Title: Acceptance

Pairing(s): Sara/Sofia, Sara/Sofia/Lady Heather

Rating: NC – 17

Disclaimer: I do not own CSI or its characters. No infringement intended.

Summary: As their relationship begins to develop, Sara finds out about Sofia and Lady Heather. Will she be able to come to terms with it, or will she shun Sofia for good?

A/N: Warning: If you haven't read my other Sofia/Lady Heather fic "Submission" you might want to. This story picks up right where the other one left off so some things are assumed.

Kink: As with Submission, some of the sex here is NOT vanilla, crops will be used and not to get horses over a jump! Once again though, I don't think its particularly hard core, but you have been warned.

I don't think I've ever been this excited for breakfast.

Ok, so 'its not the meal itself, but the woman who has agreed to meet me, but I can't help it! Ever since she smiled – not her sexy half smirk, but the full, sweet smile that lights her entire face – and said "sure, I'd love to" when I asked her to breakfast, I've had to fight the urge to grin. Throughout my shift, the image of her smile sneaks into my thoughts, ambushing me and basically killing whatever concentration I might have had, until even Brass comments on it.

"What's up with you today? You're almost pleasant." he asks gruffly, but there is a twinkle in his eyes that softens the words.

I give him a smile that I hope is enigmatic, but I have a feeling borders on stupid when he harrumphs and just shakes his head at me, and I see his lips twitch in a suppressed smile as he turns away.

Every now and then I catch glimpses of her through the glass walls of the lab, and every time I do, I have to struggle to look away. Its not that I suddenly find her more attractive – I've always thought she was beautiful. Before however, I saw her as if through a distant lens – one created by my own fear and uncertainty and my position within the lab. I never allowed myself to acknowledge what I felt around her, because that way lay madness.

Now though…now I let myself savor the memories of being in her presence – how there is just something about her that both calms, and arouses me - even while I'm nearly tingling with anticipation for the possibilities to come.

Funny what having your body flayed until your souls laid bare will do for your outlook on life.

Finally, despite Time's apparent attempt to spite me by moving very, very slowly, our shifts are over. I catch up to her in the locker room just as she's finishing up. Content to wait, I lean against the door frame in what I sincerely hope is a, "I'm just too damn sexy for this" pose, and take the opportunity just to enjoy watching her profile. For moment I think she is unaware of me until I see her lips twitch and she turns and rakes me head to toe with molten chocolate eyes.

It's the cocked eyebrow and smirk though, that let me know I am so busted. She's caught me fair and square and I can't help but smile in return; she always did see right through me. Slamming her locker she strolls over to stand just close enough I can smell a hint of whatever scent she wears, but not nearly as close as I'd like her to be standing.

Patience… "Sara," I say, half teasing, half questioning.

"Sofia," she responds in kind.

"You ready to get outta here?"

"Absolutely."


She grins at me with that sly smile I love so much, but it's the concern I see behind it that makes my heart swell. We're sitting in the little café, and the easy, surprisingly flirty conversation has moved from current case loads to past.

"You ran outta here pretty fast the other night; hot date?" she asks carefully.

There is no warning, only sensation. From a single point, pain blossoms, hot and white, just below the nipple of my right breast.

My breath stops.

Behind my eyes, blackness gives way to red - like blood dropped on water - it stains my awareness.

She shifts, and another flower of pain blooms under my left breast. Over and over again; each time in a different place, a different blossom of pain and pleasure until I am begging her. For what, I don't even know at this point.

But she does.

Hot? Oooh yes. Date? Not so much.

Snap. Snap. I am jerked back to the present by Sara's fingers in my face. She is looking at me with a mixture of worry and amusement, as if she isn't sure which is appropriate. I don't blame her; I'm not really all that sure either.

"Wherever you just went, it looked interesting. Is everything ok?" she asks softly, and a part of me gets hung up on just how much I love the way her voice sounds when she is concerned.

Trying to deflect her scrutiny a bit though, I use the too perfect opening.

"It is now," I say, pitching my voice low and holding her eyes. I lay it on a little thick, but I mean it too. Though my body still aches, and I really, really wish I'd packed silk instead of cotton for my extra shirt, I feel almost reborn, and sitting here with Sara, I feel a giddiness and an energy that I thought lost a long time ago.

She smirks, but I see the flicker of genuine warmth in her expression as she shakes her head at me. We both chuckle - which turns into what I won't call giggling, which turns into outright laughter - until our eyes are watering and I'm gasping for breath. The waitress took one look at us and turned around, but I don't care. I haven't laughed freely - even if it is just at myself - for ages.

"That," she manages when she gets herself under control, "was pathetic." The sparkle in her eyes, however, takes away any sting from her words.

"But it worked didn't it?" I ask.

She raises her eye brow in question, God, I love it when she does that. "You laughed," and now my gaze drops. I'm not quite brave enough to look at her, but I want to say it all the same. "You're beautiful when you laugh, you should do it more often."

When I finally do look up, she has the oddest expression on her face - almost like it's never occurred to her that someone might think she was beautiful. After a moment though, she seems to accept it and smiles again – that full, radiant smile that takes 10 years off her face – and teases me.

"Detective Curtis, are you flirting with me?" she says, only half mockingly.

"And if I was?"

Now it's her turn to look away and I see the faintest stain of a blush steal across her cheeks. It makes me want to cheer.

"You might get to see me smile a lot more," she says quietly.

It's a good thing we're in a public place, because if I was alone, I'd probably try and do a back-flip and just end up spraining something. As it is, I think my heart just cart-wheeled out of my chest. I'm fighting to keep a stupid grin off my face, and find that I really don't know why.

After a moment, she mentions something about a case she's working on, and I go with it. The moment passes, but the conversation is easy and the air between us comfortable. I'm reluctant to leave, but she has another shift to work and I'm going to pass out on my feet soon.

"I'll see you tonight," she says at the entrance to the café. "And Sofia," she pauses, "Thanks."

I want to tell her that I should be thanking her – that this is what I dreamt about but never dared hope for - but I want to keep the mood light, and so I shake my head. "Don't thank me yet, next time you're buying." She grins and we part ways; her to the lab and me to bed. It's probably a good thing I'm so tired. Otherwise, I think I'd be floating.


Over the next few weeks we repeat breakfast – she buys – throw in coffee, dinner and catch a surprisingly good jazz concert. I'm not sure who is more surprised at how easy we are in each other's presence outside of work, but I admit that this is the first time I feel no sense of hurry in a relationship. She fascinates me, but for the first time, I feel no rush to understand the enigma that is Sara Sidle. Simply being in her presence is enough for now. Being too near her might light my nerves on fire and even the lightest accidental touch of her hand seems to burn my skin…but there is something about her soul that calls to mine, soothing some long buried ache I never realized existed until it was gone. Her ability to drive my body to distraction even as there is a part of me that wants to wrap her soothing presence around me like a well worn blanket is…unique, to say the least.

