By Bel-wah


Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.







God bless the USA, Teresa León considered, as she leaned back against the cool leather seat of her SUV and watched the big 727 jetliner with the Aero Cortéz markings begin to rumble down the runway.  A runway just outside of Mazatlán that had been constructed back in the 1960s courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.  A runway under the exclusive control of the Mazatlán cartel.


            This airstrip, and others like them, were what Felix Javier Benitez had wanted so desperately from Enrico.  Enrico had refused him, and paid for that refusal with his life.  She had agreed, dangling them like a bunch of carrots in the face of her husband’s killer, and in return had gotten him to give up his prized toys to her, and so much more.


            The fool.  Let his greed rule his better sense.  She didn’t mind.


            Benitez had a fleet of 727s, all bearing the markings of commercial aircraft.  Those planes, now carrying the product of both cartels, would take off from runways near commercially used airports, sticking to commercial flight routes once airborne; only at the last minute dropping from the skies to land at secluded locations over the border. 


To harried, overworked Mexican air traffic controllers, the innocuous flights seemed above suspicion, and they were only too willing to give them clearance.  After all, to both the naked eye and the glowing radarscope, they appeared identical to any other flight originating from a major tourist destination.


            This flight was the third one this week; the eleventh one this month.  Another flight was scheduled in two day’s time.  Their plan was working like a charm, and Benitez hadn’t a clue.  And as an added bonus, with the great gouts of money pouring in as a result of the unholy alliance, her brother-in-law Carlos and the other cartel partners had remained virtually invisible. 


Money: the great silencer. 


Even her abogado, Ernesto García, had been amazed at the obscene amounts of cash they’d had to launder through their various banking connections.  In the end, the attorney had merely pursed his lips and nodded – knowing that the plan for the moment was working beyond their wildest dreams.


            The night was warm; the air thick and humid with a heavy cloud of moisture hanging over the terra caliente, but Teresa refused to turn on the air-conditioning in the idling vehicle.  She felt the breath of a chill skip up her arms and into her shoulders, rattling her.  She just couldn’t seem to get warm, and though that had always been a problem for her, a side-effect of her addiction, she knew, it had become even more pronounced over the past several days… days since she’d come to a decision.


            Funny, how since Lane Sinclair had come into her life, she’d started committing herself, making decisions, rather than letting events… life, swirl around her as though she moved helplessly in a dream.


            Through her open passenger window she watched Lane and Manuel talking to Benitez’s people.  This particular flight, she knew, had one of the León pilots at the helm.  Benitez was running short on manpower as well as product, thanks to the increased demand on flow - just as they had predicted. 


Pressing him, squeezing him, leaving her in control.  As it should be.




            As much as she craved it, personified it to all outward appearances, she knew the truth of it.  Knew that her sanity had been hanging on by a thread for a long time now.  Knew that from one day to the next, it was she who was a puppet on the string of the white powder that held her in its grasp.


            In the time that had passed since she’d shared her secret of Mia with Lane - time punctuated with stolen interludes spent in Lane’s arms, teetering from one furious, furtive night to the next - her nasty little habit had weighed heavily on her mind.  She knew what Lane’s opinions on the matter were; the agent had pulled no punches in that regard.  She’d said her peace and grown quiet, and it was perhaps that silent introspection that had alarmed Teresa most of all.


            But the hope that Lane had given her about her future – she scarcely dared to believe it.  To think that there was a way out of this, for herself and Mia, and Lane.  That for once, if she could just get her shit together, the escape she’d longed for, dreamt of, would become real.  It had gotten her thinking, finally, that maybe, just maybe, she could beat this thing.


            But it was hard.  So… damn hard.


            And so she’d finally decided on it two nights ago, after Lane had left her.  They’d fallen into a desperate routine, where the agent would come to her room under cover of darkness, or she would go to her, taking care to draw apart before the morning light and prying eyes might discover them together. 


