Disclaimer: this is an original story by this Lunatic. It is a one-shot of Dane and Nicole set after New Cuts, Old Wounds. The characters are mine. Do not use them without my permission. Any and all characters, events, and situations found here are fictional. If there are any similarities between these things and real people, events, and situations, it is purely a coincidence.

General warning: beware of strong language, mentions of drug abuse, child abuse, and two women in a loving relationship. If you can handle those things, read on.

Heavy Metal Poisoning

"Who's a good boy? Huh? Who's Dane's good boy?" Danny asked Haydn as she leaned down to detach his leash from around his collar. He licked the end of her nose and nuzzled her cheek. She grinned and rubbed him down.

Haydn was her and Nicole's white shepherd. He was four months old and they had owned him for two months. He was their proud, happy bundle of energy and a bright spark in their lives. He wiggled against her as she petted him lovingly.

Danny continued to grin. "Let's go get your brush and brush your coat. You'll like that, won't you? I know you will. Then we'll start dinner, so our girl Nick will have dinner when she comes in."

Haydn yapped in what Dane took as agreement. She was so happy to finally have her cast off from when she was hit by a car a few months ago and be able to do simple things with Haydn. She had her cast off for a couple of weeks and before being able to do things with Haydn, the new freedom had allowed her to do a number of things with Nicole. Of course, being intimate with Nicole was the best thing, but taking care of Haydn ranked high on her list of things to do also. She had always wanted a dog and Nicole had fulfilled that desire by getting their precious pup as a birthday gift for Dane. He turned out to be a gift for both of them, though. Haydn had brought the couple closer and that only made Dane love the little guy more.

"Guess we can get you a treat, too, since you were such a good boy," Dane cooed.

She hung the leash by the door and Haydn barked again. She could not help leaning down petting his head. He rubbed his head against her hand and barked in approval, even as she stood up. As they moved toward the kitchen the phone rang. Dane glanced at the caller ID on the living room phone and rolled her eyes.

"It's Christine again, Haydn. Think I should take her call this time or just wait until Chem notices she's called like eighty times and asks me if I want to get the number blocked or something?" the musician asked.

Haydn responded with another yap, which Dane decided meant that she should not answer the phone. She brushed the pup's fur and gave him a treat before leaving him with a toy to chew on. She and Nicole had found out the hard way that he was in a "chewing" phase and had rushed out to get him plenty of toys before he ruined the coffee table and his own mouth from biting hard wood. She showered and then went to start dinner with the puppy keeping her company in the kitchen as he rolled around with his toy. By the time Nicole entered the house, everything was almost done.

"Hey, honey," Nicole called out. Seconds later, a cuddly ball of white fur was at her feet. She bent down to pet and hug the pup. "Hey, Haydn! Have you been behaving for Danny? Have you?" she prattled.

"He has been a very good boy today. Took him to the park and actually let him off the leash. He was good. He came when I called and stayed away from any unfriendly dogs. We met a few new people and dogs and he got to play around with his new friends. We had a good time," Dane reported as she stepped out of the kitchen.

Nicole nodded and smiled as she placed her briefcase securely on top of the end table that was near the stairs. Another lesson that they had learned the hard way was that Haydn thought Nicole's briefcase was a plaything whenever it was within in his reach. Nicole and Dane walked to each other and embraced. As they wrapped themselves in each other's lips and arms, Haydn bounced around their feet. They pulled away and Nicole turned her attention to the phone as the blinking light caught her attention.

"Baby, how often has your mom called here?" Nicole inquired because the light meant that they had voice mail. She picked up the phone and went through the call log. "Dozens. I should've known."

"Uh …" Dane tried to think of some response to all of those calls. Nothing came to mind.

"Sweetheart, if you're not going to talk to her, at least do something about the voice mail. Someone else might call and need to leave a message," Nicole remarked with a teasing smile.

Dane nodded guiltily. "You're right. Should I listen to them or should I just erase them?"

"That's up to you, love." Nicole smiled and ran her hand through Dane's hair because she knew the musician was about to do it.

Dane pouted. "Not fair," she pretended to whine.

"That's life." Nicole placed a small kiss to Danny's pouting lips. "Besides, you know what I would say, but I'm done interfering in this part of your life. I'll only step in when you ask me to." She had stepped away from Dane's issues with her family much wiser than she started out. She was not about to jeopardize her relationship with her lover yet again by trying to get Danny to interact with any of her relatives.

Dane snorted. "I'm asking you right now."

"When you ask me and it's something that you truly cannot do without me."

"Damn you and your fancy lawyer tricks," the younger woman huffed and then she pushed the button to play the messages.

The first message played. "Uh … Hello, this is Christine … I'm calling for Dane. I was just wondering how you're doing. That's all."

Then came the second message. "Hello, it's Christine again. I'm calling for Dane. Perhaps you would call me back."

Dane groaned and massaged her temples as the messages droned on and on. "Why the hell can't she take the hint? I don't wanna talk to her!"

By the tenth one, Dane was resting her forehead against Nicole's and praying for the messages to end. After the fifteenth, she just erased the rest. Sighing, she turned her attention to Nicole.

"Any advice on what I should do about her?" Danny asked.

"My first piece of advice would be talk to her if you don't want her calling so much. If you don't say anything, she'll just keep calling with the hope that eventually you'll respond. I'm sure if you even yelled at her a little, it would give her pause," Nicole answered.

Dane's face scrunched up, almost pouting. "But, there's no way to just get rid of her?"

The older woman offered a small smile and her emerald eyes sparkled with sympathy. "I doubt it. But, my guess would be to start with seeing what she wants. If you at least give her that, she might back off if she sees that you don't want it. But, of course, I also think you should talk to her for your own peace of mind."

Dane sighed and nodded. "I know, I know. I just can't talk to her. Every time the phone rings and I see it's her, my brain comes up with a million things to do to keep me from answering. The only time I talk to her is when you pick up and then hand me the phone because you don't check caller ID."

