Book 4: Rapids.
Series: Light, Water, Muses. An alternate universe for a variety of television series. See disclaimers below.
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", see Chapter 11.
Spoilers: References to Xena mythos, hints of The Sentinel.
Summary: Catherine and Sara join the hunt for Snake-Eyes, Karen and Anastasia help them along, while Jane and Dace discuss secrets and mysteries.
++ Catherine ++
I'd questioned Gil on the leather scene until a jumpy Sara had returned to collect me. It had been a hugely entertaining, embarrassing and bonding to have that conversation with this man I'd known for so long. Even more than all those months ago when we'd worked that case in the fetish club across town. Even now I could hear the soft voice of the woman who ran the vic's workplace. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you've got everything it takes to be a great dominatrix." It looked as though I was going to get a chance to find out if Lady Heather was right.
But Sara needed me now and I focused on that. We'd gone to her place while I called and arranged some long-term care for my daughter. She was put out about me up and vanishing with no more warning than a ten minute phone call. Once I carefully explained that it was for work and to help out Sara, she'd relented with a 'miss you' that left a lump in my throat. Sara had looked at me oddly as I hung up.
"She okay?" Sara asked as she finished stuffing casual clothes in a couple of duffel bags.
"I hope so. I don't often just up in bail long-term in the pursuit of work, so she should be fine. My sister and mother will take good care of her."
At my place, I repeated the process while Sara politely wandered around. The walk-in closet had been one of the selling points on this house and I stood in the middle of it and eyeballed that musty back corner. I'd kept them for years, all those risqué clothes from my wild days. To start practicing giving in to my wilder urges, I started shoving a few outfits into a bag. As I finished my packing, I heard Sara's phone ring and her voice drifted through my little townhouse. She was clicking the cell shut as I came in with a few pieces of luggage.
"Isn't that a bit much?" Sara teased and I shrugged carelessly.
"Better safe than sorry."
"Oh hey, Gris called. He said something about a car coming around to work to pick us up in just under an hour. Nick is on his way over to give us a ride back."
"Great. Sounds like fun."
"Are you sure you're okay with this?"
"Sara," I huffed mockingly and she smiled. "Both of us are going to be uncomfortable. But you," I emphasized and stepped over to poke her in the chest. "Have never lived the wild side much I'll bet."
"Oh, come on, I'm not that uptight."
"Yes, sweetie, you are," I mocked and grinned widely while she scowled with no menace. "Who knows, this case might be good for you."
"Hey! I partied plenty in college."
We bantered back and forth while dragging our luggage to the curb to await Nick's arrival.
++ Sara ++
The verbal parrying was still going strong as Nick pulled up in one of the work trucks. Before he could ask any questions of where we were going or what we were doing, we had dragged him into the banter. It continued until we were striding through the familiar halls of the crime lab. But the light conversation abruptly tapered off as we came around the corner near Grissom's office. There was a striking figure of a woman there, speaking with him. Towering at least four inches over Gris, with an expansive mane of wavy sorrel-red hair and dressed entirely in dark brown leather, she was eye-catching. Then they both turned to greet us. Something that looked distinctly like shock flashed across the woman's face, quickly stifled beneath her smile.
"Ah, here they are," Gil smiled and waved us over. "Thank you Nick."
Shaking off his shock, Nick took the gentle dismissal to heart and wandered off down the hallway. Up close, the woman was a good-looking old-world Irish warrior with sparkling eyes like pure emeralds and a knowing smile to match. "Karen Taylor, but call me Bane Shidhe," she offered softly in a low, almost growling voice. "Your picture doesn't do you justice, pretty girl."
Despite my current company and where I was, I felt the embarrassed flush on my neck and cheeks. I had never been good at taking compliments or this kind of gently intent flirting. She meant exactly what she said and I was unsure of how to accept the sweet comment. "Thank you," I demurred quietly and made myself look away from her magnetic gaze, but not before catching her dazzling smile.
"My pleasure Sara. And you," she growled playfully as she turned her attention to my partner. "Are Catherine. I am delighted indeed. Where the Lady Heartsblood has shown an interest in taking young Sara in hand, you are mine." Without giving either of us a chance to react, Karen focused on Gil. "The Lady is appreciative of your time and cooperation, Gil. We'll keep you posted on how things are progressing."
"Thank you. Oh, and please give my regards to the Lady."
"My pleasure," Karen smiled and effortlessly scooped up two pieces of Catherine's luggage. "Come along pets. We have an appointment to keep."
