Chapter 1

She looked up at the Victorian Mansion and felt her heart sink. This brought everything into sharp focus, made everything more real and closer to hand than she could bear. She felt a gentle squeeze and looked over to her mother who gave her an encouraging smile. At least she wouldn't have to face this hour alone. She reached over and tussled Chad's blonde hair and looked down into his smiling face.

"Can we go in now?" he asked, his blue eyes alight in anticipation. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak yet. "Cool," he grinned up at the stone walls. She felt her mother slide behind her, taking hold of his wheelchair and rolling him inside. She watched them, not ready to go inside yet, not ready to face another hospital bed, another set of nurses, more IV's more pain.

But this was for him. To remind herself of that was to move her feet forward. One step at a time. One small step forward. They were lucky to be here. All of the nurses had said so. But she had been dreading it ever since the doctors had said they thought it was the best place for them to be. Chad was a special boy with special circumstances. They were lucky to be placed here.

One step at a time.

Charissa folded the magazine she'd been reading on her lap and looked over at Chad's blonde hair nestled into the pillow, his thin frame disappearing into the quilt her mother had brought for him. She watched the slow but steady rise and fall of his chest and thought how much he looked like Todd when he was asleep.

He was tuckered right out. Between the trip, and the entire staff welcoming him like some kind of celebrity, meeting all the other kids, the big dinner, he hadn't even argued when they put him to bed, or even when they hooked up the IV.

"How are you doing Mrs. Martin? Anything you need?" She looked up at what seemed like the hundredth smiling face that had popped in since they'd arrived.

"We're fine thank you," she replied, trying to return the warm and well meaning smile even though she didn't feel either. "And please, it's Charissa. I keep looking for my mother in law every time I hear that." The woman nodded, and with a quick glance at Chad disappeared around the corner.

She pulled the afghan closer around her feet and gazed over at her son, a heavy weight settling on her chest. They were far from fine, but he was sleeping peacefully, and that was a good thing.

"You're the ones who arrived this afternoon aren't you?" A woman, not so much older than herself held onto the door frame and glanced from her to Chad's sleeping form and back. Charissa nodded, recognizing the question for the invitation it was. How many times, in how many hospitals had she gone looking for someone, anyone, to help pass the lonely hours of the night with when sleep evaded her? She put the magazine down and folded the afghan neatly on the chair before tip toeing over to Chad and placing a soft kiss on his head.

He didn't wake, the pain meds kept him under, but he mumbled and squirmed deeper into the sheets. She smiled, touched his shoulder like a talisman, reminding herself he was still here, before turning to follow the woman out into the hall.

Something smelled wonderful in the kitchen as they made their way to the huge table and accepted steaming cups of herbal tea from a tall stately looking woman who seemed to be overseeing something in the oven. Charissa cupped the tea in both hands, enjoying the warmth and the soothing herbal scent.

"My daughter really likes it here," the woman began, in that tone that Charissa recognized, the needy almost desperate tone of someone that needs to talk about their child. "She really likes the school room, the activities. She seems to really get something out of it. I admit I was surprised they had a school room." She looked to Charissa for confirmation, but Charissa could only shrug. She'd barely noticed it when they were given the grand tour. "My husband works, but he'll be here tomorrow. I didn't see your husband, is he coming later?"

"My husband was killed, six months ago." Charissa didn't even look up for the reaction when she said it. She knew what it would be, a mixture of shock and embarrassment. Her mother would have shushed her; she might have even told her she was doing it for the shock value, or to be contrary. But Charissa knew better. She did it so they would know that no matter how sick their kid was, she was in just as much pain as they were, maybe more, and there was no use trying to get into a pissing match about whose kid was worse.

How many times, in how many hallways, cafeterias, and parking lots had this happened? Wasn't it depressing enough to know that your child was facing the worst possible circumstances? Why did so many parents have to spend their spare time telling everyone that they had it the worst? Did it really matter if it was sarcoma or leukemia that was ending their young lives?

"If you need anything," the woman touched her hand and Charissa had to steel herself so that she wouldn't flinch, "please just let me know."

Charissa nodded and slipped from the table and back up to their room.

"Mrs. Martin? Are you looking for Chad?" Charissa turned her panicked eyes from the empty bed to the volunteer holding the magazines in the doorway and nodded.

"I…I was gone for twenty minutes…," Charissa stammered her hand still clutching the side of the bed so hard that it hurt.

"We have some visitors this afternoon," the volunteer with the kind face stepped aside and pointed down the hallway, "I think he's in the game room." Charissa took a deep breath and gave the woman a grateful smile, let the bed go and put her purse down.

"Thank you," she gave the woman a little hug and walked swiftly down the hallway. She could hear his laughter before she even got in the doorway, and felt her entire body relax. She popped her head in the doorway and saw the back of a Canuck's jersey, a head of curly brown hair next to Chad's blonde head. With a shrug, she turned back and headed for her room; to give Chad some time to enjoy his visitor.

"Find him?" the magazine woman asked, popping her head back into the room as Charissa slid into her chair with her book still closed on her lap.

"Yes, thanks. How long have they been here?"

"The players?" The woman looked thoughtful for a moment and then looked down towards the game room. "Maybe fifteen minutes or so. Chad was really excited to see Mr. Linden."

"He was his dad's favorite player," Charissa smiled. "I guess I'll give them a few more minutes then."

"Oh Mr. Linden is here a lot. He'll let him know when he needs to move on. I wouldn't worry too much about that." Charissa nodded and opened her book and went back to her fantasy world where sons weren't sick and damsels in distress got saved by handsome knights on white horses.

"Chad, honey, I think that you've monopolized enough of Mr. Linden's time, don't you? Time for a rest."

"Mom!" he turned and gave her that look, the look that said he wanted five more minutes and stop calling him honey.

"Nope, some of the other kids might want to see Mr. Linden too."

"That's okay," Trev turned around, a grin on his face, the game controller still in his hand. "He's beating me, but we're not finished the race are we buddy?"

"Yeah! Honestly mom," the exasperation in Chad's voice made her laugh, but she turned her face to hide it. One of the nurses just smiled as she passed, and didn't seem to think their time was up, so she left it for the moment, and went back to their room to contemplate how cute Trev was in person. She couldn't remember the last time Todd had taken her to a game, but it wasn't a surprise that the next biggest Canuck fan, her son, would want to spend time with his next best hero.

"Do you think my mom's pretty?" Chad turned his blue eyes up at Trevor.

"Your mom?" Trevor tried not to let his car bounce of the wall and still let the kid win.

"Yeah, my mom. The one that was just here? With the purple bangs?"

"Oh…oh yeah, she's uh…," he looked over his shoulder but she wasn't there. "Yeah, she's pretty."

Chad smiled, the mischievous smile of a kid with a plan. Trevor smiled to himself, thinking he'd been caught by a kid with one foot in the grave gawking at his mom.

"Would you take my mom out?"

Trevor crashed his car into the wall and put his game controller down.

"Chad…it's Chad right?" He was trying to think of an answer to this request that had come out of the blue, and the kid's eyes were turned up to his, hope filled. "Um…I'm not really…," how do you explain to a kid that you're not here to hit on the moms of sick kids.

"She doesn't have anyone to take her out. She gets sad. When she used to get sad my dad would take her out somewhere. I thought maybe you could do that."

Trevor looked down at this kid with the unruly blonde hair and big blue eyes that reminded him a little of Nazzy, and found himself struck dumb.

"She might not want to go out anywhere. She might want to stay here with you champ."

"But if you asked her she might."

"Why would you think that? Did she say something?" It wouldn't be the first time some woman had used their kid as bait; he didn't like to think it would happen here, but it was still possible.