I find we have a lot in common, at least when it comes to the important things: work, our sense of justice, loyalty, how annoying Catherine can be when she wants to, though you have to love her anyway just because she's so damn gutsy, how Grissom is both fascinating and revolting at the same time, and how Ecklie should just be castrated for the good of the human race…you know, the important things.

I actually look forward to work now – not just for her - but because it seems that even though we haven't spoken of our relationship, her acceptance of me has paved the way for the others to do the same. They are easier around me and I find I feel less like a hunted animal within the walls of the lab.

Brass of course doesn't change. He just takes it all in and accepts it with that stoic way of his. I know he knows what's really up between Sara and I – he wandered by the door where I was saying good morning to her once. It was casual; no matter how much I would have loved to just press her up against the layout table and take her right there, I was able (barely) to settle for just brushing my hand across hers as we parted. She had tangled her fingers in mine briefly, and the long, quiet look she gave me told me my table fantasy might not be all that far out in left field.

We parted ways and I saw Brass standing in the hallway. He gave me one pointed, raking look with his eyebrow raised. He didn't say anything, and I just stood my ground. This, I would never apologize for. He seemed to get the message, because he simply nodded and turned away, understanding on his weathered features.

Despite my new contentment however, I'm eventually unable to deny the deeper desires of my heart. So once I again find myself driving away from the Strip and parking in front of an old, weathered house to be greeted by arctic blue eyes filled with mirth and danger.


My visits to Lady Heather's are, in a way to me, what drinking the finest wines, or getting a spa treatment are to others – something to be experienced but rarely so as to be treasured.

Her skill at reading me – my needs and my body – never ceases to amaze me. Since that first time, the lash has only teased and promised, never fallen. She has found other, very inventive, ways to make me scream and beg, but none have been as soul-shattering as that first night

She also lets me reciprocate. I was unsure at first; both of my place with the Lady, and of how I felt touching another woman when I was pursuing Sara. But I was taking things slow with Sara, treading carefully and reminding myself to enjoy the journey. Which was fine - except that every time she looked at me, or I heard her voice, or when we stood near enough to each other that I could feel her heat and smell her perfume, my body burned with an almost painful longing that even my own release couldn't entirely quench. I needed to touch, not just be touched, and even though my heart wanted it to be Sara whose skin I caressed and whose lips I drank from – touching Heather is like making love to a wildfire – there is a heat and a passion there that moves something beyond just my body.

I came to her when the sickness and cruelty I saw in humanity nearly overwhelmed me, and now - more often lately – I come when working next to Sara every day starts driving me crazy.

She is always waiting when I walk through the door, and either greets me with a command, or a gentle smile, depending on what she sees in me. She always understands what I need, and I know that no matter my feelings for Sara, there will always be a part of me that will only belong to My Lady. She is a source of strength for me, but the fact that I need her makes me wonder,

What the hell am I going to tell Sara?

In many ways, it might be easier if I loved Catherine, whom I know is comfortable in the world of dominance and submission and understands, at least to an extent, the place it holds in human nature. But I don't love Catherine. My heart belongs, for better or worse, to Sara. Dark haired, dark eyed, enigmatic and passionate, she can be driven and volatile and it makes me wild with longing. It also makes me fearful. So I wait, unsure of how and what to tell her.

In the end, the decision is made for me.

It's after a brutal case, where Sara and I worked side by side for days to put the sick bastard away that I find myself at Lady Heather's. I'm nearly seething with pent up anger and a lingering arousal at being so close to Sara for so long – watching her passionate hunt for a killer – but unable to touch her.

The Lady takes me in, and then takes me, but this time, she refuses my touch.

Lying panting on her silk sheets with my body sated but with a burning need in my hands to touch someone, I can only stare at her as she smiles knowingly.

"Go to her Sofia. Stop hiding."

Before I can protest, she shakes her head. "You hide both your nature and your passion from her and therefore waste it, and squander the best of what you have to offer her. Go to her and show her what you truly feel. Only a complete fool would turn you down, and I doubt you would give your love to a fool Sofia." And with that she turns, leaving me to get dressed and let myself out.

I think about disobeying Her command, but while I'm arguing with myself, my hands steer me surely into Sara's driveway.

Well, so much for disobedience.

Now that I'm here though, memories and images of Sara cascade over me, washing through me, taunting and arousing my senses with their visceral power, and the next thing I know, she's opening the door and I'm kissing her.

I surprise her I know, but before I can pull back and explain, she grabs my shirt and drags me inside. Her body pins me to the wall, but her lips part to my assault and I plunder her mouth.

Some part of me is yelling that it wasn't supposed to be like this; it was supposed to be slow and sweet and gentle, but then her hand is sliding up to cup my breast and I tell that voice to shut the hell up, because I've never felt anything so wonderful.


SARA

When Sofia walked out of the lab tonight, I thought I might scream in frustration. All week we'd been working side by side – a rare treat – but kept too busy to really talk. We'd barely touched, despite orbiting each other around the lab and the field. I was constantly aware of her presence though, somehow soothing despite the intensity with which she worked. I'd hoped that tonight she might come home with me. I could see that look in her eyes and it made me shiver to think of it directed at me.

When she first asked me out for coffee I was shocked, but delighted. When she flirted with me, I was floored. Like some tidal shift had been made, suddenly the woman that I will readily admit I'd fantasized about was making it very clear that she was interested.

At first I was suspicious. Despite a few small, scattered moments of quiet connection, Sofia has always held herself aloof from everyone – including me. I used to watch her walking through the halls of the lab or at scene, and the image of a wolf always sprang to my mind – focused and dangerous, holding herself apart from everything around her. I was drawn to her from the first, but it never occurred to me how much lay beneath that wary exterior.

As I saw more of her however, I began to realize just how unfairly I, and everyone else in the lab, viewed her. Her sensitivity and generosity are amazing, and she has a dry, whip-sharp sense of humor that matches my own. She's being careful with me, I can tell. Our time together is casual – our conversations easy and exploratory. A part of me loves it; loves the fact that she cares enough to go slow.

A part of me thinks I might go insane if she doesn't do more than kiss me one of these days.

I can see the desire in her eyes sometimes: like there is some powerful predator just waiting to be unleashed, and when it stretches its chains, I can see it looking out from behind that normally serene sapphire gaze. It never fails to send a delicious shiver down my spine. Whether it's from fear or fascination though, I'm never quite sure.