"Take care of yourselves," Gil added and I paused. He really did look concerned. Before I could decide if I was going to do it or not, Catherine beat me to it, hugging Gil tightly. Boy, did he look surprised. Pleased, but surprised. "I'll miss you Cath."
"It's mutual, old friend. Keep those boys in line."
There was a moment of awkwardness that, ironically, Gris broke first. He was warm and solid, my last link to the familiar world I was leaving behind. "They'll take good care of you," he whispered softly against my ear.
"Okay," I whispered back, missing him already. "I'll see you soon."
"I'll be here."
I only vaguely remembered going outside and pausing at the front door beside Catherine and Karen. "Are you ready for this?" The strange woman finally asked me gently and I blinked as though waking up.
"No," I answered her truthfully, sensing that there would be no lying to her.
"Are you willing to accept help?"
What an odd question. Then I realized that help was exactly what I would need from these strangers to help stop a serial killer. Somehow I knew I could trust Karen implicitly and relief spread through me. "Yes."
"Good. Then we'll do fine."
++ Catherine ++
In all honestly, I had no idea what to make of her. Intimidating and soothing all in one package, wrapped in hand-made leathers that were a cross between modern cut and archaic craftsmanship. Like the clothes, she was a strange combination of well-bred and feral. Knowing that I was safe in her hands, I decided to wait and see where this was going. A sleek Mercedes pulled up to the curb and the trunk popped open. A gorgeous dark-haired woman nearly Karen's impressive height came around to help with our bags. She smiled winningly at Sara and I both as she expertly gathered up our bags. Sara sidled up to me as though seeking reassurance and I was grateful for her closeness. Karen gallantly opened the back door and smiled. "We'll take you to the Lady Heartsblood now. Climb in."
Sara obeyed with only a slight hesitation, much to my amusement, and I followed her into the lush interior.
"Okay, now what," I asked as we settled in and put on the seatbelt. The dark-haired woman slid in behind the wheel while Karen took the passenger seat and twisted to grin at us.
"The airport. You two get to go to Chicago in style. Just remain loose and flexible and the Lady Heartsblood will take care of you."
"Relax Willows, you're in the best of hands," Karen chuckled and turned her back to us. I wasn't sure if that made me nervous or relieved. A glance shared with Sara reflected the same feelings in her eyes.
Traffic was on our side as we made our way to the outskirts of the airport. "Where are we?" Sara asked as we were obviously far from the bustle of the main terminals.
"I'd say it was a surprise, but you're cops and I won't mess with you like that," Karen chuckled and gestured to the approaching security gate. Beyond the fence was a sleek, private jet waiting.
++ The Lady Heartsblood ++
Being what many would see as nothing more than a perverted and kinky madam, I had seen and been involved in some very strange shit.
This whole thing was beginning to climb very high on my list.
There was a serial killer attacking the leather scene. Two crime scene investigators were being put in my care, entrusted to me to be put undercover in a Scene their ilk busted as much as they played. Then again... very few players knew what anyone else did outside the clubs and parties. I knew for a fact that some of my most loyal regulars were on the city, county or federal payrolls. The anonymity was part of the appeal. As the Mercedes pulled up, the twin engines began to whine in preparation for takeoff. Four figures, only two of which I knew, quickly collected luggage and headed over. As the strangers entered the light spilling from the plane, the odd pull I had felt to the small blonde struck again. In the lousy light, I still couldn't get a close look at her. Sara Sidle flashed me an uncomfortable smile.
"Welcome officers, your chariot awaits," I raised my voice above the engines and climbed in first to establish a subtle dominance in this situation.
"Wow," one of them breathed as I went to my usual seat. The other chuckled and something about the voice twigged a memory. Could Catherine Willows sound as familiar as she looked? A glance over my shoulder and I was transported back twenty years.
KC Koloski was boisterous, brass and utterly charming. This complete stranger looked more like her than the woman's daughter! I knew exactly what Catherine Willows would look like in thirty-some years.
Some of my shock must have shown on my face, and I quickly schooled it into calm. The noise from the idling engines vanished with a 'whoosh' as Tessa pulled the door closed and seamlessly began a cabin check to prepare for takeoff. My Tiger bared her teeth at the new women and they took the first seats they found. A quick, friendly swat for Tessa and Karen sketched me a quick bow. "I'll be up front, ma'am," she deferred and headed for the cockpit. While she might not be a true pilot, she knew enough to be useful to the man flying the plane. Stashing the bags and quietly ensuring that our guests were comfortable in the luxurious seats, Tessa was as indispensable as ever. Ken's voice floated over the small interior speakers. "We're ready for takeoff."
