~ 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 4

Chapter Eighteen

Ryanne was instantly alert. The woman had said she wasn't Kris, and now she showed up at her door, saying she was?? Something wasn't right…

"You said you weren't," she said, a little angry. "What made you change your mind? Is this some kind of cruel joke?" she demanded.

Cassidy stirred in the soldier's arms, muttering, "Momma," in her sleep. "Listen," said the soldier, "I don't blame you for having your doubts. Just let me put the pip-squeak down in the bedroom, and I'll explain everything. Please," she added, when the blonde seemed hesitant.

Ryanne nodded, and was going to tell the woman which bedroom to take her in, when the soldier breezed past her, heading straight for Cassidy's room. The blonde noticed that the dark-haired woman walked with a noticeable limp in her right leg. Ryanne followed close behind, still cautious, unable to withhold her smile when the tall woman tucked the youngster in, and kissed her forehead.

"Can we go to the living room?" asked the woman, and Ryanne nodded, following the tall soldier as she led the way. The woman's blue eyes looked a little cloudy as she sat down in the recliner.

"Can I get you something to drink?" asked Ryanne, politely, as she took a seat on the couch, but the woman smiled, and shook her head.

"No, thank you," she said. "I understand why you don't believe me, Ryanne. I told you earlier that I wasn't Kris, because I didn't think I was." Ryanne's brow furrowed. "I am Kris Jones. I guess it'd be a good idea to start at the beginning, huh? Okay," sighed the soldier, leaning back as she told her story…

"Let's move, guys!" said Kris, pushing a few of her men up the hill. "We're on the home stretch. Once we get over this hill, we can find a few trees to hide behind. All we need is shelter for the night. We're almost there," she urged.

It was the last day they were scheduled to be there, but Jones had a sinking feeling they'd be there for a while longer. A helicopter was waiting for them in the safe zone, but they had to make it there, first.

It was nearly dusk, and Kris knew nighttime was bad if you didn't have shelter. The foxholes in the ground weren't bad, but they were Hell to get out of in a hurry. No, the best place to stay was in a lean-to, where, if the whistle of a bomb was heard, and that sound was becoming rather frequent, everyone could haul ass out of the area, rather than having to scramble out of a hole, and then find their footing on the ground.

"Shit!" she cursed, diving for the top of the hill as a shot whizzed by her foot, grazing her ankle. Her men were waiting for her on the other side of the hill, and she rolled the rest of the way down.

"Sarge, you're hit!" exclaimed a few of them, dragging her to safety.

"Not bad," she assured them, taking the first-aid kit out of her bag once she sure they were safe for the time being. In the middle of removing her boot, she paused. "Has anyone seen Thompson?" she asked, and one lad spoke up.

"He radioed in a few minutes ago," he said.

Kris took the radio from the nearest Private's bag, since hers needed repairs. It had been damaged when she tripped over a tree root, and crushed it. Keying the radio, she called to the missing man. "Thompson, come in," she said. "Thompson, this is your Sergeant. Can you hear me?"

"Loud and clear, ma'am," said the man. "But, don't yell, please, ma'am. My head is killing me."

"Where are you, soldier?" asked Jones, slipping her boot back on as she spoke. She hadn't gotten a chance to patch up her ankle yet, but that could wait.

"I'm back at the last marker, ma'am," he replied. "I managed to hide under a tree when it fell on me."

Kris rolled her eyes, and swore under her breath. The bombing had been getting extremely close, too close for Kris' comfort, but so far no one had been hurt.

Scratch that, she sighed.

"Well, don't go anywhere," she said, and heard the man chuckle. "I'll be right there."

As she ended the transmission, Jenkins spoke up. "Ma'am, you can't go out there! You haven't even tended to your own wounds, and it's nearly nighttime," he protested.

"I'm aware of that, soldier," she said, readying her pack on her shoulders. "All of you stay put, all right? Jenkins is in charge until I get back." Then, as if rethinking her actions, she froze. "And if I don't make it back, make sure this gets home." Sparing a brief moment to throw Jenkins a notebook, the woman flashed them a crooked grin, and took off.

If the men didn't know any better, they could have sworn their Sergeant was, at the very least, an angel. She seemed to run straight through the path of fire, and yet remained unscathed. The soldier dashed across the field, and her entire company kept an eye on her, until they couldn't see her anymore.

"I thought she was kidding on that first day, when she said, "I am Staff Sergeant Kris Jones, and I am God"," muttered Peters.

"Thompson!" hissed Jones, and she heard the man call to her. "Keep talking, soldier," she ordered, and he obeyed, until his commanding officer was right next to him. "Nice job, Thompson. How many times do I have to tell you not to French-kiss these trees? They don't take kindly to the likes of you," she grinned, assessing the damage, all the while keeping the man's humor up.

"Well, I figured if I couldn't get close to my superior officer, I'd go for the next best thing," he said, and Kris laughed.

"That's the spirit!" she said, noticing that the man's left leg was twisted at an unnatural angle under the tree, while his right leg merely seemed to be stuck. "Listen to me, Robert," she said, using his name for the first time. "I'm going to find a way to lift this hunk of firewood off you, okay? And when I do that, you're going to slide yourself out from under it with your arms. I don't give a damn how much it hurts, you'll get out of here, okay?"

The man grinned. "Is that an order?" he asked.

"Damn straight," replied Jones. "You die on me and I'll kill you." Suddenly, an idea hit her. Moving a large rock so it was inches from Thompson's waist, and just three inches beneath the fallen tree, Jones withdrew her ax.

"Ma'am, it was funny, really it was!" protested the soldier, upon seeing the weapon, and Jones cracked a smile.

"Oh, I know you like my jokes, Thompson," she said, and the use of his last name made the man feel a little better. "I'm going to slip the ax handle under the tree but over the rock, to use as leverage. I'll lift the tree with all my weight. On my mark. Ready?" she prompted, and the man nodded.

Taking a deep breath, Kris said, "Mark!" and put her full weight on the handle of the ax, gritting her teeth as sweat broke out of on her forehead. Slowly but surely, the tree moved a few inches, and Robert Thompson quickly moved backwards, away from the tree, as he had been told.

"Good man," she said, letting the tree fall back down, barely removing her ax in time to keep the wood from splintering under the weight. "Hey, it's only twisted!" she announced, after a quick examination. Granted, it was severely twisted, but the bone was not broken.

"Now, if I offer you a piggy-back ride, do you promise to behave yourself?" she asked, knowing the man probably couldn't walk very well. Even if his leg wasn't broken, his limbs were sure to be numb.

"Not on your life," he responded, draping his arm around his Sergeant's shoulders as the woman wrapped a strong arm around his waist for support.

"Let's make a dash back for camp. Do you think you can make it?" she asked, seriously, all joking gone from her voice.

"I'll try, ma'am," he said. "And if I don't, leave me."

"Bullshit," replied Kris, vehemently. "I didn't come all the way over here to leave you. We're both getting over to the others if I have to drag you by the root of your hair," she said, knowing very well the man shaved his head before the mission, and so had very little hair atop his head.

"Hey, if you can do it, more power to you," he said.

"Okay, ready," she said, and heard him take a deep breath. "Now!" she screamed, and both soldiers ran full force across the field, Kris practically dragging the man the entire way, supporting most of his weight, collapsing in a heap as they made it to the opposite side.

"Sarge, you made it!" exclaimed the men, immediately rushing to take care of both of their comrades.

"God!" cried Thompson, when the men started to remove his boots.

Kris grinned, and patted the man on the shoulder. "You don't have to call me that," she said, and walked away to retrieve her notebook from Jenkins. "Thanks," she said, quickly glancing through it to make sure everything was still there.

"You don't trust me, ma'am?" asked the soldier, slightly hurt, and Kris smiled at him, reassuringly.

"I trust you," she said. "I just have to make sure everything is in here when this gets sent home. I check it several times a day. Thanks again, Jenkins," she added, and the man nodded.

"All right, all of you," she said, and the men turned to face her. "We'll make camp here. We head out at dawn, where the chopper's waiting." At this, a low holler of hope went up within the ranks, and Kris grinned. At least their morale was still up.

Thompson continued to curse when the men worked on his legs. "Goddamn it!" he hissed.

Kris heard it from her place across the camp, where Franklin was looking at her ankle, and trying to decide whether or not to sew the patch of skin back on. "I'm a little busy right now, Thompson, I don't have time to damn anything. You'll have to wait your turn," she called, and several men chuckled at their exchange.

"Why? Who's ahead of me?" he asked.

"Damn!" cried a soldier, smashing his thumb between two rocks as he searched for grubs - food was in supply, but Kris had told them not to waste it if they could handle roughage for a while.

"Him," said Kris, laughing. Her laughter stopped when the medic poured peroxide over her wound, and she inhaled through her teeth. "Fuck," she hissed, "that burns. Are you really helping, or do you just like to see me squirm, Franklin?" she asked the doctor, who chuckled.

Thompson cursed under his breath, "Shit, that hurts. Goddamn!"

"No!" called Jones, sharply, and the men laughed again. Kris was glad their spirits still seemed to be intact, and encouraged them that morning would bring the last stretch of land to the chopper, which meant home.

But Company 217 never made it to dawn. Around midnight, on August 16th, Kris Jones' sensitive hearing picked up the whistle of a bomb.

