CHAPTER 5

Kadine couldn't wait; he wanted the woman moved to his tent now. It was early morning and he had been up since dawn thinking about her. He quickly left his personal quarters, moving towards the small dark tent near the center of his camp, a wicked gleam in his eyes. He reached out, pulled the flap open and stepped into the darkened interior.

"Lura Grant, where are you? Come out! You can't hide, I know you are here." As the monster taunted his prey he lit the candles on the table in the center of the tent and turned full circle.

In one corner he saw a shrouded figure too large to be the girl. He stomped over to the figure and jerked the blanket away. There lay the last member of the American crew, dead. ‘Where was the girl?' He began throwing blankets and pillows.

"Where are you? Where are you?" He screamed. His guards rushed in, expecting to find him under attack. "Find her! Find the girl. NOW!"

The guards scattered, some inside the tent, some outside. They quickly found the cut in the rear of the tent and the footprints leaving.

"Find her, find the girl!" He screamed again. The men hurriedly followed the prints into the foothills. Kadine was close behind them. The men dutifully ran through the undergrowth, hot on the young girl's trail. Suddenly they stopped.

"Why have you stopped? He bellowed. "Keep going. I want that girl!"

"We can't my Lord." Rashiem replied, "The tracks have vanished. It's like she…flew away."

"WHAT? She is human! A simple girl! She cannot fly! Keep searching! Find her!" The madman commanded.

**

Dawn came to the small camp near the oasis and Dylan had risen with the sun. Having relieved herself, she now contemplated a bath. ‘Bet Lura would enjoy getting clean.’

Pulling an old but clean blanket from her gear she used her Bowie knife to cut out large towels. Reaching into her gear, she retrieved a small bar of soap. Taking these items down to the waters edge she returned to roust her sleeping charge.

The smaller woman had not moved. Dylan stopped for a moment and simply looked at the little blonde. She was small - maybe 5’4". Her hair, Dylan thought at first was blonde, but in the sunlight she picked out red highlights. Her skin was pale, possibly from the beating she had taken, but Dylan suspected that most of it was her natural skin tone. ‘She is as bright as I am dark.’ She thought. Complete opposites. I wonder if it’s true what they say about opposites attracting? As she watched she saw the gentle sweet expression change. The girl began to mumble and toss in her sleep.

Reaching out a sun bronzed hand she gently shook the small blonde’s shoulder. "Hey, time to wake up, daylight’s burning."

The smaller woman’s response was immediate. A startled gasp followed by an arm flung up over her head in a futile attempt to protect herself. Her body quickly curled itself into a fetal position as she cringed with a strangled cry.

"Hey, easy, it’s only me. You’re safe. No one will hurt you now I promise." Dylan whispered. She stroked the soft skin on Lura’s arm gently, as she would a spooked colt.

"Easy, take it easy, you’re safe, you’re safe."

Slowly Lura took in the words. ‘It’s her. I’m safe with her.’ Haltingly, she raised her head, looking around and dispelling the remains of the memory.

Dylan watched the fear slowly leave the frightened face. Anger building as she thought of the cause of the woman’s fear. ‘I hate him so much.’ She could almost taste the bitter flavor of her hatred and rage. Knowing that her feelings would reflect in her eyes, Dylan made the effort to calm herself and think of more pleasant thoughts.

"Hey. Your bath awaits, my lady." She said, holding out her hand and smiling.

Lura smiled back and placed her small hand into the larger, rougher hand of her tall friend. ‘Yes, she is my friend.’ She thought. Feeling the strength and warmth in the long fingers, she let the other woman help her to her feet.

"A bath? A real bath? God, you are my hero." Lura said, trying to relieve some of the tension and embarrassment she felt.

Dylan led her charge slowly to the warm pool. "We have soap, and towels for drying. You aren’t shy are you ‘cause I could really use a bath too." Dylan smiled. Hoping that the young woman would not object. She was really using the excuse to be able to assist Lura if she stumbled while in the pool.

"No, I’m not too shy. I went to an all girls school and you get over shy real quick." Lura commented with a grin.

"Do you need some help with your clothes?" Dylan offered.

"I’m not sure. I think I can handle it."

"Well, sing out if you need any help."

Lura pulled her shirt out of the waist of her pants and reached for the hem. As she lifted the tail up she felt the pain of her bruised ribs and sucked in a hiss through her teeth.

"Hey, easy there. Let me get that." Dylan said.

Coming closer, she took Lura’s arms and slowly lifted them above her head. "Keep your arms here, okay? Now, don’t, move. Let me do all the work."

Slowly and gently she slid the torn shirt up over the smaller woman’s torso. Seeing fully for the first time, the full canvas of livid bruises that now marred the smooth skin.

‘My God, that’s a boot print. How could anyone abuse something so small?’ she thought, bitterly. As she raised the shirt over Lura’s head she took in all the injuries and vowed to visit every one ten fold on the monster responsible for them.

"Okay, all done. Wait, let me get the hooks on your FTBSG." She said, smiling.

"My what?" Lura asked.

"FTBSG, it’s a military term." Dylan replied, remembering for the first time in three years the period before the massacre and smiling.

"What the heck does it stand for?" Lura asked, turning to face her nurse.

"I would tell ya but then I’d have ta kill ya." Dylan deadpanned staring into one, now wide open, green eye.

She turned the blonde around facing the pool and unhooked the lacy tan undergarment.

Her throat suddenly dry, she stepped back and turned to remove her own clothing. "All done." she said in a dull tone.

"Thanks." Lura responded feeling goose bumps appearing suddenly on her arms. Slowly she sat in the sand removing her shoes and socks.

"Better tuck your socks in your shoes if you don’t want any visitors." The dark woman commented. She had been watching the smaller woman and found herself drawn to the smooth flesh of her shoulders and the gentle curve of her breasts. "She is so beautiful." She thought, "All pink and white porcelain."

"What was that?" Lura asked.

"I said you better hurry and get in. You don’t want to burn." Dylan responded, feeling the blush creep up her neck. ‘I can’t believe I said that out loud.’ She groaned mentally slapping herself in the forehead. ‘Get a grip here Hawke. She has been through enough without your gawking at her like some idiotic teenager.’

Quickly undressing, Dylan stood and walked to the pool unaware of the startled, admiring gaze of the smaller woman.

‘Oh, my God. I am so in trouble here.’ Lura thought, catching a glimpse of long golden legs. ‘Oh boy, and no cold shower in sight.’ She smirked to herself. ‘Control Lura, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out,…’

"Are you okay?" Dylan asked, watching the small woman struggling to breathe. "Maybe this bath thing wasn’t such a good idea. We can go back to camp if you aren’t feeling well."

"No, no." Lura squeaked quickly. "I’m just getting use to the cool water."

"Oh, okay. Well, here’s the soap, let me know if you need help with your back or anything." Dylan offered, wading away to allow Lura some privacy. She couldn’t help thinking that Lura must be in a very fragile condition indeed for the water here to feel cool to her.

"Yeah, or anything, yep, sure." Lura commented turning her eye away as Dylan lay back in the water to float.

‘God help me. She looks this good and I can only see her out of one eye.’ Lura sighed.

Finishing her soak, Dylan glanced over just in time to catch the blonde trying to reach the center of her back with a soapy hand and grimacing in pain at the effort. Standing, she waded towards the other woman.

"Here let me help." Taking the bar of soap she worked up a lather and handed the slippery bar back to the blonde. Gently, she rubbed the soap into the bruised skin enjoying the feel of the warm flesh under her palms.

Lura closed her eyes, leaning into the touch and groaning in pleasure at the strength of the hands working their magic on her back.

Dylan watched the blonde woman’s eyes shut and smiled at the satisfied grin on the smaller woman’s face. ‘She looks like a small golden falcon enjoying a good scratch.’ Dylan chuckled.

The one functioning green eye opened and turned towards her. "What’s so funny?" Lura asked.

"Nothing little falcon. All done here. You go sit on one of those towels and let me finish my bath." Dylan said.

"Who you calling little?" Lura replied, smiling to let Dylan know she wasn’t truly offended.

"Just go over there and sit. You’ve had enough excitement for the morning . I don’t want you overdoing it." Dylan commented.

Dylan turned and walked back into the pool, missing the crooked grin of the other woman’s face.

"Yeah right, she tells me no excitement and trots around in the buff with a body like that. Help." Lura mumbled.

"Did you say something Lura?" Dylan asked.

"Umm, I just wondered if you needed some help."

"Oh. No thanks, I think I can handle it." Just stay over there, so I won’t drown because my mouth won’t close for gawking.

After dressing, Lura lay back on the large torn blanket to relax and admire the view.

Dylan had her back to Lura but could feel the small blonde’s eyes on her. ‘Well, she must be feeling better’. She smiled at the thought that the beautiful woman seemed to find her attractive.

Maybe it isn’t me, maybe it’s my imagination or wishful thinking, the warrior mused. There has got to be a way to figure out if she’s looking. Deep in thought Dylan was unaware of the sweating blonde behind her.

