Book 4: Rapids.

Series: Light, Water, Muses. An alternate universe for a variety of television series. See disclaimers below.

Rating: Still an R, but still climbing! It'll be worth your patience, trust me...

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

Pairings: Anastasia/Tessa

Notes: Bless your heart Lex, for the Nyotaimori idea. You ROCK!

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: the Four Suits are honored in appropriate fashion, and we find out what the hell nyotaimori is! Then Catherine meets her elder double...

Chapter 21
Winning Streak

++ Sylvia ++

I was pale and queasy with fear and nerves. Luckily, the ghostly look worked for me. In the week since Tarzan's official phone call to invite my personage to a reception in the Four Suits' honor, I had been extremely busy. All of my affairs were in good hands while I was gone, my pets would be fed, instructions had been left in the correct ears.

That had been days ago, and since then I'd been frantically busy. There was a man I knew, an artiste the likes of which were extremely few and far between. A great, hairy boar of a male that under any other circumstances would disgust me. In his great ham hock hands, leather would write the most extraordinary poetry. From buttery lingerie to hardened sheets of armor, he could make animal hide into anything. He had truly outdone himself this time, and the custom chopper I'd commissioned in payment for this and a handful of other outfits was money well spent.

It was thin kidskin, nearly as supple as fabric, dyed in the most exquisite shade of fresh, whole blood. Nearly every square inch was delicately patterned in my diamonds, a geometric tapestry that had been accomplished only after the costume was complete. I still couldn't figure out exactly how the pattern had been put on, not a stamp, and not layers scraped away, but seemingly a combination of the two techniques. The diamond pattern thinned and lengthened at my narrow points, the diamonds growing thick, almost square, over my round places. It was a brilliant effect, and very subtly done, helping exaggerate my figure. The cornerstone was a classic whale-bone corset, so severe that I was in serious pain just wearing it. Built as part of it was a severe, high collar, the likes of which Morticia Addams would be proud of. A flowing skirt, cut high on the hip, knee-high boots with a six-inch spike heel and elbow-length kidskin gloves completed the outfit, all of it matching the color and pattern. My wild red hair was slicked back like a skullcap, to explode into chaos from where it was bound at the back of my head. Make-up was stark and carefully done to exaggerate the sharpness of my features.

Racheal was brilliant in a sheath of the same color and pattern, laced from knees to neck so tightly that her skin was indented by the cords. The glorious kick of it was, that there were no openings for her arms, they were laced right into the outfit, crisscrossed in the small of her back. Her heels were similar to mine, only chunky.

Seated across from me, my right hand Dom tried to rein in a smirk at the intensity of what was going on around us. The private jet sent from Jesse was finally ending its long taxi and it was nearly time to go onstage. Salix had been an unexpected addition to my tiny inner circle. She had appeared in my clubs years ago and made quite the impression on the old guard. She was very much an opposite to me, yet that had somehow turned into an asset. She was a sarcastic, world-weary, generation X Goth girl that was as talented as she was arrogant. Her arrogance appealed to me, and we had actually become a fabulous team over the last few years. She had been a great strength to me during my self-imposed exile from the other Suits. Over time, she had even taken on a few of my aspects, like her look going from street-waif shabby chic to something sleeker and classier.

She proudly wore the Jack of Diamonds in several discrete places on her skin-tight black costume cut in a strangely archaic style. It was the only color on her black leathers, so black they almost had the same slight blue tinge as her carefully dyed hair. All the dark was startling contrast to her Goth-pale face and blood-red lips. While I generally abhorred the Goth look as somewhat immature and overdone, she made it work. Beneath that sweet, pale face was a black heart, a wicked imagination and a depth of ruthless sadism that warmed my heart. Salix had real potential to become a replacement, for she was an appealing combination of kinky, evil, social and pragmatic. And that sweet, girl-next-door smile so startling in her ghost-painted face was a really nice weapon as well, particularly when she sported one of her many sets of hand-crafted predatory teeth. The vampire bent to her persona suited her well, oddly not cheesy as it was for most. Perhaps Dace would remember the girl...

Her favorite companion was a big man she called only Puppy. He was a handsome fellow with unkempt dark hair and a sad dog face that lent nicely to a sub. He was dressed like a Chippendale dancer with a kinky twist. The leather pants were thick and as tight as possible, his masculine equipment cradled in paper-thin kidskin that showed off the intricate bondage she had on him this evening. Heavy leather straps crisscrossed his strong chest, connecting a large ring on the front. His job tonight was to guard Rachael, ensuring that she didn't fall due to her dangerous bondage.

