Book 4: Rapids.
Series: Light, Water, Muses. An alternate universe for a variety of television series. See disclaimers below.
Rating: PG13, maybe an R.
Category: The continuing saga of Reflections/ Resurgences/Refractions.
Pairings: Dace/Jo. Anastasia/Tessa.
Disclaimer: "ER", see Chapter 1.
Disclaimer: "The Division", see Chapter 1.
Disclaimer: "The X-Files", see Chapter 1.
Disclaimer: "Xena Warrior Princess", see Chapter 4.
Disclaimer: "China Beach", see Chapter 5.
Disclaimer: "Facts of Life", see Chapter 6.
Disclaimer: "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit", see Chapter 7.
Disclaimer: "CSI", (need disclaimer)
Summary: Michael is reunited with Dace and Jo. From across the country, someone brings more clues to the case and some old friends from Colorado and Nevada help her out.
++ Dace ++
I'd horsed around all night with the Amazons I remembered, introduced myself to a few more, got some serious flirting practice, introduced Jo to Dana and Monica, apologized for making them worry about my whereabouts, and then gone home early and slept like a stone. Zo had pounced on us late afternoon and dragged us out for real Chicago-style pizza. We retrieved mine and Jo's luggage, traded Emily stories, drank coffee, laughed our asses off and made Kerry and Jo roll their eyes in tolerant amusement. When we drove past Lake Michigan and I sneered at it, saying that the San Francisco Bay was cooler. Kerry gave me a dirty look and all of us laughed.
It was a great day until Jo was poking through my little bag and pointed out that my cell phone was dead. Considering that I hadn't looked at the stupid thing in... what, two days? I hated cell phones, they were a sign of the apocalypse. Verbalizing that thought made Zo laugh so hard she nearly drove into opposing traffic. "You crack me up, Dace. Hope your buddies didn't try to call you."
The coincidence monster had struck again. Once back at Zo and Kerry's place, I grabbed the power cord and plugged in the evil little device. Almost immediately it started squawking that I had messages. "Dammit," I grumbled, irritably stabbing at miniscule buttons until it dialed my voicemail. I hated all this complicated new miniature technology. I'd owned vibrators bigger than this stupid thing.
Jane's voice flowed from the bitty speaker. "Hey you. Fenris is here, thought you'd want to come by and say hi, but you're off with the pretty little dog, hey!" There was a clatter of sound and Fenris' familiar deep, rich voice made me grin.
"Oh, pack it in, Jane. Hey punk, I'll keep an eye out for you at the Staff and Scroll. I trust that Junkie has been good to you? Take care, Dace, we'll see you soon."
Cursing and yet smiling, I noticed that they'd called twice more, but left no more messages. Jo watched me in silent curiosity and I gave her a quick, hard kiss. "We have visitors. Let's see if we can't scare up something special to wear, hmmm?"
Once more, it was Zo that helped us out by providing handfuls of fishnet material. While I tried to figure out exactly what they were, Kerry added in her two cents. "Zo, love? Why don't you grab those jeans I love so much?"
"Oh, evil, Ker," Zo cackled and galloped off to her room, laughing like a bad b-grade movie badguy.
"She cracks me up," I chuckled and finally figured out that I was holding a gay-boy mesh t-shirt that was way cooler than my ratty old one. Sweet. Kerry laughed when I dropped my leather jacket off my shoulders and tossed it to her. In a few moves, I was stripped to skin from the waist up and tugged the light, scratchy material on. "Oh, this'll be a conversation piece. Get naked, Junkie." Still a little self-conscious, Jo nonetheless did as I asked. "If I take the jacket off, all of our tattoos will show. Hmmm..."
"How many do you have?" Kerry asked half-curiously, eyeing my essentially naked torso.
"Not enough. But I also firmly believe that a tat should be a very intimate investment and mean something intense. Not some weekend whim. What can I say? I'm an ink snob."
"Here we go," Zo announced herself in the usual whirlwind of energy, handing Jo a flat, plastic package. "You got a really nice build, Junkie. You should show off."
