Book 4: Rapids.
Series: Light, Water, Muses. An alternate universe for a variety of television series. See disclaimers below.
Rating: R, sorta by default. I love writing about controversial subjects...
Category: The continuing saga of Reflections/ Resurgences/Refractions.
Pairings: None, but some hints!
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", see Chapter 11.
Summary: Catherine and Sara's arrival in Chicago sets a whole new sub-plot into motion. Dace will never be the same...
++ Catherine ++
O'Hare had been huge from the air and was worse on the ground. Here we were, in the biggest damn airport in America, in the middle of the day, which was the middle of the night to graveyard shift like me, to help with a dangerous undercover case neither of us was prepared for, with complete strangers keeping us in hand. What on earth had I been thinking when I volunteered for this? A glance at Sara reminded me. Poor thing looked positively freaked out.
"My Heart!" A thundering voice bellowed jovially across the terminal and Sara and I both jumped reflexively. Us and the entire staff moving around the private terminal. A good foot taller than I and built like an overgrown oak tree, the gray old biker strode over on surprisingly light feet to sweep the giggling Lady Heartsblood into a tender bearhug. "So good to see you, love."
He was a Hell's Angel Santa Claus in well-loved leather and denim that towered over the rest of mere humanity. The Lady gave him a quick peck as she was lowered back to the ground. "You are such a silly old gorilla," she twittered in delight and smiled at the massively tall and hugely muscular black man standing behind Santa. "Tiny. Good to see that you are well."
"Thank you, Lady Heartsblood," he murmured in a rumbling voice like distant thunder with impeccable respect that matched his flawless monkey suit.
"Bane!" Santa boomed and the tall red-head smiled warmly and welcomed his hug. "You look wonderful, my dear."
"Thank you, sir. It's good to see you again."
"And you have new cubs in the pack!" I winced as a hand the size of my skull planted itself heavily on my shoulder and halfway around my neck while Sara staggered under the other.
"Gifts for you, my dear old gorilla," Lady Heartsblood chuckled.
"For me?" he feigned delighted shock and took a good look at the two of us. Bane chuckled darkly and I flinched from her firm hand touching my back.
"I've been calling them Sweetness and Sunshine, sir."
Silverback didn't reply, but that same strange look came over his face, the one that both Bane and Lady Heartsblood had flashed me before covering it up. Only this man truly looked as though he'd seen a ghost. "Saints and sinners," he breathed softly and pulled his hand away as though I'd burned him. "It's... it's like..."
"A ghost?" Heartsblood supplied helpfully, her tone gentle. I was growing annoyed with all of this mysterious behavior.
Shaking off his shock like a great, wooly dog, the man wrapped his enormous hand around my chin to turn me this way and that, like a prized piece of livestock. The touch was surprisingly gentle. "You bear the most uncanny resemblance to a very, very dear friend of mine. Absolutely uncanny." He actually had tears in his eyes! "She is the only pleasant memory I have of Vietnam. Please forgive an old man for being so sentimental." Then, abruptly, the man was all smiles again. "Such pretty little fawns you both are." His smile turned to the Lady. "Really, my Heart, this is such a silly and decadent gift. Come along with me cubs, we've much to do and discuss." He patted us fondly while his attention never wavered from the Lady. "Your car is waiting outside. I'll take the cubs with me." He announced and the Lady smiled.
"Of course dear, after all they are gifts, are they not?"
++ Sara ++
The enormous stranger laughed heartily and gave her a light kiss before stepping away. As Lady Heartsblood moved away, a well-dressed man melted from the crowd like a wraith. "Get these," he told the man curtly and our bags were silently gathered up. The new fellow was impeccably dressed the same as the man the Lady had called Tiny and both of their manners were silent and flawless. I felt like a lumbering fool in contrast. "Cubs," he demanded and we followed. The silent shadow of Tiny stepped up to get the rear door of an awaiting black limo.