"Well, excuse me for assuming my parents might be calling me at home or your nephews might want to talk to you," the redhead remarked.

"You could still check the caller ID. You know she's always calling. Anyway, you really think I should talk to her? I mean, over the phone is so impersonal and I always hang up, like I can't stand the sound of her voice. I don't know …" Dane's hand glided through her short, black hair as her face scrunched in confusion.

Nicole nodded and placed a gentle kiss to Danny's cheek to help settle her down. "I think you're right. The phone is impersonal and I've seen how frustrated you get when you're on the phone with her."

"Maybe I should send her an email."

Nicole burst out laughing. "You don't even have an email address and that's even more impersonal than the phone. Do you want me to help you?"

"Uh … haven't I been saying that all along? So, where are we gonna hide the body?" Dane joked.

"I wouldn't give that sort of help with your mother. Now, your father on the other hand …" Nicole chuckled.

The musician laughed. "Okay, fine. So, what're you going to do?"

"Well, first, I'm going to take a shower and then I'm going to eat dinner. Finally, I'm going to cuddle on the couch with you and little Haydn while watching some pup-friendly movies."

Danny laughed again and then stepped away. She swatted Nicole on the butt, earning a yelp from the attorney. "Go do all of that, you smart-ass," the taller woman commented.

"I will and then I'll worry about Christine." Nicole walked away, making sure to sway her hips as she did so.

"Tease!" Danny called after her. She could hear Nicole giggling all the way to their bedroom.

-8-8-8-8-

"This is your idea of helping?" Dane asked incredulously as she and Nicole walked down the street. Haydn was on his leash and taking in the sights of a totally new area.

"What? You said the phone was impersonal. I thought a face-to-face would be best for both of you. This way, you can see if she's sincere or if she's just trying to torment you further. Seeing you might also help her get to her point sooner," Nicole pointed out.

"Her point? Her point is to keep harassing me now that I don't need her at all anymore because I've got you," Dane retorted and she rolled her eyes.

Nicole could not argue that point. It seemed that the galvanizing force behind Christine Wolfe's sudden interest in her youngest daughter was because she no longer had any excuses to keep tabs on Dane. Once upon a time, Christine was the only person that could get Dane out of trouble – usually a medical emergency. But, after an incident where Danny had shown up on Nicole's front lawn looking like death warmed over, that changed. Dane was now covered under Nicole's health insurance, so Dane had no need for help in that area. Besides, Nicole would not only pay for medical problems, but stick around to make sure that Danny healed. Christine could not make that claim.

Not being needed had turned Christine into a needy pest as far as Danny was considered. While Danny was recovering from being hit by a car and Nicole acted as her overprotective nurse, Christine tried to speak with Dane more often than the guitarist wanted. Well, wanted now, anyway. Christine was too late in trying to be there as far as Danny was concerned, especially since Nicole was there now.

Nicole did plenty of things that Christine could not lay claim to. It was just that up until Nicole, Christine was the only game in town for Dane if there was serious trouble, like when Dane was beaten and hospitalized a few years ago. If Nicole had been around there, Danny might have even healed properly because someone would have been watching out for her. Now, Dane had no need for anyone beyond Nicole and it seemed to bother her mother.

"Look, it's just lunch. We'll eat and then when we're done we'll take Haydn to the park. Maybe our young man might make some new friends. What do you say to that?" Nicole proposed with a bright smile.

Dane frowned. "Why do you know exactly how to bribe me?"

"I dunno. You sleep next to a person for a few months and you just pick up things about them," Nicole remarked.

Danny laughed and shook her head. She was now out of excuses to not look ahead and saw her mother waiting for them at the outside café Nicole picked. At least we can have Haydn with us, she thought. It's one silver lining.

"Hello, Dane, Nicole. I'm glad you invited me out," Christine greeted them. Hope sparkled in her eyes, but there was more fear than anything else.

"It was our pleasure," Nicole replied, which was a lie and they all knew it. Still, the couple sat after Dane pulled Nicole's chair out for her. They were silent for a moment before Christine glanced down at Haydn.

"Luke and Thomas were telling me that you had a dog now. He's adorable," Christine commented with a small smile.

Nicole glanced at Danny and Dane knew that her lover expected her to just open up since Haydn was the perfect topic to discuss. Dane loved talking about their pup. Grey eyes drifted down to Haydn, but Danny did not start singing his praises like she usually did.

"I gave him to Danny as a birthday present," Nicole informed the blond woman.

"Really? He must be a lot of work," Christine said.

"He is, but Danny and I enjoy taking care of him. Danny is especially enjoying it and she's very good at handling him. She's always wanted a dog," Nicole stated with a small smile.

"Oh." Christine could not hide the surprise in her face. The surprise could have been from the idea that Danny actually took care of something or that Danny might have always wanted a dog. Dane took it as the former.

"Yeah, believe it or not, I can actually take care of myself, my girl, and a dog. Who knew?" Danny huffed and rolled her eyes. "This is bullshit," she added in a grumble.

"Baby," Nicole reprimanded Danny softly and patted her thigh to keep her calm.

"What? We've been sitting here for three seconds and she's already acting like I'm a fuck-up," Dane proclaimed.

"You assumed that. Come on, you said you'd try," Nicole whispered before leaning over and kissing Danny's cheek.

Danny sighed. "Fine." She turned her attention back to her mother. "So, here we are."

"Indeed …" Christine agreed and sighed. Her eyes went to the table and it seemed like she was searching her brain for something to discuss. "Adam tells me you've been spending more time with his boys. They seem to like you."

"Yeah, I know it's hard to believe," Dane snorted and rolled her eyes. After all, Luke and Thomas were the only people in her family that seemed to like her.

"Danny," Nicole implored. She gave her lover another pat on the thigh.

The musician growled and threw up her hands. "You know, I can't do this! I just can't," she proclaimed as she hopped out of her seat and began marching off. "Come on, Haydn. Let's go to the park and chase some squirrels." The pup gave a yap of approval.

