DISCLAIMER: All "ER" characters and institutions are the property of
Warner Bros., ConstantC Productions and Amblin Television. This is
written strictly for entertainment value, no infringement of copyright
or ownership is intended, and nobody is making a profit on this piece.
As always, any errors in continuity, characterization, or common sense
are entirely my own fault.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, this is actually an ER story, despite appearances. Trust me. I'm just letting my demented little imagination run a little more berserk than normal this time around. This is what happens when you read a bunch of Neil Gaiman comics and then write fan fiction. Let's see how long it takes everyone to identify the two primary characters. (Hint: Dali is not someone from the show, so don't let her confuse you. I just made her up.) Once again, if you don't like f/f slash, DON'T READ! Happy Halloween, everyone.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Scott J Welles
There are only three stated rules at Hallows'.
The first rule: Consenting Adults. Anyone is free to covet anyone else, male, female, or anything that blurs the line. Homo, hetero, trans or polymorph, it's all okay, as long as the one you want wants you, too. And don't even bother coming if you're underage. They'll know.
The second rule: Safe Sex. That means not merely contraception and prevention of disease, but also freedom from coercion or abuse. Unwanted abuse, that is. If you're into the rougher aspects of sex, that's okay as long as your partner's on the same page. But no matter what your game, hardcore S & M or just an old-fashioned fuck, the word "No" is law. From anyone, for any reason. Try to force someone, in any way, and you're eighty-sixed permanently. And you won't be walking when you leave.
The third rule, the one that really gives Hallows' its reputation: No Real Names. It doesn't matter who you are on the outside. You may be married, attached, committed, monogamous, or celibate. Relationships and responsibilities out there mean nothing in here. Once you come in here, you're someone else, and whatever goes on is just fantasy given form. Your real life resumes tomorrow, so tonight is up for grabs.
Gail, as she preferred to be called on nights like this, strolled into the club just after midnight.
Her metal-studded leather jacket and biker boots were by no means the most outrageous outfit to be found in a place like this, but they still would have shocked any of her co-workers at County. That is, assuming that they could recognize her with her brown hair tucked up under the baseball cap. To them, she was sweet and pretty, in a plain, ordinary sort of way, a woman who worked hard but didn't seem to have a private life, beyond gripes about her ex. That was when she went by the first half of her first name. When she donned the leather and went by the second half, she became a different person entirely.
But that was what Hallows' was for. A place to go and be someone else for a while. Nobody used their real names here, or dressed the same way they did the rest of their lives. You don't come to a place like Hallows' to be the daily version of yourself. You came to get down, get drunk, and get laid. No questions asked, no strings attached.
Gail felt her nipples stiffen as her thin cotton tee shirt glided over them. She wore no underwear, never did when she came here.
The thumping bass of the music hit her, along with the smells. An olfactory kaleidoscope of perfumes, colognes, natural body scents, cigarette smoke...and sex. That natural combination of pheromonal secretions that triggered your state of readiness at the first whiff.
She stood just within the entrance, lighting a cigarette of her own. The entrance was carefully designed so that the same thing happens whenever you walked in. You stand in the doorway, unable to see a thing until your eyes adjust to the different lighting. Long before you can see anything or anyone inside, they've gotten a good look at you. And by the time you catch your first impressions of them, they've already sized you up. Are you someone they want to be with tonight? They know before you do. That's how it works at Hallows'.
Gail could feel the unnumbered pairs of eyes on her as she drew deeply on her cigarette. She stood still, letting them take a good look at her. Ninety percent of them, she knew, would hold no attraction for her, but she enjoyed being an object of their attraction.
When she'd posed enough, and could see again, she strolled inside.
The dance floor was pretty full, though not jammed. Most of the tables surrounding it were occupied as well. You didn't have to come here for sex if you didn't want to. A quiet conversation over a soft drink or a cup of coffee was okay, too, as long as you observed the third rule. That meant no griping about your day, or your boss, or your spouse, or anything else personal. Talk about politics, religion, philosophy, music, culture in general, or even the weather was cool, as long as it didn't ask the other person to give away their identity.
Without half-trying, she spotted a dozen different styles of dress among the patrons. Mohawked punks in chains and spiked leather, retro-seventies outfits out of 'Saturday Night Fever', Yuppies in Armani suits, cowboys and cowgirls, surfers in wetsuits, and a few Bruce Lee clones. Some people dressed like extras from Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis', some dressed like refugees from Mardi Gras, some looked like they'd just come from a Renaissance Faire. At one table, a couple who would have looked square and uptight in a 'Leave it to Beaver' episode was drinking with two women dressed as the Grinch and the Cat in the Hat. There was a man dressed like a Viking, dancing with a woman in full bridal gown. Or was it a woman?
Gail snorted. Nothing new, not for this place.
She decided against the dance floor, turning instead to the bar. She found a seat down by end, next to a guy who could have passed for Teddy Roosevelt. He had his hand on the thigh of the woman - she double-checked; yeah, an actual woman - who appeared to wearing only a loose wrapping of gauze. They glanced briefly at Gail as she sat down, the forest of slogan badges pinned to her jacket clicking together gently, then returned to their conversation. Gail couldn't hear what they were saying, and didn't care.