"Sir," he intoned in a soft voice like the rumble of distant thunder. These massive men made me hesitate and the first turned. All gray-white hair longer than my arms and great, sturdy bulk, he smiled and the frightening energy in his piercing blue gaze abruptly softened into relaxing warmth.
"Relax kittens, no one will hurt you. Some of what we're all involved in has been recently passed on to me. We can get to know one another in the car."
There was something oddly fatherly about him and I found myself trusting him. "C'mon Catherine," I urged and climbed into the limo. It was oversized and luxuriously appointed and thankfully empty. There were glittering eyehooks set tastefully along every surface and the black leather seats creaked even under my small weight. The trunk thumped shut and the menservants climbed into the front seat. When the car started moving, we could barely feel it. "Wow. This is an sweet car."
Our host dwarfed poor Catherine as he settled into the rearmost bench. Some hidden knowledge had informed me to stay the hell away from the boss's seat and I was quite grateful as he sprawled comfortably back. There was an odd look on his face that spoke of amusement and quietly, carefully restrained danger. "I'll have to remind myself that you are, indeed, not part of the Scene. A casual remark like that could get you roped to the nearest Saint Christopher's cross to await whatever punishment the offended party deemed appropriate."
He was deadly serious and I swallowed hard. "Sorry... sir."
That earned a smile and he relaxed again. "My name is Silverback and I'll be your host and your cover story while you're in Chicago. I only just found out what's been going on beneath my nose this past week, but I can assure you both that you are in very good hands We'll need to do something with you two so that we don't draw suspicion. So you will be my slaves to do with as I please." His smile put us at ease. "I only play with boys, so relax. As far as anyone is concerned you two are strictly here for basic training. Especially you, Sweetness. Oh, don't think I haven't seen that stubborn spirit in your eyes. Be careful or you may find yourself strapped to a table and spanked until you cry for mercy." Catherine's eyebrows danced up her forehead, as Silverback became all business again. "Do either of you have any skills that I might find useful?"
"In a club?" Catherine asked and earned that sharp look as I had. "Sir," she added quietly and he actually chuckled this time.
"Yes. I can throw my considerable weight around to integrate both of you as employees. After all, being the boss needs to have some perks." Patting his belly, Silverback regarded us coolly. He was truly every inch a magnificent old gorilla, stately, feral and potentially dangerous. I fired Catherine a teasing and suggestive eyebrow that made her flush hotly.
"No," she growled and I laughed. It felt good to relieve some of the tension and I smiled happily at this big man.
"My folks owned a bed and breakfast when I was a kid, so I picked up a lot of odd skills like bartending, but I have no idea how much I remember," I supplied and our host nodded thoughtfully.
"If necessary, I can place you in one of the back bars to watch the crowd. It will be out of the way, but you should earn less attention and get fewer odd drink requests. And you?" Catherine winced under his level gaze and I laughed again, poking her playfully in the ribs.
"Afraid he's gonna ask you to dance?" I needled as she smacked ineffectually at my tickling hands. "Catherine here used to dance in Vegas," I chuckled at Silverback, who flashed a grin while Catherine spluttered in embarrassment.
"That was almost fifteen years ago," she muttered self-consciously and squirmed.
"And you still look faaaaaaaaabulos," Silverback lisped in cliché queeny-man fashion that made us laugh. "The woman in charge of this case is named Dace. I'll hand you over to her and the Amazons, because I have no use for you. No offense, girls, but you're not really here for training. Dace knows this and knows how to keep you safe and who can do it. Stick close to her once I've introduced you. Will night hours faze either of you?"
"We work the night shift, sir," Catherine supplied.