"Go!" she screamed into the night, startling the men out of their slumber. "Everybody run, now! GO!" she cried, and they all scrambled into the night. "Jenkins," she said, shoving the notebook into the fleeing man's arms, "make sure Ryanne gets this. Now, run!" The man nodded, quickly, and then resumed his course.

"Thompson, it's time for another piggy-back," she said, and went to lift the man over her shoulders, but he pushed her away.

"I'll only slow you down, Sergeant!" he insisted. "Leave! Go, so you can see RC again!"

"Jenkins has the notebook," she said, "he'll get it to her. As long as she has that, she knows I love her. Now, let's move!" The man refused to cooperate. "So help me God, Thompson, if you don't obey my goddamn command, you'll be the first one I come back to haunt, you stubborn son of a bitch!"

No amount of ordering, or cursing, could get the man to move, and the tall female soldier was still arguing with him when the bomb hit, sending them both flying into the air…

"I woke up in the hospital about a week later," said the soldier. "The men must have escaped the blast, because only Thompson and I were in there. He didn't make it," she said, sadly. "I woke up with amnesia. My dog tags read Kris Jones, but I had no idea who that was. The reinforcements must have brought us in, because no one in the hospital knew anything about what had happened.

"I decided it would be better to start a new life, rather than try to figure out who I was, and cause the people who knew me pain," she explained. "The doctors told me it was temporary, but after a month of remembering absolutely nothing, I gave up. I gave myself a new name, Kelly Thompson, in memory of Robert," she admitted, and looked away, feeling a little awkward in the silence.

"But why did you come back to the base?" asked Ryanne, speaking for the first time since the soldier began her story.

"I figured if I had been a soldier once, I could start over again," she shrugged. "My hair was much shorter, because during the blast, I had suffered a head injury, and they had to shave my head for the operation, and the bullet wound I received in my ankle left me with a permanent limp, so I didn't think anyone would recognize me. A few would mention something about how I looked familiar, but I always convinced them otherwise. I mean, they say everyone has a twin," she said.

"When I saw you today, and you asked me if I was Kris Jones, I nearly bolted," she admitted. "I didn't want to run into anyone from my old past, because I knew it would be frustrating, not being able to remember who they were. And I was right. That's why I told you I wasn't Kris Jones," she said.

"What changed your mind?" asked Ryanne, and here the woman smiled a little.

"Cassidy," she said. "I was on my way to my quarters, I've been staying in the barracks that most reserve officers use, when she ran up to me and threw her arms around my waist. I was startled, at first, and had no idea who she was.

"Jenkins was taking her home, but she had seen me, and ran from him, yelling "Momma! Momma!" as loud as she could. Jenkins had seen me before, and he thought of me as Kelly Thompson, not his former Staff Sergeant's look-alike. So he came up and apologized for her, and I saluted him, since he was of higher rank than 'Kelly Thompson' - he's been promoted to Staff Sergeant, you know. I didn't have to, but it'd become kind of a habit.

"Anyway, Cassidy saw me salute him, and did that little salute of her own," she said, grinning as she demonstrated, placing her right hand over her right eye.

"Suddenly, it hit me," said the soldier. "That little movement reminded me of everything. All the memories came rushing back to me. Cassidy, the soldiers, the war… you," she said, meeting Ryanne's green eyes. "I remember meeting you in the café, and I remember scaring the piss out of some guy when he tried to feel up on you, and how you were so damn honest when you tried to give me back my change from that hundred dollar bill," she said, and was going to continue, but became too choked up.

"I remembered all of it. It came rushing back in a flood, and the memories hit me so fast, Jenkins says I passed out," she said. "The next thing I know, I'm lying on the ground, looking up at Cassidy and Jenkins. All of a sudden, I just started laughing. I was so happy that I finally had my life back," she smiled.

"Cassidy said it was time to go home, so I brought her by, and decided to see if I could come home, too," she finished, and Ryanne met her gaze.

"It is you," she breathed, and Kris nodded, opening her arms as Ryanne fell into them, tears streaming down her face. "Oh, Kris. I've missed you!"

"I've missed you, too, my love," she said. "It feels so good to hold you again."

Ryanne hugged her for all she was worth, as tears soaked the soldier's shoulder. "Oh, Kris, I'm so glad you're home," she murmured, kissing her face. "I missed you so very much. I was so lost without you! I don't want to lose you again," she said, evenly.

Kris met her eyes, tears streaming down both women's faces, and said, almost inaudibly, "I don't want to lose you, either. It was so scary, not knowing who I was. I had dreams, dreams of my past, but I couldn't put them together. I dreamt of you, and of Cassidy, and of the war. God, the war was a nightmare, not a dream," she said, hoarsely, as she remembered.

"Men got shot standing right next to me," she said. "I patched them up as best I could, but there was so much blood, and I loaded them on the chopper, not knowing if I'd ever see them again."

The blonde smiled, gently, and stroked the woman's cheek. "Kris, because of you, because of your efforts, Thompson was the only one lost from your company, besides yourself," she said, and Kris looked surprised.

"Everyone else made it?" she asked, and Ryanne nodded. "Parker, and York, and Jenkins?" Another nod, and the tall soldier looked as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. "Thank God," she muttered, laying her head on the blonde's shoulder with relief.

She looked up, to find Ryanne staring at her. "What?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at the woman.

Ryanne grinned, and ran her fingers through Kris' hair, which was about five inches shorter than she remembered. "I'm just not used to seeing you with your hair this short," she admitted, and Kris shrugged.

"It'll grow back," she said. "You should've seen me when I first got out of the hospital," she smiled. "I had to wear a baseball cap for a long time, because I was almost completely bald. Saved on hairbrushes for a while," she joked.

The blonde met her eyes, and suddenly turned serious. "I missed you terribly," she said, kissing the woman, passionately. Kris groaned at the forgotten bliss, and broke free to trail her lips along the blonde's neck.

Surprising Ryanne immensely, Kris rose out of the chair, carrying the woman easily in her arms as she walked down the hallway and into her bedroom. Setting her precious cargo gently on the bed, Kris laid beside her, and kissed her softly as she caressed her cheek, lovingly.

"Kris," begged the blonde, as the woman nuzzled at her neck, "make love to me."

The soldier smiled, and pulled back, running her fingers through her love's hair. "I'd love nothing more, sweetheart," she began, "but this has been a long day for me, and I'm so happy to simply be here, with you. I'd like to just hold you tonight, if that's okay?" she asked, quietly.

Ryanne grinned, and gave the woman a reassuring hug as she nestled into her warm shoulder. "It's more than okay, love," she said, wrapping her arms around her soldier's waist as she snuggled in close. The tall woman smiled when, minutes later, a soft snore told her Ryanne had had a long day, as well, and was now fast asleep in her embrace.

Kris sighed happily as she held the woman in her arms. The soldier knew what she had to do - she needed to convince Captain Bowman that she really was Kris Jones, and maybe she could get her rank back. Then, the woman planned on coming home and taking Ryanne and Cassidy horseback riding, all across the land, just for the sake of being with them.

But, that could wait. Tomorrow, she thought, kissing the blonde's temple as she curled up beside her, and closed her eyes. There's time for all that tomorrow. Right now, I'm home, and that's all that matters.

I never thought I'd be able to say that - I'm home. It was what all her soldiers had longed to say, throughout the course of the war; and, thanks to her, all but one, and one from Colorado, had the opportunity to do so. I think I'll see Robert and his family tomorrow. See how they're doing, and just let him know I made it okay.

On the brink of sleep, Kris wrapped her arms around her lover tightly, and whispered softly into her ear, knowing somehow that there would be no nightmares for her that night.

"I'm home."

Chapter Nineteen

Kris awoke with a start, and then relaxed as the woman in her arms snuggled closer as she slept. The tall soldier kissed the blonde's forehead, remembering the night before and all they had talked about. The woman had been scared that Ryanne wouldn't believe her, and would refuse to take her back, but now that all was right, she felt about a hundred pounds lighter.

God, I've missed waking up like this,she thought. I didn't even know what I was missing, but I knew it was something important. Not remembering was bad enough, but to have dreams of people I should have known but didn't was worse.

She sighed, happily. "I'm so glad to be home," she murmured.

"Me, too," came the sleepy response, and Ryanne turned in her arms to face her, giving her a long kiss. "I've missed that."

The soldier raised an eyebrow at her. "Really?" she asked. "So, you missed my kisses, hm?"

Ryanne smiled, and moved until she was lying on top of the woman, comfortably. "And so much more," she whispered, moving in for a deep kiss. "All rested now?"

Kris grinned. "Uh-huh," she said, "but our daughter is awake. Come on in, pip-squeak," she said, and the girl shyly opened the bedroom door the rest of the way, hopping up on the bed next to Kris.

"Morning, Momma," she said, cheerfully.

"Morning, Cassidy," replied Kris. "You know, I don't think I would have recognized you, you've grown up so much." The girl beamed. "How's my Junior Sergeant been?"

"Good," replied the youngster. "Know what, Momma?" Kris shook her head. "I'm almost six! Barry says that's halfway to 12!"

Both Kris and Ryanne exchanged glances, and groaned, Kris making a mental note to have a little heart-to-heart with Barry sometime soon.

"Sweetheart, you're making your mother feel old," said Ryanne, grinning.

"Can I help you make breakfast?" the girl asked, and Ryanne nodded.

