Book 6: Rainbows.

Series: Light, Water, Muses.

Rating: PG13

Warnings: Cussing. Deal with it.

Category: The continuing saga of Reflections/ Resurgences/Refractions/Rapids/Ripples.

Pairings: The usual.


Website: ShatterStorm Productions – Light, Water, Muses

Archive: ShatterStorm Productions only.

Summary: Some old friends come to visit. At last, the four new children are Named. Dace and two others get a promotion and later Dace fights with Sylvia.

Chapter 3 :: Yellow

++ Jacob Carter ++

"Are you really sure this is such a good idea, Jacob?"

Rolling my eyes, I turn to stare at her. "Lantesh, will you please tell Dr. Rainier to shut the fuck up about it? We're here, we're not going back, so deal with it."

"We're here, we're queer?" she retorts with a smirk, pulling back fluidly when I go to slap her back. She chuckles merrily for a moment. "Sorry, I couldn't help myself."

"I never would have guessed," I deadpan, getting out of the car. "Now, come on, Alex. If you're going to be a proper surprise, you need to be seen."

I can hear voices in the backyard, but at the excited yapping of the dogs, I decide to forego the backyard. My partner in crime hasn't been around the dogs quite as much as I have, and with all the unenlightened people around, it would be best to keep her interaction with the dogs to a minimum today. A glance at Alex shows she's having the same idea as I am. She takes a deep breath as I knock on the door.

"Jacob! My favorite sexy general!" I barely register the words when I am enveloped in a tight hug by Darya's older sister, but I return it gladly. She is quite the spitfire. It only takes a few seconds more to feel her stiffen against me as she registers who it is with me. "Alex?" she whispers. "Oh my god! Alex!" she cries, quickly moving to tackle the woman. "How are you?"

"I'm good," Alex replies, returning the embrace, and I can see the relief flooding in her eyes. "How are you doing?"

"I've become a homebody!" Davie wails melodramatically. "It's all these children who can't live without their Aunt Davie."

I can't help the snort of amusement at her antics. "Give it up, will ya? You love every single minute of it."

"That's beside the point, stud," she teases, batting a hand at me before pulling us both into the house. "Janny! C'mere! I have a surprise for you!"

"Damn it, Davie, quit yelling! I just got Elana and Cory down for another na--" Janet's rant stops mid-word as she sees us standing there. "Alex!" she cries, pulling the redhead into a tight hug, then I'm treated to the same treatment. "Thank you for bringing her, Jacob," she whispers.

"She's family, right?" I murmur back, which earns me a broad smile.

"Janny, I know you said Alex had recovered, but this is amazing!" Davie studies Alex some more before dragging her off into the living room. I can hear the delighted cries of the other Dinky Jinx members and look around for my daughter.

"Art, Sam, and the older kids are all out back with the dogs," Janet supplies, hesitating.

"Go on, Janet," I coax, pushing her toward the living room. "I know how to maneuver myself around your house by now. I'll go out and say hi to my other girls."

As I head outside, I can hear Alex deadpanning, "If I told you what was done to help my remission, I'd have to kill you," followed by raucous laughter. She'll be just fine.

"Dad!" The voice is not my daughter's, rather my other daughter-in-law. I don't bother to hide the broad smile as she comes over to give me a hug. "Glad you could make it! Have you seen your new grandkids yet?"

"No, I just got here with Alex. There was a bit of business that had to be dealt with before we could get away. I haven't missed the ceremony yet, have I?"

She shakes her head and points toward the familiar-looking tent on the other side of the pool. "Nope, should be starting in about an hour or so. Dare wanted it to be just right. You know how much of a perfectionist she is." The smirk twinkling in her eyes is only one way I know she's teasing.

I just shake my head in amusement and scoop up Cubby as he runs full tilt at me. He nuzzles into my chest, happily giggling when I rub the faint stubble on my chin against his cheeks. "Grampa, missed you!"

"I missed you, too, Cubby. Have you been a good boy and helped your grownups with all the new babies?"

"Yes! Bahbas said Cubby a good boy."

"Of course, you are! And how do you like having two more brothers? You get to be the big brother. That's a very important job."

"It is?"

"Of course, it is! You, Fawn, and Emily have to teach your little brothers and sisters how to act, what's right and wrong. You are very important."

"But I not special like Em'ly and Fawn."

"But you are the big brother, the only big brother. That makes you very, very special, my boy. There aren't any other big brothers in your family."

"Fank you, Grampa," he sighs and cuddles closer again.

