Same disclaimers apply. See Part 1 for specifics.

Chapter 2: Massive Blur

White and grey and brown colored the brisk Chicago morning. The grey of the expressway and the white of the snow offered very little visual interest. The weather hadn't let up and the clouds sagged under the weight of the precipitation they carried. The sky was preparing to let loose with more wet wintry snow before lunchtime. Except for the occasional flashy Bulls billboard or Crown Royal advertisement, the rest of the view was the usual drab brown cityscape.

Inside the Jeep, the heater blew out warmth on the two quiet women. At the moment, there was so much to be said between them that it was like another passenger in the car. In the span of twenty minutes, both of their worlds had been thrown together again and it was clear that bridging the distance that resulted would take time. Instead, silence accompanied them on the drive. Tina reclined in exhaustion with her legs stretched out in front of her but she was far from relaxed. Her head was leaning back against the leather seat as she gazed out the car window, passively taking in the blur that passed.

Taking a deep breath, the private detective closed her eyes against the painful throbbing in her head that seemed to start at the base of her skull and move to the back of her eyes. Tina was tired, hurt, and at the moment, she couldn't even stand to think against the dull thudding. Right now, it was too overwhelming and the events of the past few days too draining. All the investigator wanted was someplace dark and quiet to retreat.

It smelled like the earth, only more remote and deeper than that. Every tree looked the same, every path twisted and turned through the dense growth. Even though she ran in the direction opposite the setting sun, she just had to let her instincts take over, guiding her back the way she had come two days before. All her senses were alert as she tried to forget the pain. She could hear barking dogs some distance behind her, chasing her. She knew she was running for her life and that pushed her faster and farther, jumping over small streams, slogging through wetlands, climbing over ridges and through valleys. She hadn't prepared for this, hadn't been ready for the extreme conditions, the unfamiliarity of the terrain, all of this. She had to get back to the river before morning or she would be stuck, alone, out of her element. The only thing that kept her going, the only thing she ran towards was the hope she could make things right again when she got out of here. If she got out of here.

The soft voice of her traveling companion broke through the foggy haze and woke her.


The detective blinked, seeing the suburban landscape they drove through, the snow starting to fall more steadily. She glanced over at Mariel as the young blond took the Old Orchard exit off I-94 and cleared her throat.


She watched as the scientist pulled to the light at the end of the exit ramp and slowed to a stop. Mariel turned to her, those green eyes holding hers with a look she couldn't decipher.

"I'm taking you to my place."

Tina shifted in her seat as Mariel made her way towards Evanston proper, passing the mall and steadily moving through the snowy streets. The way the FBI scientist said the words made it difficult to disagree, but she did anyway.

"You don't have to do that."

Mariel sighed as she turned and made her way to Central. As they drove, they passed the buildings in the neighborhood, steadily making their way through town. Glancing over, the scientist shook her head before she spoke.

"Tina, you look like hell and you're hurt. When's the last time you slept or had something to eat?"

The investigator ran a shaky hand through her hair and took a deep breath, feeling the start of a light-headed fever. She shrugged as she answered.

"A couple of days ago...there wasn't time."

Mariel turned and pulled into the alley behind her brownstone, finding her spot and putting the Cherokee in park. The motor idled gently as she turned and faced the dark-haired woman sitting next to her.

"There wasn't time for a lot of things, was there?"

Tina closed her eyes as she let her head lean back against the seat, exhausted. She didn't have the energy to get into this and the thought of having to explain it made her head pound harder. She could feel the sweat start to break out over her brow and the throbbing pain in her side. And then she felt a soft touch on her shoulder and heard a softer voice.

"Okay...let's just get you upstairs, huh?"

Tina opened her eyes and looked gratefully at the younger woman. She was barely holding it together, her defenses starting to waver as her body rebelled against the assault it had been under. For some reason, she felt safe enough to let it go. The detective watched as Mariel nodded her head once and smiled a little, turning off the car and putting her gloves on before she got out. Tina reached for the door handle, almost as if in slow motion. The door opened for her as the scientist put her hand on Tina's arm and helped her out. Her legs felt shaky and weak as she reached for her black leather bag, the whole reason she was in this mess to begin with. Mariel spoke softly as she held her hand out for the bag.

"Here, let me take that.."

