face-to-face. "What are you doing to my horse?"

"I needed the money!" he exclaimed. "She is a good horse, and I needed the money. It is my fault she is injured, she sprained a muscle during a run two weeks ago, but I was unable to let her rest, because I had to race her again. I am sorry, ma'am," he muttered.

"You're lucky I'm injured, Mickey, or you'd be a whole lot more than just fired," she growled. "How long has this been going on?"

"About six months."

Kris kicked herself for not realizing that something was wrong before. "Where's the money you owe me?" she asked.

"What money?"

"If you're racing with my horse, than I get the winnings," clarified the soldier, releasing the man with a hard shove. "Give it to me."

"I… I don't have all of it left, ma'am," he admitted.

"Empty your pockets and give me what you have," she ordered, holding out her right hand, into which a wad of bills was placed. Kris counted it out to be almost $2000 as she stuffed it into her pocket.

"If I ever see you near my property, Mickey, you'll be in a shit load of trouble. You see, messing with my horse was your second mistake," she said.

"What was my first mistake?" he asked.

"Trying to fuck me over in the first place." The man nodded, and ran off without looking back. After the look he had been pinned with, the man was glad to get away with all his vital body parts intact; unless you count the fact that his heart was beating fast enough to explode at any given moment.

Ryanne came up beside her, and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Is everything okay?" she asked, softly.

Kris smiled, and kissed her nose, before wrapping her good arm around the woman's shoulders, pulling her close. "It is now," she replied.

Every day for nearly twenty minutes, Ryanne and Kris sat down, and the blonde helped the soldier with her physical therapy. Despite the obvious fact that Ryanne hated to see Kris in pain, she knew she had to push the soldier to her limits, and it was what Kris requested, because she felt it would help her heal faster.

Sure enough, one week later, when the staples were removed, the doctor said Kris was healing well. The first thing the soldier did, after getting home from the doctor's office that day, was jump in the shower - for over an hour. She had been unable to take a shower, because she couldn't get her bandage wet, so the woman enjoyed herself, until the hot water ran out. She leapt out of the shower with a shout, glaring through the closed door at Cassidy and Ryanne's muffled laughter.

The soldier presented her Junior Sergeant with her old jacket, which Ryanne had sewn up, and watched as the girl's eyes lit up, happily. Cassidy slipped it on, and let her mother and Kris roll up the sleeves, before hugging the tall soldier with all her might. Kris noticed with delight that the girl didn't even take it off when she slept, but pulled it over her like a blanket.

It warmed the soldier's heart in a way she'd never felt before - almost like a mother, she thought.

Kris worked herself to the limit every day, and six months later, she was deemed fit to go back to work. She could now fully maneuver her left shoulder, with minimal to no pain, and unless she moved the wrong way, had her shoulder in just the right position, or was extremely upset or tired, her hand was steady. The soldier intended to stay off work until she was 100% back to normal, but didn't want to miss her former company's celebration of their academy completion.

The ceremony lasted a long time, as there were numerous squads graduating, but Kris stayed through it all, and took time afterwards to congratulate all that she knew. The soldiers who had known her for just a few days were the happiest to see her back, and treated her with the utmost respect. She was extremely proud of them.

Kris decided that, although she was a Staff Sergeant, she enjoyed teaching new recruits, and asked the Captain for permission to train the newer soldiers for a while longer. Captain Bowman eagerly granted the wish, glad to have such a good officer training the grunts, as they were commonly called.

It was six months longer before Kris declared herself officially healed. She had gone for an entire 48 hours, doing all the things she normally did, without experiencing a pain or a tremble anywhere. She and Ryanne celebrated with cups of hot chocolate, since it was beginning to get into the cold rainy season, and Kris gleefully held her cup with her left hand the entire night.

Ryanne, Cassidy, and Kris often stayed at the soldier's home at night, rather than at the base, in order to take care of Wind Dancer. Kris had been able to bribe her neighbor to drive in twice a day and check on the mare, however, so the three were free to roam around for a while.

"You know what I'm going to do first thing tomorrow?" Kris asked, lying in bed, Ryanne stretched out next to her, smiling at the woman's happiness. Cassidy had quickly become loved by the Captain and his wife, so the youngster was staying with the elderly couple for a few days, promised horseback rides and cartoons until she was sick. It was just Kris and Ryanne, a time the two planned to take advantage of.


"Break my own record at the obstacle course," she said, and Ryanne laughed.

"Is that obstacle course the only thing you think about?" asked the blonde, still smiling.

Kris shook her head. "No," she said, honestly. "I also think about you. I couldn't have done this without you, Ryanne. And don't even try to deny it," she said, before the woman had a chance to say anything. "If it wasn't for you being by my side through all of this, I never would have made it, and I owe it. All. To. You," she finished, punctuating her sentences with a soft kiss.

Ryanne grinned. "Hey, I was just here for moral support," she protested. "You did all the hard work. You sure showed those doctors," she added.

Kris snorted. "Permanent nerve damage, my ass." The tall soldier kissed the blonde's head, and they both snuggled closer for a good night's sleep. Kris gladly wrapped both arms around her love, securely, before joining Ryanne in slumber.

The next morning, Kris smiled as she heard raindrops fall on the roof of her quarters. It was raining, at last! The soldier loved the rainy season, even if it meant she had to work in the mud, and a good strong thunderstorm was absolutely wonderful.

"Ryanne," she whispered, happily, trying to wake the small blonde. "Hey, sweetheart, it's raining!"

"I know," she mumbled, wrapping her arms tighter around the woman's waist. "I hate the rain. And I'm terrified of thunderstorms."


"I've just never liked them, ever since I was a teenager," shrugged Ryanne. "Can we just stay in here all day? I really don't want to go outside if it's raining," she admitted.

"Oh, but, it's the first rain of the season!" exclaimed Kris, obviously thrilled by the news. "Come on, please? We have to go outside, just for a few minutes," she pleaded.

"Why?" asked Ryanne, knowing she'd end up going with the soldier, only because it seemed to mean so much to her.

"I wanna dance with you," the woman admitted. "I couldn't do it before, because of my arm, but I'm healed now. Please? We won't stay out very long," she promised.

Ryanne couldn't help but laugh at the adorable look on the woman's face. "I didn't know soldiers pouted," she smiled.

"Only when I have to." She grinned. "And only for you."

The blonde sighed. "I guess," she swallowed. "Just let me put a coat on."

"But feeling the rain is the best part," insisted Kris, dragging her by the hand. The soldier opened the door to her barracks, and left it open, walking out into the rain, still holding Ryanne's hand. "Come on, love," she urged.

"This is great!" she exclaimed, opening her arms and throwing her head back, letting the rain pound on her face and arms, soaking both women's T-shirts. Ryanne smiled at the soldier's delight, and decided rain wasn't so bad, just as long as she didn't see any lightning - and the blonde had yet to notice any flashes in the sky, so she was okay.

"I have never seen you this… excited," commented Ryanne, relaxing enough to spin around with the soldier and let the water fall into her mouth.

Kris laughed. "And you probably won't see me like this again, until the first rain of next year. I've always loved standing in the rain, ever since I was a little kid," she said. "It's just so fresh."

Suddenly, a bright light flashed across the sky, as the lightning bolt snaked away into the other clouds. Kris cried, "Yes!" and wrapped her arms around Ryanne, who had jumped into her arms at the sight.

"Kris, let's go inside now," she pleaded. She hated to ruin the woman's fun, but now she was frightened.

"We won't stay out here too much longer," said the soldier. "Just a few more bolts, and a good crash of thunder, all right?" As if the storm could hear her, a bolt of lightning came from the sky, very close, and a clap of thunder sounded, rumbling through the earth.

Ryanne gripped the soldier tighter as the woman laughed. "Kris, please," she begged, "let's just go. Please, I really don't want to be out here anymore. Kris! I'm scared," said the blonde, and Kris glanced down at her, the excitement draining out of her as quick as the lightning bolts she loved when she saw the fear in the emerald eyes.

"Hey, that's not rain," she said, surprised. "You're crying! I'm sorry, sweetheart. Come on, we'll go inside, now. I'm sorry," Kris repeated, leading the woman to the couch as soon as they were inside. The soldier held the woman as she cried, feeling horrible that she had let her excitement drag Ryanne into something that frightened her.

"I'm sorry, Kris," sniffled Ryanne, the tears past. "I didn't mean to ruin your good time."

"Shh," she soothed, giving the woman a strong hug. "I don't need rain for that, love. As long as I'm with you, I wouldn't care if it never rained again. I shouldn't have pressured you into going out there with me. I'm really sorry," she added.

"Do you mind telling me why you're so scared of lightning?" the soldier asked, gently, after a pause.

Ryanne sighed. "Remember how I told you my mother and I weren't on very good terms when she died?" Kris nodded. "Well, I was 14, and my mother had just found out that I was gay. We lived out on a ranch in a small town in Kentucky, where it was hard to keep anything a secret," she said.

"It was one of the worst storms that we'd ever seen, so we were all staying inside. My mother, my sister, and I," she elaborated. "My father died just before I was born. Anyway, I was writing about a crush I had on one of my female friends, and my sister snooped through my diary. When she found the entry, she showed it to mother, who was very angry, to say the least.