++ Art ++

I hadn't really thought about doing a ceremony like this for Cory and Elana. We hadn't done it for Fawn and Cubby, and I don't honestly remember doing anything like a naming ceremony for Zo when she was a baby. But when Karen and Dare explained the situation to us, I could see the longing in Sam's eyes to do something even vaguely official showing her place in our lives. I can't say no to her, not really. And the more we got involved in planning this little event, the more interested I've become. It's almost like planning their wedding all over again, right down to a couple of surprises for Darya.

There's a beautiful breeze and not too much sunlight, which shows that I was right in just using the roof of the tent today. All four babies have been fed and bundled into their bassinets and brought out at the last minute. They all doze peacefully, unaware of what's coming up for them or what it means. Sam is being fawned over by her father, as she gently rocks Elana. She really doesn't understand just how beautiful pregnancy has made her. Janet, Kim, and X are all still animatedly chatting with Dr. Alex.

When Fin walks in with Davie, there's a pregnant pause; everyone knows that his presence signals the beginning of the ceremony. He smiles at Sam; if it weren't for the fact that I know he's just as 'controversial' as I am, I'd swear my brother had a thing for my ehrohmenee. When she grins back at him shyly, he continues to the table we've set up.

"It's lovely to see so many familiar faces again, only a year and a half after the last time we all gathered together in this same place," he begins. "First it was a wedding we blessed, now these beautiful new children who've been brought into our lives. The fact that these five women were able to find a way to bring forth life so closely together without killing each other is a major feat in and of itself, if I do say so myself."

I snicker at that, hating the lie, but amused by his treatment of it. Fin catches my eye and winks as I shake my head at him. I lose the rest of his introduction, my eyes moving to rest on each member of my family present, blood or chosen. Even these new people that Karen brought in from her youth have found ways to charm themselves into my children's hearts, and mine by default. The none too gentle poke from Janet signals that I've gotten too distracted. Karen snorts at me in amusement as I move to stand with Fin, Davie, and Cory. The introductory hymn is sung and I find myself sinking into that calming place that our harmonies takes me to. Seeing the smile on Darya's face at our efforts is thanks enough, but seeing the tears glittering in her father's eyes is an even greater gift.

Once we're finished, I motion to the kids and kneel with them as Emily leads Cubby and Fawn in a reprise of the prayer to Dionysos of Two Mothers. I think I'm most impressed with Emily taking on such an integral role to have requested doing the prayer again, then working to teach the twins. She'd remembered far more than Davie and I expected. With a broad smile, Emily then ushers the twins off to their special bench. Fin says a few more things before inviting Dare and Karen up. Karen looks a bit uncomfortable, but I can still see the pride in her eyes at the people who showed up for her children's Naming Day.

After the initial speech thanking everyone for coming, Darya turns to motion for Emily to come back up to stand with her. "When Karen and I decided to go about having another child, we certainly didn't consider twins. But I'll take the blessings anywhere I can get them. When I had Emily nearly five years ago, there were extenuating circumstances that didn't allow me to do a proper Naming Day for her. Emma and I had done our own little ceremony with the other Dinky Jinx members and Davie, but nothing formal like this. Today, I hope to rectify that by including Emily in this ceremony for her siblings."

Karen clears her throat and ruffles her fingers through Emily's hair. "When Darya and I had our wedding ceremony, I included Emily in that by giving her a ring of her own that matched ours. It was my way of committing to keeping her as part of my family. Today, that commitment takes on a completely different flavor. When we started determining names for the twins, I approached Dare with a request that took her completely by surprise, but she readily agreed. The paperwork has been something of a strange nightmare, but it's been worth it, I think." She leans over to put a piece of paper in Emily's hands. "Monkey, can you read the words on this page for everybody?"

In a clear voice, only hesitant over some of the words, Emily reads what she's been given. "On this twenty-fourth day of July in the year two thousand and seven, the legal name of one Emily Jane Farazell will henceforth be known as Emily Jane Farazell Taylor." Emily turns to look at Karen with confusion. "Kryn, does this mean you're my other mommy now? Like Mim was before?"

"Yep, that it does, Monkey mine. Is that okay?" There's a hint of fear in Karen's voice. When Emily wraps her arms around her neck in a big hug, Karen smiles and murmurs something to the girl, which is readily accepted.

"Can we name my babies now, Kryn?"

"Sure, Monkey. I'll get your sister while you go do your part, okay?"

Emily giggles and nods, watching Karen intently as she picks up the sleepy girl and hands her to Fin. He stares down at her with a smile and waits to perform the blessing Darya had written.