"Excellent. This case won't disrupt your sleeping patterns, but it will be high stress. Just stick close to Dace, that's the best advice I can give you. She'll take you in hand soon enough and make your stay worthwhile." The man got a misty, proud expression on his face, like a happy father. "That girl is good. Damn good. I hope that she returns to the Scene. The Red Queen did such a nice job on her." He shook it off and focused back on us. "Anyway, back to business." Abruptly, he leaned forward and swiped a finger across my bottom lip. Examining the streak of lipstick on his skin, he clucked disapprovingly. Then he did the same to Catherine. "Switch colors," he instructed after a moment. "It suits your character in reverse." We blinked at him for a moment and he sighed, "go on." So we self-consciously went for the tubes of slick color and he stopped us again. "You'll have to get used to touching one another and possibly others." He picked up a phone receiver that blended perfectly with the upholstery. "Tiny, pull over somewhere quiet for a moment." Then his attention returned to back to us. "You first, Sunshine," Silverback chuckled and waved negligently. I didn't understand and he sighed again. "Have you ever put lipstick on somebody else?"
"Ummm, no sir."
"Then I get to teach you a new skill."
The car slid to a smooth halt and Tiny's disembodied voice floated through the cabin. "A quiet spot, sir."
"Now Sunshine, here's a trick towel to clean off the bronze." A pristine hand towel appeared from nowhere and was handed to me. Uncomfortable, but obedient, Catherine allowed me to grasp her chin and gently pat the color from her mouth. "Good, you have a careful touch. You're doing fine." It was utterly strange to have the familiar blue eyes so close, and feel her soft skin against my hand. Pulling the cap off with my teeth, I twisted out the red shaft of color and Catherine obeyed my tug on her chin to open her mouth slightly. My embarrassment was forgotten as I concentrated on applying the creamy, dark red to her supple lips. There was something innocent yet erotic about the exchange. A huff of amusement as my hand slipped made her smile slightly.
"Sorry," I chuckled. "I almost had it. Let me fix that." A careful swipe of the towel and a few more dabs of color had her lips glistening invitingly. "He's right, this color looks better on you."
"Thank you," Catherine whispered and I was fascinated to watch her mouth form the words. I understood now why Silverback had made us do this. I was paying far closer attention to her now, aware of how she moved and felt. Instant intimacy. Clearing my throat, I smiled and tried to break the tension for a moment.
"Well, I'm all yours now."
++ Silverback ++
They were an adorable pair of kittens, shy, wary and frisky by turns. I had decided to push them harder by forcing them interact because they had such odd chemistry. There was an easy familiarity that only went skin deep between them. They knew the aftermath of danger, but rarely had to face it on their own. To them, this was a titillating dance with that unfamiliar danger and I needed them to be more focused, more aware. Sara was opening up faster, but Catherine ran deeper. I would have pegged Sara as an introvert, but here she was, puckering up for her companion, hand on one of her knees. "Feeling flirtatious?" Catherine deadpanned and I chuckled along with Sara's laughter. It was sweetly entertaining to watch them bond over the act of feminine primping. Sara continued to lightly stroke the inside of Catherine's knee with her thumb while the smaller woman painted on the bronzy shade with mostly steady fingers.
If they stayed shy and flirtatious like this, they'd do fine.
At the club, Tiny pulled into the alley where my private entrance was located. I stepped out, pausing to survey my domain. The threat hung in the air like the faint pulse of life inside the Staff and Scroll. Damn this nameless maniac for the miasma of fear. It was almost a physical sensation and I shivered in the thick afternoon air. "Come on then," I instructed as my companions exited the limo. Tiny gathered the women's bags and followed us into the elevator. "Sweetness," I suddenly spoke up and Catherine obediently raised her gaze. "You never did help me with a role for you." She squirmed a little nervously and I couldn't resist ruffling her shoulder length hair. "There must be something, shy one," I coaxed and couldn't resist teasing. "Or should I toss you up onstage and make you dance for your keep?" She looked equally titillated and horrified.