"We had a big argument, in which I told her I hated her, and she ran out the door, slamming it behind her," remembered the blonde, and tears formed in her sad green eyes again, but she refused to let them fall. "It was all flat land, so I was able to watch her from the screen door, as she ran out into the storm and into the field. Lightning strikes the tallest thing in a meadow, as you know, and my mother was the tallest object in that field, since the grass was only knee high, and she was struck by lightning.

"The doctor said the charge gave her a heart attack, which is what killed her. The last thing I ever told her was that I hated her," sniffled Ryanne, and Kris gently wiped the tears away as she gathered her into her arms, and gave her a few minutes to collect herself.

"After her death, Rachel and I moved out here with our uncle, until he could no longer support us, and we got odd jobs to pay the rent of an apartment we shared. She met Daniel a few years after I started the café, and he got her pregnant with Cassidy. You know the rest," the blonde said.

"The lightning never bothered Rachel as much as it did me, but I'm just so scared of being struck," she finished.

"The chances of being struck by lightning are very slim," murmured Kris, holding the woman close, suddenly understanding her fear, and wanting to help. "And you're safe here, because there's so many tall trees around the compound, you don't have to worry about being a target. But, I don't want you to be afraid, love, so we'll both stay in here until the worst of it passes, all right?" she offered, and Ryanne smiled a little.

"Thanks," she said, and Kris nodded.

True to her word, Kris did not go outside at all for the next 24 hours, during which it poured rain and flashed lightning in such rapid succession, Ryanne wondered if this was how stars at the Oscars felt when they first pulled up - so many flashes, they were seeing spots for the entire evening.

Ryanne slept close to Kris at night, and the woman assured her they were safely tucked away inside where the lightning couldn't hurt them, until they both fell asleep. By the next afternoon, Ryanne noticed that Kris kept staring out the window, watching the rain fall, and seeming a little more dejected after each lightning strike that lit the sky.

The blonde felt bad, and, while Kris was exercising, she left a note and slipped out the door, running to her car. Ryanne knew her car was safe, and drove carefully to the store, parking as close as she could, hurrying inside the building to escape the rain.

The woman wanted to find something that Kris would like, that would show her she was sorry for keeping the soldier away from the rainy days she loved. She browsed through the aisles for quite some time, before finally deciding on a "Thunderbolt Necklace". A silver chain portrayed a pewter pendent, which was tear-shaped glass with a bolt of lightning etched on it. Ryanne figured it was appropriate.

Paying for her purchase, the blonde noticed with some discomfort that she was the last one in the store - everyone else had left, and even the employees were beginning to leave. As she walked out to her car, she was followed by the workers, who had been waiting for her to leave, so they could close. They all got in their cars and drove away, as Ryanne stood in the rain, searching for her car keys.

Glancing in her window, the woman froze - there, dangling from her ignition, were her keys. The woman tugged on the door with all her might, praying for it to open and let her escape the downpour, with no luck In her rush to get inside the store, the blonde had locked herself out of her car - and now she stood, open to the thunderstorm's fury.

She stood there for several minutes, trembling, holding the box with the necklace under her jacket so it wouldn't get wet, all the while trying to stop the tears that threatened to fall in her fear, and doing a miserable job. Looking around, she couldn't figure out where to go. She was alone in the parking lot, she wasn't able to be in the safety of her car, due to the clouds it was dark at 3 in the afternoon, the store was closed, and she was terrified.

With a burst of speed, Ryanne forced herself to the pay phones, and just stared at them for a while, frightened that if she picked them up, she would be electrocuted. The blonde had heard stories and seen news reports of people being killed, because lightning struck them through the phone lines, giving them enough of a jolt to send them flying backwards a few yards.

That was the last thing she wanted.

But she was alone, scared, and very, very cold. Feeding the machine a quarter, Ryanne dialed the base, and listened anxiously to the rings on the other end of the line. Each sound seemed to bring her closer and closer to a possible lightning strike.

"Hello?" answered Kris, and Ryanne let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding.

"Kris," she said, her voice trembling, "Kris, I'm scared."

"Ryanne? Sweetheart, where are you?" Kris demanded, instantly alert. The woman's note had said she'd gone shopping, so the soldier didn't expect her back for another hour, but now worried that something had gone wrong.

"It's raining, and I, I'm alone, and the store's closed, and no one's here," she rambled, her teeth beginning to chatter a little as the wind picked up and blew fiercely against her cold, wet frame.

"Ryanne, listen to me, all right?" said Kris, her voice low and soothing. "I need to know where you are. Are you hurt?"

The blonde replied in the negative, to Kris' relief. "I'm at the store on the corner of Julius and Bay," she muttered. "I locked my keys in my car, Kris, and I can't stay inside."

"I'll be there as soon as I can," said the tall soldier, locating her warmest jacket as she spoke. "I want you to find someplace to go where you can stay dry, okay?" Ryanne agreed, and hung up quickly, when she imagined she felt a small shock in her hand. Hanging up the phone, she stepped away, looking at the phones as though they would attack her.

Lightning flashed across the sky, and thunder shook the ground, all the while scaring the daylights out of the already frightened blonde. She didn't want to be near the store, since she was afraid the phones and electric doors would attract the lightning, so she stepped out into the center of the parking lot, praying the deadly bolts would know that the light poles were taller than she was.

The woman stood fifteen feet away from her car, remembering from somewhere that the outside of whatever was hit took the most damage, and figured if her car was struck, she wasn't about to be near the outside if she couldn't be in the inside. Cold, wet, and frightened, Ryanne waited for the soldier to arrive.

Chapter Nine

By the time Kris pulled into the parking lot half an hour later, due to wet roads and poor visibility, Ryanne was shivering like an avalanche and so cold she wasn't sure she could walk. Kris leapt out of her truck, and put her arm around the frozen blonde.

"Christ, Ryanne!" she exclaimed, feeling the chilled woman. "You're an icicle! Come on, sweetheart, we've got to get you warmed up. Here," she said, taking off her jacket to wrap it around the smaller woman until they got in the vehicle.

"All right," she said, carefully, "we have to get that wet jacket off you." Ryanne was shaking so violently Kris had a hard time removing the soaked coat, but was finally able to throw the garment in the back seat.

"You keep my jacket around you, all right?" The woman nodded, and curled up on the front seat, trying desperately not to let her teeth chatter, because they did so with so much force, it hurt. "I'm going to go get the keys out of your car, just so you won't have to worry about it, okay?"

Seeing that the woman was going to go out in the rain, Ryanne tried to give her the jacket back, but Kris refused. "No, "she said, sternly. "Keep that on. I'll be right back." The soldier grabbed a box from her glove compartment, and ran out into the downpour. Using her lock pick set, Kris had the door open in just a few minutes, and returned to her warm truck, car keys in hand.

"Okay," she said, "let's get you home." Ryanne nodded, still unable to speak, and wrapped the jacket tighter around her, as her body refused to stop shaking.

"S… so… c… c-cold," she stuttered a while later, forcing the words out.

Kris nodded. "I know, love," she said. "But, shivering is a good sign. We only need to worry if you stop, okay? So everything's fine, right now," she assured her. Ryanne nodded, and turned another vent towards her, the warm air having no affect.

When they pulled into the base, in front of Kris' quarters, the soldier rushed around to the other side, and helped Ryanne walk into the house, since her feet were numb. So were her fingers, judging by the fact that she had a hard time holding the jacket around her shoulders.

"Ryanne, I need to get you out of your wet clothes, all right?" warned Kris, and began taking layers of clothes off the woman.

"J… just need a… hot… b-b-bath," she insisted, a little shy at having the tall soldier she loved see her naked, since she knew that's what would happen.

"Oh, no," said Kris, as she removed the woman's undershirt. "No baths for you, sweetheart. A hot bath will put you into shock, because it's too much of a temperature change too fast," she explained, and moved to unclasp the woman's bra, but Ryanne tried to stop her.

"It's okay, love," Kris persisted, softly, although she was getting impatient. The longer Ryanne had the wet garments on her body, the longer it would be until she could warm up. And time was not on their side. "You have to get out of your wet clothes, Ryanne. Please, let me do this."

Reluctantly, Ryanne moved her hand, which she had placed, haltingly, on Kris', and nodded. Kris gave the woman a soft kiss on her forehead, and took off the woman's garb, tossing it on the floor with the rest of the soggy clothes.

At any other time, Kris would have been taken by the beauty of the young woman in front of her, and she did indeed lose her voice for a moment, but she had other things to concentrate on and, unfortunately, could not take the time to properly admire her love.

Kris couldn't believe that Ryanne was soaked, all the way down to her socks.

I guess I know what that saying "soaked to the bone" means, she thought, wryly.

"All right," said Kris, once the woman was completely disrobed. "Now, into bed." Ryanne eagerly complied, and jumped under the covers, pulling them up to her chin as she shivered, still. Kris was concerned, and realized that the woman would probably need her help to warm up.

"Ryanne, please understand that I am not pushing either of us into anything when I do this, but skin-on-skin contact creates better body heat," Kris said, and Ryanne nodded, her back to the soldier.

"D-don't take this th-the wrong way, but right now I'd s-sleep with Daniel to get warm," said Ryanne, and the tall soldier chuckled. Kris climbed in behind her once she had stripped down to nothing, and wrapped her right arm around the woman's middle, which did not seem to be quite as cold as the rest of her, and spooned herself around the blonde's small, trembling form.

A gasp escaped her throat when the blonde's cold skin made contact with her stomach, but the soldier didn't move. Ryanne reacted to the heat, and snuggled in closer, falling asleep a few hours later, when she was warm enough.

