It helps if you read my other stories containing the character of Aeda Harrison, but only a little.

Disclaimer: Aeda and Bear are mine...the rest, not so much. :)

Cameron Mitchell bought a house when he moved to Colorado Springs because the little voice in the back of his head that more than often sounded like his Grandma Mitchell told him he'd be there for a good long while

Cameron Mitchell bought a house when he moved to Colorado Springs because the little voice in the back of his head that more than often sounded like his Grandma Mitchell told him he'd be there for a good long while. He wasn't one to argue with Grandma Mitchell when she was alive and having been on the wrong end of a wooden spoon more than once for sassing her with his great big mouth he decided he should probably listen to her voice spouting wisdom from the darker parts of his brain.

That, and he absolutely loved the house, so buying it didn't seem altogether too tough a decision to make.

It's been a year or so of wondering if he'd made the right decision, but when he arrives on the deck with a couple of long necks and hears Carolyn laughing with Aeda from around the corner, he realizes the house wasn't only the right decision but also the only one. It's been a year or more since he heard Aeda laugh like that and he has to lean against the house and take a deep breath before he can face the two women who commandeered his backyard a few hours earlier.

Bear finds him before he's ready, but the typically intuitive dog realizes he needs a moment and sits calmly beside him while Cam regains his composure. The sentimental part of him hopes Daniel's watching, hopes he can hear Aeda's laugh from wherever he is.

'Cam, we know you're over there with the beer and while we're being very good girls and pretending not to know such a thing, we're also severely thirsty.' He's heard Aeda's voice floating around his house for two weeks and he's begun to worry about how much he'll miss her when she heads home to Boston at the end of next week.

He grins at Bear and they swing around the corner in tandem. He hoists the beers into the air and smiles at them. Aeda has taken over the hammock and is stretched out in such a relaxed pose that she looks about ten years younger. Carolyn is in the same position on one of the Adirondack chairs and her hair is up and catching the last few rays of sunlight from the Colorado sunset. From a distance, they could be sisters, especially with the tan Aeda's been working on these last few weeks, but Cam knows better than to think they're anything alike.

'Have no fear, ladies, I have returned with decidedly alcoholic beverages.' He dons a serious face, looks down at Bear, and looks back up at Carolyn and Aeda. 'And a dog.'

Carolyn giggles, a sure sign of the fact she's had one too many, and Aeda smiles at him. He distributes the beer and Bear climbs up into the hammock with Aeda. Cam takes the other Adirondack chair and looks over at Aeda.

'So what did I miss?'

'Carolyn was telling me about your first date…' Aeda begins.

'And Aeda was telling me about the first time the two of you met,' Carolyn finishes.

A sure sign that Cam isn't as smart as he thinks he is – he left them alone together, knowing they had dirt on him they could share, should they choose to. Silly, silly man.

He looks at each of them in turn and shrugs his shoulders. 'I'm fresh out of witty repartee.'

This earns him a full laugh from Aeda and a placating smile from Carolyn.

'Since when are you full of witty repartee?' Aeda asks around giggles.

Cam's so indignant, he doesn't have anything to say.

It's just past eleven and the sky has a purple tint to it. Carolyn helped him clean up the kitchen earlier and then went home. Aeda stayed in the hammock, half asleep and humming along to a tune he couldn't hear. Bear stayed with her when Cam went inside and when he steps out onto the deck the old Boxer's ears perk up and Aeda stirs slightly.

She still looks relaxed, still looks younger, but in the dimness he can make out a subtle tension. He wonders when it crept in, wonders if he hasn't been paying enough attention to his houseguest.

'You're staring,' she says and it startles him a little.

'I thought you were asleep,' he says and eases himself into the chair Carolyn had occupied earlier.

'Still doesn't explain why you were staring.' He can see her smile in the light of the deck torches. 'Carolyn go home?'

He nods. 'She has an early shift tomorrow morning. She said to tell you she'd be by this weekend to pick you up for hiking.'


She sounds young, like a sleepy child, and he has to fight the urge to pick her up and hold her.

'Are you going to sleep out here or do you want me to help you to your room?'

She grins – he catches a flash of white in the dark – and holds out her hand. 'As wonderful as it is out here, I think I'd prefer my bed.'

'Excellent choice, milady,' he says and stands. He picks her up with little more than an oomph and waits for Bear to scramble out of the hammock before heading inside. She drapes an arm along the back of his neck and snuggles into his chest and he pretends it doesn't make him happy to feel needed.

'I'm not as sad as you think I am,' she says when he settles her on the guest bed. The statement takes him by surprise and he stumbles slightly on his way to the door.

'I don't think you're sad, Aeda,' he says.

She turns onto her side and looks at him from her pillow. Her eyes are unfocused and he tries to remember how much she had to drink.

'You think I'm fragile and broken and sad because Daniel's dead.'

He sighs and leans against the doorframe. 'I think you have every right to be those things, but I don't think you are.' He tilts his head to the side, stares at her. 'I think you're one of the strongest women I've ever met.'

'I had a husband once,' she says.

He thinks he knows this, but he can't be sure. It isn't something Daniel ever mentioned, but he thinks Sam might have once upon a time.

'I know,' he says quietly.

'He died, too.' She closes her eyes. 'The men I love die. It's what they do.'

Cam watches her slowly drift to sleep and when he turns to leave, Bear pads into the room silently and crawls up onto the bed. He watches the old dog curl up behind Aeda's leg and rest his head on her hip before he silently heads down the hallway to his own room.

For the first time in a long time, he takes a glass of bourbon to bed with him. He sits on the edge of his bed and watches the cars go by on the road outside and he thinks about how much he hates Daniel sometimes. It isn't a blinding hatred or a violent hatred, but instead a simple dull ache in his chest for the life his friend left behind.

With the bourbon as an aid, it doesn't take him long to fall asleep.

He awakes just after dawn and the pink light from the Colorado sunrise is filtering in through his partly open curtains. His head is foggy and his mouth feels like someone stuffed it full of cotton. He has a vague recollection of a small voice saying his name in the middle of the night and of additional weight being added to the bed. He rolls onto his back and his shoulder bumps into something solid. He turns his head slowly, so as to not upset the precarious balance he's achieved between being hungover and not being hungover. He honestly isn't surprised to find Aeda and Bear in bed with him.

He brushes a lock of raven hair from her forehead and smiles. This time, instead of the bourbon, Bear's gentle snores lure him back to the comforts of sleep.