That look was there tonight when we closed the case. I could tell it had affected her – hell it had affected all of us, even Cath, though she would never admit it. For one moment, after all the paperwork was done and the bastard had been hauled away, I saw her look at me through the glass walls of the lab…and I could see the wolf behind her eyes. For a moment I felt frozen, held in place by the shear, electric force of her gaze. Then some tech passed between us, breaking the spell and she was gone, striding out the door

I don't think I've ever been quite so angry or disappointed with one person.

I drove home alone and took my frustration out on my apartment, cleaning it thoroughly.

It didn't help much.

I was actually considering going back out and finding a bottle with my name on it when my door bell rang. I pulled it open and she was there, some trick of my porch light making her summer sky eyes incandescent, and I saw the hunter staring back at me.

Before I can say anything, before I can even think, her lips are on mine and it feels so good. She's hungry and possessive and her mouth is so soft and hot that my brain shorts out with one massive explosion of lust. I feel her start to pull back and I don't stop to consider, I just grab her by the shirt and yank her inside, pushing her up against the wall and sliding my body against hers. She's everything I ever imagined; lean and strong and curving all in the right places and I can't get enough.

A part of me is shocked at my own passion and tries to back off, to slow down and play it safe, but then her tongue is in my mouth and her hands are tearing at my clothes and nothing else matters.


SOFIA

I'm shocked at her aggressiveness, but God, what a turn on. I loose track of whose clothes are getting tossed where, but somewhere between her trousers and mine, we stumble back and fall onto her bed. Sara straddles me and I can't help my body's instinctual response: I go passive, my hands falling to the side of my head and my breath catching. My heart, already pounding, threatens to beat its way out of my chest as she licks her lips and her eyes go black.

She slides her hands along my arms and where she touches me, goosebumps rise. Her fingers close over my wrists, and even though her touch is gentle, I can't help the hiss of pain as my bruises protest.

I see the moment that she realizes that it was pain and not pleasure that made me cry out – confusion and uncertainty seeps into her eyes, leeching away at the heat that was there just seconds ago. She leans back and now her eyes are sweeping my body again, but there is no hunger there. With the gaze of a CSI and not a lover I see her catalog the bruises, the tiny cuts and abrasions. The evidence is faint, but even in the dim light of her bedroom, clear.

My heart is racing now, but not from arousal.

With a tentative finger, she reaches out and traces one of the older cuts and I see the question in her eyes: a question, and a rapidly growing anger.

The silence seems to stretch; only the thready beating of my heart proof that time still moves forward.

"Who…Sofia who did this to you? Why didn't you report this? Report them? Sofia, we can help you…" Her words are tumbling together, fear and horror and anger chasing themselves across her features and I have to stop her before she gets too worked up.

"Sara…Sara! It's ok. It's not: it's not what you think. This wasn't an attack. It was… it was something else."

She doesn't understand, and I know that I have to make it clear. I can't bear to see her face though, and I close my eyes as I speak. "The marks aren't from an attack…they're from Lady Heather."

I open my eyes and watch as my nightmare is made real. Comprehension dawns on her face, followed by horror, and finally disgust. I see her shut herself off from me and then she's pushing away, scrambling off the bed and grabbing a robe.

"How could you let…how could you want someone to do that to you? You know what, never mind. Get out." Her voice is flat and choked, almost frail, and each word makes my heart feel like its being dragged over broken glass. I'm bleeding inside, and I can't make it stop.

"Sara," I try, "let me explain, please."

She looks at me like she's never seen me before and I have no courage left to fight for her.

With a body gone numb, I pull on my clothes and stumble out the door into the cooling desert night.

There's only one place I can go now.


SARA

I sink to the edge of the bed, reeling from the cavalcade of emotions charging through me. Anger, betrayal, shock, disgust and fear: under it all fear. I can't believe she didn't tell me. No, its more than that, I can't believe she enjoys it at all!

Anger suddenly burns through me: anger at Sofia – for what I'm not truly sure - at myself, for falling for her, and at one other – for being the cause of all this. I find myself dressed and driving before I realize what the hell I'm doing, but by then its too late. I'm pissed as hell, anger overriding every rational thought or impulse in my brain. I don't even have a plan. I'm rarely this rash, but I could never control my anger, and tonight is no exception. Like a living thing, its controlling me, taking over my awareness, so that when I park in front of a weathered old house off the Strip, I fail to notice a very familiar car already there.


I came here to confront her, though I have no idea what that would have accomplished, I just knew I had to. From the moment I stormed into her lobby and she met me as if she had been expecting me for some time however, I've fought a loosing battle for balance. Where I was angry, she was calm. Where I was terrified, she was sure. With a look she silenced me; holding me trapped in the electric current of her eyes, and with her calm, precise words, she proceeded to tear the true reason for my being here from me, and with it, my soul.

"You say you abhor me; that you abhor this, but it is more than that isn't it?" The Lady asks softly, even gently, though her eyes are piercing.

My heart is racing; beating at my ribs like a wild thing in a cage and every muscle in my body is taught with the desire to flee, to fight; to be anywhere but here. I want to scream at her, to make her stop. But I can't. Her words tear at me – each one ripping away a shred of the armor that I have built around the secret in my heart for years.

Deadly and silent, The Lady stalks closer, until I can feel the warmth of her body tingle along the edge of my awareness and smell the faintest hint of her perfume. I want it to repulse me, just like I want to hate her. I can't. Even though she isn't touching me, I can feel my body respond to her. It's as though her very soul is caressing me, moving through me and awakening a part of me I have sought to keep buried and dormant for so long.

If this is what Sofia felt – I'm beginning to understand.

She's just inches away from me, her arctic eyes holding me tighter than any restraint, when she continues. "You aren't just afraid of the violence, you are afraid that it is inside you. You don't hate me; you fail to see the distinction between cruelty and the delicate balance of dominance and submission, and with that failure, you purposefully blind yourself. What you truly hate, and fear, is the possibility that there is not only a capacity, but an enjoyment, of violence within you." She reaches up and with the lightest of touches, traces along my jaw and over my lips.

Her fingers burn; her touch searing across my nerve endings and my eyes flutter closed.

"You fear the darkness inside yourself," her velvet voice whispers in my ear, wrapping its way down my spine and through my soul and I tremble: in fear, in desire – I'm no longer sure which.

In the darkness behind my eyes, my mind is screaming. Here at last is the truth I have worked so hard to bury; to deny.