Kris sighed, heavily, and pulled the woman closer to her, enjoying the feeling of the young woman's soft skin against her own. The soldier resisted the urge to move her hand, either up or down, she didn't have a preference, but knew she couldn't.

I'm actually in the same bed with her, we're both bare ass naked, and I have to lay here, feeling her breathe against me, and not be able to do a damn thing, she thought. God's probably laughing His ass off right now.

It's gonna be a long night, she thought.

With another sigh, Kris knew there would be little sleep for her that night.

Ryanne awoke the next morning, feeling much warmer, and very rested. Yawning, she noticed a strong arm wrapped around her stomach, and instantly realized she was naked. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that the slumbering soldier was also nude, and their bodies were pressed as close together as was humanly possible.

Kris woke up when she felt Ryanne move around, and met her eyes with a small grin. "Morning," she said, kissing her cheek. "How do you feel?"

"Much better," replied the blonde, and looked a little nervous. "I'm, uh, I'm going to take a warm shower. I can do that, now, right?"

Kris nodded, and Ryanne shyly got up from the bed, walking the short distance to the bathroom with quick steps, quite embarrassed. When the bathroom door was closed, Kris took a deep breath, and stared up at the ceiling.

God, she's beautiful, she thought. She heard the water run, and wondered if she could get away with something very bad. Would she believe me if I told her I wanted to keep an eye on her while she took a shower, just to make sure she was okay, because she seemed a little weak?

Nah, she decided, disheartened. That'd just get me in trouble. Hm…

With some rather naughty thoughts going through her head, Kris vaguely wondered where her sudden interest in seeing Ryanne in the shower had come from, and was startled when she heard the bathroom door open. The tall soldier had meant to at least cover herself by the time the woman was done, if for no other reason than the fact that Ryanne was embarrassed, but it had slipped her mind, and now she was found lying on the bed, completely nude, with nothing to shield her nakedness.

Kris raised an eyebrow when she noticed that Ryanne stood at the foot of the bed, wrapped in only a towel, and was running her green eyes along the lengths of her body.

"You're beautiful," she murmured, and Kris smirked.

"Yeah, well, you've got me beat by a long shot," she said, causing the small woman to blush. "Feeling warmer?"

Oh, yeah… thought the blonde. Wait, that's not what she means…

Ryanne nodded. "I was, until I got out of the shower," she said, smiling.

"Well? Wanna come back in here and warm up?" Kris offered, raising the corner of the blanket, as she climbed under herself. Ryanne gave the woman a small grin, and let the towel fall to the floor as she walked around to the side of the bed. Climbing under the covers, the blonde kissed the tall soldier softly, not caring that they were both nude.

"Thank you for picking me up last night," she said, and Kris just kissed her again. The strong soldier rolled over, so she was on top of the young blonde, holding herself up with her arms. Ryanne's green eyes brightened, and she pulled Kris down for a breathtakingly passionate kiss, full of need and desire.

"Ryanne," she said, her voice low, as she placed small kisses all over the woman's face, "I have to know for sure that you want this. I don't want to do anything that would make you uncomfortable, but once I start loving you, I know I won't be able to stop myself," she admitted.

"Good," said the blonde, "because I don't want you to stop."

* * * * *

"That was wonderful," said Kris, a few minutes later, when she had regained her breath. Her head was still resting on the blonde's shoulder, and she was almost lulled asleep by the rhythmic stroking of her long black tresses that Ryanne had taken up, absentmindedly.

Ryanne grinned. "I was thinking more along the lines of breathtaking, exquisite, and incredible, myself," she said, and Kris laughed.

"I was going to say that," she said, lightly. "You just beat me to it."

"Uh-huh, yeah, sure," smiled Ryanne, her grin widening when Kris flipped them over, so she was now on top of the tall soldier. "Do you ever take these things off?" she asked, referring to the woman's dog tags.

"Nope," she replied, raising an eyebrow as Ryanne gave her devilish grin, and ran the chain through her mouth, following it upwards until she broke free to give the woman a long kiss.

The phone rang, startling both women, and Kris growled. "I have to get it," she said, regretfully.

"No, just ignore it," pleaded Ryanne, making her way down the soldier's neck with soft kisses.

"Hold that thought," she said, sliding out from under the blonde, who sighed, heavily, and melodramatically flopped down on the bed. Picking up the receiver, not even bothering to cover herself, she said, "Somebody had better be dead."

"Uh, no, ma'am," came the reply.

"Well, I can fix that," she snarled. "This had better be a goddamn emergency, soldier, or somebody will be dead." From the bedroom, Kris heard Ryanne trying to cover her laughter.

"Okay… Ma'am, this is Private White, and I'm supposed to inform you that your men are outside on the field, waiting for you. You were supposed to be there at 0600 hours," he added.

Kris sighed. I don't believe this, she thought. It's raining cats and dogs outside, I was planning on spending the day in bed with Ryanne, and this little shit interrupts me to tell me he wants me to go play in the mud with a bunch of men? Yeah, right!

"It's raining, Private," she observed, glancing out the window at the hard rain that still fell from the sky. It hadn't let up in over two days.

"Weather conditions don't stop practice, ma'am," he said, and the soldier sighed; she knew that. Only an officer's orders could postpone drilling.


"Well, tell them their commanding officer says take the day off. I'll see them tomorrow at 0800 hours," she said, and hung up the phone. Quickly returning to bed, she climbed in beside the blonde, and said, "I love outranking half the base. Now, where were we?"

Chapter Ten

"I think I should get hypothermia more often," joked Ryanne, as she sat in bed, feeding Kris spoonfuls of the Jell-O salad she had made for lunch.

"Mm, I disagree," said Kris, using her own spoon to offer small bites to the blonde. "I don't want you getting sick, I just think we should learn to act on our feelings."

"I stand corrected," laughed the blonde. "Acting on our feelings sure is fun."

Kris chuckled, and leaned in for a kiss. "Definitely," she agreed, wholeheartedly. "Hey, I've got an idea!" she exclaimed, suddenly, and Ryanne urged her to continue with a look. "Let's go on a date. A real date, before Cassidy comes back tomorrow, just the two of us," she suggested.

The blonde smiled. "And just where would we go?" she asked, interested.

"There's a bar not far from here, and it has a really nice private room in the back, where we can go to just be alone," she said. "I was thinking we could go tonight, just to get out for a while."

Ryanne nodded. "Sounds good to me," she said. "When do we leave?"

"How does later tonight sound? Say, around eight?"

Ryanne nodded, and took the bowl from Kris' hands, placing it on the floor. Kris looked confused. The blonde grinned, and raised a suggestive eyebrow at the woman. "We've got a couple hours to kill," she said, leaning toward the woman for a kiss.

* * * * *

Ryanne sighed as she looked around, still seeing no sign of the tall soldier she was looking for. When the woman had received a call from Sergeant Neil Winston just before they left, wishing to discuss his brother, who was still having behavioral problems, she agreed, and told Ryanne to go on to the bar without her, she would meet her there. Ryanne had agreed, thinking it would only take the woman a few minutes, but she'd already been at the bar for over twenty minutes.

She wished Kris would hurry up, because Jeffery Winston was really beginning to creep her out. The man kept staring at her, and when she'd glance over at him to see if he'd left, he'd grin and blow her a kiss, to which she'd roll her eyes and look away.

Playing hard to get, are we? thought Winston, leering at the blonde, again. His brother was off talking to the Captain about one thing or another, so he figured he'd go take care of her problem of being all alone.

"Hey," he said, coming to sit beside her. "What are you doing here all by yourself?"

"I'm not by myself," protested Ryanne. "I'm waiting for someone."

"That so? I'll bet you were waiting for me," he said, and leaned close to her, which caused Ryanne to move a little further down the seat of the booth.

"I don't think so," said Ryanne, uncomfortably.

"You're the one who's staying with Sergeant Jones, aren't you?" he asked her, and she nodded. "Rain, isn't it?"

"Ryanne," she corrected, and he nodded. "But everyone calls me RC." As far as Ryanne was concerned, Kris was the only one who called her by her full name, and it was going to stay that way.

"RC, right," he said. "Don't you get tired of being cooped up with her? I mean, she can be such a pain in the ass."

The blonde paused. "No, I don't think so," she said. "She's really not that bad."

In fact, she's quite good, she thought to herself, smiling. Bad, bad Ryanne!

"I bet you'd be happier staying in my quarters," said Winston, and Ryanne shuddered at the idea. "Don't deny it, I know you want to be with me. I turn you on," he added, and Ryanne laughed.

"Turned on is not what I'm feeling, believe me," she said, snickering. "Repelled is more like it."

"You just don't know me," he said, attempting to touch her cheek, but she pulled away. "We could get to know each other back at my place."

Ryanne rolled her eyes. That was the lamest pick-up line she'd ever heard. Even if she was straight, she would've laughed in his face at his poor attempt.

"No thanks," she said, hoping that each time the door opened it would reveal the woman she was waiting for. No luck, thus far.

"Oh, come on," he said, his words slurring into her ear. "I know you want me."

"You don't know much," the blonde snorted.

"Are you turning me down?" he asked.

Finally, he gets the picture! thought Ryanne. "Yes, I'm turning you down. I do not want to sit next to you, nor do I want to go back to your place, nor do I want to get to know you better. How many different ways can I say it?" she asked, exasperated.

"But… I don't believe this," he muttered. "Why?"