Nicole sighed and gave Christine a shrug before chasing after her fleeing lover. "Danny, wait for me!"

Danny slowed down just enough for Nicole to catch up to her. "Sorry for that," she apologized as soon as Nicole was by her side.

"It's all right. I know this was difficult for you to begin with," Nicole commented.

"It was a good try with the face to face thing. You just forgot that I, unlike most human beings, don't mind making a scene. I think this would've worked out if only I didn't give a shit about hearing what she had to say," Dane stated.

"Is that it? You don't have an interest in what she had to say?" Nicole asked curiously as they rounded the block. They were taking the long way to the car, it seemed. Danny was not thinking about the car when she rushed away from the table.

Dane ran her hand through her hair and then scratched her head. "Not sure. I mean, I do, but I don't. I feel like if I can avoid talking to her, then I will. I don't know what to do about that. I just feel like being spiteful to her. I dunno." She shrugged.

"It's okay, honey. Take it as slowly as you feel you need to."

"Yeah?" Danny gave her love a sidelong glance.

"Hey, I told you, I'll support your decisions when it comes to your family. So, I'll do whatever you tell me to do in regards to them. Well, I might step in with your nephews because you tend to get immature around them," the redhead teased, smiling.

Danny laughed. "They get me in trouble!"

Nicole arched an eyebrow and chuckled. "How? How is it they get you in trouble? I don't think it was them shoving chips and cookies down your throat until everybody had a stomachache?" she taunted the taller woman.

Dane smiled and linked their arms together. "One time! Besides, I'm an aunt. I get to be irresponsible. I would never do that if we had a kid. I'd be really strict."

Nicole laughed again. "Just like you are with Haydn, huh? Remember when he was rolling around on the sofa? You were encouraging him, scratching his belly like he had done something great."

"Okay, fine, I'd be like having a second kid if we had a kid. But, I've got time to straighten out since we're not having kids anytime soon, right?"

"No, I don't think we're in any state to consider kids, yet." Nicole played with the ring on her left hand. "After all, we've barely discussed marriage and I won't have kids unless I'm married."

"Well, I don't need to be married to have kids, but I do think I need to get myself together before I could ever consider it beyond a joke. You're right, you know?" Dane said.

"Right about what?"

"Christine. I do need to talk to her. I need to hear her out for my own peace of mind and to move forward in some way. Unfortunately, I know if I can run away from her, I will. I don't know what to do about that. Ideas?" Danny inquired.

"Give me some time to think on it. For now, let's get back to the car, so we can get this young man to the park to play with his friends," Nicole said, glancing down at Haydn. Danny smiled and nodded.

-8-8-8-8-

Danny yawned and sat up from the couch as she heard the front door open. Leaning over, she tried to see Nicole and Haydn as they came in, but she knew it was impossible. Haydn bounded into living room seconds later.

"Hey, there, little guy!" Dane greeted the pup. She leaned down and picked him up. He nuzzled her immediately and she rubbed him down.

"I wish you greeted me that enthusiastically," Nicole remarked with a smile as she entered the living room.

"Well, maybe if you were half as enthused to see me as he is …" Danny replied.

Nicole chuckled and went in for a kiss. Dane returned the show of affection while Haydn wiggled out of her arms. She made sure he ended up falling on the sofa rather than the long distance to the floor. With her hands freed up, she wrapped her arms around Nicole's waist.

"Since we don't have anything planned and it is a Saturday, what say we just go upstairs and never come back down?" Danny suggested with a lewd grin and a wiggling of her eyebrows.

"And leave your darling Haydn all alone?" Nicole teased.

"We'll leave some water out for him and just open a whole bag of food. He'll be fine," Danny replied with a laugh.

"No, I don't think that'll work."

"Why not?"

"Because you have a play date scheduled in a couple of minutes," the redhead informed her lover.

Dane's brow wrinkled. "I do? I didn't know Luke and Thomas were coming over today. I would've planned something. Maybe we can play Guitar Hero or something," she mused aloud.

Nicole chuckled, amused that Danny always felt like she needed to be organized with activities when her nephews came over. Now, when they were in the house, it was a different story because they almost never did what Dane planned. But, they were not the "play date" she was referring to. Gazing into grey eyes, she wondered if she should just leave it as a surprise or warn Danny. She did not want to give her girlfriend a chance to run. The bell rang and it let her know that she was too late.

"Is that them?" Dane inquired with a smile.

"Baby, it's not who you think it is," Nicole told her.

"What do you mean? Is it somebody for you?"

"No, I'm sure it's for you. It's just not your nephews."

"Oh?"

"Don't be upset, but you said you wanted to deal with this in a manner you wouldn't be able to run. You don't really have any place to go in the house," Nicole explained as best she could.

"Nick, you didn't," Danny begged, glancing over at the door.

"You asked for my help," Nicole reminded her girlfriend as she moved to let their company in.

"If I ask you to shoot me, are you going to do that, too?" Dane huffed. Of course, she was not really upset with Nicole, who was just helping as requested. She was upset because of the presence of the person at the door, the idea of speaking to her, the idea of listening to her, and the fear that she might actually make sense.

Dane hated the fear inside of her because it was one of the things that kept her from speaking to Christine. She worried that her mother's explanation for her behavior might make sense and Danny would then find out that she truly was disposable and unworthy of love. She also feared that she might just forgive her mother, which to her seemed like the unthinkable.

The spite that she held in her heart for Christine seemed right to Danny, like she should feel it. If it vanished, she was not sure how she would feel, but she doubted that she would like it. She should feel vindictive toward her mother, she believed. She was owed at least that much.

Dane flopped down on the couch and took a deep breath to calm her nerves. Her hand went through her hair as she heard Nicole open the door and greet her mother. A second later, Christine was in view and she was holding a large tote bag. Christine offered an awkward smile.

"Christine, please, sit," Nicole offered, motioning to the sofa. She then turned her attention to Danny. "I'll be outside in the backyard with Haydn if you need anything."