From the moment I watched my mother murder my father, splashing his blood across the walls of our wretched home, I have known - but never truly let myself examine - this fear. And so it has lurked, a constant seeping wound that never truly heals. "Do you think there is such a thing as a murder gene?" I asked Grissom. That was as close as I have ever come to facing what I fear – that I could be violent; and worse – that I might like it.

I couldn't bear to have the question answered, because I feared that the answer would be wrong, and so I have buried it, successfully, nearly my entire life. No one; not my friends, not any of my lovers, not the department shrinks, not even Grissom, have truly guessed at my fear.

In less than a day, less than an hour, The Lady has not only guessed, she's torn the question itself from its darkened prison where I tried to hide it, bringing it to light and leaving a gaping wound somewhere inside me. So now I stand here, bleeding to death under her touch and her words, too weak to fight any longer. And then her hands are cupping my face and she gently commands me to open my eyes. I do, and her face is all I register. Her gaze scorches me, stripping away my last defense until I feel naked before her.

Her voice, when she speaks, is low and forceful, "I will tell you a truth, Sara Sidle. There is darkness inside you. There is the capacity for violence inside you,"

Just as I feel my heart shattering, she growls at me, "Listen to me! Human nature; all human nature, contains the capacity for violence. Every person, in the right circumstances, can take another person's life. But then, as a criminal investigator, you understand that."

I've stopped trembling. I am too exhausted. She is right, I do know this, and at some logical level, accept it. But this is not the sum of my fear, and she knows this too. With a caress of my cheekbones she draws my focus back to her and continues; her voice infinitely gentle…and completely unyielding.

"You have no capacity for cruelty or violence without justification Sara, and you have no capacity for the enjoyment of it. You could never revel in the pain and suffering of another human being."

I hear her words, but my heart, though desperate to believe her, is still too afraid to accept them.

"How?" I choke out, and she simply looks at me as though I have missed something that should be perfectly obvious.

"If you truly had such a capacity, you would not fear it. In your darkest terror, Sara, lies the proof you've been looking for. No truly violent or cruel person is ever afraid of their own cruelty."

My heart gives one last, brief struggle before her words shatter the last of my splintered fear and relief – so powerful it chokes me and I feel dizzy – flows through me, burning away the last of the infection in my soul. Dimly, I feel my legs give way and I cling to the only stable thing in my world right now – her.

Time slips away on the tracks of the tears slipping silently down my cheeks. Eventually I become aware of the fact that I am kneeling, my cheek resting against a warm, leather covered thigh and a gentle hand is stroking my hair; petting me.

A part of me briefly wonders why I feel comforted and safe, rather than humiliated, and for the first time in a long time, I tell that rational, ever-cynical part of me to shut the hell up and just go with it. I'm exhausted, hollowed out; strangely light and emotionless. Its as though my entire life I was struggling against something, and only in the moment I ceased to struggle did I become aware of it.

Almost reluctantly, I move away from her and try to stand. I am not surprised when a gloved hand enters my vision in offering.

Tired of fighting, I take it and get up, my legs as weak as a newborn foal's. The only solid thing in right now is her hand, warm and strong, clasping mine.

"Let me show you, Sara. There is nothing to fear here. Not even yourself."

She leads me up the stairs to the door of a room where she stops and pins me with a look.

"I am about to show you something – the evidence, if you will – of the subtlety of my craft. This is not for you. This is for the woman in there. It is for her experience and satisfaction that I am doing this. You are a guest in this, do you understand?" Her tone is soft, but there is no mistaking the steel behind it. Her house, her rules.

"What," I hesitate, "What do I do?"

"Nothing. It is not for you to participate, only observe. You are not to make a sound or interfere in any way with what happens, is that clear?" She gives me no time to think, just waits long enough for her command to sink in and opens the door.

I follow her, lost in my own uncertainty and…anticipation? My mind stumbles over that, and her body blocks my sight for a critical moment so that when I look up, my body nearly stumbles as well.

Oh my God, Sofia, is my only thought. There are so many emotions screaming through me right now I couldn't pick one to feel if I tried. Fear: at being here – at being discovered. Anger: at Lady Heather, for putting me in this situation. Confusion: because I have no idea what the hell is about to happen.

And beneath it all, though I try in vain to block it out, comes anticipation and the first stirrings of arousal.

I tell myself that its just biology. The woman I thought I was falling in love with is sitting – no, kneeling – on a cushion in the middle of Lady Heather's bedroom, her head bowed and her eyes covered with a white silk scarf, and the only thing she is wearing are padded leather shackles. It's bound to turn anyone on, but I know it goes deeper than that. There is something about seeing the normally aloof, wary, gutsy Detective willingly submissive that…no, I'm not going there….not yet.

She doesn't look afraid though, I dimly realize. Her hands are folded loosely in her lap, and the gentle rise and fall of her breasts, God, she's beautiful, is slow and steady.

It becomes very clear that the only person uncomfortable here is me.

Lady Heather turns one last time and looks pointedly at a high-backed oak chair in the corner that I never even noticed. My legs move woodenly, and I nearly collapse into it, gripping the armrests for support. The Lady gives me one last, long look which I can only decipher as "don't mess this up," then turns her back on me, and the scene begins.

"Stand," she commands Sofia, and the Detective rises smoothly. I feel my throat go dry at the sight of her standing there, pale skin glowing in the candlelight. I can't help myself; I stare. I knew she was beautiful, but seeing her like this? She's magnificent.

Heather takes both of Sofia's hands and attaches the links on the padded cuffs to chains dangling form the ceiling and pulls them tight until the Detective stands with her arms spread above her head and I can see the first signs of strain in her slender limbs.

The Lady considers Sofia for a moment – like an artist examining a canvass – and then goes to her tool wall (which I also didn't notice until now) and retrieves a black riding crop with a partly padded end on it, acting for all the world like a painter choosing a brush.

Somewhere in the back of my awareness I recognize that my heart is pounding…and its not from wholly from fear.


SOFIA

I feel Lady Heather enter the room, even though her steps make little noise: it's as if the very air has become charged with a current that now dances over my skin. She commands me to stand and I do, and then the cuffs I wear are attached to the chains in the ceiling, and I hear her move toward her tools. My whole body tightens, but I work at keeping my breathing even.

This is only the beginning.

I can feel her move close to me – not so much a physical presence, but an aura of heat.

"I need your safe-word Sofia. You know I don't proceed without it."

This is new.

She has never asked me to repeat my signal since that first night, and the request brings into sharp relief the turmoil that rages in my heart and my mind tonight – the turmoil that brought me here. I had dared to hope, just for a moment, that Sara and I could truly build something, but her reaction to seeing this part of me was too strong, and I felt the tentative bond shatter.

