Written by:  Susanne Beck and Okasha 

 Disclaimers:  In chapter one.


 The room is as dark as guilty secrets.  Only the faint light from the hallway enters, laying a wedge-shaped pattern across the carpet. It reaches the very edge of the bed and goes no further, as if afraid to disturb the vigil being kept above. 

 Kirsten sits on a chair that has seen better decades, staring down at Koda, who is so deeply unconscious that she appears, for all the world, dead.  Only the slight rise and fall of her chest reassures her silent watcher.  Heavily bandaged hands lay quiescent on the dark coverlet, as still as the body that bears them.


Dakota looks small, almost fragile as she lies so still, a lost and broken child in her parents’ bed.  Kirsten swallows the lump in her throat, blinking to cast away the vision.  She looks up, startled, at a soft sound from the doorway. 

Maggie enters, bearing two steaming mugs.  Smiling slightly, she walks to Kirsten’s side and hands her one.  “Thought you could use this.”


Kirsten takes the offered mug eagerly, wrapping her chilled hands around it and inhaling the comforting aroma with a sigh of pleasure.  “Thank you.  This is perfect.”  Taking a small sip, she lets the coffee roll over her tongue, savoring it for a timeless moment before swallowing.  “Bless you, Colonel,” she breathes.  “This is just what the doctor ordered.”


“Seeing as you’re sitting in my bedroom,” Maggie replies, smirking, “I think we could dispense with the formalities, don’t you?”


Kirsten glances up, the expression of a guilty child plain upon her face.  She begins to rise, but Maggie motions her back down.  “No. It’s alright.  Stay.”  Her smirk softens into a true smile.  “I have a strange sense of humor, sometimes.”


Nodding, Kirsten returns the smile with a hesitant one of her own.  The space between them is like a chasm; one which she suddenly wishes she could cross.


If she only knew how.


Maggie lowers herself to perch casually on the lower corner of the large bed.  Koda doesn’t twitch.  The Colonel captures Kirsten in her steady regard.  “You were pretty impressive out there,” she murmurs.  “Didn’t know you could handle a grenade launcher.”  Her lips twitch with a smirk just dying to come out.  “Learn that in Bionics 101?”


This time, Kirsten gets the joke and chuckles, saluting Maggie with her mug.  Her grin fades.  “Absolute terror,” she amends, looking back down at the still figure on the bed.  “It was like…I don’t know…like I knew what she was going to do before she did it.  And I knew that I wasn’t going to be left behind.”  She swallows hard, vision trebling as some strange almost-memory steals through her consciousness like a thief in the night.  “Not again.”


Maggie raises an eyebrow in silent inquiry.  Kirsten shakes off both the question and the strange feeling with a deliberate closing of her eyes.  When she opens them again, she is more her old self—more or less.  Her smile, when it comes, is natural, unbidden.  “She was a sight to see, though, wasn’t she?”


“That she was,” Maggie replies.  “I had myself half-convinced I was watching some old Audy Murphy flick.”  A frown creases her forehead.  “The top-kick in me is furious with her.  It was completely foolhardy and dangerous in the extreme.”  The frown disappears as she shrugs.  “But it worked, and we’re alive to tell the tale.  And I guess that’s all that really matters in the end anyway.”


“So that means you won’t take it out of her hide later?” Kirsten queries with a small smirk of her own.


Maggie snorts.  “As if I could.”


Kirsten sobers, looking back down at the bed.  “There will be a later, though, right?”  She looks up, startled once again, this time by the warm hand that clasps her wrist.


“There will be,” she affirms in a tone that brooks no dissent.  “Things like this…take a lot out of her.  Almost everything, I think.”  She looks down at Koda, her smile warm and affectionate. The adoration on her face causes Kirsten a brief stab of discomfort before she pushes it savagely away.  “She just needs some time to get those batteries of hers recharged, and she’ll be good as new.”


When Maggie releases her wrist, Kirsten lifts her arm to finish the last of her coffee.  Then she makes as if to rise.  “I’ll…um….”


