DRIVEN

Written by: Susanne Beck and TNovan

Disclaimers: See Part 1

DRIVEN: PART 3

She closed her eyes and finally fell into a fitful sleep. Her mind was wandering all over the spectrum. Part of her was admittedly rather giddy over the kiss, and another part of her was terrified that she had really messed up.

The dream started rather simply.

She was playing basketball.

The scene switched between the driveway of her parents home and the empty Badgers arena. She was shooting great, enjoying nothing but net every time.

Looking down, she realized she was stark naked.

Looking to the sideline, she also realized that Dylan Lambert was watching her, eyes avid to her every move.

She stopped and tried to cover her body with her hands, only to have Dylan smirk at her. The coach began walking forward slowly. Cat could hear her heart pounding in her ears and threatening to beat right out of her chest.

"Catherine?"

The playerís knees went weak with the seductive quality of Dylan saying her name. "Yes?"

"Youíre very attractive."

"Thanks." she managed to squeak, wondering briefly why she was naked and Dylan wasnít. What kind of screwed up dream is this anyhow?

"VeryÖ." Dylan paused and ran her finger over Catís shoulder, causing her to shiver and further causing goose bumps to break out all over her skin. "Öattractive."

"Oh God," Cat moaned when she felt Dylanís lips where her fingers had been only a second before.

With a blur, the scene shifted again, and now she was standing in the pet store. She looked down and found that once again, the God of dreams had taken her clothes. Funny how no one else noticed, but there was Dylan Lambert, smirking.

Again.

Soon she found herself back up against a wall. Dylan was kissing her and pressed so hard against her body she could barely breathe. Where she should have panicked, all she felt was excitement. If this was a dreamóand she knew it wasólet it continue for eternity.

When she gasped, they shifted the floor of the arena and the kiss continued, long and passionate. Cat wanted nothing more than to crawl under Dylanís skin and stay there.

She moaned, and suddenly woke up.

Hamlet was licking her face with the all enthusiasm of a man lost in the desert going after an oasis.

"Oh gross!" She pushed him away and wiped the copious amounts of puppy drool from her face. "Thanks for ruining a perfectly wonderful dream. Well, all except that naked thing."

She looked over at her alarm clock and realized it was already time to get up. Sighing, she got out of bed and trudged to the shower.

Once she was dressed, she grabbed Hamletís leash and took him out for his morning walk. It was raining, but not hard, and she decided there was no sense in going back for a jacket, because once Hamlet set his mind to the task at hand, it usually didnít take very long. In less than ten minutes she was on her way back the apartment, just a little soggy, but with a happy puppy.

Breakfast was prepared; bacon and eggs for Cat, kibble for Hamlet. Per his morning routine, Hamlet ate, burped and then lay down by the front door. Cat continued to eat, and read the morning paper as she did. He eyes landed on an ad for cell phones and a blonde brow curved in contemplation.

"Maybe I should join the 21st century. Whaddya think Hamlet? Does Mom need a cell phone?"

On cue he rolled over on his back, with all four paws sticking in the air.

"Stop that, you look like road kill."

He whined and flopped over on his side.

"Thank you." She took another bite of her bacon and continued with the paper.

*******

Two hours later, Cat stood in front of the store holding her new cell phone in her hand and looking quite please with herself. Of course the two hundred dollars she had ended up spending on Ďextrasí nearly caused her heart to stop, but she chalked it up to a need and realized she could write it off on her taxes.

Climbing in her truck, she dug around in the sack until the found the adapter for the cigarette lighter. She fumbled with it for a moment then plugged it in, attaching her phone to let it charge.

"God, Iím pitiful." She mumbled aloud as she started the truck and pulled out into traffic. "I wonder what my friend would say if they knew I didnít own a computer either."

She drove to a bookstore, where she picked up a copy of the newest murder mystery by her fatherís favorite author, a new cookbook for her mother and gift cards for her brothers. She was waiting in line when she looked over at a rack of biographies a few feet away and she saw Dylanís face.

"Now how did I miss that?" She stepped out of line and plucked the book from the rack and thumbed through it. She decided that with the up coming road trip it would be something to read. Of course, sheíd have to put a shopping bag cover on it, so no one would tease her about it.

She got back in line and waited patiently as first an elderly customer couldnít find her credit card and then a mother of three, tried to keep her children from grabbing their purchases so the clerk could ring them up.

Three good reasons NEVER to have children.

After her errands were run she returned home. Hamlet sniffed her quite thoroughly just to make sure it was her and then jumped up on the couch, where he knew good and well he shouldnít be.

"Get off there you slobber monster." She shook her finger and he dropped to the floor. "Good boy."

She settled down on the couch to look over the instructions for her phone. She felt it creeping up and looked desperately for a box of Kleenex, which she realized too late, she didnít have. The sneeze was so loud and forceful it scared Hamlet.

"Great," Cat grumped to herself as she ran into the bathroom for toilet paper. "Just what I need. Weíre going up against the best team in the league and Iím blowing snot all over the place."

*****

The next evening, after practice, Cat began her habitual shooting drills, expecting that Dylan would join her at any time. Her belly fluttered pleasantly, causing her to miss her first seven shots in a row.

"Great," she grumped, tearing after the errant ball yet again. "At this rate, Iíll still be here when practice starts again tomorrow."

Grabbing the ball, she set herself up just behind the foul line. "Focus, Cat. Focus."

She threw a brick as the image of Dylan kissing her on that very line ambushed her the second she released her shot.

"Shit!!!"

Her curse reverberated through the empty, cavernous arena.

"Alright," she said, finally defeated. "Iíve had enough. I feel like shit, Iím playing like shit, and Dylanís nowhere to be found." She sighed. "This just bites."

Walking dejectedly across the court, she tossed the ball toward the rack, and missed that shot as well. Grumbling under her breath, she made for the locker room, and then hit the shower, washing the sweat of a fruitless day from her body.

Even dragging on her clothes seemed a gargantuan task. The cold she still wouldnít admit to was taking a lot out of her, and her reserves, always spare to begin with, werenít kicking in as they should.

If someone had held a gun up to her head, however, sheíd readily admit that what made her feel the lousiest was that Dylan and been scarce all day.

"She probably thinks Iím an idiot," she muttered to herself, standing and slinging her gym bag over one shoulder. "God, a brand new rookie coming onto her coach. How cliché can you get?"

Trudging back through the locker room and out into the arena, mired deep in her own thoughts, Cat completely missed the silent figure standing in the shadows of the large exit doors.

"Youíre through early," a liquid voice sounded to her left.

Cat gasped, then spun, only then seeing Dylan as she emerged from the shadows. She was looking sleek in what Cat privately termed her "PR clothes"; black slacks and blazer over a silken blue shirt.

"You scared me!"

"Sorry about that. I thought youíd see me when you walked across the court."

Catís cheeks pinked. "Sorry. My head was somewhere else, I think." Then she sneezed.

Dylanís expression became one of concern. "You alright?"

"Allergies," Cat lied.

Dylan smiled a little. "Sounds more like a cold to me."

Cat scowled. "I donít get colds."

"Mm."

"Well I donít!" And that was the truthósort of. She hadnít had a full out cold since junior high school.

Dylan nodded, relenting for the moment. "Well, if you feel well enough, would you like to get some coffee with me?"

Amazing how a few words, strung together to make a simple sentence, could do more to cure the common cold than all the years of civilized medicine put together. Thoughts of depression and exhaustion slipped away, and Cat grinned. "Thatís the best offer Iíve had all day."

******

"I should have known," Cat laughed as she walked through the door Dylan held open for her. "Leave it to The Goddess to find the only organic coffee shop in the entire world. I didnít even know they made organic coffee."

"See the new things youíre learning?" Dylan teased as she led Cat up to the counter.

Chuckling, Cat stood at the counter, eyeing the selections. In a way, she was glad that the cold she didnít have would probably blunt her taste buds some, as she wasnít very sure she wanted to know that organic coffee tasted like. Still, she felt it was a small price to pay for the pleasure of Dylanís company, and pay it she would.

A young, boyish looking woman smiled at them both from behind the counter. "Whatíll you have?"

"A soy Chai Latte," Dylan responded before turning to Cat.

"UmÖIíll try a Vanilla Latte, half caf, extra vanilla."

"Cominí right up."

As they waited, Cat took the opportunity to look around the shop. It was comfortable and homey, with pastel fabrics and soft music playing from tastefully hidden speakers. It really wasnít all that much different from the other coffee shops sheíd been to, save for the "organic everything", including hemp bars instead of chocolate covered coffee beans.

Within moments, they had received their drinks and moved off to a quiet corner of the shop, easing down into two upholstered chairs that faced in toward a small, round table. After blowing on her coffee to cool it a bit, Cat took a tentative sip, prepared for anything. Her eyes widened as she realized that, dulled taste buds or no, it was just what the doctor ordered.

"This is good!" she exclaimed.

"Told ya," Dylan teased, smirking. "Itís good to broaden your horizons."

Cat gave a mock smile. "Iím all for that, but just remember, no matter how broad my horizons, Coach, youíll never sway me from my carnivorous ways." She took another sip. "So there."

"Perish the thought."

They sat in comfortable silence for a time, listening to the music and soft hive drone of the customers, and sipping their drinks.

After a long moment, Cat steadied herself with a deep breath, turned slightly, and placed her cup on the table. "Coach?"

"Yes?"

"IÖumÖwanted to tell you that I wasÖsorryÖfor last night. Not for the way I feltÖfeelÖ." she hastened to add, "but because of the situation I put you in. I crossed a line and Iím sorry."

Dylan smiled. "Itís alright," she commented softly.

But Cat was on a roll. "No, no it isnít. I know what my contract says about fraternization. Iíve read it over a few times." She blushed lightly, aware of what information she was giving away. "And I can only imagine what yours says on the subject. Itís probably a lot harsher than mine. I mean, youíre my boss, and that justÖ."

"Itís alright," Dylan repeated, leaning over and laying a warm hand atop the one Cat had balled into a fist on the table.

Cat blushed again, and looked away. "Coach," she said in a very low, quiet tone, "people get hauled into court for sexual harassment for things like this. It blows up in the media, especially with celebrities. It could ruin your career."

Dylan squeezed Catís hand. "I donít think youíd do anything like that, would you?"

Cat looked back at Dylan, eyes wide. "Never! I would neverÖ"

"Then thereís nothing to worry about."

"ButÖ."

"Cat, I said it was okay, and I mean it. Yes, what happened surprised me a bit, butÖ." Dylanís voice trailed off as she gathered her thoughts. "Iíd be lying if I said that it in any way made me uncomfortable."

"Really?" Cat asked softly.

"Really," Dylan replied, before releasing Catís hand and straightening in her chair. "The fact isÖ." she paused, then plunged ahead, "Ö I find you very attractive, Catherine. What happened between us, what we shared, wellÖit wasnít at all unwelcome."

For one of the first times in her life, Cat was struck speechless. She looked at Dylan, barely blinking, her eyes shining as if lit from within.

