Book 5: Ripples.
Series: Light, Water, Muses. An alternate universe for a variety of television series. See disclaimers below.
Rating: PG-13, beware of warm fuzzies.
Category: The continuing saga of Reflections/ Resurgences/Refractions/Rapids. Begins shortly after Rapids ended
Pairings: Art/Sam/Janet. Karen/Darya.
General Disclaimer: This site contains stories between mature, consenting adult females. All characters are borrowed without permission, but without the intent of infringement. Previously unrecognized characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Disclaimer: “CSI”, see chapter 1.
Disclaimer: “The Division”, see chapter 1.
Disclaimer: “The X-Files”, see chapter 1.
Disclaimers: “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”, see chapter 1.
Disclaimer: “Stargate SG-1”, All publicly recognizable characters and places are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret Productions. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognized characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Spoilers: Nothing specific.
Summary: We check back in with the families in Colorado. Emily fills in some blanks.
++ Janet ++
Our family had gotten a wonderful and totally unexpected present for Christmas. Art had pulled out her favorite holiday albums and the sweet sounds of Amy Grant filled our house. Of course, my love added her own voice to the recordings, as she danced about with decorations and the kids. Then the damnest thing happened.
Fawn started to sing along.
With a stunning grace, clarity and depth, our daughter, not quite two, manifested a talent I hadn’t dared think would be passed on. Art had a gorgeous voice, rich and resonant as only a natural gift can be. Fawn’s ‘little silver flute of a voice’, Art’s words, not mine, was a perfect and completely startling harmony to her father’s deeper tones. We were all delighted, but none more so than father and daughter. Fawn was so much my child, that it was often hard to believe that she was really Art’s daughter at all. But, in the sweet strains of Amy Grant’s ‘The Night Before Christmas’, my girls found a connection that none of us shared. There was a singular bond now, and it was a powerful one.
Even now, I could hear the two of them trying to master the complexities of ‘That’s What Love Is For’. Amy Grant had ruled our collective lives for nearly two months now. If not for Fawn and Art’s delight in their new hobby, I would have broken every one of those damn albums.
Sam chuckled at my expression, never looking up from whatever book and a half she was pouring over at the kitchen table. It sure wasn’t astrophysics that was amusing her. Teasing blue eyes peered at me from beneath feathery blonde hair and, for the millionth time, I felt my breath catch. It was a formidable weapon, that teasing, shy look that Sam was so damn good at. Just as they had been before, my pregnancy hormones made me horny. Not a little bit either. It seemed the fire in my groin and nipples and every muscle in my body was never more than banked just a bit.
I only behaved myself and didn’t jump on Sam right there in the kitchen because Cubby chose that exact moment to toddle into the kitchen. “Mama, look,” he exclaimed proudly and held up a battered drawing I recognized immediately as Cooper’s wise old face. It didn’t matter that the portrait was in sloppy crayon, I knew. Behind my boy was the dog in question. Cooper was never far from one twin or the other. Like a guardian angel, the big German Shepherd watched over them with endless patience and devotion. As I scooped up Cubby to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over the picture, I patted my belly in encouragement to Cooper.
Cooper had been my shadow before the twins were born, always getting underfoot so that he could press his big head against the slowly growing swell of the babies. Sighing happily, he did that again, and we were both comforted by the contact. At nearly four and a half months, I was only just beginning to show, but Cooper had known the day I walked in after our mission back to the ‘recreation’ planet. Karen and Art had gone through the machine to change them to men, and once again passed on a unique genetic legacy.
Sam and Darya were also happily pregnant.
++ Karen ++
It was a quiet Saturday with just the three of us holed up at home against the bitter February chill. Darya hummed happily, and woefully out of tune, bless her, in the kitchen. Emily had completely taken over the space in front of the hearth, happily drawing to the flickering firelight. It was her favorite spot in the entire house, much to Sam’s delight. Butchie slept the sleep of the just and clueless, all four legs in the air, paws twitching as she dreamed innocent doggie dreams. We had rented Sam’s cute little house from her once the relationships we enjoyed became permanent, and really liked its sweet charm.
Even as both Dare and I knew that our growing family would be too much for its two little bedrooms. Cozy for three and the big dog, but would be crowded with babies on the way. As though conjured up from my thoughts, I felt Dare’s warmth press into my skull as she leaned over to offer me a glass of something. “You look awful pensive for a crossword, sweetie,” was her soft tease. The green eyes bordering gray were my home and my heart. For the millionth time since meeting the woman, I found myself grinning helplessly. “Looks like it’s contagious.”
Sure enough, Emily was frozen, crayon still poised above her sketchpad, her blue eyes trained on the cheery blaze in the fireplace. It was kind of cute, except for the strange stillness to her. A memory nagged me, a thought just out of my reach that suddenly seemed very important.
“Emily?” I asked gently, gesturing a puzzled Darya to remain silent. “What is it?”
There was no response as the child reached out for something we adults could not see. That near-alarm pricked at me again and Dare picked up on my nerves, a frown gathering between her brows.
“Dace,” I breathed without even realizing it. The sound of my voice nearly startled me. Emily’s gaze swung to us, the movement smooth and feline, with none of her usual growing-girl clumsiness. For long heartbeats her eyes seemed to glow a stranger, wilder blue than her usual summer-sky gaze.
The sudden knock at the door made all three of us jump.
++ Dace ++
Something pulled at me, and Liv grumbled half-heartedly at the fringes of my awareness. Catherine could feel it too, that strange pulse of the familiar so near now. I’d felt the phantom touch of connection before, from Snake-Eyes, and from Lindsey.