"How can I put this…" she began, and then smirked as she met his eyes. "You don't have the right equipment," she said, glancing down to make her point.

His face fell as realization dawned behind his foggy eyes. "You fucking dyke!" he cried. "You're a no good fag! I don't fucking believe this. You would rather be with a goddamned woman than with me?!" Ryanne nodded, and he snarled at her.

"That's really fucked up, you know. And you've got a kid, too. What the hell are you showing her? She shouldn't be with filth like you," he said, and Ryanne narrowed her eyes at him.

"What are you saying?" she demanded, angry at the man who would doubt her mothering skills.

"I'm saying you're a gay slut, and not fit to have a daughter, that's what I'm saying," he spat, and watched as Ryanne recoiled. "Yeah, you know it's true. How does it feel, knowing you're a bad mother?" he asked, enjoying the look of utter pain on the blonde's face.

The blonde got to her feet quickly, nearly knocking over her chair, and Ryanne decided it was time to leave when a few people at nearby tables started staring. The blonde left the bar in a hurry, climbing into her car for shelter from the rain as she returned to the base, leaving an angry, drunken soldier in her wake.

Fuck with me, will you? thought Winston, as he watched the woman leave. That'll teach you to turn me down. Stupid dyke. I'll bet Sergeant Jones will thank me for telling her, and getting the girl away from her mother, he thought, already formulating a plan.

* * * * *

Kris Jones walked in ten minutes later, furious with herself for being late. She glanced around the room, taking in everything at once, not surprised when she didn't find the blonde she was looking for. She hadn't really expected her to wait when she was over a half hour late.

The tall Sergeant had been delayed first by Neil Winston, when he had insisted on discussing the problem with his brother in detail, and then by the Captain, who joined their conversation, and decided to give Jeff Winston one more chance. Kris learned that Jenkins was having trouble with the soldier as well, and decided he was probably not fit to be on base, but one more mistake and that wouldn't be a problem.

She was about to leave, and head back to the base, where she was going to apologize profusely to her lover for standing her up, when a voice drifted to her ears through the noise of the bar: "Yeah, and Jenkins, too! I don't know how far he's stuck his head up the Captain's ass. You can't tell where one man ends and the other begins!" Sounds of laughter followed the remark.

Winston, thought Kris, placing the slurred voice to a the young soldier formerly under her command. Kris sighed. Winston had to be drunk; either that, or he was just extremely stupid. No one walked around disrespecting anyone, Private, Sergeant, or otherwise, and especially not in a bar with so many Army personnel.

"Hey, Winston," she called, and he turned.

"Yeah?" he asked. He didn't think he had to be formal, since he wasn't in uniform, and he wasn't on the base.

"Lay off Jenkins, okay?" she said, and the man shrugged.

"You don't like him anymore than the rest of us, it's said," he said, approaching her to look in her eyes, despite the fact that the Staff Sergeant was a good four inches taller than him.

Kris just returned his stare. "Whether or not I like him is not an issue here, Winston. The thing is, you don't disrespect anyone, especially when they're unable to defend themselves, and you certainly don't do it around me. Is that clear?"

The man nodded. "Sure," he said. "Sorry. Hey, Jones, I got some news for you," he baited, and Kris raised an eyebrow at him, uninterested.

"That so?" she asked him, and he smirked.

"Yep," he said. His voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper. "You know that girl you're housing in your quarters?" Jones nodded. "Did you know…. she's a lesbian?"

It was all the Staff Sergeant could do to keep from laughing out loud. "You don't say," was all she trusted herself to say.

"It's true," he said, "I swear it. She told me." Here Kris looked interested, so he said, "She turned me down, saying I didn't have 'the right equipment'." The tall soldier hid her smile, although it was hard.

"Maybe you should let her go, if that's the case," he said, and Kris could tell by the look in his eyes he wanted to take her place.

Kris decided to play along, it was just too funny for her to believe that the man didn't know. Half the base knew about Ryanne, and mostly all of them knew Kris' lifestyle, so it wasn't often a male felt it was necessary to talk to the woman about a date - they knew she was out of their league.

"I see. What do you think I should do about it?" she asked, placing her hand against the wall, leaning casually up against it as Winston held it up with his back, looking cool and confident.

"Well, I don't know," he said, frowning a little. "Maybe you should take the kid, though, and leave. Don't know if you want the girl around that kind of thing, if you know what I mean. Probably isn't good for her," he added. Kris growled at him, and gave the man a warning glance that said she didn't like where the conversation was headed.

"Hey," he said, raising his hands, defensively, when he caught her gaze, "take it easy. I just thought, you know, maybe you'd like to know what kind of filth you're -" he was cut off when the wind was knocked out of him.

Kris' grin was feral, and she placed both hands on his collar, slamming him up against the wall. "I'm sorry," she said, "what did you say?"

"Whoa, easy. If you like that kind of trash, that's -" he lost his breath again.

Some guys just don't learn, thought Kris.

Jones slammed him against the wall again, much harder this time. "I'm sorry, my hearing must be going. I'm gonna ask you one more time, Winston," she said, taking the time to give him a good solid blow to his stomach, since he was still looking defiant. "What did you say about my girlfriend?"

The man's eyes got wide and he gulped. "N-nothing," he stammered, and Kris smiled, smoothing his shirt out, with a little more force than necessary.

"That's what I thought," she said, and walked away. Turning back, she pointed a finger at the soldier, and said, "One more thing. If I ever, ever, hear of you disrespecting Ryanne again, or questioning the love she has for Cassidy or her worth as a mother, I will rip that scrawny thing you call a head off your shoulders and spit down your neck. You got me?" she snarled.

"Got it, ma'am," said the man, and slipped away.

As Kris was leaving, she heard one of Winston's buddies come up to him. "Damn, boy," said the soldier; more specifically, Don Brown. "What the hell happened to you?"

"Staff Sergeant Jones," he said. "I thought she'd like to know that her roommate is a lesbian, so she could get the kid away from that kind of shit."

His friend chuckled, and shook his head, ruefully. "Man, you are one stupid son of a bitch, do you know that? No one insults RC, I mean no one," he emphasized. "Rumor has it the Captain tried it, and she almost kicked the crap out of him!" The men continued talking, as Kris smiled to herself, and walked back to the base, intent on finding the blonde. It was good to have a reputation.

"Ryanne?" asked Kris, as she entered her quarters. The young blonde was sitting on the couch, her knees curled up to her chest, and did not look up when the soldier called her name. "Hey," said the tall woman, placing a hand on Ryanne's shoulder as she sat down beside her.

Ryanne jumped at the sensation, and then burst into tears, thoroughly surprising Kris, who gathered the woman into her arms, and held her as she cried. "Ryanne? Hey, what's wrong?" asked the soldier, startled by the woman's reaction.

"Do you think I'm a bad mother?" she sniffled, and Kris was shocked.

"What?! No!" she exclaimed, vehemently. "Ryanne, you're a terrific mother! You take care of Cassidy so well I'm jealous," she said, but the blonde didn't smile. "Where'd you get an idea like that?"

"Winston," she said, and Kris narrowed her eyes.

"What happened?" she demanded, wiping the tears from the woman's face with her thumbs.

"He sat down next to me while I was waiting for you," she started, and Kris instantly cursed herself again, for being late. "He started hitting on me, and I told him in no uncertain terms I wasn't interested, and told him he wasn't my type. I said he didn't have the right equipment, and he just blew up," she said, the tears threatening to return. "He called me a dyke, and some other things, and said I wasn't fit to be a mother."

"That's not true," said Kris, pulling the woman closer to her, again. "What else did he call you?"

"A fag, and a bitch, and…" Ryanne was going to go on, but the tears returned, and Kris kissed the top of her head.

"Did he hurt you?" she asked, and let out a breath she didn't realized she was holding when Ryanne shook her head. "I'm sorry, my love. I should've been there. He was just angry, because he considers himself a real ladies' man. Nothing he said was true, Ryanne. You're a great mother, and a wonderful person. Do you know how I know?"

Ryanne shook her head, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand as Kris smiled.

"Because I don't give me heart away to just anyone," she said, and her smile widened when Ryanne drew her into a tight hug. "I love you, Ryanne, and nothing can change that, okay? Don't let what he said get to you, he's just a jerk."

Ryanne smiled a little. "Thank you," she said, snuggling close to the soldier. "I don't usually let things like that bother me, but no one's ever made a comment about my worth as a mother," she explained.

Kris nodded. "And no one will again," she said, firmly. "He was drunk, that's all. Anyone can tell you love Cassidy with all your heart. You know, I think Winston wanted to get with me tonight," she said, suddenly, and Ryanne looked up at her, urging her to continue. "I ran into him at the bar, and told him to stop insulting Jenkins when he couldn't defend himself, and he decided to inform me of a little secret. He felt the need to tell me that you're a lesbian."

Ryanne snickered. "What'd you do?" she asked, glad that her mood had improved.

"I played along for a minute, until he suggested that I take Cassidy and leave. I, uh, I basically told him that if he ever insulted you again that I'd tear him apart," she shrugged.

Ryanne smiled. "Thanks," she said, "it's nice to know you're protecting me."

"Always." That response earned the tall soldier a soft kiss. "Hey, I'll say it again if it gets me that kind of an answer!" Ryanne grinned, and cuddled closer to the soldier, who was all too happy just to hold the woman in her arms.

"Kris?" asked the blonde, suddenly.


"How do you feel about Winston knowing about us?" she asked, carefully.