"What'll you have?" the bartender asked her.
She ordered a soda without looking at him. There were a lot of things she could get away with as 'Gail' that she wouldn't otherwise allow herself. But drinking wasn't one of them. That aspect of her life couldn't be compartmentalized.
Her eyes drifted over the crowds, scanning idly. If you came to Hallows' with a specific image of who you wanted to meet, you probably wouldn't meet them. The only thing to do was to see who's there and wait with an open mind for the right person.
Gail had only been here a handful of times, the first shortly before her divorce became final. One of her friends, perceiving her loneliness amidst the crumbling excuse for a marriage, had told her about the club, giving her the basic ideas and suggesting she drop by sometime. She'd taken it as a joke at first, but when the intriguing notion wouldn't go away, she'd finally thrown on some old clothes that differed significantly from what she usually wore, made up the first alias that came to mind, and ventured into Hallows' for the first time.
Sometimes she didn't find anyone she liked - there were no guarantees, after all - but she always felt better for coming. Stronger, more in control of her own destiny and more certain of her attractiveness. Twice, however, she'd spent the night with someone she met here. The first was a man seven feet tall if he was an inch, and built like Michelangelo's David. He was strong enough to break her in half, but he was also the gentlest man she ever met, and the night she spent with him was the best sex she'd ever had. She'd never seen him in here since. Another time, she'd ended up with a pair of brothers dressed like bikers who took turns with her until all three were exhausted. Neither of them was as good as the first guy, but she still considered it time well spent.
Gail sipped her drink, listening to the music with half an ear. The mix at Hallows' was always eclectic; Motown R&B could give way to New Age, followed by Heavy Metal, Techno-Pop, 50's Doo-Wop, Disco, Bluegrass Country, Psychedelia... You could dance to Reggae one minute, and Beerbarrel Polka the next.
Gail was distracted by another sound, off to her left, and looked toward the sound as it came again. A voice - a real voice, not part of the music - in what sounded like an advanced state of arousal. And it wasn't speaking, just moaning. Gail glanced back at the bar. The bartender was down at the other end, and the other people drinking didn't seem to have heard the voice. Teddy and Gauze Girl had gone elsewhere.
She looked back toward the voice as it moaned again, louder this time. It sounded female, and seemed to come from a doorway marked 'Employees Only'. Gail craned her head toward the doorway, her curiosity piqued. While there was no listed rule against having sex on the premises, it was nevertheless discouraged by the management. Much like the unspoken ban on drugs other than caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. Still, there was always someone willing to bend the rules.
Gail got up from her stool and ventured to look into the other room.
It was a storeroom for drinks, snack foods, napkins, and the like. Perched on the edge of a cardboard box - Gail couldn't tell what it contained, but it must have been something sufficiently solid to support someone's weight - was a young woman who could have been anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five. She wore a halter, miniskirt, thigh-high boots and a silver-studded collar, all made of glossy black leather, over some sort of sheer mesh body stocking that was open at the crotch. She was thin, but not unhealthily so, and as far as Gail could see, had no hair at all, from the top of her head to where her legs disappeared into her boots.
Those legs were draped over the shoulders of a figure, age and gender indeterminate, in a black cape, who knelt before her, back turned to Gail. The young woman's hands clutched at the caped figure's head and she squirmed, thrashed, and squealed under her lover's obviously expert oral ministrations. She dug her heels into the folds of her companion's cape and arched her back, deep in uncontrolled ecstasy.
And then her eyes opened and looked straight into Gail's.
There was a moment of connection...and invitation.
The girl let out a final, half-muted vocalization, her mouth forming a silent scream, and she climaxed, all her muscles taut as bowstrings. She released the tension slowly, sliding off the box until she was sitting on the floor with her lover, leather-clad legs wrapped around the caped figure's waist. They kissed deeply, the girl's arms around the shoulders of her friend. The high, upturned collar of the cape prevented Gail from seeing any further details of the other person.
The slim, hairless girl looked at her again, over the other person's shoulder...and Gail's nerve broke. She fled.
It was an effort to turn away from the private tryst, and the wetness in her jeans testified to how much the sight had affected Gail. Returning to the bar, she finished her soda and migrated toward the edge of the dance floor.
The mosaic of dancers had changed. Many of the same people were still there, but dancing in new styles, with new partners, and the overall pattern was unpredictably different. Something electronic from the 70's was playing wordlessly, and Gail had no idea what it was. She let her eyes roam over the dancers, searching for someone she might want tonight. There was no question, after watching that hidden display, that she wanted someone. Anyone.
She lit another cigarette, and was about to take the first good drag off of it...when a slim, perfectly formed hand with flawless skin snaked around her shoulder and plucked it from her lips.
Gail turned, indignantly, and was brought up short when she recognized the hairless girl close behind her. She put the cigarette between her own lips, took a deep drag of smoke, causing the tip to flare eerily, and exhaled away from Gail, all the while looking straight into Gail's eyes. Up close, Gail could see the faint eyebrows and the delicate lashes, so fair as to disappear against her skin. The sheerness of her body mesh, combined with the smoothness of her naked scalp, gave her the semblance of nakedness, despite the leather she wore.