I didn’t even meet Karen’s startled gaze, casting my searching eyes lower. And there she was. The other girl cub who called to me so strongly. Bright, bright blue eyes, a spot of summer in the dead of winter, blazed up at me in awe. Ignoring my war wounds, I knelt, and those summer eyes followed me in eloquent silence. This was the cub who had first called my cat, and she purred and kitty-talked happily to the answering flash of feral blue in Emily’s gaze.
“You came,” Emily whispered softly and was suddenly just my little niece. Helplessly, I grinned with all the love I had felt for her for so long.
“I promised, didn’t I?”
It was an eloquent moment between us, and her smile was perfect understanding. With a knowledge not from the entirely human part of her brain, Emily knew exactly where to put her small hands, where to tuck her solid little body against me so that she caused me no pain. We hugged like we had always known one another. Which, in a way, we always had.
“C’mon, c’mon,” Liv finally groused fondly and strong hands were suddenly grabbing me in the places where they would cause the least hurt. I groaned in dull pain, despite their care, and the Coyote whined reassurance, echoed in Catherine’s beautiful eyes.
“Just think how nice it will be when the pain goes away,” my mate smiled at me and I chuckled despite myself. Then Liv lightly shoved us both and we finally stopped letting all the warmth out of the cozy house.
And I came up face to face, nearly nose to nose, with a sparkling pair of smoky green eyes, framed in a face I knew well from photos. In that instant, I knew exactly where Emily had gotten her unique heritage from. Once again, I found myself grinning helplessly at a stranger who was anything but strange to me.
++ Darya ++
The electric buzz of connection was like ozone and the thick, sweltering heat of the jungle. Suddenly, I understood things about my daughter, and myself, because I could see them reflected in the crystalline sky-blue gaze of this woman. The smile spread across her face like the bright rays of the awakening dawn, and I was struck by the power of her. No wonder she charmed wherever she went.
“Dace,” I greeted her softly, and that smile warmed even further into sheer delight. Beneath that single-minded regard, I felt like the most important person in her world in that moment. “You are every inch the charmer I imagined you to be.”
The hug would have taken me off guard, if I had not understood as well as I suddenly did. Things Karen told me about this woman and things about myself and Emily and my sister fell into place as I carefully squeezed her too-slender body.
“God damn, but it’s good to finally hug you,” she whispered and I chuckled. Then she sheepishly let me go a bit and grinned idiotically at her quiet companions, one light and one dark. “My packmates,” Dace explained with quiet adoration, gesturing with her chin at one then the other. “Catherine Willows and Olivia Benson. This is Darya Farazell, guys, Karen’s wife.”
“Unca Dace,” came a protest near our hips that earned chuckles at the outraged imperiousness of the tone. “Me too.”
“Sorry, baby. And this Emily Farazell.”
“Pleased to meet you, Liv-yuh,” Emily said to Olivia, who grinned in the way people do who are naturals with kids, and warmly shook the little hand.
“I’m pleased to meet you too, Emily. Why don’t you call me Liv? All my friends call me Liv.”
That earned points with my four and a half year old, who beamed winningly. Then she turned her attention at the small blonde woman at Dace’s back. Stilling, Emily cocked her head and studied Catherine Willows with a strange intensity. Before I could ask a question, Dace squeezed my waist and breathed a near-inaudible ‘shhh’.
++ Emily ++
Mommy kind of knew. And Aun’ Davie. Sometimes there was more to the world than just what everybody could see an’ smell and stuff. But only kinda knew. Unca Dace knew, really knew. And now that there was a grown-up that knew, then I could be different and mommy and Kryn would know, ‘cause Unca Dace would tell them. I just knew she would, and everything would be okay.
But there was somethin’… diff’rent about this lady. She was Unca Sam and Unca Dace’s colors, but she smiled like she was a mommy too.
See, I liked kitties, ‘cause I understood them. The way their fur was soft, and they could catch a string, no matter how fast I pulled it. They could stare like they saw more’n we did, we big, clumsy people. But this lady was different, but kinda the same.
There was somethin’ close by, like Fawn when she hid at a corner to try and scare me by jumping out. She never did scare me, but she kept trying. Somethin’ smelled close and kinda like I knew it, and the lady crouched, and there was a somethin’ in her smile that made me smile too. She smiled like there was a good joke only just us two knew. But it was a nice joke, not the kind that hurt, that made people cry and smell like they hurt on the inside. I wann’ed to purr, like Jafna when she was really, really happy, and somethin’ laughed in the lady’s eyes.
When it was really quiet at night, I could hear the c’yotes singing far, far away. It was a spooky sound, but not a scary one. I never told mommy, but I saw one once, sniffing the sky while mommy played with the ATM. It looked at me with cornbread-gold eyes that laughed just like this new lady.
My purr liked her, same as I liked Fawn, who was a shadowy secret, and this lady was sunshine. Bet she knew why I liked Fawn so much, because Fawn was always part of my purr, just like this c’yote was part of Unca Dace’s purr.
And we were never, ever alone.
++ Catherine ++
Since all of this had started with meeting Dace’s eyes in that provocative hold back in Chicago, I had been bewildered by it. There had been no time to study the strange phenomenon of Dace’s powers, and exactly what role I played in them. Oh sure, I knew the effect, but that wasn’t good science. It was obviously genetically related, as proven by Lindsey, and the green-eyed brunette standing with Dace’s arm thrown lazily over her shoulders.
Now, there was another one, another girl-child whose eyes burned with curiosity. This child would care even less than my Lindsey, several years older, how the hell her powers worked. She would need a gentle guide. The spotted Lion cub watched me crouch before her, that bright gaze never wavering. Long moments passed while she processed me, and the happily whining Coyote presence in my mind. Then Emily grinned brilliantly as though I had answered a hugely puzzling riddle that had been bugging her for a long time.