Because it would never do to have their relationship revealed… compromising either one of their positions.  God, what Manuel would do with such information! 


And she could just imagine the look of shock on her brother-in-law Carlos’ puffy face.  She, the puta who had defiled his dead brother’s memory with a yanqui devil. 


            So she’d sat there that night on the side of her bed, alone, the silken sheets still warm with the heat of their bodies and their lovemaking, and had reached for her works from the bedside drawer.


Felt the ache in her muscles, the growing nausea in her belly, the clammy chill upon her skin.  Sitting there… not knowing or understanding anymore whether she needed the drug for the pleasure it brought her, or the escape… the relief from the ache and the pain.  The line between the two had long since blurred beyond all recognition.


            She’d tied the tubing around her ankle, tight, popping at the bruised skin, searching like a vampire for a new vein, and with a trembling hand lifted a match to her cooker, detecting the bitter scent as the pure white heroin began to bubble and liquefy, and at that moment, in that place in her life, she’d never hated herself more.


            But she’d pushed the junk into her bloodstream anyway, crying out inside, because she simply hadn’t known what else to do. 


            Yesterday morning was a different story.


            She’d taken a chance, a desperate one at that, and had gone and spoken to Doctor Ceniceros.  The bespeckled León staff physician had not been shocked at her revelation: quite the contrary.  Could he have possibly known?




            More likely, though, was the fact that his unflappable demeanor, his dour level-headedness, had been one of the reasons Enrico had hired him in the first place.  God, he had to have seen it all already, in his line of work.  In any event, the good doctor had outlined a plan to her. 


A rapid detoxification program. 


She’d heard of them. 


Where you got off of the shit in a day rather than a week.  It would be harsh.  But to her, it was the lifeline she’d been futilely casting about for.


            Teresa exhaled, letting out a gust of air. She rubbed at her arms, trying to warm them.  You had to be clean for three days before you started the treatment. She was just finishing her second.  Not unheard of for her to go so long without, but damn, was she feeling it!


            The 727 jetliner gathered speed under its bulky silver-winged skin as it hurtled down the runway, like a racehorse marshalling its energy before a great leap.  And with a roar it began to pull up and away, its engines belching heat and exhaust, rapidly ascending, disappearing into the darkness until it was just a hazy distant flicker of navigational lights.  Lights that along with a radar signal would be disregarded by the control tower at Mazatlán’s International Airport, where key personnel there were on the mordida.


            The huddled figures at the edge of the runway began to disperse; Lane, Manuel, and several other men, León family guaruras, began to make their way back over the gravel towards her, back to their black GMC Suburbans.  She unconsciously flinched, turning her head aside for a moment, as her eyes caught sight of the weapons they wore at their hips.  Lane now, too, wore a pistol, and something about that bothered her deeply. 


She’d seen weapons often enough around Manuel, and even back at the Casa Mariposa with all those guards, but she supposed that this new aversion to firearms, stronger than she’d ever felt it before, was just one more sign that she was reaching the limit of her endurance, her tolerance for this kind of violent life.


            Manuel approached her window, angling his head and releasing a gob of spit into the dirt before he spoke.


            “It’s time.”  He glanced back over a thick shoulder at Benitez’s departing people.  “Ruiz wants to meet with you before he increases our supply any higher.”


            Lane drew up beside him, eying him carefully.  “Benitez is feeling the heat.”  She turned to Teresa, a faint glimmer of satisfaction in her darkened blue eyes.  “Like we knew he would.”


            Teresa shifted herself to gaze straight ahead, staring out into the inky darkness of the hot, muggy night, into the sky that bore no stars. 


Lane was right. 


This was all part of the plan, goading Benitez into having to up his shipments, tightening his supply, forcing him to go to secondary markets, revealing them to her as well.