‘My god, please just kill me now before I dehydrate from drooling.’ Lura thought, rolling her eyes skyward before quickly returning them to the beautiful naked bronze body in the pool. She shook her head to clear her suddenly blurry vision as she watched Dylan bathe.

Maybe if I just kinda stretch real casual like and peek over my shoulder. Yep, that’ll work, then I can tell if she is staring. Dylan stood up tall in the water, raising her arms towards the sun and stretched, adding a purring yawn to it to add to the impression of casualness she was trying to fake.

As Lura watched, the tall wet beauty raised her arms skyward a moaned, throwing back her head and allowing the glorious black mane of hair to cascade down her back and caress the powerful muscles of her rear.

"Oh My God." Lura exclaimed just before her world went black.

Dylan heard a soft THUD and quickly glanced over her shoulder to see the blonde woman sprawled out, unconscious on the blanket. Oh no, too much sun Dylan thought, rushing out of the pool and kneeling, naked, at the other woman’s side.

"Lura, Lura, come on little falcon, open your eyes. Are you all right? Look at me. Look at me, please." Dylan patted the pale cheek softly, hoping to revive the strangely smiling woman.

Lura opened her eyes to see a vision bending over her. ‘This has got to be a dream. And since it’s a dream I might as well take full advantage of it.’ She reached up and wove her hands into the black hair, drawing the beautiful but startled face towards her. She smiled and whispered, "So beautiful." Just before she pressed her lips to the soft mouth above her.

Dylan felt her breath catch in her throat at the comment and was still too surprised to stop the kiss. She felt a small tingle travel from her lips straight to her groin as the blonde pressed harder into the kiss. ‘Whoa’, she thought. ‘If it feels this good when she’s unconscious, a conscious kiss is gonna kill me.’ She pulled her head away and stared at the dazed woman.

"Lura? Hey, wake up. You fell asleep. Wake up." She stated, hoping to avoid the possibility of facing an awkward moment.

Lura blinked and focused her still blurry vision on the soldier. "You are beautiful." She stated.

"Uh huh," Dylan replied, "and you… have had too much sun. Let me take care of your wounds then it’s time to go back to camp."

Dylan helped Lura into a sitting position on the blanket, propping her up against a large bolder and placing a canteen close at hand. Turning, she rose to her feet and strolled over to her clothes to dress, unaware of the overheated blonde, guzzling from the canteen. As Dylan bent to pick up her underwear she heard the sound of falling water. Turning quickly, she caught the smaller woman emptying the canteen over her head.

"Lura. Are you okay?"

"Umm, sure Dylan, just a bit warm. Trying to cool off, you know? gotta watch that heat stroke."

"Yeah, right." Dylan mumbled, turning back to complete her dressing and wondering if the heat really had become to much for the injured woman. Glancing over her shoulder once more she noticed the strange smile appearing once again on the blonde’s face.

Later that evening, Dylan sat near the fire sharpening the bowie knife, watching the girl sleep. She was drawn to this woman, so powerful was the need to protect her. She remembered the Medicine man on the reservation speaking of the eternal spirits; of souls that were destined to be together. He spoke of how somewhere there was a soul mated to your own. This soul was forever searching for its mate, throughout time and once found, the two would bond forever. He had told her, smiling, that the souls would find each other no matter where they were or what body they were in.

Her hand stilled and her eyes widened with a shocking realization. The dreams that reoccurred night after night… the feelings she had when she had first seen the small woman… the thrill that rushed through her body when she washed the girl’s smooth back. But it was more than that. It wasn’t sexual. Well, not all sexual. She wasn’t just drawn to the beautiful body, Lura’s soul called out for her. How had this happened? How had she found her soulmate, here, in the middle of the desert? The Spirits have a sick sense of humor. It did not matter. She was here and firmly entrenched in Dylan's heart where she would stay as long as that heart beat.

As she watched, the girl slowly opened one eye, the other still swollen shut, and stared up at the stars, smiling softly.

"What is it? Why are you smiling?" Dylan asked in a curious voice.

"It's a bear," she said.

"What?" asked Dylan, turning her blue gaze upward.

"A bear. See the tail and the little ears?" She said, pointing up at the sky.

Dylan turned her gaze skyward, "Hmmm, looks like a pitcher to me." She said, grinning.

Lura turned her smiling face towards the other woman. "Hello." She said.

"Hello," the gentle low voice responded. "How are you feeling? Would you like a drink of water?"

"Yes, please. Water would be wonderful thank you."

Lura struggled to a sitting position, still smiling at her benefactor.

"How could she be so serene after the beating she’s taken? She sits there as if she were in a formal living room being served tea from expensive china. Instead, she’s lying here, bruised and battered almost beyond recognition, in the middle of the Saudi desert. She’s sitting on a dirty camel hair blanket, drinking warm water from an old canteen." Dylan held the canteen out to the girl and waited patiently for her to finish drinking.

After recapping the canteen Dylan spoke softly to the young woman. "Lura, I have to check your injuries. I may have to bandage some of them. This may hurt, but I will be as gentle as I can."

Dylan reached over to help the younger woman to lean forward. Reaching out to gently lift the stained shirt she exposed the bruised ribs. The bruises were a deep purple and yellow now. Her side still showed the print of the boot that had caused the injury. Dylan felt her hands trembling in anger.

‘Never again,' she silently promised Lura.

Dylan quickly finished and snugly wrapped the damaged area. Looking up she saw that Lura had her eyes tightly closed but tears rolled slowly and silently down her pale cheeks.

Cupping the soft cheek, Dylan looked into the soft green eyes. "Lura, it's OK to cry out, really. Your ribs have got to be extremely painful. If you don't make any noise I won't know if I’m wrapping them too tightly."

"I just don't want you to think I’m a wimp." She said, "You seem so tough all the time. I just want…" She looked down at her bruised hands gripping them as tightly as she could, considering their swollen condition.

"What?" Dylan asked, "What do you want Lura?" she asked, her voice low and sultry.

Lura looked up into the celestial blue of Dylan's eyes, losing herself in their depths.

"What do you want Lura?" she asked again, leaning in closer.

God, those eyes are dangerous, Lura thought. Unable to look away and unable to voice her true feelings, Lura stammered, "I…I want…I want…I want you to…." Lura shook her head as if to clear her thoughts. "I want you to know how grateful I am for all you have done. I know you risked everything to save me and I don’t want you to think I don’t realize or appreciate it." Before Dylan could say anything else, Lura continued. "No. I mean it. You don’t even know me and I know it probably won’t make a lot of sense but what you think matters to me. I would hate for you to think me a coward. I guess in a strange way I want to make you proud of me, help you somehow. I hope that doesn’t sound too stupid." Lura watched Dylan’s face for some hint of understanding. Did the tall beauty know what she really wanted? Did she want her to know?

'Come on Lura,' she thought to herself, 'what you really want is for her to kiss you. I never had this kind of feeling for any of the men I dated. Face it girl, you never had this kind of feeling for anyone, male or female. What is going on with you?'

"I am proud of you, Lura. You are the bravest woman I know." Dylan whispered. Lowering her eyes she leaned back away from the woman. 'What am I doing? She is hurt, in pain. I am as much of an animal as those men who beat her.' Standing quickly, Dylan distanced herself from Lura. "I’m going to the pool."

Turning her back on the blonde she reached for the canteen and walked to the pool to refill it. ‘And jump in. Damn I need to cool off.’

Lura watched as the older woman glided silently away. ‘What just happened? What did I do?' She lay back, exhausted, thinking about the mysterious woman kneeling at the pool. ‘She’s incredible, what would someone like her see in me?' She closed her eyes to shut out the thoughts.

‘I have got to get her healthy and then I have to get her to safety.' Dylan thought. ‘That means away from Kadine. I have some planning to do.’

 

CHAPTER 6

Kadine paced back and forth in his tent. Rashiem knelt near the opening waiting for his boss's orders.

"I must find her. Where could she have gone? Who is helping her? She could never have made it in the desert alone." He mumbled aloud.

Rashiem watched the angry man pace, thanking Allah that he was not the cause of his anger.

"When I find her I will punish her for running. Maybe I will give her to my men to enjoy. Then she will be grateful to return to me. I will break her!" He stopped, a sadistic smile on his handsome face. "Rashiem, send out four groups, three men in each. I want them to ride out in all directions. When they find the blonde whore they are to send one of the men back to get me. The other two will keep the little whore company until I get there. They are not to touch her. GO NOW!"

Rashiem stood smoothly and bowed out of the tent, hurrying to do Kadine’s bidding.

Having returned to camp, Dylan set about gathering their equipment and as Lura rested, began moving her gear. She knew that Kadine would not give up the little blonde easily and she had to find a place that would be easy to secure as well as defend. She knew the only place that fit the bill and it tore at her heart to return there: the caves.

Lura woke to the gentle shaking of her shoulder, "Lura, come on, wakey wakey," the voice said.