"I'm Dali," she cooed in a soft, girlish voice, placing the cigarette back in Gail's lips. She could taste the faint flavor of Dali's flesh-colored lipstick on the tip. "I haven't seen you before."
"Hello, Dali," Gail responded, the cigarette bobbing as she spoke around it. She didn't feel attraction to women, but when someone at Hallows' starts a conversation, it didn't automatically mean they were coming onto you. More often than not, it was worthwhile to take the time to hear what they had to say. "I'm Gail."
"I saw you watching me," Dali told her, the china-blue eyes guileless. "I liked it."
"Oh. Thanks, I guess..." Sex was always a possibility in everyone's future at Hallows', and Gail had no problem with that. But there was something slightly disconcerting about talking casually to someone who had been in the throes of orgasm just minutes earlier.
Dali smiled at Gail wordlessly, without seeming to feel any need to make unnecessary conversation.
Gail dropped her cigarette in the remains of someone's abandoned drink. "What can I do for you, Dali?" she asked.
"There's someone I'd like you to meet," the girl replied easily. "Here she comes."
Gail turned, following her gaze, and saw Dali's companion approaching. The cape's blood red lining, the dye-darkened hair and the black lipstick only highlighted the paleness of the skin and the delicate arch of the brows above the penetrating eyes. The cape closed in front, and made its wearer appear to have just stepped out of a coven. Given the deliberate distortion of appearances at Hallows', it was unlikely that the new arrival was an actual practitioner of witchcraft, but one would never know that from looking at her now.
They recognized each other immediately, each freezing in astonishment. A name sprang to Gail's mind, and she thrust it away reflexively. No Real Names, she reminded herself.
She could almost see the same train of thought in the other woman's mind, parallel to her own. There was a tense expectancy in the set of the caped shoulders that hadn't been there a moment ago.
"Gail, this is the Lady Kara," Dali told her, gesturing to the caped woman like Vanna White rotating a vowel. "Lady, this is Gail."
Gail raised her brows even more. A Lady, was she? In Hallows' parlance, the founders and owners of the club were referred to as 'Lord' or 'Lady'. Gail would never have pegged this woman as the sort of person to visit a club like Hallows', let alone be one of the powers behind it.
"What are you doing here?" Lady Kara asked, her voice lacking the customary crispness that Gail expected.
Gail stiffened, suddenly self-conscious. "Same as everyone else," she shot back. "I'm here for a good time. There a problem with that?"
"Of course not," the Lady replied, unperturbed. "Forgive me, I should have rephrased. I meant to ask, what are you looking for?"
Gail glanced from the Lady to Dali, who stood by, calmly observing the exchange without participating. "I'm not certain," Gail responded, uncertain exactly what was going on here.
"Then how will you know when you find it?" Lady Kara asked.
Gail had no response to that.
The Lady peered intently at her, as though considering her own question. "Never mind," she said at last. "Perhaps it will find you."
She held something out to Dali, an ebony rod capped with a crystal ball clutched in a silver eagle's claw. The girl took it without word or change of expression as the Lady stepped carefully closer and took Gail's arm.
The music changed to something slower by Siouxsie and the Banshees.
"Dance with me," the Lady told her softly, "and we'll see if I can find some way to...unlock...your heart." There was a quiet but undeniable emphasis on two of those syllables. It was perilously close to a violation of the third rule.
Gail accompanied her onto the floor, feeling the Lady's weight against her. They danced, slow and close.
Something was happening, something that Gail would never have expected, even here. She had never been with a woman before. In fact, in her regular identity, outside of the club, she would never consider the possibility.
Twice, during previous visits, women had approached her, one inviting her to join a group of lovers, the other alone but proposing an exotic sex act that would, Gail suspected, require considerable stretching in preparation to avoid severe muscle cramps. Each time, Gail had been more flattered than repulsed, and both women had accepted her polite refusals with good grace.
If Lady Kara asked her now, Gail didn't know what she'd say.
"Gail..." the Lady said, softly rolling the name in her mouth as though trying it out. Her face brightened a shade, and Gail could tell she'd guessed how the name was chosen. "Not far from your real name, is it?"
"No...it's pretty close," Gail answered her. They didn't have to raise their voices above the music, such was the proximity of their faces.
Lady Kara was staring deeply into Gail's eyes as they moved together, and Gail could feel the woman's gaze doing something within her. She'd been turned on by people she met at Hallows' before, but this was different. Not merely because it was a woman, but because it was a woman she knew. She had seen this woman outside the club, talked to her, dealt with her, worked with her. Nothing in all that time would have prepared Gail for being with her under these circumstances.
The Lady's breath tickled her lips and chin.
"Your girlfriend is watching us," Gail said.
"Dali," she said, nodding to the side of the dance floor, where the slim girl stood watching them with the same easy smile. "You know, the one you had your tongue inside five minutes ago?"
"Aren't you afraid she'll get jealous, watching us dance?"
Lady Kara smiled, amused. "Dali's not my girlfriend," she replied. "She's my property. My plaything."
Gail pulled back, looking at her in surprise. "Your what?"
"I won her from Lord Midas in a riddling game."