“No. Stay.”


Kirsten looks at her, eyes slightly widened.


Maggie smiles.  “Stay.  I need to go tell everyone that she’s doing well, and debrief the General as well.  I don’t expect to be back until morning, at least.  And….”  She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, opting for the truth, even though the words are like shards of glass in her mouth, “I think she knows you’re here, and I think that’s very important to her.”






Keeping her emotions under tight control, Maggie rises gracefully from her perch on the bed and quickly strides across the room.  A soft voice halts her in her tracks.




She doesn’t, can’t, turn, but Kirsten knows she’s listening.


“Thank you.”


Unable to speak for fear her voice will betray her, Maggie settles for a nod, and continues out of the room.




Eyes closed, Koda finds herself floating on a current of…something.  Air, water, she can’t tell which, nor does she especially care. It is neither hot nor cold, and the breeze—or at least what she thinks is a breeze—carries with it the scent of spring and sunshine and gentle summer rains.


An undercurrent is the sea, and the earth, fecund and moist as if from a fresh turning.  Maternal, almost. Ripe with the promise of birth and rebirth.


Secret smells. 


Good smells.  


“Must be what it feels like in the womb,” she whispers, loathe to open her eyes lest it shatter the peace she feels.


A warm wave of gentle laughter rolls over her like far-off summer thunder.  “Your wisdom grows, Tshunka Wakan Wacignuni.”


Finally giving in to the inevitable, Dakota opens her eyes, and finds herself bathed in the affectionate regard of Ina Maka.  “Wandering Wolf?”


The Great Mother spreads her arms wide.  “Apt, don’t you think?” 


Koda looks around her.  An infinity of colors swirl and dance to the rhythm of what she recognizes as the earth’s very heart. Its beauty is far beyond anything she’s ever seen and her very soul aches in sweet recognition.  “I suppose,” she murmurs, entranced.  “What is this place?”


“It is known to many by many different names.  I prefer to call it Thamni Ina.”


“The Mother’s Womb.”


“Exactly. It is a place of healing. And of rest.  You are always welcome here, Wacignuni.”


“It’s so beautiful….”  Her tone is one of reverent awe, and part of her, raised by man, tries to hide her face, feeling cowed, insignificant, unworthy of such an honor. “Ina Maka, I….”


“Shh,” is the reply as the Mother rests a warm hand over Koda’s eyes, gently closing them.  “Rest, Daughter.  Regain your strength.  You will need it for the journey yet to come.”


Unable to fight against the overwhelming pull, Dakota surrenders into the Great Mother’s embrace.  Joy suffuses her as the energies of earth and tide combine to flow over and through her like a river over burnished stones.  She cries out in ecstasy, and her voice is swallowed up, becoming one with the swirling energies, her voice, and her joy, now and forever a part of the eternal dance.




Hearing a soft moan, Maggie blinks tired eyes and closes the book she’s been trying, for the past hour, to read.  A smile transforms her face as she notices Koda’s eyelids begin to twitch--the first   sign of life she’s shown in days.


She eases herself onto the bed, touching Dakota’s forearm so that, should she waken quickly, she won’t dislodge the IV snaking from a plump vein in her forearm.


Arctic blue eyes flutter open, their color warming to a deep, vibrant blue as they set upon Maggie’s smiling, handsome face. 


“Welcome back,” Maggie murmurs, gently squeezing the wrist in her grasp.


“How….”  Clearing her throat of the rusty hinges stuck there, she tries again.  “How long?”


“Three days.”


Dakota’s eyes widen slightly, then she looks away, noticing for the first time the body that shares her sleeping space.


Kirsten is curled up in an almost fetal ball, facing away and deeply asleep. 


Koda turns startled eyes back to Maggie, who smiles.  “We’ve been taking turns keeping watch.  How are you feeling?”