"No." She grumbled, "Don't wanna, sleeping." She rolled over to pull the edge of the sleeping bag over her head and promptly jarred her tender ribs. "Ugh". She groaned, then simply rolled onto the other side and continued to snore.

Smiling, Dylan decided to try another approach, "Come on Little Falcon, open those pretty green eyes for me."

"Hey, who are you callin' "Little?" The indignant blonde said, now opening both eyes.

‘Both eyes, Hmm, well, this is an improvement.' She thought, 'Now I can see her in 3-D.'

She turned her head to stare at the beautiful dark-haired woman leaning over her. "Wow, you are beautiful." She said. "Oops, did I say that out loud? Well, judging from that blush, I guess I did." She thought with a smile.

"Uh, yeah." Dylan replied scratching her cheek. "Um, can you stand?" she asked, quickly changing the subject.

"Yep, got the standing bit down. What I really need now is a convenient tree, cactus, bolder, small pile of rocks?" Lura said with a blush.

Dylan chuckled and led the small blonde to the bushes at the foot of the hills. As she waited for Lura to finish she went over the basics of her plan.

"We’re going to move into some caves near the foot of those hills. I can protect you better there. Then, I’m going to see about your little friend, Kadine."

"He’s no friend of mine." Lura replied, surprising Dylan with the bitterness and venom in her voice.

"If you are going back to his camp could you look for my laptop and cameras? It’s all I have left to tell this story. I owe it to the guys." She said, sadly looking down at her tightly balled fists.

Dylan realized how important the equipment was to Lura. "I can't make any promises, but I will try. You have to understand, if it comes to endangering you or getting that equipment, we can buy more film."

Lura looked up at that final comment and noted the determined look in Dylan's eyes. 'When did she become my bodyguard? Not that I’m complaining,' she thought with a smile.

Dylan turned and picked up a large backpack, securing the shoulder straps over her shoulders and clipping the nylon belt around her narrow waist. Leaning forward she secured the sleeping bag that Lura had been using. Wrapping the last canteen in it, she neatly rolled it up and tucked it under one arm offering the other to the smaller woman.

"Let’s go we have a ways to travel and we are going to go slowly. Let me know if you get tired and we’ll rest."

At first Lura found herself using the strong arm for support to steady herself but after a few minutes she found that she needed it much more to simply walk without falling.

Dylan finally simply wrapped her arm around the small waist and pulled Lura closer to her, supporting hthe weight with her stronger arms. ‘This is nice. She is so small.' Dylan felt the heat rising in her blood once again at the thought of the beating that Lura had taken.

Lura felt the arm tighten protectively around her waist. ‘Hmmm, I like this. I feel safe here.'

The two women struggled up the hills stopping occasionally to rest. Dylan insisted that Lura drink whenever they stopped, whether she wanted to or not. She realized that the heat could be deceiving and though you may not feel thirsty you should drink frequently to prevent heat stroke.

They traveled steadily, stopping only to allow Lura the chance to catch her breath and regain a tiny bit of energy. Dylan wanted to be settled in the cave quickly. That would allow her time to put some semblance of security in place before she left to visit Kadine. She pushed the younger woman harder than she really wanted to, but she was driven by the image she still held in her head of the small beaten blonde, lying bloodied on the ragged blanket. 'Never again Lura, never again', she pushed them both on.

 

*******

 

Rashiem had ordered his lieutenant, Hammett and his two compatriots to search for the escaped American woman. Hammett had located a small oasis and a rough camp. He remembered the oasis from childhood and the recent events had brought it to mind. Finding the trail, which led to the small pond, they had begun to follow it. If he could find Kadine's whore he would be well rewarded.

****

 

Dylan settled the exhausted blonde on a quickly laid pallet, and after wrapping Lura in a warm blanket to ward off the evening chill, she searched her pack for food. The dry meat, goat’s cheese and water she had would have to do until she was able to build a small fire.

Leaving Lura contentedly eating on the pallet, she left to secure the area. Stepping outside the mouth of the cave she quickly brushed away their tracks and began concealing the entrance. Carrying a branch of scrub with her she backtracked towards the oasis, brushing away their trail.

"That should do until I get back. Then I can set up a better perimeter security and some welcoming surprises."

Stepping into the cave she saw the exhausted blonde had fallen asleep. ‘I had better make my little visit to Kadine and get back here before Lura wakes up.’ Dylan thought. Picking up a rolled blanket, she headed out towards the oasis to further hide their trail before continuing on to the terrorist camp.

 

Lura dreamt of a stunning woman on horseback, black hair streaming behind her as she galloped along a black sand beach. The woman was as familiar to her as her own shadow but she couldn’t place the name of the dark beauty. Still, she knew they were supposed to be together. Deep in sleep she reached for her, feeling a sense of dread deep inside but knowing that the dark warrior would help her. Something was coming and she was terrified.

"Help me, please help me." She mumbled in her sleep.

Having climbed to the edge of the hills, Hammett saw the tall figure in black leave the oasis and head towards the East. He had watched as the darkly robed image concealed the tracks and dragged bushes away. 'She knows where the whore is hiding. I must get Kadine.'

Hammett made his way back to the other men. "Stay here, I think I know where the girl is. If you see her, do not let her leave the area. I will get Kadine. We will be richly rewarded for this night’s work." He smiled at the other men and turned, heading back towards the camp at a trot.

Left on their own, the men sat watching the oasis for any movement. Then one had a foolish idea. ‘If they were rewarded for finding the oasis, imagine their reward for finding the girl.' He thought. ‘Or even better, my reward alone, for finding the girl.'

"Stay here, I am going to take a piss." He lied to his companion. Standing, he moved deeper into the hills.

*****

Dylan had started towards Kadine’s camp, still in a daze over her feelings towards the younger woman. Something was nagging her, something she had missed. As she reached the camp and began scouting the area near the prisoner's tent she heard voices. Silently she approached the large tent in the center of the camp, Kadine's tent.

"El Kadine, the men are out searching as you ordered. I have sent out groups in all directions, we should have the girl back by nightfall."

"Good Rashiem, when I get her back the training will start. I can still ransom the men. After all, no one knows they are dead. Then I can sell the woman ... someday." He laughed and patted the other man on the back.

‘Yes, Lura Grant will be quite…enjoyable; that is, until I break her.' He thought, smiling to himself.

Dylan felt her heart jump when she heard about the search parties. ‘That’s it! the footprints, there were too many to have just been us. Kadine’s men are near Lura! I have to hurry and get back to Lura, they may find her. Damn, I still have to at least try to find that gear. I did tell her I would look for it.'

Crouching low, Dylan ran back towards the prisoner tent. She slipped inside and quickly searched for the missing gear. Locating the camera and laptop she wrapped the equipment in a blanket and tied it securely to her back. Moving to the rear of the tent she again passed through the cut in the back and out into the darkness.

 

****

 

The man moved quietly through he scrub towards the caves. He knew his companion had missed him by now, but also knew that he would have no idea where to search for him. Smiling, he thought of the woman he was searching for. He remembered her hair. He’d never had a blonde before and, rubbing his groin, wondered if sex was the same as with the dark-haired women he had bedded. Reaching the caves he began to search them one by one, listening for any sound that might give away the presence of his hiding quarry.

***

Dylan raced back towards the hills, her mind picturing Lura alone and facing the armed search party. Fear and anger gave wings to her feet, making them fly as she covered the distance between herself and the hills. Passing the oasis she failed to notice the sole observer as she rushed on towards the caves. The man, however, saw her and followed.

 

Lura woke, moaning from the stiffness that had settled in from her earlier excursion. ‘God, I feel like I have been beaten. Wait. ' She smirked, thinking: ‘I have. Ow, does this hurt or what?' Sucking air between her teeth she slowly sat up, wrapping her arms around her middle.

"Ugh, I need some water", she rasped from a dry throat. "Where did Dylan put that canteen?"

Standing, she carefully stepped towards the backpack and blanket roll, near the back of the cave. She had slowly kneeled to unwrap the canteen when she heard a noise outside the cave. Thinking that Dylan had returned, she stood holding the canteen to her chest and turned towards the mouth of the cave. Her eyes widened as she saw a strange man step into the cave, his head turning to search the interior.

Dylan felt as if her lungs would burst as she finally saw the caves.

The stranger turned and faced Lura. Seeing her, he smiled at the fear in her eyes. He walked towards the frightened woman his arms out stretched to prevent her escape.

"Let us play nice little girl. Then I will take you back to Kadine. I want a little of what you have been giving him." 'I think I like her fear.' He thought, 'I will enjoy this.'

He sprang towards the frightened blonde, grabbing for her arms. Lura swung the canteen at the man's head hoping to off balance him long enough to run out of the cave and hide. The canteen bounced off the man's shoulder surprising him for a moment. Lura dodged past him and towards the mouth of the cave. The man turned and grabbed for the girl's shirt, jerking her back and into his arms.