"Lord Midas asked me a riddle, and I answered it correctly. Then I asked him one, and he failed to-"
"So you just won a girl as your love slave?!" Gail demanded, starting to feel upset for the first time.
Lady Kara looked at her seriously. "Outside these walls," she said, "Dali would never consent to being owned, any more than I would condone such. In here, we're different people. And she can walk out at any time. Just like you or I."
She knew that, of course, but it still bothered her for some reason. "I don't get it. This isn't like y-"
Kara's eyes widened.
Gail broke off the sentence, abruptly realizing how close she'd come to breaking the rule. You could get thrown out for such an infraction.
"That's the point," the Lady in her arms said, even more softly. "What we do in here is not like what we do when we're our other selves. Would you have come in here, as yourself?"
Gail relaxed somewhat, seeing the Lady wasn't going to call her on her near-violation. But the question still made her uncomfortable. She looked away.
"Don't be angry with me, Gail. Please. We're not who we usually are, when we're here. I'm Kara, she's Dali...and you're Gail. That's all."
Something in the woman's tone made her look back. There was real hurt in Kara's eyes.
Gail understood then what had upset her so. Unlike everyone else in the club, she and Kara had an image of each other beyond what they saw tonight. They knew what the other's life outside Hallows' was like, and that lent new resonance to their company now. So why was the Lady seeking her approval? Why dance with her at all, rather than avoid her entirely?
Gail's mind returned to Kara's earlier question, turned it around and applied it to the one who had posed it. What was she looking for?
"Sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to shatter the illusion."
Lady Kara breathed out almost imperceptibly, laying her head on Gail's shoulder. "Sometimes the illusion can't completely hide the truth," she whispered.
The song ended.
Lady Kara led Gail back off the dance floor, to where Dali waited for them, her only expression a pleasant smile. "I had a feeling you two would like each other," the girl told them, handing the cane back to Kara. "You have a similar energy about you."
Gail wasn't surprised to hear this, given what she and Kara both did in their regular life, but she was impressed that the young woman had picked up on it so quickly. "I could use a drink," she said. "Anyone else?"
"I could," Kara agreed, and they returned to the bar. The bartender seemed to stand a little straighter as they approached, perhaps in deference to the Lady. "Whatever Gail wants, on my tab," she told him.
"The same, ma'am?" the bartender inquired of Gail.
"Yeah," she nodded without looking at him. She took a stool, facing out onto the floor, leaning her elbows back on the bar rail. She wanted another cigarette, but somehow didn't feel right smoking around the Lady. Too much association with that other place. So why, again, was Kara choosing to spend time with her, rather than avoid her?
"Roger, is the suite available?" Kara asked the bartender.
"Yes, Lady," he replied. "Will you want it tonight?"
"Yes," she said with the voice of one accustomed to wielding casual authority.
Dali's smile seemed to light up even more on hearing this, and the gaze she cast upon Gail was a visual purr.
Gail was becoming increasingly disoriented as the evening progressed. To some degree, that was expected at a place like Hallows', but what puzzled her most was that she didn't know how she felt about all this. She was gaining the impression that Kara and Dali expected her to accompany them to this 'suite' for the night, even though they hadn't suggested it to her, directly. That wasn't the problem; all she had to say was "no, thanks" and they'd leave her alone - it was one of the club's most sacred rules, after all - but she didn't know if she wanted to say that.
No doubt it was Kara's presence that caused her ambivalence. If the Lady had been a complete stranger, Gail was certain she'd have been able to make up her mind one way or another, but this two-tiered perception of the woman, knowing her and yet not knowing her...it made it hard to think.
"Dali," the Lady said, conversationally, "Gail was concerned you might be jealous of us while we were dancing."
Dali laughed, light and musical, as though the idea were a delightful absurdity.
"Why don't you lay her fears to rest while I reserve the suite?" Kara suggested, turning away.
Gail said, "Wait, I-" and then had to shut up, because Dali's tongue was filling her mouth. The younger woman had stepped without hesitation into her personal space, between her knees, and pressed closely against her. She slid both hands up under the leather jacket, palms and fingers warm against Gail's back and shoulders. She showed no signs of ending the kiss any time soon.
Although Gail had never been tempted to try sex with a woman before - and she didn't usually care for people who came on too strong anyway - she found herself responding to the embrace, rather than struggling and pushing Dali away. The girl was light enough that it wouldn't have been hard, but... Jesus, did she know how to kiss. The same gut-level response Gail had experienced watching Kara pleasure Dali was returning.
She let her own arms wrap around Dali's shoulders, pulling her closer, and returned her kiss. Her nipples, covered only by the thin cotton of her tee shirt, could feel Dali's leather halter rubbing against them. Dali's tongue glided along her palate, leaving only the sweetness of her breath behind. The sensation was familiar, yet not. Strange and alien, yet not. It was a sensuous experience, like smoking. Or drinking...
"That will do," said Kara's voice, returning.
Dali ended the kiss and stepped back, obediently. "Yes, Lady." She showed no signs of disappointment or frustration. Gail, on the other hand, was taken aback by the sudden absence of Dali's body against her own.
"The suite is ready," Kara told them, taking Dali's hand.