Smiling, Dylan reached out and gently tapped Catís chin. "Gonna catch flies."

The sound of Dylanís voice brought Cat out of her daze, and she flushed, then cleared her throat. "Organic ones," she replied, voice slightly hoarse.

Dylan laughed aloud, shaking her head at Catís joke. Then she sobered. "Whatever happens between us, weíll need to take it slowly."

Cat nodded. "Slow is good. I can work with slow."

Dylanís smile reappeared. "Good. So can I."

"Coach?"

"Dylan."

"Excuse me?"

"My name. Dylan. I think since weíve traded bodily fluids, so to speak, you can call me by my name, donít you?"

Catís face lit up again as a broad smile wrinkled her nose. "Okay, Dylan." It sounded weird to her ears, but she thought she could live with it.

"And your question?" Dylan teased.

"Question? Oh! IÖumÖ.thanks."

"For?"

"JustÖthanks."

"Youíre welcome." Dylan looked up at the clock over the counter and frowned. "Itís getting late. We should probably think about heading back. Early practice tomorrow."

"Donít remind me," Cat groaned. "Letís just hope I can shoot better than I did tonight."

Dylan shrugged, unconcerned. "You had stuff on your mind."

"And thanks to you, Iíve still got stuff, but itís a lot more pleasant stuff."

Shaking her head, Dylan rose to her feet, followed by Cat. "Shall we?"

The two walked through the store, and around to the back where their cars waited. The lot was dark and shadowed, but Dylan didnít get any sense of danger from it. It was empty save for their cars.

Cat let go a mighty yawn, then belatedly covered her mouth. "Oops!"

"Donít let your coach see that," Dylan replied, smirking.

"Couldnít have that. I hear sheís a real slave-driver."

"Among other things," Dylan placidly agreed.

"Yeah, sheís a real bear if you get on her bad side, which I try not to do too often."

"Youíre making progress."

Cat chuckled. "All around, though, sheís pretty cool. AndÖ." Cat stopped and turned to Dylan. "Sheís got the sweetest kiss Iíve ever tasted."

It was meant to be a light-hearted comment, given the conversation between them, but when their eyes met, their smiles dropped away. Cat raised her chin as Dylan lowered her head, and their lips met sweetly, softly. It was a kiss not so much of passion but of promise. A promise of what lay between them and what that could become.

Each allowed themselves to be lost in it for a moment, closing their bodies together in a gentle embrace that was warm, and comforting.

When they finally broke apart, their smiles reappeared, and they gazed at one another, eyes bright even in the darkness of the lot.

"Oh, I can tell. This is going to be nice. Very nice," Cat purred, still tasting Dylan on her lips.

"Oh yeah," was all Dylan had words for.

*******

Cat picked up the phone, took her tea from the counter, and tucked her Kleenex under her arm as she headed to the couch. Once she was there she sat everything on the coffee table, which was littered with aspirin bottles, various nasal decongestants, throat sprays and a big bottle of Nyquil.

She felt awful; it was the worst cold she remembered since childhood. Hamlet yawned and flipped over on his back, his favorite toy lodged in his mouth. "Yes, I called it a cold, alright?" she grumbled. "God, just kill me. Maybe then I can get some sleep."

She stared at the phone. Something, some inner voice, was telling her to call her folks. She didnít know why it was so insistent. Sheíd, after all, called them at least twice a week since sheíd moved away.

This was different, though.

"Probably the fever," she muttered before lifting the handset from the receiver and dialing the number she knew by heart.

The phone rang three times before her mother finally picked it up.

"Mom, it Cat."

"Sweetheart, you sound awful."

"I feel awful. I have a horrible cold and I needed my Mommy," she whined in the most convincing voice possible, which wasnít really hard.

Her mother chuckled. "Iím glad to hear it. Do you have a fever?"

"Probably."

"Have you taken your temperature?"

"Mom, my throat is sore, my nose is so plugged I canít take a drink without feeling like Iím choking, and my head feels like itís in Daddyís vise. If I have a fever, itís the least of my worries."

"Oh honey, Iím sorry."

"So am I."

"Gargle with warm salt water."

"Yuck." She wrinkled her nose at the memory of the much detested childhood cure.

"You know it works."

Cat sighed. "Yes Mom."

"Other than the cold, are you all right sweetheart?"

"Yeah, I just felt miserable and wanted to call. How are you guys doing?"

"Weíre fine, dear. Your brother Luke has a new girlfriend who ate supper with us tonight. Iím not exactly sure where she got her manners, but it surely wasnít within a godfearing family like ours."

Cat allowed her mother to ramble on without comment, soaking in the sound of her voice like a poultice. She felt her eyelids grow heavy, and stiffened quickly when she heard her motherís strident tone.

"Donít you agree, dear?"

"More than you could ever know," Cat replied, winging it. "Weíre going on a road trip day after tomorrow."

"Flying?"

"Uh-huh."

"Oh, that should be fun. Especially with you as stuffed up as you are."

"Tell me about it."

"Can they put you in the injured list?"

"Mom, I wouldnít let them bench me when I was hurt, Iím sure not going to do it over a cold. Besides if the team doctor thinks I canít play, theyíll make me sit out anyhow, but I still have to go."

"I wish I could help, but Iím several hundred miles away and Iím going to see your grandma tomorrow."

"Give her hugs and kisses for me."

"Oh I will. Sheís so proud of you. Sheís got a big poster of you framed in the living room."

"Oh God. Where did she get that?"

"I asked her the same thing and she showed me. She got on the Internet, Cat, and ordered off the Badgersí website."

"Youíre joking, right? My grandmother knows how to use the web?"

Since her grandmother was pushing ninety, she felt justified in asking the question.

"And apparently sheís very good at it, too."

Cat laughed, which caused her to cough. "Well Mom, I feel like crap, so Iím going to drink my tea, take my Nyquil and go to bed."

"As yes, Nyquil, the take in the kitchen and hope to hell you make it to the bedroom medicine."

"To hell with the bedroom. Iím sleeping on the couch."

"Well, take care of yourself and call me when you get home."

"Oh, I will. Give my love to Dad and the boys. Iíll talk to you soon. Love ya Mom."

"Love you too, honey. Feel better soon."

"Iíll try my best. Bye."

"Bye Catherine."

******

Two days later, the Badgers and their coaching staff were waiting at Gate 22-A, ready to board the commercial flight that would take them to Los Angeles. Where most teams flew in private planes chartered by the owner, the Badgers were stuck with commercial transportation given that Johnson scored a good deal with one of the lesser knownóand cheapónational carriers.

As a result, the team, and especially Dylan, was mobbed the moment they stepped into the terminal by autograph seeking fans, and not even the close confines of the planes they flew provided them any relief. Security was non-existent on such trips, and Dylan was about at the end of her rope.

This trip was no different, though Mac, the assistant coaches and trainers had formed a phalanx around Dylan, allowing her at least some respite from the crush of fawning humanity.

They all breathed sighs of relief when the gate attendant finally called for boarding of their flight.

Just as she was about to board, Catís cellphone rang, and she stepped out of line to answer it. "Hello?"

"Hey, sis." Her brother Luke was on the other end, and just the tone of his voice sent alarm bells ringing.

"Luke? What is it? Whatís wrong?"

"Itís Mom. Sheís been in an accident."

Catís stomach plummeted to the floor. She could feel herself pale and a buzzing hiss filled her ears.

Dylan noticed immediately and beckoned Mac over. Mac took one look at Cat, nodded to Dylan, and took over the job of escorting the rest of the team onto the plane.

"Cat? Are you there?"

"Y-yes. Iím here. HowÖhow is she?"

"I dunno, sis. Dad just called a few minutes ago. Heís on the way to the hospital now. He told me to call you and ask you to wait wherever you are until he can get a hold of you."

"Iím in the airport, just about to board the plane to Los Angeles."

An hand came down on Catís shoulder, and she looked up into the concerned eyes of Dylan. The Coach shook her head once in silent communication, and Cat nodded.

"Iíll stay right here, Luke, alright? If Dad calls you first, tell him to call me as soon as he can."

"I will, sis. I gotta go. I donít want to tie up the phone lines."

"Okay, Luke. Iíll talk to you later."

Ending the call, Cat folded her phone closed and turned to Dylan. "My momÖ."

Reading Catís face easily, Dylan took her hand and led her away from the crowded and gawping gate.

Cat followed Dylanís lead, her body on auto-pilot, holding her tears in by sheer strength of will.

Dylan led Cat down the twists and turns of the terminal until she reached a set of unobtrusive steel doors, which she pushed open and stepped through into a relatively small, elegantly furnished, and nearly empty room. Dylan continued walking over to a corner table that sat by the large bank of polarized windows which provided a panoramic view of the tarmac below. She ushered Cat into one of the chairs, then squatted down by the younger womanís side, not touching, but close.

Cat felt the tears begin to fall, and she ducked her head, unable to control them any longer. "SheÖwas in an accident. I donít knowÖ if sheís gonnaÖ be alright."

"Oh, sweetheart," Dylan whispered, reaching out and gathering Cat into a comforting, secure embrace.

Catís hands reached out blindly, crushing the lapels of Dylanís blazer in a desperate grip as she let the fear for her mother roll over her in tumultuous waves. It was something she hated to do, cry in front of others, but Dylan made her feel safe enough to let out the fear and grief she felt in the only way she could.

Gradually, the force of the wave slackened somewhat and, with a shake of her head, Cat finally pulled away, wiping her reddened, puffy eyes with the heel of her hands. She flushed when she saw the state of Dylanís crumpled, damp suit.

"Iím sorry. IÖ."

"ís alright," Dylan drawled, giving Cat a slight smile as she reached up and brushed her thumb against one final tear glistening on the younger womanís cheek.

Catís phone chirped, and she froze, turning wide, unblinking eyes to Dylan. It chirped a second, then a third time, finally breaking her paralysis. Lowering a shaking hand, she picked up the phone, almost dropped it, then secured her grip as she opened it. "H-hello?"

"Hi, Kitten. Itís dad."

"Dad? Howóhow is---?"

The smile in her fatherís voice was obvious even through the poor, crackling connection. "Sheís gonna be fine, sweetheart. Just a little bumped and bruised, thatís all."

The relief that swept through Cat was almost as draining as the fear had been. She slumped back against the thick padding of her chair, weak as a newborn.

"Cat? Cat, are you there?"

"Yeah, Dad. JustÖ.thank godÖ. Youíre sure sheís alright?"

"Perfectly sure, honey. Especially after the shot the doctor just gave her. Whatever she might be feeling, it sure isnít pain."

"Thank god. Alright." Cat sat up, her mind whirling. "Iím at the airport now. I think I can get the next flightÖ."

"No, itís alright. You just go on to California with your team."

"But DadÖ"

"Cat, your mother made me promise that I wouldnít let you come home."

"Wouldnít let me? Dad, Iím an adult here, in case you and mom forgot."