“You are like Fawn. Now you can help mommy and Kryn unner’stand. Do you like apple juice?” The abrupt change in topic didn’t phase me, and I grinned back.
“I love apple juice, thank you, Emily.”
Approval and adoration radiated out from Dace, and it deepened my smile. It was so extraordinary to no longer be alone inside my own skin. How I survived as long as I had was amazing to me. Olivia’s low, coaxing tones resulted in relief from my mate. By the sounds, they were all sitting down, Karen’s soothing voice rumbling softly to Dace. Emily was chattering and, now that Dace was resting, I could pay closer attention. Then something in her rambling caught my ear, and Emily turned to me proudly with a perfectly poured glass of juice. “Here you are.”
“Thank you Emily. Have you always been able to hear Fawn?”
“Indulge a silly grown up, but what exactly is ‘always’?”
That look of skeptical ‘duh’ on a child’s face was the best mix of endearing and annoying. “Always,” Emily repeated somewhat helplessly and a well-honed interrogation skills held my tongue. The bright blue eyes unfocused as Emily cast back into her memories. Then her expression cleared with a satisfied smile. “When Nanet’s tummy was just starting to get tight and bump out.” Now she wore the need for my approval all over her honest little face. Still a bit stunned from the unexpected information, I let my best ‘mom’ smile slowly warm my face and she preened.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to know. Thank you, Emily.”
++ Monica ++
Lindsey was nervous. She was trying to hide it, but she was as jumpy as a cat.
The irony of the choice of words didn’t escape me.
During the long ride from Las Vegas, the girl had stuck close to her mom and Dace, but had made an effort to befriend the rest of us. Only a couple of months into her eighth year, Lindsey was at an age where she was starting to take a more active curiosity in the larger world around her. Her interrogation techniques were good, no doubt a gift she’d inherited from her mother. First Liv had been the target of that sharp mind, then me, then Dana. Knowing her background, we’d all been more frank with her than we would have been with your average eight year old.
The door snicking open made us all jump, relieved to see Catherine’s smiling face. “Hey, sweetie,” she grinned at Lindsey, who jumped on her. “Ready to make a new friend? C’mon g-women, I think you’re going to get a kick out of this.”
Curious, I gestured Dana out of the bus ahead of me, killed the engine and pocketed the keys. The cold made me squeak for mercy, the icy wind cutting through my leather coat like it was cotton. “Just like back home,” Dana grinned wryly, that magnificent hair whipping around her face.
“Screw that,” I grumbled and minced to the door like a cat with tape on her paws. “Give me hot any day of the week.”
The bantering was forgotten as I stepped over the threshold and was brought up short by the fascinating tableau within.
Meeting Dace had been possibly the single greatest thrill of my life. She was living proof that there was more to our species than just what met the eye. The vision of the enormous golden cougar lay like celluloid over her tall body, one entity, yet two. I’d seen the same thing in Lindsey, fainter, less distinct, the gangly, half-grown spotted cub, not entirely sure of herself or what was going on around her.
Now, I saw the small, red-headed girl, staring in fascination at Lindsey, the image of the fat-bellied lion cub superimposed over her, clear as day. Something in that brief snapshot in time, the three females both human and feline, all various ages, solidified my future.
There were many of these gifted Sentinels.
Someone was going to need to take care of them.
That someone was going to be me.
++ Lindsey ++
Meeting Dace shocked me. Because it meant that I wasn’t making it up. There really was a cat that lived in my head, and sometimes made me see and hear and smell things that normal little girls couldn’t. Until Dace, I felt weird, out of place, like I didn’t belong with normal people. So I hid the cat, pretended she didn’t exist.
Well, I tried to.
In the week and a half since Dace had come to Las Vegas, I had learned so much, my head thought it was gonna explode. All the smells! And the sounds!
Most important, was that she taught me that I wasn’t alone. That was the best part. And she made mommy and daddy play nice. I don’t know exactly what she said to daddy, but he made a face that was almost scared and his smell got real funny after Dace talked to him away from everybody else.
Right this minute, I was looking at another cub. She was littler than me, and redder, and her spots were different. Her tail was shorter, and stiffer, and her belly round, and she made a little sound that sounded like a baby saying, ‘ow.’ It was funny, and I grinned, making the other cub grin too, and then I could see the people part of her, the red hair and blue eyes.
“Lindsey,” mom was saying as she knelt, putting an arm around me. “This is Emily. She’s like you and Dace, but I think you know that already.”
I was sniffing at the air, tasting the smells here. Two grown-up women, one smell I sorta recognized. It was a people-smell that mom had on her when she came back from Chicago, missing Dace so bad.
“Emily,” mom said to the other cub. “This is my daughter, Lindsey.”
“You are a kitty like Unca Dace!” Emily squealed happily, and I relaxed, not even knowing that I had been all tightened up. A new friend would be the best!
++ Art ++
A sharp knock on the door startled me from my rough-housing with the four dogs, but a glance at Fawn confirmed that it was Emily and her entourage. Why the hell weren’t Dare and Karen just walking in? They practically lived here anyway. Then Butchie whined in confusion and my scalp prickled. It wasn’t a threat exactly, but something weird was going on. Fawn rolled her eyes in exasperation and toddled off to the door. “Babas,” she demanded imperiously and pushed her whole little weight against the solid wood. “Open.”
“Hey,” Karen’s voice carried through the wood. “We’re dyin’ out here.”
Scooping up Fawn, I yanked open the door, and was rocked back by the force of the icy wind that roared in. “Theh-mou! What the hell are you doing out in this cold?”