The plane had finally stopped and the three of them looked at me expectantly. "It is time, My Queen," Salix intoned somberly, all hints of her usual sarcasm absent. She stood and formally offered me a gallant hand. Treating her as the vassal she was, I let the young woman draw me to my feet, watching as she fell in a half-step behind me, on my right.

Haughtily drawing myself up and ignoring the nervous quiver in knees and belly, I swept down the short flight of steps in the jet's entry hatch and stepped onto Chicago's tarmac. Three figures waited there; Cheetah, exquisite in her finest Amazon leathers, Brann, dapper in his 1700's British military reds and much to my surprise, Bane Shidhe, in her customary biker gear, polished up to a sheen. In flawless unison, they bowed deeply before Cheetah stepped forward. "Red Queen, the Queen of Diamonds," she intoned with absolute seriousness, "Greetings and welcome from the Suit of Clubs."

"Jack of Clubs," I returned the formal greeting, liking the remembered taste of the ritual. "The hospitality of the Suit of Clubs is recognized by the Suit of Diamonds."

"Please ma'am," Cheetah continued, gesturing in the direction of an inky limousine and matching town-car. "Transportation awaits you."

Imagine my surprise when the door was opened to reveal that my eyes had not deceived me, this was indeed Jesse's personal car. Trying to conceal my renewed bout of nervous butterflies, I climbed into the great indent of my old friend's body, where there was room enough for two of me. Salix was next, and Puppy carefully handed Racheal in to kneel at my feet while he did the same with his Mistress. Cheetah took the seat closest to the door as the divider between the two sections began to drop. Brann was driving, Bane seated beside him. The towering red-head twisted to look at me with solemn emerald eyes. "It's very good to see you again, Red Queen." Any implied censure in her tone was belied with a warm smile and I began to feel distinctly better about this monumental event.

++ Anastasia ++

I was running out of time, but the fall of this gorgeous and strange outfit Tessa had thought up was giving me fits. Humming placidly to herself, my sweet girl futzed with lengths of tiny silk ribbon to improve the fit. The sweet, faintly discordant sound grounded me with its very familiarity. A quick, affectionate, rough rub along her ear earned a purring note and I debated a quickie to relax me. A glance at the clock ruined that idea and I sighed heavily. The sound made Tessa rub against my hand like a kitty and I allowed the intimacy. "Finished Mistress," she said calmly, but made no move to stand. Curious, I strode to the mirror and eyed myself critically. When Tessa had first come up with this idea, I had been skeptical at best, but it appeared that my slave once again knew my body better than I.

It was a skin-tight black body suit that would have left me self-conscious of my aging body, if not for the startling sheath over the top. It was a exquisite second skin of loosely-woven cotton lace, handmade here in the United States and lovingly dyed the color of fresh blood. What impressed me about the lace, was that someone had managed to oh-so-subtly incorporate my upside-down heart into the pattern. It was quite lovely and surprisingly soft. I'd decided on the body suit only for color contrast, and to pay tribute to black. My hair was loosely done up, makeup warm, yet severe. I very much looked the disciplinarian Mommy of the Scene, the role I had lovingly played for all of these many years. The nervous, queasy expression lurking in my eye almost ruined the effect. There was so much riding on tonight, so much history both good and bad.

"Where is that damn..." I began murmuring irritably when there was a knock on my chamber door. "Enter!" My bark made the door swing open hastily and I was pleasantly surprised at the figure standing demurely there. "Sara, darling, come in. This is a delightful surprise."

"Lady Heartsblood," the brunette said respectfully and stepped inside. Her arms were full of a expansive drape of the finest silk available. I knew what it was, but wanted to know how she was faring first. "It is good to see you again."

Taking her chin in my hand, I looked critically at the slender woman, noting the positive changes in her. "How has Leonacouer been treating you? Imagine my shock when my silly gorilla handed you over to that beast."

"She's been wonderful, My Lady."

That took me aback and my expression must have shown it, because Sara smiled faintly. "So you've enjoyed the former Ace of Diamonds?"

"Yes ma'am. She has been an exquisite teacher." The flush on her cheeks and the dreaminess in dark eyes spoke volumes. So the irrepressible charm of that mercurial blonde minx had ensnared yet another.