Lura struggled as she felt the arms close around her tender ribs. The pain was immediate but she still fought. The man finally simply picked up the smaller woman and slammed her to floor of the cave knocking the wind from her as he followed her to the ground falling on top of her. Grabbing the struggling woman's arms he pinned them above her head with one large hand as he used his free hand to tear open her shirt.

"This can't be happening." Lura thought as she bucked, trying to dislodge the man. Tears sprang to her eyes as she felt a calloused hand squeeze her breast and a hot mouth on her neck. "NO!" She screamed struggling even harder as tears streamed from her eyes. "DYLAN! Please, God! Dylan, Dylan!" 'I have to fight, Dylan will get here, I know it. She will get here.'

Dylan heard the scream and, dropping the blanket wrapped gear, she crashed through the brush at the cave’s mouth. Her eyes frantically searched for Lura. She saw her; a large figure was on top of the small blonde. One hand had the girl's arms pinned while the other was trying to open his pants. Dylan heard a sound like rushing water, her vision tunneled to only the sight before her. She watched as if it were a stranger as her hand reached forward and grabbed the back of the man's neck squeezed and pulled. She held the struggling man by his neck as her other hand closed around his throat, crushing his windpipe. She threw the dying man from her, watching as he clawed at his throat in a vain attempt to breathe. As she turned towards the still figure on the ground, she felt a second attacker leap onto her back trying to take her down. Dylan instinctively widened her stance to accommodate the additional weight. She reached up and, cupping her hands, slapped them over the man's ears, rupturing his eardrums. The man fell to the ground at Dylan's feet, holding his bleeding ears. Dylan turned and, quickly grabbing the man's head, twisted sharply, snapping his neck. She let the thrashing body fall to the ground and turned again towards the silent huddled figure on the ground.

Kneeling close to the young woman she softly called out, "Lura. Lura, please. Are you OK?" Dylan reached towards the small body curled into a tight ball. The blonde was on her side, her legs curled up, her arms wrapped around her middle, her head tucked deeply into her chest. She did not move. Dylan couldn’t tell if she was even breathing. Slowly she reached out to turn the small blonde over. 'She is so still. Please let her be alive, please don't let me have been too late. Please.' As she touched the huddled form she felt the other woman tremble then begin to shake violently. "Lura, please look at me. It's me, Dylan. Lura, look at me."

Slowly the disheveled blonde head raised and terrified green eyes searched out tear filled blue.

"Dylan? Tell me it's you. Please tell me they’re gone." The ragged voice whispered.

Dylan felt the knots in her stomach loosen, and her lungs begin to work again at the sound of that voice. "Lura." She sighed as she drew the battered woman into her arms. Small arms circled her neck and the blonde buried her face in the dark woman's chest. Dylan felt the other woman's body tremble as the blonde released all her fear and terror in a flood of sobs and tears. "Shh, it's okay now. I'm here; I won't let them hurt you. It's okay, it's okay." Dylan wasn't sure which of them she was saying that for, herself or the distraught woman in her arms.

Slowly she rose, helping Lura to her feet. She wanted to move them to another location before Lura realized that they were sharing a cave with two dead men. Minutes later, Dylan settled down next to her trembling charge. She had moved them from the first cave further up into the hills into another, deeper cave. Since arriving, the small blonde had not uttered a word but had just cried silent tears and watched the movements of the tall dark soldier. ‘I need to stock up a bit on the wood if we are going to have enough to last the night.' Dylan thought. She pulled her black scarf over her face and headed towards the mouth of the cave.

"NO! Don't leave me here." Lura screamed.

Dylan turned and saw that the distraught woman was trying to stand. She rushed back to her side and helped lower her weakened body back onto the sleeping bag.

"Lura you must stay still, your body needs time to recover. I am just going for some wood. I will be close by, if you need me just call out. I will come to you I promise."

Lura looked up into the blue eyes of the tall woman and believed. ‘She won't let anything happen to me. She will be here.’

Dylan stared at the younger woman's face watching the thoughts travel across them like wind on the sand. She realized what she had asked the smaller woman for. "God, please don't let me disappoint her again."

Lura reached up and placed the back of a bruised hand on the beautiful soft cheek of her protector and nodded her head. "Alright Dylan. You’re right, we need wood for later." She spoke, lowering her eyes but not removing her hand. Instead she turned it palm up to cup the chiseled jaw. She glanced back up and Dylan watched as tears slowly ran down the pale cheeks.

Dylan felt herself lean forward, watching the green eyes for any sign of rejection. Lura closed her eyes and leaned towards the dark woman. Gently, Dylan touched her lips to Lura’s, pressing into the softness of the blonde’s mouth. Feeling Lura press into the kiss, Dylan pulled back drawing Lura’s lower lip into her mouth, tasting the salt of her tears. As she looked into the face she had begun to cherish she waited for a reaction.

Lura felt her heart race and her breath shorten. She opened her eyes and gazed into pools of apprehensive blue. Realizing that Dylan expected rejection she poured all her love into the gaze she fixed on the woman she now considered her dark warrior. Slowly she raised her bruised hands placing them in the dark hair of the older woman. She stared into the confused blue eyes and, tugging gently, she pulled the other women to her. Putting everything she felt into the kiss, she melted into the embrace. ‘I hope she understands what I am trying to tell her.’ As she pulled back she smiled into the gentle blue gaze.

Dylan felt elation as she gazed into the eyes of her love. The smile that pulled at her lips came straight from her heart. "We will continue this later." She whispered. "Now, you have got to rest and I have got to get some firewood."

Still frightened but heated by the love she saw reflected in the blue eyes of the older woman, Lura agreed. "Please don't be long." She whispered.

Nodding her dark head, Dylan rose and glided out of the cave. Pausing to get her bearings, she thought of the beautiful woman sitting alone in the tiny, dimly lit cave. She felt a knot in her throat at the courage of the smaller woman. She lowered her head gazing at the ground before her feet. ‘My God, she is the bravest person I have ever met.' She thought, ‘I will not let him hurt her again, I have to find a way out. For both of us.'

Dylan needed to leave the cave, if for no other reason than to cool off and calm her jangled nerves. She paced outside the cave entrance for several minutes before starting the hunt for firewood. ‘I had better not wander too far, it is getting dark and I really don't want to leave Lura alone.' Dylan gathered some dry branches and scrub to start a small fire and keep it going for a few hours, long enough to allow the younger woman to fall asleep. She was careful to gather dry tinder so that the fire would produce little smoke but intense heat. Bundling the branches under her arm she slowly made her way back to the cave hideaway. As she approached the entrance she heard it, the quiet crying of the small blonde.

"Lura, Lura are you okay?" Her voice was filled with worry as she approached the crying woman. Lura looked up through tear filled eyes and held her arms out to Dylan. Dropping her bundle, Dylan lowered herself next to the small body, she slowly gathered the beautiful woman in her arms. "Please don't cry Lura. I can't stand to see you cry."

Lura heard the words but was still too distraught to stay the tears.

"You can't cry, you are my brave little hunter, the falcon to my hawk."

Lura stopped crying and looked up into distressed blue eyes. "I'm a falcon?" she asked with a hiccup.

Dylan looked down and smiled. "Yes, there is a legend in my tribe of a falcon and a hawk. One day I will tell you about it."

"Can I be your falcon, Hawke?" Lura asked in a deep throaty voice.

Dylan looked deeply into the soft green eyes. She felt herself drawn to the sweet lips and the gentle breath. As she gazed at Lura through hooded eyes she slowly lowered her mouth to the beckoning lips. Lura reached up and felt her hands tangle in the silky black mane as she pulled the hawk tighter into her embrace. Dylan gently touched the soft lips with her tongue, begging entrance and was thrilled to feel the lips part immediately. She dipped into the honeyed sweetness of the mouth, pressing all the love she felt into this kiss. As she drew back, she gazed again into the eyes of her love.

"Lura, I can't stand to see you cry, tell me what can I do."

"Make me forget, Dylan. Make me forget the sounds, the smells the feeling of strange hands on my body." Gently taking the large calloused hand in hers she timidly placed it on her breast. "Make me forget, Dylan."

Dylan slowly lowered the trembling woman to the blanket, lovingly and eternally claiming the falcon as her mate.

Later, as she lay naked on the blanket, Dylan reveled in the feel of the soft flesh pressed against her. Pulling a bit of blanket up over their exposed bodies, she smiled as she listened to Lura's soft snoring, her breath warming Dylan's neck as she snuggled deeper into the soldier's firm body.

"WOW" was the single thought dancing through the Dylan's mind. She was sure it went well with the really goofy smile plastered on her face. ‘I think she likes me. Okay, she likes me a lot.' Dylan felt her heart soar and tightened her arms around the compact body next to her, pressing it closer into her side. She heard a deep sigh and drew back to glance down into Lura's gently smiling but still bruised face.

Slowly the joy drained from the soldier's features and the soft blue eyes turn icy cold.

"Kadine. You son of a bitch", she murmured through clenched teeth. She closed her eyes and remembered the conversation she had overheard back at the terrorist camp. She knew that she would have to act soon if she was going to save Lura. Her brow furrowed as she thought of her options. ‘I do have one ace I haven't played yet. The question is: does he still care?'