“Came to see you,” came a totally unknown, yet vaguely familiar voice as the tall figure on my doorstep stepped inside. There were more figures behind the owner of the sweetly sensual woman’s voice. Then the heavy, knit cap I recognized as Karen’s favorite was pulled away to reveal a spiky head of pale hair and a horribly bruised face.
It wasn’t the shadowy contusions that caught my attention, it was the sparkling blue eyes wrapped in red instead of white. Some fuzzy memory bubbled up. The owner of those eyes flirting with Sam, so inebriated as to be a danger to herself. Karen stepping up to the stranger and echoing the warm grin intensified the memories. They had saved me and Sam from goddess-only-knew what fate in one of the seedier sections of Denver that night so damn long ago. The drunken binge that had led Sam to do more than just share the bed with Janet and I.
Their grins deepened as my chest, throat and face grew warm. Dimly, I was aware of Fawn’s curious look, when she could pull her gaze away from the blonde. Looking past the damage done to her face, I finally recognized the much vaunted Dace.
“That look was worth the drive over,” the woman chuckled throatily, a strangely feline sound, and the dogs whined again, the sounds almost growls. Fawn and I caught our breath in tandem as the most extraordinary change came over Dace.
It only lasted the briefest of moments. A flash of something wild, dangerous and both threatening and threatened flickered in the blue, like gold sunshine on water. Fawn let out a soft sound that was a non-verbal equivalent to ‘ooo, neat’.
Then one of the crowd with the big women jostled from behind, shifting them, and Dace winced in stark agony.
++ Karen ++
Not understanding why the dogs were acting vaguely threatened, Art nonetheless responded to Dace’s obvious pain and snapped into action. With no further explanation or introduction, Art mustered the whole crowd of us, tossing Fawn into my arms and gently herding Dace into the living room. The toddler ignored me completely, sitting with uncharacteristic passivity in my arms, while her busy eyes were torn between Dace and where Catherine held a shy Lindsey in her arms.
I was starting to really see it. The strange connections between these females of such divergent ages and backgrounds. I didn’t understand it, but I was finally beginning to really see it. The bond that Fawn and Emily shared was echoed in these grown women. I crouched down to set Fawn on my knee and pulled Emily close with my other arm, tucking my head down between theirs. “That tall, blonde lady is my sister, Dace,” I explained quietly, knowing they were listening, even if their eyes were watching the subject at hand. “She’s like Emily. So is the blonde girl, her name is Lindsey. And the other blonde lady over there?” Blue eyes and brown obediently moved to where Catherine hovered anxiously. “That’s Catherine. She’s like you, Fawn. They found each other just a few weeks ago.”
The girls looked up at me in surprise, their minds working furiously, gazing at one another, then the elder pair, and back to me. They had never been apart, and the idea that they might have been was a tough one to grasp.
Then Fawn’s little face screwed up in concentration and determination, and she squirmed away. This was the Fawn we all knew, her baby stride full of concentration and determination. Catherine jumped at the imperious yank at her pant leg. Blue eyes flickered from the toddler at her leg, to where Emily watched avidly from her protected place in the circle of my arm.
++ Catherine ++
Startled but not surprised by the child at my leg, I shifted Lindsey’s weight and crouched down to get closer to the toddler’s eye level and really take her in. She was a gorgeous girl, with a playful tangle of glossy black curls, an expressive face and soulful, earthy eyes. Tiny hands came to rest on my collarbones as the girl stared with laser intensity into my eyes, the fathomless stare flickering from me to Lindsey and back and forth. There was a puzzle being turned over and over in her toddler brain, and I suspected I knew what it was.
This little baby kit of a Fox, all soft inky fur and bushy tail, was the half to Emily as I was to Dace. A grin spread slowly over my face, an altogether mythological Coyote expression. “Emily’s lucky to have you, young Fox.”
It was profound to look into the dark eyes as they turned inward. A yip sounded faintly in the mindscape I associated with the Sentinel and Guide parts of us. A stuttering, undulating cry that made me grin wider in the homecoming of the call. The girl mouthed the word in wonder, tasting it for the first time, making it hers.
And in my pale eyes, she saw herself reflected, staring in wonder at how the Coyote saw her. Crafty and secretive and quick, she would grow into all of the strengths of cunning Fox.
++ Janet ++
What a strange day it had been. Fawn and Emily were sound asleep, curled against Dace’s uninjured side with Lindsey. The tall woman had that left arm looped around them protectively while she slept like the dead. Cubby slept in a loose sprawl at his sister’s feet, both included and forever apart.
I knew how that felt.
An achingly familiar presence filled my kitchen, barely disturbing my vigil of my winter-stark backyard as it darkened in the deepening dusk. “I know every mother wants her child to be extraordinary, but I feel very out of my depth.” With a sigh, I turned and met Darya’s kind eyes. “Guess you feel the same, huh?”
“Quite,” Dare grinned and quietly went for the tea paraphernalia. Exhausted, I found myself at the table, my spiraling thoughts not quieting until a steaming mug was placed under my nose. Together we sat in the kind of companionable quiet that takes a lifetime to get. When Dare did finally speak, her voice was quiet, distant with a definite note of bittersweet. “I always knew that Emily was special. Even in the womb, I seemed so… aware of here, for lack of a better word.” Her mouth quirked in a smile that showed both love and a pain that would never quite heal. “Em would grin and agree with me.” The distant gaze refocused and the faint smile deepened into honest warmth. “But she was humoring me.”