Jo muttered something no one but Zo caught, but I let it go when our hostess laughed.
++ Michael ++
As good as it was to see Dace's tall frame materialize in the crowd, I was far more relieved to see Junkie hovering behind her. I'd tried for a long time to fool myself about my feelings for the brash Bronx cop. No one had been more surprised than me by my need to mark her permanently as mine. To tempt fate by making the tattoo so large and distinctive, and in a place where it could be seen semi-casually. White ink could never be removed, not even with a laser. The flames surrounding the sword would never come off. She would forever carry me in her skin. The startling sensitivity of that inked flesh was a wonderful bonus. I itched to touch her, reclaim her as mine. How I hated that she was in the path of danger... Gabriel chuckled and Dace grinned, inclining her head respectfully to me before scruffing Junkie and shoving her towards me. Stumbling, my pet clumsily dropped to her knees before me.
"Mistress," Jo said tightly, the discomfort and wet need in her tone making my mouth water. It took real effort to ignore her and acknowledge Dace, who waited with thumbs arrogantly hooked into her belt. I stood, giving Junkie's head a brief but loving caress, and walked up to the tall woman to look up at her.
"Well at least someone uses that name."
"Just this once," Dace chuckled and I had to smile at her familiar humor. Some subtle indication in body language had us hugging tightly. "So damn good to see you, Fenris."
"Entirely mutual, Dace. I'm glad that Jo could be here for you."
"She's great. Thanks for loaning her to me."
"Oh, I'm betting that there's more she can learn from you. Keep her for now, but if you'll indulge me a quick hello?"
So I turned to Jo while Gabriel went to hug Dace and say hello. "Junkie."
"Look at me." Reluctantly, Jo's clear blue eyes rose, a myriad of emotions dancing in the depths. She was such a wonderful, beautiful woman. "Dace is proud of you. So am I. Kiss me quick, before I hand you back to you current handler." Whimpering, Jo arched up to offer me the sweetness of her mouth and I purred in appreciation. "Good," I finally whispered. "Say hello to Olivia and the pups, then return to Dace."
Now it was time for a proper reunion with the blonde woman I remembered all to well!
++ Olivia ++
The instant Michael took her eyes off Jo, I braced myself for the tackling full-body hug.
Jo didn't disappoint.
"God damn, but I'm glad to see you," she murmured in my ear while we squeezed each other tightly.
"I could hardly say no."
"Yeah, I know how that is. You look amazing like this."
There it was, the reminder of the get-up I was squirming in. The surprisingly soft leather had already conformed to my warmth, floating over my skin like an extension of it. Except for the seams, those kinda ruined the effect. Michael had teased me unmercifully about wearing underwear with the gear, but I had to for my own sanity. The fact that the inky hide was obviously brand new and stitched for my physique alone was bizarre. I wasn't ready to go commando in it yet. Thank whatever deity that watched over fools like me that the thing was silk lined, not just for cleanliness and chafe reduction, but to keep the alluring touch of the soft leather away from my skin. The stimuli alone might kill me.
"That good, huh?"
I nearly smacked Jo senseless for that comment, but she ducked away to hug Pai and Leslie. It was so weird to see them together in this environment. I'd always thought of Jo as such a strong woman, above these kinds of perverse needs. Not like Pai, and especially not like sweet little Leslie. I liked them, but they seemed so... needy.
What was I missing? Sure, they'd explained the kinky thrill to be gotten from these extreme roles, from offering up body and dignity as exchanged for pleasures I really didn't believe could be everything I'd heard. Jo told me those stories to shock me, didn't she? But here she was, eager to please and completely in the thrall of these powerful women, like a well-trained dog waiting for her master's praise.
But damned if she didn't seem really happy about it.