"Sure, honey," said the blonde. "You go find the pancake mix for me, and set the table, okay?" The girl nodded, and scampered away to the kitchen. "Kris, it's great to have you back, love. Breakfast will be ready soon," she added, leaving the woman with a quick kiss.

Kris sighed, and sprawled out on the bed. "I'm home, in my own bed, and the woman I love is cooking me breakfast, with the help of our daughter. Good God, I'm lucky as Hell," she said, aloud. "I'm going to have to go see Robert and his family; maybe even Henry. Just a surprise visit to say hi," she decided.

A warm smell of cooking pancakes made its way to her nose, and she grinned. Almost involuntarily, the woman got to her feet, not noticing she was still in her clothes from the day before, and wandered into the kitchen.

"My God, that smells good," she said, coming up to slip an arm around Ryanne's shoulders. "I'm going to go check on Wind Dancer. I'll be back in a few minutes," she said, before heading outside to visit her long-forgotten mare.

"Hey, girl," she greeted, and the horse snorted excitedly, instantly recognizing the scent of her mistress. "Yeah, I missed you, too," she laughed, patting the mare firmly on the neck. "What do you say we go riding later today? Maybe take Ryanne and Cassidy with us?"

Wind Dancer agreed, and happily wrapped her neck around the tall woman's back, pulling her in for a horse's equivalent of a hug.

Kris chuckled. "Thanks, sweetheart," she said, kissing the velvet nose. "I'll see you after breakfast, okay?" Tossing a bit of hay and oats in the stall, she spoke quietly to her mare for a few more minutes, before Cassidy came running out to announce that breakfast was ready, and led her into the house. Her limp was still quite noticeable, but it didn't hurt anymore, which was a rather new development.

"Oh, this looks great," she said, sitting down at the table, inhaling the aromas of pancakes, ham, bacon, eggs, and toast that assailed her nostrils as she glanced around at all the food. Fixing her plate with a little of everything, she took her first bite, and grinned.

"Tastes even better," she commented. "Much better than Army food." Ryanne smiled, beaming with pleasure that the soldier enjoyed the meal. "You did a good job on the pancakes, pip-squeak," complimented Kris, and Cassidy couldn't stop the grin that spread across her face if she'd tried.

When the meal was finished, Ryanne smiled when Cassidy began clearing the table without being asked. The small blonde stood to help her daughter, and placed a hand on Kris' shoulder, telling her to remain sitting. With a shrug, the tall woman obeyed, and closed her eyes as she relaxed.

"Open your mouth," came the soft command, and with a raised eyebrow, the soldier didn't hesitate, trusting the small woman completely. When a plump berry was placed in her mouth, she bit down, eyes opening as the scrumptious flavor of the strawberry exploded on her tongue.

"Hm," she said, smiling, "where did you get that and do you have any more?" With a grin, Ryanne produced an entire bowl full of the ripe fruit, and was about to place another one in her lover's mouth, when Cassidy rushed to join her, opening her mouth expectantly. Laughing, the blonde fed both Kris and Cassidy, taking a few for herself.

"So, who's up for a little horseback riding?" Cassidy squealed with delight, and Ryanne responded the same, however with less enthusiasm than her daughter. With an admirable amount of patience, Kris explained to Cassidy everything that went into preparation for a ride, including grooming the horse and checking the saddle blanket for any burrs that might irritate Wind Dancer's skin.

Twenty minutes later, the mare was saddled, and ready to ride. Mounting with ease, Kris reached a hand down to Cassidy, who laughed as the woman swiftly put her in front of her in the saddle.

"Are you sure she'll be okay?" asked Ryanne, and Kris nodded.

"I promise, honey," she said, smiling at the blonde, before nudging her horse gently in the sides with her knees, sending her into a swift trot. Cassidy smiled, and asked to go faster, to which Kris asked Wind Dancer to break into a gallop, and Ryanne realized that the mare's name was very appropriate, as Kris and Cassidy seemed to be flying.

A while later, not wanting the girl to be too sore after the ride, which brought normally ignored muscles into use, Kris returned to the house, and dropped Cassidy into her mother's arms. The child walked stiffly inside to get a drink of water, as Kris chuckled, and offered her hand to Ryanne, who shook her head.

"Oh, no," she said, backing away. "I don't think so."

"Come on, sweetheart," urged Kris, surprising the blonde by having the horse sidestep towards her. "It's fun, and I'll keep you safe, I swear. Give it a try, please? For me?" she added, and Ryanne gave her a mock scowl.

"Oh, okay," she sighed. "But only for you." With a grin, Kris helped her up, and made sure she was settled before urging Wind Dancer into a walk. When she turned that into a trot, the soldier felt the woman in front of her gasp, and wrapped her arm around her stomach, securely.

"You're all right," she soothed. "Just relax, and let Wind Dancer do all the work." Taking a deep breath, the small blonde tried to do just that, and found herself settling back into the woman she loved.

"I've got to admit," she said, resting her head on Kris' shoulder, "this is kind of fun. Once you get past the "My God, she's a big horse and I think I'm gonna fall off" scary part."

Kris chuckled, and squeezed her tightly, bringing Wind Dancer into a lope. The two rode around for a while, without so much as a hair's width separating them, as Cassidy watched from the stalls, munching on the bowl of strawberries.

When Ryanne had had enough, Kris removed the riding equipment from her mare, as the blonde got used to walking on solid ground again. Placing the tack in the shed she'd set up for that purpose, the tall soldier helped Cassidy and Ryanne brush Wind Dancer once more, and then they all three walked into the house together.

"Momma, can we watch a movie?" asked Cassidy, and Kris shrugged.

"Sure, sweetheart," she replied. "Which one?"

"This one!" the girl cried, finding a Disney movie in the cupboard that Kris didn't remember buying. The soldier nodded, and the girl happily put it in the VCR, insisting that both women watch it with her. Kris sighed, deciding her discussion with the Captain could wait another day, and resigned herself to spending all day with her two most favorite people in the world.

Just as the main character, a young Tarzan, was making a mess of things, there was a knock at the door. Frowning slightly, the tall woman got up from the couch, and motioned for Ryanne to remain sitting. Opening the door, she blinked once or twice to make sure she was seeing correctly.

"Mother?" she asked, surprised.

If Kris was shocked, Noreen was dumbfounded. Taking a few steps back, her eyes grew wide, and she opened her mouth a few times, but no sound came out.

Kris took her hand, and led her inside. "Come on, mom," she said, gently. "Why don't you sit down?"

"But… Ryanne told me you were dead," the woman protested, and the blonde joined them in the kitchen, leaving Cassidy to finish the movie on her own.

"I thought she was," said Ryanne, softly, getting the older woman a glass of water, before coming to stand beside the tall soldier, who had taken a seat next to her mother at the kitchen table.

"I had amnesia," Kris explained. "The guys thought I was dead, and I didn't know who I was - there was no way for anyone to know I was alive. Just yesterday, I ran into Cassidy, and everything came back," she said. "I've just been enjoying being home today."

"Well, yes, but… okay. What happened to your hair?"

Kris chuckled. "Had to shave it off a while ago," she replied. "The doctors had to get rid of it for the surgery."

"Surgery!" exclaimed Noreen, and Kris sighed.

"Apparently I had some shrapnel in my skull they had to take care of," said the soldier, and Ryanne gasped - she hadn't asked the actual reason, and now gripped Kris' hand, sympathizing with the pain the soldier must have felt when she awoke.

Noreen was quiet for a moment, and then stood to give her daughter a long hug. "I'm so glad you're okay," she whispered, tear in her eyes, as Kris returned the embrace. "I just stopped by to say hi, and see how Ryanne was doing, but this is quite the surprise!"

Mother and daughter talked for a while, before Cassidy came in and gave her grandmother a hug, and spent ten minutes telling her everything that was going on in school. When that was done, Noreen reluctantly said she had to go, because she cooked dinner for a friend of hers every Saturday night, and couldn't cancel.

"I'm glad you came, mom," said Kris, as she walked her mother to the door. "I love you," she added, and Noreen smiled.

"I love you, too, Kris," she said, before driving off, her heart not as empty now that she had her daughter back. The news of her daughter's death had been devastating to the woman, and she and Ryanne had often shared a good cry over their loss, but she was slowly getting better. Now, it looked like her grieving was over!

* * * * *

Monday morning found the tall soldier and the small blonde on their way to Lincoln Army Base. Kris hadn't wanted to disturb the Captain on a Sunday, or so she said - she really just wanted another day to spend with Cassidy and Ryanne before she became Staff Sergeant again. As it turned out, she was extremely glad she waited, because another day of riding and Cassidy was completely worn out, sleeping soundly as her mother gave Kris a proper welcome home she wasn't soon to forget…

"Ryanne," said Kris, as they climbed under the covers.

"Hm?" asked the blonde.

"Cassidy's out for the night," the soldier purred, snuggling close as she kissed the woman's cheek, before nibbling lightly on an earlobe she found nearby.

"So?" asked Ryanne, and Kris paused, only slightly.

"So, I was kind of hoping I could make love to you," the woman admitted, smiling a little as her hand found it's way up Ryanne's nightshirt.


The hand stopped, as did Kris' heart. "What?" she asked, disbelieving.

"I said, no," repeated Ryanne.

Disappointed, and hurt, Kris removed her hand, and rolled over onto her back. "Oh, okay," she sighed, and thoughts raced through her mind as to what she could have done to anger the small blonde.