"After much deliberation, we chose to name our daughter Anastasia Brigid Taylor, after her grandmothers."

"But she is called Trisha," Emily pipes up importantly, which gets a chuckle from the crowd.

"Yes, baby, her nickname is Trisha. And we've chosen to give both of the twins the same godparents as Emily has, which would be Janet and Davie."

They step forward in preparation of assisting Fin in the blessing. Darya hands the bowl of blessed water to Darya, while Janet gives Karen the lavender sprigs they chose. At Darya's nod, Fin recites the words of the blessing in Greek and English, dipping his fingers repeatedly into the water to sign the cross and the pentacle on the nine chosen points of the body. Once he's finished blessing her, he raises her up in his arms for a final benediction before handing her to Janet.

As he moves to pick up their son, Karen begins to explain his name. "Once we had Trisha's name, it seemed obvious that our son be named similarly. So his chosen name is Jesse Davidos Taylor, after his grandfathers. And what is his nickname, Em'ly mine?"

"Dobby!" comes the happy giggle. "Like the house elf!"

As Fin performs the blessing on the boy, I glance over to see the glistening has turned to full-blown tears slipping down David's cheeks. This might well be more than the man can stand in so short a time. Even without having reconciled, Darya was willing to name her son after her father. Hopefully he understands that significance.

The Namings for my four children goes much quicker. Only Elana gets any special kind of addition, because Sam wants it that way. All four have Kerry and Zo listed as their godparents, but the unspoken rule is that all seven of the children aren't to be separated. I'm still glad Karen and I had that conversation with my siblings and Kerry when they all first arrived.

Once the actual naming are all finished, Kim stands up from where she's sitting and glances over at Karen and Darya. "Before this is concluded, there's one more thing that needs to be done. For those of you who don't know me, I'm one of Darya's oldest friends. I was the one that introduced her to Emma so many years ago. Emma was one of my closest friends in San Francisco, and a complete artist in every sense of the word. She was always drawing, or writing, or composing music, particularly after Emily was born. When Emma passed away, I retained a great deal of her original works, intending to one day give them to Emily. I brought that box with me on this trip, as I felt it was finally time she have these things."

She pauses for a moment to let me head to the front with my guitar, Davie bringing a pair of stools for me and Fawn. We settle ourselves and I can see Darya staring back and forth between Kim and us. Jeezus, I really hope she doesn't hate us for doing this.

"In that box of Emma's items was a package that she gave me the day she died. She'd said she was making something for Dare and Emily and wanted to keep it a secret. She made me promise that it would get to them if she couldn't do it. I'd forgotten about that until I saw it in the box. I asked Davie what should be done with it, and she took it to Art, who agreed that she would do this for me. So, Darya, this is a special gift for you and your kids, from Emma through me. Please take it for what it was meant to be."

I glance over at Fawn, who smiles winningly at me. She's very proud of herself for keeping this big secret from everyone else, even Emily. And now it's her turn to shine with her perfect little voice. I begin to pick out the chords that Emma had so painstakingly written four years ago, and then we begin to sing the words.

"There is no mountain that I can't climb,
For you I'd swim through the rivers of time,
As you go your way, and I go mine,
A light will shine, and it will be me.

It will be me… it will be me."

As we finish the final chorus, I don't even have to look up to know there's not a dry eye left. Hell, even I'm crying. This wasn't just a gift from Emma to Darya and Emily, it was the ultimate gift of a parent to their child. A glance at Darya's tear-filled eyes solidifies that this was the right thing to do.

++ Darya ++

While I'm still rattled from the events of the day, I feel surprisingly good. That beautiful song Em wrote so long ago shook me to my core, but I could almost feel her sweet smile watching over Emily and her little siblings. Even Karen was humming it earlier as she rocked Jesse with adoration all over her face. It's for the best that my friends sprung that surprise on me with no warning, or I would have reacted badly. They know me well. I've already shooed off Kim's apologies twice now, only getting her to relax with promises of talking it out at a later time. Right now I'm hungry and in need of good company.

Luckily, I am in no shortage of either.

First is the buffet style spread of mostly Greek delicacies that rival Cory's feast on my wedding day. When I sneak up on the man to pull his head down and warmly kiss his cheek, Cory merely smiles warmly and lets me pile up a plate. With goodies in hand, I stake out a corner in hopes for a few minutes of privacy to quiet the beast in my belly. At least I get in a few bites before being accosted by friends and family and sneak in bites while I socialize.