            Guillermo Ruiz, a humble ‘farmer’ in the hill country, was a major supplier of cocaine and heroin to both cartels.  His cooperation would be vital if they were to cut Benitez off.  She’d always known Ruiz would want to meet with her, as he had with Enrico numerous times in the past.


            She tensed her lips, feeling the cold settle in her gut, wishing it would just go away.  “Arrange it,” she said simply.  “Within a week’s time.  No sooner.  We’ll go to him.”


            “Are you sure, Señora?” 


            She could hear the surprise in Manuel’s response.  It had been business as usual for Rico to take his long weekends in the hills, indulging himself in the hospitality of Señor Ruiz, availing himself of his liquor, his drugs, and his women.  But for her to venture to such a place… Manuel couldn’t have known that all along there had been no question that she would go to Ruiz.  She would follow in Enrico’s footsteps.  That, and there was also the fact that she simply refused to have such a man come to her house.  Period.  She felt dirty enough as it was.


            “I’m sure, Manuel.  Do as I say.”


            The Mexican’s eyes glittered like onyx in the dark, but he nodded, and turned for the SUV behind her.  Lane dropped her head towards the window, and leaned on the doorjamb.  “You ready?” she asked, a trace of concern coloring her voice.


            Teresa wondered how she must look. Chilled, tired, her stomach twisting.  She bit down the bile in her throat and swallowed, leaning her head back into the headrest.  “Let’s go,” she breathed, closing her eyes.  “I’ve seen enough.”




In the dark of the night the tropical rains held back, refusing to fall, instead teasing, flirting with the lush green vegetation surrounding the Casa Mariposa.  The moisture hugged the ground like a blanket, sealing in the violent heat of the day beneath it.  There was no breeze, but the teakwood doors to Teresa’s balcony were open, and she could detect the scent of hibiscus and flowering red tabachines drifting up from the gardens below.


            She stood in the opening, feeling the coolness of the tiles beneath her feet, gazing out through the haze at the twinkling lights of Mazatlán and at the dark, endless void of the ocean beyond.  She’d stood here and stared out into the distance – how many times?  Day or night, in all sorts of weather, at any time of the year, the view was imprinted upon her mind; an artist’s study of the sameness of it all, bound by subtle differences of color, of shadows, of light.  It was the only thing she’d known for so long… was she ready to leave it all behind, to move on?


            She knew the answer, even as she understood that regardless of whether or not Lane Sinclair had ever forced her way into that picture, changing its image forever, her time here had been drawing to a close.  She knew that truth for what it was.  Felt it, bone deep.


            The door to her room opened, but she did not turn around.


            Footsteps, and then a pair of arms slipped around her waist, and she felt the brush of lips against her temple.


            Felt a thrill skitter through her, regardless of how miserable she felt right at the moment.  This was a new addiction and she welcomed it, lusted for it even, thanks to this woman who had breathed new life into her deadened senses, who had dared to stir at the nearly extinguished embers of passion within her, demanding a response.


            “It’ll be dangerous, going to see Ruiz, you know.”


            “I know,” she allowed.  “But we have no choice.  And the information we can get—”  She stopped speaking as Lane withdrew from the embrace, felt a sense of loss as the warmth was replaced by the cold.


            “We have to be careful.”  The agent moved away from her, her eyes distant, thinking.  “Things have been going well… but there’s a lot at stake.  Now, more than ever.”  She got to the bed and sat down, regarding Teresa carefully, her gaze heavy with meaning.




Teresa fought down an irrational wave of panic and found herself following Lane across the room, drawing close to her, craving her touch as much as she craved the white powder that was only an arm’s reach away.  “What are we going to do, Lane?”  They hadn’t talked about it.  Not in specific terms.  And the businesswoman in Teresa wanted… needed to know.


            “What we have been doing,” the tall woman replied.  “We get as much information about Benitez’s dealings as we can.  We’ll nail the bastard, and everyone connected to him.”  She hesitated.  “And then there’s the other operation.  The Mazatlán federation.”