The girl - it was hard not to think of her as a girl, somehow, despite the fact that she was obviously sexually mature - smiled, as if anticipating an upcoming treat.
Kara looked at Gail. "Are you coming?" Dali extended her other hand.
So, this was it. Decision time. On the one hand, Gail wasn't gay or bisexual, and had never been attracted to women. Plus, knowing Kara from the outside world lent new complication to the situation. On the other hand, nobody had ever kissed her quite like that before, and she recalled how exquisite Dali had looked as Kara brought her to climax. And there was something enticing about the mystery of Kara herself. What was she up to?
Gail considered things carefully.
Then she tugged her ball cap down over her forehead and took Dali's hand.
"Lead the way," she said.
The elevator took them upstairs, but Gail couldn't tell how many floors.
Dali stood behind her, arms around Gail's waist, her small chin propped on the leather epaulet of Gail's jacket. Feeling the warmth of the girl's slim hands against her belly through the shirt, Gail couldn't help imagining what they would feel like against her bare skin. She wanted to feel them sliding up under the shirt to caress her breasts. She wanted Dali to kiss her again. She wanted...
It was hard to enjoy thoughts like that, however, when Kara stood in the corner, silently watching them.
If there was one thing about this whole scenario that continually confused Gail, it was Kara. Without her present, Gail might have either turned Dali down flat, or perhaps she would have let the girl take her to bed by now. But Kara both attracted and disconcerted her in ways she couldn't even identify. It irked her. Why did she keep picturing Kara in her other identity, the everyday version of herself that Gail knew by another name? Why couldn't she just detach and enjoy what was happening?
The elevator came to a halt, the doors sliding gracefully aside. They opened directly into an expensive suite such as Gail might picture the President staying in. No, not the President, maybe a rock star or a movie idol. Someone with wealth and privilege, but without the responsibility of propriety.
They disembarked, Dali moving away from Gail to a nearby table. Three wineglasses and a bottle were waiting for them, and Dali poured the wine expertly. She offered the first glass to Gail.
"No, thanks," Gail replied, curtly.
The girl arched a brow in mild surprise, but didn't argue. She handed the glass to Lady Kara, took another for herself, and said, "Something else, perhaps?" to Gail.
Dali produced a bottle of mineral water, poured it into a fourth wineglass that she came up with somehow, all the while looking as though the request had been foreseen hours in advance. She handed the water to Gail, raising her own glass in a toast. "What shall we drink to?" she asked the other women.
"New horizons," Kara said, raising her own.
Gail echoed it, adding her glass, although she didn't really know what the toast referred to. What the hell, it sounded good.
They clinked musically, and sipped from their glasses.
"Well, so much for foreplay," Kara said. "Excuse me a moment." Turning away, she left the spacious living room through a doorway.
Gail turned to Dali, who was still smiling at her. "I'm glad you joined us," the girl whispered.
They were standing very close together, Gail realized. Her desire for the slim girl was a palpable force. Once again, Hallows' had provided the right person at the right time.
Gail suddenly felt sick of holding back. Discarding all sense of caution, she set her glass aside, then took Dali by the hips and pulled her in tight, one hand taking her by the back of the head - her naked scalp felt surprisingly erotic against Gail's hand - and drawing her in for another kiss. Dali showed neither surprise nor resistance, driving her tongue deeper than before into Gail's mouth. She pushed the leather jacket off of Gail's shoulders, baring her arms. The jacket fell to the carpeted floor behind her.
"Starting without me?" came Kara's voice.
Their mouths parted, and Gail turned her head to see that Kara had rejoined them again. It was eerie how she could move so quietly, and Gail realized she was accustomed to hearing the woman's distinctive walk on the tile floors of their workplace. "Sorry," she said. "Just playing with your new toy, is all."
Dali laughed easily, unoffended.
"Come in," Kara bade her, gesturing through the same doorway.
Dali picked up the wine bottle and glasses. "Did you bring your bathing suit?" she asked Gail.
Gail followed them into a large tiled room dominated by an expensive hot tub. Doors led off to showers, a sauna, and other facilities. The tub was prepared, steaming and bubbling, and the lighting was dim and indirect, lending an odd sunset color to everything. Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, Gail thought. It went well with Kara's witchy look.
Kara propped her cane against the counter, one hand on the tub's railing, and slipped out of her shoes. Gail hadn't been aware of her footwear, because of the length of her black cloak, but now she saw that Kara had been wearing sandals that looked both comfortable and supportive. Dali stepped forward to pick up the sandals and set them on a nearby shelf, then turned back to her Lady.
Kara unfastened the cloak, and Dali slid it off her shoulders, then hung it carefully in a closet. Kara wore nothing at all beneath it, and Gail was taken aback to realize she'd been nude beneath it even in the midst of the crowd downstairs. That was so unlike the woman she knew. But then, all of this was.
Dali held Kara's hand for added support as she stepped into the hot tub and settled in, then the girl reached behind her own back to unfasten the leather halter.
"Dali," Kara spoke suddenly. "Wait outside."
Dali froze, looking surprised for the first time since Gail had seen her. There was an awkward look of confusion about her, perhaps with a little disappointment. "But..."
"Dali." Kara's voice was sharper, with the quiet, commanding tone Gail knew well.