"My dad thought you were the greatest, so she kind of knows you. So she probably would." The kid sounded so matter of fact about it, it almost made him laugh.

"She doesn't…," he found himself smiling and decided not to argue with what must seem like a perfectly sound argument to a kid. "Well I guess I could ask. Maybe next time I come. You'll be here right champ? You might have to let me win next time."

"Nah, I can't let you win. You'll just have to practice."

"Okay Chad, I'll do that," he reached out and tussled the kid's hair. "I'll see you next time." He shook his head as he walked out into the hallway. There was something about that kid that made you need to smile. He was so precocious; the little bugger had actually got him to agree to take his mom out on a date.

He followed his nose to the kitchen and found Mo and Bert elbow deep in cookie dough, with a handful of kids around them. It was good to see Bert smiling, it happened so rarely these days. He leaned in the doorway to watch them for a moment, when he saw her making coffee and chatting with one of the volunteers on the other side of the kitchen.

You couldn't miss the purple bangs. Looking at her again, without the chance that she could see that he was checking her out, he couldn't believe she was old enough to be that kids' mom. He had to be what…ten? Maybe twelve? She looked to be all of twenty five, maybe less. She looked great, maybe a bit on the thin side but most of the worry and anxiety he could see plain in her face had likely done that to her. She was striking though. High cheekbones, full lips, long eyelashes. She looked so different from the rest of the moms here, maybe that's why he'd gawked, just a little, earlier. He couldn't remember ever seeing a mom here wearing knee high boots, or plaid skirts or leather jackets. Not to mention the purple bangs.

She turned to him, a gentle smile turning up the corners of her plush lips. Maybe he wouldn't have to wait for next time, because she was heading this way.

"Thanks for spending time with Chad…that probably meant the world to him," she stuck her hand out towards him, and for a moment he considered taking it and kissing her hand. Instead he shook her hand gently, and held it for a moment or two too long.

"He's a great kid. He's a funny guy. And uh…not shy at all."

"No…yeah, he got that from his dad."

"Yeah, he said something about his dad…it sounds like he's not…around?" He was asking if she was free, but he hoped it didn't sound too obvious.

"No…yeah…Todd died in an accident a few months ago." She looked likes she was somewhere else for a moment her eyes glazing over, but then she smiled up at him again. "But my husband loved you guys, went to every game he could. He passed his enthusiasm on to Chad. Chad's room at home is Canuck colours."

"Yeah? I should bring him something…I will next time I come, for sure."

"Just seeing you guys is a thrill for him…and uh…things are just…," she couldn't make herself say it was a waste, just something else for her to have to look at after…

He watched her face darken and was sorry he'd said that. These kids didn't need things; they just needed time, experiences. But Chad was right about his mom. She needed someone to take away that haunted look in her brown eyes, even for an hour or two. But how do you ask someone to leave their sick child behind?

"Do you have anyone to…help? Stay with him, give you some time?"

"My folks, Todd's folks. My mom is coming," she looked down at her watch, "tomorrow afternoon." She looked up into his face like she was suddenly trying to figure out exactly what he was asking.

"Maybe you would like to have some dinner…somewhere…with me?" He realized he was blushing, and he realized that Bert and Mo were both staring at him in disbelief. He wasn't sure that they could hear them, but he wasn't sure they couldn't either. She narrowed her eyes, just for a moment, and he could see that she was just about to say no. He'd promised the kid and he always kept his promises to kids. "I get sick of eating by myself…and I'd like to come by and see Chad tomorrow. He's promised to give me a rematch…"

"You should pick another game. He's way too good at the racing games," she looked towards the hall thoughtfully. "Did he…?" she shook her head, dismissing the thought that he'd put Trevor up to this. Chad was precocious but even he wouldn't pull a stunt like this. "I uh…didn't bring anything to wear out…."

Trev looked at her skirt, and quickly back up at her face in case she thought he was looking at her legs pouring themselves into those boots, which he was. She looked just fine in what she wearing to him.

"I have something that should fit you," one of the volunteers suggested, giving her a little nudge and looking up at Trev with a smile. Charissa looked at the volunteer with wide eyes and then up at Trevor and shrugged.

"I could probably eat," she smiled hesitantly. He nodded, seemed satisfied, and turned to Mo and Bert who were both were trying not to laugh at him; he could tell by the way Mo's lips were twitching.

"I'll see you tomorrow evening then," he slid away and walked down the hallway as quickly as he could.

Charissa watched him walk away, admiring how broad his shoulders looked, the way those jeans fit around his skater's thighs. She realized she was gawking and there was a kitchen full of people watching her twirl her hair around her finger. With a roll of her eyes, she slid into the hall, and walked quickly the other way.

Chapter 2

"All hail the conquering MILF hunter," Bert called as Trev slid, late, into the dressing room.

"Nice," Markus laughed, "how would you like someone to say that about your wife?"

"I do, all the time. My wife's a fox," Bert laughed. "You took off so fast I didn't get to congratulate you," he winked, giving Trevor a pat on the back of his knees with his stick as he strode out toward the ice.

"I don't know what the big deal is. It's only dinner, and the kid asked me to," Trev mumbled, sliding out of his jacket.

"Seriously though, nice score on the hot mom," Mo gave Trev a dig in the ribs as he reached for his helmet. "Welcome back to the land of the living man."

"It's for the kid," Trev grumbled, taking his time to untie his shoes, watching as Nazzy and Mo headed toward the ice. As soon as they were out of sight, he lifted the garment bag and hung it up in place of his practice uniform and gently smoothed out the creases in a charcoal suit. He hung one of his practice jerseys in front of it, hoping to hide it until the last minute, anything to avoid an entire two hours of running commentary and conjecture.

"This is…cute," Charissa stood on tip toe to try and check the length of the skirt in the mirror. Borrowing an outfit from someone who didn't seem to share your fashion tastes was a tricky thing, but this black swing skirt and mock neck short sleeve sweater fit well and looked great with her boots. Plus it was black, and black was her favourite colour. "Do I look like I'm in mourning though?"

"Don't you always?" Her mom looked at her over her knitting and smiled.

"I mean…is it okay? I mean…no, I shouldn't be doing this. This is crazy."

"Charissa, you have to go out again sometime. It's nice of him to ask."

"But…with everything…I can't leave Chad and…"

"Todd would want you to have some fun."

Charissa sat heavily on the side of the bed and swung her feet, watching the laces swing while she tried to think.

"We used to have so much fun Mom. He was the greatest. He'd know how to deal with all this shit with Chad."

"I'd say you're doing a pretty damn good job honey. And it's okay if you let yourself go out and have a break once in a while."

"It's like…it's like Todd has something to do with this. Sometimes I feel like he's right here you know? Like when I think if they stick Chad with just one more needle I'm going to flip out and then it's like…like I can feel him right here and it's alright." Her mom looked up at her and smiled thoughtfully. She really was doing the best she could. It was so much more than most people could take. All those years of pretending to be a tough little girl were certainly paying off. "Maybe it's just too soon. I think it's just…maybe after Chad…"

"You can't always choose when people come into your life honey. They just do. Maybe it's exactly the right time."

Charissa made a face and got up again to check her lipstick in the mirror, running her finger underneath her bottom lip to smooth out the line. She stared at her reflection, holding her hand up near her face and considered her wedding ring for a long moment, finally taking it off and holding it in her hand before sliding the silver chain from around her neck and sliding the ring onto it.

Her mother watched, careful not to let her daughter see her watching. There was so much heartbreak in her face. Even a single smile from her would be worth a night sitting with Chad.

"You know what?" Charissa tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear and looked thoughtful for a moment. "He was probably just being polite. He probably won't show up."

"Why don't you go down and sit with Chad? Maybe it will take your mind off waiting. Where is he anyway?"

"Still in the game room, practicing."