Kris grinned. "Sweetheart, the whole base knows about me, and I think most of them pretty much assume the rest. Does it bother you?" the woman asked, after a moment of silence. The officer knew being homosexual was enough to get her kicked out of the service, but it had been nearly ten years since the Captain had been told, and she had yet to see her dismissal papers. No one cared enough to make anything of it.

Ryanne shook her head. "No, I just didn't know how you felt, since you work here and all," she said, and Kris kissed the top of her head.

"I don't mind it at all, but thank you." Ryanne nodded, and drifted off to sleep, feeling very happy and very safe. Kris stayed awake for a while longer, running her fingers through the short blonde hair of her love, thinking about how lucky she was, and then she, too, fell asleep.

Chapter Eleven

Kris woke up early the next morning, remembering that she had to be out on the field with her men, and wondered what she would say if they asked her why she had canceled the practice.

"Sorry, fellas, I was too busy making love to the woman I love more than anything in the world to do drills with you," she thought, as she finished her breakfast, and chuckled. Oh, yeah. Not like they don't know I'm gay, they just don't know how deeply I care for Ryanne, though I'm sure they assume we've had sex.

"What are you thinking about?" asked Ryanne, sleepily, her green eyes coming into focus as Kris laced up her boots.

"Nothing important," she assured the woman, leaning over to kiss her, softly. "I have to go play in the mud for a while, but I'll be back for lunch, okay? Then you and Cassidy can tell me all about the fun she had with the Captain," she grinned.

"I'll miss you," said Ryanne, and Kris sighed.

"I know," she said. "I'll miss you, too, love. But, I'll be back as soon as I can. Promise," she added, and walked out the door, into the lightly falling rain. Walking out to the field, hearing the mud squish under her boots, Kris knew she was going to get very dirty before lunch time rolled around.

"Okay, guys," she said, upon seeing that all the men - and the one woman she had in this company - were already assembled on the grassy field. "Fall in!" Kris watched as they all scrambled to form their ranks, and the tall soldier looked over her new recruits. Having four days off, thanks to the Captain, had been great, but now it was time to get back to work, and she had a new group of soldiers under her command.

"Attention!" she called, and went through the boring procedure of explaining her commands to the recruits, and telling them what she expected.

"Now, I understand that it's raining, dark, and cold," she said, a while later, "but, you know what? I don't give a damn! I'll work you all so hard you'll sweat, is that clear? The rain will be a welcome feeling," she said, and met the frightened stares of a few of her men with her own steely glaze.

"Everyone get in a straight line behind Parker, in front of the obstacle course," she commanded. "Form it up! Let's go," she said, and they rushed to do as she said. "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, you're done." That was one of her favorite things to do - countdown 5 quick seconds, and if they weren't done, have them go back until they could do it immediately.

"You guys have to learn to follow commands in a flash," she said. "Fall in! Let's try it again, until you get it right. And I can tell you right now, no one's going anywhere until everyone finishes the obstacle course," she added, and was rather pleased when no one made a comment.

Five minutes later, 25 soaked soldiers were standing in a straight line, and one of them was running through the obstacle course, trying hard not to slip and fall in the mud. Unfortunately, the man couldn't make it over the wall, and fell, covering the back of his fatigues in a thick layer of mud.

A few chuckles were heard, and after ordering the man to continue, Kris stalked over to the line. "Does anyone find this funny?" she demanded, and the smiles instantly faded. "You think it's funny when your fellow soldier falls? Parker, come here," she called, and the man stopped climbing over the logs, and jogged over to his commanding officer, standing at attention.

"Parker, take a break, and get some lunch. Return in half an hour. You're dismissed," she said, and the man saluted her, before walking off the field to the commissary for lunch.

"And as for the rest of you, I think some drilling is in order," she said. "We're going to skip the obstacle course for now," looks of relief could be seen, "and go straight to the combat techniques. That means learning how to drop to the ground, roll, and crawl." The relieved looks were replaced with bewilderment. "So, everyone fall in, and let's go get real personal with our friend the mud."

As the soldiers formed their ranks, Kris grinned to herself. Her company would learn they had to work together, and be a team, even if they never had lunch.

"When I call drop, each and every one of you is going to fall into the forward leaning rest position, as if you were going to do a pushup," she explained, stepping between the lines, making sure there was enough room between each soldier so they wouldn't hit each other. "Who knows, I may even have you do a couple pushups since you're down there; we'll see.

"And when I say crawl, you're all going to crawl on your bellies, forward, until I tell you to stop," she continued. "Eventually, I'll tell you to recover, and you can get to your feet. Then, I'll call each of you to come forward, drop, and then roll a little ways in each direction. Ready? Too bad. Let's go," she smiled.

"Platoon, drop!" she barked, and they all fell to the ground, supporting themselves with their arms so they wouldn't land flat on their faces. "Crawl!" she commanded, and started calling out the cadence, before telling them to recover.

Doing that for nearly half an hour, Kris waited until Parker returned, and starting calling them all individually to roll. "The rest of you will remain at attention," she said, "is that understood?"

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am!" they shouted, and she nodded.

"Good," she said. "Parker!" The man stepped forward. "Drop!" He did, immediately. "Roll left! Halt! Roll right!" When she felt he was done, she told him to fall back into his place, and called on the next soldier in line.

That went on for another half an hour, and then their Sergeant made them do teamwork commands, where they were all punished with pushups if one of them messed up. Kris led them in that exercise until her watch told her it was one in the afternoon, and she called a halt.

"I hope you've all learned that we have to work together," she said. "You're dismissed until 1400 hours." Giving them an hour lunch, she watched as they saluted her, and then the officer made her way back to her own quarters.

As she neared the door, she heard voices coming from inside: Ryanne, the Captain, and his wife, if she remembered correctly. Opening the door, she came to attention when she saw her superior officer standing in the living room, speaking with Ryanne.

Mark Bowman glanced up, hearing Kris enter, and smiled. She was the best soldier he had. "At ease, Sergeant," he said, and she walked into her bedroom. "This is your room, Jones, you don't have to be formal here."

"Sir," she acknowledged. Grinning at the man's wife, whom she had always gotten along with, she said, "Mrs. Sir." Beverly smiled at her. Spying Ryanne, her grin widened, and she leaned over to place a quick kiss on her lips.

"Love," she greeted, and chuckled at the slight blush that covered the blonde's cheeks. Cassidy heard the soldier's voice, and came running out from the bedroom, jumping into her arms. "Pip-squeak!" exclaimed Kris, spinning her around as she hugged her.

"Hey, I'm all dirty," she said. "Your mom's gonna get mad." Cassidy just hugged her tighter. "Sweetie, I need to breathe," she laughed, and set the girl on the floor. Seeing the child follow her into the bedroom, she asked, with a raised eyebrow, "Oh, are you going to help me wash up?" to which Cassidy nodded.

"Did you have a good time with the Captain?" Kris asked, as she washed her hands, rolling up her sleeves so she could wash up to her elbows. Cassidy nodded, happily. "That's good. They're nice people, huh?" Another nod.

"Do I have any dirt on my face?" she asked, and Cassidy giggled. "I guess that's a yes," smiled Kris. Handing the girl a wet washcloth and dropping to one knee so the girl could reach, Kris asked her to get the mud from her face for her. Scrubbing softly, Cassidy removed dirt from the tall soldier's cheeks, forehead, and even her hair, before gesturing that she was done.

"Thanks, pip-squeak," said Kris, and Cassidy grinned. "Have you guys eaten lunch, yet?"

"Yeah," came the response, from the blonde standing at the doorway, grinning broadly at the sight of her daughter wiping the grime from her lover's face.

Kris got to her feet with a slight grin, and took Cassidy's hand in her own. "Well, then I guess it's just me, huh?" she asked, smirking.

"Sorry, love, but the Captain wanted to eat with us, and we expected you back by noon," said Ryanne, and Kris smiled.

"It's okay," assured the soldier, taking the time to give her lover a more passionate kiss. "I don't mind. Did they leave?" she asked, wondering if Ryanne had left the company on their own in the living room.

The blonde nodded. "Yeah," she said. "They told me to tell you hi and bye, and they thanked us both for allowing Cassidy to stay with them for a while," she added. There was a knock at the door, and Ryanne said, "I'll get it. You eat." Kris agreed, and wandered to the kitchen, Cassidy close behind, as Ryanne answered the door.

A few moments later, Ryanne came in, looking confused. "Kris, there's a woman here to see you," she voiced. "She says she's your mother." The tall soldier's face hardened, and her eyes narrowed, as she left the half-made sandwich on the counter and started walking out to the living room.

"Keep her here," she said, nodding to Cassidy, and Ryanne acquiesced.

Walking out to the adjoining room, and seeing the elderly woman sitting on the couch, Kris felt a small pang of hurt in her heart. It had been many years since she'd seen the woman, with black hair that had since turned gray, and blue eyes which had seemed to age, and the soldier wasn't sure what to expect. A visit out of the blue had her wary.

"Kris!" she exclaimed, standing, and the soldier merely looked at her, as she sat down in the chair across from her. "I knew you wouldn't want to see me," she sighed.

Kris sighed, heavily. "It's not that I don't want to see you, mother, it's just that the last time we spoke, you disowned me," she said, tonelessly. "I wasn't expecting to see you again, and certainly not without a phone call or something first. What do you want?" she asked.