Tina almost pulled it away before she looked over into Mariel's eyes, seeing the questioning there. Taking a deep breath, she steadied herself and gave the bag to the scientist. Mariel hefted it over her shoulder and guided her with a careful arm around Tina's waist along the walkway through the snow. The support Mariel gave felt like a lifeline and in spite of her fears, Tina reached out for it.


The minute Mariel led her into the warm, cozy apartment, Tina felt herself starting to fall. Luckily, the couch was nearby and the scientist's steady arm helped guide her as she sank back into the dark green cloth surface, drained. She watched the worried expression on Mariel's face as the young woman pulled off her winter coat and quickly sat down next to her on the couch. Tina closed her eyes when she felt the blond's hand softly touch against her forehead.

"Tina, you're burning up...let me see where you're hurt."

The private detective shivered, fevered from the cold, weariness, and the pain in her side. She knew what she was going to find when she opened her coat for the scientist. She just didn't want to talk about it yet. Gasping slightly, Tina shifted and let the shoulder of her leather jacket slip off, wincing at the movement and the sting of pain it brought. Underneath, she wore a long-sleeved grey t-shirt, wrinkled and slightly dirty. Against her right side, the shirt was stained and clinging to her skin. She heard the scientist take a breath before Mariel reached down and gently took the bottom edge of the shirt and lifted if carefully. Tina gritted her teeth as she felt the cotton of her shirt stick to her wound as Mariel gently, but patiently pulled it away from her skin. Tina saw the blond's eyes take in the sight before they found her own and she whispered.

"What happened?"

Tina slowly moved her body slightly and peered down, sure of what she would see. Indeed, the area around her wound was swollen and angry red with infection. It was clear that the poorly stitched tear had opened and was seeping. The wound itself traveled from just under her lower right ribcase down her side for four inches long to stop near her back. Tina jerked in anticipation as Mariel's fingers went to gently touch but stopped short.

"It's alright, I won't touch....we need to get this taken care of, Tina. I should have just taken you to the ER or something."

Tina shook her head, flinching in pain as she spoke.

"I can't risk that right now. I just need to get it cleaned up and put something on a bandaid.."

She watched as Mariel closed her eyes and lifted her face to the ceiling, muttering softly and sighing as she shook her head.

"She just wants a bandaid for this..."

Tina let her lips curve just a little as the scientist looked at her and smiled back. Mariel's gaze shifted down to the wound again and then back at Tina before she spoke.

"Alright...let me get a bath going for you. That should help clean it out for now. We can take care of it after you get out. I'm really worried about your fever though..."

The detective lifted a hand and felt her forehead before running her fingers through her sweat-soaked bangs. Sighing, she looked over at the blond sitting next to her. She really didn't deserve any of the niceties she was getting from Mariel. She was surprised the scientist hadn't hung up on her when she called to begin with, out of the blue like she did. And here Mariel was genuinely worried about her. As much as she felt bad about the circumstances, she also couldn't help but want that caring, whether she deserved it or not.

The other issue was one of safety. Tina knew she was risking danger to Mariel by having called her but she was sure she made it on the plane without anyone following her. Was it really fair to do that? Again? And wasn't that one of the reasons she left like she did? But that wasn't the real reason, was it? Well, it was, but it wasn't.

"The fever's a good thing for the wound, but a bad thing for my brain. I can barely think straight.."

Mariel favored her with a smile as she carefully pulled the detective's shirt back down over the wound and patted her once on the arm.

"Ok..listen, you just wait here, I'll get things ready.."

Tina nodded weakly as she let her stiff neck rest back against the couch. It seemed her body was finally deciding to break down after all the stress it had been under, physical, emotional and otherwise. Watching the scientist get up and move through the room, Tina felt her head start to spin just a little, making it hard to focus.

It's all in the timing and the placement of the words...

She didn't know how long she had been sitting there before she felt Mariel's hand on her own, pulling her up from the couch. And that felt like a dream as her body fuzzily followed the shorter woman, her eyes trying to stay on one thing and that ended up being on the soft golden hair that fell down Mariel's back in a cascade. She was faintly aware of being directed to 'get out of those clothes', which she did with hands that didn't feel like her own. Tina was aware that the scientist made sure she safely made it into the waiting bath before Mariel left the warm room, pulling the door closed behind her when she went.

Tina sank back with a groan into the steaming tub, laying down and stretching as the bubbles rose around her neck, the aroma of eucalyptus permeating her senses. The water was finally able to warm her thoroughly, soaking deep into her bones. She closed her eyes as she still shivered slightly and moved the water around her, relaxing for the first time and letting sheer heat heal her body and her mind.