"Practicing?"

"He says that Trevor was letting him win."

"I wasn't. He's just good at that game." Charissa whirled and found herself looking up into his hazel eyes. The deepening of the lines by his eyes showed that he was amused and she couldn't help but think how kind he looked and she felt the tension in her shoulders ease. "Ready to go?"

"I just want to let Chad know I'm going," she said, trying not to let him see her flustered, turning to her mother who only continued to knit quietly. "You have my cell number mom?"

"We'll be fine. See you later." Charissa bent to give her mom a quick kiss on the cheek and then turned back to reach for her jacket, and found her hand covering his. She looked up to meet the same nervous smile she felt tugging at her lips.

"I just said hi to him," he held the coat out for her to slide her arms into. She felt her cheeks heat as his eyes roamed appreciatively over her outfit." He was trying out one of the games we left yesterday."

"I'll just be a minute," she realized as soon as she said it that her tone sounded harsh. She'd never been one to mollycoddle her son, until now, and hated that anyone thought there might be something wrong in needing to check on him all the time. She was halfway down the hall when she could see his blonde hair over the back of the sofa, and felt herself relax. "Hey buddy," she leaned over the back of the sofa to press her lips against his cheek, "I'm going out now. I won't be long. Be good for Nana okay?"

"Hey Trev, I beat your score!"

"I bet you did champ. I guess I didn't practice enough."

"That is Mr. Linden to you Chad."

"He said…," Chad whined, and Charissa winced.

"I did, actually. It's really alright." He gave her that look that told her not to make a big deal of it. The look that said just to leave it alone; it almost made her smile to think how much it reminded her of Todd telling her to chill.

"Well okay. I guess I'm outvoted here. Okay honey, we won't be long," she slid her hand around to his forehead, a move that was almost a tic with her now. "You feel warm, maybe I should stay."

"Moooommm," Chad turned his eyes up at her, eyes that were too old for the body they were in. "Geeeezzz, will you just go, I'm good. Have fun."

"Ready now?" Trev held his arm out, his hand extended toward her. She looked at his hand for a long moment before laying her smaller one inside his, and let him lead her down the hall.

"So what is it that Chad has, if you don't mind me asking? He seems…pretty okay with it."

"He has the benefit of his father having gone before him, so he figures wherever dad went, he's going and it can't be that bad if dad went. Makes it easier for him, I guess." Charissa rolled her wine glass in her hand and snuck another look at him in his suit and tie. He looked so different than he had with the stubble and the jeans and the jersey. If it wasn't for the fact that he seemed so comfortable and confident she might have commented on how nice the suit was, but he didn't seem like he needed the compliment. "He's got Ewing's…I don't know the whole name for it. I remember parts of what they told me, parts of what I looked up. It's a type of bone cancer…or at least that's what it started out as."

"Started?"

"Well all these doctors kept telling me that he was just going through a growth spurt, and with my husband dying I was just being over protective and reading more into it…guess they didn't know much. So by the time we got to a doctor who would test him for something it had matas…matasta…spread."

"And there isn't anything they can do?"

"Well they can…they have, but…no, it's in his liver and his lymph nodes and…soft tissues and pretty much everywhere and spreading."

"Shit…so how long?"

"Depends. No one seems to be able to tell me. It's like…pin pricks now on the x-rays but…I guess if one organ shuts down then it's pretty much a quick exit after that." She felt his hand cover hers, and steeled herself for that 'gee I'm so sorry' speech, but it never came. Instead his hand stayed on hers for a moment, and then withdrew.

"You know, when I saw you, when you came in yesterday, I thought you might be his big sister. You don't look old enough to be his mom."

"Yeah. It's the bangs," she smiled, touching her hair and laughing. "I think if I didn't have these that wouldn't be such a problem. Not that I mind," she smiled up at him and then felt her cheeks heat as his eyes dipped to her cleavage, not for the first time either.

"Can I ask?" he began, but didn't finish, as the waiter came with their meals. She waited until the waiter put the plates down and did his thing with the pepper mill before she answered him.

"Thirty."

"Really?" He shook his head in disbelief. "I would have said five years younger than that."

"I would have to have been really young then. People thought we were crazy getting married and having a kid at eighteen, never mind thirteen."

"It happens," he laughed and she shook her head.

"Not where I come from. Well…no one I ever knew anyway. Not in North Van."

"I thought you'd be from somewhere…I don't know, far…."

"Oh well…now I guess I am. We've been in Grand Forks since just after Chad was born…until Chad got really sick, we've been with my parents since then."

"Montana?"

"No, BC. It's near the border. Over the mountain from Osoyoos."

"I don't think I've ever been there, but I've probably flown over it."

"I was just thinking there's no hockey players I know of from there…not like Cranbrook or Vernon. It's nice though, really nice. Good place to bring up kids. Really safe."

"Sounds like Medicine Hat. I'll have to look it up. I've always wanted to do the Kettle Valley Railroad bike tour."

"Yeah? I'm not much of a jock. I didn't even know they had stuff like that."

"Well I guess you've been pretty busy with Chad," his face softened and he looked at her in a way that made her squirm uncomfortably in her chair. "He seems like a great kid."

"He is. He really is."

"You might not think so, but you're really lucky to have him."

"Oh no, I do think so. I know I'm lucky…well have been lucky." She felt tears begin to well up in her eyes. "But…maybe we can talk about something else. You're supposed to be distracting me."

"You're right. I am. So what do you know about hockey?"

"Besides it was an excuse for my husband to get drunk and yell at the TV?" He laughed, those lines around his eyes deepening. She liked the looks of those lines. They said he laughed a lot. It made her comfortable with him, except when he looked at her like he just had, like maybe he might want to kiss her.

"This was…nice," she turned to him and smiled, but he was staring up at the house, both hands still on the steering wheel. It was the first time in three hours that they'd fallen into silence.

"Yeah…it was," he blinked twice and looked over at her. "Do you think he'd still be awake?"

"Chad?" She looked down at her watch and shook her head. "He'd better not."

"Oh," he shrugged and took the keys out of the ignition and bounced them in his hand. "I just thought I might say goodnight." It was Charissa's turn to blink now.

"Well, he'll probably wake up when I go in…if you want?"

"Yeah…good." He smiled and unlocked the car doors. She slid out of her seat and onto the wet pavement and jogged to the house, trying not to get too wet. She heard his footsteps behind her as she went into the house.

There weren't very many lights on. A few parents watching the TV with the sound turned down, a few in the kitchen chatting over a late night snack. They walked by them all, Charissa with her head down, aiming straight for the stairs, Trevor watching her the entire way, admiring the way her body moved, the way her legs poured into those boots.

There was one light on in their room, the one her mother was using to knit by. A long scarf lay over her knees, her hands moving more slowly but still steadily, the rocking chair still slowly moving in time with her hands. Charissa smiled at the scene, and reached out to smooth the blonde hair away from her son's pale cheeks.

"Hi," she whispered, lowering the rail at the side of the hospital bed to reach him better before she leaned in to place a kiss on his cool forehead. "Somebody wanted to say good night." She moved out of the way and looked up at Trevor as he bent over the sleepy boy.

"Hey champ. I just wanted to thank you for loaning me your mom for a bit."

"Yeah? She's pretty cool huh?"

"Yeah, really cool. So do you think your mom might like to go to the game with you tomorrow night?"

"Yeah?" Chad's eyes opened wider, the blue glinting in the half light.

"I think we could manage," Charissa smiled gratefully at him and then happily down at Chad. "You think you can rest tomorrow so we can go? No Playstation?"

"I don't got to play for a while. No one can beat my scores."

"Yeah?" Trev smiled and tussled the kids' hair. "We'll see about that. Maybe on Saturday we'll see if you and I can have a rematch. Sound good champ?"