Dakota takes careful stock of her body.  All in all, she feels much better than she has any right to.  Her hands itch like fire, but that’s to be expected, she imagines. All that is left from her battle is a slight sense of tiredness—strange after three days of sleep.  Her body is too well aware of the small form pressed against its length, and she fights down the urge to snuggle into it, to give in to the implicit comfort and welcome offered—even with Kirsten turned away.  Instead, she blinks, and casts a smile to Maggie.  “I’m ok.  You?”


“Aside from a few bumps and bruises, fine,” Maggie replies, shrugging.  “Same with our intrepid doctor over there.”


“The others?”


Maggie’s expression becomes somber.  “We lost ninety eight.  About twenty or so sustained serious wounds. Two or three others are touch and go, but the docs think they’ll pull through…eventually.”


“Damn,” Koda whispers, eyes closing against the ache of so many gone. 


Maggie strokes the soft skin of Koda’s arm, offering the only comfort she can.  Part of her longs to tell the grieving woman how her actions saved the lives of ten times that many, but she stills her tongue, knowing that to Dakota, as with herself, those words would only be useless platitudes falling on deaf ears. 


Koda opens her eyes again, emotions trapped behind the stony mask she now wears.  “My brother?”


“Is fine.  Manny snapped his collarbone and cracked a couple of ribs, but he’s doing okay also.  Andrews earned himself a broken ankle and a trip to the OR.  Can’t stand his crutches, but he’s gonna have to learn to deal.”


“Alright.”  Dakota nods once, an almost savage gesture that flicks the heavy bangs from her forehead and resettles them, haphazard, against her face.  Though her palms are still heavily bandaged, her fingers are free, and those fingers reach for the IV tubing at her wrist.


“Dakota, don’t….do that,” Maggie finishes with a sigh as the woman in question sits up and efficiently removes the IV catheter from her arm, pressing down to stop the minute flow of blood dotting the wound.


“I’m fine,” Koda remarks, swinging long legs over the side of the bed and steadying herself for a moment before she plants her feet and stands.  There is a brief instant of dizziness as her body once again becomes accustomed to being vertical after three days horizontal.


Once the dizziness abates, she strides around the bed with sure steps, reaching the bureau and pulling out a tattered sweatshirt and jeans with holes in the knees.  Dressed, she runs negligent fingers through her thick hair, settling it somewhat as she turns to Maggie.  “The bodies.  Where are they being kept?”


“They’ve set up a second morgue in one of the hangar bays.  You’ll see the honor guard outside.  The payloaders are getting ready to dig in a few hours.”


Nodding, Koda circles the bed and stops before Maggie, who is still sitting. Her eyes are somber, set, serious. “Thank you.  For keeping watch.”


Maggie’s smile is small, but it’s there.  “It was no hardship, believe me.”  She pauses, the smile slipping from her face.  “Thank you.”


A brow raises.


“For saving our lives.  And, very likely, the lives of everyone here.”


The Colonel feels only a brief touch to her shoulder before Koda turns to leave.  “I didn’t do it alone,” Dakota replies softly as she exits the room.


“No,” Maggie murmurs to the empty air, “but if you hadn’t started it, it wouldn’t have been done at all.”




With the temperature hovering in the lower 50s, Dakota slips out into the fresh air without a coat for the first time in over half a year.  For a brief moment, she turns her face up toward the sun, accepting its warmth. Such welcome heat, however, does little to banish the chill she feels in her soul; a chill compounded by each of the lives lost in the battle of the Cheyenne. 


As she lowers her chin, her eyes catch the sunlight winking off the top of a hulking aircraft hanger in the near distance, visible over the top of the young pines dotting Maggie’s small lawn.  She sets her feet in that direction and begins to walk.


As her long legs take her effortlessly from the tree-lined residential district and into the base proper, she takes in the sights, which include many faces she doesn’t recognize. 


Which, she realizes, isn’t all that unusual, given the size of the base and the fact that she’s only explored small parts of it during her short stay here.  Still, it’s almost as if with the winning of this latest battle, survivors have started crawling out of the woodwork, feeling just now safe enough to approach and be welcomed into what is swiftly becoming a teeming community. 