The place was bustling only with staff this time of day, but the shift change would hit within the next hour. They were mostly Amazons and various other slaves and street kids that I'd happily given jobs to. It was a principle of mine to try and dole out the wealth where it was needed. So all manner of folk worked within my establishments, cleaning, stocking, whatever was necessary. And they earned wages and at least a small independence doing it. Far better than a handout and far more beneficial to both parties. "How are the two of you doing on sleep?" I mused, scratching my chin. They were better behaved this time and waited until I met their gazes before answering.
"A long nap on the plane, sir. We've run longer on less."
"Excellent. Let me give you a quick tour and we'll keep an eye out for your keeper." El Corazon was my favorite place in this new building. I had gone to great lengths to design the room exactly the way I wanted it. Massive wooden furniture, almost all of it old and dark with age, deep grains on the wall, all salvaged from old buildings slated for destruction, and the crowning achievement, the bar. "Found it in a long-deserted warehouse in the backwoods of Dead Horse, Alaska," I explained to my captive audience. "Isn't she beautiful?" the back of the bar and the counter itself were made of massive old logs and boards, carved and fitted into a structure as big as a bus. Moving, repairing and installing the antique had cost me a fortune, but the end result was magnificent. Many of the beams were tortured driftwood, others carved into fantastic shapes inspired by the area in which this piece had originated. Heading at the rearmost corner of the big room, I glanced back made sure that my new pets followed me over there. "This is the back bar. Beer, wine and a simple mixed drink list. We'll set you up here for the night, Sunshine. And that just leaves you, Sweetness."
Catherine was staring at the dance floor on the other end of the adjoining dance club. Temptation burned in her gaze, but she finally swallowed painfully hard and spoke up to rescue herself.
"I waitressed for years, sir."
"Then we'll leave you to Cheetah's mercy. The head bartender and third in command of this entire place." I explained as Tiny led the way into my private chambers on the top floor of the six-story building. My quarters were luxurious and sprawling, another perk of the new building, and I could look over both the El Corazon and the dark, scary leather club on the floor above. The arrangement let me judge the crowd, keep an eye on my investment and satisfy my inner voyeur all at once. There were a few adjoining rooms to my massive suite that the woman could be safely put up in. Anastasia and her two women were probably already napping in the luxury guest quarters. Something I'd been trying to remember since the airport finally resurfaced. "I'm getting senile," I muttered and Catherine smiled cheekily until I tweaked her ear roughly. "Come here Sunshine." As she walked over, I raised my head and my voice. "Tiny, bring me the tag kit."
The girls looked almost nervous and I roughly ruffled both of their manes. "You need to relax pretty girls, or you'll give yourself an ulcer before you even meet Dace." Tiny handed me a small box and I patted him affectionately on the cheek. How I adored the big man. "This is how I mark my stable," I explained. "It will protect you until the bearcub takes you in hand. You first Sweetness." Catherine blanched when I brought out a pair of needle nose pliers. I laughed and laughed. "It's only to put in an earring."
"With those? You can't be serious." She scoffed incredulously. Without even thinking about it, my hand was wrapped around the back of Catherine's neck to squeeze until she gasped.
"Behave," I growled. "Or go home. Your call."
Now that was an ultimatum neither had expected. We all knew that the two of them were here to help catch this killer, but if Catherine was going to fuck around, I couldn't help them. Only now was she truly beginning to realize that this was serious.
After a few seconds of internal debate, the blonde woman relaxed in my grip and dropped her eyes.
"We will not be having this conversation again. You will be on a plane to Las Vegas and I assure you that any potential reputation on the Scene will be shot to hell. Understood?"
"Yes sir," Catherine murmured softly and I nodded sharply, my anger dissipated with her submission.
I removed a small body piercing ring from the tag kit and tilted her head to a workable angle. With a few practiced moves, her faux-gold earring was gone, the 20-gauge surgical steel threaded through the hole, both ID tags added and the ball filled the gap. "There," I dismissed Catherine with that short comment and crooked a finger at the wide-eyed Sara. "Come here Sunshine. You're next."