That got me thinking, and my mind went to Zo. Something that had been bugging me abruptly clicked into place. Darya’s expression turned quizzical at the expression of wonder that I could feel spread across my face. “Theh-mou, Dare. It wasn’t me that Fawn got it from. It was Art.”
Right on cue, there was a burst of laughter from outside, punctuated by the dog’s collective howling. I instinctively knew that my sweet ahndras was in the middle of all of that energy.
“It’s passed on through rare genetics and manifests in certain personality types.”
“Like Art’s?” Dare asked in amused understanding.
“Actually, Zo popped into my head first.”
That made the shrink lapse into a thoughtful silence.
++ Darya ++
It made perfect sense, and explained some of the Goldston charm. Zo’s boundless energy and personality in particular. If the Sentinels were raw, animal charisma, then the Guides were the more ‘civilized’ side of that equation. “Maybe the tribes that evolved these Sentinels found them a little threatening,” I mused more to myself than Janet. “And that’s where the Guides came from? As a bridge between their Sentinels and everyone else? In addition to keeping the animal senses from becoming overwhelming.”
“Sort of a human barometer?”
Startled, both Janet and I looked up to see that Art had soundlessly entered the kitchen. The look on her face made even my heart clench. A pure, sweet understanding softened her features, and the selfless adoration for my old pal made me feel like an intruder. Briefly, that soulful look turned to me as a soft gasp escaped Janet. For once, that look wasn’t shuttered for my benefit, and the power flowed over me like the tide.
“Would you like to talk to Zo?”
Sure enough, there was a tiny cell phone in Art’s hand. Rattled by that full-force Goldston power of personality, I took the device and retreated. Thank goodness the other one was half a continent away! Both of them together was a little intimidating to my sensitivities. “Hey Zo, how have you been?”
“Dare! Howdy. We’re still piecing the club here back together, but the crowds have calmed into something almost normal. How’re the buns?”
It took a moment to decipher, but then a laugh bubbled up. “The new twins are cooking along just fine. Janet and I were just talking about you, actually.”
“Really? That must be why I had the sudden urge to call.” From anyone else the statement would have made me roll my eyes, at least internally. But Zo did have a gift of coincidence.
“Yes. Turns out Emily is like Dace. I’ve suspected it for some time, particularly after she and Fawn woke up screaming at the same time Dace was hurt. They’re curled up with her on the couch in the other room, happy as well-fed little cubs.” There was an uncharacteristic quiet on the other end that made me curious. “Zo?”
“Hmm? Oh, sorry, spaced out on you there for a moment. Yeah, Catherine’s kid had the same reaction. Jamie wasn’t exactly settled when Jo got home, either.”
“Daughter of Dace’s case partner while she was here chasing Snake-Eyes. Ask Olivia about her.”
“I’ll do that.”
++ Art ++
After tenderly soothing Janet’s frayed nerves, I gently managed to get Dace and the kids upright long enough to get the sofa bed pulled out and all of them safely prone and relaxed. Catherine padded in to curl up in the section of couch that didn’t fold out. “The others will sleep in the bus. There’s a generator that will keep them warm.”
“Okay,” I agreed and gave my kids and Emily a quick pat before leaving them with their new hero. Looking at the way that undamaged arm curled so protectively around the kids, kinda made her my hero too.
Sam was out for a fun weekend with Cassie, but they would be back tomorrow. With Dace looking so exhausted, it was certain that Janet would insist that our unexpected guests would be staying for a few days for some R&R. Karen’s almost soundless tread made me turn as she stepped in close. “Are they okay there?”
“Sure. It’s a surprisingly comfy bed. Shouldn’t have any weird pressure points for your sib. The kids will find you if they need you. I’ll leave the door open upstairs in case they holler. But I doubt it.”
“Yeah, me too. G’nite Art.”
A quick check that the visiting medical bus/RV was plugged in and humming happily, a potty break for the dogs, and I was climbing the stairs to join my beloved wife in our bed.
It was fun to cook for such a crowd, even though I still missed Sam and Cassie in the throng. Lucky and Cooper waited patiently while I took a break from human food, but the pups and Starjumper whined softly. They didn’t normally do it, but were stressed by so many strangers, so I didn’t discipline them this time. With food measured out and distributed in each dish, I went in search of Jaffa. Sure enough, she had managed to find the pile in the living room, her burnished gold body dark counterpoint to Dace’s hair and the little white strips of tape on her bruised head. Human and kitty alike woke blearily as I collected the latter in gentle hands. “He-ey,” I grinned at our damaged guest. “Gotta pee?”
It was a good guess, as Dace’s face screwed up uncomfortably. “Yeah, actually. God, I haven’t slept that soundly in ages.” A humorless smirk ghosted over her face briefly. “Not without painkillers anyway. Your pack of youngsters here are good medicine.”
“That they are. You get your circulation up to snuff while I feed the kitty real quick. Back in a flash.” Still yawning and purring like a jackhammer, I deposited Jaffa in her usual spot with fresh water and kibble. A quick brush over her spine, and I was back to help Dace to unsteady feet. The kids woke with grumbles as the bed shifted and Dace’s warmth moved away. Catherine was up in a flash, supporting Dace’s hurt side. Good, I didn’t want to get anywhere near there. Once up, the tall woman grinned warmly at me, and I was struck by the power on her personality. Yep, this one was dangerous.
“My pleasure. Second door on the right down that hall. Breakfast will be ready soon.”
So I turned to the kids and leaned down to snuggle into the pile for a moment. “Kahlee mehra, ta pay-dhiah. (Good morning, children.)”
“Kahlee mehra, bahbas.”
++ Darya ++
Yawning, I trooped into the kitchen after nearly colliding with Dace and Catherine in the hall. Janet grinned at me where she was puttering at the stove, and I sniffed appreciatively at the lovely scents of breakfast.