As she watches, two groups of fifty or more lumber through the massive gates, some walking, some riding in decrepit vehicles, all with possessions strapped to their backs and the same look of hollow-eyed dread and merciless hope coloring their features.


The scene brings to her mind something she’d seen in history class once, a picture of destitute farmers fleeing the dust bowl, all of their worldly possessions strapped to backs, horses and trucks that looked like they would go another mile before quitting completely.


“’Give me your tired, your poor,’” she whispers, watching them stream onto the base, “’your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me.  I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’”


A passing man hears her whisper and gives her a strange look. She returns it with a steely glare, complete with raised eyebrow.  He quickly finds something else to capture his attention, scurrying away like a rat after cheese. 


As she continues on her way, she begins to notice things that raise the hackles on the back of her neck.  Ahead, two middle-aged women argue over what looks to be a basket of half-rotten fruit.  Their arms swing in wild gesticulations, and Dakota knows it’s only a matter of time before one of those wild swings catches, starting an all-out scrap.


Off to her left, in the middle of the street, two men are brawling like a couple of overweight, over-the-hill boxers. They’re quite obviously drunk as skunks.  One man’s nose is a bloody mess. The other has one eye puffed up to the size of a cue ball.  A full bottle of cheap booze lies shattered on the ground between them, the glass shards shining like trumpery diamonds.


A uniformed MP stands to one side, her face a mask of indecision.  Koda can almost read her thoughts. 


These are civilians. 


Who has jurisdiction over them? 


Should she intervene? 


Or should she simply stand by and let them decide the outcome?


“Great,” Dakota mutters, half under her breath.  “Looks like the honeymoon is over.”


Just as she’s about to head in that direction, both men go down, either too drunk or too injured to continue.  The MP stares dumbly down at them before raising her head and shooting Koda a pleading look.  Dakota shrugs in reply, as unsure of the current legal situation as the MP.  A uniformed man bearing the rank of Major runs toward the scene, and Dakota moves on, content for the moment to let events play out as they will without her direct intervention.


She knows, however, that changes are going to need to be made.  And soon.




“Doctor Rivers!” the young man calls out, snapping to full attention so quickly that his spine fairly creaks with the effort.


Koda looks over the young private, remembering him as one of Tacoma’s advance machine gunners who had charged a group of retreating droids, disabling several and getting winged in the neck for his troubles.  “Private Holloway.  How’s the neck?”


A rosy flush spreads over the Private’s fair features at the realization that this beautiful woman—who he had seen doing things on the battlefield that even the most courageous of his buddies would never even attempt—knows his name.


“Ma’am!” he shouts, straightening even further. “Just fine, Ma’am!”


Biting her cheeks to keep a smile from coming to her lips at the young man’s earnestness, she settles instead for a brisk nod. “Good to hear, Private.  Permission to enter?”


“Ma’am, yes, Ma’am!”


“Thank you, Private.”




Dakota turns, leveling her gaze at him and causing his blush to deepen.  He holds an arm out, a facemask dangling from his hand.  “You…um…might want to use this, Ma’am.”


Koda smiles.  “Thanks, but…I’ll be okay.” 


With a final nod, she leaves him standing at his post, and enters the cavernous hanger.  The interior is dim, cool, and ripe with the high, sickly sweet stench of death and decay.  It’s a scene she’s known most of her life, and while it will never replace a fine cologne, her stomach no longer folds in upon itself when she detects it.


Standing at the entrance, she lets her gaze glide over the neat rows of corpses wrapped in sheets—the supply of bodybags having been decimated after the first conflict—and covered by American flags. 


So many rows. So many bodies.  So much courage, and honor, and loyalty left to rot beneath a flag whose meaning has been forever changed.  So much blood.  So much grief.  So much loss.


Silent as a shadow, she glides between the rows, reading each name and committing it to memory.  Here and there she stops to touch a marble hard wrist, a frozen cheek, a statue’s foot, honoring these brave men and women as best she can and thanking them for their sacrifice.