Danny nodded and her eyes screamed out "Thank you!" because her mouth refused to work at the moment. Nicole nodded and then made her way outside, calling for the puppy as she did so. Haydn yapped happily while following the redhead. Danny watched them leave and then turned her attention to her mother.

"So … Guess Nick called you out here, huh?" Dane said.

"Of course. She suggested that I come with conversation pieces, which I thought was a very good idea," Christine replied.

Dane nodded. "She's full of good ideas." Like this because I damn sure don't have anywhere to go.

"She's a good woman," Christine said for lack of a better thing to offer.

"That she is."

"Well, I decided to bring some things to show you that I haven't ignored you for your whole life as you seem to think," Christine reported as she began pulling items out of the bag. There were two shoeboxes and some loose objects.

"Yeah, believe it or not, pretending I don't exist counts as fucking ignoring me," Dane huffed. "You don't even have any fucking proof that I exist!"

"I thought you might say that, which is why I was very careful when I packed the things that I would bring," Christine explained as she opened the top box. She pulled out a small photo album and opened it. "This is you at a day old," she said, pointing down to the baby picture.

Dane blinked and turned her attention to the photo. She inhaled sharply. She had never seen pictures of herself as a baby. She had assumed that none existed. Reaching out, she ran a finger down the pristine picture. She had chubby cheeks and her complexion had much more of a red undertone to it than now. Big grey eyes had an almond shape to them and her hair seemed much blonder then.

"You might not want to hear this, but you looked a lot like Michael. He had blond hair when he was born, too, but yours was curlier. Then, just like his, yours became darker and straighter as you got older," Christine said.

"Where … where did you get this?" Dane asked in a breath. Running her hand through her hair, she tried to calm herself down.

"I took it. No one … no one visited after you were born and Russell went on a tear about … You know …" Christine sighed and a shamed blush colored her cheeks.

"About me being a bastard and everything. Yeah, I know. It's one of the more important messages I got from my childhood," Dane grumbled. She then took the picture out of the sleeve in the album. "I'm keeping this," she stated. There was no room for argument or negotiation.

"Um … yes, of course," Christine replied with a slightly scrunched up expression. "I have other things from when you were a baby …" She reached into the box and pulled out a pair of tiny shoes. "These are your first pair of baby shoes."

Danny inspected them with an arched eyebrow. "Hard to believe my feet were ever this small." She was rather tall and with her height came pretty big feet.

"You were actually pretty tiny. The smallest out of the bunch, now that I think about it. You were barely seven pounds. Your brothers and sister were almost nine pounds each. You were also the shortest labor. You were out in six hours, like you couldn't wait. Sometimes, I wish you had."

Grey eyes rolled. "You don't get to choose when you come into this world and you don't get to choose who you come out of."

Christine sighed and flipped the page of the photo album. It showed a very small Dane with her arms wrapped around a huge, black Great Dane. Blocking Dane's little legs was a small beagle and it was clearly rubbing against the child.

"I guess this is when you developed your love of dogs," Christine commented.

"Oh, the Briarmoors. I bet they took this picture of me with their dogs. Jupiter used to act like I was his pup or his pet or something. He would actually nudge me places that he wanted me to go. He would stare at me when I was supposed to eat and make sure that I ate everything on my plate. And Beanie, that's the beagle, he used to hate it because we played together all the time and he was too little to take me away from Jupiter. How are Henry and Lynn?" Dane asked curiously.

"They're fine. They're still collecting dogs," Christine answered.

Danny nodded. "I figured as much. They were nice people."

"They were? They refused to see you by the time you were seven and you think they were nice people?" Christine asked incredulously.

"Wasn't their daughter. They didn't have any obligation to me. I used to call them my mom and dad. Got creepy, I guess," Dane replied with a shrug. "Who wants a kid that isn't yours claiming you, after all? You and your husband didn't even want a kid that was yours claiming you."

"Dane, it wasn't like that …" Christine tried to object, but it did not seem like she knew where to start. Glancing down, she scanned the floor as if it would tell her what she should say. Danny did not give the chance, though.

"No? Well, let's see, you dumped me on the Briarmoors from the time I can remember until the point they didn't want to see me anymore. I remember you'd leave me at their house for days. If they didn't return me, nobody in the Wolfe household asked. Henry and Lynn were tired of raising a kid that wasn't theirs, tired of listening to me claim them as parents, and tired of you guys trying to put one over on them. I was your responsibility, not theirs and they knew that. What did you think you could just take advantage of the new, young couple on the block?" Dane snorted and rolled her eyes.

"It wasn't like that," Christine insisted again.

"No? Did you ever wonder how I knew I was your daughter and how I knew I was Russell's daughter or how I knew about the stupid DNA tests? Henry and Lynn told me. Sometimes on purpose and other times I'd overhear things. They used to argue how it wasn't right that you guys were just trying pawn me off on them and trying to quietly disown me. They didn't know what to do. Wasn't my fault, they'd point out, but they didn't know what to do. In the end, they washed their hands of your whole mess. So, yes, they were nice," Dane stated soundly.

"I didn't know they told you …" Christine muttered. Again, she glanced away, taking in what she had just learned.

"There's a lot you don't know. You show up here with your little box of keepsakes and bullshit and I'm supposed to fall all over you and cry or some bullshit? The fuck outta here with that bullshit. You want to know why they nice? They fed me whenever I was at their house, they watched TV with me, they let me play with their dogs, they read me stories, they hugged me, and every now and they actually reassured me that life would be fine. So, yes, nice. Next bullshit move, Mom," Dane snapped. Never had the title "mom" sounded so much like "fuck you."

Christine glanced away momentarily and sniffled. She then regained her composure and turned her attention back to her daughter. "I didn't know you held them in such high regard."

"Yeah, tends to happen when a person says a fucking word or two in your general direction, you know. What you don't seem to grasp is that they didn't have to do anything. They were just our neighbors. They didn't have to watch me at all. You fucking gave birth to me and ignored the shit out of me. You never even tried," Dane proclaimed.