"Yeah cool. Thanks Trev."

"No problem Champ. Get some sleep. I'll see you at the game tomorrow."

"Cool!" Charissa looked into Chad's glowing face and smiled, and then she looked up into those hazel eyes and felt grateful and shy all at once.

"I'm just going to say goodnight to your mom now okay?" Chad smiled and nodded and closed one eye, but Charissa could see he was still keeping an eye on them as Trev reached for her hand and led her out the door.

They walked past everyone again, and this time there were more looks, more conversations stopped. Neither of them seemed to notice.

He pulled the door closed behind him and turned to her, his hand still holding hers', his free hand reaching for her cheek. There wasn't a word spoken, nothing needed to be said. His eyes had told her all night that this would happen, but she hadn't known until he'd looked down on her son and made his face light up, that she would want him to.

So when his lips covered hers, she reached up and curled her hand around his arm, kissing him back, savoring the taste of the wine on his lips.

Chapter 3

They got on the bus with all the other families, and any nurses and workers that could be spared, but the moment that the bus pulled up in front of the stadium, Charissa and Chad were cut from the herd by a security guard with a radio and a name tag, who seemed to know them by sight, greeted them by name, and asked them to follow him down a set of hallways.

Charissa looked around at the well dressed women with their equally well dressed children and reporters in their suits and ties, and wished for a hole to fall into. Gripping the handles of the wheelchair until her fingers hurt, she looked down at Chad with his Canuck's baseball cap, and his jersey, his jeans and his boots and smiled. With his smile, and the way he was enjoying himself, he was the best looking kid here. Somehow that made up for feeling out of place and surprised, neither of which were her favorite emotions.

When he saw her, she had her hand on Chad's shoulder, and it might have looked as if it was for her son's comfort but the unease on her face told him it was more for her. At that moment, all he wanted to do was pull her against him, taste her lips, feel her hands holding him again, but all he could do was make his way through the family members, the press and the employees, and put his hand on Chad's other shoulder.

"Hey champ. I see you came prepared. I guess I don't have to get you guys any jerseys."

"Nah, we've had ours for a long time, huh mom?"

Charissa tore her eyes from his the brown curls gently falling on his forehead and tried to hide her disappointment behind a smile.

"Yep, that's us, big fans."

"But she's got the wrong number." A deeper voice growled behind her, making her jump. Charissa turned to find Bert towering over her, his gaze sweeping over her appreciatively with no apparent desire to hide the fact.

"Hey mom, I bet you can get him to sign your jersey huh?" Chad grinned, his eyes getting wider as he looked up at them both, holding his hockey card out hopefully.

"Sure he can. That's why you're down here champ. Everyone's going to sign a jersey for you. How does that sound?"

"Yeah?" Charissa watched his face light up and his smile get wider as he looked from her to Trevor and back. "Cool! Mom's too?"

"That's okay," Charissa quickly frowned and shook her head. "Mom likes her jersey just the way it is."

"I guess she only wants one of us touching her…jersey tonight huh Trev?" Bert slapped him on the back before reaching for the pen in Chad's outstretched hand. She expected him to look up at her then, apologetically or otherwise, but he didn't.

Instead, she watched as he ushered one after the other of his team mates toward them, watched as he stood with her son, his smile almost as big as Chad's. Not once did his gaze meet hers. Not once did his hand reach for her, his body brush hers even by accident. She felt the disappointment, but told herself that this wasn't about her, or her feelings, or any feelings he may or may not have. This was about Chad. Everything was about Chad.

When it was time for the team to go out on to the ice for warm up, she waited for him to turn to her, but watched instead as he waved to Chad, his eyes never raising above her waist.

They were escorted to the hallway where the Zamboni towered above them, where they watched the pre-game skate. She watched Chad's eyes follow the players around the ice, his frail body leaning into the corners with them, his eyes lighting when the mesh of the goal rippled, his laughter filling her ears when Trev rapped a puck off the glass in front of them.

Still she waited for him to look to her. Still he studiously avoided her gaze.

"He never even said hello?" Charissa sighed and shook her head, running her hand over the indentation in the bed where her son had been. The sheet still felt warm. "Well he might have been like…shy around his team mates or something."

"Or ashamed. Or it was nothing and I was right he was being polite. I should be grateful…but…I just feel stupid."

"Well…he told Chad he was coming here on Saturday right? Maybe you can ask him when he comes."

"Ask him?" Charissa looked up at her sister and shook her head. "How do you ask a guy you've just met why he kissed you and then ignored you? What am I…in grade eight or something?"

"May as well be," her sister snapped, and immediately shook her head and reached out to run her hand down Charissa's face. "I'm sorry…I just…I'm sorry I shouldn't have said it like that."

"But it's true. I've only ever kissed Todd…well I did kiss his brother but that was spin the bottle and you can't count that. Shit, I don't know. Maybe people do that at the end of dates even if they're just being polite."

"They don't, especially if they're just being polite. Maybe you'll be surprised. Maybe he'll be a completely different person and you'll have worried about this for nothing."

"Yeah…but…I still don't like that idea. I don't know…I guess, just because he was the first since…"

"I know," her sister pulled her close and wrapped her hands protectively around Charissa's head, cradling her like a child. "But it's good to have you worry about something other than Chad…even for a few minutes."

Charissa curled herself around Chad and closed her eyes. It had been a long night. He was over tired, cranky, in pain. They'd upped his meds, fluffed his pillows, given him sheets warmed in the dryer. Nothing seemed to soothe him. If Todd had been here, he would have carried him around, sung him Ukrainian lullabies. All she could do was surround him, hum, and stroke his hair and pray that the pain would ease.

For every time he squeezed his eyes shut against the pain she cringed and prayed not yet. Please god not yet. I'm not ready. For every time he whimpered and clamped down on her fingers with his hand, she bit into her lip and wished she could take the pain from him, step into his shoes. For every time he panted and sighed when the cramps ended, she sighed a short sigh of relief, but waited for the next wave to start, knowing it would, praying it wouldn't.

The nurses checked in, checked the monitors, checked his IV, checked on her. Did she want tea, a pillow, coffee or someone to call her parents? She smiled and said no to everything. What she wanted was her husband back, to share this burden…no, that was wrong, he wasn't a burden, this was just something she wished she could share, that she wouldn't have to face this or the dark of the night alone.

She must have slept. When she woke he was sleeping, heavily, soundly, like a child should. She kissed the top of his head and slid out of the bed, stretching her aching joints and thought about taking a walk while he slept, but then thought of one other thing that could take her away. Music.

So many of the other parents were older and didn't share her taste. The nurses seemed to frown on loud music, well, anything she wanted to play. So she took her cds and went out to her van. It was dark, but not late. She checked her watch as she walked across the street. It was only eight. It felt like it should be later.

She hit the remote door lock and slid into the front seat to put the cd in, cranked the volume, and shut the door. Then she crawled onto the bench seat in the middle and closed her eyes, letting the music wash over her. She was singing softly to herself when she heard the tapping and opened her eyes to see him standing there.

She thought about closing her eyes again and ignoring him, but that would be rude and her mother hadn't raised any rude children. Besides, he was in those jeans again, a black t-shirt, leather jacket. As if he had dressed for her.

She reached forward and hit the button and let the sliding door open, but said nothing, just moved over on the seat. He climbed in beside her, shutting the door before turning and immediately reaching for her.

His hand slid along her jaw, up over her cheek and into her hair, loosing her hair from the bun at the nape of her neck where she had tied it to keep it out of the way while she was with Chad. His hazel eyes looked almost amber in the reflection of the street light, as his gaze settled on hers'. More than once she opened her mouth to say something, spit venom at him, but the tenderness of his touch as he smoothed her hair over her shoulders stole the words from her mouth.