Noreen Jones looked hurt. "Do I have to want anything, other than to know how my daughter is doing?" she asked, and Kris raised an eyebrow at her, skeptically. "Listen, honey, I know I said some mean things, but that was such a long time ago."

"It still hurts," Kris said, quietly, before she could stop herself. She hadn't wanted to let anyone know that what her mother thought still mattered to her.

"I know, Kris," sighed the older woman. "And I'm sorry, really I am," she insisted.

"Do you accept me for who I am?" she demanded, and her mother nodded. "For who I love?" she continued, and saw the woman pause. Kris sighed. "Until you can do that, mother, we have nothing to talk about."

"That woman who answered the door, are you with her?"

Kris nodded. "Yes," she said. "Her name is Ryanne, and I love her very much."

"You look good, Kris," smiled her mother. "I'm glad you're happy."

The soldier sighed. "Listen, mom, I think you're trying, and I'm glad you are. But, now is not the best time, and not here. I'll give you my phone number at home, and you can call me later tonight, and we'll see if we can arrange something, okay?" she offered, and her mother nodded.

"That would be great, dear," she said, and Kris scribbled her number on a piece of paper, handing it to the older version of herself.

"How's Dad?" asked Kris, after a moment of silence.

Noreen looked down. "Not so good, I'm afraid," came the response. "I visit him as often as I can, but he doesn't remember me every other time I go. The doctor says it won't be too much longer," she said, quietly, and a tear ran down her face.

"I'll stop by if I can," said Kris, giving her mother a quick hug. "Thanks, Mom, for trying. I'd like you to meet Ryanne," she added, and after a slight pause, Noreen agreed.

"I'd like that," she said.

"Ryanne, can you come here for a minute, love?" she called, and added, "Cassidy, too." A few moments later, mother and daughter walked into the living room, Ryanne carrying Kris' finished sandwich in one hand.

"No mayonnaise and extra mustard," she said, softly, giving the soldier a quick kiss, placing the plate on the coffee table.

"Thanks," grinned the tall soldier, putting her arm around the small blonde. "Ryanne, this is my mother, Noreen Jones. Mother, this is Ryanne Cole, and her daughter, Cassidy."

The blonde and the older woman shook hands, and Noreen did the same with Cassidy, who looked at her, strangely. Pointing to Kris, then to Noreen, she made the sign for "Mother", and Ryanne nodded.

"Yes, sweetheart," she said, "Mrs. Jones is Kris' mother." Cassidy accepted this, and gave the woman a large smile.

"Call me Noreen, please," said the aging woman, and Ryanne nodded. "You have a beautiful daughter. How old is she?"

"Thank you, Noreen," said the blonde, smiling a little. She hoped Kris and Noreen would be able to put aside whatever problems they had had, and start again, on better terms. "Cassidy is four years old."

"She reminds me of Kris at that age," smiled Noreen, and Kris groaned, earning a chuckle from her young lover.


Kris took her sandwich and sat down at the table. "I'm not hearing any of this," she proclaimed, sulking as she ate her lunch. As she was chewing on the first bite, there was a knock at the door, and she leapt for it.

Opening the door, the soldier was startled to see a man, resembling Daniel, only sober. He was a little thinner than the other man, and had kinder eyes, but at any rate, Kris didn't recognize him, and was wary.

"Can I help you?" she asked, cautiously.

"Is RC here?" he asked, and Kris frowned.

"That depends," she said. "Who are you?"

"Just a friend," he said, and attempted to brush past the tall woman.

"Wrong move, friend," she spat, grabbing the collar of his shirt and slamming him up against the wall. "I am not in the best of moods at the moment, and you don't want to fuck with me, trust me. Either you give me a name, or I'll rip your arm off and beat you with it," she growled.

"Now," she ordered, when he hesitated.

"Barry," the man choked. "Barry Lincoln."

Kris raised an eyebrow at him. "Barry, huh?" she mused, remembering the name from a few of Ryanne's phone calls. "All right," she said, releasing him. "Sorry about that."

"You must be Kris," the man grinned, and Kris nodded. "Tall, dark, and beautiful," he sighed, thinking. "Yep, she was right. But, I think she forgot deadly." Kris smiled, and led the man into the living room.

"Mouse!" the man exclaimed, upon seeing Cassidy, and the girl ran to him, throwing her arms around his waist. "Hi, doll. My, you've grown up so big since the last time I saw you! How old are you now, 15, 16?" he asked, and Cassidy giggled, shaking her head and holding up five fingers. The girl would, in fact, be five in just a few weeks.

"Five?" he asked, and staggered back in exaggerated shock. "My God, you're old! Half way to ten," he observed, and Ryanne shoved him, playfully.

"Don't remind me," she groaned, and gave the man a strong hug. "Hey, Barry. How are you doing?"

"Couldn't be better, girlfriend," he said, grinning from ear to ear. "Remember George?" Ryanne nodded. "Well, he's moved in with me!"

"That's great, Bear!" she exclaimed, giving him another hug. "So, George must be pretty great, hm?" Barry blushed, and nodded. Ryanne laughed, and noticed that Noreen was watching the interaction, warily.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Noreen! Noreen, this is my best friend, Barry. Bear, this is Kris' mother, Noreen," she introduced, and he winked at her.

"Meeting the in-laws, are you?" he joked, and laughed when the woman blushed. "Nice to meet you," he said, shaking the woman's hand. "And I've already met you," he told Kris, pulling his hand back, protectively.

The soldier laughed. "Sorry about that," she repeated. "But you'll learn real fast that you don't mess with me, not when it comes to Cassidy or Ryanne. Crap," she sighed, glancing at her watch. "I hate to go, but I've got to finish my lunch and then head back out to the field. Barry, is it still raining out there?"

The man shook his head. "No, only drizzling," he said. Kris nodded, wolfed down her sandwich, and then jogged out to the field, hugging the women goodbye, and shaking Barry's hand - gently - on her way out. She arrived moments before her soldiers, and went to work on the obstacle course, having Parker stand last in line, since he'd already gone.

When they were finished, she jogged them around the field a few times, unaware of the four people who stood, watching her.

"She's really something," said Barry, whistling through his teeth. "Why, if I was straight…" Ryanne frowned at him, and slapped the back of his head, making him laugh. "Kidding, RC, kidding," he assured her, holding his hands up to block another blow.

"You keep that up, and I'll tell Staff Sergeant Jones she has another recruit," Ryanne threatened, and the man balked.

"Me? Out there? Doing that?" Ryanne nodded, and Barry shook his head. "Huh-uh, I don't think so, honey," he said. "I'd break a nail!"

Ryanne laughed. "You are such a queen, Bear," she said, and the man nodded.

"It keeps George interested," he bragged, and Ryanne rolled her eyes, still laughing.

Noreen watched the scene with interest. Ryanne seemed to be a very lovely and nice woman, and it was obvious she loved Kris with all her heart. Cassidy was sweet, but quiet, and Barry… well, the woman wasn't quite sure what to make of that one. He seemed nice enough, but he was a wee bit odd, she thought.

The older woman chuckled at the look on their faces when Kris became too hot for her camouflage jacket, and threw it to the ground, showing off the muscles in her arms and back under the gray T-shirt she now wore.

"If you two don't pick your tongues up off the ground, you'll trip," she warned, laughing as they both blushed at being caught. "It was nice to meet you all," she said, "but I really must be going. I'll call later tonight," she told Ryanne, and walked from the field, her heart proud at what her daughter had become.

Chapter Twelve

Ryanne and Cassidy stayed out on the field, until Barry said he had to be getting back, since George was expecting him. Hugs were exchanged, and then the two girls walked off the field, heading back to Kris' quarters to pack a few things, since Ryanne figured they would be heading back to the soldier's home later that night.

While the soldier worked at the base, she usually came home to Ryanne and Cassidy each night. They only stayed at the base overnight when the soldier had a few days off, and wanted to be around in case she was needed.

"Come on, Cassidy," said the blonde, leading her daughter inside. "Let's make sure we have everything, okay?" The girl nodded, and climbed under Kris' bed to find some of her stuffed animals. She handed them out to her mother, who placed them in the girl's suitcase. When that was finished, Cassidy received her clothes from her mother, and put them in with her toys.

Ryanne was retrieving some of her clothes from the closet, when she heard the door open, and wondered why Kris was back so early.

"Forget something?" she called from the bedroom, assuming it was the tall soldier returning for an item she had left behind.

"Yeah," came a harsh voice, and Ryanne looked up, startled to see a stingy looking Daniel standing in the doorway of the bedroom. "Forgot my daughter."

"Daniel, what are you doing here?" she asked, putting a hand on Cassidy's shoulder as she stepped in front of her. "How did you find us?"

"That bitch wore her damn cameo outfit," he slurred. "Not hard to find the Army base, and then I just asked a few buddies."

"But, that was a year ago," she said.

"Yeah, had to get some things done," he shrugged. "You know, find out some information, talk to the right people… how's the bitch's shoulder, anyway? Still a little shaky?" he scoffed. "God, it was great to see her bleed like that!" Ryanne flinched. "Damn, I thought I was gonna lose her right there!" He sounded disappointed. "Bitch is strong, but I'm stronger."

"So, why are you here?" asked Ryanne, trying to keep him talking. "Do you want a rematch with her?"

"I want my daughter, you whore!" he cried, angrily, and took a step forward. "She's my daughter, and I have a right to see her, I don't give a fuck what the goddamn restraining order says!" he cursed.