Her name was my safety once; now, it only brings me more pain.

"I need to hear it Sofia."

"You know what it is," I stall.

I could simply choose another word. I know this, and yet, somehow, I can't; I can't sever that last, possibly futile connection between us, even if she never knew it existed.

Slap!

The impact of The Lady's hand burns my cheek and throws my head sidewise. I feel the sting of it settle through my skin and move out into my blood.

It feels good.

However much others might not understand, this is a part of me – of who I am. As much a part of me as my feelings for a dark haired, dark eyed enigma of a woman who has somehow managed to carve a permanent place in my heart, without my knowledge or consent.

"Say it."

"Sidle," I exhale; still treasuring the feel of her name on my lips despite the knife it buries in my heart. There may well be a time in the future when that word no longer holds any meaning for me, but that time is not now.

The silence after I speak has a weight to it that I can't interpret, blindfolded as I am, but I'm not allowed to dwell on it as I feel the touch of something stiff against my shoulder. Riding crop, my mind supplies, as something low in my abdomen cramps with need and my shoulders tighten in anticipation.


SARA

"Sidle," she breathes, and from her lips it sounds like a prayer.

My mind, my body are numb, too shocked for coherence at this revelation. Even I know the kind of significance a safe-word can carry. Me, her safety was…is, me. And I ripped that away.

I feel a gaze on me, and look up to find Lady Heather's eyes holding a terrible weight of knowledge – a weight I am not sure I'm strong enough to bear. She turns away from me then – the artist focusing again on her canvas - and I'm forgotten.


LADY HEATHER

I turn away from Sara: frozen in the corner by her own shock - and if I am any judge (which I am) - growing arousal. She isn't truly aware of it yet, but she will be, and until then, her own emotional turmoil will hold her silent.

I haven't had an audience for a very long time, and I take a moment to adjust to the concept. I admit it feels good – having someone to appreciate your work, even if they don't understand the fullness of what I am creating. And Sofia is a canvas worthy of a Master. I have never accepted payment from her. To touch that porcelain skin and feel the shift of her muscles beneath me, hearing the song of her cries and beholding her responses is like seeing a Da Vinci or hearing Chopin for the first time: something the exchange of money should not taint.

I appreciate too, that she hides nothing from me. Whatever place she carves for herself in her everyday life, when she walks through those doors, she is mine. There is no subterfuge in her soul and no lie in her sky blue eyes. Her trust in me is absolute and it takes my breath away. Like the most finely trained of all horses, she submits to my will only because she wishes to do so, and I make her body respond in ways no one else could conceive of.

I admit I was surprised the first time she asked to touch me. I rarely let my clients have such privileges. But Detective Sofia Curtis is far from simply another client, so I gave permission, and have never regretted it. It has made the connection between us that much more powerful, and she is one of the best lovers I have ever had – not because of skill, but because of acceptance. I know when I look in her eyes, that she sees me and only me; not some phantom of another person or who she might wish me to be. Even lately, when I knew that she was pursuing her co-worker and her body spoke of pleasure and contentment, her eyes were clear and I could see only myself in them.

Tonight though, I sensed something different. Tonight when she strode through my door I could see pain, anger, longing and loss, all chasing themselves across her features. I imagine others would have seen only stoicism, what her colleagues would call a "cop face," but this is my gift – to see what others cannot - and so I knew she was hurting, and when Sara walked through the door, I knew why.

Sara Sidle. What a wonderful challenge; so terribly wounded, but marvelously driven to do right. It is for souls like hers that I do what I do. I wonder briefly what she would feel like beneath my fingertips, but I push the thought away. Speculation on such things is irrelevant in this instance.

I can feel her dark gaze now, and I know that if I were to turn and look, those beautiful eyes would be nearly black. It makes me smile, just a little. I can feel too, the desperate wish for connection she has, despite the aura of wariness and aloofness she wraps around her like a suit of armor. She and Sofia share that. I can see the patterns and threads of connection stretching between them, though they are hopelessly tangled and on the verge of tearing.

I don't want that to happen, but it will take a great deal of skill to do this correctly, so I return my focus to the woman restrained in front of me.

I can't help the anticipation that sweeps through me and I close my eyes momentarily to savor it.

I take a breath, centering myself, and then I begin.


SOFIA

"Why are you here Sofia?" she asks, and my mind reels, for a moment off balance at the turn in her actions. Never before has she asked me for anything other than what I want – and that only at the moment before I surrender to her.

Slap!

The crop strikes my back and I jerk, gasping not at the impact, but at the stain of heat that spreads immediately from the site of the blow. Bright red light cascades behind my eyes and I feel the first ripples of the inevitable endorphin rush.

As always, she knows just how hard to hit.

"Answer me Sofia, why are you here?" she asks again.

Still unsure, I try, "I don't understand,"

Slap! "Yes you do," she replies dispassionately. "Now tell me."

"For you," I try.

Nothing happens for a moment, and then I feel the warm leather of her gloved hand stroke my leg, teasing my thighs apart. Just as I feel the blood begin to pound at my core and begin the slide into a fog of sensual pleasure, her hand vanishes and she speaks again.

"Why are you here?"

Shock is like a hook that yanks me from my bliss. I thought I answered her. Apparently not. A whisper of a suspicion chases through my mind, but I push it away. Not yet. I'm not ready to admit that yet.

Slap…slap! This time it is both my hips.

"Because I needed you," I answer without thinking this time, and this time I am rewarded. This time her hand strokes my breast, cupping it and flicking across my nipple, which strains, pebbling at her touch even as I force myself not to arch into her hand.

"Why did you need me?"

Damn!

Breathing raggedly, I try to think with a mind that is damn close to being overloaded.

Slap…slap…slap! Both shoulders and my back again.

"Why did you need me?" there is only mild curiosity in her voice.

"Because I needed this," I choke out.

Her hand returns to my thighs and she strokes higher this time, so close to my need that I can feel the heat of her hand through the leather of her glove on my sex. It tears a moan from between my teeth. Between the dull stinging, spreading stain of fire across my skin, the endorphins and the arousal, I can feel myself weakening: the emotions that I have held in check since Sara's words hit me now starting to work free from my eroding control.

"Why did you need this?" she asks, and when I don't answer fast enough…

Slap, slap, slap! Butt, thighs.

"Because I was hurting," I nearly cry, and am rewarded. She doesn't tease, just touches me. She strokes the length of me, slipping in to part my wet, painfully engorged flesh and ease one finger inside of me. Her touch is skillful and knowing and she moves with cruel deliberation to drive me toward the edge. My head falls back and I can feel the coil of my orgasm building low in my belly, but she isn't through with me yet, and her touch is suddenly taken away.