Finally, I have to seek solace for my frazzled nerves. Karen is deep in animated conversation with Jane and Tiny, gesturing wildly while they laugh and laugh. There will be no calm there, then.

A rush of warm, moist air across my neck makes me drop my plate and jump in surprise. A familiar hand flashes from nowhere and catches the plate, not spilling the shreds of food left on it and Dace chuckles deeply against my nape. Goddess, but my heart pounds like some wild thing in my chest…

"You look a little frazzled," Dace purrs quietly and I eye her pale mane in the corner of my eye. "Come relax with my pack for a moment."

It's an offer of succor that I make no effort to resist. Both Sara and Catherine have warm and welcoming smiles for me and we talk of inconsequential things while my stress falls away in increments. "Do you like working with the CSIs?" I ask Dace curiously, looking up into her striking features.

"It's different," she shrugs, but her smile is warm. "But it suits me better. With my senses and as long as it took me to heal, it's a good match. Sucks that I can't work with my girls, but any prosecution would have a field day with that." Both Sara and Catherine make noises of aggrieved agreement and I have to laugh in sympathy. "You need a nickname."

The abrupt change in subject throws me off for a moment. "What?"

++ Catherine ++

Far more accustomed to Dace's mind and how it works like a kid on too much sugar, I laugh at Darya's confusion. "She has a point. You must be the only one in this big clan that doesn't have some kind of nickname."

Even as Darya tries to formulate some sort of protest, Dace taps her lower lip with a thumbnail and eyes her critically. "Not an animal nickname, that doesn't suit you. A food, I think. Not something sweet, but savory. Something well-spiced and filling that is more a treat than a staple."

The flattery is getting to Darya, flushing her cheeks. It's amusing to watch both her girlish embarrassment as well as my mate wrack her brain.

"God, it's right on the tip of my tongue," Dace growls and Sara tries not to giggle at her antics. "I know what they are, but I can't think of their name. Those little sushi things we were eating."

At that very moment, Davie strides by with a plate of food and is immediately accosted by my volatile mate. "Those!" Dace crows wildly and points to the plate while Davie blinks at her. "The Greek sushi roll things!"

"Dolmas?" Davie asks in confusion and Dace gets even more excited.

"Dormouse!" She cries like a madwoman, snatching away Davie's plate to bend the older woman like a 1920's movie star and kiss her soundly. Obviously completely flabbergasted, Davie is frozen for a moment, clinging to Dace's shoulders, but relaxes and enjoys the gesture for the several long tens of seconds that it lasts. As Dace is a very accomplished kisser, I sympathize with the shell-shocked and pleased expression on the elder Farazell sister's face. Rubbing noses with her, Dace purrs sweetly, "thank you for your help," plops the plate back in Davie's hands and sends her off with an affectionate swat to the butt.

Sara breaks only a moment before I do, her peels of sweet laughter turning half the heads in the room. My deeper chuckles are harmony to the happy sound and Dace gathers up the brunettes to her ribcage for nuzzles and murmurs of affection. They haven't noticed the Farazell parents watching closely, their expressions a riot of emotions. Dace at her most charismatic is a conversation stopper and they are completely hooked in.

They are a handsome couple and I make a mental note to check that Dace has noticed their attraction. She will take great pleasure in knowing that the whole damn family is hot for her.

++ Brigid ++

I don't believe that I'm doing this. Heart in my throat, I find one foot following the other towards the strange woman that Karen calls sister. She is something outside of my experience; open and exhaustingly vibrant, hair cut shaggy and almost sloppy, scarred and pierced and overpoweringly sexual.

The striking summer blue eyes caress over me while I am still half a room away, making me falter. Then, a smile, warm and knowing transforms the expressive face and she excuses herself from her companions without breaking my snared gaze. I cannot move, trapped as surely as a mouse by a hungry snake. With a loose, unhurried ease, she approaches me until I am looking up into that magnetic gaze, feeling like my body and soul are guitar strings that some cosmic force has caressed.

"May I be of assistance to you pretty lady?"

The words are low, sensual, with a thrum beneath them that I would bet a kidney sounds exactly like a great cat purring. Up close like this, she is even more compelling and the heady burn that races thorough my body is something I have never really let myself feel. "I…" my voice fails alarmingly and I feel Dace gently take my hands, folding them protectively within her own, larger ones. "I was hoping that you might take David and I back to the airport. I'd hate to take away Darya's time with her friends."

The smile deepens and Dace replies, "my pleasure."