She searched his gaze, felt its' intensity tighten something in her chest, felt herself gulping for air as his eyes searched hers. When at last he leaned in to cover her mouth with the heat of his lips, her body was already aflame. She climbed into his lap, straddling him, holding him with her body and her hands as she kissed him.

Her hands were cool on his skin as she cupped his face, her tongue reaching for his as her lips forced his to open beneath hers. She bit at his lips, sucked at his tongue, and pressed her body down over his. His hands now slid down, first holding her hips, then impatiently pulling at her shirt, looking for soft warm jasmine scented skin to touch, to caress. He found the small of her back, felt the ridges of her spine under his fingers, then moved his hands around to slide up under her shirt, and over the soft satin of her bra.

He heard her moan, felt it in her mouth as his tongue swirled around hers, felt his body react in the only way it could. He pushed up against her, and felt her body grind against him in response. She arched her back and pulled her t-shirt up and over her head, shaking her hair over her shoulders and letting it brush against his cheeks as she pulled his mouth to her breasts.

He slid his hand under the cup, pushing it upward, freeing her breast, and catching a nipple between his teeth. She moaned again, holding his head with her hands, wrapping herself around him. He suckled, nipped, bit, until the friction of her body and his made him need to slide his hands down and move her, pick her up, lifting her just enough that he could get at his belt.

She looked down at his hands as he pulled her up to her knees. She watched him loose his belt, watched as he unfastened the top button of his jeans, watched his hand disappear to adjust the swollen whole of his erection. She slid her hand down over his, trapping his hand as she snapped open the rest of his button fly before sliding her hand into his boxers, holding her hand over his.

He looked up into her eyes and saw a mixture of heat, need, and desire and a feral smile that sent a flash of heat to his groin. He raised his hips and felt her entire body crash into his as she pulled him free. Her mouth covered his as he groaned, and he thought he could hear her laugh deep in her throat as she rubbed the soft cotton of her underwear against the length of him.

He'd pushed her skirt up over hips, and now he looked at her, not so much asking permission as looking for it, and found it in her grin as she shifted her weight from one leg to the other, using one hand to slip her panties down, and with his help to steady her, off, and onto the floor of the van.

She slid down the length of him, slowly, savoring the feeling of a man inside of her, her head thrown back his lips trailing hot kisses up her stomach to her breasts as she stretched to take him all in. She looked down to find him gazing up at her, waiting, his eyes locked on hers.

She moved slowly, felt him holding her, but not trying to control her movements. She was in charge, she controlled this moment. But it had been so long, so long since she felt passion like this, so long since she had felt this abandoned and she didn't care if it lasted another moment or not. Her hands on his shoulders, his hands on her hips, she quickened her movements, up, down, around, and felt her own breath and heart beat speed up.

When she felt that tightening in the small of her back, felt that quiver in her belly, she pressed her lips over his one more time before throwing her head back and abandoning herself to the orgasm that ripped through her.

He watched with unadulterated fascination as she took her pleasure, and felt the spasms of her muscles bring him over the edge, and he pushed up inside of her, filling her and pulling her down over him as hard as he could. He felt his own roar of release rip from his throat and for a moment he closed his eyes, enjoying the moment of release before he let his breathing slow.

They stayed that way, for a moment or more, letting their bodies slowly relax, their breathing return to normal, their heart beats slow before she climbed off of his lap, retrieving her panties and with an unexpected blush, balling them up in her hand. He smiled, and reached over to touch her face with his hand, brushing the back of his hand against the round of her cheek.

"Hi," he smiled and heard her laugh, an unexpected but pleasant sound. She reached forward and unlocked the door, before sliding into the front seat and retrieving her cd, slipping it into the jewel case and shaking her head. She climbed out onto the street and shut the door behind her, locking it with the remote.

She opened her mouth to say something, but he covered her lips with his, in a soft, warm kiss that made her toes curl.

Chapter 4

"I used to dread seeing your number on my call display, I kept thinking it was going to be about Chad, but I kind of like the gossip on you and Trev. So what's the news?"

"We had sex."

"What? Last time I talked to you he was ignoring you at the game? That was what? Two days ago?"

"Three. They had two road games in California. He came straight from the airport to see me."

"So you talked?"

"No…not at all. In fact, neither of us said a word until, y'know, afterwards."

"Oh my god…so, you just…wait where did this happen?"

"In my van."

"The freaking mini van out on the street? With like…people walking their dogs and driving by?"

"I guess I didn't think about that at the time."

"So…don't hold back on me, how was it?"

"That's the thing…I practically raped him V, he may as well have been a battery operated blow up…"

"What do you mean, what did you do?"

"I just…jumped him. I've never just done anything like that in my life. I treated him like a slab of beef."

"Did he mind?"

"Well that's the thing…no, he didn't seem to."

"Okay…so why the urgent message? If he didn't mind, and you got it out of your system, what's the problem?"

"I don't do things like that V. I don't just…I don't just…I've never done something like that."

"Cher, you're under a stupid amount of stress. I don't even know how you haven't ended up being committed or making yourself seriously ill. You needed to work your… frustration out on someone and if he didn't mind then what's to worry about?"

"I just can't believe I did that."

"Okay but was it good? Was he good?"

"I don't know…yeah I guess. I mean he pretty much had no control over the situation but yeah, I feel better."

"Well that's what matters. So you did talk, you know, after?"

"The after part was even weirder. I mean…I just finished jumping his bones and I guess I was feeling a little embarrassed and I almost ran out of the van but then he kissed me and…and…"

"Cher? Are you crying?"

"I've never felt like that when someone kissed me V. I always thought it was a joke when people said it curled their toes but…"

"He curled your toes?" Charissa listened while her friend stifled a laugh and wiped at her own eyes. Just thinking about that kiss made her heart pound. "I think you're in love."

"I can't be. V, I can't do that right now."

"Babe, I don't know that you have a choice. I can tell just by your voice that you know what I mean."

"I was married for ten years…"

"And Todd was a great guy but you guys were like good friends. Honey, if he makes your toes curl, be happy. Hell, I wish someone would make my toes curl."

"Mom?" Charissa put her book down and slid her hand over her son's feverish forehead, pushing the hair out of his eyes and giving him what she hoped was a warm motherly smile. "Is Trevor coming today?"

"I don't know honey. He has a game tonight remember?"

"He said he would," Chad mumbled, gasping and rolling himself into a ball.

"He's a busy man Chad, but I'm sure he'll try." She ran her fingers over his shoulders and tried to be comforting, feeling the burn of his skin under her fingers.

"He has to come. I have to ask him something."

"What's that honey?" she watched the pain let go of him for a moment, the glaze leaving his eyes as he looked up at her, a thin brave smile pricking at the corners of his mouth.

"No mom, I have to ask him." With that he closed his eyes and slipped back into the restless sleep that had gripped him for most of the day. Charissa stroked his head and let herself cry quietly. She could tell by the matter of fact tone of voice and strained smiles most of the nurses were using that it wouldn't be long now before she lost him forever.

One of the doctors had tried to explain what was happening, physically, but she couldn't hear him, couldn't get past the idea that he was nearly gone. They'd brought in a social worker and a psychiatrist, but she already understood the "stages of grief" and she'd only ended up throwing them out and closing the door on anyone else that tried to come in.

As for the rest of the parents, they were treating her like a pariah now, as if somehow her son dying was something that wasn't happening to their own kids and by associating with her, their kids might catch it. Every time she went to the kitchen they scattered like autumn leaves. Every time she went looking for a nurse, doors closed, heads turned away, people became conspicuously busy.