I want to scream in frustration.

"Why did you need this?"

"I needed to hurt," I cry, no longer able to think. Before her cruelty and her mercy, I can no longer hide.

Her hand goes again to my breast, soothing, cupping, stroking.

"Why did you hurt?" her voice is softer now, coaxing. My throat closes and I am unable to answer.

Slap, slap, slap, slap, slap!

She strikes my shoulders and down the muscles of my back, each blow building on the last – a crescendo of raw sensation; of stinging pain and spreading heat and waves of endorphins that explode in a wash of white/red bursts behind my eyes and send fire through my skin to sear my blood.

It breaks something in me. "She hurt me. She hates that I need this, that it's a part of me. I disgust her, and I lost her."

The words carry away the last of my will and I hang in my chains, broken and empty inside. My head falls forward and a curious calm steals over me, as though I have crossed some great crevasse and now wait on the other side - one trial over - neither knowing nor caring what is to come.

And then I feel her touch.

The Lady has taken off at least one of her gloves, and now her hand moves across my body in sure, quiet strokes. Like a finely tuned instrument to its master, my body responds to her, and with her touch comes memory.

I remember the feel of hands and her mouth on me.

I remember the sounds of approval she makes and the weight of her voice when she tells me I am beautiful.

I remember the look in her eyes when she touches me.

I remember the look in her eyes when I touch her.

All this plays behind my eyes as her hands – one still gloved – play across my body, and I know she can read what I am feeling.

"What is her name?"

"Sara," I breathe.

"And do you love her?" she asks quietly. The question gives me pause, but I take the time to consider it, knowing that there is no hurry now.

I think about the way I feel when I'm around her, what her simplest touch does to my body. I think about the way her voice warms me even when all we are doing is trading case information at the darkest crime scenes. But mostly I think about the searing, gut wrenching pain I felt when I saw the disgust and fear bleed into her eyes as I tried to explain the bruises on my wrists.

"Yes," I say. "I love her."

"Even though she rejects that which is a part of you?"

"That doesn't make me love her less. It just means I hurt more."

"Then she is a fool," she says, and I have the oddest feeling that she isn't actually talking to me for a moment, and then she kisses me, and I stop caring.


SARA.

"Yes, I love her."

I feel like I have been punched in the gut: like someone has ripped my heart out and its bleeding on the floor in front of me. I thought that earlier…God, was it only tonight? that I could never feel any worse than at the moment when Lady Heather held my face in her hands and tore my secret fear from me. I was wrong.

I look at the woman hanging exhausted in the chains and realize, with terrible clarity, what I threw away. It nearly makes me sick. I'm so caught up in my regrets and self loathing that I nearly miss what Lady Heather says next, but I hear Sofia's reply and then the Lady is looking directly at me; pinning me again with a liquid steel glare.

"Then she is a fool," she throws at me, and I know she is right.

Heather turns away and walks to her tool rack, selecting something I can't see and then she is back, and I watch with a choking mix of grief, pain, and growing fascination as she slips wicked, curved metal claws over the tips of 4 of her fingers. She flexes her hand and the gleaming steel winks in the flickering candlelight. Her eyes seem to glow with cold radiance, and I'm reminded of a jungle cat. It makes me tremble.

Then the Lady leans in and kisses Sofia, and my throat closes: from longing or regret, I can't decide.

"She is a fool. You are magnificent Sofia. Never forget that, and never feel shame in yourself."

This is directed at the bound woman, but she turns to me as she says it, flexing her fingers again and commanding me with her eyes. "Watch," she seems to say. "Watch what could have been yours."

And so I watch. I watch her dark leather clad hand against the pale perfection of Sofia's skin. I watch the candlelight flicker and shimmer on that same skin as muscle and sinew shift and strain beneath it, creating patterns of warmth and shadow. I watch as the sharp metal claws pierce that skin and the glistening drops of deepest red well up in their wake; some beading and others slipping gently downward, like crimson tears.

Into the emptiness left in me by Lady Heather's words and my own revelations now floods arousal and longing: a wanting so fierce and primal that at any other time in my life I might have run from it terrified. Now I just accept it. I am overwhelmed with the desire to lick that blood away: to taste the hot copper taste of Sofia's life-force and the warm satin of her skin. I want to know what she feels like under my hands, what sounds she might make if I were the one touching her, and as I hear Sofia gasp out a plea for Lady Heather to touch her, I understand. I understand that this isn't about pain and cruelty - though as the Lady says, it can be – its about pleasure and power and trust and all those subtle, terrifying, wonderful intangibles that were gifted to humans by whatever Power one chooses to believe in.

The Lady tilts her head, considering Sofia, and I see her smile – a smile that only tightens the painful, pounding ache between my legs.


SOFIA.

"Never forget that, and never feel shame in yourself," she commands, and then my mind is wiped clean with the cleansing bright light of pain as she pierces the skin of my shoulder blade with something cold and hard.

It's not the rose, which even in its penetration of my skin felt natural. This is different. This is alien and unyielding. Then another star of pain explodes in the darkness behind my eyes, the heat of the tiny wound emanating from right next to the first. I realize she is using the claws, and as she ads a third and then a fourth steel weapon, I am unable to realize anything more.

My world narrows to those tiny wounds – each one flaring white hot than fading to a dull, pulsing red as she works her way slowly down my back. Each one throws the waves of endorphins higher, until I am gasping for breath and the blood pounding in my ears is the only thing I hear. Just when I think I will loose myself, the cold, lancing metallic pain of the claws disappears. I concentrate on breathing – forcing my chest to rise and fall beneath the crushing tide of sensations. Only the chains and my restraints anchor me, and I feel my head fall back as I sag in them, trusting my bonds to hold me.

Those bonds are soon struck however, and my whole body tingles in anticipation of what is to come.

Sure enough, I am pushed backward to land on the bed and once again fastened securely by wrists and ankles, totally open and exposed to my Lady. My body's response is unavoidable… and delicious. I tense against the chains, shoulders and thighs tightening and abdomen cramping with pure, unrestrained want. I'm given no time to rest though, as I feel her settle across me – straddling my hips - and the claws return. Scraping this time, they tease across my collar bone and along the exposed line of my throat. I feel them whisper across the pounding pulse point in my neck and my breath catches, my body suddenly tense, but they merely continue their journey. Along the curve of my jaw they move, and the tiniest line of heat flares as they scrape across my cheek before heading downward.

