A/n: See I said there'd be a quickie for you. and yes, I promise the next 'real' story will answer certain questions that get raised in this one. However don't expect to get spoilers in the meantime.

Girl Talk

Laura Hardy hummed quietly to herself as she put the finishing touches on the sweet rolls she had just pulled out of the oven. She no sooner had finished drizzling the sweet vanilla glaze on them when the back door bell rang. "Come in dear," she smiled, not surprised at all at her early morning visitor.

"I'm not disturbing you or anything, am I?" Halloran hesitantly asked as she stepped into the cozy kitchen, smelling of coffee and cinnamon.

"Of course not, you know you are always welcome, with or without my son bringing up the rear" Laura's welcoming smile put the younger woman at ease; or rather, less anxious. "At least this way we will actually get to eat more than one!" she laughed as she quickly transferred two rolls to a plate and handed it to her soon to be daughter-in-law. She invited the dark haired young lady to sit down and she soon had the coffee in a carafe on the table between them. During the quiet silence, Laura thought back over the last year or so and the inclusion of this new face in their world.

Joe Hardy, her impulsive youngest child who was her image in looks if not temperament, had met the petite woman who sat across from her currently nursing a cup of coffee and nervously picking apart the cinnamon roll without actually eating it in a bank. Of course, this being Joe were talking about, the meeting involved a stand off, guns and oddly, a ten year old boy that was related to neither of them. If it had been Frank, they would have met when he stopped to help her pick up a dropped pen or something innocuous. Joe, on the other hand, had to walk smack dab into the middle of an attempted bank robbery.

Laura continued to make small talk, more in an attempt to distract Halloran than engage her in conversation. Even though she now wore Gertrude's antique diamond solitaire on her left ring finger, Halloran was still new to the family and it's unique dynamics. Abruptly, the nervous fidgeting of Halloran's hands stopped. "How do you do it?!" she finally blurted out.

"Do what, dear?" already knowing full well what the younger woman was referring to.

"Be so damn calm!" The sharp retort was almost accusatory. Laura did not answer immediately, instead pouring two fresh cups of coffee. When she had emptied the carafe, she stood and took it over to the sink, standing there a moment, her back to Halloran.

"I am not calm, Sweetheart. I just hide it very well." she turned then, allowing the worry to shine through her eyes. "I have had a lot of practice over the years."

"Three days, Laura!" Halloran cried, her voice anguished and breaking at the very end. "It's been three days and nothing. No calls, no texts, no knock on the door from Greg, no nothing!" Greg Herndon was a local police officer and good friend to the brothers. His visits just as often spelled doom as they did delight it seemed sometimes. Laura came around the kitchen table then and sat in the chair next to the distraught girl.

"I know this is difficult. And I'd be lying if I said it ever got any easier. But if you have any hope of surviving being married to my youngest child, you will need to learn how to deal with times like this."

"But how?!" it was half wail, half sob. Laura contemplated the request, trying to organize her thoughts.

"Your father was in the Army, right?" Laura only knew small snippets of the story gathered from random comments over the last several months since Joe's birthday party. At Halloran's nod, she continued. "Well, how did your mother handle deployments?"

"She didn't." The words were bitter. "She almost always completely shut down. I had to take care of everything. About the only thing she managed to do was keep the pantry and fridge stocked. I did most of the cooking and cleaning, and making sure me 'n Mark got to school on time." She paused before continuing. "and when Daddy died, and then Mark, it was even worse. She completely fell apart. I don't want to end up like her!"

Finally, Laura understood. Halloran had no role model other than herself to look to for guidance. "Oh, honey I am not sure how to explain it. I handle it, because I have to." she took Halloran's cold hands into her own. "I made a decision when I fell in love. I looked long and hard at what I was getting myself into, and believe me, Fenton held nothing back. But I decided I would rather face the danger than live without him. So I learned to deal with everything. The good, the bad and everything in between. I guess you could say I was already desensitized by the time the boys declared they wanted to follow in their father's footsteps. I figured, I had been worrying about them breaking a leg playing football, so how was worrying about them breaking a leg chasing the bad guys any different?" This brought a smile to the younger woman's face, wan though it was.

Laura continued. "One of the first things Fenton ever said to me was to never put my life on hold waiting for news. Of course it's much easier now, with cell phones and call forwarding being available, but when we first got married we didn't have that luxury. If Fenton was incommunicado for a while, they boys didn't know, or care. They still needed new diapers or booster shots at the doctor's office. So I had to leave the house even if all I wanted to do was sit around waiting for that phone call. And yes, I missed a few. Sure one or two was Chief Collig telling me he'd been hurt, but a lot more were just him letting me know he was okay. I never erased a single message off the answering machine until he got home, so I could listen to his voice whenever I needed to."

Getting no verbal response, she went on. "Joe has been honest, hasn't he? About how much trouble he can get into?" Laura earnestly hoped that was the case as she didn't have the heart to send Halloran into a tailspin. To her shock, she realized that in all the time Halloran had been seeing Joe, this was the first time he'd been missing for more than a few hours.

Halloran nodded. "He even offered to quit for me." At Laura's shock, quickly hidden, she smiled. "I told him that wouldn't be necessary. I know he'd be devastated if he did , and that he'd try anyway for my sake, but eventually he'd be resentful. I didn't want him growing to hate me because of it."

Laura had a sudden flash of insight. "Halloran, when Joe got hurt at your cabin, how did you cope then?"

Taken aback at the question, Halloran took a long minute before answering. "I guess I just..did.. I shoved everything down into a small corner until it was over."

"And when you were the one in trouble, how did you hold it together long enough for the boys to find you?"

"I just..did..." Halloran was beginning to see. "You're right, it can't be explained, can it? I just did what needed doing until I could relax and fall apart later." She looked at Laura for some sort of confirmation that that was okay to do. She got it.

"Oh Honey, if I only had a nickel for every time I cried myself to sleep in Fenton's arms after the end of a case, finally allowing the grief and worry to run rampant, I'd have that condo in Hawai'i I want so badly." Laura smiled. "It is entirely acceptable to lose it once in while and it's even permitted to get spitting mad at them for getting hurt in the first place. You just can't ever let it turn into hate."

"That'll never happen. Joe's the best thing that has happened to me in years. I won't ever lost sight of that." Halloran's voice was strong with conviction and love now. "I just wish they'd come home is all. Or call. I'd almost settle for a phone call, even if it meant we had to go the hospital."

As if by magic, the phone suddenly rang shrilly in the quiet that had fallen as each woman sat lost in her own thoughts. Laura jumped up so quickly the chair was knocked over. "Hello?!" she practically shouts into the receiver. Her shoulders sag; she is facing away from Halloran, whose heart leaps into her throat and she assumes the worst. But the smile on Laura's face as she turns around relieves the tension as she reaches over to squeeze the younger girl's hand. "Don't bother, she's here with me. I'll take care of it. Just get your butts back here pronto!" Laura laughed before hanging up.

She had no sooner done so when she was engulfed in a hug from the woman even shorter than she was, if only by an inch. "They're okay?!" Halloran asked breathlessly.

"Not even a trip to the ER this time!" The older woman reassured her. "And knowing them, haven't eaten a proper meal in days. I think homemade macaroni and cheese is in order, don' t you? With a nice green salad." And so the women went about their day as they waited for their loved ones to return, just as they would continue to do forever.

A/n: This is just yet another remnder that it will be months.. possibly as long as after the holidays before I return to the HB universe. I do have at least one solid plot in development though. But I won't be totally gone, i will still be reading any updates and new stories that pique my interest.