++ Sara Sidle ++
The photocopied APB caught my eye the instant it had passed through my peripheral vision and I was riveted. It was a police sketch, rough and two-dimensional, of a cold-faced man that my lizard brain suddenly recalled all too clearly. That heartless, burning caress of those mad eyes as I had knelt beside yet another of the hundreds of victims of violence that Las Vegas saw with every turn of the seasons. For an endless moment I had seen him in the crowd, my spine vibrating with terror. Then the breathless moment passed and I had shrugged the odd incident off. Now, suddenly, I was faced with a rendering of the madman my brain was only now recalling. That wasn't like me to forget details, I was obsessed by details, it was my damn job. But somehow, I'd forgotten those terrifying heartbeats beneath that inhuman gaze.
I was so distracted by the photocopy I'd pulled from the wall, that I walked right into a solid male body that 'whuffed' in surprise.
"Sorry, Warrick," I stammered as he steadied me with big hands.
"No," I admitted with uncharacteristic honesty, never being one to admit weakness. Thrusting the now crumpled paper at him, I slouched over to a stool at the lab table and buried my face in my hands. "I saw him at a crime scene a while ago."
"A while?" Warrick queried softly and sat across from me. "That's vague."
"I know," I growled in annoyance. "But it's like... like I can't remember him clearly. Like he scared me so badly, that I tuned it out."
The paper crinkled again as my coworker processed my words and my stress. "All points bulletin. The FBI's serious about this."
"Yeah. You gonna call?"
"Yeah, in a minute. I... I have to talk to Grissom."
"In his office."
"Thanks. I have a weird feeling that my life is getting rapidly pulled out of my hands."
I took the crumpled paper back and concerned, dark eyes watched me go.
++ Catherine Willows ++
"You needed me?" I sounded disgruntled even to my own ears, but dammit! It was Wednesday, and I'd had to leave Lindsey on one my few days off. But something in Grissom's voice had dragged me in here, even if I wasn't feeling particularly charitable about it. Then I noted Sara huddled in one of Gil's extra chairs like she was frightened. Knees pulled under her chin and arms wrapped tight around her shins, she stared blankly into the room. Gil waved me silent, his concerned gaze on her.
"I didn't want to be a cop, I'm a scientist," Sara murmured softly. "I don't know if can do this."
"Close the door please, Catherine," Gil requested and I tugged it shut behind me. I was worried and carefully sat beside Sara before putting a hand on her tense arm. She jerked as though burned, but she was mentally back in the room now
"Are you okay?" I asked the stupidly obvious question and she grinned queasily, shaking her head. It was odd to see her so vulnerable and it tugged at my heartstrings. I'd worked with this woman for two years and she was still virtually a stranger.
"Shall I?" Gil asked softly and Sara nodded in relief. "Cath, there was a case last September where two men who were transient members of the leather community were beaten to death near a popular sex club. We never found a suspect or any conclusive evidence. There's a serial killer loose in North America. He's hit nine cities. Detroit, New York, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Vancouver B.C. and now he's in Chicago."
My puzzled expression said volumes, but even as Gil opened his mouth to continue, Sara spoke in a soft, distant tone. "I saw him at the scene. I can barely remember him, and I don't know why. I was kneeling in an alleyway over this guy in leather that had been obviously beaten to death with a blunt object. He was still warm." Her face screwed up in concentration. "Doc Robbins said later that it was probably a baseball bat. There were two victims there that died the same way with no evidence left behind. How could I forget all this?"
"You didn't have a reason too, Sara," Gil soothed in that fatherly tone of his. "We deal in facts, not fear. Are you certain you're up to this?"
"No," she whispered. "But in nine cities and seventeen victims, I'm only the second living eyewitness. What else can I do? No one seems to remember seeing him, just being afraid and being found by the police after the murders took place. God knows why I suddenly recognize him from that bad sketch, when I couldn't even recall seeing him before."
When I fired Gil a questioning look, he carefully explained, "We've been on the phone with an Agent Mulder of the FBI for nearly an hour. They're desperate for an ID on this guy, but the case is fairly... complicated."
"I'll bet," I replied archly, too concerned for Sara to deal with his usual cryptic behavior.