She had spent a long time watching him, trying to memorize his face, the colour of his hair, the way his eyelashes fell on his cheeks, something she'd never been able to do with Todd. She could feel him near now, almost as if he were lying on the other side of the bed, his hand on top of hers on Chad's forehead.

She wondered what he would say if he knew that she was wishing for Trevor's strong arms to hold her and share her pain. Something in her suspected he would smile.

Charissa looked down at her watch and wondered if he was coming. He'd told Chad he would come before the game. She hadn't told him that Chad's condition had gotten worse, but then she'd hardly known what to say to him at the time. Words had seemed superfluous compared to the kisses and intimacy they had shared. Now she wished she had. Maybe he'd have been here if he'd known.

"What time is it?" Chad's eyes opened, staring at nothing, his pupils so immense, his cheeks aflame with fever.

"Four," Charissa held the cool washcloth on his forehead and tried to still the quiver that had developed in her lower lip.

"He's not coming, is he?" he asked, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath that sounded like he was breathing through water.

"I don't know babe. What is it you want to ask him? Maybe I could ask him for you?" Chad's eyes squeezed shut and he shook his head, his small frail hand curling around hers.

"No. I have to ask him," Chad's entire body shuddered with his next breath, and it was all Charissa could do to stay where she was and not go screaming into the hallway looking for help. The dnr order she had signed meant there would be no help. If she had to do this on her own, then that's just what she would do.

"Ask me what champ?" Charissa found herself sobbing with relief when Trevor walked in, his smile suddenly disappearing as he assessed the situation.

He looked into her eyes and saw fear but also relief as she reached out for him with one hand, the other hand still stroking Chad's head. She was curled around him, her body pressed against his, her eyes wide, her hand shaking. He took her hand, bringing it quickly to his lips before he bent over the bed and took the washcloth from her hand, using it to cool Chad's sunken cheeks.

"Mom?" Chad didn't turn, just moved his hand backwards to touch her. "I need to talk to Trevor, just for a minute okay?" Charissa kissed the top of his head and took the washcloth from Trevor's hand and looked up into his hazel eyes and knew he could see exactly what was going on.

"I'll just be in the bathroom for a minute Chad, okay?" she felt the faintest nod and looked down at his golden head and smiled before she climbed from the bed and walked toward the bathroom.

Trevor sat on the edge of the bed, his hand resting on Chad's shoulder, his smile as wide as ever, no concern showed in his face now. He wished he hadn't stopped to work out this morning, hadn't agreed to go out for lunch with Danny. He should have been here, she should have said something. He looked down at Chad and saw how his once chipmunk like cheeks had sunk, his rosy cheeks had turned a dangerous ashen colour, and he knew what he was looking at.

"Trevor, you like my mom right?" his voice was small, his pupils huge, his hand tiny and frail in Trevor's. Trev looked down at him, nodding.

"Yeah, she's very cool."

"Will you look after her for me? My dad always used to say that when he was gone, I was in charge of looking after my mom, and now there's no one to look after her unless you do." Trevor felt his body stiffen as he looked down at the earnestness in Chad's features. It was obvious that this was Chad's last wish, obvious that he was fighting just to stay in the moment, waiting for his answer, and he didn't know what to say.

"Maybe your mom doesn't need looking after," he started but could see that this wasn't the answer that Chad wanted by the way he closed his eyes, the way his head sunk into the pillow. "She's got your grandpa and…"

"She needs you. My dad would want it to be you. He said you were the best captain…and my mom needs someone strong and smart to look after her and she likes you. Please?" His eyes opened and the look on his face was so full of hope it was heartbreaking.

Trevor could hear the water stop running in the bathroom, and knew that Chad wanted an answer his mom couldn't hear. With a shrug, he nodded and gave the kid his best smile.

"Okay, if she'll let me I will. Good enough?" Chad nodded, and closed his eyes and another shudder ran over his skin.

Charissa reappeared, the cold washcloth in her hands, water running between her fingers. She mopped at his forehead, at his hands, and then climbed back on the bed behind him, curling herself around him and reaching her hand out to Trevor.

They held hands over him, gazing at one another for a long moment. He wondered what she had heard, but if she had heard anything, she showed no sign of it. She only seemed grateful someone else was here, even for a little while. They stayed that way until Chad's breathing evened out and he seemed to be sleeping, for now.

"I have to go," Trevor apologized looking down at his watch. "I promise I'll come back after the game."

"I hope we'll be here," she smiled weakly, "but I don't know." He nodded, leaned over Chad's sleeping form and kissed her, soft and slow, an ache filling his heart.

Chapter 5

His mantra before every game had almost always been the same, unless they were in the playoffs, give me strength, give me patience, give me vision, give me a good game. Not tonight. Tonight was, please let this game go quickly, please let there be no goals we have to go upstairs on, please let there be no overtime and if there has to be overtime, please let there be no penalty shots.

He could tell by the worried looks some of the guys were giving him that they could clearly see something was wrong. But he could really tell the first time he had the chance to put Pronger into the boards that he was really angry. He never enjoyed hurting anyone, but tonight he was making an exception. Tonight it was them or him, and maybe two minutes in the penalty box would give him time to think, to clear his head.

He'd known her five minutes, cosmically speaking, and he couldn't get her out of his head. Every time he closed his eyes, she was there. Every time he had a minute to think, she was there. At first he'd told himself it was the kid. He was a sucker for funny kids, but it wasn't Chad he was thinking about, it was Charissa.

Yeah he was bummed that the kid was dying, but he'd gotten sort of used to that, being a frequent visitor to Canuck place made you appreciate the kids while they were there, and taught you not to think about them when they were gone. But he'd never thought much about any of the parents before. Maybe this was why. Not being able to be there for her, not being able to help take away her pain had opened something in him, some door to some well of anger that he didn't like.

But he hardly knew her, hardly knew anything about her, but he couldn't stop wanting her, wanting to be with her. This need was not something he was used to. He always thought of himself as the kind of person that thinks things through, plans ahead, takes his time. This was more like jumping blindfolded into the deep end of a pool and not knowing how to swim. And yet…he still wanted to. He still wanted to protect and comfort her. He still wanted to feel her near him. He still wanted to share this with her, be there for her.

Just make this game be over soon.

He drove through three red lights, and almost drove over the curb in the parking lot when he pulled in. He wasn't even sure if he'd locked the door. Something had been telling him since the middle of the third period that he was going to be too late, but he had to try. He ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time, and half way down the hall he could hear her crying.

There were others, other parents, other staff, crowded near the doorway, but there was only two of the nurses and Charissa in the room, and she was holding Chad against her chest, rocking him, and crying.

The way everyone else was standing around, he knew it was already too late for Chad, but at least he was here, here for her. He pushed past everyone, feeling their hands on him, but he could only see her.

"Charrissa?" he slid onto the bed behind her, and she leaned into him, still holding Chad to her, and he put his arms around them both. He held her close, rocking her as she rocked Chad, not saying anything because there was nothing he could say.

After a few minutes she laid Chad's still form on the bed, brushed his hair out of his eyes and reached forward to place a kiss on his pale forehead. He looked like a porcelain doll, so pale, almost translucent, his eyes wide and staring. One of the nurses reached forward to close his eyes and he felt Charissa turn to bury her head in his chest.

He held her to him, holding her head against him while they covered Chad with the sheet up to his chin, and watched as they silently withdrew, closing the door, and leaving them alone. He held her while her sobbing subsided, while her breathing slowed and until he could feel her hands sliding around him, the tension slowly ebbing away from her arms.

He looked down at her then, smoothing her hair away from where it had stuck to the tracks of her tears. She turned her face up to his, her eyes red and swollen, her own cheeks pale, but a hint of a smile played on her lips.

"Thank you," she whispered, before laying her head back down on his chest.

"I wanted to be here sooner," he sighed, resting his chin on the top of her head.