"Of course I tried! Like you said, I gave birth to you. I had a connection to you. I tried, I tried …" Christine covered her face with her hands and sniffled again. "I just … I didn't want to lose my husband."

"Yeah, and you had three perfectly good kids. No need to love the defective one," Dane stated blandly.

"I never saw you as defective."

"You never saw me at all! Where were you when he was beating the shit out of me? Huh? Where were you then? He was more important. I get that. Don't sit here and fucking lie to me like it wasn't that way. I was easy to give up. I wish you would just admit it."

"It wasn't easy!" Christine growled. "It wasn't easy and I was never completely able to let go. I used to stand outside your room for hours while you slept and just stare into the room, stare at you. I would hide nearby when you played the piano—"

"And do absolutely nothing when he showed up and beat the shit out of me for touching the goddamn thing," Dane added. "You wanna know how much you care about me?"

Christine gulped. "What do you mean?" her voice quivered as she asked the question.

"Remember when I was fifteen and I 'moved out'? You remember that?" the younger woman asked.

"Of course I remember."

"Yeah, well, what you don't know is that I hadn't really moved out. I wanted to see how long it would take before someone at least filed a missing person's report or called my school or asked around about me. But, no one ever did. I was fifteen and gone for a fucking year and no one looked for me. Better still, it happened only a year after I damn near died from that cocaine overdose and not one person in our household gave a shit. So, what the fuck am I supposed to think?" Dane demanded.

"Dane, I kept track of you. I knew you were all right," Christine insisted.

"Kept track? All right? HA!" Dane snapped and glared at the blond woman next to her. "You have no fucking clue! I was homeless for over a year. I lived in a van with the goddamn drummer from the band I was playing in! The only reason I stayed in school was because I had a music teacher there that took an interest in me. He pushed me through that. While you were 'keeping track' of me, did you know I was pretty much a functioning alcoholic? Or how about my coke habit? Did you know if I had a choice between eating and snorting, I'd snort the live-long day? Did you?" Dane demanded, slapping at the coffee table.

Christine jumped back and blinked in shock. "I … I …"

"No, you didn't know that. Let me enlighten you about what happened while you were 'keeping track' of me. I was playing in a band and had been playing with them for two years. They were some random college dropouts, but just as fucked up as I was. The drummer, we called him Animal, lived in a fucked up van. We were pretty tight, so when I told him that I needed some place to stay, he offered his van. It was either that or the fucking park, so I picked the van. Just in case you're wondering, he didn't touch me or anything. Wasn't that kind of guy. Always said I was too young for him. Not that it mattered since I had already been fucking girls for years," Dane said, just to get a reaction. It worked.

Christine gasped, first at the mention that Animal might have touched Dane and then at the revelation for how long Dane had already been intimate with women. Brown eyes dropped to the floor as Christine obviously tried to process the information. Dane did not want to give her mother a chance to catch up just yet.

"Yeah, living in the van wasn't too bad. We really only slept in it and that was during the day. At night, we had clubs to play and parties to hit. Most of the time, Animal would sleep while I was at school and then I'd sleep when I came from school. It wasn't so bad, but it was still living in a van. It was fucking cold in the winter, though. Hard to sleep. Sometimes, we just got high to stay awake through it all or just deal with it. One night, we got high, way high. So fucking high I didn't realize until the next day that this motherfucker Animal had actually OD'ed. I had spent the night with his dead body and was too fucking high to realize it. Probably coulda saved him if I wasn't so fucked up, but in the end, all I could do was call 911 and call his family. Did you hear about that?" Dane barked, glaring hatefully at her mother.

"Dane, I didn't …"

"You didn't know? No shit! And no one bothered to ask on that freezing cold day in the middle of February why the fuck the cops brought me home. They wanted all this fucking information and then insisted on driving me home. But, I know how it was. Everyone just assumed I did something stupid while I was gone for the year. You know, it was in that moment, I decided not to live at the house anymore. Sure, I stopped by every now and then to give you guys grief, but I was done. It was back to the streets." Dane shrugged.

"Back to the streets? You continued living on the streets, even after all that?" Christine asked incredulously.

Dane shrugged again and then shook her head. "It wasn't much of a big deal. By that time, people were starting to recognize my talent. Called up Bryan, got him to get into the scene, and before you know it, we had a band. Destined for Nowhere was hot by the time I was seventeen and I had saved what money I could, so I had a little crappy studio apartment that I rarely used anyway. Before that, I was always good with women. Whatever I needed, they were always happy to provide as long as I kept 'em happy."

"So, you basically began prostituting yourself?" Christine asked in a whimper.

"Not so much, no. It was more like a symbiotic relationship. I enjoyed being with them and probably would've done it even if I didn't need stuff, but I did need stuff and they needed stuff, too. It was a wild time and it didn't really change when people started loving the band. But, you know all of this since you were 'keeping track,' right?" Dane scoffed as a mocking smile overtook her face. "But, I've monopolized the conversation. You were gonna tell me how much you loved me or whatever the hell it is you came here to do. Tell me how much you care or some bullshit like that, right?'

Christine sighed and rubbed her face with her hands. "All right, I will admit that I have done a piss-poor job in keeping track of you. I thought I was doing all right, but you've proven me wrong. Nothing I can do will make up for it. Nothing," she admitted.

"Glad you know," the guitarist huffed.

"Then, can we start from scratch?" Christine proposed.

"Don't know. What's the point?" Dane countered.

"Dane … I realize that nothing I can say will undo the damage done, the years of neglect, ignoring you, and then pretending I could somehow make up for it with music lessons, an expensive violin, and, after hearing about your gift, a guitar."

"What made you think there was any way for you to undo things? You gave me away to the neighbors, then the cook, refused to acknowledge I existed, and watched the entire household abuse me in every way possible. You thought music lessons and a couple of instruments would fix that? Really, what the fuck were you thinking? How fucking stupid is that?" Danny knew that if looks could kill, the one that she gave her mother would have put her on trial for murder.