Finally slipping out of the warm embrace of her lover and dressing, Dylan sat at the edge of the oasis, her head bowed in contemplation, arms resting on her knees. She stared out at the lightening morning sky and remembered.

There were things she knew she needed to do and the thought of it made her anxious, nauseous and excited all at once. She had been sitting outside the cave for several hours now. The sun had begun to rise and she knew that she needed to get started if she was going to have any success at all with her plan. She also knew that she was stalling. She hated what she had to do next but delaying it was not going to make it go away. Dylan stood and, as was her habit, brushed off the seat of her pants. She closed her eyes, brought her hands up to her face and took a deep breath. Blowing out slowly and powerfully, she steeled herself for what she had to do. ‘I am really not going to like this but if Lura and I are to survive, I gotta do it.’

With this thought in mind, Dylan ran back down hill towards the first cave and on past it. She had to go back. Her heart ached, her head hurt and her stomach turned, but she had to go back. She had not been there in three years and dreaded the prospect of what she might find, but she would go. For the falcon, she would go back.

Kadine was ecstatic. Finally, he would have the blonde woman. Rashiem had assured him the one of his men had located the woman and could lead them to her.

"Rashiem!" he shouted. "Rashiem, bring my jeep around, we are going hunting."

 

As they traveled across the sand, Kadine smiled darkly to himself; he would have her soon. Maybe the chase had increased the pleasure of the hunt, but he wanted this woman more than he had ever wanted any woman. "Drive faster you idiot," he told the jeep driver." He glanced behind him to make sure he did not lose the truckload of soldiers following them.

Yes, soon she would be with him and he had plans for breaking her, he envisioned her begging him to stop. Offering herself to him if he would only stop punishing her for running away. He had found his riding whip. He carried it with him now, slapping it against his thigh, feeling the sting of it. He saw the whip falling on the soft white shoulders of the blonde, heard her screams in his mind. "Faster, faster." He screamed.

 

Since the attack three years ago she had not returned to the cave. Dylan had stayed in the area but had not been able to bring herself to go anywhere near the cave. She hated taking Lura anywhere near that place of death, but she knew that these caves there were the best for her needs. Climbing higher into the hills she headed towards the smaller, deeper caves, and one sealed cave in particular. Her heart raced and her head pounded as she climbed nearer. She smelled again the rancid odor of charred flesh, felt the shifting of the ground and stifling heat of the air. She stopped for a moment and drew in a deep breath shaking her head holding on to the rocky side of the hill as she waited for the world to stop spinning. Tears streamed from her eyes as she continued to climb towards the cave mouths. Angrily, she brushed them aside in frustration. Thinking of Lura blocked the screams of the dead men from her mind, keeping the horrifying flashbacks at bay.

As she crested the last rocky outcrop she saw the series of caves, four in all, one blocked by rock fall, its mouth burned and singed. As she stared at the crumpled fašade of rock her mind took her back three long years to that day. Her ears again ached with the sound of the blast. Dylan fell to her knees, her head in her hands as she screamed out her anger and frustration, raging at the memories.

Suddenly an old dream flashed through her mind, wrenching her from the flashback. It was the memory of a small blonde woman lying among the dead men.

"NO! That is not going to happen. I will not let it happen. I will not lose her too."

Dylan staggered to her feet and moved slowly towards the sealed cave. Reaching out a hand, she touched again, the fallen rocks. She bowed her head, almost in prayer, then raised determined blue eyes to search for the tiny opening at the top of the mouth. Pulling herself up, hand over hand, she reached it and pulled through the opening to pause at the top. She waited as the smell of mold and dust filled her nostrils and lungs and her eyesight adjusted to the darkness of the tomb. Searching the ground for her old duffle bag, her eyes skimmed over the remains of her troops, now only mummified bones wrapped in Army BDU’s. There, near the far wall, thrown there by the explosion, was her duffle.

Pushing herself through the tiny hole she rolled down the inside landslide of rock and onto the floor of the cave. Quickly making her way to the bag, she carefully avoided stepping on the remains. The smell of musk and rot mixed with the smell of heated stone. Dylan exhaled sharply through her nose forcing out the dust and clearing her nasal passages of the stench. Quickly, she reached down and located the battered duffel. Slinging it onto her shoulder she carried it back to the entrance and began to climb. Once she reached the top, she pushed the duffel through the opening and out to the ground below. With a final, sad glance back, she pushed her own body through and rolled down the rocky incline and away from the silent soldiers inside the dark tomb.

Picking up the bag, Dylan settled outside the grave entrance and began digging into the bag. Finally finding the land sat radio she checked the power level. Discovering that the solar cells still worked, she climbed to the top of the rocky hill and began searching the channels for an open NATO line.

‘Let's see how sincere he really is.' She thought. Hearing a NATO call sign she depressed the call button and spoke into mouthpiece.

"Sorry to intrude guys. This is the Hawk."

The Radio went silent, then crackled to life.

"Hawk, this is Sergeant John Childress, US ARMY Forces, NATO. You are transmitting on a NATO secure line. We are tracking this call. Friend or Foe?"

"Definitely friend. I am Captain Dylan Hawke, US Army Military Police Corp., Social Security Number 238-09-6454, NATO Security Clearance ALPHA 1. I think we can help each other out, but first, I need you to do me a favor…"

Kadine was furious. They had arrived at the oasis but not only was the woman not there, the two men left on guard had disappeared as well.

"Call in the men, I want them all here. I want that little blonde bitch found and I want whoever is responsible for helping her. Get the men here now, I want this area searched, when you find her do not touch her. Keep her there and come find me."

Sergeant John Childress had been in the army for 6 years. He enjoyed his job. The hours sucked sometimes but, all in all, he really enjoyed it. He had been stationed in Saudi now for a little over a year and felt he had seen and heard just about everything, but this took the cake.

Staring at the headset of the radio, he shook his head in utter disbelief. Then, realizing exactly what had just transpired, he jumped to his feet, his hand slapping his forehead as if to knock some reality into his addled brain.

"Holy shit. HOLY SHIT!!! I don’t believe this."

Picking up the NATO secure landline, he placed the call. It was picked up on the first ring.

"This is Sergeant Childress, NATO Headquarters, Saudi. I need to speak with Senator John Cameron," he stated. Then, still shaking his head, he began to mumble. "Hoollleee shit, he just ain’t gonna believe this." The sergeant whispered while sitting back down, his knees weak in shock, waiting on the senator.

Dylan sat outside the entrance of their camp listening to the soft snoring of her soulmate. She had selected another smaller cave to hide in and wait and had just spent the last hour and a half moving their gear and setting up little surprises for anyone stupid enough to get too close.

Finally getting to her feet Dylan closed her eyes and concentrated, visibly collecting herself. The trip to the tomb and seeing, once again, the battered, torn remains of her men had taken a heavy emotional toll on the soldier.

"It wouldn’t do to have Lura frightened with my stupid tears." Dylan thought. She scrubbed her face with her sleeve and went in to wake Lura.

Squatting next to the softly snoring blondee she reached out and, gently shaking a shoulder, softly called: "Lura, come on, wakey wakey."

"No." She grumbled, half opening one very sleepy green eye. "Don’t wanna, sleeping."

Sometimes having normal things happen sure settles the nerves. Dylan thought, smiling. Deciding on another approach, she called to the sleeping woman: "Come on ‘Little falcon’, open those pretty green eyes for me. We have to move again."

Lura was exhausted and her head hurt, throbbing with each heartbeat; her insides ached and so did her ribs. She was grumpy, sleepy and achy, and thought again: I am definitely not a morning person, or an afternoon person. Maybe I’m just ‘a do not disturb ‘cause I’m sleeping’ person. But she knew that Dylan would only be waking her if she had a good reason.

"Okay, okay Dylan, I’m ready." Her eyes still closed, she reached a hand out towards the dark soldier.

"Um Lura, you’d be a lot more convincing if you opened your eyes." Dylan chuckled." Yep, normal and grouchy are good. Dylan helped Lura to her feet and led her out of the small cave. "Okay Lura. I’ve moved all our things to another cave. We’re going to have to stay there a while until things settle down here. It’s a kinda good climb. Do you think you can handle it?"

"Hey, you’re talking to the woman who tracked down the famous Desert Hawk. Of course I can handle it, silly. Lead on McDuff." Came the sleepy reply.

"McDuff huh? How did I get demoted from "Famous Desert thingy" to ‘McDuff?’ Dylan mumbled under her breath to the delight of a chuckling small blonde.

The climb was difficult and Dylan had to stop often to allow the injured younger woman a chance to rest. Lura did not complain but simply struggled on, her concentration evident in the frown on her face. When they finally reached the summit Lura noticed that the cave Dylan selected was at the top of a steep incline, next to a larger cave that was obviously blocked by some kind of a cave-in. She looked at Dylan questioningly, but the older woman simply frowned and stared straight ahead, almost painfully.