"Is your companion as besotted with her?" I sniped archly and stopped short. The look on Sara's face was ill-concealed shock, and I'm certain Tessa echoed it behind me. I had never liked Dace, finding her arrogant and irrepressible, the out-of-control wildness boiling far to close to the surface. There was no doubt that the woman was intensely charismatic and engagingly competent at whatever she set her mind to, but I preferred my companionship to be firmly under my control. Dace never was, not even when I had her tied up like a Christmas ham and screaming for mercy. Like having a trained lioness on a chain, I was never certain of compliance or a face full of needle-sharp claws.

If I were completely honest, I was perhaps faintly jealous of the sisterly ease she had always shared with Karen. Since they had met as wild teens, the girls had been littermates in every sense of the word except blood. Shaking off my ruminations, I gave Sara an apologetic look.

"Forgive an old woman's temper. I have far too much history here tonight. It's overwhelming. Help me dress." From apology to direct order in one breath, that was more like me. Sara held the voluminous silk open and it draped about me in waves of weightless extravagance. The silk had been hand-dyed carefully in harsh geometric patterns ranging from organic leaves to the ever-present upside-down heart in my favored jeweled style. Red and black, highlighted only slightly with splashes of white, the wild kimono-style robe was everything I'd hoped for.

Tessa was resplendent in nothing more than an intricate series of whisper-fine silver chains suspended from red leather garters at throat, bicep, and knee. The fantastic tattoos adorning her flawless skin were costume enough. A wilderness of dangerous plants climbed her thighs, over that perfect ass and curled all over her lower back to vanish beneath her long hair. Strangler fig, climbing lava-red roses, variegated ivy, pale mistletoe, all highlighted a delicate orchid and an exquisite Clerodendrum, my favorite plant, called the Bleeding Heart. The artwork was worth a fortune and I adored admiring it. The chains from her collar fell to frame my symbol that decorated her heart. Tessa's was unique in that the inverted heart was the body of a closed padlock, symbolizing that she was mine, body and soul. I wore a matching key in my skin, on the very same place.

"We're ready," I pronounced after adjusting a few of the chains decorating Tessa and kissing her fondly. "Have the other Suits arrived?" There was no response from Sara, who seemed enthralled with Tessa's elaborately tattooed skin. At least my pet had the self-control not to preen for once, because I was not up to disciplining her right now. I was far to stressed. "Sunshine!" That sharp bark made Sara double-take and flush rosy.

"I'm sorry, My Lady. Umm... The Red Queen will be here any moment and KC is only moments behind," she stammered and swallowed hard, dropping her eyes to the floor. I had only a moment before I had to go greet my old friends, but I knew that Sara needed some mentoring. Additionally, it was a good distraction from my own fretting.

"Child," I soothed softly, again cupping her chin so that she shyly met my eyes. "Don't forget that no one will judge you here. If you come to me in Las Vegas once all of this is over, I can help you understand what you are feeling and experiencing. Okay?"

"Okay," she whispered and smiled the sweetest, most heart-breaking lovely smile. "Thank you, My Lady."

"My pleasure, Sunshine. Escort me?"

"My pleasure, My Lady."

++ Jesse ++

Things had happened so fast... All of these visitors from my past, this lunatic loose in my city, a reception the likes of which had never been attempted before. Never this elaborate in this short a time. I was so proud of my staff that I could cry. Or was the strangling lump in my throat just nerves from who would soon walk through those double doors? Seeing Anastasia had been weird enough, but we'd kept in touch long after losing Sylvia and KC. Now, all of that was going to change.

"I feel like I'm getting married or something," I grumbled petulantly and Jane chuckled in sympathy. How the hell the woman made an intricately tooled leather halter, loincloth and boots look so formal was completely beyond me. Not that I was surprised by the phenomenon any longer. This girl was my right hand, my successor, one of my dearest friends, and a daughter to me. She wore her Queen of Clubs proudly embroidered in the heavy hide of her long bracers. Exquisitely decorated feathers and fetishes hung within the horsehair mane from her elaborately carved wooden mask, and the leather garters nestled in the hollow of sculpted upper arms sported more feathers and decorative bits. She was every inch the Amazon Warrior-Queen.

I felt rather plain by comparison, which suited me just fine tonight. My boys had outdone themselves with the elegant simplicity of this costume. Leather pants that gleamed like pvc, a snotty-formal silk shirt that was as blindingly white as it was purringly soft against my skin. The vest my stable and the Amazons had made me was the centerpiece and I was delighted with the gift. Heavy leather with chunky clasps instead of a zipper, it was decorated with the themes so important to me. My life as a lover of American motorcycles, the POW MIA symbol to remember my fellow soldiers, the King of Clubs near my heart and in the small of my back. Tiny had spent two days shining my old boots until they were mirror-smooth. All and all, I felt very appreciated and that gave me strength in this stressful time. Jane had even gifted me with a tiny, spotted pheasant feather chained to an ear cuff and I was outrageously pleased with the simple, meaningful gift.