"Daniel, I can't let you see her," she said, quietly. "You'd only hurt her, and I can't let that happen."

The man sneered at her, his eyes wild. "You can't let that happen?" he mocked, and slapped her hard across the face. "I'll do whatever the hell I want, do you understand me? If I want to see my daughter, I'll do it. If I want to blow your fucking brains all over this room, I'll do it," he added, withdrawing a black pistol from the waistband of his grimy jeans.

Ryanne swallowed, and slowly got to her feet, once again standing in front of her daughter, ready to take a bullet if she had to, if it meant saving Cassidy's life.

"Daniel," she began, "please don't…"

"Get the fuck out of my way," he swore, pushing her down to the floor with ease. Grabbing Cassidy's arm, he proceeded to drag her out of the room. The girl bit down on his hand as hard as she could, at the fleshy muscle between his thumb and forefinger, and he howled in pain, shoving her hard enough to send her sprawling onto the bed.

"Little bitch!" Approaching both of them, he proceeded to hit Ryanne hard enough to bloody her lip, give Cassidy a solid smack for good measure, and then he picked the child up by her wrist, aiming the pistol at her chest.

"You ever try that again, and I'll put a hole through you, got me?" he threatened. Cassidy nodded, trying to dry her tears as she cried, both because the man had hurt her, but mostly because he had hurt her mother.

"Goddamn son of a bitch!" was heard, and suddenly, the man flew backwards into the wall, as six-feet of rage came straight for him. "I told you what I'd do if you hurt them again. I never break my promises," Kris growled.

The man drew his hand back, and connected the butt of his pistol with the woman's jaw, causing her to stumble back a few feet. "You don't have a gun, this time, bitch," he stated, smiling.

"I don't have to have a gun, ass hole," she countered. "I'm going to reach down your throat, rip out your spine, and beat you to a bloody pulp."

"The playing field's level, now. I've got the gun," he pointed out, steadying the weapon at her chest.

"Yeah, well, you're wrong. We're still not even, 'cause I've got the brains," she said, grabbing the barrel of the gun and pointing it upwards when she noticed the hammer was not cocked, before wrenching it out of his grip. Aiming it at his head, she pulled back the hammer, and the man started laughing, loudly.

"Go ahead," he said, "it's not loaded." Frowning, Kris released the chamber, and, sure enough, all six were empty.

"Son of a bitch," she cursed, again, throwing the gun across the room. "Okay. Back to basics." Punching the man in the gut, she dodged a right hook to her face, and brought her elbow around to meet Daniel's nose, hard. Blood spurted out through his fingers as he held his hands over the injury, and he backed away, as Kris turned her attention to the other occupants in the room.

"Are you okay?" she asked, worried by the trail of blood down Ryanne's chin, and the bruise on Cassidy's cheek. Seeing the red mark on the child's wrist, she enveloped the girl in a strong hug, whispering into her ear how sorry she was.

"We're all right," nodded Ryanne, and Kris kissed her forehead, softly. The blonde's green eyes widened, and she was going to say something, but didn't have time, before Daniel grabbed a fistful of the soldier's hair, and yanked her backwards, dragging her across the floor.

With a low snarl, Kris jabbed her elbow back, catching the man in the knee, sending him crashing to the ground with a sickening "pop".

"On your feet," she ordered, grabbing the man's shirt and hauling him unceremoniously to his feet, just to punch him in the gut. "How dare you come into my quarters and harm the people I love. You're lucky murder's illegal," she said.

"You… murdered my friend," he choked, and Kris was suddenly aware of startled green eyes, boring into her back.

"That was self-defense, moron," she said. "If it wasn't, do you think I would have stopped with just one? But be glad that gun wasn't loaded; otherwise, you'd have six extra holes in your body.

"Now, don't move a muscle," she said, tossing him to the ground. "I'm calling security. If you so much as twitch, I'll be sure to break something vitally important to your survival," she threatened, and kept an eye on the man as she went to the phone.

"Already done, ma'am," came a voice, and Kris glanced up to see one of her soldiers standing there. They had been jogging around the route that the upcoming Veteran's Day parade would take, and Kris noticed her door was open, so she stopped in to investigate. She assumed her men had gone on as she'd instructed, but, apparently, they had not.

"You called security, Parker?" she asked, and the man nodded.

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am," he said. "They're here, now." Stepping aside, the man allowed two officers to enter, as Daniel made a move to get to his feet. Before anyone in the room had an inkling of what was going on, Kris pounced, knocking the man to the ground.

"I said don't move," she growled.

"We'll take it from here," said an officer, as they drew their guns. "Soldier," came the sharp command, when she hesitated, "stand down!" Kris released Daniel, and walked back to the bedroom as the security officers took care of business.

"Here," said Kris, handing Ryanne a small bag of ice, "keep that on your lip." The blonde nodded, and sank into the soldier's embrace, as Cassidy climbed on the tall woman's lap.

"Are you okay, pip-squeak?" The girl nodded, and Kris kissed her forehead. "Good," she said, breathing a sigh of relief.

"Kris, why did you come back?" asked Ryanne, quietly.

"I was taking the men over the parade route, which goes right past here, and thought it was odd that the door was open, so I figured I'd check it out," she shrugged. "I walked in and saw him here, hurting Cassidy." Her fists clenched at the anger, still present, until Ryanne put a gentle hand on her arm.

"Thank you," she said, kissing the soldier's cheek. There was silence for a moment, and then, "Kris, what did he mean, when he said you murdered his friend? What was he talking about?"

Kris sighed. "The first guy who attacked me, when I went to get Cassidy from Daniel's house, had a knife. I kicked him in the throat to disarm him, and collapsed his windpipe," she explained. "There was nothing to be done."

"I understand," said the woman, slipping an arm around the soldier's waist, holding the ice to her lip with the other, giving the tall woman a quick hug. "Kris, do you think we could go home, now?"

The soldier nodded. "I can drive you home, if you'd like, but I need to come back here later," she said. "The Captain mentioned that he wanted to speak with me, as soon as possible, so I figured I may as well get it over with tonight."

"I think I'd rather just go," said Ryanne, and Kris nodded. "I can drive, though, if you want to stay here and talk to the Captain."

Kris looked at her, seriously. "Are you sure you can drive home okay?" The blonde nodded, and the soldier sighed. "All right," she said. "I'll dismiss my men as soon as I can, talk to the Captain, and be home in no time. Be careful," she added, placing a gentle kiss on the woman's forehead, and then Cassidy's.

"You, too," said Ryanne, giving the woman a quick hug as they left.

"Ryanne," called Kris, and the blonde turned back, just outside the door. "I love you," said the soldier, softly.

Ryanne smiled. "I love you, too," she said. "See you at home." Not long after she closed the door, there was a hesitant knock.

Kris frowned. "Come in," she said, as she examined the bruise already forming on her jaw, and felt the throbbing pain in the back of her head, where the man had grabbed her hair.

Private Timothy Parker walked in. "Ma'am!" he said, coming to attention in her doorway, respectfully.

"At ease, soldier," she said, standing. "What can I do for you?"

"Permission to speak freely, ma'am," he requested.

Kris raised an eyebrow, but said, "Granted."

"Ma'am, the boys and I have been talking, and we've decided that, if it's all right with you, we'd like to postpone our training and drilling until a later date," he said, quietly.

"Mind if I ask why?"

"It would only be for a day or two, ma'am," he added, trying to sell the idea to her. "We thought that would give you some time to take care of whatever you needed to with RC and Cassidy, as well as whatever personal issues you may need to handle," he concluded.

Sergeant Jones smiled at the young man. "Private, I appreciate the offer, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to say no to your proposal. Work will continue as usual, since we need the practice before the parade this weekend, and I will handle whatever "issues" I have on my own time," she said, and he saluted her.

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am!" he replied.

"Parker, you're a good man," she said, motioning for him to lead the way as they returned to the field. "Stay that way."

"Yes, ma'am," he smiled, trying to keep his beaming low as he walked beside her. It wasn't often his commanding officer gave out compliments, so he knew she was proud. "Thank you, ma'am."

"Don't let it go to your head," she grinned, and barked, "Fall in!" The company scattered to their ranks, making it well before the 5 second count Kris was counting off in her mind.

"Okay, grunts," she began, "we're going to go over the parade route one more time, since we were so rudely interrupted last time. This parade is very important, and our place in it should be treated with honor and respect. If I hear of anyone making light of this, they'll answer to me, is that understood?" she demanded.

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am!" they shouted.

"Good, now, let's go." Calling out the cadence, Kris led them on a slow jog around the compound, taking the streets they would march during the parade. The Armed Force's Day parade was held every year, and members from all branches of the military were welcome to join, whether they were currently serving, or retired. They marched around while the Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marine themes were alternately playing in the background.

Kris' personal favorite was the Army's theme. She'd always liked it. And the parade had always meant a little more to her, because her father was killed in war, while serving in the Army. He was active in the last year of the Vietnam War, and Kris was born just before her mother received word that he had been killed. She remarried not long after, to the man that Kris called "Dad", who was now in a nursing home with Alzheimer's disease.

With a shake of her head, Kris realized that her men were standing at attention, waiting patiently for her command. Glancing up, she saw it was almost dark, or would have been, had it not been so overcast as to be dark all day.

She sighed. "One hour of drilling, and then you can report to the classroom," she said, and her men resounded their agreement, as she grinned. With Jeffery Winston off base with an administrative discharge, meaning he was beginning to tick everyone off and they figured he was no longer an asset to the military so they finally got rid of him, Kris thought all recruits were pretty well behaved.