It's not easy for me to say goodbye to my daughters and grandchildren, but they understand that we need to go. There have been so many upheavals these last couple of days and we all need time to soak it all in. David once more sheds tears as he tries to find words to give Karen and Darya about the honor of giving his name to his grandson. Karen calmly explains that no matter what he was and always be their grandfather.

It's a subdued ride to the airport.

At the drop off curb, I startle as Dace offers a hand to David, which he hesitates over for a moment before accepting. Tugging him close, she speaks lowly to him for long moments before leaning back and holding his eyes until he nods somberly. Something has passed between them, something important.

Then it is my turn to be pinned by that gaze. "Brigid," Dace purrs my name in that tone and the thrill of reaction that skitters over my nerves leaves me breathless. "If you have a need of me I am at your disposal." Only now do I feel the edges of a business card between our clasped hands. Leaning in closely, I have an insane moment where I am completely convinced that she will kiss me, right here, just as she did earlier to Davie. I'm almost disappointed when she instead nuzzles at my ear, breathing hotly until my entire body feels like jello. "Any need at all."

And then she is gone with a playful smile.

++ Jesse ++


Most of us are exhausted and yawning like college students after finals week. It's nearly ten in the morning and we are, of necessity, creatures of the night. It looks like Gabe has actually dozed off, but Fenris follows my amused gaze and elbows him awake. We've agreed to this so that Karen can actually sit in on the meeting for once, as her schedule, controlled by the military and the small children, is effectively opposite of ours. Then the rest of us will return to bed!

"Well, now that we've covered the boring shit," KC breaks into the sudden quiet in her usual brusque way. "Don't we have some more interesting things to go over?"

Clearing her throat, Anastasia stands regally and waits a moment for our attention. "In February, there was a shift in dynamics. Leonacouer was drawn to my city by the necessities of body and spirit." She shares an understanding nod with Catherine, but neither of their professional masks slip. "I must admit that I was unsure of how that new development would pan out. However, I am delighted to say that the relationship has been a resounding success."

There is something in my best friend's eye as she gazes on young Dace, who is sitting up and paying close attention to her mentor. There is mutual fondness here, and respect, that has grown from tragedy. Anastasia walks around the table to stand at Dace's knees, offering a hand that is quickly taken.

"Leonacouer," she says crisply and her tone immediately gentles with a smile. "Dace. We compliment one another in so many unexpected ways. As the leader of the House of Hearts, will you do the honor of becoming my King?" It is all said with the formality of wedding vows, their eyes locked. Covering the elegant fingers with her free hand, Dace roughly clears her throat, but manages no sound.

None of us chuckle at the emotion that chokes up Dace, but many of us smile kindly. Once more she tries, her tone strained and her eyes glassy. "I would be honored, My Lady." Tessa materializes at Anastasia's shoulder even as the woman looks back. The velvet jewelry box crackles open and Dace's eyes round. I know what it is, hell, I helped design it. A blood red ruby, the size of a quarter, brilliantly faceted into Anastasia's upside-down heart, flanked by tiny charms of our other three houses in onyx and red sapphire. The clasp that pinches the heart into place on the gold chain is a gold crown for her new status.

"Oh, Anastasia," Dace breathes reverently, almost flinching when she pulls it from the box and drapes it around the leonine neck and hook the clasp beneath the unruly mop of blonde hair. Then we all do laugh as Dace surges to her feet and wraps my old friend in a suffocating hug.

++ Karen ++

This is a strange turning point in my life. While I'm thrilled to pieces at what Dace has accomplished… some part of me knows that it should have been me.

Beaming down at Anastasia's smiling face, Dace doesn't fight the tears, and they both look happier than any of us would have ever imagined. At last, they understand each other perfectly. Each of the royal cards of the Houses greet her in turn with much hugging and kisses. Only Sylvia seems torn, even as she does not falter, and I sympathize with the conflict in her.

"I can't beat that," Dace finally addresses the group, her voice still rough, and I am jolted from my strange melancholy. "But I have something that actually goes with the theme. This should have been Bane." Startled, I sit up and actually flinch away from everybody's gazes heavy on me. There is something unfathomably wise in Dace's clear eyes. "But you had a more important path. It doesn't matter that you aren't allowed to talk about it. We know."

I'm moved once more at the quiet understanding of this group. For twenty years, they have absolutely no idea what I actually do. And for twenty years they have quietly accepted that it is important. Simply because I am doing it.


"So, Dobie had this rockin' idea. In some games of chance, the joker can replace any card. Come here, Bane Shidhe."