Wakhan Tanka,” she murmurs, breath a freshet fogging the air before her, “guide these souls and keep them.  Ina Maka, give them comfort, hold them close.   Honor them as they have honored us.  Keep them safe. Give them peace.”


A shadow falls across the last body, and Dakota looks up to see her brother standing at the entrance to the morgue, posture ramrod stiff, medals, buttons and boots polished to a high-gloss shine.  His face is a granite mountain, but his eyes…to Koda, who knows him well, they are grief writ large and black.  A scuff of rubber on cement, and a small squad of litter bearers form rank behind him, faces and bearings so identical that they look as if they’ve rolled fresh from an assembly line.


Dakota crosses the floor, narrowing the distance between then until there is none.  His hand is warm and dry as it engulfs her own, and it bears a minute, internal tremor signaling the grief his face tries to mask.  They share a look of complete understanding.  Their troops.  Their responsibility.  Their blood on hands that will never be clean.


“Hoka hey,” she whispers, eyes bright and shining with unshed tears. 


The granite splits for just a moment, letting the tiniest of smiles curve the corner of his mouth.  Joined hands lift and he briefly strokes her cheek with the back of his knuckles, thanking her, loving her.  “Hoka hey.”


The sound of a payloader’s engine coming choppily to life breaks the moment. 


Somewhere in the distance, a lone bugler plays Taps.




This time, Dakota accepts the sun’s welcoming warmth as she steps out of the hangar and into the brightness of the day.  Her soul, if not at peace, is at rest for the moment, and she leaves the task of burial to the others as she allows her feet to take her where they will.


Her stride is long, easy, and unhurried as it takes her out of the base proper, past rows of abandoned military vehicles standing in formation like the army toys of a giant child who’s gone to bed.  It’s a melancholy sight, bringing to mind things taken for granted in a past that will never be again.  Pushing those thoughts from her mind, she strolls back into the residential area, purposefully steering clear of Maggie’s home, not ready to return there just yet. 


She watches idly as several families, and parts of families, take over abandoned military housing, moving in their meager belongings while casting furtive glances over their shoulders, as if expecting such a windfall to be snatched from their grasps without so much as a “how d’ye do”.


She shakes her head as she passes a ramshackle, half-bombed out house on a prime corner lot, looking on through narrowed eyes as two families nearly come to blows over its possession.  This time, the MPs are quick to step in and separate the feuding families, though not without receiving the sharp side of several tongues in rapid succession.


“We need a census taker,” she mutters, watching as a group of strangers, attracted by the impending brawl, gather on the corner like rubberneckers at a highway accident. She doesn’t recognize one face, and that puts her hackles up again.


There is a bad feel to this crowd, a nameless, pointless, directionless anger simmering just under the surface, lacking only the spark needed to burst into full flame.


That spark comes in the form of a well armed squad of uniformed men and women marching toward the disturbance in lock-step.  The crowd scatters and reforms—oil sitting on the surface of a storm-tossed pond.  Several men, and some women too, heft fist sized rocks and stare at the oncoming soldiers from beneath lowered brows.


A young Sergeant moves forward with confident steps, hand on her gunbutt.  “Come on, folks, go back to your homes.  Break it up.”


“Make us!” shouts an anonymous voice in the milling throng.


The young woman squares her shoulders, eyeing the crowd with a level stare.  “I’m asking you again.  Please clear the area and return to your homes.”


“Who died and made you God?”  Another anonymous voice, stirring the crowd. 


“Clear the area!”


Dakota is running before the first rock clears the crowd.  It deals the sergeant a glancing blow on the shoulder, causing her squad to draw their weapons and advance on the group.  A few more rocks fly; furtive, like the first raindrops preceding a torrential summer squall.


Koda is able to grab onto a beefy man just about to launch a good-sized rock.  Her palm screams its displeasure as she clamps down on his wide wrist and squeezes hard.