"Oh, honey, I know that but, wellÖ." He paused as he cleared his throat. "Your mother, despite what she tells you, is very proud of you. Sheís invited her friends over to watch you tomorrow so she can brag to them all about what a success her beloved daughter is."

Cat felt her jaw unhinge as she listened to her fatherís completely unexpected confession-by-proxy.

"SheÖwhat??"

"Itís true, sweetheart. Your mother would kill me if she knew I told you, but itís true."

"Kill you? Isnít she there now?"

Her father chuckled. "Yup, all but passed out on the stretcher with a goofy grin on her face."

Cat all but choked, holding the phone away from her ear as her motherís fuzzy voice erupted over the tinny speaker, singing, of all things, "Cheeseburger in Paradise."

"Dad?" Cat croaked, but her father was laughing too hard to answer. "Dad??"

When her fatherís voice came back on the line, it was wheezy with spent laughter. "Sósorry sweetheart. I justÖnever expected that from your mother."

"I didnít even know she could sing!" Cat winced as a particularly sour note rang through the phone. "If you can call that singing."

"Just thank God you can hang up whenever you want. I have a feeling Iíll be enduring this little concert for a while yet."

"Are you sure thereís nothing she needs?"

"Nothing but a little rest and a lot of TLC, both of which I can give her. Now you just go on ahead and catch the next flight to sunny California, alright? Call us when you get there and Iíll fill you in on the latest."

Cat sighed, then nodded. "Okay, Dad. Tell mom I love her."

"As soon as she stops singing, I will, sweetheart. Fly safe. I love you."

"I love you too, Dad. Bye."

"Bye, honey."

Folding the phone and slipping it into her carryall, Cat smiled at the warm hand on her wrist.

"Everything okay?" Dylan asked.

"Aside from my mother arranging an impromptu jam session in the middle of the ER, yeah, everythingís fine. She just got a little banged up."

"Thatís good to hear."

A bit embarrassed, Cat rubbed at the back of her neck. "IÖumÖguess we missed the flight out, huh?"

Dylan grinned. "Never fear. Iíve made some alternate arrangements. Anytime youíre ready, we can head out."

"I guess Iím ready now."

Standing with a fluid grace so much a part of her, Dylan reached down and helped Cat up from the comfortable couch. She hugged the smaller woman quickly, bending to whisper in her ear. "Iím glad your momís alright."

"So am I," Cat replied. "And thanks. For caring."

Dylan gave her a rakish grin. "Not a problem at all."

*******

Dylan escorted Cat through the main terminal and into a smaller, less crowded part of the sprawling complex. After speaking quietly to a tall, uniformed man standing beside a stout door, they were ushered outside and onto the tarmac where a small jet, painted a garish purple and black and sporting Horace Johnsonís company name, waited, its engines growling softly.

Cat turned wide eyes to Dylan, who smirked down at her as she ascended the short flight of steps that led her up to the open hatchway. That smirk turned into a carefully neutral mask as Dylan stepped into the dimly lighted plane, giving a short nod to Johnson and his "secretary"óshe of the platinum blonde hair and surgically enhanced assets. "Horace."

"Took you long enough," the team owner grumbled, only briefly tearing his rheumy eyes away from his assistantís cleavage to shoot his head coach an irritated scowl.

"It couldnít be helped," Dylan replied, stepping forward in order to give Cat enough room to enter behind her.

"Mr. Johnson," Cat said, panting slightly as she entered the plane, "thank you. I appreciate you offering this. My mother--"

Johnson grunted dismissively, not even bothering to look at Cat as he turned his attention back to the woman at his side.

Dylan shot him a look that would have gotten her summarily fired had he seen it and, grasping Catís hand in hers, led the way down the narrow aisle until they came to two empty seats across from the team physician who was sprawled out comfortably across her own row, grinning up at them. "Flying with the big dogs, I see."

"Heís too much of a pig to be a dog," Dylan grumbled, stepping aside and gesturing for Cat to grab the window seat, then settling down beside her. "Whoís the new trophy?"

"Eh," Norton replied, shrugging, "somebody he met at some good olí boy beer swill somewhere, Iím sure." The doctor laughed. "You sure can hear the wind whistling between those ears."

"Isnít Mr. Johnson married?" Cat asked, adjusting herself in her seat and buckling the belt securely around her waist.

Dylan and Norton laughed.

"Horace wouldnít know the word Ďfidelityí if it came and bit him in the ass," the doctor snorted, clasping her own belt. "I think heís a majority stockholder in the Bimbo-of-the-Month Club."

"And he has a problem with me being gay?" Cat asked, offended.

Norton laughed again, but her chuckle was rueful. "Par for the course for idiots like him, Cat. Par for the course."

Cat sighed, shaking her head. "That bites."

"That it does, my friend."

Plane seats were never intended for someone as tall as Dylan, and with her knees scrunched practically up to her chin and nowhere for her broad shoulders to comfortably rest, she closed her seatbelt and willed the flight a quick one as possible.

Feeling Cat stiffen, Dylan turned her head to the side, smiling wryly. "Try not to let him get to you too much, Cat. Heís not worth it."

Cat returned the smile. "Itís not that. Not really."

Dylan frowned, noticing her companionís sudden pallor. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Cat replied, shifting a little. "Iím fine. Itís justÖ."

"The flight?"

"I donít mind flying. I kinda like it, actually. But this plane. Itís just soÖsoÖ."

"Cramped?"

Cat blushed as she turned her head fully to look at Dylan, noticing for the first time how her coachís body was crammed into the tiny seat. "UmÖyeah."

The feel of Dylanís hand, large enough to palm a basketball with ease, completely engulfing her own served to chase the fears and tumult of the day back into the dark recesses of her mind. A wave of lethargy swept over her, and as the planeís engines powered up for its taxi down the runway, she felt sleep claim her, her lolling head resting against Dylanís shoulder.

A soft chuckle brought Dylanís sharp gaze over to the snickering Kelly Norton, who gave her a cheesy grin and a waggling eyebrow before she turned away, blatantly ignoring the look of death shot her way.

Sighing, Dylan rested her head back against the seatback and stared straight ahead as the small jet gathered speed and took off into the vast evening sky.

*******

A dream, already fading, woke Cat from her sleep, gasping. Still tired eyes darted toward the window, where she was treated to a violent display of lightening sparking through the roiling clouds enveloping their tiny plane.

She gave a louder gasp when the plane seemed to plummet a heart-stopping length before finally finding stable air beneath it again and leveling out. Her knuckles white from the grip on the arms of her seat, Cat looked to her left. Both Dylan and the doctor were gone, leaving Cat alone in this part of the plane.

She uttered a breathless cry as a brilliant bolt of lightning slashed almost against the window and the plane, once again, plummeted.

Hearing the cry, Dylan quickly ducked back into the passenger area and strode over to Cat, holding the seatbacks in order to keep herself from stumbling about as the plane rocked wildly back and forth. "What is it, Cat? Whatís wrong?"

"WhatísÖ." Cat swallowed back the churning in her stomach. "Ögoing on?"

Dylan shook her head. "Weíve got a problem. Weíre almost over Denver and weíre gonna have to make an emergency landing."

"Because of the storm?"

"No. Norton thinks Horace is having a heart attack."

"Oh god. Is there anything I can do?" Cat sat up and struggled with the belt at her lap.

Dylan held up a hand. "No, keep it on. Weíre going to land soon." The plane dipped again, then tilted almost on its side, causing Dylan to nearly rip the seatback from its moorings as she kept herself from being thrown down the aisle. "I hope."

"Dylan?"

Dylan looked down into a pair of brilliant green eyes; eyes which held a strong determination, and the faintest spark of fear. The coach could relate. She wasnít ready to belt out "Ode to Joy" herself.

They both jumped, startled, as a lightning strike hit the plane, causing it to duck and shutter in a series of gut-wrenching dips and rises, as if it had suddenly landed in an amusement park and was substituting for the roller coaster. The lights dimmed, then shut down altogether, before coming back on in an eerie, flickering glow.

After a moment of relative calm, the plane wheeled crazily, uprooting Dylan and throwing her across Catís lap. She smacked her head hard against the bulkhead and pulled against the G forces pinning her down, seeing stars. Her guts sank, and stayed there.

"Dylan?"

Catís voice was more than frightened now. It contained a note of terror which mirrored the one thundering Dylanís heart.

Reaching up as she forced her body back against the seats at her back, Dylan grabbed Cat behind the neck and forced the younger womanís head between her own knees. "Stay down!" she shouted above the groaning and shrieking of tortured metal as the plane continued to drop. With the last of her energy, she forced herself to roll on top of Catís huddled, shaking form, cradling her as tightly and as closely as it was possible to get.

"Iím sorry," she whispered.

Then all hell broke loose.

*******

Dylan awoke, groaning softly at the abysmal pounding in her head. The groan turned into a sharp gasp of pain as she tried to wrench her badly jammed leg from beneath the decimated row of seats at her back. It was her bad leg, the one that had ended her playing days, and even during the worst of times, it had never hurt as badly as it was hurting now.

Taking several deep breaths to push herself past the pain, she wiggled her body as much as she was able, and finally freed her leg. The pain of blood suddenly returning to the limb almost caused her to pass out, but she hung on to consciousness grimly, instinctively knowing she was in more danger than a mere injured leg was telling her.

Realizing she hadnít opened her eyes yet, she did so, and discovered that whatever had rattled her brains had also either struck her blind, or she was in pitch blackness. She betóand prayedóon the latter.

Blinking several times, she pulled her left arm out from where it had been trapped beneath her body and felt around gingerly, hoping for a clue to her current situation. The very tips of her fingers brushed against several soft, silky strands, bringing with it the unmistakable scent of Catís shampoo. Her fingers traveled further until they encountered a warm, sticky residue that could only be one thing.

Blood.

Ignoring the sharp, piercing pain in her knee joint, Dylan scrambled back and into the aisle, then came forward slowly, feeling her way. A strong hand clamped on Catís unresponsive shoulder, and she gently pulled the woman upwards until she was sitting more or less upright. "Cat?" she whispered, shaking the shoulder in her hand. "Cat? Answer me, sweetheart. Please answer me."

Still no response.

With less than steady fingers, Dylan felt blindly along Catís shoulder and up her neck until she pressed lightly against the pulsepoint. Her body sagged in relief as she felt the slow, strong and steady bounding of Catís heart.

"Ok," Dylan said to herself. "This is good. This is very good." She took a deep breath, considering her options. "Alright, Cat, Iím gonna leave you here, but just for a second, alright? I need to find out what happened, and how bad off we are. Iíll be right back, I promise."

There was no response, though she really didnít expect one.

Feeling carefully with her feet, Dylan set them down upon the litter-strewn ground and gingerly pushed herself up to a standing position. A wave of dizziness assailed her, followed immediately by a blinding bolt of pain that traveled from her knee joint straight up to her head. "Shit!" she gasped out, reaching down and grabbing her knee tightly as she tried to ride out the pain. "Damn it!"

