"Can Kate come and make decorations with us when she comes to see the tree?" Alexis asks, tinsel garlanded around her head like a halo. She looks a little like he expects Rambo's conscience would – golden head band and puppy dog eyes.

"Sure. When we call her and see how she's getting on, we'll ask her."

"Ask her round for Brownies," Jim suggests. "She seems pretty handy in the kitchen."

He listens to them all, so effortlessly interweaving Katherine Rodgers into their lives and wonders briefly if karma is at it again.

The door closing snaps her back into consciousness. Her eyelids still feel heavy, but she's aware again. The pain registers before she can do much more than blink, and she wishes she was still asleep and unfeeling. She was so tired. The few hours she spent in Richard Beckett's bed after they got into the city only compounded the sleepless nights she's had since her mother was admitted to hospital.

"I'm home," Josh calls out from the entry way. She can hear him emptying his pockets of keys and cell phone so he can hang up the jacket. She doesn't know why he bothers when she knows the next move is going to be to throw it over the back of the chair in the hall. She's not sure she's seen him hang a jacket up in the two years she's known him.

She straightens out of her sleep slouch and rubs at her face. "Over here."

He emerges sans jacket with a wide grin. "God, it's good to see you," he sighs out leaning over and kissing her. It feels a little odd from this angle but it's soft and warm. She pulls away to take his chin in her palm and pull him closer so she can kiss him properly. He smiles so big it's harder than she wished but it somehow makes it even better. It makes her a little giddy knowing how much he's missed her, how happy he is to see her.

"Hey," she breathes, letting him go. "Long day?"

"Long week," he groans. "I missed you," he flops onto the couch near her hip, using her outstretched legs to lean on and she involuntarily hisses. Even with the codeine that hurt.

He rocks back up like he's been electrocuted. "What's this?" he takes in her bandaged foot. "What happened to you?"

"I sprained my ankle today," she shrugs, slowly coming down off that new highride in pain. It feels like her whole leg is pulsing with her heart. "I'm borrowing your crutches by the way."

He takes her foot into his lap and starts unwinding the bandage without permission. "Kate, what happened?"

She wants to answer, to brush it off, but the change in pressure is making the blood sing again and she has to take a deep breath and focus first.

"A tree knocked me over," she tells him when the burn levels out. "I must have gone over on my ankle."

"Excuse me? "

"I went out to get a Christmas tree today," she explains. "The wind caught one of the branches and it smacked me down the hill. I must have caught my foot in a root and twisted it on the way down, but I don't know; my feet were so cold they could have been amputated and I wouldn't notice."

His lips tighten at that but he continues to unwind the bandage. "Oh Kate."

"So what do you think Doctor?" she tries to distract him, unable to accept any more pity today. "Will I live?"

"I don't know when you'll be walking again," he frowns, running his fingers over the swollen flesh gently, assessing. "This looks bad babe."

"It's really not that bad," she tries to reassure him. He's pulled back, retreating into his professional shadow and she knows it's only a matter of time before he bestows her with a diagnosis. She knows from a brief head cold last year that will mean the last they will see of each other – just Dr. Davidson and a decrepit Rodgers.

It was only a sprained ankle for God's sake. The way he and the Becketts acted it was like she had ripped her leg off.

"I've been icing it all afternoon," she offers pre-emptively.

"You did the right things."

"RICE, right?"

"Right," he agrees absently, squinting more carefully at the offending joint. "But you've been icing it this whole time and it still looks this bad. Kate, you might have torn something. We should go and get this scanned."

Oh hell no. The press would love that. Besides, she's supposed to be keeping a low profile so she doesn't scare her stepfather away again. If she was right about him returning to the city to access her mother's accounts…she never thought she would actually encourage it – but she wants him to try. That way she can find him faster. But he won't if he knows she's watching. So no press. No nothing. "I'm fine. It didn't hurt that bad."

"I forgot how stubborn you can be," he sighs, looking up at her finally and she can see she's broken into his medical concentration.

"Missed me?" She's smug and more than a little relieved.

"Of course I missed you."

"Then why are you still holding my foot? Get over here."

"I don't think so," he chuckles ruefully and she can see he's tempted.

"Come on, Josh. I'm not an invalid."

He ignores her and changes the subject so obviously it's painful. He even releases his hold on her foot. "Where's this Christmas tree?"

She huffs. "It's not for me. I went with some friends to help them choose theirs."

"Anyone I know? Or know of?"


He scoops up the gel pack from the floor, long since room temperature and heads towards the kitchen. "Well they did a good job wrapping your ankle."

Rick had done it, sitting with her foot in his lap, much the same way Josh had been cradling it just a few minutes ago.

"Huh," she replies, trying to remember. To be honest she hadn't been paying that much attention to his technique though she had been focused on his hands. She could only remember the way his thumbs smoothed at the bands of muscle as he went along, massaging.

He had said something about the Gate theory of pain. Not that she knew what that meant.

"You want some Advil?" Josh calls, interrupting her memory of the swirls her lawyer had engraved into her skin. It was almost as if she could still feel them.

"No, I'm fine – just don't move it."

"Okay," he juggles a fresh gel pack in his hands until he can wrap it in the cloth Rick used earlier. "I'm going to go change and order in and then I'll be back and," he pauses to look at her sternly. "If it's still this sore in the morning, you are going to get it scanned. Okay?"

She had no intention of following through but nodded. "Okay." He should know her well enough to know by now it was an empty promise, but he didn't push.

"Okay," he replaces the gel pack and kisses her forehead. "Chinese?"

She thinks of the hurried sandwich Johanna Beckett made before she left to take the meds with. Her stomach thinks along with her, despondent. They were good and far too long ago. "Sure."

It's easy. From behind it only takes a whisper of pressure to collapse the knees and the shot is off before he can pitch forward on his hands. The punch of metal into the base of the neck pushes the body face to the pavement so there is no final glimpse of wide eyes, just another pawn toppled onto the board to be thrown away.

The only pleasure in this long game.

You don't need to tell me how long it's been – I feel bad enough as it is. Another summer separated.