"I picked this cave because it should be easy to protect. I want you to settle in the back and wait for me. I’m going to be gone for a while. I have to check the surprises I set for any unwanted visitors."

Rising, she turned towards her gear reaching for her knife and a small entrenching tool. She was stopped by a soft noise. Glancing back Dylan stared at the younger woman's face, watching the thoughts travel across them like wind on the sand. Dylan realized that Lura was frightened. The comment she had made reminded her of the earlier attack and here she was leaving her again, in a dark lonely place. God, please don't let me disappoint her again.

Sliding her knife into the leg sheath, she reached out and grasped Lura’s hand. "Lura, I promise, I will be back. I won’t be gone long."

All…alright Dylan. I’ll set up camp. Hey, if you see a Hardee’s down there pick me up a burger and fries, and some firewood to keep it warm.

Dylan smiled at the comment. "Naw, I’m looking for a McDonalds, they have better fries." She spoke in a parting shot as she ducked out of the cave.

Having settled their gear, Lura sat on a sleeping bag near a small stone circle. She had set up their camp, even building a small fire with some branches she found at the cave mouth and laying out their sleeping bags, side by side. Now if Dylan would just get back here with some dinner, things will be perfect.

Lura tried to distract herself with thoughts of burgers and fries cooked over an open fire, but realized that only made her hunger worse. Finally she simply settled down to wait, her mind going over the story she would write and trying not to drift off.

Lura had just begun to feel her head drop in sleep when she heard the sound of footsteps outside the cave mouth. "They’re back!' Turning onto her knees she crawled to the back of the cave, pulling a tattered blanket with her. Finding an indention deep in the rear cave wall she curled into a tight ball and pulled the battle-worn blanket over her body and head. She knew it wasn’t much but she hoped that whoever was out there would simply think the cave empty and leave. She tried to slow her heartbeat, certain that anyone entering the cave was sure to hear it pounding. Trembling, she waited listening to the footsteps drawing nearer.

"Lura, Lura?" Dylan whispered as she entered the cave. Seeing the fire and the empty sleeping bag a cold sweat broke out on her forehead and she began a frantic search for the other woman. "Please Lura, where are you?"

Lura heard the frantic voice. Peeking out from under the blanket, she called out. "Here, Dylan. I'm here."

Dylan rushed to her side, pulling Lura into her arms and holding the woman tightly to her chest.

Lura felt the soldier's heart beat through her clothes, sorry that she was the cause of the erratic pounding. "I'm OK, Dylan. I heard a noise and thought...well, I'm just glad you’re back. Are you OK? Did you go for more firewood? Did you find a Hardee’s?" she asked, trying to change the subject and calm the clearly upset woman.

Dylan stood helping the smaller woman up; she walked back to the sleeping bag and helped Lura to sit. "Yes, I am okay and no, I did not find a Hardee’s. I was looking for a McDonald’s but will this do?" She asked, holding up a small, dressed desert fowl.

"Oh, I think I can handle that." Lura replied, taking the bird and smiling up at Dylan. "So how about more wood? We only have enough to make it through the night. Do we need to get more?"

"No, hopefully we won't have to stay through another night so we won't need any more." Dylan said, settling next to other woman on the bag and wrapping her again in the blanket. 'My God, when I didn't see her my heart actually stopped in my chest,' she thought. How did this happen so quickly? When this is over we are gonna have a long talk my Falcon. That's a promise.'

Dylan watched as Lura spitted the bird and positioned it over the fire. She had forgotten how hungry she was but soon the tempting smell of the roasting bird had her mouth watering. She reached for a leg and quickly drew her had back when the little blonde slapped it.

"No. it isn’t ready yet. Give it a couple of more minutes." Lura chided.

Dylan grinned and stood up, too restless to remain seated for long. Stepping outside, she walked a few paces away then turned back to look at the cave entrance. She knew that she was in a good strategic location, the only way to the cave was uphill and the mouth would only admit one at a time. Dylan had positioned several large rocks across the cave mouth and bushes to disguise as much of the entrance as possible. She knew that Kadine’s men probably had an idea of her location but were not positive of her exact position. She could use that to her advantage. Everything was set. Turning, she looked down the hill and then off in the direction of Kadine’s camp. She knew she still had some time before he arrived. Now, she could put the last bit of her plan into action. Going back inside, she waited a second to allow her vision to once again adjust to the darkness.

"Lura, how is that desert chicken coming?" Dylan asked, trying to distract her own active mind.

"It’s ready now. Have a seat and I’ll get you some." Lura watched the tall soldier gracefully fold her long frame and settle on one of the sleeping bags. The strong golden face turned to her, the crystal blue eyes standing out against the dark complexion. Lura sighed and smiled at the beautiful woman. When we get out of her my Hawk, you and I are gonna have a long talk. Yep, a real long talk. Lura smiled at the thought, causing the soldier to frown in concern at the strange look on the other woman’s face.

"Um Lura, is there something wrong?" Dylan asked.

"What? Oh, no, nothings wrong. I was just thinking." Lura stammered, blushing slightly at having been caught.

"About what?" Dylan asked.

Oh boy, better think quick girl, Lura thought. She stood and carried several pieces of skewered meat to Dylan. Trying desperately to find a safe subject to talk about. "Well, I was wondering about what your favorite food might be. I was trying to figure out what you would have as a first meal when you get home?"

Home? That was a concept that truly had not occurred to Dylan in quite a while. Since she did not have a ready response she said the first thing that popped into her head. "A McDonalds cheeseburger, extra large fries and a giant Dr Pepper." Dylan smiled and sighed as she bit into the now under appreciated fowl.

"Yeah". Lura agreed, "but make mine a strawberry shake and I’m there."

"Hey, it’s a date then. My treat." Dylan laughed, then blushed realizing what she had just said.

"You’re on, and I’m gonna hold you to that one Hawke." Lura smiled. "Oh, and Dylan, it is a ‘date’ right?" Lura asked, staring straight into a pair of startling blue eyes.

"Do you want it to be, Lura?" Dylan asked, hoping not to sound desperate and dropping her eyes to look intently at the suddenly very interesting roasted meat.

"I think I’d like that Dylan." Lura smiled, dropping her chin and glancing up shyly at Dylan through an attractive pink blush.

Dylan grinned and took another hearty bite out of the leg she had been worrying, totally pleased with herself.

Lura grinned and started in on her dinner, feeling much lighter of heart.

After finishing her meal and throwing the bones into the fire Dylan stood and gathered her gear.

"Lura, I have a small errand to run. I won’t be long."

"Where are you going Dylan?"

"I have to go back to Kadine’s camp."

"No No, please Dylan, you can’t." Lura reached out toward Dylan. "He’ll kill you. I know he will. Please can’t we just stay here. He won’t find us here. Please."

Dylan took Lura’s hands in her own. "Lura, I have to go. I have to." Dylan stared into the panicked green eyes, willing Lura to understand. "If we’re gonna get out of here in one piece, we have to slow this guy down. And if I have to slow him down, I might as well do it right and stop him altogether. Don’t worry. I have a plan." Dylan said with a wicked grin.

Seeing the determination in the soldier’s eyes Lura resigned herself the inevitable. "Okay, Dylan. Listen, I know you know what you are doing and I know you think this is kinda fun but, I just… I’m…just be careful, please."

Dylan stroked Lura’s cheek with a bronzed hand. "I love you little falcon." She kissed the blonde gently on the lips.

Then she was gone.

"I love you too, Hawke" Lura whispered at the retreating shadow.

Kadine arrived at the oasis. Stepping from his jeep, he walked towards the water. "Where are your men Rashiem? Where is the woman?"

"Meier?" Rashiem called. "Where are your men?"

"I am not sure Rashiem. I left them here to guard the oasis and make sure the woman did not escape. "

"How do you know she is here?"

"The tracks, Rashiem. The tracks lead into the mountains, and they are not sandal tracks." Meier replied.

Kadine looked at the tracks in the sand, watching them head into the hills.

"Rashiem, we need more men. We will have to search every cave. Call the camp, bring the rest of the men." Kadine ordered as he slapped his leg impatiently with the riding crop.

Reaching the marauders camp, Dylan reached into her robes and pulled out the map. Clicking the transmit button on the hand held Land Sat radio, she identified herself. "This is Captain Dylan Hawke calling the 54th Battery."

The response was immediate.

"LTC Carter here. Welcome back to the living, Captain Hawke. LT Carr is prepared to take the coordinates."

"Thank you Colonel. Let’s see if we can eliminate a big headache for you."

"Lieutenant?"

"Yes Ma’am."

"Are you locked in on my coordinates?"

"Yes, Ma’am. I am."

"Well, remember not to shoot me." Dylan stated with a broad smile. "Lets see if we can walk a little present into Kadine's camp. Longitude 30 degrees North, Latitude 47 degrees West".

Moments later, Dylan heard a long shrill whistle and watched as a round impacted just above the campsite, causing men to scatter.