After what seemed like hours, the pain finally dulled down to a roar of blood in her ears, and she slowly limped along the aisle in the direction of what she hoped was the front of the plane, taking great care not to trip over the myriad of objects strewn across the floor.

Hearing a soft moan, she headed for it. Her outstretched hand was clasped by another, warm and somehow comforting.

"Dylan?"

"Kelly? That you?"

A sigh of relief. "Yeah. You okay?"

"Pretty much," Dylan replied. "How about you?"

"Aside from a broken arm, I think Iíll live." When Dylan immediately released her hand, the doctor laughed softly. "No, itís the other one. Pretty useless right now."

"How about the others?"

"Johnsonís still alive. I can hear his breathing. Dunno about his Ďcompanioní or the pilot, though. Have any idea where we are?"

"Not a clue."

"Is Cat alright?"

"Yeah, I think so. I felt some blood. I think she hit her head. Sheís still unconscious."

"Alright. Iíll see what I can do to help, but first, we need to get some light on the subject. Donít suppose a plane like this has flashlights around anywhere, do you?"

"I think I remember seeing some when I walked in. Gimme a second and Iíll see what I can find."

Dylan continued to limp forward until she came to the partition that separated the cabin proper from the cockpit. Bending at the waist, she felt around along the floor and wall, finally brushing her fingers over several large, battery-powered flashlights clamped to the partition. Grabbing one, she tugged it free and pressed a button on its base.

"Jesus Christ," she whispered, looking at the destruction inside the small jet. The force of the crash and torn seats from their moorings and overturned tables. Several of the windows had shattered inward, littering the floor with shards of thick, tempered glass. Wires hung down from the ceiling, and the steady drip of water could be easily heard from above.

A low whistle came from Kelly. "How in the hell we managed to live through all this, Iíll never know."

Dylan shone the light to the right, were Johnson was laying on his back, his secretary collapsed across his chest and pelvis, and pinned down by part of the roof which was laying across her back. Johnsonís face was a sickly gray and his breath came in whistling, groaning rasps.

"He doesnít look so good."

"Iím surprised heís made it this long," Norton remarked, slipping as close to the dying man as she was able.

"Hang on, let me see if I can move this crap."

Norton nodded and knelt down by the couch, cradling her injured arm to her chest as Dylan carefully set the flashlight down and grasped the plastic panel.

*******

Catís head was pounding. Now however, she wasnít sure if it was the cold or the fact that the plane had just fallen out of the sky. She blinked, trying to get her bearings, which wasnít easy. Feeling something on the side of her face she reached up to find blood covering her fingers when she brought them away from her face.

"Donít panic Cat." These words she said aloud just to make sure her mouth and ears were still functioning. "Donít panic. You bumped your head, but youíre still alive, so letís just concentrate on that."

She realized she could see by the dim light filtering in somewhere ahead of her. Reaching down into her lap, she struggled with the seatbelt. It wouldnít budge no matter how hard she pushed down on the release button. "Goddamnmotherpussbucket!" She slammed back against the seat she was trapped in, fighting back the urge to scream out her frustrations. Her eyes darted wildly around the dim interior, trying desperately to find Dylan.

Her soft exclamation was heard, and the dim light sharpened and started to bob. A moment later, Dylan limped into view, followed close behind by the team physician.

"Dylan! Thank god youíre okay!" She narrowed her eyes. "Youíre limping."

"Yeah, I know." The flashlight shone into her eyes briefly before flicking away. "You took a pretty nasty knock to the head. How are you feeling?"

"Like somebody scrambled up my brains for breakfast. I think Iíll be okay, though, as soon as this damn chair lets me go." She tried the release button again, then sagged back in frustration as it still refused to give. She turned plaintive eyes to the two women standing in the aisle. "Help?"

"Iíll give it my best shot," Norton quipped, smiling as she held up her now splinted left arm. "Thank god Iím right-handed. And no Ďphysician heal thyselfí jokes, if you please. Itís bad enough that an orthopod has a broken bone. The Wednesday golf sessions will never be the same."

Despite the circumstances, Cat couldnít help but laugh, which was, doubtless, what the physician had intended.

Norton eased herself in between the crushed and cramped seats, and a quick snip of her bandage scissors was enough to release Cat from her bondage. "Alright now. Let me get a look at that gash on your head. God above, Cat, youíre not having the greatest of years, are ya."

"No kidding."

Dylan carefully set the flashlight down on one of the few level places on the destroyed plane. Then she switched on the second one, shining the light back the way sheíd come. "Take care of Cat," she told the doc, "Iím going to check on the pilot and see if I can figure out were in the hell we are."

As she turned, Dylan bit her lip to keep from yelping as the pain shot through her leg once more. Moving slowly and carefully, she managed to make her way to the cockpit. Pulling the door open she, took a deep breath when she saw the pilot and what was left of the cockpit. Heíd brought them down hard, but they were alive. Heíd given his life to guarantee that.

The nose of the plane had impacted with a huge tree which had all but obliterated the cockpit and the man who manned the helm. The stench of blood and death was heavy in the confined space, and Dylan felt her guts roil. Knowing it was useless, but needing to try anyway, Dylan slipped her fingers along what remained of the manís neck, searching in vain for a pulse.

Only the cold stillness of death greeted her flesh, and she removed her hand quickly, wiping the thick, clotting blood on her slacks.

She set her now clean hand on his ruined shoulder, squeezing it. "Iím sorry, my friend. Thank you. For saving our lives. You died doing what you loved, and I know thatís enough. Godspeed."

She took a final look around the destroyed cockpit. There was nothing there that would be of any use to them. Rummaging around she managed to find what appeared to be a cell phone of some sort, but before she could inspect it, she heard Cat call for her.

Going back to the cabin, she paused when another sharp pain shot through her knee. "What?"

"Do you smell smoke?"

Dylan lifted her nose and sniffed. "Shit. We need to get out of here."

"How? Dylan, itís storming, we have no idea where we are. Horace isÖ" Cat stopped, feeling as if she was going to panic and knowing now was not the time.

The tall woman moved to the blonde and cupped her chin in the palm of her hand. "Weíre going to be all right. I promise."

Cat only nodded. She looked up when she felt Dylan run her fingers over a hastily applied band-aid. "Iím okay, just a little dizzy. But itís passing," she said, hastening to reassure Dylan.

"Can you help me?" Dylan asked after a moment of careful scrutiny.

"Sure. What should we do first?"

"First we need to see if we can force the door open and try to find shelter away from the plane. Iím not sure itís safe here."

Cat stood up slowly, feeling truly like she wanted to just die and get it over with. "First mom, now this."

"Easy, sweetheart," she said absently, turning away before noticing Catís shocked smile at the endearment. "Weíre going to be okay." She handed her the device she had found in the cockpit. "Check this out and see if itíll do us any good. Iím gonna check on Horace."

"íKay." Cat watched Dylan limp away, then she opened the phone.

Dylan looked down at Norton who was tending to Horace, trying to keep him warm and comfortable. Even as a doctor, there was little she could do, and no equipment to do it with.

"The pilot is dead." Dylan said softly.

"Damn," the doctor sighed. "Iím not sure Horace is going to make it either."

"Now for more bad news," Dylan glanced at the blonde Ďassistantí who had come through it with nary a scratch, and who was currently curled up against a wall, trying and failing not to cry. "Iím afraid the plane isnít safe. Cat and I can smell a faint hint of smoke."

"I can smell it too, although that could just be residual from the crash."

"True, but Iíd rather not risk it. Cat and I are going to try and get us out of here. Will you be all right until we get back?"

"Do I really have a choice?"

"Guess not." Dylan sighed. "Weíll be back as soon as we can."

Returning to the front part of the cabin, Dylan watched as Cat worked with the phone. "Please tell me you have good news."

"Sort of. Itís a Satphone. Bad news the storm is interfering with the signal."

"Terrific."

"Itís not all black. The phone has a GPS, and I think I have it set to broadcast an SOS."

"How did you figure that out?" Dylan was clearly impressed.

"My oldest brother is an absolute technology geek. He knows all about this stuff and there were always magazines lying around the house. Now Iím not sure the signal is getting out either, but once the storm clears we should be able to use the phone and figure out where we are."

"Thatís the best news Iíve had all night." She winced and rubbed her knee.

"Sit down." Cat ordered and moved to help her. "How bad is it?"

"Itís okay, just a little twisted."

"No bullshit, Dylan. Iím not in the mood."

The coach nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I hurt it."

"Shit." Cat began to look around the cabin for something she could use to stabilize the knee.

"Look in my bag," Norton half yelled. "Iíve got a few splints in there. Itís the orange one."

Cat dug in the requisite bag and came out with a long knee brace that had Velcro straps to hold it together. "This one?"

"Yeah, thatíll work. Strap it on tight or itíll just make things work."

Going back to Dylan she knelt down and wrapped the knee, placing the bandage over the tan pants that seemed to have a bit of blood splatter on them. "Are you hurt some place else youíre not telling me about?"

"No. I think thatís your blood."

"Sorry."

"Donít worry about it." She jumped a bit when Cat tightened the splint.

"Too tight?"

"No itís just right, thanks."

Cat sat back on the floor and wiped her eyes. It was all she could do to keep from crying. "Damn." She looked up, "Are you sure weíre going to be okay?"

"I promised didnít I?"

"Yeah."

Dylan grasped Catís hand and smiled. "Címon," she said, hauling herself back to her feet. "Letís get the hell outta here."

*******

After about ten minutes of pushing and banging on the crumpled cabin door, they finally pushed it open. The night air was cold and wet, the rain was steady but not hard. The sky was dark and the clouds kept most of the natural light of the moon from shining through.

Cat pushed the steps over the side, and they hung in a jumbled mess halfway to the ground. Luckilly, the plane had taken a belly landing and the ground wasnít that far below. Cat jumped down easily. Dylan bit back a groan of pain as her injured leg briefly bore her whole bodyís weight.

Both turned as one to see the wreckage the crash had wrought.

The nose had been all but ripped off, as were both wings. The tail section was crushed and torn away from the plane but not ripped completely off.

"Weíre screwed," Cat said, then sneezed, a gentle reminder she was still sick as hell.

Dylan silently shook her head. "Okay, first things first. I donít know where we are, but Horace isnít gonna make it if we just sit here on our asses waiting for a rescue that we donít even know is coming. We need to get moving."

As Dylan hobbled away, Cat caught up to her and stopped her with a hand to her arm. "Dylan, wait."

The coach stopped and turned to Cat, eyebrow raised. "Yes?"

"I think it might be better if we made some sort of shelter here and waited. No wait, hear me out," she continued quickly as Dylan looked prepared to argue. "Youíre right when you say that we donít know where we are. For all we know, we could take three steps in any direction and blunder off the side of a mountain somewhere. Itís dark, itís raining, and weíre lost."

"And Horace Johnson is dying," Dylan replied, voice tight. "I might not like the bastard, but I canít sit by and do nothing while it happens."

"But the satt phoneÖ."