Of course, as much as Dane loathed admitting it, the few gestures her mother had thrown her way in life had stuck with her. She considered it was those things that made things fester and burn even more than she believed they should. She still had those first instruments from her mother. The violin was lovingly resting in a case along side the guitar in Dane's music room, which used to be Nicole's den.

Tears began to gather in Christine's eyes and Dane was not sure if she should feel horrible or satisfied by that reaction. She did not want her mother to cry, but she did want the woman to realize that things did not happen just because she deemed it so. Wounds that were decades old did not seem to mend either.

"I don't know what to do. I don't want us to be the way we are anymore," Christine sniffled as she wiped her eyes. It did not occur to Dane to offer the woman a tissue.

"How we are? We're strangers," Dane pointed out. Her mother acted like there was something between them to even be considered a relationship.

"I wish we were. It would be so much easier if we were just strangers. Instead, we're at this point where if I don't do something, I know I may never see you again. I know and acknowledge that I would be much poorer for it. In the past, I would've lied to myself and said that I could live with that, but I can't. I can't lose any more family. I've already lost so many people. I just can't lose any more family. I just can't," Christine bawled, shaking her head.

Dane's face scrunched up as she considered her mother and her words. She wondered who the "so many people" were. Yes, her mother had lost her parents at an extremely young age; neither of them lived to see her first birthday. But, other than that, Dane could not think of anyone. Hell, even her mother's grandparents, who had raised her, were actually still alive. Curiosity won out.

"What do you mean?" Danny inquired.

Christine took a deep breath and collected herself. Sniffling, she turned her attention to Dane. "I think it would be best if I showed you," she decided.

"Showed me?"

"Yes. Come, I think this will be the best for you to gain some understanding of me as I have gained some understanding of you."

Dane sighed and put her hand through her hair. She then shrugged and motioned for her mother to lead the way. Christine nodded and they rose. Dane called out to Nicole that she would be back later. She was not even sure if Nicole heard her, but she wanted to see what her mother was so anxious to reveal.

The car ride was silent and much longer than Dane anticipated. Almost a half-hour after they took off, they pulled up to a cemetery. Dane continued to just follow Christine's lead and did not ask any questions. They marched through the garden of headstones and memorials before coming to the site her mother wanted. Dane looked down and read the stone. It belonged to "Harun Miller. Beloved son and brother."

"Is this your father's grave?" Dane asked curiously.

Christine nodded. "This is my father. It took a lot of work to find that out since my grandparents would never even say his name around the house. It wasn't until I saw my birth certificate that I had a name to go by. He and my mother were married, I assume. She had her name down as 'Miller' on the certificate and my family name was down as 'Miller,' too. I doubt that made my grandparents very happy. I never knew that was my last name until I saw it on the birth certificate."

Dane nodded. "They kept a lot from you?"

"Pretty much any and everything about my father, they kept from me. Before I saw my birth certificate, the most I knew about him came from some photos I found in my mother's old bedroom. She had them hidden away under a floorboard in her closet. There were love letters, too. It was clear from the language that he used that he loved her dearly and in one letter he talks about how happy he is that she's carrying his baby. He seemed like he was overjoyed and he hadn't even met me yet." A sad smile graced Christine's face and Dane almost felt compassion for her mother. Instead, she consciously decided to feel sorrow for a man who never got a chance with the daughter he obviously wanted.

"Do you know how he died?" Dane inquired.

"Drunk driving. Unfortunately, he was the drunk one," Christine sighed. "He was lost without my mother, I suppose. She died so unexpectedly and he took it badly. Plus, he was fighting with her parents over me and he just got so depressed. I managed to find and speak to his friends and they said up until that time, he never drank. His friends said that he had been so happy with my mother and with me. They made it seem like God had wronged my father when my mother died and I think my father actually took it that way. His friends said he changed completely after that and they understood why because he had loved my mother so thoroughly and to lose her was too much for him to bear. Not being able to have me was salt on already festering wounds. I wish I had known him and I wish I had treated his legacy to me with much greater respect," she said, focusing directly on Dane.

Dane put her hand through her hair. "Okay, so you obviously weren't ashamed of him. Just me."

"It wasn't shame. Not at first. The reason I took your picture when you were a baby, even after Russell openly showed his disgust and contempt for you and swore that I had cheated on him, was because I was actually proud and happy of how you looked. I wondered 'was my father's skin this tone at one point'? I met his family once … when I started looking for him."

"They were my complexion or something?" Dane guessed.

"No. From who I met, they were a shade or so darker than you are. They knew who I was right away. They showed me a few pictures and gave me some basic information about him, but beyond that they didn't want anything to do with me."

Dane's brow wrinkled. "Why not?"

"They blamed my grandparents for his death. They said he never would've started drinking if they had just treated him with respect and had they not tried, and succeeded might I add, to take me away from him. My grandparents made his life Hell, I didn't even need them to tell me, but they did, in great detail. My grandparents did everything they could to keep my father away from my mother and they didn't stop harassing him when my mother died. For his family, my grandparents were behind the wheel of the car the night he died. It was so clear that even twenty years after the fact, they were still crushed by his loss. They didn't want to know me because of them. They said I reminded them of how my grandparents treated him and my presence only reminded them of what they lost and how they lost it. I was crushed …" Christine admitted, shaking her head. "I could actually understand their reasoning, but I couldn't hate my grandparents because they were the only parents I had known. I felt so lost …" She shook her head again and wrapped her arms around herself briefly.

Dane sighed and rubbed her temples. She thought that she understood what her mother was hinting at. But, as much as she understood it, she was glad that it changed nothing inside of her. She did not feel forgiveness, but she also did not feel even more resentful.

"They ignored you and you ignored me. You probably even could empathize my situation, but you were scared to lose the people that had always been there for you. Why risk it all on a kid who looked kinda like the folks that threw you away, huh?" Dane asked.