Slowly, she drew the washcloth over her body, carefully pressing against her stitched tear and washing it clean before she took care of the rest of her body, lathering it up in luxurious, soapy bubbles. Being clean worked wonders, seemingly washing away the pain of her wound and easing the ache in her sore, strained muscles. With the aid of a large shower cup, Tina managed to wash her hair, pouring water from the tap over her head after shampooing. Now, feeling totally clean, the detective drained a little water from the tub and refilled it with more steaming hot water. Relaxing back down, she let the fever work its way out of her body, leaving her feeling completely wiped out. A soft knock at the door got her attention and she slowly rolled her head to the side, murmuring as she did.

"Come on in.."

Mariel poked her head in before she slipped inside. Tina had a chance to fully register everything about the woman she had known months before. Dressed in jeans and a black turtleneck sweater, Mariel looked as if she had lost a little weight since October, her body looking svelte and toned. She had put her hair up in the back while she was in the other room, twisting it loosely so some strands carelessly fell down the back of her neck, making her look more mature than her youthful face might have otherwise shown. The sleeves on her sweater were pushed up and she was carrying a large bowl-like cup. Reaching out, Mariel put the seat down on the toilet and sat down, leaning her forearms on her knees as she faced the tub with Tina in it.

"How ya feeling?"

The detective took a breath and assessed before she answered.

"Better than I have any right to...thank you."

Mariel just smiled at her and nodded, handing over the cup and waiting until one of Tina's hands reached out of the bubbles and took it. Lifting her chin a little to point at the cup, the young doctor's voice was soft.

"I know chicken soup isn't really a breakfast food, but I figured it would help. My mom's always going on about that chicken soup for the soul stuff but I'm sure it'll be fine for the body too."

Taking a sip of the warm broth, Tina nodded, discovering after the first taste that she was positively starving. The liquid went through her body and soothed her, but the fact that Mariel had done this for her made it even better. Looking over and catching the scientist's green eyes on her, she finished another drink before she spoke.

"Mariel, I...about this whole thing.."

Mariel's face took on a neutral look as she held up her hand.

"Tina, I think it's probably better if we don't talk about this right now."

Tina blinked at the lack of emotion in the scientist's voice and nodded.


Mariel gave her a strained smile and Tina could see that there was a slightly imperceptible shake to the blond's hands. Of course, she wouldn't want to talk about it right now. Mariel probably had given up the detective for dead or worse long ago and to now have Tina back, in her bathtub no less, looking haggard without food or sleep and a mysterious wound from some unknown source and all the detective's talk of danger had every right to shake Mariel up. She was probably still reeling from the way they had left things, which Tina herself had in the back of her mind the entire time she was gone. She caught Mariel's eyes when the scientist cleared her throat and stood, pushing a few strands of hair behind her ear as she spoke.

"'s really starting to snow pretty hard outside. How about stick around here, get some sleep, feel better, and we'll go from there?"

Tina set the finished cup of soup on the ledge of the tub and sat up, letting her eyes speak for themselves while her voice answered.

"I'd really like...that."

With a smile and a nod, Mariel turned to leave the room, speaking over her shoulder as she started to open the door.

"I'll see if I can find something of mine for you to wear...we can throw your clothes in the washer downstairs for later."

Tina smiled her thanks as she prepared to rise out of the tub. It was clear they were both trying to find a way to relate under the circumstances. It was better than the cold anger the detective might have expected from anyone else she'd left behind without a word. Instead, Tina could tell from how she was acting that under the surface, Mariel Potidean was hurt more than any other thing, and that part of her wanted to distance herself as far from Tina as possible while the other part of her couldn't help but respond. Funny, that's exactly how the investigator herself had felt but for very different reasons.

"Oh, and Tina?"

Mariel's voice caught Tina's attention again and she looked over, seeing the blond half in and half out the door. Smiling faintly before she left, the young forensic psychologist spoke softly.

"It's good to see you again, you know.."

And with that, she was gone, leaving the detective alone with her thoughts. With the pain in her side beginning to lessen and the fever having reached its peak earlier, all Tina could feel was incredibly drained, incredibly tired, and incredibly compelled to make it up to Mariel before all was said and done. If she learned anything from her journey, it was that she never intended on leaving again. Unfortunately, the hard part was just beginning.

Continued in Chapter 3

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