"You said yourself that you didnít know if the signal would penetrate the storm. I canít risk it, Cat. Much as Iíd rather just sit here and wait, thereís no way of knowing when, or even if, weíd be rescued. We need to move." Her lips turned up in a wry smile. "Hell, this is America. I remember reading somewhere that there isnít a place in this whole country that doesnít have a maintained road within several miles."

"But youíre hurtÖ."

"So are you. And so is Kelly. But none of us is hurt as badly as he is." Dylanís eyes softened and she grabbed Catís hand in her own, squeezing it gently. "I have to try, Cat. I canít just sit around waiting. Not when someoneís life is on the line. I just canít."

After a long moment, Cat sighed and nodded. "Do you promise to take it easy, and stop if it gets to be too much for any one of us?"

"I promise."

Smiling, Cat stood up on tiptoe and kissed a stunned Dylan softly on the lips. "I believe you. Now letís go take care of business."

With that, Cat trotted off, back toward the plane, leaving a wide-eyed Dylan behind.

*******

Dylan, Cat, and Kelly, despite their various injuries, made quick work of salvaging the wreckage of anything that would be of use, and strapping Johnson to a backboard stretcher that had come through the crash miraculously unharmed. Of the secretary, who Cat discovered had the totally fitting name of Tawny, there was little effort to help, as her constant whining had forced the doc to dope her up with some potent antianxiety medication that had her huddled off to one side, humming to herself and grinning idiotically at nothing.

"Well, we wonít starve," Dylan commented as she tossed the gear out the door.

"Got a Big Mac in your pocket?" Cat teased as she picked up a couple cushions they decided would make good pillows.

"No, but I imagine by the time we get out of here, Iíll even be willing to eat one of those."

"Funny, I was thinking if we were gonna be here too long you could make soup from roots or something."

"Well, after a few days of that I might even be convinced to eat pizza."

"We could do vegetarian on half."

"Youíre on and Iím buying."

"Itís a date." Cat grinned, thinking that this was the most absurd way she had ever been asked out. "It is a date isnít it?"

"You bet it is."

Dylan handed the solar blanket to the doctor to give to Horace to keep him warm. "He needs this worse than we do." She didnít know how, but the bigoted old bastard was still alive, though deeply unconscious and gray as ashes. "You ready?"

"Guess so."

"Letís go."

*******

With Norton, powerful flashlight in hand, taking point and Dylan and Cat carrying Johnsonís stretcher between them, the small group began to make its way away from the planeís wreckage and, hopefully, toward some indication of civilization.

The rain had slackened some, but the night was still dark and moonless. The scent of evergreen, damp and sharp, filled their otherwise dulled senses. They followed a game trail that sloped steadily downward at a gentle grade.

Dylanís knee felt like it had been filled with broken glass, shooting bright spikes of pain through her body with every limping step she took. Every time she was almost ready to call a halt, however, she would look down at Johnsonís gray and pain wracked face and push on, figuring that while she could worry about her knee later, Johnson simply didnít have that kind of time.

They continued in this vein for almost an hour before Kelly Norton held them up with an upraised hand.

"What is it?" Cat asked. "Why are we stopping?"

"Iím not sure," the doc replied, voice slightly muffled. "I canít see much, but thereís something about this that I donít like."

As if by providence, the moon chose that moment to sail out from behind the rapidly dwindling clouds. By the moonís eerie, ghostly light, they were all able to see that Nortonís instincts had undoubtedly saved their lives.

"Holy Jesus," Cat breathed, looking down an almost sheer cliff face that dropped off below them not more than five steps away. "I guess I wasnít kidding when I said I was afraid weíd wander off a mountain, was I."

Dylan slowly lowered her end of the stretcher, prompting Cat to do the same. Once Johnson was safely on the ground, Dylan came around his prone body and walked almost to the edge of the cliff. "Long drop," she remarked softly.

"Youíre not kidding," Norton replied eyeing the almost bottomless well yawing before them.

"What do we do now?" Cat asked.

A low scud of clouds crossed the moon, painting the world black again.

"I think itís best if we stop for the night," Dylan said, her voice discouraged. "I know it wonít help Horace any, but we canít risk walking any more in the dark. Itís just too dangerous, now that we know what weíre up against. We can start out again at dawn."

Cat nodded and touched Dylan lightly on the back, knowing how much it had cost her coach to make that decision.

"Iíll have to agree," Norton said, turning away from the chasm. "Letís move back to that little clearing we passed through and pray that no one walks in their sleep."

*******

While Kelly Norton took care of settling Johnson and tending to his needs as best she could, Dylan and Cat took care of gathering as much fallen wood as they could. Many of the branches had been sheltered from the worst of the storm by the trees towering above them, and they both soon returned with armfuls of kindling with which to start a fire. Norton leant them her Zippo and soon a warm fire was blazing in a good sized clearing in the woods.

"With any luck," Dylan remarked, "any rescue passing overhead will see this and know where we are."

"I hope so," Cat replied rubbing her arms with her hands as her teeth chattered. "God, Iím freezing!" Then she doubled over with a coughing fit that left her cheeks an alarming shade of plum. "S-sorry b-bout that," she said when she could finally straighten.

Dylan moved to her smaller friend, expression deeply concerned, and opened her arms. "Come here."

Cat moved to her and they settled down together next to a downed tree and near fire. They booth looked at Norton, who gave them a grim thumbs up.

"Heíll freak if he come to and sees this," Cat remarked between the shivers, as Dylan drew a coat over them.

"Ask me if I give a flying fuck at the moment." Dylan felt her knee really starting to stiffen and visions of more surgery flashed through her mind. "Are you getting warmer?"

"Yes, thank you. Youíre a great hot water bottle."

"Well, sharing body heat is about the only way weíre going to ward off hypothermia, so feel free to cuddle all you like."

"You know you didnít have to order a plane crash to get me to put my arms around you."

Dylan chuckled and kissed the top of Catís head. "Well, you know me, when I do something I do it big."

As the night wore on, Cat finally fell into a restless slumber. Dylan remained about half awake and could hear Catís cold coming back with a vengeance as she began to cough and wheeze. She held her tighter, relishing the feel of the smaller woman in her arms, and rested a damp cheek against Catís soft hair.

Please God, get us out of here.

*******

Dawn was still many hours away when Dylan was roused from a light, very fitful sleep by a sound out of place with those around her.

As she blinked the sleep from her eyes, she cocked her head, willing the sound to return so that she could identify it.

The rain had stopped, allowing the normal night sounds of the thick forest to take over once again. A soft moan came from slightly below her, and Dylan looked down to see Cat huddled tightly against her, face streaked and shiny with sweat. She was mumbling incoherently within the grip of some fevered dream, and her body was emitting a great heat.

"Shit," Dylan swore softly through gritted teeth as she shifted slightly, trying to make a more comfortable nest for the uneasy Cat.

"Dylan," Norton called, sharply. "Help me. Heís coding."

"Wha--?" Carefully, but quickly, easing herself away from Cat, Dylan half ran, half stumbled her way around the fire to where Johnson lay, ignoring the agony in her knee.

"You need to help me. We have to start CPR but with this broken arm, I canít do compressions. If you can do them, Iíll work on mouth-to-mouth, okay?"

"What about her?" Dylan asked, pointing to the platinum blonde head that peeked out from beneath the solar blanket as she awkwardly knelt down beside Johnson.

"Dead to the world. Címon, Dylan, I need your help."

"Alright," Dylan replied shortly, getting into position and placing the heel of her hand on the lower third of his sternum as Norton knelt at his head and tilted his head back, opening his airway. "Ready?"

Nodding, Norton bent her head and delivered two quick breaths. Coming up, she nodded to Dylan, who began compressions, counting each one out in a slow, liquid rhythm. After two rounds of compressions and rescue breathing, Norton called a halt and felt for a pulse.

There wasnít one.

"Shit. Ok, start again."

Several more rounds continued in the same vein. With the same result.

They were getting ready to resume when Dylan stiffened and cocked her head, listening.

"What is it?"

"Helicopter."

"Youíre kidding, right?"

"No, listen."

As Dylan continued compressions, Norton looked up through the leafy canopy, then grinned when she saw a large searchlight playing back and forth in slow arcs over the ground. "They found us!"

"Not yet they havenít."

Taking a deep breath, Dylan briefly rested all of her weight on her injured knee and lashed out behind her with her good leg, impacting the stuporous body of the blond bimbo behind her.

Said bimbo rolled over from the force of the blow, and remained where she lay, completely out for the count.

"You sure she isnít the one we should be doing this to?" Dylan asked, eyebrow raised as her hands continued to press down on Johnsonís sternum.

"Hey, that was some powerful shit I gave her."

"You sound like a streetcorner drug dealer." Dylan gratefully took a rest as Norton breathed for Johnson. Looking behind her, she noticed Catís huddled form near the fire. She looked up, still tracking the circling helicopter. Shit. I donít wanna do this. She needs her rest. Damn.

"Cat!!"

Hodge fought her way up through layers of fevered images, horrifying and terrifically sharp in their intensity.

"Cat!!"

It was as if she was swimming, and the nebulous voice calling out to her was some bizarre lifeline. She headed toward it as the dizzying dream images conspired to lay false traps for her consciousness.

"Cat! Wake up!!"

Her eyes snapped open and she quickly, without realizing it, rolled to her feet, balanced on the balls like a fighter ready for attack.

Then the nausea hit, sinking its claws into her belly and twisting.

Dylan was saying something to heróscreaming it, reallyóbut she couldnít understand the words over the sick thumping in her head and the queasy accompaniment of her guts. To take her mind off of both, she squinted, trying to determine, through a fuzzy and vapor locked mind, exactly why Dylan was kneeling by Horace Johnson and why she was pressing his chest like that.

The answer hit her like a ton of rubble, and she stagger-stumbled her way over to Dylanís side, bighting back the urge to collapse into a shivering ball only with the greatest of wills.

"Oh my god! Is heÖ"

"Never mind that," Dylan bit off, resuming her rhythmic compressions. "Thereís a helicopter out there looking for us. Grab the spare flashlight and try to flag them down, okay?"

"UmÖyeah. I can do that."

"Still nothing," Norton said, feeling for a pulse as Dylan paused.

"Cat?"

"Yes?"

"Hurry."

The urgency in Dylanís voice cut through the fever-fog, and Cat jumped to, bending quickly to scoop up the large flashlight and running out into the forest. When she tipped the light upward, she realized that the canopy above was much too thick to allow the beam to penetrate, so she continued to run forward, half-remembering another large clearing theyíd passed through earlier that night. Or this morning.

Or whenever it was.

Finally, the overhead canopy broke and she strode out into the large, roughly circular clearing, and swung her flashlight upwards in large, beckoning arcs. "Hey!!" she shouted, knowing they couldnít hear her, but some part of her needing to try. "Hey! Weíre here!! Hey!!!"

The shouting touched off another coughing spell, this one so silent that it doubled her over and almost caused her to lose her grip on the flashlight. As she gasped for breath, she feebly waved the light, praying desperately that they would see her and respond.