"Yes, Lady." Dali dropped her eyes, as though apologizing for her impertinence, and walked out of the room without looking back. She didn't pout or slump, but Gail could tell she wanted to.
Gail watched the slim girl leave, feeling somewhat disappointed herself. A large part of her had been looking forward to having Dali be part of her first lesbian experience. She looked back at Kara. "Change of plans?" she asked, nodding in the direction of the doorway.
"My plans for the evening have been changing unpredictably since I first saw you here, Gail," replied the immersed woman. She picked up the wine bottle from where it was perched on a small ledge by the tub and refilled her glass. "Are you coming in?"
The question seemed like equal parts invitation and challenge to Gail's ears, and she reacted with a similar mixture of anger and arousal. There was another short, fierce debate within herself, and then she thought, fuck it, let's do it.
She peeled off her white tee shirt, which was nearly transparent from the moisture by now, anyway, and tossed it aside. She kicked off her biker boots and wriggled out of her jeans, then discarded them similarly and stepped, naked, into the water. She kept her eyes locked on Kara's the entire time.
Kara finished her glass, then poured some more. "Are you sure you wouldn't like some?"
Kara downed the glass. "It's an excellent vintage..."
"Well, goddammit, I don't want any!" Gail snapped. She wouldn't have spoken so sharply to this woman at work, but things were different here. They were different here, she had to keep reminding herself.
"Suit yourself," Kara said as she refilled her own. They sat quietly in the water, not speaking while Kara drank, showing no signs of turning her attention to Gail. The liquid warmth was comfortable, or at least it should have been, but Gail couldn't quite relax as long as that nagging ambiguity kept her on edge.
"Look, what the fuck is going on here?" she demanded, impatiently. "I'm getting more mixed signals than a visit from my mother. And believe me, that's really not someone I need to think about right now."
"What's the matter?" Kara asked her, apparently unfazed by either the wine or Gail's irritation.
"I can't get a handle on this," Gail replied. "Are we going to do anything, or am I just here to watch you drink yourself stupid? I mean, I thought we were gonna have some kind of...I don't know, threesome or something, then you sent Dali away..."
"Would you like me to bring her back in?" Kara sounded almost reluctant.
Gail waived her hands in exasperation. "I'd like you to make up your mind about what's going on, then maybe explain it to me."
Kara looked down into her wineglass, appearing uncomfortable now. "I'm not entirely sure either," she said. "This isn't easy for me, Gail..."
"And why don't you stop calling me Gail? We're alone now, and you already know my real name."
"Yes, and you know mine," Kara said, meeting her eyes. "That's the problem. I don't know how to think of you, or how you're going to think of me."
Okay, that was something that Gail could understand. She'd been wrestling with the same question all evening. "I would never have imagined you like this," she admitted, "running a sex-and-fantasy club."
Kara smiled sadly. "Neither would I. It was the sort of thing I just ended up involved in, somehow. It started as a small thing, and then snowballed." She emptied her glass again. "Do you know the story of the monkey trap?"
Great, another conversational shift. "Is this another riddling game?" Gail asked, cautiously.
"It's not a riddle, it's a parable. Do you know it?"
She knitted her brow. "I think so. Something about the monkey trying to get fruit out of a gourd with a narrow neck, and it can reach its empty hand in, but once it's holding the fruit, it's stuck, right?"
Kara nodded. "Yes. The monkey can escape if it abandons the fruit, but it won't let go, so it's trapped. Fruit or freedom, but not both."
"Okay, so what's the point?"
There was a long pause before Kara spoke again. "Now imagine that the monkey has one hand in one trap, and the other hand in another, and it won't let go of either fruit."
Gail pondered that, but still couldn't quite see how it applied. She did feel somewhat more at ease, though, now that Kara's veil of mystique had relaxed some.
Kara set her glass aside, then drifted buoyantly across to Gail. "Never mind," she said, "It's not important." She kissed Gail's cheek softly, then trailed her lips along her guest's jawline. The permeating warmth of the water on her body was joined by a new kind of heat, this one from within.
Gail let her head fall back against the rim of the hot tub as Kara's hands gently kneaded and stroked her breasts under the water. She had never had sex in water before, so this was a new experience for her in more ways than one. She reached for Kara's shoulders, wanting to pull her closer.
Kara eluded her grasp, pulling back, but reached down to take hold of one of Gail's legs. Gail, stretched easily out in the tub, allowed Kara to lift her foot out of the water, feeling the relative chill of the cooler air against her skin. Water dripped from her calf, and vapor rose from it as Kara brought Gail's foot to her mouth, taking her toes between her lips. The toes were already starting to prune, but Kara sucked gently on them, one by one. Yet another thing that none of Gail's lovers had done for her. It was a surprisingly erotic feeling, and she moaned in approval.
"You like that?" Kara asked.
Gail nodded. "Yeah."
Kara kissed her instep, then slid her tongue over the ankle and along the length of her calf. "Then I think you'll like this," she said, and Gail felt Kara's fingers penetrate her easily. She gasped and tightened involuntarily, but that just emphasized the pleasure. Those fingers pumped in and out a few times, then withdrew, to Gail's disappointment.