A glance at Tessa and our guests confirmed that everyone was strapped in securely, so I pushed the conformation button on my chair and the engines rose to a fever pitch. Even hideously expensive sound shielding couldn't conceal the sound of the jet laboring its way into the sky. Only when the muffled racket and the angle of climb leveled out, did I turn my attention to the two police officers. Both pairs of eyes rested quietly on me, their deference to my position very reassuring. They didn't have to respect me, but their willingness to do so would help disguise them in Chicago.
"Promising," I praised in a toned-down version of my Mistress voice. "Your respectfulness will serve you well undercover."
There was a glint of shy amusement in Sara's beautiful dark eyes, and warm good humor in Catherine's pale gaze. They were totally opposite in body language and the way they met my eyes, intriguing me. Neither spoke and my quiet praise deepened even more. Right on cue, the ding sounded lightly through the passenger compartment and Tessa slipped unobtrusively into the back. I stood and went over to my guests, extending a hand to the elder.
"Anastasia Rogers, the Lady Heartsblood," I introduced myself quietly. "There won't be many who will say it, but thank you both for doing this. Despite the common perception of my ilk, we're just people too."
That earned a sparkling smile from Catherine, who willingly shook my hand. "Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle, pleased to meet you. We're happy to be of service, but you'll need to... break us in, so to speak."
I couldn't help but chuckle at the humor, particularly when Sara pinked around the edges. Such a pretty, shy thing she was. Jesse would be delighted with her and ever so disappointed that she was a girl! Particularly since she looked so much like young Bruce, who I knew my old friend still missed sorely. Both had solid handshakes, even if Sara had a tough time meeting my eyes.
"The chairs turn sideways for ease of conversation. My balance isn't what it used to be, so I usually remain seated during flight. Feel free to move about, Tessa will be out in a moment with refreshments."
While Tessa attended to our guests, I continued to watch them covertly. Catherine was none-to-subtly checking Tessa out and my beloved pet preened discretely. Sara seemed more intrigued by the décor of the plane. How to get her focus on the task at hand? The few prized paintings were of subject matter that left most people puzzling over the content or subtly uncomfortable with the responses of the lizard brain. It was that primitive part of Sara's psyche that was shining in her earthy eyes now. After giving the almost painfully slender woman some time to process, I spoke to her in my best subtly intimidating manner. "Intrigued?"
She wasn't certain how to answer, her upper brain struggling to wrest control from its base twin. How I loved to watch the struggle between intellect and instinct. There was a part of her that knew I was breaking social rules by staring so intently, even as the beast all humans carried deep inside bristled at the threat in the gesture.
"They're beautiful, aren't they?" I commented softly and gestured at the three paintings. Her eyes automatically obeyed the bidding of my hands and I again wished that I could see what she was truly made of. I wasn't in the habit of restraining myself in an environment like this, for my pets came to me for their particular needs. It was supremely strange to know that Sara was only window dressing, so to speak. This whole situation was going to require some serious adapting on the part of us that truly did play the Scene.
"Yes," Sara answered me as her eyes returned to mine. "Ma'am," she added hastily in response to something in my expression.
Such a waste...
++ Karen ++
Something woke with me with a jerk and I instantly took stock of where I was and what was going on around me. Some habits were worth letting your body remember, even if Ken did look at me oddly. We were still deep in the grip of deep night, but the altimeter showed that the plane was at a lower altitude. A great yawn blurred my perceptions for a long moment before I blinked it away. "I'm gonna go see if the Lady needs anything."
"No prob, we'll be in Chicago within half an hour," Ken grinned as I slipped from the cockpit and into the passenger compartment. The lights were down low, the brightest illumination coming from the blue running lights along the walkway. All four of them were sprawled back in the luxurious chairs, sound asleep. I woke Tessa first, so that she could attend to Anastasia, and then I went to Sara. The woman slept shallowly and curled up in a tight little ball. It spoke volumes about her state of mind, both on the surface and deep in her subconscious. So I wisely stayed out of striking range and rested one hand on her thigh.