A moment later, the helicopterís huge searchlight blinked on, then off, then on again, and a thin rope lolled out of the open door, followed quickly by a man clad in an orange jumpsuit who shimmied down the rope and to the ground.

"Oh," Cat gasped, "thank you god. Thank you."

When she was finally able to straighten, she saw the man hit the ground and come running toward her, bulky duffel in his hand. "Miss? Are you alright?"

"YesÖmy friendsÖback thereÖhurry!"

******

Dylan didnít bother disguising her sigh of relief as the rescue worker displaced her position at Johnsonís side and pulled out the automatic defibrillator he had in his duffel. Within a matter of a minute, he had the electrodes taped to the manís still chest. A second later, he read off the rhythm, and a message which didnít tell him anything he didnít know already. A soft hum as the machine powered up, and he looked around, making sure no one was touching the patient.

"Stand clear," ordered the defibrillator in a robotic voice. A second later, Johnsonís body jumped as the electrodes fired.

"Asystole. Check for pulse," the machine then commented, letting them know the first try had failed. "Check for pulse."

"Nothing," the rescue worker replied, confirming the mechanical diagnosis. "Letís try again."

Another soft hum, another charge, and Johnsonís lifeless body jerked again.

"Houston," the man said softly, "we have liftoff."

The small group, hurting and tired and bedraggled as it was, brightened considerably.

"Heís not out of the woods yet," the rescue worker cautioned, "butÖyou guys probably just saved his life."

With that, he looked up and around, and his eyes widened, and he jumped to his feet quickly. "Arenít youÖ?"

Dylan nodded.

"And youíreÖ."

Cat nodded, a little surprised that sheíd been recognized.

The manís face split into an enormous grin. "Wow. My wifeís gonna be so jealous when I tell her I met DylanÖ." His smile faded as a blush stole up his cheeks and ears. "Oh my godÖI met Dylan Lambert!! I canít believe it!!"

The sound of a throat being softly cleared broke the young man from his haze, and he looked back down at the team physician, who was still crouched at Johnsonís head.

His response was cut short by the helicopterís pilot jogging into the clearing, bulging equipment bag slung over one broad shoulder. He nodded at them all, then knelt down by Johnson, assessing the downed man and talking quietly to his partner. Then he stood, looking the group over carefully.

"Yaíll arenít dressed for camping. Howíd you get all the way up here?"

"Plane crashed," Dylan succinctly stated.

"Isnít that why youíre here?" Cat asked, puzzled.

The pilot shook his head. "No. We were following the SOS signal. We get Ďem all the time from campers who get lost or stuck up here. Not a friendly place to be, if you get my meaning."

"Itís not as if we had a choice." Nortonís mildly chiding voice filtered up from the ground.

"We didnít hear of any plane crashes in the vicinity." The pilot was more than a little defensive.

"Youíre more than welcome to check out the wreckage yourself, if you want," Dylan offered, eyebrow raised as she leveled a challenging stare at the young, cocky man.

The pilot cleared his throat and broke off the stare, looking around the clearing, uncomfortable. "No, thatís alright. I believe you."

"Lucky us," was Nortonís dry reply.

"Well," he said finally, once again in control, "Iím afraid we werenít expecting quite so large a group."

""salright," Dylan drawled. "Get Johnson outta here. He needs it the most. Take the doc too, if you can. She can give you his history."

"Horace Johnson? The electronics guy?"

"Thatíd be him."

"We were on our way to LA for the game," Cat interjected before doubling over with another coughing fit.

"Damn. I didnít realizeÖ. Was there anyone else in the plane?"

"Just the pilot," Dylan replied. "He didnít make it."

"Shit. Okay, we can take him andÖare you the doctor?"

Norton nodded.

"Okay, we can take you two over to Rocky Mountain Regional and then head back over here." He looked up at Dylan, a bit disconcerted to find a woman towering over him. "WillÖwill you be alright here for a little longer?"

Dylan looked to Cat, who nodded, though she looked absolutely miserable.

"Got any blankets?" Dylan asked.

The pilot reached into his duffel. "Sure. Here." He handed over two large, warm blankets, which Dylan and Cat took gratefully, wrapping them around their drenched and shivering bodies.

"What about her?" the younger medic asked, poking the unconscious secretary. "She hurt?"

"Tranked," Dylan replied, a smirk twitching the corner of her mouth. "Sheíll be okay with us."

"If you say so," the medic remarked.

"I do."

"Alright then. Letís get him wrapped up and stowed aboard."

Moments later, the clearing was empty save for the unconscious bimbo and Dylan and Cat. "You doing alright?" Dylan asked, looking down on the bowed head before her.

Cat looked up and attempted a smile.

It wasnít very successful.

"Iíll live." Her eyes darted down to Dylanís knee which was visible through a part in the blanket covering the tall, lean form. "How Ďbout you?"

Dylan shrugged. "The same." She allowed a small smile to form, opened the blanket, and spread out her arms. "Címon, letís share some body heat."

Cat looked at her askance for a moment, then laughed. "We havenít even had our first date yet!"

"Think of this as a pre-dating ritual. Snuggle together, keep warm, works for me."

Cat laughed again. "Me too." Stepping forward, she wrapped her blanket around them both from the inside, and Dylan wrapped hers around from the outside. The rather large disparity in their heights placed Catís cheek against a warm, soft nest, and she couldnít resist snuggling in, breathing her first contented sigh of the adventure.

"Oh yeah," she breathed, voice husky as she took in the warmth and scent surrounding her. "This definitely works."

********

"No."

"But, Ms. LambertÖ."

"I said Ďnoí." Dylan sighed. "Look, just give me whatever papers I need to sign so that I can leave AMA and Iím outta your hair, alright?"

"Ms. Lambert, I wouldnít recommendÖ."

"Of course you wouldnít. Thatís why Iím not asking you to. Just give me the papers already. Iíve got a plane to catch."

It had taken some doing, but she had finally convinced Mac, via cellphone, to book them on the earliest flight out to LA. Crash or no crash, she wasnít about to miss the game.

And that gave herÖshe checked her watchÖexactly one hour and forty five minutes to spring herself from this prison disguised as a hospital and head to the airport.

Drumming her fingers on the stretcherís cold metal siderail, she glowered at the physician, who ignored her and fiddled with the X-rays hanging on the lighted board.

The door that separated Dylanís small triage area from the rest whooshed open, and Kelly Norton strode through, sporting a cast from fingers to above her elbow colored a garish purple and black. "No comments from the peanut gallery," she warned as she strode to Dylanís stretcher. "Howís tricks?"

The orthopaedic surgeon who was trying to treat Dylan looked over at the doctor, eyes wide. "Kelly Norton?"

"Thatís míname."

"Dear God! Itís an honor to meet you, Doctor. Your papers and lectures on the latest techniques in bone grafting were some of the best Iíve ever read on the subject!"

Norton smiled. "Iím glad you found them informative DoctorÖ." Squinting, she peered at his name badge. "Planton."

"Mike, please," the young surgeon said, reaching out and grasping Nortonís uninjured hand between both of his own. "This is really an honor. Iíve been a fan of your work for years."

"Um, yesÖwellÖ." Norton cleared her throat, uncomfortable with the younger manís blatant fawning. She looked over at Dylan, who gave her a wicked smirk. "Howís the knee?"

Dylan scowled. "Your friend there wonít let me out of here until he does an MRI, and radiology doesnít open until tomorrow morning. If he can manage to fit me in tomorrow morning. Which is highly in doubt."

Norton turned back to the doctor, eyebrow raised. The young man threw up his hands. "Itís standard medical practice. Her X-ray doesnít reveal any damage, but with the work thatís been done on that knee already, I donít feel that itís medically advisable to take any chances. We need that MRI. Thereís no way around it."

"And her clinical exam?"

"Gross swelling and ecchymosis over the joint. No crepitus, and it seems stable enough, but Iím not comfortable at all with taking a chance based on my clinical exam alone. Not what that knee and what itís already been through."

Norton turned to Dylan. "Heís got a point, my friend."

"I have my own points," Dylan retorted. "Point one: We all have a flight to catch in exactly one and a half hours now. Point two: I donít intend to miss that flight. Point three: If you donít give me those papers to sign, Iím gonna get down off this stretcher right now, brace or no brace, and Iím gonna be real pissed off when I do."

"I donít think we wanna know what point four is," Norton said dryly.

Dylan shot her a look.

Norton sighed. "Alright. Brace her up and release her to my care. Iíll make sure she gets that MRI right after the game tomorrow, if I have to trank her up to do it." Lowering her face, she stared directly into Dylanís flashing eyes. "And donít think I wonít do exactly that, my friend. Iíve spent too much time and effort on that knee of yours and Iím not about to sit by and let you ruin it. Got me?"

After a moment, Dylan nodded. "Yeah, I got you."

Norton shot a look at the staring doctor. "Well? Am I talking for my health here? What are you waiting for?"

"This is totally ill-advised, DoctorÖ."

"Yeah, yeah, I know all about it. Just do what I ask, Doctor Planton. Iíll take all responsibility for the outcome."

"ButÖ."

"Do it."

*******

"Once again, ladies and gentlemen, Iíd like to thank you for choosing Amazon Airlines. Local Los Angeles time is 5:30am, local temperature is a balmy eighty three degrees. Please remain seated until the captain has pulled into the gate and turned off the fasten seatbelts sign. Please see the gate agent for any connecting flight information you might need. It was our pleasure to serve you and we hope to see you again on another Amazon Airlines flight real soon."

Dylan turned her head as she felt Cat shift next to her. The young womanís head was bruised around the cut, which had taken several sutures to close, and she looked tired and miserable. "Hey," the coach said softly.

"Hey," Cat replied, shifting again. "Remind me never to get sick again, will you? It feels like a mule kicked me where they gave me those damn shots."

"Did they make you feel any better?" Dylan asked, giving into her impulse to brush a stray lock of hair away from Catís sweaty cheek.

Sighing softly, Cat leaned into the gentle touch, her eyelids fluttering closed. "Yeah. The steroids have got me a little buzzed, though."

"Weíll be at the hotel in about an hour. Maybe the effect will have petered off by then."

Cat yawned and stretched. "God, I hope so. If I donít get some sleep soon, I think Iím going to explode." Opening her eyes, Cat swung her head, eyes alighting on Dylanís heavily braced leg which was propped awkwardly in the aisle. "How Ďbout you?"

"Legís pretty numb," Dylan replied. Which was, she admitted privately, a damn sight better than the jagged, broken glass pains sheíd been experiencing before. "But otherwiseÖnot bad."

"Considering," Cat said with a wan smile.

"True," Dylan pondered, stroking her bottom lip. "We could be Horace Johnson."

Catís lips thinned in a grimace of distaste. "No, thanks."