"That's a horrible way to put it, but unfortunately, rather accurate," Christine confessed with a nod.

"Why is it different now, though? You say you don't want to lose any more family. How do you know you haven't already lost me and even if you haven't, if you get closer to me, don't you just lose Russell?" Dane reasoned.

"Honestly, I feel much more secure in my relationship with Russell now than I did when you were born. Yes, we had already been together for a long time, but now we've been together decades, children, grandchildren. I was by his side for his many of his less than stellar moments and I stood by him through his stroke. He may never accept you, Dane, but I don't think he'll reject me for reaching out to you."

"And if he did?" Dane could not and would not even consider putting herself out there only to be dropped like a hot brick.

Christine rubbed her forehead. "I wouldn't reach if I planned on letting go again. I wouldn't do the unforgivable twice, especially after suggesting that we start over. Dane, I brought you here, to this spot that I haven't shared with anyone, to let you know how serious I am."

Dane blinked in surprise. "You haven't shared this with anyone?"

"You're the first person I've brought here. The first person I've told about what happened between my father's family and me. Sometimes, I come out here to think and I feel close to my father. I talk to my dad. He knows all the dark, depressing details of my life. I'm sure he's ashamed of me wherever he is. I tried to lead a good life, but what I allowed to happen to you and between us … He and my mother didn't care what I looked like. They were happy to have me for the short time that they did. I should've been more than happy to have you," Christine said.

"Can't call you a liar there," Dane grumbled.

"I knew at the hospital, after you got hit by the car, if I didn't do something, I would be more dead to you than my own parents are. The very thought made me physically ill. I couldn't even get excuses to be near you with Nicole by your side. She takes better care of you than I ever have."

"She does," Dane confirmed. "Not that it's a hard thing to do considering," she added just to for the hell of it.

Christine nodded and smiled, taking the snap in stride. "I'm happy for you. You deserve a good life. I just want to be a part of your life in any way that you'll have me."

A caramel hand went through short black hair as Dane sighed. She did not know what to do and decided that she did not want to deal with all of the information for the moment. Turning around, she started back toward the car while fighting off the weary sensation that was creeping through her body. Her mother silently followed behind her.

The ride back to the house was as quiet as the ride to the cemetery had been. Dane spent most of the time looking out of the window. When they came to the house, Dane was the only one to get out of the car. She was not surprised, figuring Christine had her own thinking to do.

"Is it all right if I call you sometime soon?" Christine entreated.

Danny scratched her head. "Honestly, I have no idea. Don't know if I'll be willing to talk or not."

"So, it would be the same as before?" Christine guessed. Her eyes held the usual fear, but now there was a spark of hope, too.

Dane shrugged. "I guess. Take a chance. See what happens."

"I will," Christine promised.

"Then that's pretty much it. Today we learned some things about each other. I just need to see where I'm going to take this," Dane said honestly.

Christine nodded. "I understand."

That seemed to be a good enough farewell for them. Dane strolled into the house as her mother drove away. Haydn was yapping at Danny's feet the second she stepped through the door. Nicole was not far behind him.

"How'd it go?" the redhead inquired.

Dane scratched her head. "Not sure," she admitted in a confused tone.

Nicole nodded. "Well, I made dinner if that helps."

"It helps a lot. A hug would help a whole lot more, though."

"I think I can do better."

Dane smiled as Nicole embraced her with loving arms and then planted a passionate kiss on her lips. In that moment, Danny felt her world right itself. Sure, she still had no clue what to do about her mother, but it did not seem pressing. It could wait.

-8-8-8-8-

"Were these the things your mother had in the bag?" Nicole asked as she and Dane settled on the couch after dinner. The items that Christine brought over were still spread out there.

"Yeah. You didn't look through it while we were out?" Dane could not believe it.

"I had other things to do, like make sure dinner was ready and Haydn needed a walk."

Danny nodded. "I can see how you didn't have time to snoop. Well, we can snoop together. She didn't get to show me much before I went off on her."

"I heard. No one came looking for you when you were gone for a year?" Nicole asked, sadness in her eyes. Her hands actually trembled and Danny took them into her own to get her to stop.

"Nope, but that doesn't matter, Nick. What I went through doesn't matter. I survived, I made it through, and I'm here now to share my life with you. That's what matters. If I had to live through all of the bullshit all over again to be in this moment, you know I would," Dane proclaimed.

"That's sweet of you, but I would've preferred you have a normal, functioning childhood, even if it meant that our paths would have never crossed."

"Can't change the past, Chem. I'm doing better now. Let's just leave it at that. Hey, you wanna see something to cheer you up?"

"What?"

Dane reached over onto the coffee table and picked up the photo that she claimed. She held it up for Nicole to see. Emerald eyes widened and Nicole gasped.

"Is that you as a baby?" Nicole inquired in both awe and disbelief.

"According to my mom, that is me. I can't believe I had so much blond hair," Dane replied.

"You were so small."

"Again, according to her, I was tiny. I told her I'm keeping this picture. This is the first time I've ever seen what I looked like as a baby."

Nicole shifted her body to cuddle into Danny. "That's a shame. Do you want to go through it and see if she had more pictures of you as a baby?"

Danny nodded and leaned forward, picking up the photo album her mother had been flipping through. There were a few more pictures of her as a baby and some pictures of her as a toddler, but it still seemed like too few pictures that someone would have of their child, even if it were her fourth child.

"Hey, do you have pictures of you as a kid?" Danny asked curiously.

Nicole regarded her beloved with a curious expression before nodding. "I have some, but my parents kept most of those. Let me go get the album."

"I'll get you some cookies then."

Nicole did not object to that offer. They went their separate ways and then met back up at the couch. Nicole settled in against Dane again and gave Dane the photo album to keep her hands free for the cookies.

"So, let's see what we have here," Dane declared and cracked open the book. The first page held candid shots of Nicole's parents fawning over her as a baby. "You were a lot lighter when you were a baby."

"My eyes were also blue when I was a baby according to my parents."