"He only hits gay leather players," Sara added with a sigh and I realized where this was going. Tightening my grip on Sara's arm, the pressure made her meet my eyes.
"You want me to come along and pose as your kinky girlfriend?"
Long moments passed while Sara struggled with herself. Embarrassment, fear and pride warred in her mercurial gaze and I was fascinated. "Please. I don't have anyone else I trust," she finally managed to whisper and the admission warmed and terrified me.
"You got it, cutie."
Her relieved smile at my gentle tease made me grin and the first stirrings of a bond grew between us. Some subtle sound from Gil drew our attention back over. "You'll need to meet up with some people from the local scene. I took the liberty of contacting Lady Heather." The man looked mildly embarrassed and we both chuckled. "She informed me that the woman who's the 'top of the foodchain,' and I quote, is preparing for some big event in Chicago, ironically. It's a very exclusive, tight-knit community, even in a city the size of this one. The FBI isn't thrilled with having additional people added to this from outside regular law enforcement, but I don't see that we have any choice. Agent Mulder promised that he'll fax the information of whatever contacts he can find here in Las Vegas. In fact..." The whirr of the fax machine interrupted him as paper began feeding out. "Having someone local and trusted will help integrate you into the culture and give you credibility. Sara, would you please brief Warrick on whatever caseload you have? We'll handle things while you're gone."
"Sure," she replied almost eagerly, uncoiling from the chair and grinning at me once more, almost shyly, before slipping out.
"Catherine, a moment please."
I had expected to be asked to stay and settled into my chair now that Sara's stressed-out energy was gone. "I'll take it that this is going to be more complicated that you've let on?"
Uncomfortable and uncharacteristically at a loss for words, Gil sprawled back in his chair and pulled his glassed off. "You do realize what's being asked of you, right?"
"This perp only hits gay leather players. That's how the FBI finally came up with an MO on him. We're talking about an extremely reclusive subculture that's virtually impossible to infiltrate. It can take years. These people that will be working with you aren't messing around."
Growing nervous about the situation I was being sucked into and being a perpetual smartass, I sassed him, "Yeah, I remember you telling me basically the same thing after we met Lady Heather."
The slow flush on his cheeks made me chuckle warmly. "That's right," Gill murmured softly. "I was very... frank that day."
"I'll say," I teased lightly and my grinning must have reassured him that we were okay. Relieved and bit unnerved, Gil relaxed now that he knew I wasn't going to freak.
"It's a healthy outlet with the right people."
I couldn't help myself and grinned wickedly. "So I've heard."
After a startled moment, he chuckled and finally relaxed. With our camaraderie reestablished, he settled back and looked at me thoughtfully. "You must have seen and done quite a lot in the nightlife back in the day."
Memories flooded through me, a searing kaleidoscope of drugs and bright lights and strangers. The roar of the music, unfamiliar and appreciative hands tucking their hard-earned dollars against my skin as I danced and gyrated for their pleasure and mine. The occasional pull of connection with a stranger that might only be a glance or a night of feral pleasures that even now made me blush.
"I can see that you did," Gil smirked. "Think you can coax that part of you back out again?"
"Honestly? She's never far away," I confessed and he looked startled, sympathetic and impressed with my candor. Why on earth did I suddenly hear coyotes singing? Shaking my head to clear the strange thoughts, I refocused on Gil.
"Good, you'll need her. Sara will too," he encouraged and was abruptly all business. "Now, let's see what Agent Mulder has sent over."
++ The Lady Heartsblood ++
After my recent conversation with Jesse, I was hardly surprised by a phone call from the FBI. I remembered all to well those poor boys last autumn. How some people could hate others so much, to do something like that... I would never understand.