Johnson was currently taking up space in a CCU in Denver, waiting to get strong enough to actually survive the surgery they had planned for him. Cat wondered how many Hail Marys sheíd be expected to say if she confessed to the sin ofójust for a split second, mind youówishing the surgeonís knife would slip just a fraction of an inch one way or the other.

Too many, she decided, and dropped the thought in favor of one involving a nice, soft bed, nice warm covers, and sleep.

Lots of it.

*******

Mac stood outside the gate looking like a puppy that had just gotten caught piddling on the carpet. An egg-suck grin was on his face as he shrugged his broad shoulders, empty hands raised to the air in a gesture of futility.

The reason for the expression was soon obvious as the small group came down the jetway.

Even airport security couldnít keep back the crowds of peopleómostly reportersówho pushed, jostled, shouted and snapped picture after picture, almost blinding the deplaning passengers. Dylan, saddled with her brace and a pair of already detested crutches, shot Mac a glowering look before hobbling into the terminal proper.

"Ms. Lambert, could you--?"

"Ms. Lambert, how was--?"

"Ms. Lambert, what did--?"

Fetching a deep sigh, Dylan hobbled over to the nearest microphone and yanked it from the hands of a startled reporter. "The plane crashed, we survived, and now weíre here. Have a good day, everyone."

The security guards strained to keep back the crush of reporters, then split in the middle, forming two parallel lines; a gauntlet of sorts that the members of the Badgers walked through and which ended at an electric people mover cart captained by a smiling skycap.

Cat sat down on the padded bench with a grateful sigh, then blinked several times to clear the white flashes from her eyes. "Jesus."

"Sorry about that," Mac said, voice contrite. "They were here when I got here."

"Itís alright," Dylan said, rolling her neck and shoulders to get the kinks out, which was pretty much an exercise in futility. Grunting softly, she gave up and simply concentrated on not falling out of the cart as the skycap hotdogged it down the mostly quiet corridors of the terminal.

She turned her head as she felt a warm hand settle on her shoulder. Mac smiled slightly, tears brimming in his eyes. "Thank god youíre okay," he whispered. "JustÖthank God."

Dylan returned the smile and lifted her hand to cover his larger one, squeezing gently.

The rest of the ride was silent.

They left through a private exit and were immediately escorted into a waiting SUV limo, and from there to a large, well-appointed hotel a little less than an hour away.

The crowd that greeted them in the hotel wasnít the press, but rather the coaches and players of the Badgers, cheering when their fallen heroes walked safely through the doors.

After touching Dylan almost reverently, as if she were the very goddess her name inspired, the players crowded around Cat, hugging her tightly and teasing her mercilesslyótheir way of whistling past the graveyard.

Caulley looked apologetically at Dylan after giving her a quick hug. "Sorry," she whispered. "I couldnít get them to bed down."

"Been up all night?"

Caulley yawned. "Pretty much, yeah. When your flight was late, Mac started calling around. We didnít get confirmation of the crash, and your rescue, until a couple of hours ago. By then, they were all too wired."

"We could talk to the league about postponing the game," Mac suggested, sidling up behind the small group.

Dylan gave the idea serious, if brief, consideration. Then she shook her head. "Nah. Theyíve got too much energy that they need to burn off."

"I could give them the practice from hell," Caulley retorted, eyes glinting with an almost sadistic light.

Dylan smirked. "Iím sure you could, butÖ." She paused as Cat turned to her, expression almost pleading. "ÖI think weíll just go ahead. See if you can coax Ďem into a couple hoursí shut eye at least, then weíll set up for a light practice before the game. See what happens."

Caulley nodded. "I can do that." She lifted her head. "Alright, ladies, the partyís over. Everyone back to their rooms. Now," she ordered to forestall the expected protests. Shoulders slumped, the players filed back onto the elevators, leaving Mac, Dylan, Kelly Norton, and Cat behind.

Mac looked at the small group. "IÖuhÖput you and Cat in the room adjoining Dylanís, Kelly. I figured you guys would want toÖtalkÖor whatever."

Norton grinned. "Better hope I never tell your wife what a sweetie you are, Mac. Youíll never hear the end of it."

The others chuckled as Mac blushed hotly, fingering his collar and clearing his throat. "I, umÖIÖ.didnítÖ.."

Laughing, the physician clapped the huge man on his massive back. "Just teasing, my friend. Seriously, though, thanks. The closer space will let me check over my patientsí injuries. So, good job and all that kinda stuff."

"Thanks." The blush still hadnít receded. "SoÖIíll see you guys later, then?"

"Count on it."

********

The room was cool, dim, and comfortable. Cat groaned as she dropped her duffle on the side of one of the double beds and pulled down the spread. The soft whiteness beneath seemed to be calling her name, and she moved toward it willingly, until another voice, this one much sharper, broke into the fantasy.

"Címon, shortchange. I need to check your sutures."

Groaning, Cat stamped her foot like a petulant child, and turned to the figure leaning against the doorjam that separated the two adjoining rooms. "Canít you do it here?"

Norton grinned. "Nope. Lightís better in here. And besides, Dylanís here and Iíd rather just kill two birds with one stone, if you donít mind. Some of us didnít get a chance to nap on the way over."

"Oh, alright." Sighing, Cat followed the doctor into Dylanís well lit room and sat down on the massive king-sized bed, careful not to jostle Dylan, who was already laying down, injured leg unbraced and propped up on several pillows.

"Ouch," Cat hissed, eyeing the lurid bruise that covered Dylanís leg from mid thigh almost to her ankle. "Damn, thatís ugly."

"Doesnít feel all that pretty either," Dylan bit off, shifting her weight in the bed as waves of angry pain rolled through the joint as if a hornetís nest had taken up residence inside her knee. Her thigh and calf were cramping to beat the band, adding to the agony.

"Anything I can do?"

"Yeah," Norton replied, frustrated at her limited ability. "How are you at digging out Charley Horses? Sheís cramping up bad but she canít put weight on that leg."

"Iíve done a few in my time," Cat allowed.

"Alright, but make sure you donít flex her foot and stretch the Achilles."

"Damn, well, thatíll make it a little harder, butÖ." She looked up at Dylan and received a short nod in return. "Okay. Tell me if Iím hurting you."

"Believe me, it wonít hurt any worse than it does now," Dylan grunted, both hands grabbing fistfuls of blanket and squeezing tight. "Just do it."

Stiffening her fingers, Cat dug into the cramp, grunting with the effort. She hadnít been lying when she said that she had some experience with calf cramps, but sheíd never had to try and soften one in a leg as muscled as Dylanís. It was like trying to dig into solid rock. "Iím sorry," she murmured when Dylan flinched.

"ísokay. Just keep at it," the coach replied through gritted teeth.

The next several minutes were spent in tense silence as Catís strong fingers worked deep into the muscle, probing and massaging until the cramp finally, mercifully, began to loosen. She gentled her touches then, squeezing and releasing Dylanís leg to make sure huge knot didnít return. Feeling the tension slowly subside, she looked up to find Dylan slumped bonelessly against the headboard, eyes closed.

"God, that feels good."

Cat grinned happily. "Yeah? Iím glad."

The young womanís fingers continued to move of their own accord, gliding over warm, silken skin in a languid caress. A movement off to her left caused her to shift her gaze from Dylanís peaceful face to Norton, who bore a decided smirk.

It was then that Cat realized what she was doing and, flushing from her neck to her hairline, she drew her hand back as if her fingers were on fire.

Norton laughed softly, shaking her head. "Lay down up there with Dylan, Cat. Let me finish up with the Goddess here, and Iíll check your sutures in a couple minutes."

"Are you sure?" Cat asked, a bit uncomfortable. "I mean, I could justÖ."

"Címon up here," Dylan said, eyes still closed. "I wonít bite."

"Thatís not what I heard," Norton snorted, using her uncasted hand to massage the big muscles in Dylanís thigh.

One blue eye opened and gave her a stare before closing again.

Once again realizing how truly exhausted she was, Cat crawled up the bed, then turned, and flopped down on her back, one arm flung over her eyes.

A second later, she was fast asleep.

"Poor kid," Norton said softly as she finished the massage. "Kinda rough start for her, huh?"

Opening her eyes, Dylan rolled her head and looked down at Catís peaceful face. She fought the urge to gently stroke the pale cheek, just to see if it was as soft as it felt. "Yeah."

"Sheís pretty resilient, though, Iíll give her that."

Norton looked over at Dylan and knew her words were wasted. The tall superstar seemed totally absorbed in the smaller figure laying next to her. There was a smile on her face that Norton, who had known Dylan for over ten years, had never seen on her face before. Sweet, tender, laced with warm affection and, possibly, something else.

"Dylan?"

"Yeah?"

As the doctor looked on, Cat shifted, then rolled onto her side, one hand reaching out and curling around Dylanís wrist.

Norton smiled.

"Nothing."

Grabbing the brace, she reapplied it to the coach, seating the Velcro firmly, but not too tightly. Then she rounded the bed and brushed Catís bangs away, checking on the neat line of sutures right at her hairline. Aside from a little residual swelling, everything seemed to be fine. And she could tell just by listening that the steroids and antibiotics Cat had been given had done their job.

"Listen, itís probably best if she stays here with you tonight. No sense in waking her up and bringing her back to the other room, right? I meanÖas long as youíre comfortable with it."

"Iíll be fine," Dylan replied, distracted by the warm, soft hand encircling her wrist.

Norton smirked. "Iím sure you will be, my friend. Iím sure you will be."

Bidding them both a silent goodnight, she left the room and closed the door quietly behind her.

*******

Cat looked at the bags on the counter. She sighed and wondered if she could really pulled this off and why in the name of God she hadnít just agreed to go out to Dylanís favorite restaurant.

She knew exactly why, and it didnít take her mind long to come up with the answer as she reached in a brown sack and retrieved the ingredients. She wanted to be alone with Dylan. Plain and simple. She didnít want to share her with the outside world on the night that was their first Ďofficialí date.

She had offered to make Dylan a Ďwonderfulí vegetarian meal. Now all she had to do was figure out exactly how to do that. She had slightly misrepresented her cooking skills. She would never starve to death, but she had always felt it was best not to subject her friends to her culinary offerings.

After taking all the things she had purchased at the farmerís market and the local health food store out of their bags, she retrieved the recipes that she had downloaded from the internet.

Her mother had always told her you couldnít go wrong if you always followed the recipe. She really hoped that her mother was right this time.

She placed the fresh vegetables in the dish drainer, knowing they would need to be washed and chopped up as she prepared each dish.

Her menu was complete. She would offer Dylan nice raw vegetables with homemade ranch dressing and vegetarian pate for hor d'oeuvres. Dinner would start with a nice miso soup, and then she would serve spinach soufflé and roasted chilies with garlic sauce.

As far as she could tell from all the research she had done this would be a nice meal with the tastes and textures complimenting each other. She had called her mother and asked her for ideas. Her mother wasnít much help, reminding Cat that she came from a meat and potatoes family and maybe she should try to bring Dylan over to the dark side. That was when she suggested the recipes.