"I guess it's possible. I didn't know eyes changed color, but then again, I never would've believed I started out as a blond."

"You didn't really start out blond. You just had a lot more of it than you have now," Nicole commented and then she ran her hands through Danny's soft hair. There were faint strands of blond highlighting ebony locks.

Dane chuckled and then turned her attention back to the album. "Wow, do you have the chicken pox here?"

"Oh, god. My mother said I was so miserable. She tried everything to make sure I didn't scratch, but nothing worked. I was in tears most of the time and gave myself a fever. In the end, I remember the only way to keep me from freaking out was having her hold me and read me a story. It's just about the first thing I remember in life."

"Sounds nice."

"It wasn't for me. I was so itchy!" Nicole wailed.

"I don't remember having the chicken pox. But, I don't remember a lot of my early childhood. Oh, what's this one?" Dane asked, flipping the page. "Where are your teeth?"

Nicole chuckled as she focused on the picture of her smiling and missing her two front teeth. "They fell out, as baby teeth often do. I wonder what you looked like when you lost your teeth."

Danny scratched her head. "I don't remember not having front teeth. Hey, this one? You look cute in a tutu!" A massive smile lit up the guitarist's face as she focused on a new picture.

"Oh, I was six here. I swore I was going to be a dancer! So, my mother and father signed me up for lessons. This was my first recital and they were in the front row. I took a jump, landed wrong, and sprained my ankle so badly I never wanted to even look at dancing, so forget doing it," Nicole reported with a laugh.

Dane laughed a little, too. "I never would've guessed you were a ballerina."

"Yeah, for like five seconds. This is where I really shined," Nicole declared, pointing to the next picture of her as a little girl holding a baseball bat. "I was great at softball. I played first base. My mother always worried that I'd get hurt. Every game she was at, my dad practically had to tie her down to keep her from running on the field if I collided with an opponent at the bag or a ball got hit at my head. It was a great time."

"I never played a sport."

"That's all I did as a kid outside of school. Softball, tennis, I ran track for a little while, swimming, and just about anything I could do. Keep going through the book, I'm sure I have more pictures of sporting activities.

Dane nodded and did as instructed. There were plenty of pictures of Nicole playing sports or being active in some other way. Her family was also in many of the pictures, not just her parents, but her cousins, her aunts and uncles, and her grandparents were also featured. There were birthday parties, holiday gatherings, and simple family meetings. There were so many smiling faces and embraces of all types. Danny guessed that was what a normal family photo album looked like. It was very different from the one that her mother left.

-8-8-8-8-

Danny lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and gently caressing Nicole's arm. Nicole was asleep, her head resting against Dane's shoulder. The musician thought about her mother and found that she still was uncertain as to what she would do about Christine. She did not feel forgiveness moving within her, but she also did not feel a new wave of bitterness rising. It was like she was the same … but, not quite.

Talking with Christine, telling her mother about herself, and learning more about her mother had done something. Unfortunately, Dane could not figure out what that "something" was. The acknowledgement of that "something" helped her make a decision, though. The next time Christine called, she would try to speak to her. She figured that she would probably still hang up in the end, but it was a step closer than where they started out.

Dane knew that despite her mother's wishes, they would never be able to start over brand new. Too much had happened in her life that she knew a mother was supposed to shield a child from for her to just wipe the slate clean. But, it was like Nicole often told her, walking around with that weight on her, carrying that acridity, and finding it necessary to be malicious was not doing her any good. She needed to try to move forward.

"I have to try. Get better. Be better," Danny told herself. "Be the bigger person."

Even though Danny felt like she resolved the issue, she was unable to fall asleep. She let thoughts of Nicole and the photos they had gone through play through her mind. She could not help wondering what a normal childhood would have been like, growing up with normal, loving parents.

"Would I have stuck with piano and violin more if I had parents that showed up at recitals? Would I have actually tried to play a sport if they suggested it? Would I have stayed off drugs, gone to college, maybe actually tried to make a career out of something?" Dane wondered. Of course, she did not have any answers. But, as she looked down at Nicole, she thought that having parents that cared and paid attention obviously helped.

-8-8-8-8-

Kathleen Cardell was busy at work and was disturbed by a call from her assistant. She was about to bark at him, but he informed him that there was a delivery for her. Curious, she allowed it and was surprised to find a flower delivery coming into her room. The beautiful arrangement was put on her desk and she tipped the delivery guy. She then studied the flowers and sighed.

"I wish clients would listen when I say don't spend me gifts." Kate shook her head. She reached for the card with the bouquet and her eyebrows drew in as she saw the card was addressed to both her and her husband. Picking up her phone, she called her husband. "Raymond, sorry to disturb you, but I have a gift here for both of us. Do you want to come see the card or should I read it to you over the phone?"

"What sort of gift are we talking about?" Raymond inquired.

"An array of flowers. It's very nice, actually. Not very elaborate, but still nice. It's almost elegant," Kate replied with a smile as she looked at the flowers once more. They were definitely eye-catching and she could tell that some thought went into the arrangement.

"Hmm … I think I want to see this."

"All right."

The phones were hung up and Raymond was in the office less than a minute later. His green eyes went right to flowers and then went to his wife. Kate shrugged.

"These are for both of us?" Raymond asked as he pointed to the flowers.

"According to this card," Kate answered, holding up the card.

"Who are they from?"

"Let's see," Kate replied and flipped the card open as her husband stood by her side. They were surprised by the message and who sent the card. "What do you think this all about?"

"I don't know what to make of this, but I have to say, the girl is full of surprises," Raymond remarked with a smile.

"She can't buy my approval," Kate snorted with a curl on her lip and tossed the card down on the table.

Raymond chuckled and took his leave to get back to his work. Kate decided to do the same. Before doing so, she glanced at the card. The message was simple: Thank you for raising a wonderful daughter and being exceptionally good parents. ~ Danny. A small smile actually settled on Kate's face as she turned her attention back to her computer.

The end.