"Agent Mulder, I was already planning on attending a reunion meeting with some of my fellow players in Chicago. That young Dace is there on business with your organization as well as my own, hardly surprises me. We will be the picture of discretion. I assure you, we're very good at it. As for integrating your two witnesses with my traveling party, that can be easily enough arranged. Send me whatever information you have. A fax number? Of course." A knock on the door startled me, for there were very few that would intrude on my inner sanctum unannounced. "Pardon me for a moment, Agent Mulder." Lowering the receiver, I put my Heartsblood persona on and turned my chair towards the door. "Enter!" When I recognized the tall figure framed in the doorway, I was absolutely delighted. "Tiger darling! So good that you could join this little expedition. How have you been?"
"Well enough, My Lady," Karen purred softly and entered to bow courteously over my offered hand. With no hesitation, she ritualistically kissed my knuckles before meeting my eyes fully. "Emily and Darya send their love."
"Excellent, I will have to visit again once all of this is over. Sit for a moment and my attention will be yours very shortly." With an enigmatic smile, Karen did as I asked so that I could return my attention to my phone call. "Agent Mulder? Thank your for your patience, do continue. You said they were police? CSI? Oh! Forensics, of course. Forgive an old woman's memory. I'll have a car sent to the main building downtown in two hours, if you would pass that information on. Tell them that a woman named Karen Taylor will be their contact. Good. I'll transfer you to my assistant now for the details. Safe? I go nowhere and do nothing without Tessa, she can be trusted implicitly. Excellent, I'll transfer you now."
With a few buttons, that task was complete and I turned my attention to the silent woman sitting in my office. In my eyes, there had never been anyone as striking and adept as Karen Taylor. I adored the imposing woman wholeheartedly and still wished that one day I could hand the reins of my kingdom to her. Even as I knew it would never happen. As supremely talented as Karen was at the Scene, she could not and would not live it as a complete lifestyle. There were higher loyalties to be obeyed and I could only remain wistful. While she played under the name Bane Shidhe, she allowed me the familiar nickname of Tiger. She was just like those magnificent orange cats, bright yet stealthy, beautiful and dangerous and almost nothing escaped her notice. Even now, her sharp attention was focused on me, digesting the phone call that she had overheard. "Young Dace has stepped into it this time." I mused thoughtfully.
"She's good at that." Karen chuckled, but the sound was strained. Sighing, she ran a hand through her magnificent, fiery mane and leveled a loaded look at me. "As I told you yesterday, she called me directly to ask for help. I didn't really understand the connection between these killings and Silverback contacting you until now. Dace is a cop in San Francisco, I've always known that, and it must have something to do with the killings."
"She's a damn good cop, but it's weird that two cities so far apart are swapping personnel. And there's another detective from New York acting as her partner. I barely understand what's going on."
"Jesse mentioned nothing about this case."
"He may not realize what's going on. I think that Sylvia was serious about apologizing, since it's such an extreme change in her behavior. Dace is more than smart enough to weave the two events together for maximum benefit."
"You always did have a soft spot for her," I teased lightly and I was surprised at Karen's sharp glance.
"And you were always too hard on her." Now that was blunt, even for the Tiger and I felt myself bristling. I was unaccustomed to having my authority and opinions challenged. "I'm sorry My Lady, I've always been very protective of Dace. She's family to me just as much as you and Tessa."
"Ah well, I'm probably just jealous," I joked and wondered if perhaps that's not exactly what I was. There was a long, uncomfortably silence before I cleared my throat and got back to the business at hand. "There is a local forensics officer that witnessed what appears to be the killer last year. I knew one of the victims, he was a local, and I think I remember the woman officer. Fairly tall, high-metabolism slender, sharp-eyed, eager to please, second-soprano voice with an edge to it like she had something to prove. Probably the youngest in her work pack."
"So the pup has something to prove?"
"If I'm right."
"My Lady, aren't you always right?"
"You do play the game well, my dear."
"I learned from the best."
Now I was forced to laugh at her flirting and flattering. I was glad that the tension between us was short-lived. A knock on the door made us pause. "Enter."
"Madam?" Tessa asked softly as the door clicked open. "The documents you requested have arrived."