This punk kid is grown up now. In these circumstances, she is my superior and my replacement. After a startled moment where many of the dynamics in the room shift perceptibly, I stand and go to her. There is loving humor in the azure eyes.

"You are ideally suited for this role, Karen. Adaptable, even-tempered, knowledgeable and trusted by all. If we have need of you, will you come?"

"If I'm able," I find myself saying quietly and her smile deepens.

"That's all we can ask for. Welcome back to the fold. Since you know the Houses of Red the best, we designate you the Red Joker."

There is a silver chain in her hand, chunky and glittering. From it dangles a joker playing card, elegantly cast in pure silver. Small red gems glitter where the 'j' would be on a card. Then Dace clasps it around my neck, giving me a quick hug before she turns her attention away.

"C'mere Dobie."

++ Olivia ++

I never wanted this kind of fringe life. My life started out so fucked up and so just never seemed to get much better, that I craved anything that resembled normalcy. I failed, of course, as my life remained strange and on the edge. Driven by vengeance for my mother's rape and my own perverted beginnings, I have been utterly shaped by those realities.

Until I met Dace.

Something about the complete and unquestioning acceptance of this woman has eased something broken inside of me.

Grumbling at what I know is coming, I nonetheless do as ordered. "I should have known you'd do this."

"Oh, stop bitching," Dace mocks me good-naturedly, hooking her hands over my neck and shoulders. "You are one of the best things that ever stumbled into my life, if not for my sexy CSIs, you'd probably be number one."

"You're lucky you qualified that," Anastasia quips dryly and there are scattered chuckles.

Smiling, Dace ignores the affectionate teasing and continues to grin at me. "You've been so in valuable to me that I can't even imagine how I'd function without you. With your ties to New York and after what you did for all of us in Chicago, you're a natural for the Houses of Black. I know that your shock at this life was authentic and to a very real extent, justified. How you did what you did for so many years and kept your sanity and humanity is a testament to your strength as a human being. You gave me, and this lifestyle, a chance to earn your trust and I will always value that."

I'm embarrassed by the praise, but like all of my interactions with this woman, she is completely honest with me. Whether or not I agree with her, she believes it completely.

"If we have need of you, will you come?"

This is a big change for me, one of many that I have made this last year. But I have been happier then I ever thought possible. There is really only one answer.

"If I'm able," I deliberately echo Karen's words and Dace knows it.

"That's all we can ask for. Welcome to the fold. Since you are a child of the east coast, we designate you the Black Joker." I don't know what to say as she drapes a match to Karen's necklace around my throat, the gems glittering blackly. "It's official now, you'll never be rid of us."

"Yeah well," I hedge and wrap her in a hug. "Thank you."

++ Dace ++

"You've certainly come into your own, Leonacoeur. The desert suits you far better than I had expected."

Glancing up from the pictures of Darya's first wife that I've been perusing, I regard Sylvia where she has stepped into the room, but don't otherwise acknowledge her for the moment. It's very strange to see her dressed down like this. Granted, her jeans are impeccably perfect and her blouse probably costs more than Karen pays a month in rent on this house, but it's definitely something I'd never expected to see. It's hard enough to resist the urge to plunge my fingers into those long, loose flame tresses.

"Thank you, My Queen," I reply, lowering my gaze out of the sense of deference that I've never lost.

"Please don't," she says harshly, her voice unusually vulnerable. Okay, this is new…

"I'm sorry?"

"I'm no longer your mistress, Dace," she finally says, her body language rigid. "You've been designated as the King of Hearts. We're equals now."

The sarcastic snort is out before I can stop it. "No offense, Sylvia, but we'll never truly be equals. So how about you just tell me what's got you worked up enough to seek me out." Belatedly I realize just how sarcastic my words sound, and my hands raise instantly in supplication. "Sorry, that was unspeakably rude. Let me try it again. How can I help you?"

The corners of her lips twitch against a smile as she moves to sit by me. "Easy, Dace, I'm not going to beat you. I just wanted to talk." She settles in the chair next to me, and I can feel her watching me as put the photos away. It's not a calculated stare, and I'm not really sure what it means. "You've changed; you're not the tough girl I found living by her wits twenty years ago."

"I grew up," I reply evenly, not certain I like where this conversation may well be going. "But that was your velvet and iron that gave me the chance."

"It's more than that, Dace. You're different. You're not the woman I still considered my successor almost four years ago."

That's what I was afraid of. This is not a conversation that I should be having right now, as raw and emotional as I feel and my stress surges to the fore. "Did you really think I'd be your pet forever, Sylvia? You let me learn to Top others. And yes, I like to switch, but I can't, and couldn't, go back to being your property all the time after having that taste of freedom."