            Teresa shook her head and laughed ruefully.  “No problem there.  I am the Mazatlán federation.”


            “All the more reason to keep you safe,” Lane said softly.  She reached out and gently pushed stray blonde locks from Teresa’s forehead.  “I’ll get you out of here.  Get you someplace where they can never find you.  You, and Mia.”


            “How?” Teresa lowered herself onto the bed next to Lane, sinking into its softness.


            “I’m workin’ on that.”  A heavy sigh.  “But in the meantime, Teresa…”  blue eyes were on her now, holding her fast.  “… it makes things so much harder with you on that shit.”  The agent frowned, steeling herself against the resistance that she’d come to expect.  “I know you don’t want to hear it again, but—”


            “Sssh!”  Teresa placed a silencing finger on her lips.  “I—I’ve been thinking about that,” she told her, feeling her throat suddenly constrict.  Here goes.  “I went and had a talk with Doctor Ceniceros.”


            She had Lane’s full attention now, she could tell.  “He says there’s a way, with some sort of medication, that you can, uh, break your, uh, habit,” she maddeningly found herself fumbling for words under the heat of Lane’s shocked expression, “and get off it in like… a day.”


            “Jesus Christ!” Lane swore, running a startled hand through her long dark hair.  “I’ve heard of it.  It’s usually reserved for rock stars and Hollywood types.  They put you under for a few hours while they pump you full of some drug cocktail.  It fucks with your brain’s opiate receptors, detoxing you.”


            “In a manner of speaking,” Teresa gulped, “right.  Instead of going through withdrawl over the course of days, and feeling it, it happens in about four-to-six hours, and you’re asleep during the worst of it.  Afterwards, the doctor said I’d feel like I have the flu for a few days,” she released a harsh laugh, “but I can’t imagine feeling any worse than I do right now.  I know it can be a risky procedure, but it works, and with proper supervision, I should be okay.”


            “Teresa, are you sure—”


            “I’m sure,” she said firmly, and for the first time realized she meant it.  “We don’t have the time for anything else.  Sure, I’m afraid of what may happen if I do this thing, but I’m more afraid of what will happen if I don’t.  I want to be there for Mia,” she said, scarcely believing that she dared to voice such a hope now.  “I want her to know her mother.”  She could feel the moisture spring to her eyes, unbidden.  “And I want to know her.”


            “You will,” Lane vowed, taking her up into her arms once again.  “You will.  It’ll work out, you’ll see.  And I’ll be right there with you.”


            “Really?” she brushed away at her tears.


            “Every God-damned minute.  No way will Doctor Ceniceros kick me out.”  A flash of teeth in the dark.  “He knows by now I don’t put up with his shit.”


            “Thanks,” Teresa said, feeling the relief flood through her system.  She hated the idea of being unconscious, of being out of control, but she knew that such a state was infinitely preferable to the excruciating withdrawl symptoms she’d be going through if she were otherwise awake.  Having Lane Sinclair by her side through it all… well, everything would be okay.  Lane would see to it. 


            “I’m so proud of you baby,” Lane whispered in her ear, nuzzling her, holding her close.  “So proud.” 


They sat there for a time, lost in one another in the darkness, until finally Lane released a heavy sigh.  “Why don’t you get some rest?” she said, beginning to pull away.  “No wonder you’re exhausted.”


            “No!” Teresa blurted out, afraid of losing her warmth, her connection with all that was real, and good, and right.  “Stay.”  A pause.  And then she gave voice to her desire.  “I need you tonight.”


            A moment’s hesitation.  “You sure?”  Lane asked, her voice hoarse, but already the agent was falling back on the bed and taking her with her, only too willing to accept the invitation.


            “I have never been more certain,” Teresa’s eyes dropped down, embarrassed, and she nervously fingered the collar of Lane’s shirt, “of anything.” 