"Longitude 25 degrees North, Latitude 45 degrees West."

Another round landed directly in the center of the madman’s camp.

"DAMN. You are good LT. Fire for effect!"

"Thanks Ma’am, no problem. FIRE FORE EFFECT!" The young officer yelled, not bothering to release the call button on the radio.

The rounds rained down like vengeful bolts from heaven. Dylan watched as the camp disappeared in smoke, flames and debris. Smiling, she called a halt to the attack and packed the map away.

"Thanks boys. You got ‘em. What are the chances of getting some man power support out here?"

"Already on its way, Captain." The Colonel responded.

"Thank you, sir. We’ll be waiting. You know our coordinates?"

"We have them Captain. Hang in there, help is on the way."

Thirty minutes had passed. Kadine glanced up, expecting to see the desert come alive with dust clouds as his soldiers arrived in force. He would have the woman and after he finished with her he would sell her to the highest bidder. As soon as NATO discovered he had the television crew he would have enough money to fund a larger army and control more territory. Those idiots in NATO did not need to know that the crew was already dead. Plus, they would probably pay just to get the bodies back, sentimental fools. Who wants dead bodies?

"I am tired of waiting. Rashiem, send the men we have into the hills. I want each and every cave searched. Find the woman!" He yelled.

Just then, they heard the explosions. Kadine turned towards the sound, towards the location of his camp. "NO!" he screamed, "My men.. Who has done this? The Hawk! Damn you Hawk, I will have the woman and I will kill you!" he screamed. Angry now, he turned towards his Lieutenant. "Rashiem, find the woman. Find her, NOW!"

Dylan ran until her lungs felt as if they would burst, she knew that time was limited now. Lura was alone and Kadine had not been in the camp. There was only one place he could be. She circled around the oasis and slipped into the hills making her way to the cave.

"Lura, Lura, are you here? Are you okay?"

"Dylan, I’m here." The beautiful blonde called out, staggering to her feet. "How did everything go? Are you okay?"

"I’m fine, but Kadine has a serious nose bleed." She smiled, gently wrapping her arms around Lura, hugging her close.

"Dylan, I heard this horrible noise and then…"

"It’s okay, Lura. I called for a little help. They destroyed the camp." She spoke gently into Lura’s hair. Feeling her tremble, she rubbed the smaller woman’s back in a gentle circular motion. She continued the softly soothing motion until the trembling stopped.

"Is he dead? Is Kadine dead." Lura asked, her voice muffled in the long dark folds of the Hawk’s robes.

"No, I don’t think so. I think we can expect some company soon."

Lura looked up at Dylan startled. "He’s here isn’t he, Kadine’s here?"

Dylan felt the body in her arms shake again. "Shhh. Yes, I believe he is." She spoke tenderly, drawing her arms more tightly around the fragile warm body. "Please don’t worry. I won’t let him have you. I have a few surprises in store for him. We’ll be all right, I promise."

Lura wrapped her arms around the tall woman and leaned into the comforting, safe embrace. I won’t let him have you either, my Hawk. She thought.

Finally releasing Lura, she turned towards the cave mouth. Glancing outside Dylan watched as the hills literally crawled with enemy soldiers.

"Lura, go to the back of the cave and stay there."

"Dylan, I am not going to sit here and let you fight alone." Lura announced. Then, seeing the stern look on her soulmates face, she added. "Hey, I can’t let you have all the fun, can I?"

The only reply was the smile that graced Dylan’s lips. It was cold and grim and did not reach her eyes.

With a short nod Dylan agreed. Again she turned and watched as the men drew nearer to their hide out. "Just a bit closer and to the right." She watched two soldiers fall away, into a pit she had hidden with shrub. "Yes!" She hissed. "Two down, a bunch to go."

The screams of the men drew the attention of others and they began to turn towards the hiding place.

Crouching low, Dylan placed herself in the mouth of the cave and silently waited. She knew that in order to get to the small blonde they would have to get through her and that just wasn’t happening.

Finally, someone spotted her dark head hidden behind the rocks and let out a shout of success. It was the last sound he made in this lifetime. Dylan drew her pistol and dropped him with one shot. "Damn!" she hissed. "Let the games begin."

Kadine’s men were now advancing in a swarm. Dylan continued to fire her pistol, the sound loud and barking in the hollowness of the cave. When it emptied she reached for her spare clip. She emptied the second clip and fully expected to have to fight hand to hand when a sharp tug on her sleeve drew her attention.

Lura wordlessly handed her the first clip, reloaded. She glanced down at the small blonde who was now concentrating on loading the other clip with her bruised, battered hands. She had dragged herself to lie beside the warrior and was determined to see this action through no matter what the outcome. Dylan was amazed at the strength and determination of the smaller woman.

"If we get out of this thing alive we are gonna have a long talk, you and I, little falcon." She commented, smiling as she continued to fire on the soldiers.

"Little Falcon? Hmmm. Who are you callin little, woman?" Lura questioned.

"Hee-hee. Okay, how about vertically challenged?" Came the smart reply from the soldier, happy to hear the determination in the other woman’s voice.

Lura smiled back and handed her the loaded 9mm clip. Dylan had emptied another clip and was reaching for the spare when she stopped.

"What's wrong?" Lura asked.

"They've stopped. They're pulling back." Dylan replied. She turned with a frown. "That doesn’t make any sense. They outnumber us at least three to one. Why aren’t they pushing the advantage. Unless…"

Her words died on her lips as she saw the frozen expression of terror on the small blondes' face. Something was behind her. She turned and blocked a blow from a rifle butt. The soldiers had found a back entrance into the cave from an adjacent cave and the women were now effectively surrounded. Men poured into the cave attacking the taller woman, just as they had been instructed. Dylan fought as if crazed, but was finally overpowered and pulled roughly to the ground. She watched as her enemy approached Lura, who was being held by a tall rebel soldier. The madman known as El Kadine stared at the struggling blonde, raised his hand and slapped her sharply across the face.

"You belong to me whore. Do not forget that. This bitch you are with will die and you will watch."

"NO!' Lura screamed, leaping towards Kadine, hands stretched out like angry talons.

Lura clawed out with all the strength remaining in her. Perhaps, she prayed, this would give her soldier time to recover.

Kadine threw up his arm, blocking Lura’s blow. Calmly, he drew back a fist and beat the small, still wounded body to the ground. He smiled, enjoying the fight, knowing that he would win. He stared down at the fallen woman not realizing that he had made two fatal errors. One, he touched the woman Dylan considered hers and two, he had turned his back on the Hawk.

Dylan woke to the sound of flesh meeting flesh and, through dazed eyes, saw Kadine pummeling the fragile body of the woman she loved. Lura did not move, did not cry out, and did not fight back.

She’s dead. He’s killed her.

This was the one thought that raced through Dylan’s mind.

Suddenly, the world stood stark still and her vision blurred bloody red and tunneled. One minute she was on the ground held by two men, the next she was standing, stepping over the bodies of two now fallen men and approaching Kadine.

Kadine heard a scream not unlike a wounded animal. He turned his head and faced an apparition of death with ice blue eyes. He drew his pistol from his waist and fired point blank at the thing advancing towards him. He saw the shoulder jerk, still it advanced. Unchecked and unimpressed, it kept coming. The face of the being, for he was certain it could not be human, smiled at him. He looked around for assistance from his men but they were to be of no help, sprawled on the ground moaning or silent in death. He fired again but the figure kept coming, hands out stretched.

Dylan did not feel the rounds hit, just the jerk of her clothes as the bullets ripped through the material and into her flesh. All she saw, all she felt or wanted to feel was the cracking of this man’s throat as she crushed it in her powerful hands. He had been the bane of her existence for the past three years. He had murdered her men and now he had beaten the small treasure that lay crumpled at his feet. He would die and he would die at her hands.

"No." Dylan said calmly." You will not touch her again. She was no whore, and she belonged to me." As she felt her hands close on his murderous throat, she tightened her grip and smiled. It was a cold, ice blue and feral smile.

Kadine pounded at the arms holding him, but this only tightened their grip. They now held him high off the ground, his feet dancing in the air. He had never felt such raw power or been so frightened.

Dylan felt cold hate and an emptiness that had been filled by the warmth of the small blonde. She did not hear the sound of the choppers as they landed near the oasis, the sound of the booted feet and they climbed towards the cave. She only wanted to hear the gurgle and the dying breath of the monster in her hands. She heard the sound of the water leaving his body as he wet himself in fear. Finally, another sound reached her ears; she heard the weeping of the small blonde.

She's alive! "Lura!" she gasped. Dylan released her hold on the neck of the terrorist leader, allowing him to drop at her feet. Carefully, she stepped over the body and knelt beside the battered woman. Tenderly she reached out and brushed the dirt from the other woman's badly bruised cheek. She looked deeply into the pain filled green eyes and found the unconditional love of her soulmate. Slowly the women stood and moved towards the mouth of the cave. Dylan heard shouting and glanced down, waving.