Sara jumped like a skittish dog, nearly bolting from my light touch. "Hey there," I charmed in the tender tone I usually reserved for Emily and Darya. Something dark and scared lurked in Sara's wide gaze before it was ruthlessly shoved back in its box. Interesting. "We're getting close to Chicago and then we can get you into a real bed. Sound good? You hungry at all? I need to get Catherine up and I can grab you something light to eat."
Mutely, Sara nodded and swallowed hard. "I'm a vegetarian." I refrained from making a 'gun toting-lesbian-vegetarian' comment and just gave her thigh a squeeze before standing. Catherine was yawning hugely in her seat and stretching like a sleepy kitty.
"Mornin' Sweetness," I sassed, and gave her a quick swat on the butt as I walked by. The glare was a palpable force on the back of my head and I just chuckled. Before I could even step into the tiny commissary, Tessa set a tray of fragrant coffee in heavy earthenware mugs in my hands. "Invaluable, as always," was my compliment and retraced my steps. Anastasia looked tired, worn-out and more than a little melancholy. "Lady?"
"Oh Karen," she smiled at me and I hated that she was growing old and frail. The woman was the only real mother I had ever known and I loved her dearly. "What ever would I do without you and Tessa?"
"Somehow, I think that you would manage," I teased affectionately and kissed her gently to coax up a smile. "We're beginning our decent and should be on the ground within half an hour or so."
"Is there anything you require?"
"Your company, dear one."
"My pleasure. Just let me get caffeine to our guests and Tessa should be out briefly with some snacks."
Once the crime scene investigators were happily with coffee, I sprawled into the comfy seat beside Anastasia. There was the familiar discomfort of the curious on Sara's face, and distinctly perverse amusement on Catherine's. That one was going to be trouble. So I settled deeper into the seat and sharpened my gaze, felt deep inside to stoke that feral energy to life. Catherine stilled, the smile fading, as she recognized the beastly power.
It was only the Lady Heartsblood that called me Tiger. Something about my coloring and the intense stare, she told me and the nickname had stuck. There was a tremendous power in the force of my flat gaze. I had spent a lifetime honing it into a deadly weapon, capable of paralyzing even the most stubborn of prey.
And this Catherine was a truly stubborn quarry. Her clear blue eyes narrowed as I held her gaze long and far past any social conventions. This was a battle of wills now.
In the corner of my eye, I noticed the Lady steeple both hands in front of her face to gracefully conceal a smile. She knew this kind of mind game, the chessboard of psychological strengths and weaknesses. My weakness was my curiosity about this fiery wildcat. Now I had to figure out Catherine's.
++ Lady Heartsblood ++
I never tired of watching my Tiger stalk. The woman was a genius at what she did and I once more wished I could persuade her to take my throne. But, whatever it was that she did in her daylight life, it was more important than anything I could offer. Knowing her discretion and integrity, it must be incredibly vital work. Every animal and intellectual neuron in her tall body was focused on the new prey before her now. It was a well-matched contest from my observations.
Whether Sara moved by accident or design, I had no idea, but it very effectively broke the staring contest. Catherine flickered her blue eyes only a millimeter away, but it was enough. There was a blur of red and brown-black and Catherine's body recoiled defensively.
It wasn't enough.
Karen was nearly astride Catherine's lap, one hand bracing her weight on the seat between Catherine's thighs, the other skillfully balancing the coffee mug, noses only millimeters apart. A startled squeak was the blonde's only verbal reply, empty hand raised halfway to brush the dangling edges of Karen's open jacket.
Karen purred almost silently and Catherine remained tensed as though to fight back. Karen cocked her head playfully. "Sometimes to win, you have to surrender. Live to fight another day when your odds are better. Show your throat."
Another long moment passed before Catherine relaxed and allowed her head to fall to the side, indeed exposing the jugular pulsing in her neck. The Tiger was obviously delighted, and I assumed the request had only been rhetorical. My prot?g? wisely rewarded such explicit obedience by dipping her head to carefully run just the tip of her tongue up the tight tendons in Catherine's neck. The blonde's nose wrinkled up in an expression that could almost be mistaken as distaste.
Until Karen's soft mouth gently latched onto that thick vein to suckle lovingly.
There was no mistaking that Catherine liked that just fine, the gasp stifled in her throat completely honest. A shudder ran through her body as I witnessed the white flash of teeth pinching flesh before Karen leaned back. "That'll leave a nice, subtle mark. Good." With a whisper of buttery leather, Karen was sprawled back in her seat, looking very pleased with herself. Catherine was embarrassed but distinctly aroused while Sara could only stare speechlessly. "You may want to button up, Sunshine," Karen teased lightly. "Or I may take a bite out of you too."