Cat read the recipes as she sorted the ingredients and set everything into their respective piles. "I can do this," she muttered to herself. "I can fix a perfectly nice dinner for her. Itís only vegetables for Christís sake."

She heard him and looked over to see Hamlet sitting in the kitchen doorway. His head cocked to one side and one eyebrow apparently raised.

"Not a word out of you, Flea Bag."

The dog all but smirked before plopping down on the floor, head resting on paws to watch his mistress. Smiling, Cat took a treat from the container on the counter and tossed it at the dog. His head whipped up and he snatched the tasty treat from the air with a snap.

"Youíre so easy," Cat chuckled and then started removing pots and pans from under the cabinets. "I wonder if Dylan can be trained through her stomach."

Cat continued working around the kitchen. Her mind wandered to many topics in order to keep her from thinking about Dylan. They had lost the big game in California. It wasnít any wonder really, given that she and Dylan had spent the night on a freezing mountain, not quite sure if they were going to live.

Not only were they in no condition to perform their respective roles as player and coach, but the rest of the team had gotten very little sleep when they found out the private plane had gone down. To make matters worse, early reports stated that there had been no survivors and they were waiting for the bodies to be brought down.

Fortunately, Cat, Dylan, and the team doctor had made it out with what could be considered minor injuries, considering the situation. Unfortunately, Cat thought acidly, Horace had survived not only the crash, but a heart attack as well. She shook her head as began slicing vegetables, her mother would not be proud of her for thinking such things. Even if Horace Johnson was a narrow minded, bigoted son of a bitch.

They split the next two games of their road trip, and arrived back home battered, bruised, and sitting in third in their division.

Needless to say, no one was very happy when they touched down in Birmingham just the day before, and Cat just about started in surprise when Dylan reminded her of her bargain and their first Ďrealí date together. She couldnít snap the idea up quickly enough, and then spent the rest of the night worrying that Dylan might think her something tart, and cheap, and rhyming with Ďgoí.

Shaking herself out of those less than pleasant memories, she covered the tray of veggies and the now freshly made pate and placed it in the refrigerator so they would be properly chilled when Dylan arrived.

Next, onto the stock for the soup. She was very pleased with herself and that she had not made any critical errors. She was a bit worried about how soft the tofu was, but she decided that since it was made from soybeans it was probably suppose to be mushy. It still cut up just fine into little cubes to be put in the soup.

She peered into the to soup pan stirring it slowly. "I think itís okay. God Iím going to need a burger after she leaves." A slight, sexy smile crossed her lips as she put just a touch of pepper in the soup. "If she leaves."

Everything was prepared and Cat had to give herself credit. For dishes that had nothing that resembled meat in them, they all smelled good.

"Iím amazed," she mumbled as she looked into the last pan, containing the roasted chilies. The aroma was spicy and Cat wondered if she would be able to eat it. Hot food was not her thing, but she knew Dylan had a taste for it.

Hamlet jumped up and dashed for the door when the bell rang. He stood there, barking and growling and doing what he was trained to do, protect Cat, with his very life if need be.

"All right ferocious, knock it off. Its just Dylan." She reached down and tugged on his collar, causing him to stop immediately. He sat back and waited for her to open the door. If she was wrong he was right there to tear the throat out of anyone who would hurt his human.

Cat smiled when she opened the door, finding Dylan leaning against the jam. A bottle of wine in one hand and a bouquet of wild flowers in the other. Sheíd rid herself of her damnable crutches the day before, over the vociferous objections of Norton and the entire medical staff, and was down to the bulky brace that she wore under loose black slacks.

"Hi," she said softly, causing chills to run up and down Catís spine.

"Hi, yourself. Come on in." She stepped back and allowed the tall woman entrance.

Hamlet was sure that no one was here for dastardly purposes and left them standing there as he went to his big bed in the living room.

"Iím glad we decided to do this, Cat." Dylan offered the flowers first then the wine.

Cat took both, blushing at the flowers and looking at the bottle. "I thought you didnít drink."

"I donít really, but one glass of wine with dinner tonight isnít going to kill me and I thought I would show you Iím not totally weird."

"Do you like tofu?"

"Love it!"

"Great, youíll love the soup, but youíre still weird." She chuckled as she walked to the kitchen with Dylan following behind.

Dylan took a seat on a stool at the breakfast counter. She grinned as Cat removed the trays from the fridge and placed them in front of her, uncovering them with a flourish.

"For your approval madam, fresh vegetables and a vegetable pate. The crackers are also kosher for you meat hating types. I checked just to make sure."

"Youíve gone all out for me. Iím impressed."

"Of course I did. I wanted us to have a nice first date."

Dylan smiled and took Catís hand gently, running her thumb over the back of soft skin. "Itís already nice, because weíre together."

"Youíre very sweet. You know that?"

Cat is delighted to see Dylan duck her head and smile in a slightly bashful way. The blonde leaned forward and placed a soft kiss to the lips before her.

When she drew back, she smiled again. "Iím glad youíre here."

"Me too."

Cat cleared her throat and slapped back all the thoughts of leaving dinner untouched as she dragged Dylan to her bedroom. "Try the pate."

The tall woman nodded and took one of the crackers in hand. Cat turned away and rooted around in the drawer for a wine opener.

"Oooo this is good."

Cat turned around, nearly dropping the bottle and the corkscrew. "Really?" Blonde brows jumped to her hairline.

"Yes, really." Dylan laughed. "Itís very good."

There was an audible sigh of relief, which made Dylan chuckle harder.

"Donít tell me you were worried."

"Of course I was worried," she stated as she struggled with getting the cork from the bottle. "My idea of vegetarian is extra tomatoes on my hamburger."

Dylan took the bottle and easily removed the cork as two glasses were placed in front of her. "Thanks."

"No problem. After spending all day in the kitchen, that was easy." Cat sat moved around the breakfast bar and took a seat next to Dylan. Taking her wine glass she held it up in toast, "Hereís to a wonderful evening."

"Iíll drink to that." She sipped her wine before turning back to the pate. She offered a cracker coated in the greenish brown paste. "Try it."

"I dunnoÖ"

"Oh now come on, you didnít go to all this trouble, just to let me eat it myself."

Cat tasted the mixture, reluctantly agreeing with a nod that it was pretty good.

"So," Dylan popped the rest of the cracker in her mouth. "What else is for dinner?"

"Miso soupÖ"

"One of my favorites."

"Good. Spinach soufflé and roasted chilies."

"Wow you did go all out didnít you?"

"I tried."

"Thanks. Not many people go to the trouble of cooking for me."

"I actually enjoyed it."

Dylan absently scratched her neck. "When will it be ready?"

"Oh itís ready now."

"Then letís eat, but before we do, can I use your bathroom?"

"Sure, you know where it is."

Dylan got up and headed upstairs, while Cat dishes out the soup. She noticed that it had an extremely tangy smell she hadnít noticed before, but she figured it must be natural.

"Hey Cat?"

She moved so she could look up to the railing where Dylan was standing. "Yeah?"

"Did the pate have peanuts in it?"

"No why?"

"Well, Iím starting to break out like I do when I eat peanuts. I have a mild allergy. Nothing serious. I was just wondering."

"No itís gotÖ" she paused, then dashed into the kitchen, pulling a bottle of oil from the cabinet. "Oh shit!" She ran back out and looked up again. "Peanut oil."

"Thatís it." Dylan chuckled as she descended the stairs.

"Iím so sorry."

"Hey, itís okay, really. I forgot to tell you and you had no way to know."

"Oh damn."

"Cat, really, itís okay. I swear. Itís not serious. I just wonít be eating anymore of that pate."

Cat nodded ruefully and headed back into the kitchen. "How about soup, I promise no peanuts or peanut extract got within a foot of it."

"Perfect."

They went to the small dining table, which Cat had set with a tablecloth and candles. The addition of Dylanís flowers made it very romantic.

Seated, Cat brought the soupspoon to her lips but stopped just short when the smell assailed her again. Dylan looked at the bowl with some concern.

"Ummm Cat, whatís in this soup?"

"Itís a vegetable stock with tofu."

"Un-huh. Did you put the tofu in the fridge?"

"No, itís bean curd for Godís sakeÖ" She stopped and looked to Dylan. "It went bad?"

"Yeah," she nodded. "Iím afraid so, tofu can go bad in a flash."

"I donít believe this."

"Hey, we still have the soufflé and the roasted chilies."

"Right." Cat tried to remain positive, but her hopes were slowly diminishing. "Letís hope I donít kill you with those."

"Cat," Dylan moved closer and wrapped her arms around the smaller woman. "You have no idea how much it means to me that you even tried this. Vegan cooking isnít easy."

"Vegan?" Cat slowly drew back. "As in no meat by products?"

"Yeah."

"Great there goes the soufflé."

"What?"

"Eggs and milk," Cat sat back down. "God, this has got to go onto your list of hellish dates."

"No," Dylan returned to her seat. "Itís not hellish. I could stand to lose a little weight." She joked hoping to lighten the mood. "We still have roast chilies."

"Are you sure youíre that brave?"

"Absolutely, bring them on."

Cat wasnít sure why Dylan was being so gracious about the whole mess, but she hoped that she wouldnít go screaming into the night. Well, at least not running away. Screaming into the night was high on Catís list of things that she wanted to hear Dylan do.

Dylan looked at the dish, smiled and speared a huge amount of the colorful vegetables that had been prepared just for her. She smiled at Cat as she started to chew.

Cat watched as Dylanís eyes grew wide and panic crossed her face as chewing got slower and slower and it was obvious she was desperate to find a place to rid herself of the food. The napkin in her lap was the only option, once the food had been disposed of, she grabbed her wine glass and drank it straight down, then blindly grabbed for Catís glass as well.

She was coughing and choking, her face was bright red and tears were steaming down her cheeks. Cat dashed to the kitchen and poured Dylan a glass of soy milk, she didnít even have time to turn around before Dylan reached passed her and grabbed the regular milk and gulped it straight from the carton.

After nearly finishing a quart of milk in one long gulp, Dylan sank to the floor sliding against the wall as she did.

Cat knelt and placed her hands on Dylanís knees. "Iím sorry."

"What," the tall woman gasped. "What kind of chilies did you use?"

"I when to the farmerís market and told them I needed red, yellow and green chiliesÖ"

"Oh GodÖ" Dylan blew out a long slow breath. "Cat, Roasted Chilies, donít actually have chilies in them. They have bell peppersÖitís just called Roasted Chilies."

"Thatís stupid, why not call it Roasted Bell Peppers?"

"I have no idea." Dylan wiped the tears from her eyes. "God, that was hot."

Catís shoulders slumped. "Iím so, so sorry."

"These things happen."

"Yeah, but why do they have to happen to me?" Cat slumped on the floor next to Dylan and placed her hand on the tall womanís leg.

"Just lucky I guess."

"So now what are we going to do for dinner."

Dylan removed her cell from her hip. "I have it covered."

*******

Continued


Return to The Bard's Corner

Return to Australian Xena Info Page