“What the fuck?!?” The man rounds on her, fully intending to use his free hand, now cocked into a ham-sized fist, to turn her face into pop-art sculpture. Suddenly, his eyes widen and his arm drops back to his side, unnoticed, as he stares over Dakota’s right shoulder.


Taken aback by the abrupt change, Dakota turns even as she keeps her grip on the man’s wrist.  Before her, the crowd parts like the Red Sea before Moses, admitting five-feet-five-inches of pure attitude.


“Excuse me,” Kirsten growls, hands on hips, green eyes flashing fury.  “Would someone like to tell me what the hell is going on here??”  Asi, ever Kirsten’s shadow, adds his opinion to the mix, growling low in his throat as he sits at Kirsten’s side, ruff standing up in spiky threads.


A hive-drone murmur sweeps its way through the crowd. Snippets of conversation stand out here and there, and Koda listens with half an ear, an ever-widening smirk on her face.




“…robotics lady….”


“…saw her on TV just last month!”




“…can’t believe….”


“...shorter than she is on television!”


Dakota bites back a smile at that remark, watching as one of the MPs moves stiffly forward, as if drawn to Kirsten simply by the strength of her aura.  Kirsten’s cool voice carries easily through the still air.  “Mind telling me what’s going on, Corporal Hill?”


“Yes, Ma’am.  Both sets of subjects were attempting to forcibly procure this family dwelling when….”


“English please, Corporal.  I left my military law dictionary in my other coat.”


Snickering is heard from the crowd, and a slow flush creeps up the young Corporal’s neck and dusts his cheeks with clown spots of crimson.  “Ma’am.  Corporal Smythson and myself were patrolling this sector when we came upon these two families,” a crisply uniformed arm gestures in the direction of the families in question, “fighting over this house.  As we attempted to intervene, a crowd began to gather.  Sergeant Li and her squad then approached from the south and asked the crowd to disperse.  They refused.”


“Damn right we refused!” a middle aged man yells. “We’re not a bunch of jarheads you can get just bully around!  We’ve got rights, you know!”


Kirsten turns to Li.  “Is that when you pulled your gun, Sergeant?”


“No, Ma’am.”


“And when did you pull your gun, Sergeant?”


“When the rock hit me, Ma’am.”


Kirsten is taken aback.  “Rock?”


“Yes, Ma’am.  That rock.”


Following the direction of Li’s pointing finger, Kirsten spies the crumbling chunk of gravel at the Sergeant’s feet.  She looks up slowly, lancing her gaze out over the crowd.


A dozen rocks leave a dozen suddenly limp hands, hitting the ground in sodden thumps.


Kirsten bares her teeth in a parody of a smile.  “So,” she begins, voice soft, lethal, “these are your ‘rights’, hmm?  I wasn’t aware that the right to assault someone was in our Constitution.  Would anyone like to point it out to me?”


“They’ve got guns,” one man mutters, gesturing toward the soldiers.


Kirsten turns her full attention on the speaker.  He pales appreciably.


“Did they pull them?  Threaten you in any way?”  She holds up on hand.  “Before that rock was thrown?”


The man drops his gaze and stares down at his feet.  “Well….”


“I’m sorry, did you say something?  I couldn’t hear you.”


The man raises his eyes, expression belligerent.  “They were gonna.”


“Ohhhh,” Kirsten replies, nodding wisely.  “They were going to.  And you know this…how?  Telepathic, are you?  Maybe you could tell us when the droids are going to strike again.  We could use a man with your talents.”


The man flushes brick red as some in the crowd catcall and elbow one another.  Kirsten’s impenetrable gaze sits heavy upon him, and he finally has no choice but to drop his eyes, sagging visibly like a balloon with a slow leak.


Kirsten scans the rest of the group.  “Anyone else have anything insightful to add?”


Feet shuffle.  Heads hang.  Crickets chirp.