"Do you know why I said no?"

"No," the soldier confessed, softly.

Ryanne grinned, as she moved to straddle the tall soldier's waist. "Because, it's your turn," she said, and Kris swallowed hard at the emerald eyes that seemed to devour her soul with a glance.


The blonde started off slow, kissing her way down to the collar of Kris' shirt, before peeling it off and continuing her trek. Just as the soldier was about remove Ryanne's shirt herself, the woman stopped her ministrations, and gasped.

"Oh, Kris," said Ryanne, quietly.

Kris frowned. "What is it?"

"Your shoulder," said the blonde, staring at the ugly scar that was illuminated in the low lighting. "What happened?"

"Got in the way of a bullet," she shrugged, and frightened green eyes met her own steady blue gaze.


"When I wrote you that last letter I mailed," Kris confessed.

"…and you didn't tell me?" Ryanne questioned, a little hurt.

"I didn't want to worry you."

Ryanne just shook her head, lovingly, and lightly kissed the mark, before tracing it with her tongue, causing Kris to take a surprised breath. And the rest of the night was a passionate blur…

At any rate, she waited until Monday to talk with Mark.

Clearing her mind of nevertheless pleasant thoughts, Kris knocked on the door, and walked inside the man's office when he called, glancing up at her as she saluted him.

"At ease. Private Thompson, what can I do for you?" he asked, and she grinned.

"Sir, I have something I need to talk to you about," she said, and he nodded.

"Go ahead," he prompted, motioning for her to sit down, as he put his pencil down, the papers in front of him forgotten as he prepared to listen to the recruit.

"Do you remember the last time I told you that, sir?" The man frowned, not sure where the sudden question had come from. "It was many years ago, my first year on base, and I said I'd only tell you what I had to say if you promised not to discharge me for it."

"What are you talking about?" Mark asked, confused. The woman hadn't even been enlisted for a year!

"That was when I came out to you; told you I was gay. I knew it put my career in jeopardy, but I had to tell you before the rumors reached the officers," Kris said. "Do you remember what you told me, Mark?"

The Captain got to his feet, as he remembered the woman who had held that confidential discussion with him, and became angry at the impostor who would play such a sick prank. He'd known the late Staff Sergeant for seventeen years, and they'd become close friends in that time - how dare this woman walk in his office and say such things about the personal life of a soldier she didn't even know!

And when did he tell her she could call him "Mark" ?

"I don't know who told you that about Staff Sergeant Kris Jones, Private, but…"

"You told me that, the way I worked, it wouldn't have mattered to you if I was purple with contagious yellow spots, you'd have kept me on base," the woman continued, as though she hadn't been interrupted. "I trusted you, and that was when we became friends.

"Mark, sit down before you bust something," she said to the man, whose face was turning an alarming shade of red. Numbly, Captain Bowman obeyed, and just stared at the soldier in front of him.

"Kris?" he asked, finally, and the woman nodded. "But, that's not possible…"

"It is," said Ryanne, coming into the office from her place just outside the door. "I didn't believe it either, Mark, but it's her."

"How…?" the man sputtered, and Kris grinned.

"I had amnesia," she sighed. "Couldn't remember anything, re-enlisted, saw Cassidy, remembered everything, and that's about the size of it."

The Captain was silent for a moment, before breaking out into a large grin, and coming out from behind his desk to give the woman a strong hug. "You're alive!" he said, and Kris laughed, lightly.

"I couldn't let Ryanne cut your head off, now, could I?"

"Do you want to be promoted up to your old rank?" asked Mark, and Kris nodded. "Let me fill out the paper work, and figure out what needs to be done, okay? You're welcome to move into your old quarters, however; no one's using them," he added, finding the spare key and giving it to her, and the solder smiled.

"Thanks, Mark," she said, shaking his hand before walking out the door with Ryanne. "Well, that went well," she sighed, happily, and Ryanne laughed.

"I think you scared him there for a minute," the blonde said, and Kris shrugged.

"Time to go get my things!" she exclaimed, as Ryanne walked along beside her, following her to "Private Thompson's" quarters, where she'd help Kris transfer her things to "Staff Sergeant Kris Jones'" room.

Walking through the quad area, Ryanne stopped dead in her tracks, staring at a figure that was coming steadily nearer. The woman's green eyes widened in disbelief, and Kris frowned, trying to figure out what the blonde was looking at that had her so upset.

Ryanne groaned as the brunette came closer. The woman wore short shorts, sandals, and a halter top that showed plenty of cleavage. Her dark green eyes brightened upon seeing the small blonde, and her curly hair bounced across her shoulders as she quickened her pace.

"This can't be happening," Ryanne muttered, and Kris raised an eyebrow at her.

"Ryanne!" the woman exclaimed, giving her a quick hug. It did not go unnoticed by the tall soldier that she kept her arm around the blonde's shoulders.

"Ryanne, who is this?" asked Kris.

"Kris, this is Desiree," introduced the uncomfortable woman, and the thin woman named Desiree interrupted her before she could finish.

"Current lover," she said, with a wink, extending her manicured hand to the tall soldier. "And you are…?"

Kris smiled, wryly. "Nobody," she replied, walking away before Desiree could see the stricken look cross her face.

"Kris!" Flinging Desiree's arm from her body, Ryanne hurried to follow her. "Kris, wait. She's not -"

The soldier held up her hand, silencing the blonde. "I know how long I was away," she said, simply. "You thought I was gone - I don't blame you for moving on.

"I love you very much, Ryanne, but I think you need some time to work out a few things, before we can pick up where we left off before the war," she said, her blue eyes looking sad and hurt.

"I'll give you a week to think about what you want to do," she added. "I was planning on taking a small vacation, anyway." With that, she continued on her way to her former quarters to retrieve her belongings, while Ryanne stood there, dumbfounded by the sudden turn of events.

"Something wrong, babe?" asked Desiree, coming up behind the woman to slip her arms around Ryanne's waist.

Fiery green eyes were turned in her direction, and she involuntarily took a step back. "What the hell is your problem, Desiree?" Ryanne demanded, angry. "Why do you always have to act like we're together?"

"Come on, RC," protested the woman, weakly. "You know me - we've always done it. It's just a joke."

Ryanne sighed. "Not to her," she said, rubbing her eyes, tiredly, vainly trying to ward off the headache she felt coming on. "You don't understand, Desiree. Wait, what are you doing here in the first place?"

"My brother is a soldier," she explained. "I was going to go see him when I saw you. Guess I screwed up, huh?"

The blonde snorted. "That's putting it nicely. You may have just royally fucked up my relationship," she said, realizing that Kris had no reason to think Desiree was lying, or just having fun.

"Gee, I'm sorry," said the brunette, honestly. "I'll stay out of your hair from now on, hm?"

"Do that," spat Ryanne, spinning on her heel as she went to call a cab, figuring Kris wouldn't hand over her keys, and a truck ride home with the hurt soldier didn't sound all that exciting.

When Ryanne got home, she was surprised to see Kris' truck in the driveway. Hurrying inside, she stood in the doorway of their bedroom, her heart in her throat as she watched Kris pack her bags. When the tall woman turned to leave, she started for a moment, upon seeing Ryanne behind her.

"Don't," pleaded the small woman, trying to block the soldier's path, but Kris just sighed and walked past her. "Damn it, Kris, don't you walk away from me!" The tone of Ryanne's voice was enough to make the soldier stop in her tracks, just a few feet down the hall. "Please, don't leave us like this," Ryanne said.

Without turning around, Kris asked, evenly, "Why?"

Ryanne hesitated, and then answered, honestly, "Because I don't you to walk out of here, leaving me to wonder if you're ever coming back, or if I'll never see you again. Kris, I just got you back; I don't want to lose you to a stupid argument," she admitted.

Kris sighed, and slowly walked back over to the bed, dropping her duffel bag on the floor as she sat down and put her head in her hands. "I've got twenty minutes," she said. "Explain."

The blonde didn't delay. "Desiree and I were together for a few months in high school, but it didn't work out. I've run into her a few times since then, and she always acts like we're still a couple, even if both of us are with someone else. Today was the first time I've seen her in two years," she added. "We're not together."

"Then why was she at the base? She's obviously not a soldier," snorted the tall woman.

"Her brother is," responded Ryanne.

"So, you weren't with anyone else while I was gone?" Kris asked, after a period of silence.

"Of course not!" cried the blonde.

"And when you heard the news of my death?"

"Don't you understand?" demanded Ryanne. "There's no one else because I don't want anyone else, Kris. I love you."

Kris couldn't help it; after being gone for a year, half of that time spent "dead", she had trouble believing that the beautiful Ryanne had not found someone else to love. She had to ask.

"Promise?" The tall, strong soldier's normally rich voice was weak and scared, as she feared the possibly negative response.

The hollow and insecure look to Kris' deep blue eyes was enough to make Ryanne lose her breath. She suddenly realized that Kris doubted her faithfulness - and had every right. Not only had she lost her memory, the soldier hadn't seen her for a year, but when she did return, some woman claimed to be Ryanne's lover!

"Oh, Kris," she sighed, and sat down on the bed beside her. "I promise with all my heart. I understand why you would doubt it, and I can't tell you anything else but trust me. I have always and will always love you."