It was short-lived, however, as Kara slid both hands under Gail's buttocks and lifted her hips out of the water. With one leg propped over Kara's shoulder, and her head against the tub's rim, Gail had no problem supporting the rest of her body on the water's surface. The contrast between the water and the air was thrilling.
That thrill paled by comparison, however, as Gail felt a warm mouth between her legs, and Kara's tongue entering where her fingers had been. Gail grasped the tub's rim with both hands, her back arching with delight as Kara electrified her. The rhythmic panting and sighing sounds seemed to be coming from someone else, but Gail knew it was her own voice she was hearing. Dear God, no wonder Dali had reacted so strongly down in the storeroom when Gail first saw her. If this was what she had felt...
The orgasm that swept over and through her was like a blast of fresh air clearing away the cobwebs in her mind and body. A sweet, momentary rejuvenation that made her feel all the cares of adulthood had been discarded. She let out a yowling sound...and lost her grip on the rim.
A mouthful of water nearly choked her as she went under, but she shoved against the tub's benchrest and surfaced again, spitting it out. She shook wet hair out of her face, laughing. "Oh, wow," she said.
"I'm glad you liked that," Kara said, having sat back where she was earlier. She sipped from her wineglass, as though cleansing her palate.
"Liked it, are you kidding? If I'd known you could do that so well, I'd have cornered you in a suture room or something, and..."
She broke off, realizing suddenly that Kara was on the brink of tears. Kara slammed back the rest of the glass, and there was a bitter quality in the movement.
"Umm, maybe you've had enough of that...?" Gail ventured, again uncertain what was going on. The wine bottle was closer to being empty than full, she noticed.
Kara looked at the glass, then angrily threw it aside. Gail heard the sharp tinkle as it shattered. "Damn it, I knew this would happen," she said, her voice tightening.
The Lady ignored her, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes, as though to hold back the tears. She let out a shuddering sob, and her whole body seemed to tighten in on itself. There was a strange, pathetic quality about the sight of her, crying naked in a hot tub.
Gail moved over and put her arms around Kara, holding her carefully. "What are you crying for?"
"I shouldn't have brought you here," Kara sobbed, her voice only slightly muffled. "But I knew it was too late to turn back as soon as I saw you downstairs. Why did Dali have to bring us together?"
"She said we had a similar energy, or something like that," Gail replied, although she knew it was a rhetorical question.
"Damn her for being so perceptive. She couldn't have known..." Kara uncovered her eyes and let Gail hug her. "You're the first person who's ever seen me in both places, and in both guises," she explained. "Nobody else knows me both as Kara and my real name. Not Dali, not anyone."
"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone," Gail assured her.
"But you'll know," Kara said. She pulled back to look into Gail's eyes. "You've seen both the masks I wear. That means you could learn to look past them and see the real me, and that makes me vunner...vullen...VULNerable to you." Stumbling over the word was the first indication of the wine she'd consumed.
Gail was becoming more confused than ever. "Then why did you draw me in? Why not just avoid me?"
Kara shook her head. "It was too late as soon as you saw me. And that same vunn'rability also drew me to you. Don't ask me to explain that."
That part actually made some sense to Gail. Maybe Kara was tired of hiding behind false images, so the chance to let someone see her true self was as attractive as it was daunting. "Both masks?"
"Huh?" Kara was becoming a little bleary.
"You said both masks. So when you're at work...?"
"Yeah. It's my real name, and all, but it's still a mask, too. Lady Kara's just the one that's obviously a mask." Kara's face had relaxed, and it was as if Gail saw it in an entirely new way. She wasn't being either a sophisticated seductress or a businesslike authority figure now. Just a tired, lonely woman. Her face was somehow more real than ever, and for the first time, Gail thought of it as beautiful.
Without stopping to think about it, she leaned forward and kissed Kara on the mouth.
It was not an aggressive, sexual kiss, like those she'd shared with Dali, but it held acceptance, solace, and sympathy. It was a kiss of recognition and reassurance, with a gentle sweetness that was very different from anything she'd expected at Hallows'.
When it ended, Kara whispered, "I am so afraid of you, right now. You can hurt me..."
"I won't," Gail assured her. "I promise."
"I...I don't know what to call you right now."
Gail brushed damp strands of hair from Kara's forehead. "Call me Gail," she said with a smile. "I'm Gail, you're Kara, and tomorrow we'll be back to our other selves, and none of this will have happened. Okay?"
Kara nodded, and somehow Gail found herself kissing her hungrily. This time it was definitely sexual. Her friend's unguarded honesty - yes, her friend, she decided - had touched her intimately, and sparked an impulse that she'd never felt for a woman before tonight. It must be part of whatever spell Hallows' casts on its patrons, she decided, before putting the issue aside and concentrating completely on the woman in her arms.
Gail's mouth left Kara's, gliding over her face and neck. The skin under her lips was hot, whether from desire or the heated water she couldn't tell, and soft. So very soft. Gail's tongue found Kara's stiff nipple, taking it in her mouth with an eagerness that surprised her. Kara let out a throaty moan and pulled her closer.