Not a peep from the brunette, just a few strides to stand before me with demurely lowered eyes. Good, she had potential. I remembered something suddenly and dug into the bottom of the tag kit. "Years ago," I explained with forced nonchalance. "I had a favored boy that I loved dearly. AIDS took him and I was devastated. I would be honored to have you wear this. You remind me powerfully of him."
Now Sara met my eyes and I could see the startled pleasure in her gaze. "Me sir?"
"Yes Sunshine, you. I have a good feeling that you are going to do me and yourself quite proudly. Perhaps this visit to Chicago can be more than just business. There is much to be learned in the shadows."
It was a thick, chunky silver collar that was as tightly woven as a snake's scales. A few twists of the pliers had both my tag and the Lady's in the loop of silvered steel on its length and I fastened it around her neck.
It was a perfect fit.
++ Catherine ++
Silverback's private rooms were like something out of a post-modern fantasy. While the man himself might be partial to faded jeans and his POW-MIA leather biker's vest, his décor was superb. Even the guest room where our luggage was waiting was on par with a five star hotel. "How you doing?" I asked Sara quietly after the door clicked shut on Silverback's retreating frame.
"Okay, I guess. He seems really nice."
I only hummed in a non-committal way, feeling that trapped wild-animal energy flush through me again. It was peculiar, as though something were struggling to free itself from the inside out. Not in a bad way, just... intense, for lack of a better word. There was something close, something tantalizingly close that I needed to find, to experience, to dive into and drown in. That was a little scary, this overpowering need of something completely unknown.
Ah well, nothing to be done for that unknown need right this second!
The bathroom was a fairly spacious affair and I immediately dove for my toiletries and clean clothes. "Nothing a hot shower can't fix, right Sara?" The woman only grinned as I bounced into the bathroom to indulge.
Hours and hours and hours later, I was nostalgic about that brief relaxation. Silverback had returned for us, laughing that we were surprised at how early his staff was preparing for the night life. Oops, neither Sara nor I remembered that we had hopped two time zones. Then a weary woman with curly honey hair took us in hand, and within minutes I had a tray in hand while Sara was ensconced in the little back bar. I had never gone the cocktail waitress route and was quite glad for it. This was worse than waitressing in a restaurant! There had been a few gropes that had turned into horror when the tags on my right ear were revealed. It didn't stop the covert looks, but those were easily ignored. After a very long four hours, Cheetah kindly shooed me off for a lunch break, telling me to collect 'Sunshine' and take her with me.
"Hi," I greeted Sara warmly and she jumped, making me chuckle. I kept my merriment quiet, not wanting to insult or embarrass our host. "Better switch to decaff."
Thankfully, the music more background noise at this distance from the nearby club. "Hey, I wonder if that's our contact, talking with Silverback over there." Sara had leaned over the bar to nuzzle the words into my ear, making me flush and jump. "Now who's jumpy," she chuckled and leaned away. I had only seen a flash of gold hair on a tall frame vanishing into the crowd when I had looked over to Silverback. Sara's mouth had distracted me badly enough that I had no idea who I was looking for in the crowd now. So I turned my back to the room to lean closer to my partner.
"I lost her, can you point her out?" I asked, distracted by that strange energy once more washing over me, body and soul. Something about the gaze that had trailed over me from the stranger that had caught Sara's eye. It felt like a homecoming, a successful hunt, the climax of a complicated piece of music. I didn't understand. Sara's mouth opened to reply and then dropped open in sync with her eyes growing wide. Even as my reactions shrilled a warning, it was too late.
Growing up with brothers, I had been used to a certain amount of rough treatment, but that was a lifetime ago. It was an abrupt, hard grip that sent startled pain across my scalp and down my spine. My captor yanked me back, a firm hand on my belt buckle the only thing that kept me from sprawling. Shadowed blue eyes blazed into mine from inches away, a halo of pale hair glowed in the club lights.
Something shattered loose deep within my soul. A high-pitched howl split my skull and I gasped with the intensity of it. The stranger's eyes glowed gold in the light, piercing me to my very core. Neither of us moved for endless moments, the chaos around us very, very far away.