“Alright, then.  I’d suggest all of you go back to your homes and stop acting like idiots.  Or better yet, go on over to the parade grounds and watch as a hundred soldiers, just like the ones you’re attacking here, get put into the ground for giving their lives so that you could stand around here acting like idiots.”  She pauses for just a moment, letting her words sink in.  “Am I making myself clear to everyone?”


The only sound heard is the shuffling of feet.


“Good. Then get the hell out of here.  You’re using up all the good air.”

As the crowd, grumbling and shame-faced, begins to wander away, Asi takes that as a signal that his ‘guard dog’ duties are over for the nonce, and only then does he notice Dakota standing several yards away, looking on.  Yodeling in canine joy, he tears off after her, his tail wagging so hard that it twists his body into all sorts of interesting shapes. Koda braces for the impact and catches his furry body as he all but launches himself into her arms, covering her face and any exposed skin he can reach with giant swipes of his tongue.

Chuckling, Dakota presses him back and scratches behind his ears with deep affection.  She stills as she feels eyes upon her, the gaze’s weight as palpable as a caress.  Straightening slowly, she turns her head until Kirsten’s brilliant smile comes into view.  She swears she can feel her heart fluttering in her chest and wonders at the seemingly autonomic response to something simple—albeit beautiful—as a smile.  She notes another instinctive response as she responds to Kirsten’s smile with one of her own—one that stretches her facial muscles in ways they haven’t been stretched in quite some time.


Asi a shadow at her side, she allows her long stride to eat up the distance between them until she comes to a stop no more than a foot away.   The smile is still there as she gazes down into mesmerizing green eyes.  “Hey.”


Kirsten touches Koda’s wrist briefly before dropping her hand away. “Hey.  It’s good to see you awake.  How’re you feeling?”


“Refreshed.  You?”


“A little sore for a few days, but now?  Pretty much back to my old self.”  Her lips twist in smirk of self deprecation.  “As you can see.”


Koda looks around a the now emptied street, then over at the MPs who are in amicable discussion with the two families who had started the confrontation.  “Good work.”


Kirsten looks at Koda carefully, sure she’s being teased.  When she realizes that the vet is serious, she blushes.  “Yeah, well…my legendary temper has to be good for something, huh?”

”I think you were in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills,” Koda replies seriously. “At the very least, you prevented a riot, and likely saved some lives as well.”


Kirsten looks down at her hands.  “Well, I….”


“False modesty is something I hope we can leave in the past, where it belongs.”


That stings, and, realizing it, Koda softens her voice and eyes.  Reaching out, she gently grasps Kirsten’s shoulder.  “You did very well out there today.  You did something that none of us could have done.  That’s a good thing, okay?”


Nodding, Kirsten manages a smile.  “Okay.”


Koda rubs her hands together.  “So, where were you off to before stopping in to play referee?”


Kirsten shrugs.  “Just out getting some fresh air.  Nowhere in particular.”


“Thank you for watching over me.”


Kirsten’s smile is shy.  “You’re welcome.  Even though Maggie told me not to be, I was still kinda worried.”


Koda notes Kirsten’s use of Maggie’s name without comment.  “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”


“I’m not,” Kirsten replies, laughing suddenly.  “You saved our lives with that suicidal charge of yours.  I’d much rather be worried than dead, thank you very much.” 


“You’re welcome,” Dakota retorts, smirking.  Then she executes a rather presentable bow.  “Would you do me the honor of dining with me at the mess hall?  I’ve heard that the mystery meat is even more mysterious than usual today.”


Kirsten bats her lashes, a true Southern Belle.  “Why Doctor Rivers, I’d be delighted.”


Dakota cocks her arm. Kirsten slips her hand through, and the two of them make their slow way to the mess.




And here we are at the end of yet another episode.  The molasses in winter that is Dakota and Kirsten’s relationship is slowly starting to run faster, yes?  J 


Thanks everyone for your wonderful letters of support and enjoyment.  You make our days!  If you’d like to drop a line, please do so.  See you next week!


 Continued - Chapter 17

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