            And then she felt the weight of Lane on top of her, and she opened herself up to it; felt the feather-light touch of a hand tracing a tantalizing path up her leg, lifting her silken nightgown; and she gasped as it was suddenly pulled away.  She felt a chill, but it only lasted an instant until the heat of Lane Sinclair enveloped her once again, as the tall woman pelted her with hungry kisses, ripping the breath from her lungs with the intensity of her passion.


            She wasn’t cold anymore… no. 


Instead she found herself drenched in sweat: some of it hers, most of it Lane’s; the agent’s skin was slick with it, dewy soft, a surprising contrast to the tightly coiled muscles she felt moving just beneath the silken surface.


            She surrendered herself to the heat. 


Let the desire overwhelm her ache. 


She lost herself in it all, and allowed her hands to run over Lane’s body, touching, pressing, teasing.  Her fingers found the raised scars of the bullet-holes, so fresh, so raw, and she was reminded not for the first time of how close it had been, how… this, nearly never was.  She let her lips travel to the wounds, let her tongue grace them, acknowledge them, in a passionate acceptance of the violence that had brought them together.


            It was easy, so easy, to give herself up to Lane, to let the feelings come.  It was a magic she’d never known before, not with anyone, and she could not help but respond to it, her hips bucking; faster, faster, feeling the fire burning her from within as the spasm began to ripple through her, rolling over her, sending her tumbling, until with a deep moan she was robbed of her breath and left holding on tight to her lover in the night, her life, her dark angel, her salvation.





Lane Sinclair had seen people going through withdrawl before.


            Her snitches, itching for the cash she would give them in exchange for their information.  And she’d been only too willing to hand it over, the money, despite knowing it was bound to go towards a fix.  The cycle of addiction that was, for most, unending.


            Kids on the street, boys and girls, prostituting themselves in return for a few dollars, their yellowed eyes deadened to the pain of it all; the drugs and the sex… not thinking much further past where their next pop or their next blowjob would be coming from.


            But the worst, the ones she’d actually gotten a guilty pleasure from, in fact, were the dealers who would get thrown in the slammer from time to time, forced to do without their usual hits.  As the hours they spent behind bars stretched into one day, then two, she would watch it happen.


            Watch how their pupils would begin to dilate.  How they would begin to double over, gripping their stomachs, feeling the burning ache in their muscles, and the chill, the nausea.  The third day was usually the worst.  Then, they would writhe in agony on their cots, groaning, their arms and legs twitching uncontrollably; literally ‘kicking’ the habit.  If they were lucky and had a lawyer who gave a damn, maybe they’d receive a visit from a doctor and get a shot of methadone, an addictive substance in and of itself but one which alleviated withdrawl symptoms and cravings.


            If they were lucky.


            Depending on who the particular prick was behind bars, Lane would sometimes work it with the local cops to see to it that sometimes those messages from client to lawyer just never made it through, or were delayed.  To let them suffer, to give them a taste of their own medicine, to understand if only for a brief time the depth of the insidious scourge they were responsible for perpetuating.


            But with Teresa León, it was a different story.


            She didn’t want to see her suffer, not for an instant.  Wished there was some way she could bear this upon herself, if she could.  Instead, it was all she could do to sit silently in a chair by Teresa’s side, watching suspiciously over every move Doctor Ceniceros made.


            She was back in this room again, a room whose windowless, antiseptic confines she’d grown to hate, the one in the medical suite of the casa where she’d first fuzzily found herself inexplicably alive after her ill-fated encounter with David Starks.


            Only now it was Teresa lying on the bed, Teresa who was hooked up to all sorts of blinking, whirring machinery, monitoring her heart rate, her pulse, her I.V. and anesthesia.  She was several hours into the process, going through the worst of it now, she could tell.  There was the perspiration that dotted her brow, the twitching in her muscles despite the relaxants she’d been given, and the deathly coldness in the hand that Lane had been somehow unable, unwilling to relinquish possession of.