"Thank you," murmured Kris, pulling the woman into a fierce hug. "I'm just a little unsure of what to think right now. I love you, too." Glancing at her watch, she sighed. "I need to go; I've got some things I need to get done. I'll be back," she assured the blonde. "I'll call you tonight, okay?"

Ryanne nodded, and made sure to give Kris a quick kiss before she left.

Chapter Twenty

Kris sighed as she sat down in her seat, after stowing her duffel bag in the overhead compartment, and buckled her seat belt, as the captain reported they were ready to pull away from the gate soon.

"Is this seat taken?" asked an elderly man, startling the soldier from her thoughts of Ryanne, and she shook her head.

"No, sir," she said, respectfully, and he smiled as he took the seat next to her.

"Thank you," he said. "I almost didn't get on, because they said I was too late, but I told them I had an emergency to go home for, and they let me on."

"I hope everything's all right," said Kris, sympathetically.

The man nodded. "Thanks, again. I'm Cain Forester," he said, extending his hand, which Kris took, and thought back to her own father, lost just a year before.

"Kris Jones," she acknowledged.

"Something wrong?" he asked, noticing her absent stare.

The tall soldier shook her head, clearing her thoughts. "No, sorry. It's just you remind me of my dad."

Cain grinned, his gray eyes light, wrinkles forming around his mouth, familiarly, evidence to the fact that the man smiled a lot. "I hope that's a good thing," he joked.

Kris nodded. "Yes, sir," she affirmed, smiling a little.

"What branch of the services are you in?" asked the balding man, after a short silence during the plane's ascent into the clouds.

"How'd you know?"

"I haven't been called sir in a long time; since my days in Vietnam," he said. "So, you're either extremely polite, or enlisted."

"I'm a Staff Sergeant in the Army," said Kris, and the two spent the entire flight talking of military life, and war.

* * * * *

"You're kidding!" exclaimed the man, laughing.

"Nope," said Kris. "I swear to God - he slept on poison ivy, or something just like it. I had to order him to wear his gloves for a few days, before he scratched himself to infection," she added, wryly.

Cain chuckled. "Oh, Matt would love to hear that one," he commented.

"Is Matt your son?" Kris guessed, kindly.

The old man paused. "No," he said, "Matt is my partner. I came out to Colorado to visit some family, but I got a call yesterday saying his cancer was getting worse. That's why I'm flying home today," he said, and was met silence.

The quiet unnerved the man, and he hoped he hadn't just alienated the nice woman beside him by his slip of the tongue, but he relaxed when Kris said, "I hope he's all right. I'm sure he'll be glad to see you."

Cain breathed a sigh of relief, and agreed. "What about you? Got anyone waiting at home?" he asked, smoothly.

Kris bit her lip. "Well, I hope so," she said. "Home is back in Colorado, I've got to visit a few friends in Texas, but I hope with all my heart she'll be there when I get back. I'm still a little worried, though," she admitted.

"Everything will be okay," he assured her, patting her arm, gently.

Please, let everything be okay, pleaded Kris. She realized then she'd left their relationship hanging on a feeling she didn't like.

* * * * *

Kris sighed as her blue eyes scanned the houses for the number she was searching for. 1752 West Lauren Drive, Houston, Texas. That's the address she was given for one Henry Gregg. Pulling her rental car against the curb of the small gray two-story house, she walked up the driveway, admiring the lush green grass of the yard, and knocked on the front door.

A few moments later, a small woman with graying hair answered the door, and looked up into her face, wary brown eyes failing to recognize the woman.

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

"I'm looking for Henry Gregg," responded Kris.

"And you are…?"

"A friend," was her reply, not wanting to ruin the surprise, but not wanting to frighten the woman, presumably Mrs. Gregg, either.

"Mom, who's at the door?" came a voice, and a young boy limped down the stairs slowly, with the aid of a cane. Henry Gregg's jaw hit the ground when he saw who the visitor was, and was unable to stop the disbelieving smile that crossed his still youthful face.

"This lady says she knows you," Mrs. Gregg said, and Henry nodded.

"Yeah, it's all right, Ma," he said, kindly. "Why don't you go back in the living room, and I'll clean up the kitchen when I'm done here, okay?" She smiled up at him, and patted his cheek as she walked into the other room.

"Ma'am, what are you doing here?" he asked, opening the screen door. "I hope you don't mind if we talk outside, ma'am; my mother doesn't like to hear anything about the war," Henry said, and Kris agreed.

"No problem," she said, following him around the side of his house to the backyard, where two chairs were set up around a small table with an umbrella for shade.

"Last I heard, you were dead, ma'am," he said, sitting across from her. "I saw the bomb land!"

Kris grinned. "Well, I'm obviously not dead, but I did have amnesia for a few months," she said. "Just got home a few days ago, but figured I'd come say hi. You're looking pretty good on two legs, there," she added, and he smiled.

"Yes, ma'am," he said, lifting his right pant leg, and revealing a metal prosthetic leg, "this works pretty good. Doesn't hurt as much as it did when I first got it, and I can almost go without the cane, now," he said, proudly.

"You're doing well," she complimented, and smiled warmly at his mother as she walked out with a glass of lemonade for them both, before returning to the house, where she cleaned the kitchen for her son while he visited with his friend.

"This is quite a surprise, ma'am," he said, and Kris chuckled.

"Henry, if I can call you Henry, you can call me Kris," she said. "There's no rank between us anymore, okay?"

The boy nodded, brushing his blonde hair out of his eyes. "Okay," he sighed. "So, what brings you out to Texas?"

"You." Blue eyes widened as the boy nearly fell off his chair. His former commanding officer had come all the way from Colorado to Texas just to see him?! Wow. "I flew out here yesterday, and thought I'd see how you were doing. I go back in a week."

"How's Ryanne doing? Is she with you?" The boy craned his neck, as if searching for the woman he'd heard so much about.

Kris shook her head. "She's at home with Cassidy," said the tall woman. "She's in school now, and somebody has to be there to take care of her. Besides, we had a little disagreement, and I think we need some time apart," she added.

"But, Kris, you just got home!" protested Henry.

"I know, but I think we need this," she said. "I'm sure everything will be okay. Hey, do you remember that time York was convinced there was a vulture out to get him?"

Henry laughed, remembering the event, and not minding the not-so-subtle change in subject. "Yeah," he said, "we had to take his gun away for a while, before he made the damned things extinct, or wasted his bullets. How about when he thought there was a snake in his bag, but it was only the rag he used to clean his rifle?

"That boy was so gullible," the boy said. "I think we all had way too much fun scaring the crap out of him once or twice. He was a good soldier, though." They talked for over an hour, and the topic gradually moved from the amusing memories to the more serious ones.

Gregg brought up one event in particular, and Kris frowned.

"What? I don't remember that," she said, thinking hard to recall the scene, but finding nothing of the sort in her memory.

Henry glared at her. "What? What do you mean, you don't remember? How can you fucking forget that? You pulled the goddamned trigger!" he exclaimed, slamming his hand down on the table. "How can you forget the look on -"

"Look, I just don't remember, all right?" Kris interrupted his tirade. "Maybe some things are still a little fuzzy. With my luck, I'll remember it," she mumbled. "Listen, I don't have too much time over here. Do you think we could go see your brother?"

With a sigh, the boy nodded, and climbed in the car next to his former commanding officer, directing her as she drove down the small town roads. Side by side, both limping a little, the two soldiers walked solemnly down the rows of marble stones, before Henry gestured that they were at his sibling's marker.

"Hey, Bradley," said Kris, kneeling before the headstone as Henry stood respectfully behind her. "See? Told you he was a good kid," she said, jerking her thumb in Henry's direction, as he bit his lip to fight back the tears. "As you can tell, he made it out okay, and so did I. You should have seen some of the things he did, Bradley. I think it would have amazed even you.

"But, maybe he got his determination from you," she continued. "I don't know if you realized it, but your "can-do" attitude is what helped keep the squad going. And you were right, we all made it home. And so did you - you're home, soldier. You served well, and I am proud to have known you. Rest, now," she said, standing to salute her fallen comrade, clapping Henry on the shoulder as the walked solemnly back to the car.

After dropping the boy off at his house, Kris drove around until she found a decent motel at a good price, and made arrangements to stay there for the night, since her next day's travel would take her too far from her current location to warrant staying an extra night at the same inn.

Kris grabbed the phone as she kicked off her shoes, and sat down on the large queen-size bed, pleased with the immaculate condition of the room. Dialing the number quickly, she grinned at the soft voice that answered on the third ring.

"Hey, Cassidy," she said, but the girl was strangely silent, handing the phone abruptly to her mother, the small girl's anger transferring through the phone lines.

"What was that all about?" asked Kris, when Ryanne came on the line, the soldier's smooth voice betraying the hurt and surprise that remained from the cold treatment.

"She's upset that you left without saying goodbye," the blonde explained. "I tried to tell her you weren't expecting to leave so suddenly, but she just said she at least wanted a note."

"But, surely she knows I love her!" the soldier protested.

"Kris," sighed Ryanne, "you're not even home for two full days, after being gone for a year, and then, when we finally have you back, you leave for a week without saying a single word to her."

"Oh. I see," said the soldier. "Well, listen, I'll come home tomorrow, okay? It's not really a big deal to change my ticket. And then I'll make it up to her. And you," she added, softly.

"I thought you had something more important to do," said the blonde, curtly.