She felt it too, that much I knew with absolute surety. Like smoke, our energies collided and mixed, the symphony changing tempo as we flowed together
When the near-pain of the grip in my hair registered along with the club noise, it felt vulgar in the warm, wild space between us. Oh, I really, really hoped that this was the famous Dace. Warm breath feathered over my face as I stared in utter shock at the woman who held my entire body in her hands. "Well hello," she drawled and smiled at me as though contemplating a particularly delectable dessert. I felt as though I had touched a live wire, the shock of connection throbbing through me from this beautiful stranger.
It was both thrilling and terrifying.
++ Dace ++
I hated waiting.
It was the one thing that absolutely sucked about being a cop. I wasn't good at it and chaffed unbearably when I was forced to sit patiently and just wait. Jo was seated on the floor between my knees she where she could stroke my lower legs and I could run my fingers through her luxurious hair. We'd been lounging here for what felt like days, but I bet it had barely been a couple hours. I could have hung out with Jane and Fenris and the others, but both Jo and I were unnerved by how quickly events were happening around us.
The lingering sense of close danger and close salvation was making me jumpy...
Someone meant me harm, hunted me like an animal, deep within the darkest shadows. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that this fact was truth. The cat knew it, she bristled and snorted, sniffed at the corners of my mind, every sense in my possession growing, expanding...
Just as close was a salvation, a controlled outlet for this animal growing inside me until I could nearly feel the fur on and under my skin. Scents flowed over me like flood waters rising around my knees, threatening to pull me under. Color and texture registered in my gold eyes, the chaos overwhelming. My own saliva, and the lingering taste of the beer I'd been drinking since I was fifteen and Jo's kiss lingered behind my teeth with an intensity I'd never experienced. Every sound was distinct, yet bled together into a deafening cacophony. The cloth against my flesh was as harsh as concrete and soft as feathers, my muscles danced beneath my skin as though having a mind of their own.
I felt Jo flinch against my legs before she ever moved, felt Gramp's familiar presence while he was still part of the crowd. Everything was moving in slow motion, his words barely holding meaning as the flood of sensation increased, drawing me around.
I spoke the human words the man needed to hear, but I was already moving away, even as my body cried out to pursue what called to me so strongly.
It was close, so aggravatingly close, my fear and salvation.
The cat was growling and yowling now, fur fluffed out with emotions, white teeth flashing in the club lights, spittle flying.
Gifts from the Lady Heartsblood his voice said...
A big hand gestured to the back corner, my hyper-active vision stripped away all of the movement between us, zeroed in like a telescope. Sound faded, her scent washed over me, smashing away all others in her path. Not the dark woman I dimly recognized, my human mind far, far away...
The cat screamed urgently; a hungry, needy sound. How my European ancestors feared that sound, shaking in terror as the great gold cats shrieked in the darkness. The she-cats in heat, calling urgently for a mate.
I was riveted.
Half-turning, her eyes flashed summer blue in the dim lights, bringing out the honey and red highlights in her mane. Deliciously curvy and lean with gorgeous, chiseled girl muscles, warm Irish features and an expressive mouth, she was extraordinary.
Everything around me faded as I felt myself pulled in as though a magnetic force was acting upon me.
The tawny strength inside me uncoiled... threw herself against the prison of my mind... gaped great white teeth and focused flaming amber eyes to the prey.
Wait... not prey.
The crowd was no obstacle to the cat, we flowed like river water to the magnetic creature who called us. In an instant, she was in my hands, I spoke human words that I could not recognize. Close up, her gaze was deeper than the noon sky, and just as endless
I heard the stuttering call of Coyote inside my soul, saw the brindle beast sharp and sly in her beautiful face. Trickster and teacher, I had been looking for her all my life and didn't even know it. Again, she called to me, high-pitched and needy as I leaned in to taste her mouth.
I was home.