            Doctor Ceniceros approached the I.V. stand, hypodermic in hand, and injected its contents into the head of the bag.


            “How much longer?” Lane demanded, unable to keep the irritation out of her voice. 


            “Two to three hours, maybe more,” he told her, peering out over the top of his glasses.  “The reversal agent is just now beginning to flush the narcotics from her body.”  He reached for Teresa’s wrist to take her pulse, a doctor of the old school who preferred to feel it himself rather than read the monitor.  Reluctantly, Lane released it to him.


            “You must be patient,” the doctor told her in his lightly accented voice.  “She’s doing well.” 


            Lane sat there, watching the older man tend to her lover, and she realized that she’d never felt more helpless in her life.  She was a woman of action, accustomed to taking the bull by the horns, and not above bashing a few heads together if it got her what she wanted.


            But now…  all she could do was sit by and wait.  While the fate of a loved one was in the hands of another.


            Just as it had been when her mother was dying. 


They’d never been close, Lane had held no illusions on that score, but by God she was the only mother she’d had, and that had to count for something, right?  So yeah, she’d loved her, and had taken to flying to Richmond from Miami whenever she could in those final months, while her mother’s cancer relentlessly ate into her, offering her a final solution to the life she’d been sleepwalking through ever since her husband had died.


            Lane had never seen her brother during those visits, not that he’d visited that often in the first place from what her mother had told her.  He lived in New York, so busy with his wife and career, her mother had said in a hoarse, faded whisper.  Whether it was New York State or New York City, Lane hadn’t bothered to ask.


            So she’d sat a faithless vigil by her mother’s bedside, offering mute tribute to a relationship that never really was, yet feeling all the same the inexorable tug of a mother-daughter bond that she couldn’t quite deny.  The doctors had come and gone, offering her their detailed, clinical analyses, but none of that changed a damn thing.  Her mother was dying, seemed to be looking forward to such a fate, in fact, and none of the men or women of science sending her the bills had any God-damned medication for that.


            She’d known her mother was worsening, but she’d had that damn take-down coming up, one she and the team had been working on for months, and it meant she wouldn’t be able to make it back to Richmond for a few weeks.  She’d leaned over and kissed her mother goodbye on the cheek, lips brushing against skin as dry and thin as tissue paper, and promised she’d be back as soon as she could.


            Maybe her mother had appreciated her visits and maybe she hadn’t; it had been hard to tell.  Or maybe they’d both got something out of them that was hard to admit to, hard to put into words.  Was it possible that a series of nearly silent visitations at that late hour in their lives could make up for the heartache that a lifetime of emotional distance had caused? 


Who the hell knew.


            She’d gotten the call eight days later, smack-dab in the middle of the operation, and though her boss had told her she could take the time to get away, she’d refused.  She had instead seen the mission through.  It had been all that was left to her, then. 


The only thing that she’d been able to think to do.


            Only later had she felt the loss, the indescribable sensation that for the first time in her life, she was completely, utterly alone.


            And she’d stayed alone, for such a very long time, until Teresa León had entered her life under the most preposterous of circumstances.  


Against infinitesimal odds they’d found one another. 


Fighting against an invisible, tenacious enemy, they’d joined together. 


And now, as Teresa bravely fought that enemy alone, Lane Sinclair had no intention of ever letting her go.


            To Manuel and the others, the word would be put out that the lady of the house was indisposed for a few days; that she had the flu.  Not much of a stretch, since her post-procedure symptoms would mimic that ailment.  She would rest in bed for a few days while her body recovered from the physical stress of the procedure, even as her brain’s neurotransmitters learned to adjust to a life without opiates.


            “She’ll be okay?” Lane asked the physician for perhaps the tenth time since they’d first started, when a pale, shivering Teresa had been led to the hospital bed.  She didn’t care how pathetic the question sounded, how needy.  She could only trust that if the good doctor were going to keep his mouth shut about Teresa’s addiction, then he would do the same over the unusually close relationship she seemed to have with her new gringa consultant.