“Make yourself useful woman,” she ordered good-naturedly, “and set the table.”
Still yawning, I stole a long drink from Janet’s coffee, earning a smack, and did as ordered. The bulk of the babies pressed into the counter, making me grin. So far, I was the only one showing, even though both Sam and Janet were putting on some pregnancy weight. There was such good magic in this house.
“So, I was thinking about doing something different with this pregnancy,” I brought up casually to Janet, who hummed that she was listening. “Thought I’d get your two cents.”
“Sure, fire away.” Suddenly, the phone trilled urgently, earning a scowl from Janet. “Dammit, my hands are full. Art!”
“Covered in rug rats!” Was the shouted reply from the living room.
“I’ll get it,” I chuckled, plucking up the receiver. “Fraiser household.”
“Dare!” Crowed a familiar voice. “Just the person I was looking for.”
“Gee Zo, long time no hear.”
“Hey, you’re not gonna believe this, but my pal Doctor Joan does water births. Isn’t that cool? I figured that water would be a relaxing way to give birth, you oughta see if you can persuade Sam and Janet to do the same. Joan could probably be persuaded to visit for a few weeks close to your due date. Dare, are you there?”
Shaking my head, I marveled at the young woman’s knack for coincidence. “Funny you should mention a water birth. I was just about to bring the subject up to Janet, get her opinion.”
“Tell your friend that I would love to talk to her about doing it.”
++ Sam ++
As much fun as it had been hanging out with Cassie for a couple days in Denver, I was wiped out. All I really wanted was to cuddle up with Janet and/or Art and relax for awhile. This pregnancy thing was kicking my ass.
“What is that thing?” Cassie asked as we turned onto our street and inched down the icy pavement. It was a van or bus of some kind and was filthy with road grime.
“I have no idea, but it looks like it’s come a long way to be here. Guess we’ve got company.”
“Who’d be crazy enough to drive that thing in this weather?”
The answer wasn’t even something I could have made up.
It felt like a lifetime ago, that I had been alone. Surrounded by people and fulfilling work, I still felt as isolated as the stars with vacuum between them. Then came that woman and her dog, and the fierce healer that mended my body and then my heart. The drunken binge that led me to their arms was a turning point, and I was happier and healthier than I had been since losing my mother to accidental death. On cue, Art came out to greet me at the door, pulling my disbelieving gaze from the familiar stranger on the couch. “Yeah, I kinda felt that way too,” she smiled sweetly, shooing Cassie off so that she could pull my chin down and kiss me. The very familiarity of her touch and taste relaxed me.
“No more vacations without you and Janet,” I murmured softly, startled when the feline Ace of Diamonds chuckled throatily, echoed by Karen.
“Some things are truly priceless,” Karen commented, running a gently cupped hand over her sister’s bruised skull. The teasing somehow gave me courage, and I gave Art a quick squeeze before walking into the living room, shedding my winter layers. Still smiling that warm, knowing smile, Dace remained still as I leaned over to place a firm kiss on her quirked mouth.
“Thank you. I don’t think I ever got a chance to tell you that.” My sincere tone made Dace grin brilliantly, and Karen to laugh in appreciation of my audacity. It was one of the few times that I felt that I had gotten the upper hand in a round of teasing. Then I remembered something, jarred loose by the vision of these tall, powerful women together again. Giving Karen a long, intense look that made her curious, I let her own brain catch up with me. So I bent again and pressed a warm kiss just above Dace’s blue eyes, so similar to my own. Now, the woman was curious and I smiled warmly. “You missed the wedding,” I explained and heard Karen make a small sound. “Karen asked me to pass that on when I met you again.”
“Thanks, Sam,” Dace smiled, despite the pain in her skull, eyes happy and open. It was heartening to know that I could make her feel good.
++ Art ++
It wasn’t an easy decision, but only I could really make it. They were like my kids, the whole scruffy menagerie of them.
Butchie barked wildly at her sisters, while Lucky snuck up and snapped at her, starting up a new round of rough and tumble in the heavy snow. Once the chubby litter of nine had weaned, I’d handed off the boys to Jolynne, Doc Holiday had gone to Billy and Burt, and Striker’d taken Billy the Kid. All of them were happy and healthy, and Grover and Mac seemed happy with the company of the pups that lived with them. Though they were hardly pups anymore! As I suspected the day I’d held her solid little weight for the first time, Butchie was nearly the size of her father, and still had more adolescent growing to do.
Jesse’s eye had never grown better, and she was just that little bit blind on her left side, so she would remain a pet, as Butchie had been to Emily for nearly a year now. Annie and Bonnie showed every evidence of the things that had made their parents such exemplary military working dogs. Even now, I could see that they were planning mischief on the other members of their family, every sense alert and focused, all threat and intelligence.
Jane broke first charging at Annie, who leapt away easily, sending Jane sprawling into the snow, snapping aggressively at her. Right on cue, a discordant howl of displeasure echoed through the backyard, and the eternal hypochondriac was completely ignored by her relatives. So, she came whining to me for reassurance, and I grabbed her in a headlock and lovingly roughed her up. “Jane, you wuss. You are never going to make any kind of police dog.”
Then I realized that it was true, and took that noble face in my hands to look deeply into the eyes of this beloved pup. Sensing my shift in mood, the others scrambled over to press into me with their big, furry bodies.
“I think,” my voice cracked around the lump in my throat. “I think, Jane, that it’s time you went to a forever home. You think that Dace would take you to that nice lady in Las Vegas that liked you so much?”