"You got here as soon as you could. We were listening to the game. He knew you scored." She raised her eyes to meet his and he felt tears spring to his eyes. "It meant so much to him…I can never tell you how grateful I am…" He silenced her with a kiss, pressing his lips over hers.

She slid her hands up his chest and held on for dear life, as if his arms were the only thing stopping her from falling off the edge of sanity. When he withdrew, only enough that their lips no longer touched, she saw the reflection of her grief in his eyes and wondered what could make this man, this amazing man, want to be here right this moment, and felt so grateful it made her cry anew.

"Ms. Martin? Did you want to go ahead with the arrangements?" one of the volunteers popped her head in and looked at them both sheepishly. Charissa nodded, wiping at her eyes and disengaging herself from his arms.

"Yes, thank you. I…I have some calls to make." She looked at Trevor, then back down at the still form of her son. She touched his face and smiled and bent down and kissed his cheek. "Goodnight sweet prince. Sleep well." Then she drew the sheet over his face, and turned to Trevor. "Can we…would it be too much to ask…I don't want to be here when they take him?"

With a nod, he stood, holding his hand out to her, and together they walked down to his car.

Chapter 6

He watched as she struggled to keep her tears in check as they sped through the darkness. This was the second time tonight he'd broke every speed limit in the city, luckily there didn't seem to be a cop in sight. He'd been holding her hand in his the entire time, with the exception of when he'd had to walk around the car, and gave it a gentle squeeze now as they pulled into his driveway. He was glad she didn't seem to want to talk because he didn't know how to begin, and he still didn't know what he could say to her that might ease her pain. He led her inside, and guided her to the sofa before turning to go into the kitchen to get her something to drink and when he turned from the fridge to the cupboard; he found her right behind him.

"I don't want to be alone right now," she tried to smile, her eyes not quite meeting his. She watched him pour beer into a glass, just leaning against the wall as if she couldn't stand under her own power.

"Do you want to have a bath or…lie down for a while? Is there anyone you need to call or want me to call or…?" she silenced him with a shake of her head.

"Can you just…can you just hold me?" she asked, turning her red rimmed eyes up to his. He nodded, and stepped forward, wrapped her in his arms and held her against him, leaning back against the fridge and closing his eyes. He had to remind himself that her child had just died because he felt strangely and unexpectedly warm right through with her body pressed against his this way.

She didn't cry, she just leaned there, heavy in his arms, her cheek resting against his chest. He listened to her breathing slow, and felt her grip on him loosen and when he looked down her eyelids were drooping. With a smile, he leaned down and scooped her up with ease, and carried her to the bottom of the stairs, his gaze sliding between the stairs up to his room, and the guest room on his right.

Considering the way his body was reacting to just holding her like this, he decided on the guest room. Pushing the door open with his foot, he walked over to the bed and laid her down as gently as he could. She only mumbled, turning over and pulling her knees up to her chest. Now there was just the question of her clothes.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he carefully slipped off the sandals she had stepped into when they'd left Canuck place, and unbuttoned her jeans but decided to leave the rest alone and slip upstairs for a cold shower.

He was sitting in bed with the covers pulled up to his waist; a book resting open on his knees, glasses perched on his nose, wet curls falling onto his forehead when she crept into his room. He looked up when the mattress dipped, his eyes roaming over her bare legs, then put his book aside, but didn't make any move toward her.

He held his breath as he watched her slide under the covers beside him. She curled up with her head resting on the pillow at his side and looked up at him with a wistful smile. Resting one arm around her shoulders, he leaned over to turn out the light before he slid under the covers, and pulled her close. He lay there, feeling her cool skin pressing against him, and he could feel his heart beating too fast for someone who was supposed to be there to comfort her.

He was concentrating on breathing in and out, trying hard to not let that smell of jasmine remind him too much of the other night in her van when he felt her hand slide up his chest. He looked down, but his eyes hadn't adapted to the dark yet, so he couldn't see much except the shape of her, pressing against him. Closing his eyes he told himself to breathe, think about hockey, about that hit the Cookie took into the boards and wonder if he was okay, but then he felt her lips press against his collar bone and knew he was lost.

"Charissa?"

"Please," she whispered, her lips closing over the pulse in his neck, "I just need to feel alive. Please Trev, make me forget." Her hand slid lower, sliding beneath his boxer shorts, making him groan as her hand wrapped around him.

Slowly, gingerly he covered her mouth with his, kissing her softly, tenderly. Her body answered, pressing against his, but not with the urgency she had last time. This time, her body was soft, pliant, warm and inviting. He let his hands roam over the small of her back, cupping her body against his, feeling her legs wrap around him. She moaned as he dipped his head to find her breasts, his lips closing over a nipple, sucking it tenderly into his mouth. She slid her fingers into his hair, holding him there while her other hands slid up to his stomach.

She fought with the waist of his boxers; pulling and tugging until he helped her push them off, kicking the sheets off in the process. His eyes, having now adjusted to the darkness, gazed down at her, her soft curves laying under him, her eyes full of sadness, her mind closed to him, and yet her body open and yielding.

"Are you sure?" he asked, and she answered with a nod, reaching up for him with her hand, pulling him over her, into her.

When he woke the house was still and quiet, the first light of morning lying across the sheets tangled around his feet. He rolled over, reaching for the warmth of her body, and found himself alone. With a sigh, he got up, found his boxers on the floor and yanked them on before padding to the bathroom to look for her.

She wasn't there. His toothbrush had been used, and there was a hand cloth that felt moist on the towel rack, but no Charissa.

He went downstairs, calling her name but there was no answer. He looked in the guest room, but the bed was made, and her clothes and shoes were gone.

He went into the kitchen, found a pot of coffee on, a washed cup on the drying rack, but no Charissa.

He stood in the middle of his living room and turned around slowly. He could still taste her, could still catch the scent of her in the air, but she was gone.

There was only one place she could have gone, back to Canuck Place, back to get her things. She should have woken him. He picked up the phone and dialed star 69, and the last number that came up was a taxi company. With a shake of his head he dashed up the stairs to get dressed and go after her.

He felt guilty doing it, but he rushed past the kids, past the staff, making his way up to the room she'd been in with her son for a few short weeks now, hell bent on asking why she'd left without waking him or asking him for a ride. He wasn't worried that the staff would think he was some kind of jerk for not giving her a ride; he was just worried about her being alone now.

He got to the top of the stairs and one of the staff he recognized called out his name. He planned to ignore her, except she was carrying that blue and burgundy quilt he recognized, the one that had been on Chad's bed.

"Mr. Linden, are you looking for Ms. Martin?"

"Yeah," he replied breathlessly, looking past her at the closed door.

"She left this for you," the woman smiled up at him, holding out a well loved teddy bear with a hand knit sweater, one that he'd seen on Chad's bed. "She said to tell you thank you, for everything."

Trev took the bear, looking down at its' single plastic eye, its' torn smile and shook his head. The woman covered one of his hands with hers and gave him a knowing and sympathetic smile, then walked away. He watched her walk away before going to the door, pushing it open, and finding the room empty.

Chapter 7

"You did what?" Markus stared at him with wide eyes.

"I hired a private detective. I have to find her."

"Dude. You got used and abused and left for dust. Deal with it. You don't spend a bunch of money looking for some chick when you have a line up of them just gagging for it." Bert shook his head and went back to lacing his skates.

"She's not just some chick," Trev shrugged.

"Yeah, she's some dead kids' mom. Dude, I'm telling you, let it go. God, you're acting like you've never had a one night stand"

"It wasn't…"

"One night, two nights, whatever man. She's just a chick."

"Trev, if she wants to be found…she'll find you. Think about it from her point of view. Maybe she's embarrassed. Why don't you just leave her alone and see if she comes looking for you?" Markus smiled supportively and gave Bert a smack on the side of the head at the same time.