            “She will be fine, Señora,” he told her, not unkindly.  “She’ll have to maintain a regimen of Naltrexone for a year or so afterwards, but other than that—”




            The Doctor frowned for a moment, as if considering just how much information he should share with this woman who seemed to care so deeply for his patroness.  “It is an opiate inhibitor,” he finally told her.  “Its primary function is to eliminate the physical cravings she’s bound to experience after withdrawl.”


            “Cravings… for heroin you mean.”


            “Heroin, cocaine – any high.  Ideally, the drug should be administered with counseling, but—”


            “That’s not an option here,” Lane said, turning towards the closed door that stood as a barrier between Teresa’s secret and the only world she’d known for so long.


            “No,” Doctor Ceniceros sighed wistfully.  “I suppose not.”


            The odds were stacked against Teresa, Lane knew that.  The success rate on rapid detox was no better than the traditional method – 50 percent, if that.  And to not have access to the proper after-support that she needed, well, that was all part of getting her out of here, right?


            Of getting her and Mia back across the border, together, whole.  It would be hell for a while, the debriefings, the testifying.  And then – it would be the witness protection program, or something like that.  And if Lane had to quit the DEA to stay with her, then she would.  Funny how the job that had been her everything seemed like nothing now, in the face of losing Teresa.


            But right now, there was the little problem of getting back to the States, undetected.  There were very few people in her life whom she could trust, people who were alive, anyway.  And she found herself especially jaded after the way Starks had turned, but hell, she’d never trusted that bastard in the first place. 


            There was one man, however, her old boss from the San Diego office, Jay Irvine, who might be her best, only shot.  He was a good man, all business, and unlike other Special Agents-in-Charge she’d known, more than willing to put himself in the line of fire, to take risks, if those risks meant the difference between the success or failure of an operation.


            They’d worked closely together on operation ‘El Cid,’ their ‘success’ in San Diego.


Like her, he’d mourned the deaths after they’d taken down Vicente Castaneda, of the Tijuana agents who had been their allies.  It had all been such a useless, pointless exercise, insisted upon by the drones in Washington as being a critical battle line in the war on drugs.


            Now, two years later, Vicente Castaneda was in a country club federal prison in Idaho, and as for his father, Luis Castaneda, well it was business as usual in Tijuana.


            She excused herself from Teresa’s bedside for a moment, trusting her to Doctor Ceniceros’ vigilant care.   She slipped through the door, and once in the outer office produced one of the cell phones the cartel used whose stolen phone number would be discarded before nightfall – hence rendering it untraceable.  Enrico’s security people had been pretty savvy, in that regard.


            It took only a moment for the call to go through, to hear Jay’s voice on the other end of the connection, clear as a bell.


            She could hear the shock in his voice, the disbelief, as she rapidly explained her predicament and what she needed for him to do.


            “Jesus, Lane, are you sure about Starks?”


            A hand went to unconsciously massage her thigh; though healed, in rainy weather she still felt its ache.


            “I’m four bullet-holes sure,” she dryly replied.


            A pause.  “Look – maybe you and the León woman should just get out of there now.  She’ll make a helluva witness, that’s for sure.”


            “Not yet,” she told him, feeling the knot in her gut tighten. “We’ve gotta make sure we nail this thing down.  But in the meantime, Jay, you’ve gotta put a lid on this.  Lives depend on it,” she said, thinking of one life in particular that mattered to her more than her own.  “My partner found that out the hard way.”


            “God, Clarence Hayes,” Jay Irvine breathed.  “I’d heard about that.  Thought that was a helluva accident – after you and all—”


            “It was no accident,” Lane growled, a flash going through her mind of what she planned to do to David Starks once they met again.  And they would meet again, of that she had no doubt.


            “Well, I’ll leave it in your hands, Lane.  Just say the word, and we’ll get you out of there.”