“Dace would be honored,” came the soft voice at the back door and we all looked over to see the tall woman standing there. The lump in my throat grew suffocating at the look of absolute sympathy on her face. She stepped over to fondle Jane’s ears, and my pup leaned trustingly into the blonde. Whatever issues they’d had with her vanished rather quickly, which pleased me. “Anastasia’s gonna have kittens,” Dace chuckled devilishly and smiled sunnily at me. “But she’ll love your girl here as much as Tessa will. If you need homes for any of them, Karen and I know some of the best people on earth who will adore them like their kids.”
Ruffling Jesse’s fur, knowing I had to decide whether or not she would remain part of my family, I nodded. “I’ll remember that.”
++ Olivia ++
This had been one of the most relaxing days of my life. A quiet neighborhood in the middle of nowhere, blanketed by muffling snow, a houseful of loving family with kids and dogs underfoot. At the moment, I was watching the daylight fade with only Cassie for company, Cooper happily taking most of the teen’s lap and torso.
“Toronto, huh?” I mused conversationally. “That’s terrible that you lost your family, but I’m glad that you found Sam and Janet.”
Relaxed, the pain almost a distant memory, the young woman smiled and continued to fondle Cooper’s face and ears. “Couldn’t agree with you more. You’ll have to show me around New York when I get a chance to visit.”
Was she flirting with me? “No can do. Shockingly, I’m leaving the Big Apple for the wilds of the City of Sin.”
Wrinkling her nose in a confused and faintly distasteful expression, Cassie regarded me thoughtfully. “That’s quite a change.”
“No more than Toronto to Colorado Springs,” I teased back and she laughed.
“True. Well, you’ll have to leave me a name of someone who can show me around, then.”
“My pleasure, Cass.”
“Are you sure that Dace is up to such a long drive?” The abrupt change in subject took me aback for a moment.
“You’re a mind-reader. No, I don’t think that Dace is up to the trip at all. But she can intimidate pretty much anyone into getting her way.”
An altogether devious grin warmed Cassie’s face, reminding me of watching Janet play with the babies earlier in the day. “Oh, you haven’t squared off with my mom. I’ll bet that Dace backs down. Make a call to The Lady and get Dana on your side, and I’ll bet you’ll be on a plane by tomorrow morning.”
And damned if the kid wasn’t dead to rights.
++ Dace ++
“You ganged up on me,” I groused at Olivia after getting off the phone with Anastasia. Sheepishly, my partner shrugged.
“You shouldn’t be traveling so much. And I really have got to wrap things up back home, and get to it ASAP. You stay here and enjoy your extended family until Dana drags you home. I’ll be back in Vegas before you, I’ll bet.”
Looping my arm around her neck, I tugged the woman in close to snuffle through her shaggy hair. “I’ll miss you, Dobie. It’ll feel weird without you at my back.”
“No shock. I’ve been in your back pocket for weeks now. I’ll feel weird without you too.”
We sat there for awhile, Liv patiently allowing herself to be held in the awkward position my hug had twisted her into. Then Catherine came into the dimly-lit living room and settled in to rest her head in my lap. “Oh,” I spoke up suddenly, remembering something. “Totally off subject. The kids helped me discover something today. They were oh-so-impressed. Watch my hand.” Curious, they both looked to my healthy left hand and I chuckled, “no, the other one.”
Bracing myself for the pain, I concentrated on the feeling, the twitchy ripple of movement… and was rewarded by the swollen, discolored fingers of my right hand twitching into a loose curl. Both Catherine and Liv looked even happier than I’d felt the first time the broken limb had responded to my command. “See,” said the latter, squeezing my encircling left arm. “You’ll be yourself before you know it.”
“It’s been nearly a month, I should certainly hope that you’re getting some movement back,” Catherine commented pragmatically, oh-so-gently stroking my healing fingers. It tickled, and hurt just a bit, but I liked the sensations. Like the tingling of a blood-starved limb, it was proof that there was still life in my damaged flesh.
Karen close that moment to come clomping down the stairs, hand firmly on Emily’s hair to keep the girl from tearing down the treacherous incline. “Obviously, the nap is over,” I called out jovially, earning a chorus of ‘unca Dace’ from the kids, and a surly glower from my sis.
“You are so coming here and babysitting when you feel better,” Karen grumbled, obviously exhausted from the kids. Fawn squirmed to get down, and I was once again covered by the younger Sentinel pair.
“My pleasure,” I grinned and hugged and pet the girls as best I was able.
++ Catherine ++
It was interesting to listen to Dace try and explain to the kids what had happened to her to cause such horrible injuries. It was as if they hadn’t really cared or even noticed the bruising at first, far to fascinated with the woman herself.
“See, there was another man, like us, with a kitty, but he was alone and went crazy and started attacking people. When I went to help my friends in Chicago, he thought I was bad and attacked me.”
Eyes like saucers, the children were mesmerized, but it was pragmatic little Cubby that asked the question. “He died?”
When Dace hesitated, I spoke up, voice calm. “Yes Cubby, I’m afraid he died. I couldn’t let him hurt my family.” Snuggling deeper into Dace’s ribs, I held the boy’s wise gaze. Hard to believe he was barely two years old! Nodding as though he completely understood, he leaned his forehead against his twin’s shoulder and sighed heavily. Fawn looked at him peculiarly, before stroking his head with affection. Fascinating children, all three of them.
A fire crackled merrily in the fireplace, shutting out the cold night behind sturdy walls. Janet mimicked my pose against Art’s side, with Sam’s pale head in the dark woman’s lap. Karen was on the floor, nestled between Darya’s knees, not a care in the world. Monica and Dana were sound asleep near the hearth, their twined bodies indistinguishable beneath blankets, and Olivia slept at Dace’s damaged side. Lindsey was fascinated with Cassie, and had amused all parties by dropping off in the teen’s lap.