"Or you could find some other hot chick with less baggage to bang in the mean time," Bert laughed, which earned him another smack from Markus. "What? I'm trying to help the guy out!"

"Well help less," he sighed, pulling his jersey over his head. "I'm going to find her. That's all."

He could imagine the guys watching him make his way to the ice shaking their heads at him, but they didn't understand. They didn't feel what he felt, and they hadn't held her in their arms. Maybe they hadn't talked about things, maybe they didn't know each other, but there was something there, and he wanted to find out what that was, even if it cost him a few thousand to find out.

She stared out at the river winding its way through the trees and listened to the birds and squirrels chattering over her head and tried not to think. Someone had told her spring was a good time for new beginnings. It was still hard to think about that, but with her feet in the water and her eyes closed, the sun warming her skin, she felt better. Not good, just better.

She'd had to get out of the house. She'd like to know who thought that flowers were the thing to send when someone dies. Her house was filled with flowers, and they all looked ugly to her. She used to like getting flowers; she couldn't imagine that she ever would now. It had been the same after Todd had died, but she hadn't had time to think about that then, she'd had Chad to think about.

Now she had nothing to think about, so this was a better place to not think, a place to be peaceful, serene and alone. It was too hard at home with everyone trying to be nice, trying to be tactful and pleasant. She couldn't stand everyone being so fake, and feeling like they just had to "stop in" and finally her own family had crowded her out of her own house.

It would be better, after the house was sold. Then she could start again, somewhere where people didn't know her, where they wouldn't look at her and whisper how her family was all dead. Already she could already hear the whispers in the grocery store, already see the glances when she walked down the street.

It would be so much better to be where people didn't know anything about their neighbors and people didn't get into your business, like Vancouver, except thinking about that made her think about Trevor.

That was a non starter. She was too damaged to even think about starting something with someone now, let alone with someone that…amazing. It was enough to close her eyes and feel his hands on her skin. She could do that any time she wanted, and imagining never hurt anyone. Trying to love someone or even like someone too much would just hurt now.

So it was better to just stay away from everyone for a while.

"Have you found her yet?" Jarkko asked as Trev snapped his cell phone shut and stuck it in his bag.

"Sort of. Her house was sold but apparently her parents did all the showing and she hasn't been back to the house."

"So you haven't found her?"

"Well I do know one thing. She bought a bus ticket yesterday."

"A bus ticket?"

"Yeah. For Vancouver."

"See," Markus patted his shoulder, "I told you she would come looking for you when she was ready."

"I hope so," he nodded, and grabbed his bag. "Just a little problem, we're in Dallas."

The evening wind had that fall smell to it, a combination of rain, fire crackers, and chimney smoke that made her think of Hallowe'en, but that was still a couple months away. Still, there was already a chill in the air that made her pull her coat closer around her. She would have to think about getting a warmer coat soon, or at least a rain slicker.

She rang the door bell again, and tried to peer into the window, but the house was dark. She admonished herself for not checking the game schedule before coming, but it had been worth a try. Sitting on the front step, she pulled a pen and piece of an envelope from her purse and scratched out her parents' phone number and got up to stick it into his mail slot.

"You know he's not home?"

Charissa turned around and found herself looking down at a woman standing at the bottom step glaring up at her, hands on hips.

"I gathered. Just leaving him a note."

"He gets lots of phone numbers from girls you know."

"I imagine so. I'm just a friend."

"Whatever," the woman shook her head and turned her back and walked across the lawn to the neighboring house. Charissa just smiled and slipped the piece of paper into the mail slot and walked back down the street to find a bus.

He tapped his finger against the scrap of paper and listened to the phone ring, his heart beating madly against his chest. Nikki had already described her down to a tee and now with the note in hand he was sure she really had been looking for him. He'd thought twice about phoning, when what he really wanted was to see her, so he was relieved when the voice mail picked up.

It was time to put those computer skills to work. He cross referenced her phone number and came up with an address in Deep Cove, and thought it must be right; he had a vague memory of her saying something about being from North Van. He left everything where he'd left it on the floor when he came in, and went straight back to his car.

He felt his nerves begin to eat at him the entire way, as if his skin was trying to crawl off his bones. He'd hardly been able to keep still on the plane. Normally he could read or sleep but he'd ended up annoying everyone by pacing up and down the aisle, hoping that that bus ticket meant what he hoped it meant.

When he pulled onto the street the map told him was right he felt beads of sweat break out on his forehead. You'd think this was game seven in the playoffs not meeting a woman he hadn't seen since…the beginning of April? Had it been that long?

He rolled into the driveway and cut the engine. With a deep breath, he got out of the car and headed for the door, which opened just as he was about to knock.

"You don't leave messages?" she smiled, and waited for the shock to set in. Those hazel eyes gazed into hers' and she felt her knees go a little weak. All she could think was, so much for time away giving her some sort of control over her feelings. "I would ask you in but…the wrinklies are home and…I just feel weird."

This made him smile and that made her catch her breath. Those dimples, those lines beside his eyes did it to her every time. Damn. She'd almost managed to forget the way this felt. She grabbed her coat from the bottom of the banister and stepped out, closing the door behind her and headed down the driveway.

He followed like a well trained puppy, crossing the street and into the park beside the school. She turned once or twice to see if he was following, just to find him wearing that stupid grin, and looking awfully good in those jeans. Finally she found her way to the swings and sat heavily, looking back at him with a mischievous grin.

"Push, but not too hard?" He shook his head and laughed, pulling the swing towards him until her back rested against his chest and turning the swing enough so that he could bend to kiss her, gently tasting her lips before letting the swing go.

Her heart beat doubled and she found herself grinning as soon as she felt his lips on hers. It was good to feel this alive. She only hoped they would both still be grinning after she worked up the courage to tell him what she had come back to tell him.

He gave her a couple more pushes, then settled into the swing next to hers and watched. It was good to see her smile. She hadn't done much of that before…before like it had been a world away and a distant memory. He shook his head and wondered what it was about her that made him need to touch her, made him want to kiss her.

Finally she let the swing slow, dragging her shoes in the dirt and turning to look at him. He was waiting patiently, or at least he was still smiling, but the smile was a little more thoughtful now, and she could see questions lurking in the gold of his eyes.

"I don't know…no that's not right. I know where to start, I just don't know how to say it," she shrugged and tore her gaze away from his. It was hard enough without wanting to touch that scar under his eye, or run her finger along that bump on his nose. She remembered doing that, in his bed, when they'd had hours to touch, to feel.

"Why did you come back?" He asked it simply, firmly, not implying anything, not accusing.

"I thought you would want to know why I went."

"I think I know. What I need to know is where I fit in why you came back?" He cocked his head to one side, trying to read her reaction. She was blushing, which he took as a good sign, but she was avoiding his gaze, which wasn't. He reached out and pushed her hair back behind her ear so he could see her better, but she grabbed his hand before he could drop it back down to his side.

She held his hand for a moment, tracing the length of his fingers, looking down at how small her hand looked holding his. The memory of the way his hands had held hers as he moved above her flashed across her mind and she blushed deeper and shook her head. With a deep breath, she took his hand and pulled up her t-shirt, setting his hand on the gentle swell of her growing stomach.

She waited, watching his eyes, watching him come to terms with what his hand was feeling, and felt the way his fingers slowly spread across her pregnant belly. She looked down to see his other hand reach to touch her there, and felt her baby push against his hand. His eyes flicked up to hers, holding her gaze, the question clear in his eyes. She smiled as she watched him do the math, once, and then twice, and then she watched his eyes grow a little wider.

"Mine?" He stammered, and all she could do was nod, feeling tears welling in her eyes.