            “You leave the ‘when’ to me, and you start thinking about the ‘where.’  We’ll try to get as close to the border as we can on our own.”


            “I’ll wait to hear from you then. Be careful Lane, do you hear me?”


            “You too,” she said, ending the connection.




            She had a plan.  For better or worse, at least it was something.  It had to work.


            It had to.




“How ya feelin’ now?”


            Teresa León was back in her own room at last, the blinds drawn, the room cool and darkened.  The light had been a problem, as had the heat during her hot flashes, and Lane had been kept busy running back and forth between the windows, the bathroom, and the thermostat. “Okay.”


            Lane lifted a skeptical eyebrow.


            “Lousy,” Teresa amended, and Lane moved quickly as she saw her grit her teeth and suddenly sit up, grabbing at her stomach.


She held a small metal basin in front of her as Teresa vomited again, and she kept a hand on her back, rubbing her gently or else running a hand through limp blonde hair, whispering soothing words to her until the spasms passed and the blonde collapsed back onto the bed.


            “Oh, God,” she groaned, throwing an arm over her forehead as Lane took the basin to the bathroom, returning with a cool washcloth that she used to lightly daub at her mouth and chin.  “Am I dead yet?”


            “No such luck,” Lane chuckled, placing the cloth aside and sitting on the edge of the bed.  “You’re doing good, you know that right?”


            “I suppose,” Teresa sighed, moving her arm to reveal a single bloodshot green orb.  “This is bad enough.  I can only imagine what going through regular detox would’ve been like.”


            “Don’t think about that.”  Lane’s lips tightened, remembering how it had been hard enough to sit there in the medical suite and watch Teresa go through it, unconscious though the younger woman had been.  The sweats, the jumpiness, the nearly sub-vocal moans.  It had been hell, actually, a hell best left unplumbed by a wide-awake Teresa León.


            “This helps us, right?” Teresa softly asked, her voice still rough from the anesthesia.  “Me being off the stuff, I mean.”


            “You know it does.”  Lane clasped her hand.  “This makes all the difference.”


            “Well, I’m feeling it, that’s for sure.”  Teresa gave her a tired smile, and pushed herself up against the pillows.  “Doctor Ceniceros said how I’d be feeling every little ache and pain afterwards.”


            “That’s because being hooked is like having your body under a constant state of sedation,” Lane explained.  “After detox, it’s like a toothache after the Novocain wears off.  You’ll feel it.  You’ll feel everything.”  Hell, Lane remembered one junkie back in Miami who hadn’t even known he had broken his foot until after he’d gone through an unexpected heroin withdrawl.


            Green eyes settled on her, taking her in, a clarity now noticeable through the weariness that gladdened Lane’s heart. 


            “Thanks for being there for me.”  Teresa bit her lip.  “It means a lot.”


            “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Lane replied, keeping her face a schooled image of strength, of stoicism.  Because it wouldn’t do for Teresa to see just how much those few words meant to her.  That it mattered to someone. 


That someone gave a damn. 


That someone whom she needed so desperately, for once, needed her back.


            “I—I’ve been thinking about our exit strategy.”  Lane cleared her throat, anxious to change the subject.  And she told Teresa of her conversation with Jay Irvine.


            Teresa listened, soberly taking it in, pulling the comforter closer to her as the heat of her hot flashes was replaced once again with chills.  An exchange that was bound to last for the next day or two until it finally tapered away, leaving the blonde exhausted, but ‘clean.’


            “Can you trust him?” Teresa wanted to know when she had finished.


            Lane thought about that for a moment.  Starks was still the wild card out there, and there was always the chance that he could get tipped off.  It was up to Jay Irvine whether that happened or not.  Could she trust him?  “I’ve got no choice,” she said simply, knowing that was the best she could do.


            A small hand, cool to the touch, reached out to stroke her face.  “I trust you.  And that’s enough for me.”



To be continued.


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