I worried about her, about her being alone, specifically. Before Dace and the cat in her heart and eyes, there had been no concern, but now she was as much a part of me as my own heartbeat. I needed her in ways that words couldn’t convey. I needed her like waves need wind and water, that trees needed sun and rain, the way predators needed prey. There was so little logic to it, a random selection of genes and an impossibly coincidental journey that brought us together so far from both of our homes. Looking back, I was no longer surprised that she had followed me south to the desert. She could no more stay away from me than the earth could leave her rotation around the sun. If we were apart, we would cease to exist. Lindsey needed someone like that, and she was out there somewhere.
But for now, she was satisfied with having Dace and I as her mentors, guardians and packmates. We had meshed instantly, as though we had never been apart. Even Eddie didn’t pull any crap with his daughter anymore. No more stupidity or manipulation of flaking out, she simply wouldn’t tolerate it. He knew on a level he didn’t understand, that these blonde predators were not to be fucked with. And Dace did so enjoy intimidating him that I didn’t restrain her unless he pushed his luck.
++ Darya ++
Humankind believes that we are beyond our messy past with the ‘lesser’ beasts of the world. We try to ignore countless generations of living in the dark, fearful of hungry predators, of flashing teeth and claws. Our ancestors painted themselves in dirt, in clay, in the dung of their prey, and crept towards the creatures that would die in their traps and at the tips of their spears and arrows. The fate of humankind was written in the hot blood and thick flesh of the beasts we preyed on, and by the hunting creatures that killed all but the smartest and most cunning of us.
That blood and darkness is only a few heartbeats away. Anyone who has even felt real hunger knows that fact. The primitive that drives us is the heavy heartbeat, the smell of fear in our nostrils, the cold sweat of the hunt.
And now, there was incontrovertible proof, right here in my living room. I was part of a legacy that was a bit intimidating in its scope.
As though sensing that I was getting perhaps a bit too introspective, Karen reached up from where she’d been lounging between my feet, tugging my head down to share a long kiss. “Think we can get the rugrats ready for bed?”
“Sure,” I smiled and we both clambered to our feet.
Karen went to the happy little threesome, pulling Art out with a laughing, “c’mon babas. You two stay put.” Chuckling, Janet snuggled up with Sam once Art was bodily pulled away, both of them more asleep than awake anyway. “How ‘bout a real bed, Punk?”
Thusly addressed, Dace grinned evilly at the woman she called sister. “You got a bed here that can hold the whole scruffy lot of us?”
Charmed once again by the children’s fascination with this new mentor in their lives, I smiled at Dace while I tucked myself against Karen’s side, her arm firm and loving around me. “I suppose that means that you’re stuck with the hide-a-bed.”
“Yay!” The kids chorused, suddenly awhirl with energy.
Before anyone could react, Dace moaned in pain from the sudden jostling and everyone froze. “Oh, Unca Dace,” Emily whispered in horror, gripping an equally horrified Fawn to her chest. “We are sorry.”
Swallowing the pain, I noted that Catherine didn’t appear to be more than passingly worried and that relaxed me, Dace smiled weakly at the kids. “S’ok. But you really have to remember that you have to be really careful around me, okay?”
Wide-eyed, the three nodded and allowed themselves to be led off by Karen and I to get ready for bed.
++ Dace ++
In the wee hours of morning, after bidding a very quiet farewell to Olivia, I lay in the dark, surrounded by the pile of bodies and reviewed my life. From neglected child, to street waif, to the protégée to my lovingly harsh Mistress, to cop, to Sentinel. As a child and young teen, I had been desperate for anything even vaguely resembling family. That quest led me on the path that led me here, among these friends and children and lovers that made up my family. Well, some of them anyway, my thoughts straying to Sara and Fenris and Jo and the Amazons and now Salix and so many others. It was a long list now, people that were my family, and that old, old loneliness was mostly gone now.
What would my mother think? If she could see past the foolishly, stubbornly rosy glasses that she insisted seeing the world through. I couldn’t even begin to calculate the times my mother’s utter grasp of reality endangered my sanity, my health or even my life.
Unbidden, the memory of our final parting came to me, the filthy lust of the latest of her many ‘true loves’ that disrupted our lives and left me feeling detached and threatened. His hands on my adolescent body, the terrifying intent in his shadowed eyes, the stench of his panting breath. Nearly naked, too terrified to fight him off, his body too big and too scary above mine, I spotted my mother at the door.
When she walked away from what that monster was doing to me, I went animal.
Nearly twenty years later, I ground my left hand into my left eye, chasing off the memories. Exactly what I did to that bastard was still a mystery to me, but I had blood on my hands and gore under my ragged fingernails.
Thank whatever deities that watch over fools like me, for Sylvia and the other core players of the Four Suits. They were my salvation and my strength while I figured myself out. Looking back, I could see now that it was the cat that attacked that man, then lent me her strength while I became my own person.
I still didn’t know exactly what the cat was, some kind of ‘spirit’, or a comprehensible expression of my extraordinary abilities, my mind’s only way of making all that was Sentinel somehow graspable to my limited mind. All of the above and much, much more? Ah well, the world had always been a bigger and more complicated place than any of us realize.
Stroking the silky heads of the children in my life, Lindsey, Emily, the twins, Cassie, casting a loving look over the adults that made up the rest of these complicated and wonderful relationship dynamics, I knew that these children would get a much better chance at life than I had, then many had.
They were our future, and it was bright.
With my hand warmed by the presence of my Guide, my soul by my family, I slept easily.