There's a very familiar flash of emotion in her eyes. I can't help the old thrill zipping down my spine at the memories of goading her into losing her temper in the past. Yes, she would always tan my hide, but there was also a lot of great sex involved. Go figure my lizard brain is going there again.

"So you're saying it's my fault you ran off with that jackass who never deserved you and didn't have the slightest clue how to treat you well?" I remember this strident tone all too well.

"No, Sylvia, not entirely," I reply, fighting to keep the smartass out of my tone. "But I don't think this is…"

"But you do blame me, even in part? Damn you, Dace, that's not fair. I warned you against him, told you he was bad news. Did you listen? Of course not!"

I close my eyes and soothe my instincts before I consider answering her. "Sylvia, I spent four years living under your iron rule. The only respite I had was school, which I wasn't thrilled with. We lived, ate, slept, and breathed each other practically twenty-four seven. Then you let me learn to be a Top, let me loose in Japan. Wasn't long after that when I started at the academy and became a cop. You didn't like my independence; you imposed more rules and restrictions."

"You wore this," the poke at my tattoo on my chest is not gentle, "with pride at one time, Dace. You were going to be my successor, my equal."

The explosive sigh escapes over a growl. "And we're back to the equals thing again. Sylvia, do you consider Nicole your equal?"

"What?" She stares at me and absorbs the question. "Well no! Of course not, she doesn't feel comfortable like that. She prefers being submissive, like Tessa."

"Ahh, but Anastasia does treat Tessa like an equal in so many respects," I counter quickly. "Yes, Tessa likes submitting, but in Anastasia's heart, Tessa is an equal. Can you say the same for Nicole? Or me?"

"Nicole is…"

"Be honest, Sylvia," I reply, modulating my voice as it has grown higher, louder and angrier. I don't need to let this get out of hand, potentially with witnesses. No one needs that and Sylvia would never forgive me for it. "You don't ever let up on being the Red Queen. You never give up control for anyone."

She stares at me for a long moment, and then her hand snakes out. The sting of her palm connecting with my cheek brings me back into the present. I manage to keep the cat in check, but only out of respect for my former mistress and keeper. I don't want to hurt her, no matter what; there's still a part of me that misses being under her control. She kept me sane for so long.

"You impertinent little bitch," she growls, and I can see the brightness of tears in her eyes. "All I wanted to do was compliment you on your new title, and this is how you treat me? Maybe it is best you're no longer a Diamond. Anastasia can deal with you now. I wash my hands of you, Leonacoeur."

She starts to stand up, but I grab at her wrist, holding her in place. "Sylvia, please," I almost beg. I can't leave it like this.

"Get your hand off me."

I do as she asks, grateful that she doesn't take off right away. "I don't want this animosity between us anymore than you do, Sylvia. I just don't think this is the best time or place for us to discuss it. I know I'm not ready to deal with this shit between us, even if I want it dealt with, and obviously you're not quite ready either."

"Unca Dace?" Cubby's little voice comes from the doorway. "You okay?"

Sylvia goes white for a moment as she registers his presence… and our present location. "Oh my god, I'm such an idiot," she murmurs.

"We'll be fine, Cubby," I reply, looking pointedly at Sylvia, as Cubby comes over to give me a hug. "Sometimes grownups just have disagreements."

"Okay," he says softly, glancing shyly up at Sylvia, who's still standing there as if she has no idea what to do. "Ma'am Sylv'a? You wanna hug, too?"

She blinks in surprise at him before looking to me. I shrug, unwilling to make this decision for her. After a long moment, she sinks back into her chair and nods at the boy standing so patiently next to me. With a grin, he wraps his arms around her and she echoes the gesture almost instantly. A slow, serene, but surprised smile lights up her face at Cubby's open affection, but I can still see the pain of our conversation in her eyes.

"Thank you, Cubby," she murmurs, pressing a kiss to his forehead.

"Welcome, ma'am. That help?"

"I'm not sure," she hedges, but when his face falls into a frown, she's quick to add, "but I think it does. I'm just feeling a little sad today, Cubby."

"Mommy says hugs help," he supplies helpfully, and impulsively hugs her again.

"What was it that Karen calls you? Happy guy?"

"Yes, Ma'am Sylv'a."

"That's a very appropriate nickname for you, Cubby," she smiles winningly at him. "Thank you."


Sylvia reaches over to squeeze my hand. "I'll let you alone, Dace. Maybe we do need a little more time to be ready for this particular conversation."