At that moment, I feel another hand on me; this one clad only in warm leather. It mirrors the actions of its twin, and when the claws scrape across the top of my breast, teasing around the straining peak, her gloved hand attaches something cold to it and pulls.

Sizzling, crackling electricity races from my nipple; charging through my body and slamming into the pressure between my legs. It tears a moan from me as my back arches off the bed, increasing the strain on my limbs.

Somewhere far distant, I think I might have heard someone else gasp, but as Lady Heather attaches second clip to my other nipple and pulls, all other awareness is lost in the brilliant wash of excruciating pleasure/pain that leaves me unable to breathe.

Just when I think I can't take any more, the clamps are taken away and replaced by the hot, wet satin of her mouth. She takes first one aching tip, than the other, laving them with her tongue and sucking just hard enough to make me whimper. I arch into her touch and she obliges by blowing softly where her mouth had been. The cool air is soothing on the abraded flesh, but it makes my nipples pebble even tighter and I nearly growl in frustration. I want her to touch me, but I know better than to beg – not unless she commands it. If I do, she will only prolong my torture.

Not that I would really complain.

She seems to know I'm at the end of my endurance however, because she begins to move lower, alternating teasing and threatening with the metal of the claws, stroking with her gloved hand, and licking or kissing with her mouth. Here and there the claws delve deep enough to part flesh and when they do, the searing white line of pain is immediately followed by the smoldering softness of her mouth and her soothing, cooling breath.

I fight to remain silent and still, but there is sweat on my temple and heavy wetness of another kind between my legs.

She moves lower and I cannot help the hiss as she cuts my upper thigh and then licks the cut.

She is so close to my need, my hips jerk despite my control and I feel her pause. I nearly cry out in frustration, but hold myself still, and I hear a low hum of satisfaction.

"What do you want Sofia?" she asks, her voice at once gentle and edged with lightening.

"You," I plead, and she makes a low sound of consideration. "Please Lady, I want you," I gasp, and this time I know I have her approval when she returns and then her mouth is on me. Her tongue dips into me and then explores, twisting and caressing and it takes every last thread of control I have not to cry out. When I want her to delve deeper however, she slowly draws away, kissing both of my quivering thighs, and then moving beside me.

Before I can pull myself back from the edge of release and I can do more than whimper in frustration, she speaks. "Do you trust me Sofia?" she asks, and I am momentarily confused by her gentle tone.

"Yes," I manage to gasp.

I feel her shift and then two hands gently clasp my face, one cloaked in alien leather, the other soft flesh tipped with dangerous metal.

"Then trust me now, and accept this gift," she says softly. And then she's gone.

I have just enough time to register confusion, when there is the sound of leather hitting the floor and another person moving toward us. I feel the first stirrings of panic when the claw tipped hand returns to rest on my stomach, both a comfort – and a warning.

"Trust, Sofia," she commands softly.

And because I have no choice, I do.


SARA.

I nearly betray myself by gasping when The Lady uses the nipple clamps and Sofia arches off the bed – the bow of her body pushing her breasts into high relief.

I'm gripping the wooden arms of the chair so tight I'm not sure I could let go, and a part of me is sure that if I do, I'll fly from the chair to the bed, unable to stop myself from touching Sofia. My arousal has grown to a hard, pulsing ache between my legs that I am becoming desperate to relieve and I have long ago forgotten any doubt about what I am doing here.

When she cuts and licks Sofia's thigh, I want to hiss with Sofia, but my jaw is clamped shut, and when she pauses, taking her mouth away from Sofia's sex, I nearly groan in frustration as well. The Lady leans over Sofia and says something I can't hear, to which Sofia replies.

And then I'm pinned by artic blue eyes as Lady Heather speaks, just loud enough that I can hear.

"Then trust me now, and accept this gift," and with that she motions to me.

There is no hesitation on my part. Where once I would have quailed, there is only a calm certainty that steals over me. I strip off my jacket and shoes, but stay otherwise clothed. With each step toward the bed and the women on it, I realize I am more aware of my body that I have been at any other time in my life.

I can feel the breath in my lungs and the rush of blood through my heart. I feel the constriction of clothing as it binds and slides across my skin – not as unwelcome – but as another sensation to be experienced. I feel alive – light and on fire – powerful and sure of myself in a way I never would have thought possible, and most importantly,

I am not afraid.

I know that what I am about to do will only bring pleasure to both myself and the woman in front of me, and I know that the moment it doesn't, she will stop me, and I will desist. It dimly occurs to me that if this is how Lady Heather feels all the time, I owe her a serious apology, but then I'm crawling onto the bed and feeling the warm silk beneath my hands. Sofia fills my vision and all rational thought is gone.

I kneel beside her and reach out a hand to where the Lady is resting her claws on Sofia's quivering stomach. Up close, she is even more beautiful. I can see the faint hollows and contours of her ribs when she breathes and the tiny shift of muscle beneath skin as she trembles.

My hand touches the Lady's and for an instant I feel the invisible connection that flows between us. Then I move and all I know is Sofia.

A part of me wants to take this slow – to explore the captive Detective – but I can feel her heart racing under my fingers and see the evidence of her need, and it calls to me. With my own heart pounding I lean forward and capture her lips with mine. She is so divinely soft, but I suddenly realize she is not responding. I nearly pull back, when Lady Heather chuckles,

"You may respond as you wish Sofia," and then she's kissing me back. I lose myself in her mouth, but this is only the beginning of what I want.

When I pull away, I'm rewarded by the high flush on Sofia's cheeks and the quickening of her breath. It makes her chest heave and only serves to tighten my own need. With her body granting permission, I kiss my way down her, pausing here and there to nip at flesh I've wanted to taste for who knows how long.

And then I'm there; between her legs and taking her into my mouth. Her hips buck and she makes a strangled cry of pleasure. She is wet – achingly ready – and as I part her glistening flesh with my tongue, I slide my hand into her, one finger at a time.

I suck her gently and thrust my hand into her and am rewarded as she cries out, whimpering, and yes, begging; begging me to let her come. I hold off though. I want this to last – for this moment to stretch forever as I glory in her taste and the feeling of being inside her. Her body jerks against me raggedly though, and I take pity on her. I've long since forgotten that I should be silent, and so as I push into her and curl my fingers, I command her,

"Sofia, come for me." She does, and I think it might be the most beautiful sight I've ever seen.


SOFIA

A hand that doesn't belong to Lady Heather touches me and I wait, unsure. Then someone kisses me, and shock explodes through me, stopping my heart.

I've know those lips. I would know them anywhere, in any time and place. Sara! It's Sara kissing me, touching me, here with me, with us, right now. My heart leaps, swelling, almost bursting with emotion.