Kris winced. "Important? Sure," she acknowledged. "More important? Never. Look, I really shouldn't have left like that, and I'm sorry. I guess I'm still having a hard time believing that you'd stay with someone like me, when you could have anyone."

There was silence on the line for a moment, that lasted too long for Kris' comfort. "So, what we shared last night did nothing to change your mind? What, did you think I just wanted to get a good lay from you while I got some on the side?" Ryanne demanded.

"Now, I didn't say that," began Kris, haltingly, trying to recover from the stinging accusation.

"But you meant it," spat Ryanne, angrily. "Look, I really don't want to have this conversation over the phone. If we're going to fight, let's do it in person, and get it over with. Come home if you want to, or don't," the blonde finished, and Kris held the phone numbly, even as the dial tone sounded in her ear.

Just as she replaced the phone on its base, it rang, and she picked it up, hoping that somehow Ryanne had called her back, so they could talk, and resolve the problem.

"Hello?" she greeted, praying to hear the voice of the small blonde she loved.

"Do you have enough towels, ma'am?" came the voice.

"What?" she asked, startled.

"Is everything okay with the room? Do you need anything?" asked the man from the front desk, calling to check on her satisfaction.

"No, it's fine," she said, and replaced the receiver, somberly. After twenty minutes passed with a silent phone, Kris gave up hoping that Ryanne would try to reconcile their argument anytime in the immediate future.

"When did I screw it up?" she asked herself, aloud. "When I lost faith in her feelings again," she answered, sadly. "Fuck, I can't believe I did that. I know she loves me, she told me, and she even forgave me for doubting her. But, will she do it again?" Not liking the response that was on the tip of her tongue, the tall woman crawled under the covers of the motel bed, wondering if she'd have someone to go home to the next day; and praying that, for once, what her heart was telling her was wrong.

* * * * *

The following afternoon found Kris driving her truck home from the airport, having changed her ticket as she'd said. She'd wanted to spend a little more time with Henry and the other men, but instead was coaching herself on how to grovel.

"I've got to go in there, tell her how much I love her, and beg her not to leave," she said. "If she's even there," the soldier sighed, and fell silent. Her worst fear, the one thing that was tying her stomach in knots, was that the small blonde would be gone from her life forever.

Gathering her courage, the tall soldier set her duffel bag by the front door as she walked in, and found her nightmare transformed into a painful reality. With a pack slung over her shoulder, Ryanne was walking down the hall - she was leaving!

Blue eyes wide, Kris took the startled woman by the arm, drug her into their bedroom, and closed the door behind them.

"What are you doing?" asked Ryanne, slightly annoyed.

"We need to talk," pleaded Kris.

"Okay…" drawled the blonde. "Well, I'm a little busy right now, but once I get this done, we can discuss this."

Turning to leave, the woman was surprised when Kris spun her back around, and dropped to one knee before her, taking the delicate hands in her own larger ones.

"Ryanne, please," the soldier begged. "I love you with all my heart, honey. I'm sorry I acted like such a jerk - I shouldn't have doubted your feelings for me. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you, sweetheart. Please, don't leave me," Kris finished, her voice hoarse as a tear made its way down her chiseled cheek.

A fair eyebrow raised at her antics. "Kris, I'm not going anywhere," said Ryanne, to the woman's relief. "Cassidy's going to spend the night at her friend's house - this is her bag. Now, if you'll let me go, I'll get her on her way, and then we can talk, okay?" she offered.

With a sheepish look on her face, Kris nodded, and released the blonde as she got to her feet. Sitting on the bed, she waited patiently for Ryanne to return.

"Cassidy, your ride is here!" called the blonde, hearing the horn honk, and the girl ran out of her room, hugging her mother tightly, before flying into the bedroom to give Kris a quick hug, a small child's grudges being about as long as a goldfish's memory. Then, completely oblivious to the tension between the two women she was leaving behind, she grabbed her backpack as she rushed out the door.

"Now," said Ryanne, closing the bedroom door once more and sitting down beside the soldier, "do you want to tell me what's going on in that thick head of yours?"

"At this very moment? I'm thanking every higher power I can think of that you're not leaving me," Kris said. "I love you so much, Ryanne; you are just so amazing, I've stopped trying to figure out how you can be so forgiving. I know I probably wouldn't have forgiven me, had the tables been reversed," she admitted.

Ryanne sighed. "Kris, I understand why you asked me the first time - you were scared," she said. "You had every right to doubt my feelings, then, and that's why I forgave you. But when you asked me again, even after I had promised, it was like you didn't trust me. And that hurt," the blonde said, gently. "Why did you even ask me in the first place? Well, besides the obvious help from Desiree, what made you feel the need to question my love for you?"

Kris took time to think about her response, wanting to be truthful to both Ryanne, and herself. "I just had a hard time believing that someone like you wouldn't have found someone else to love," she said. "I mean, think about it, Ryanne. You're the most beautiful, smart, caring, funny, loving person I've ever known. You are the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I found it hard to imagine that you hadn't found someone else to give that love to," the woman explained.

Ryanne glanced over at the woman, and gave her a hard look. "Did you think I stopped loving you when you walked out that door to fight a war? Or when you boarded that plane to some godforsaken country a million miles away?" she asked. "Did you think I loved you any less when I thought you were gone from my life forever?

"Kris, as far as I knew, you were dead," Ryanne continued. "You had died standing up for what you believed in, for fighting for you country. Did you think I stopped loving you just for being you? No; I loved you even more.

"And then, when I didn't think I could fit any more devotion into my heart, I found out you were alive and you came home - and I proved myself wrong. I care for you more than I thought could ever be possible.

"So, if you think for one minute that I could ever find someone else to love, or to share my life with, you're got another thing coming." Having finished her fervent speech, the small blonde fell quiet, awaiting the tall soldier's response, which was a while in coming because the woman had to wipe the tears from her eyes before she could say anything.

And even when the soldier was able to speak, she chose not to. Pulling the smaller woman tightly against her, Kris wept into her shoulder, mumbling various incoherent strings of phrases. Ryanne was able to catch an occasional "I love you", or "I'm so sorry", as she stroked the dark tresses under her fingers.

Slowly, Kris raised her head, meeting Ryanne's tender gaze. "Our first fight," she said, weakly.

"Yeah," agreed the blonde, lovingly brushing away Kris' tears with her thumb. "Let's not do it again any time soon, hm?"

Kris grinned. "Deal," she said. Sighing contentedly, the tall soldier snuggled closer, as Ryanne turned in her hold, and they rested together as the moon smiled down upon the entangle lovers. Feeling almost giddily happy, the soldier resigned herself to sleep…

The tall woman soldier crept through the darkness, every crunch of the gravel sounding like an explosion under her feet. Motioning with her hand, she gestured her men forward, and, in groups of three, they moved in on the small campground. An old abandoned building, windows long gone, bullet holes in the walls, only three of the four barriers left standing.

In the pale moonlight, the woman could make out the door, and sidled along the outside of the building, being as quiet as possible. The moonbeams fell upon her face, illuminating the sharp features, making her blue eyes glow, and bathing the soldier in the light.

Readying her M-16 semiautomatic rifle, she rounded the corner, dropping the barrel of the gun down as she turned…

Kris awoke with a start, and bolted up in bed. Her breathing was fast, and shallow, her heart was racing, and she was covered in a cold sweat. The only thing she was missing was the bloodcurdling scream. Which wouldn't come, for she had long ago willed herself not to cry out after a nightmare.

The tall woman remembered nothing of her now fading dream, but knew it must have been terrible - she had managed to forgo the tortures of a bad dream since she'd regained her memory. Why were they starting again?

Glancing down, Kris was glad she hadn't bothered Ryanne, as it was scarcely 2:00 in the morning, and slowly eased back under the covers. With a sigh, she lay awake for a long while, before sleep came and took her away again.

* * * * *

The morning brought bloodshot blue eyes fluttering open, and Kris groaned. She'd gotten all of two hours sleep, and the Captain wanted her to…

Wait a minute, she thought. I've got a week's leave. He's not expecting me back until this weekend. I can sleep in! Sighing in relief, she closed her eyes again, and resigned herself to a quiet day of peaceful relaxation with Ryanne, until Cassidy came home from school in the afternoon.

But she couldn't fall asleep. Sleep meant dreams, and dreams meant nightmares. Nightmares that seemed too much like a memory for the soldier's comfort. She knew there was more to her nightmare, but she didn't want to find out.

Realizing a peaceful sleep was nearly impossible, the tall woman climbed out of bed, kissed the slumbering blonde gently on the forehead, and walked outside to spend time with her mare.

"Hi, girl," said Kris, and Wind Dancer snorted her own greeting. "Did you have a good night?" The horse nodded, tossing her strong head in response.

"Well, I didn't," she sighed, taking a brush and beginning to groom the Palomino. "Haven't had a nightmare in a while, but I did last night. It was one of the war - a bad one. I didn't finish it, but it came back every time I tried to go back to sleep," she confessed.

Wind Dancer whinnied her sympathies, and Kris patted her neck, before lifting a hoof to give it a good cleaning, as she did at least once a week, and more often if she was going to ride her.

By the time she was finished, she began to wonder if maybe she was dreaming about the war because some part of her felt she hadn't resolved everything yet - she decided to go see the family of Robert Thompson. Leaving a note on the kitchen table for Ryanne, she showered and dressed in a hurry, and then jumped in her truck, heading for the Thompson residence with a heavy feeling in her stomach.