"Who are they" Lura asked as she watched men in tan uniforms fighting the terrorists.

"That," Dylan whispered, "is the cavalry."

Lura wrapped one arm around her warrior and looked up, smiling. That is when she felt it, moisture seeping through the black shirt, and looked up in horror as the arm she had wrapped around the older woman, turned red with blood.

"Dylan you're bleeding!" She said, jerking her head up again, noticing the pallor of the soldier’s face and watching as the now pale lips moved into a grimace.

"Yes… shot." Dylan said as the ground rushed towards her and she dimly heard her soulmate scream, then nothing.

Lura watched, feeling her world crumble as the tall woman collapsed first to her knees, then backwards into the cave mouth. Her initial shock was quickly replaced by a fierce protectiveness as men rushed towards them. Reaching down, Lura picked up the discarded pistol that Dylan had dropped in the earlier struggle. Drawing back the slide, she loaded one round in the chamber then, placing herself squarely between the threat and the now helpless woman, she clasped the warm grip and pointed the pistol at the first male head to crest the edge of the hill.

"One step closer and I swear I will kill you." She said.

The man climbed the rest of the way up and slowly rose to his full height. He stood with the sun to his back, silhouetted in the bright daylight. Unable to see his face Lura squinted, but her grip on the pistol did not falter.

The man cautiously removed his sunglasses and stared at the small blonde with the flashing green eyes and the large pistol pointed at his head.

"Hold on, don't shoot. I only want her." He stated, gesturing towards the prone figure at Lura's feet.

Lura quickly moved to place her feet on either side of the body of the unconscious woman, straddling her; the pistol still never wavering from the forehead of the man in front of her.

"You can't have her, she’s mine. You’ll have to kill me before I’ll let you hurt her anymore."

"Whoa there young lady. I would never hurt Dylan. I’ve been looking for her for three years. I'm her father."

Lura squinted, staring up into the man's face. "Step over there into the light." She gestured with the pistol towards her right. The man complied, turning his face into the sun. Lura saw the same startling blue eyes that graced the face of the woman she loved. She knew that they were safe. She felt the weight of the pistol pulling at her arms as relief suddenly made them weak. She lowered her hands and dropped the weapon. Turning her back on the man, she slowly knelt at the side of the fallen soldier. Gathering Dylan in her arms she gently held the other woman, rocking them both and crying into the soft black hair.

Senator Cameron looked on, a deep scowl on his face.

"Dylan we're safe. You did it, we're safe." Lura whispered into the unconscious woman's ear, gently placing a kiss on a dirty forehead.

"I want the medics here. Now!" The Senator bellowed, turning away from the scene at the cave mouth.

Four men scrambled up the hill bearing a stretcher and medical packs. They reached out to remove the small woman from the side of the unconscious soldier, but were stopped by the deep growling threat above them.

"No, they stay together. Do what you have to do to treat my daughter, but they stay together. Is that clear?"

Lura looked up at the older man through tear filled eyes, startled to see the anguish reflected on his face.

Dragging his eyes away from the pale, still face of the daughter he had thought dead, he answered the girls' silent question. "Dylan, ran away from me once because I was too stupid and pig headed to listen to her. She risked her life for you and clearly you would risk yours for her. You were here for her when I should have been. I will not separate you now."

"No," said Lura, "believe me, there is no way in Hell you can separate us, not now, not ever. Where she goes, I go." Lura promised, pulling Dylan closer.

The tall man nodded in understanding and perhaps acceptance.

"Sir?" The medic called. "We have to Medivac her. She’s bleeding heavily and we can't be certain of any internal injuries here. I have to dress her injuries before we move her. To tell you the truth, if we don't do something soon I will not be responsible for her survival."

"Alright then, let's move…NOW!" The silver haired senator bellowed, unaware of how very much he sounded like his daughter.

The medics rushed forward, quickly and efficiently moving the unconscious woman onto the stretcher. They promptly cut away her shirt, exposing firm stomach muscles and the brutalized torn flesh of the bullet wound.

Lura gasped, her eyes tearing up as she watched the medics at work.

After inserting and IV drip and placing pressure bandages on the open wounds the medics lifted the stretcher and carefully began their descent down the mountainside.

Lura followed the stretcher down, holding Dylan's hand as often as possible. The trip down took all she had left. She limped in a gray haze toward the helicopter, and each step jarred her battered body. As she walked she thought of Dylan, and squeezed the too still hand in her own. Looking up at the copter she thought it strange that the blades should produce a whistle instead of the expected thump, thump. She also found it strange that the night had settled so quickly.

Senator Cameron watched in amazement as the small blonde struggled to stay with his daughter and was, in a sense, relieved when she finally collapsed, as they neared the helicopter. He caught her as she fell, swinging her up in his arms, surprised at the lightweight and obvious fragile condition of the little spitfire. Grinning, he thought of the fight Dylan would have on her hands once they both recovered. "If they recover," he amended mentally.

The medics air evacuated the group back to the NATO base and the hospital.

**************

Lura tossed and turned, fighting the hands that held her in place. She had been laying here for hours, she thought and she needed to be somewhere but where?

"Please Miss, you have to lay still. The Doctor said you needed rest. You were dehydrated. Your injuries will heal faster if you do what they tell you."

Lura stilled for a moment then began mumbling again. "I have to go. Where is she? I have to get to her."

The nurse tried desperately to keep the confused semi-conscious woman still, but this was a hopeless task. In desperation, the small blonde was strapped down to prevent her from hurting herself further. Though quite heavily sedated, she continued to fight.

Finally, the nurse approached the doctor. "We have to do something, I'm afraid she's gonna hurt herself."

Dylan lay in a separate room following emergency surgery and was also strapped to her bed and struggling, though not so strenuously.

"Let's see what happens if we put them in the same room. What could it hurt?" The doctor suggested.

Ten minutes later the two women were lying almost side-by-side and, although they were both unconscious, each seemed to sense the other's presence.

"Amazing!' the doctor exclaimed. "Ya know, I heard somewhere that some souls bond like this; but I’ve never seen anything like it. This is incredible."

The young reporter had finally settled down and they were able to release her from the restraints. The soldier still struggled violently, though weakened, and they were afraid she would tear out her IV. Her wrists remained strapped to the sides of the bed. They wheeled the blonde's bed closer and as they watched in pure amazement, a gentle smile graced the dark woman's face and she stopped struggling.

"Untie her arms. Let's see how she does now that her friend is here."

They released Dylan's arms from the restraints and watched when she turned her head slightly as if to glance at the woman in the adjacent bed.

"I swear. I have never seen anything like that. I’ve heard about it too. Ya know? Two people bonding so closely that one would die without the other. But I never believed it…'til now." The nurse exclaimed as the two left the room.

Slowly Lura awakened. She felt as if she were swimming to the surface after a dive to the bottom of the ocean. Her senses were dull and her head felt full of cotton.

Dylan, Dylan… she's hurt. I have to find her. I have to protect Dylan. Protect Dylan. Protect Dylan This thought rang through her head like a mantra as she struggled to consciousness. "God, where am I?"

Lura glanced around at the beige walls and the silver racks with their large plastic bags of fluids, long thin tubs leading from them to her arm.

Hospital, I'm in a hospital. I remember now, they flew us here from the cave after Dylan was…

"DYLAN!" she glanced around frantically, her blood shot eyes quickly settling on the still figure in the bed next to her. The beautiful face was so pale against the white sheets. The electrifying eyes closed in sleep.

My poor warrior. Lura thought. As if in a dream, she rose from the bed, careful not to tear the IV from her arm and slowly staggered, pushing the tower with the IV bag to the next bed. Lifting the sheets, with her eyes still half closed, she slipped under the covers. Snuggling close to the warm body of her soulmate she wrapped her arm around the bandaged waist, pillowed her head on a strong shoulder and quickly fell into a deep restful sleep.

Dylan felt the small body snuggle under her chin and raised a bandaged arm to wrap around the soft shoulder as she too drifted deeper into the arms of Morpheus.

The next morning Dylan woke feeling a warm, heavy weight pressing on her shoulder. Glancing down, her chin brushed soft blonde hair.

Wow, she thought. She's really here. She stayed with me. Unconsciously, she tightened her grip around the small waist and buried he nose in the blonde hair.

Lura, sensing the gentle cuddle of her soulmate, mumbled and pulled herself closer, causing a shift in her still healing ribs.

"Ow, ow, ow." She cried, pulling away only far enough to raise her head and stare into concerned blue eyes. Seeing the tender look she was receiving she smiled gently: "How are you my love?"

The term of endearment brought a grin to the chiseled features. She called me her love. Dylan realized with start.

"I'm great, now." She replied.

"Riiiight." The blonde responded, gently patting the bandaged stomach. You look ready to take on an army."

Dylan graced her with a crooked smile. "Been there, done that." She stated.

"Oh, and how did it turn out?" the blonde asked.

"Well, the good guys won." Came the cocky reply as Dylan leaned down to draw the willing mouth to hers in a sweet, gentle kiss.


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