I nod slowly and offer her an encouraging smile. "We're only human, Sylvia. And I miss our old connection, whether you believe me or not."

"I do," she replies softly, ruffling Cubby's curls before heading out of the room.

Cubby crawls into my lap and snuggles close. "Ma'am Sylv'a is sad, Unca Dace. Are you sad?"

"A little bit, buddy bear, but we'll be okay."

We fall into a peaceful silence then; just his calm, relaxed presence is enough to soothe my frazzled nerves. I swear, it's like he's sucking all the crappy thoughts right out of my body.

"Cubby?" Karen's voice startles me out of the comfortable blank my mind slipped into. The boy shifts slightly in my grip, and I realize how nice it feels to have his warm little body next to mine. Hopefully this thing with Jim works out positively.

++ Karen ++

"He's in here with me," Dace calls out from the little nook of a den off of the living room. It's a favorite spot for the big family. I stop in my tracks at the sweet sight of Cubby peacefully curled up on Dace's slender body. But that doesn't hold my attention as effectively as the bright red handprint on her left cheek.

"What in the he…ck happened to you, punk?"

"You're lucky I'm not Fawn," Dace drawls with a slow grin. "I'd have made you pay for that one." I stick my tongue out at her, which makes Cubby giggle. "And for the record? It was Red." I'll bet my eyes have gone curious, but guarded. Cubby is definitely far too young to be hearing this particular conversation.

"Cubby," she pipe up suddenly. "Bahbas is out in the backyard playing training games with the dogs. She said she was hoping you'd help her out."

"Training!" he squeals and scrambles out of Dace's lap and graces both of us with sloppy kisses before racing out the door. I motion that I'll be back and head out after him. After making sure that Cubby gets where he's going, I return to Dace, studying her pensive expression.

"So what'd you do to piss her off enough to hit you?" I ask, after a quick stop at the fridge for a pair of beers. "And did Cubby see it?"

"No," Dace snaps irritably, snatching one of the bottles from me. "Do you honestly think she'd be that stupid and out of control?"

"No, but stranger things have happened recently," I say neutrally, distractedly flipping through Em's photos. "So what happened?"

Wearily, Dace scrubs at her face and studies the beer on the table. "She started bringing up the whole split. I'm just not ready to deal with that yet and not here for fuck's sake. But did she listen?"

"And so she just slapped you because you didn't want to talk about it?" My tone makes it clear that I don't quite believe her. "That's not like Sylvia."

"Well, I guess I kinda provoked her," Dace admits softly, sheepishly, and I snort knowingly. "What was I supposed to do? She wouldn't take no for an answer, so I got pissed and pushed back."

"Not one of your smarter moves," I drawl, seeing in her that idiotic fourteen year old that was so terrified and in awe of me.

"Yeah, well… Cubby came in and smoothed things over in his own special way. He gave her two hugs and got Sylvia to kiss his forehead. The kid's got a gift, man. I don't care that he's not like his sister or Emily; he's got this gift for just knowing when to show up and help out."

"He's a good kid. I only hope Jesse grows up to be as sensitive and understanding." I pause for a moment, considering my words, but angry that this happened. "I think you and Sylvia both need to grow up and deal with your shit. Thank you for considering the rest of my family, but damn it, Dace, you're not going to cause another rift like the last one. If it means I have to beat you both until you're bloody, I will. You have no idea what it put all of us through when you were being pieced back together like a fucking puzzle in January. I'll wager she was trying to offer an olive branch and you went all sarcastic punk on her again, right?"

Dace scratches at my scalp, not able to meet my gaze. "Maybe."

"Damn it, Dace!"

"I'm sorry," she shouts, startling me, her tone wounded and confused. "I'm not ready to deal with her right now! I'm going off to meet another fucking Sentinel in a couple of weeks, an adult male. Do you have any idea how much that's stressing me out? I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I don't need to deal with Sylvia right now; I'm not ready for it. She never listens to me! Everyone just assumes that I'm being an ass, but they don't listen!"

Dammit, I misread this situation and I feel bad. And, because I love this woman the way I should have been able to love my flesh and blood, I flop down next to her on the couch and grab her in a headlock. "Let it out, Dace," I murmur in the tone usually reserved for soothing the kids; nuzzling the fair hair. "Let it all go. I'm sorry for yelling at you. Don't worry about Sylvia for now. It's not like she's going anywhere for a while."

I'll stay here and provide succor to my sister's stressed heart. For as long as I'm able.

To Be Continued…