* * * * *

"Mr. Thompson?" she greeted, when the man opened the door.

"Yes…" he drawled, not recognizing the tall woman that stood before him. He had been on his way to work when the doorbell rang, and wondered who would be visiting before eight in the morning.

"My name is Kris Jones, and…"

The man's brown eyes narrowed as he recalled the name. Nearly two inches shorter than the woman, he nevertheless glared at her, and stepped forward until she was forced to take a step back.

"I know who you are," he growled, the business-like suit doing nothing to calm his appearance as he advanced on the soldier. "My son wrote us letters home, telling us how good of an officer you were," David Thompson continued. "Some officer, letting my son die like that!"

Kris swallowed her tears at the accusation. "Mr. Thompson, I assure you, I did everything in my power to save your son," she said. "He was one of my best soldiers; I would've given my own life, and I'll do it right now, but the only reason I don't is because I know it won't bring him back. If I knew there was even the remotest possibility of trading my life for his, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

"It was war, Mr. Thompson; you can't choose who lives and who dies. If I could, believe me, Robert would be here with you right now; and so would every other American soldier who gave their life out there," she concluded, meeting the man's gaze.

David was quiet for a moment, and then looked down. "I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have attacked you like that. Please, come in." Gesturing her inside, he figured work could wait, if this woman could tell him any news about his son's death, and the things he was sure Robert had left out of his letters.

It was almost three hours later before Kris left, and she felt a lot better, having given the Thompson's her condolences in person, and clearing up the small mystery concerning their son's untimely passing. Checking her watch, she guessed that Ryanne was only now getting up, having had the chance to sleep in, and made sure she entered the house quietly.

Sneaking through the hallway, she grinned to herself when she saw the small blonde standing by the closet, trying to decide what to wear, with only a towel wrapped around herself. Stepping into the room, she silently crept up behind the woman, and slipped her arms around the delicate waist, eliciting a tiny gasp from Ryanne.

"You scared me!" she complained, turning around, relieved to see Kris standing behind her. "What are you doing sneaking up on me like that?"

"Just wanted to say good morning," the soldier pouted, kissing Ryanne gently on the forehead.

"How did your visit with the Thompsons go?" she asked, and Kris smiled.

"Very well, after a rough beginning," she said, and Ryanne returned the smile, glad everything had gone okay. She'd worried, fearing that perhaps Robert's parents would be angry, but now felt better for the tall soldier.

"What do you say to a long day of vegging out in front of the TV together?" Ryanne offered, and Kris pretended to think about it, seriously.

"Hm," she sighed. "Well, I was thinking of something more along the lines of relaxing in bed all day. With you, of course," she added, smirking at the sullen look that crossed the blonde's face.

"Oh, well, why didn't you say so?"

Kris raised an eyebrow at her, and deftly un-tucked the corner of the towel that kept it from falling, watching as it dropped to the floor. "I did," she stated, scooping Ryanne up into her arms, planning on starting the day off right.

Chapter Twenty-One

The week passed by slowly for the soldier, who began to get less and less sleep each night. Every time the sun set, her stomach tied itself in knots, preparing for the torture she knew was to come. Without fail, she fell asleep at some point, and relived a little bit more of her nightmare.

On Wednesday, the day of her visit with Robert's parents, she woke up in a cold sweat, just before she could clear the second room of the building. By Thursday night, she knew there was someone there when she turned, and on Friday night, she watched herself pull the trigger.

Each day that followed a night without sleep, only made the soldier more restless and more irritable. The woman thought Ryanne was becoming worried, but the blonde hadn't said anything, so Kris chalked it up to imagination.

But Friday… Friday, the tall woman was unable to wake up before she came to the horrible conclusion of her night terror…

The tall woman soldier crept through the darkness, every crunch of the gravel sounding like an explosion under her feet. Motioning with her hand, she gestured her men forward, and, in groups of three, they moved in on the small campground. An old abandoned building, windows long gone, bullet holes in the walls, only three of the four barriers left standing.

In the pale moonlight, the woman could make out the door, and sidled along the outside of the building, being as quiet as possible. The moonbeams fell upon her face, illuminating the sharp features, making her blue eyes glow, and bathing the soldier in the light.

Readying her M-16 semiautomatic rifle, she rounded the corner, dropping the butt of the rifle so it was flush against her shoulder as she turned, quickly scanning the room for any occupants. The barrel of her gun followed the soldier's piercing blue eyes, in case she had to make a quick shot.

Keeping her right hand near the trigger well, she motioned the men forward with her left, never losing sight of the space in the cross-hairs of her weapon. Once again moving in groups, they secured the room, Henry Gregg being able to participate by crawling along on his stomach, acting like more of a sniper, and Kris moved ahead of them, silently. All wore night-vision goggles, but the green scenes revealed poor detail.

Taking a deep breath, she slid along the wall, moving towards the next corner with ease. Readying her weapon, the female soldier turned past the barrier, shouldering her weapon as she did so. Blue eyes narrowed when she saw a form in the center of the large room, and she placed the person, as it was, in her sights. When she saw the gun being raised in her direction, she reacted without thinking, and pulled the trigger.

The shot that rang out was deafening, and it echoed throughout the dilapidated building, the kick of the weapon also causing Kris to grit her teeth as it jarred her shoulder. Instantly, the soldiers under her command flooded the room, and secured the rest of the room, as well as the small back rooms that completed the shelter. That done, with no further incidents, the returned to their commanding officer, who was slowly approaching the still figure on the ground.

"Holy shit," swore Parker, as the beams from his flashlight illuminated the victim of the Staff Sergeant's weapon. The small girl couldn't have been more than eight years old, with shoulder-length hair, and eyes that were already beginning to glaze over, despite the fact that she was taking ragged breaths. Clutched in one hand was the gun that Kris had fired upon, and in the other, a delicate homemade teddy bear.

"I… I think she's saying some sort of prayer, ma'am," whispered Henry.

"Fuck," was the only word Kris uttered, upon realizing the child was still alive… But no longer. Knowing she'd regret it later, but also knowing she couldn't break down in front of her men, the tall soldier trailed her eyes across the body, the large hole in the girl's chest leaving no room for doubt as to the cause of death. The scan continued, and Kris' breath caught in her throat; with the expression of fear forever upon her face, the little girl lay dead by her own hand.

And the features of her beloved Cassidy stared back at her…

The woman awoke with a start, her heart pounding like it would explode from her chest, cold sweat covering her bronzed skin in a sheen of moisture. Slowly pulling back the covers, she was careful not to wake Ryanne, and softly padded down the hallway, stopping just a few doors down and peeking in to check on Cassidy.

She let out a sigh of relief when the young girl was found to be sleeping soundly, a small rabbit tucked under her arm, an old torn Army jacket covering her shoulders, and an expression of pure peace on her angelic face. Kris relaxed, and just leaned against the door jam, watching her daughter sleep for a few moments.

When she was feeling a little better, she tiptoed back to her room, and crawled back into bed, silently.

"That's the third time this week," came a soft voice, nearly making her jump out of her skin.


"That's the third time you've had a nightmare this week," said Ryanne, rolling over to fix the soldier with her worried gaze. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," said Kris, quietly.

Ryanne paused. "Do you want to talk about it? Maybe it'd help," she suggested.

The woman shook her head. "No, I can't really remember it," she lied. "Thanks, though. I'll see you in the morning," she said, kissing the blonde softly, before curling up against her and pretending to sleep.

* * * * *

The next morning, Ryanne awoke to the sunlight on her face, and was surprised to find Kris still asleep. Glancing over at the clock, she saw it was only seven in the morning, and decided to let the soldier sleep in, knowing she'd had a long night. The small blonde was concerned about the woman she loved, but hoped a good long rest might do some good.

With a sigh, she fell back asleep, thanking God it was Saturday, so Cassidy could entertain herself with cartoons, and she didn't have to worry about getting the girl to school on time.

A while later, Kris began to stir, and blue eyes fluttered open. Stretching as she looked at the clock, she leapt out of bed when the digits read 9:16.

"Kris?" mumbled a sleepy blonde.

"It's all right, honey," she said. "I just slept in."

Ryanne frowned. "But, it's Saturday."

"I know," growled Kris, as she tossed off her sleep wear and rooted through her closet for her cleanest set of camouflage. "The Captain wanted to see me about something, maybe my reinstatement, and I was supposed to be there at eight. Damn," she swore, grabbing her boots and throwing them on.

"I'm sorry, Ryanne," she sighed. "I'll be at the base if you need me, okay? I might hang out for a while, and see what's going on. Love you," she added, giving the blonde a quick kiss as she laced up her polished boots.

"Love you, too," echoed Ryanne. "Maybe Cassidy and I will stop by today."

"Okay," agreed Kris. "See you later." Giving Cassidy a kiss on the top of her head as she went out the door, the tall woman decided to brush her hair when she got on the base, and hurriedly sped down the road.

* * * * *

"Sorry I'm late, sir," she said, going directly to the Captain's office. The man looked her over, worried, and motioned for her to close the door as he invited her in.

"Rough night?" he asked, and the woman just shrugged, feeling uncomfortable that even her commanding officer noticed the circles under her eyes, at first glance.

"Well, this is what I did," he said, and explained the entire process he had gone through to reinstate her as a Staff Sergeant, from the first paper, to the last, and every signed document in between.