And then her mouth is where I need it and she slides into me, her fingers stroking and twisting and thrusting deep inside. I'm so close that each movement draws a cry from me. I have no control left, only desire as I teeter on the brink.

"Sofia, come for me." Sara commands, and I obey. At the sound of her voice; in the instant I have proofit's her, my release rips through me, breaking my awareness and nearly tearing me loose from my body. Her fingers move, and wave after wave of excruciating pleasure pulses through me, and when I think I can't take any more, her mouth is on me again, bringing my to another climax.

I can barely draw breath and finally beg her to stop…but she doesn't. Thrashing my head back and forth, I plead, until Lady Heather's voice whispers darkly in my ear.

"Say it Sofia, give the signal."

"Sidle!" I cry, and with a last gentle kiss, Sara moves away to leave me spent, shattered and floating.

I'm not aware that The Lady has removed my chains until a hand takes mine and my fingertips are kissed gently while the blindfold is removed. Still gasping for breath it takes a moment for brain to realize that my eyes can see again. When it finally catches up, I nearly forget to breathe.

In black jeans and a sleeveless black shirt, with her hair mussed and a feral look in her eyes, Sara kneels between my legs. Her hands on my thighs are gentle, but her expression is predatory.

It was Lady Heather who kissed my hand from where she lay, watching the both of us, her expression one of complete satisfaction. I look at Sara though, and the weight is slowly burned from my limbs, replaced with a seething need to touch her. The Lady seems to understand, because with the sinuous grace of a panther, she slides behind Sara, reaches around her, and unfastens her belt, slowly pulling it away.


SARA.

"Sidle!" Sofia cries, and my heart cries with her. I kneel, watching the tremors ripple through her body and the struggle as she tries to breathe. She's wrecked and I can't help but feel a little satisfaction at knowing I did that. Lady Heather removes the restraints and the blindfold and I watch the moment that Sofia's brain catches up with her eyes and she sees me.

The wondrous, hungry look that steals into that ice blue gaze makes me swallow, but she's in no condition to do anything about it…yet.

That's when I realize that Heather has moved, and now settles behind me. I feel the slow, provocative slide of hands over my hips and then she is undoing my belt and sliding it away. She's undressing me while Sofia collects herself and watches.

My heart, already racing, goes into overdrive, but I stay still. I feel the caress of leather across my stomach and then she is lifting my shirt slowly; teasingly. I wonder, as if from a distance, at my acceptance. But there is no fear anymore, so I simply surrender to The Lady's touch and am rewarded with her midnight voice in my ear, telling me how beautiful I am as I lean back into her.

My shirt and bra are taken away and then her hands are on my breasts, gently cupping me. The last thing I see before my eyes flutter closed is Sofia's burning gaze that I can almost feel as a physical weight on my skin.

With infinite tenderness, Heather lays me on the bed and removes the last of my clothing and when I look up, Sofia is there too, so that I am met by two sets of burning blue eyes.

The Lady smiles, and with a leather clad touch, strokes my cheek one last time, and then there is only Sofia.

Her touch seems to be everywhere at once; my shoulders, my breasts, my hips. She holds me captive simply with her eyes, and I give myself willingly to it. My need is too great to deny for long though, and I fist my hands in the thick gold silk of her hair and pull her mouth to me, parting my lips willingly. Sofia senses my desire and her body moves against mine; curves and planes and soft flesh sliding against their counterparts.

And then her hand is on me; in me, and her fingers move and thrust in ways that stop my heart and steal my breath. There is no thought, no awareness, no sensation beyond her.

I'm so close. I try to hold back, but she doesn't let me. She just pushes deeper, snaking her tongue into my mouth and stroking me with her thumb until I come, arching off the bed and crying out while lights dance across my vision. The world fades away: or maybe it's just me, drifting free from it. I can't tell and I don't care.

I know that if I fall back to earth, Sofia will catch me.


LADY HEATHER.

From the doorway I watch them become lost in each other. Sara is as beautiful and passionate as I imagined. Together the two of them make a vision worthy of the greatest painters – their porcelain skin against my blood black sheets and the flush of their passion across bodies warmed by candlelight.

It stirs me deeply, and I allow myself a moment simply to watch, content to behold what I had at least a part in creating.

Satisfied, I turn and walk down the hall, the soft cries of their joy echoing in my ears.


SARA

A half formed thought slowly floats to the surface of consciousness in my mind. I examine it slowly, turning it over and considering it in light of our current position; wrapped around each other like a couple of sleeping cats, nestled in dark silk sheets. There seems to be no good reason not to proceed, especially now that I still feel somewhat detached from reality. This may be the best, hell, only, time I can do this.

"Sofia?"

"hmm?" she answers lazily, but when I open my eyes, I see she's looking at me intently.

"I need to tell you about how I grew up." I will never call it a childhood.

She nods, and I feel her arms tighten, encouraging me.

At first its difficult, years of caution and fear creating a reluctance to voice this, but feeling her warmth around me and her lips on my forehead I gain courage. For the first time in my life, I bring my past and my pain willingly to light – even if that light belongs to candles and the love of the woman whose arms I rest in. She says nothing, for which I'm grateful. There is nothing to say. It's in the past, and I'm finally able to accept that.

Maybe all it took was a different kind of light.

There is nothing now but the quiet rhythm of our breathing and I feel myself drifting off to sleep. Just before I do however, she whispers, "I love you Sara, don't ever doubt that."

I open my eyes to see the depth of her feeling written on her features, and the last trace of uncertainty in me is swept away before the strength of what I see in her eyes.

"I love you too, Sofia," I reply, before we both drift off into the healing embrace of sleep.


SOFIA

It was surprisingly easy in the end, and we came to a simple agreement. When I really, truly need it, I can escape to Lady Heather's. Sometimes, though rarely, Sara joins us, but mostly she's there to welcome me home. With my body aching but my soul lighter, I fall into her welcome arms. Sometimes she simply holds me as I sleep, sometimes I find the energy to exhaust her as well, but she is always there when I wake up.

Once, on our anniversary, I woke to the sensation of silk sliding across my eyes and she proved to me that she had been paying attention when Lady Heather used her art.

For the most part though, the tides and shifts of power in our relationship are subtle and fluid – balancing and not destroying.

She is my partner in every sense of the word; we snuggle on the couch and watch old movies; we make love gently on lazy Saturday mornings and spend all day talking; we read the paper together on Sundays. Our house is bright and warm and her arms are my safe haven. We fight sometimes, but we never let things fester (and the makeup sex is usually fantastic) and though the balance of our jobs and our lives took some time to find, it has strengthened us both beyond imagining.

Fin