The time passed slowly, and Kris called a halt a half-hour later, deciding she didn't want to be out there any longer - she wanted to go home, and the longer she was out on the field, the longer it would be before she got to see Ryanne.

"Fall out to the classroom," she said, and they all saluted her, before about-facing, and walking off the field and into the room that served as the classroom. They usually had anywhere from three to five hours of classroom time a day, save the first day, and Kris normally had to be nearby while they were learning. If anyone caused problems, or fell asleep, the instructor sent the entire squad out into the field, where, if it was her company, she drilled them until they'd never fall asleep or cause trouble again. Her former recruits had learned that the hard way.

However, since it was later than usual, she really didn't care, and figured another officer could take care of her men and give her a report in the morning, if anything happened.

As she was walking to the Captain's office, Jenkins stopped her. "Ma'am," he said, "may I speak to you for a moment?"

Kris sighed, and nodded. "Make it quick," she said.

"Yes, ma'am," agreed the soldier. The man had become a little more bearable since Kris' injury, and the soldier decided he wasn't half bad, even if he had been known to cheat on his wife.

"I heard about what happened today," he said, "with the man security brought in, and RC. Heard he had a gun, and went a little crazy in your quarters, until you showed up. Are RC and Cassidy all right, ma'am?"

Kris nodded. "They're fine, Jenkins. Thank you for asking," she added.

"And you, ma'am? That's a fine looking bruise," he said, referring to her jaw.

The woman shrugged. "I'm all right," she said, curtly. "Anything else?"

Jenkins sighed, and took a chance. "Permission to speak freely, ma'am?" he asked.

Kris sighed. What was it with people and wanting to talk to her today? "Granted," she heard herself say.

"Sergeant Jones, I know you don't think much of me, because you think I've cheated on my wife with Nancy, my secretary," he said, and Kris narrowed her eyes at the man. "If you'll notice, I no longer wear my wedding band. My wife and I are divorced, and have been for quite a while now.

"When you first suspected me of cheating, and questioned Nancy, she told you I was married, because I was. But my wife and I had been separated for over a year," he told her. "So, with all respect, I'd like it if you would treat me with the honor, however much you think I deserve, for the soldier I am, not the man you think I was. Ma'am," he finished, as an afterthought, which Kris let slide with an inner smirk.

Kris' face remained impassive, although she was taken aback by the unusually long speech by the soldier. "Sergeant Jenkins, I apologize," she said, honestly. "I jumped to the wrong conclusion, and I should have consulted you first. I'm sorry."

Jenkins grinned. "It's okay, ma'am," he said. "I'm just glad you didn't lop my head off for confronting you like that," he admitted.

"Nah, those days are long gone," smiled Kris, patting the man on the back.

"Yeah," he said. "Thirteen months gone." The tall woman raised an eyebrow at him. "Sergeant, you've been different since you met RC. I think the men on this base actually think you're human, now, instead of some kind of God," he said, and Kris laughed.

"See? You laugh, too," he observed. "I don't think I ever heard you laugh, or saw you smile, until just over a year ago. She's been good for you, you old war-horse," he joked.

Blue eyes regarded him, coolly. "Watch it, soldier," she growled. "She hasn't been that good for me."

Ronald Jenkins gulped. "Yes, ma'am," he said, quietly, and Kris smiled.

"Kidding, Ron," she said, using his first name for the first time. "Now, is there anything else you need, or can I go get my butt chewed by the Captain?"

The man shook his head. "Nothing at all, thanks," he said. "Good luck."

"Thanks," said Kris, and they saluted each other as she walked away, feeling a little bit better about that man, whom she'd noticed Ryanne had come to call friend. Actually, the young blonde had befriended most everyone on the base, but Ronald Jenkins and Robert Thompson seemed to be the closest to her.

Must be her natural magnetism to everyone around her, she mused.

Standing outside the Captain's door, Kris knocked, and entered when a muffled voice from within told her to.

"Sir," she said, coming to attention.

"Sergeant Jones, sit down," said Mark, sitting behind his desk, and motioning to the chair in front of him. Kris did as she was told. "We need to talk."

Uh-oh, was the only thought running through the soldier's mind, as she sat, staring at the broad man who held her future in his hands. The look he was giving her didn't seem happy.

"Yes, sir," she swallowed.

"Kris, I'm going to level with you," he began. "I haven't spoken with anyone about this yet, not even Staff Sergeant Winston, and I'm glad you decided to stop by so soon. Now, if you watch the news, than you know that the peace talks between North and South Korea, as well as Kosovo, and a few other countries over across the way, have failed."

Miserably, she agreed.

Kris nodded; she knew. "Yes, sir, I've heard," she confirmed. "The negotiations have finally fallen through."

Captain Bowman nodded. "That's right," he said. "What the public doesn't know, however, and what I just found out a few days ago, is that we've got a little war on our hands over there."

"War, sir?"

Mark rolled his eyes. "Kris, I think we've known each other long enough, and this is a serious enough situation, you can call me Mark," he said, and Kris nodded, acknowledging the request for sounding casual.

"Mark, that's a three-letter word I never wanted to hear directed at me," she said, and the man nodded.

"I know," he sighed. "The President has said he wants to send reinforcements for the men we already have over there, the ones who were just monitoring the situation, because they need more help now that we've got a war on our hands. He needs as many people as he can get, and he wants the best."

"Suddenly, I'd rather be Private," she said.

The Captain agreed with her. "So would I, Sergeant. So would I."

"So, where do I come in, in all this, anyway?"

"You're the best I've got, Jones," he said, and Kris felt anything but flattered. "I want you to take as many men as you want, I'll let you make up the roster, and fly out there to help. I can't guarantee you how long you'll be out there, but it will only be until the public finds out, so we can send the rest of our guys to back you all up," he added.

Kris thought for a moment. "What equipment do we have? Tanks, planes, bombers, what?" she asked.

Mark looked away. "We can't bring in much of the heavy stuff," he admitted, "at least, not yet. One," he said, counting the numbers on his fingers as he went along, "it'll alert the press like a smoke signal if we start flying planes out of here and dispatching tanks,"

Kris interrupted him. "Alert the press? Planes? How the hell do they think we're going to get there… walk??" she demanded.

Mark continued as though she hadn't said anything, "And two, they're not entirely ready yet."

The tall soldier got to her feet. "What do you mean, they're not ready yet? They're goddamn Army tanks!" she exclaimed. "They're supposed to be prepared for war. That's what this is, Mark, it's war, and you're telling me I have to go in there with a bunch of fucking ground troops??" she demanded. "That's bullshit!"

"Lower your voice," said the Captain, and Kris took a deep breath, dropping back into her chair, putting her head in her hands. "I'm just as upset about this as you are, believe me, but this has to be done."

"Are you ordering me, Mark?"

"No," sighed the man, meeting her tired blue eyes. "I'm asking you."

Kris sighed. "I wish you'd order me," she said. "That way I could ignore it and just get discharged, since you know I won't let you down if you ask me. What kind of conditions am I going to be working in?"

"You know all about the Vietnam War, I'm sure," he said, and Kris rolled her eyes, to say of course she did. "Well, it'll be very similar to that, and the Korean War, except with bigger guns."

"But, don't they have any advanced machinery?"

"Not much different than 30 years ago, no," he confirmed, and Kris was surprised. "They do have some equipment that's capable of bombing towns, and they use it for forest area, usually, but it's not very accurate, and sometimes doesn't operate properly."

"Thank God for poor foreign war materials," she said, tonelessly. "Okay, that's the military view, now what do I expect terrain wise?"

"Trees, hills, and some flat land," said the Captain, flipping through a stack of papers on his desk. "You can dig trenches if you want, and fox holes, but lean-tos will be okay, as well. It rains often, and is humid, so you're going to be hot as Hell, I'm sure.

"I've gotten reports that say most of their attacks are done at night, and daytime is the best time to move," he suggested. "But, once you get there, you can get a feel for it, and decided what's best."

Kris sighed. "Can I use up all my sick days that I've saved up for the past God knows how many years?" she asked, joking. The Captain chuckled, but he knew he could count on her. "All right," she sighed, getting to her feet, "I'll do it."

"What will you tell RC?" asked the man, as he shook her hand.

"I'll tell her, I just don't know how," she admitted. "Hey, Mark, I'll do this on one condition."

"What's that?"

"You find a way to guarantee that letters can be sent back and forth," she said. "I want to be able to correspond with her, and keep up with Cassidy. If I can't keep in touch with them, if they have no way of knowing that I'm okay, I won't go. I won't put that kind of worry on them," she said.

Mark smiled. "I'm sure I can arrange something," he said. "A chopper goes in every few days, to a safe strip of land that they consider holy and won't fire upon, or something. For whatever reason, the chopper's safe to go in and collect the wounded and deliver supplies as needed. I can send a mail bag with the pilot, I'm sure."

Kris grinned. "Well, you've got yourself a deal, then," she said, saluting her commanding officer.

"Kris," he called, as she left, and she turned to him.


"I'll see you Thursday at 0900 hours," he said, and she nodded, before closing the door softly behind her.

Thursday, she thought. That's just the day after tomorrow. I've barely got 36 hours to figure out who's going with me, pack my things, and tell Ryanne. God, how am I going to tell her…?

Continued in Part 3.

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