"Thanks, Mark," she said, when he was done nearly an hour later, shaking his hand. "I really appreciate all the trouble you went through."

"Just glad to have you back," he said, kindly, but wouldn't let her leave just yet. "So, tell me, how'd you enjoy your vacation?" With a sigh, Kris resigned herself to a long conversation with her friend, who insisted on knowing every detail, and then the history of Henry Gregg and his brother.

As the soldier walked out of the Captain's office almost an hour and a half later, and wandered around the compound, she was about to head home, when her ears picked up a familiar voice.

"Is that real?" asked Cassidy, to a passing soldier.

"Sure is," smiled the young man, kneeling down next to the youngster, showing her the rifle he held in his hand, only after quickly removing the clip. Everyone on base knew of the child, and liked her, so he figured he was just being polite, and allowing the small girl to satisfy her curiosity.

It was for that reason he was extremely startled when he felt a hand grab him by the back of his collar, and drag him to his feet.

"You keep that goddamned gun away from her, do you understand me, soldier?" hissed the Staff Sergeant, and the man gulped at the fiery blue gaze.

"B-but, ma'am, it's not loaded!" he protested.

"Do I look like I care?" snarled Kris. "If I ever see you, or anyone else for that matter, come anywhere near Cassidy with a gun, even if it's fucking disassembled, I will kick your sorry ass all the way into next week, is that understood?" she demanded, and the man nodded, running when his feet hit the ground.

Turning to face her daughter, the tall woman crouched down, and placed her hands on the girl's shoulders. "Cassidy," she began, "guns are very dangerous, okay? I don't want to see you around them. If you see someone with a gun, and you don't know them or you're scared, I want you to run away from there as fast as you can, all right?"

The girl nodded - she knew she wasn't supposed to touch guns, but she figured if the adults had them, the least she could do was look at them, safely, as long as she really didn't touch them.

Despite the agreement from the child, Kris wasn't finished yet. In her nightmare, Cassidy had been killed by a gun; she was going to make sure that never happened. "Guns hurt people, very badly. They are not toys, do you understand?"

"Momma," cried Cassidy, squirming in the suddenly firm hold on her arms, "you're hurting me!"

Kris released her hands in an instant. "Oh, Cassidy," she said, tears coming to her eyes as she realized she had been so worried about making sure Cassidy stayed away from guns she didn't notice her grip on the young child becoming stronger. Pulling the girl to her, she hugged her tightly, saying, "I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I never meant to hurt you. Momma never, ever wants to hurt you, okay? I promise. God, I'm so sorry," as the tears soaked into the small T-shirt Cassidy wore.

"It's okay, Momma," said the girl, squeezing the woman tightly around the neck, trying to make her feel better, not understanding why she was crying into her shoulder.

Just a few yards away, a pair of worried green eyes narrowed as Ryanne watched the scene unfold. Something was very wrong with her soldier. And she was going to find out what it was. Soon.

* * * * *

"I'm home," Kris called, as she walked through the door. She knew Ryanne had been at the base, since she'd seen Cassidy, but had missed talking to the blonde. The soldier figured the two were home, since it had taken a long while to regain her composure since her encounter with the girl. Nearly an hour had passed before the tall woman felt she was steady enough to leave on her own two feet, having washed all traces of tears from her face.

As the tall soldier went through the house, she entered the kitchen, and saw Ryanne sitting at the table. Any thoughts of giving the woman a kiss faded from Kris' mind when she saw the look on the blonde's face.

"Ryanne? What's wrong?" she asked, concerned.

"Sit down," said Ryanne, tonelessly, and Kris obeyed, swallowing hard. "Kris, Cassidy has marks on her arms, like someone grabbed her." The tall woman hung her head, and said nothing. "You wanna tell me about it?"

"What do you mean?" Kris asked, blue eyes flashing.

"Kris, I saw you," the blonde said. "I saw the way you reacted to that soldier, and I saw what you did to Cassidy."

"What, are you spying on me, now?" the soldier demanded.

"No, I'm just worried about you, honey," explained Ryanne, gently.

"I'm fine," was the terse reply.

"No, you're not. Kris, you haven't been sleeping well, and the nightmares…"

Kris stood up, angrily. "Look, just leave me the hell alone, all right? I said I was fine. Stop bothering me."

"No," said Ryanne, grabbing the woman's arm as she tried to leave. "You left marks on my daughter's arms, and you want to tell me you're fine? I don't think so. Something's wrong, Kris," she continued, her voice softening a little. "Maybe you just need to talk to someone; I can't help you if you won't tell me what's wrong."

"I don't need your goddamn help," spat Kris, her sapphire eyes blazing. "Just stay the fuck away from me, okay? And let go of me."

"Talk to me," pleaded Ryanne, glad Cassidy was outside playing with Wind Dancer, so she didn't have to hear the argument.

"Leave. Me. Alone," growled the soldier, ripping her arm from Ryanne's grip, connecting the back of her hand with the side of the small blonde's face in the process. Ryanne took a few steps back, tasting the metallic flavor of blood in her mouth, as Kris stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind her.

"What's happening to you?" the woman whispered, wandering over to the kitchen sink to rinse out her mouth, as the taillights of Kris' truck vanished into the night.

* * * * *

"Just go in there, and apologize for being an ass," Kris coached herself. Damn, how many times have I had this conversation with myself? I've been screwing up too often. With a shaking breath, she stepped out of her truck, four hours after speeding away in a cloud of dust. "If she'll ever forgive me - dear God, I hit her!"

Upon entering the house, she followed the voices she heard, and stood hidden behind the wall next to the living room.

"…and then the mood swings, and now this," Ryanne was saying, as she laid on the couch next to her friend Barry, and adjusted the ice pack on her swollen lip.

The man sighed. "I don't know, RC," he admitted. "You say you don't know what's bothering her?" Ryanne shook her head. "Well, maybe she'll come around. Just give her a little time." Although the only thing Barry wanted to do was beat the crap out of the tall woman for striking his friend, he tried to be supportive, knowing how caring his best friend was.

"I'm just scared, Bear," confessed the woman.

That did it. Kris felt the tears well up in her eyes before she could stop them. The words were like a blow in the chest - Ryanne was afraid of her! What was worse, was she had every right to be.

Stepping into view, she raised an eyebrow at Barry as he stood in such a way so as to protect Ryanne from the tall soldier.

"I know you could throw me across this room in the blink of an eye," he said, "but better me than her."

"Barry," sighed Ryanne, moving him aside as she sat up, knowing the statement hurt Kris by the tensing in her jaw.

Kris bit her lip to keep the tears at bay so she could speak. "I'm sorry, Ryanne," she began, her facade crumbling as clear droplets of pain made their way, unbidden, down her chiseled cheek. "I swear, I never meant to hurt you or Cassidy. I love you, sweetheart, and I am so sorry for the things I said. I didn't mean it - I know you just want to help me. I don't even know what's wrong with me," she admitted.

"I'll talk to Mark tomorrow and have him recommend someone, so I can get some help, okay? I'll stay away from Cassidy, if you want… or, I'll sleep on the couch until this is over… or…"

Aware that the woman was rambling, Ryanne opened her arms, and said, lovingly, "Come 'ere."

The soldier needed no further encouragement, as she flew to the woman's side, kneeling in front of her and sobbing into her lap. Glancing up with bloodshot eyes, she traced the light bruise that was a painful reminder of her anger.

"God, I did that to you," she whispered, as her fingers touched the welt. "Why… how can you forgive me? I don't think I'll ever forgive myself. Ryanne, you have every right to be afraid of me…" Kris said, quietly.

Green eyes widened. "Oh, honey, I'm not afraid of you," she corrected. "I'm afraid for you. I don't know what's wrong; all I know is that you're hurting, and there's nothing I can do to help. That scares me," the blonde said, tugging the woman up onto the couch next to her, cradling the dark head on her shoulder as she wrapped her arms securely around the tall woman.

Kris sighed, and gently kissed the soft lips before her, pulling back lest she take a chance of aggravating the dark weal.

"Thanks for coming down, Barry," said Ryanne, upon remembering they weren't alone, and the man nodded.

"Not a problem," he assured his friend. "And you," he continued, pointing an accusing finger at Kris, "if you ever hit her again…"

Kris hung her head. "I won't," she whispered. "So help me God, I'll never do that again." Ryanne saw the tears, and gently squeezed her arm, telling the tall woman she'd forgiven her. "But, thank you, Barry, for being here for her when I wasn't."

The man sighed. "I know you love her, Kris. Just don't either of you forget it, okay?" When the women nodded, he grinned, and kissed Ryanne's cheek before he left.

"I'm so sorry, baby," said the soldier, hugging Ryanne tightly.

"I know, honey. We'll get through this together, okay?" she asked, and Kris agreed. As the two walked down the hall, Kris glanced wistfully at Cassidy's empty bedroom, Ryanne having sent her to stay with the Captain for a few days, until she was sure the girl could be in the house without witnessing an argument. "She's already forgiven you, Kris, and so have I. Come on, let's get some rest.

"And this time," she said, climbing under the blankets, "you wake me if you have a nightmare, so we can talk about it, okay? I think it'll help." With a heavy sigh, the solder nodded, and scooted closer to the small blonde, wrapping her arms around her as she tried to go to sleep.

Continued in Part 5.

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