Quite suddenly, Mel materialized at my elbow, resplendent in a simple black gown and a chunky silver necklace that was stunning on her. "They're here, sir."

"Thank you, dear," I murmured distractedly and was unaccountably comforted by her quick touch on my arm. I sure as hell didn't feel like my usual butch self tonight...

++ Jane ++

It was like they planned it.

As the Red Queen swept into the room like an arctic breeze, Lady Heartsblood entered from a side door and the entire room froze. It was like a slow-motion sequence. I was half expecting them to draw six-shooters and duke it out right here. Sighing in exasperation at my elders, I stepped closer and pitched my voice to fill the room without shouting. "Welcome, houses of red, the Suit of Diamonds and the Suit of Hearts. The Suit of Clubs welcomes you to this honorable event."

Fenris, thankfully, appeared at my elbow in that moment, and we went to our elders as escorts. A quick glance confirmed that Fen would take the strikingly tall Sylvia, offering a gallant arm that the red Dom settled a gauntleted hand on. That left me to flash a small, heartening grin at the Lady and offer my own arm. She squeezed the heavy bracer rather harder than I expected, but I was feeling the tension of the event myself, and I had far less riding on this than the four that had created our inner system of rank and formality.

"My thanks, Queen of Clubs," Anastasia smiled thinly as I brought her to the magnificent high-backed oak chair, embroidered and carved with her symbol. I heard Sylvia say something similar to Fenris, just as a ripple of awareness went through the building.

Like the headliner at a sold-out rock concert, the curtains at the entryway were flung back by a small, imposing figure in jeans, a tooled leather vest and something that flashed lacy-girlie underneath. Behind her trailed a crack-military unit of Swords, dressed like shock troops from a sci-fi movie. Hard to believe the woman was sixty-three!

Bane took a step forward, even as Jesse broke formality and rushed forward with an excited, "KC!" At the last second, he pulled up at her grin and fidgeted like a nervous schoolboy. My mentor and our head matriarch had always shared a special bond.

"I've missed you, boy," KC chuckled throatily and she was swept up in a big bear hug. None of the Swords so much as twitched from their rigid postures and I admired their silent threat and control. Neither of the red women had seated themselves, and Fen and I wisely remained standing sentinel beside them.

"Welcome," Jesse finally remembered to say, still holding KC's tiny frame against his large one. "From the Suit of Clubs."

"Well met, Suit of Clubs," KC acknowledged with her usual mischief. "The Suit of Spades are honored to attend this event."

Then I heard the gasp, and broke protocol to glance over. Yup, I was right.

++ KC Koloski ++

Something in the unexpected sound made me look over. There was Bane, looking as scrumptious as ever, a hand cupped around each of the two women flanking her. The whip-slender dark one had both hands clapped over her mouth and her eyes were owl-round. Karen was perversely amused, mixed with a healthy dose of shock.

It was like looking into a mirror.

Jesse let me down from our hug, even as my eyes widened. "Extraordinary, eh?" My old pal whispered almost soundlessly and I shook off my astonishment. This was no time to indulge in the shock of my much-younger doppelganger. So I forced myself to wave my Sword Unit off and formally took Jesse's arm to be led to the table. The look on Sylvia's face when I grinned warmly was priceless and she smiled somewhat queasily back. Anastasia was much warmer, though she too, looked stressed. Tessa carefully kept her nerves and delight masked, as did the pair flanking Sylvia. Bravo. At least discipline hadn't waned in my absence from my younger peers. Grace's eyes danced with warmth and humor, mirrored in Jane's expressive, yet strangely flat gaze.

"Honored guests," Jesse intoned somberly as he deposited me beside a gorgeously carved chair bearing some of my favored symbols and Bane smoothly took his place so that he could move to his own chair. "Welcome to this extraordinary event, the re-birth of the Four Suits as a cohesive family of darkness!" Sylvia's Goth girl shadow moved to stand beside him and I recognized her with a start. Looks like Salix had finally grown into her own! The moment of quiet grew to something that was almost awkward and Grace made a vaguely exasperated sound and raised her hands to begin a solemn applause. Jane, Salix and Bane picked up the rhythm instantly and my heart warmed. The pleasure on my contemporaries' faces was worth the unexpected applause. Bless that prot?g? of mine for always knowing just what to do.