Sara obeyed with a click of her teeth, and it was difficult to tell if she was relieved or disappointed.
++ Dace ++
"So you're here to catch this guy," Jane drawled out thoughtfully, her expression hidden behind dark sunglasses and steepled fingers. We'd agreed to a group lunch in an upscale bistro just off Lake Michigan.
"The idea to force Sylvia's hand into an apology was my idea," I sighed. "But she made the choice to actually call."
"Well it isn't like you can't manipulate the Red Queen."
I bristled in defense of my former Mistress for a moment before catching the teasing note in Jane's voice. "Brat," I complained half-heartedly and she laughed. There was something about Jane that had always stood out to me, something she shared with Mel. "Hey, do you believe that we can be more than just plain human?"
The question from left-field caught Jane off guard and wariness flashed in her eyes. "More than human? What do you mean?"
"Call me nuts, but I've always sensed something deeper in you and Mel. Like you've been around impossibly long. That tall bartender with the crazy Dungeons and Dragons bar that Fenris loves feels almost the same. Does this make any sense?"
"Sort of," Jane hedged. She seemed uncomfortable, now picking at the pasta salad she'd been attacking minutes before. "I've... sensed something odd in you too."
Maybe my gamble would pay off after all. Since Jo and the FBI women were at another table, I had decided to confide in my old pal. "Yeah, that doesn't surprise me. See, I've been... haunted, for lack of a better word, by this cougar inside my head as long as I can remember. My mother eventually whined at me enough to ignore the cat as a kid, but it was more like she was asleep, hibernating kind of, but not gone. The only time I ever sort of felt her was when I played, y'know? But she didn't wake up fully until I knew I was coming here."
"I'm following you so far, go on."
Relieved that Jane was hearing me out, I continued to unload. "Only now, I'm not just seeing her, it's like she holds some kind of influence over me, like we're sharing control over my body. I'm starting to see and hear and smell stuff that's impossible to do. So, I'm thinkin' I'm goin' nuts, right?"
"But..." this was the hard part to say, my smart human brain raging against what it considered impossible. "But what if there's some truth to it? If I just saw the cougar, I'd be willing to think I was just going nuts. But the senses increasing? And this prey drive? And the need to protect becoming obsessive? This stuff's got me confused."
++ Jane ++
Poor Dace, she looked so lost and, indeed, confused. Perhaps honesty was the best policy after all. I knew Granddame Mel would understand. Gramma Jan would scowl and fuss, but understand that this friend needed me. So I reached deep inside and called up that ancient power within me. "So, Dace, my old pal," I said with false casualness. "Do you believe in the absurd?"
Smiling weakly, Dace rested her chin on her hand. "I think my little tale there was a yes."
"There was a couple, back in ancient Greece, and they can't be separated, even by death or time. Me and Mel are the latest incarnation."
There was a long pause before Dace smirked. "Sounds like a Xena rerun."
I winced at the reference to that god-forsaken show. Damn that idiot, Joxer, and his equally idiotic family line. "Yeah, well, funny you should mention that..."
A strange look came over Dace's face. "Wait a minute. Pappas... your last name is Pappas."
"Yes. And Granddame Mel was none to happy about that ridiculous program slandering the truth of the matter. Yes, Janice and Mel found the Xena Scrolls, and yes that idiot Jack took them home to Jersey, and yes, that horrible TV show was based after my family history." Before Dace could ask, I explained. "Gramma Jan wisely decided that we were better off letting the truth hide behind the fiction." There was a dumbfounded silence. It was funny to see the normally witty and gregarious Dace at a complete loss for words. "There's more stories than what the Bard wrote down, some of which involve the bartender in New York, some of which involve a species from outer space. Yes, seriously. And some of which involved a special niche of humanity that fits your story." Now I had her attention. "It was a stronger phenomenon in the Americas, but I'm betting it was prevalent all over the world. When our ancestors were more closely tied to nature, before agriculture and industrialization and living in cities, they had an uncanny rapport with the land and animals and seasons. With many hundreds of generations of selective breeding and 'magic', if you will, strains of specialized tribal protectors started popping up. There was this anthropology student in Cascade, Washington that published a paper on the phenomenon before he unexpectedly rescinded it." Now I met Dace's staring eyes, not surprised to see gold dancing amid the blue. "He dubbed them Sentinels, and you're definitely not alone."