"Yes Madam," she demurred and strode over on silent feet to hand me a sheaf of fax pages. This woman was my pride and joy, my most loyal subject and I adored her so. In keeping with our relationship, I took the pages and perused them with seeming nonchalance. The pictures were typical ID photos, mugshots really, and only showed that one woman was light and one dark. I took my time, knowing perfectly well that Tessa was dying to jump on the Tiger, who was watching her with predatory laziness. They both knew that I would allow them to play, but only at my leisure. There was something niggling at my memories about the pale one, but I attributed it to a senior moment.
"Tiger, would you like to see our new pets? Such a shame that we won't be able to play with them properly, but will be forced to only pretend." As I held out the papers, Tessa stepped aside without even seeming to move. She was the kind of slave that the other Tops drooled over: tall, statuesque, supermodel gorgeous, and perfectly mannered. Karen took the pages and studied them quietly while Tessa squirmed without moving a muscle.
++ Karen ++
As much as I would have liked to have grabbed Tessa and molest her hello, I knew to wait for my Lady's permission. It would come in time. When Dace had called me with that uncharacteristic tremor of fear in her voice, I called Hammond up that afternoon to secure permission to leave the base. It had been a bit awkward to explain what I was getting into, without really explaining anything at all, but he knew me very well and had given in.
Last night had been Emily's. High as a kite to be one day from big-girl five, she had happily allowed me to spoil her rotten with dinner at Tony Roma's where we made complete disasters of masses of sticky ribs. After that we had rough-housed at her favorite park and fed the ducks until it was full dark. Spending quality time with the girl was a serious priority in the household. I had been gone for nearly five weeks to get her mother pregnant in the first place, and now there was a new baby on the way. while she was unhappy that I was going, she had willingly let me go, which still confused the hell out of me. For the four-odd months I had been back from my oh-so-long trip, the girl had hardly let me out of her sight, even to work. Yet, she showed her mother's endless sensitivity about 'unca' Dace needing me. A kiss on the cheek and a grave look that was so her, Emily had placed her little hands on my shoulders and said somberly, "you take good care of unca Dace and I will be a good girl." She was such a great kid. I was gonna miss my girls so damn bad...
So, here I was in the City of Sin. It was my home away from home, for the Scene here was perfect for my needs. There was anonymity, access to an endless variety of playmates and a mentor that would look out for me. I owed a significant part of my sanity to Lady Heartsblood, for her support and molding of my darker impulses had been a boon like none other. As I had flown across forest and desert, I had felt the familiar shift in personality from Karen to the Tiger. But only in the presence of my mentor did I truly slip completely into the role.
Shaking off my musings, I focused on the papers. The fuzzy black and white photos were like mugshots, one dark and one fair. Damned if the blonde didn't look really familiar... Shrugging off the niggling curiosity, I memorized their names and a few pertinent facts that jumped out at me before returning my attention to the Lady. "So, Sidle is the one that saw the killer."
"Yes. The FBI passed on what they knew about the two of them. I think with a firm, kind hand Sara will fit in nicely."
"And Willows used to be a local dancer. Huh. Maybe that's why she looks familiar."
"Yes," The Lady mused thoughtfully. "She seems familiar to me as well."
"These women have nice credentials."
"These women are scientists," Anastasia mocked me lightly and I grinned saucily.
"You know how I love scientists."
"Yes, you always were a connoisseur of the smart ladies. Yes, Tessa, you may say hello now."
"Thank you Madam," Tessa breathed gratefully and practically jumped into my lap. Chuckling, I crushed her close, stealing a deep kiss. "I've missed you stud," Tessa chuckled lightly against my mouth and I smiled.
"You make it sound like you're a neglected housewife."
"Never. Speaking of which, how is your wife?"
"Okay, I guess. I just feel so bad leaving her with a four-year-old while four months pregnant. Thank whatever deities watch over fools like me for Janet and Art and Sam."
"Good." Tessa smiled prettily and I tweaked her bottom lip.
"Is there anything that needs to be done before I go and pick up your new pets?"
"Not that I can think of. Let's make a good first impression, take the Mercedes and Tessa."