As somber quiet again fell, smooth classical music wafted in, and serving slaves minced in on nervous feet. Karen, drawn into a perfect parade rest, gestured neutrally with her right hand and a silver-tray bearing slave materialized there, head bowed. Not meeting my eye, the tall woman offered the delicate goblet, perfectly balanced on two kidskin-sheathed fingertips. "Champagne ma'am," she clipped out in a formal tone.

"Thank you, Bane Shidhe," I replied just as formally. "As you were."

Each of our seconds played out similar interactions with my peers around the table. I watched Grace's behavior like a hawk, checking for any flaws in her. There were none. Sylvia took the goblet and Grace stepped smoothly to the edge of the woman's personal space, holding perfect military posture. Excellent.

Steeling herself, Sylvia drew herself to her full, haughty bearing and raised her glass. "A toast," she spoke in a clear, icy tone, but I could hear the faintest tremor in her voice. "To the blessed relief that even I am capable of learning my lesson." It was a terrific toast, and a strange way of apologizing that was all Sylvia. I'm sure that my grin reflected both Jesse and Anastasia's.

"Hear, hear," we chimed in.

"To my dearest friends," Jesse added in softly after we had sampled the fine bubbly wine. "How I've missed you and how glad I am that we're together again." There was a part of me that wanted to tease him for being such a schmoopy old softie, but I could feel the happy sting of tears myself.

Again we drank and it was Anastasia who next raised her glass. "To our reunion."

Then I had to say something as the matriarch of the tribe. Every eye was on me and the old showman in me rose to the occasion. "To our past, our present and our future!"

There was applause again as I grinned at my smiling friends.

++ Jesse ++

As the unexpected clapping died down yet again, some hidden signal was sent and the heavy black drapes kitty-corner to Anastasia and I suddenly vibrated and began to roll back. "A gift," Jane announced formally. "For our mentors and respected elders."

Now, I knew that the woman had been up to something, after all, she'd stolen Tiny out from under my nose, but this was exquisite. Tiny, Dace and a woman I didn't yet recognize had been propped up on their elbows in identical poses, with carefully dressed food and paraphernalia arrayed around them with enough skill to bring a tear to any chef's eye. Black rope bondage decorated Dace's pale skin, contrasting with her bright hair and the spread pink of her pussy. And Tiny! Goodness me, had he ever looked so positively edible? White rope decorated his magnificent frame and a jeweled ring glittered at the head of his cock where it nearly touched his belly. There was a fountain of sorts rigged over the strange woman, and a thick, golden liquid oozed out of one nozzle to flow to the square of latex stretched over her dark pubes. From there, it drained into a copper basin. The other was a thick, dark brown I would bet my best leathers was chocolate. It too drained into a copper basin between the woman's feet.

Gesturing gallantly for the other Suits to proceed me to the tables, we moved closer. A wonderful mix of warm food smells greeted us as we came close enough to see the more mundane part of this gift. Delicate fruit tarts like multi-colored sculptures done by a master's hand sat delicately on the bronzy skin of the stranger I now recognized as one of Fenris' crew. Powdered sugar tapped delicately over her was a delightful contrast to her coloring and fine musculature. There was a selection of confections and fruit arrayed near her upraised knees, and I confirmed that the mystery fountain was indeed warmed honey from one tube and chocolate the other! Pony was hovering over the woman with a 'no touch' expression and I grinned. "Oh, this is terribly clever my dear!" She inclined her head gracefully at the compliment and remained close to the living desert tray.

"Nyotaimori," Sylvia purred in appreciation, plucking a delicate piece of sushi from Tiny's oiled skin. "How I adore naked sushi. Very nice, boy." My pride and joy smiled without smiling, bless his well-mannered heart. There were neatly rolled and cut sushi rolls of all the colors of the rainbow, as well as morsels of sashimi on their little pats of sticky rice. Sauces, additional servings and little cups of traditional drink nestled amid the green around his dark body. Yummy!

Dace's contribution to the meal was also very intriguing... There were puddles and trickles of colorful sauces, artfully held in place by the contours of her skin as well as the more solid parts of the presentation. There were colorful nibbles of bread and pita, as well as some lightly cooked slivers of vegetables and meat. The fondues of broth and cheese were almost an afterthought.

It was going to be a great night.

To be continued…

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