Although Gail had no experience with women, she now found that things she'd done at work lent her a degree of expertise. She took the entire areolae of Kara's breast in her mouth, as she'd instructed new mothers to let their infants do, and sucked harder. Kara's response was tangible, shivers of delight running through her despite the heat of the water. Kara's fingers raked through Gail's damp hair, signifying her sharp desire.
Gail let her hand slide between Kara's legs, under the water, and inserted her fingers. It was not the first time her hands had been inside other women, but all the other times had been business, this was pleasure. Kara's reactions increased as Gail caressed her internally, still suckling at her breast. The Lady's head lolled back, eyes closed and mouth wide open. "Ohhh, God, Gail..." she moaned. "Yes..."
Gail found Kara's clitoris with her thumb, brushing over it lightly, but rhythmically. First in synch with the motions of her fingers, then in counterpoint. "Let yourself go," she whispered to Kara. "I've got you."
The words seemed to trigger her lover's climax, almost as a sharp noise can sometimes precipitate an avalanche of snow. Kara convulsed, a scream seizing in her throat as she held it, then escaping as her orgasm was released. She melted in Gail's arms, head sagging against Gail's shoulder. As the last breath left her, she whispered Gail's name. Her real name.
Gail held her closely, supporting her head above the water, kissing and caressing her face. "I'm sorry if I was hostile earlier," she murmured.
The Lady didn't respond, and after a short while, Gail realized she had passed out.
Probably not surprising, she decided, considering that Kara had most of the wine bottle inside her. Plus, the heated water of the hot tub would make her drowsy, then add sex and stress to that mixture, and it's no wonder she was out cold.
Gail stood, trying to lift Kara out of the tub, but it was more difficult than she thought. Out of the water's buoyancy, Kara was heavier than Gail expected, and they were both slippery. She didn't think she could manage it by herself. "Dali!" she called towards the doorway, hoping the girl hadn't gone far. "DALI!"
The hairless young woman appeared immediately. She still wore the thigh boots, spiked collar, and the skintight mesh, but her halter and miniskirt had been discarded. Gail noticed again what a lovely body she had, but this wasn't the time to deal with that. "Yes, Gail?" she said.
"Umm, could you help me? I think Kara's asleep, and I can't get her out by myself."
Dali smiled tolerantly, as though she'd half expected this to happen. "Of course," she said, and stepped into the tub, boots and all. She stood on the benchrest, so the water didn't reach the tops of her boots. Taking Kara's arm over her shoulder, she bent and slipped an arm under the Lady's knees, then straightened, lifting her completely out of the water without Gail's help. Gail was struck by the ease of the movement, and thought that Dali, slender though she was, must be stronger than she looked.
The girl stepped out of the tub, still carrying the sleeping woman in her arms, and said, "There's towels in that cabinet. Can you get them?"
"Uhhh, sure." Gail got out of the water, shivering momentarily, and extracted the largest, fluffiest terrycloth towels she'd ever seen from the cabinet in question. She helped Dali wrap Kara's body in them, drying her off carefully and gently. The Lady stirred briefly, mumbling something in her sleep, then subsided.
"I think I should put her to bed," Dali said. "Don't worry, this happens sometimes when she's overstimulated."
"You need any help with her?" Gail offered.
"No, but thank you. It's kind of you to offer." Dali left the room, and Gail followed, drying herself with another of the huge towels. She watched as Dali toed open the door to a softly-lit room containing a king-sized bed, and placed Kara under the covers. Dali got her settled with a tenderness that impressed Gail. The girl would make a good nurse, she thought.
Suddenly feeling conscious of her nudity, Gail went back to where she'd dumped her clothes and dressed again. Her tee shirt was soaked, so she left it off, retrieved her leather jacket from the suite's living room, and zipped it shut to cover herself. Setting her baseball cap just so on her head, she returned to the bedroom doorway, glancing inside.
Dali kissed Kara once on the lips, then came back out and shut the door. "She'll be fine," she told Gail.
"You really take good care of her," Gail commented. Maybe it was part of the arrangement.
"I love her," Dali said in simple agreement.
"Oh," said Gail, who hadn't considered that possibility. "Does it bother you that she had sex with me?"
Dali crossed her arms, but looked thoughtful rather than upset. "It surprises me, but I don't know that it bothers me," she said. "That's not the way we've usually done things."
Gail recalled Dali's surprise as Kara sent her out of the room. "How do you usually do things?"
"Normally, when we select a third party, we bring them here, we enjoy their company, perhaps in the tub, or the living room, as the mood strikes her. Then I...attend to them while she watches. When they depart, satisfied, then it depends how she feels. We may have sex, or we may not. Sometimes, she's like this." Dali nodded toward the bedroom. "I've never seen her take care of a guest personally..."
"So why now?"
"I don't know. But I was right, she did see something special in you." Dali stepped closer and put her arms around Gail's waist with an inviting smile. "I'm usually right about these things, and somehow I knew the two of you would get along."
Gail had to admit, Dali had somehow picked up on their connection, even before seeing them together. "Do...do you know her name?" Gail asked, cautiously. "Or who she is on the outside?"
Dali's eyes widened in surprise. "No," she replied. "Of course not."
The damn rules. "How do you know you love her, then? What if she's someone you wouldn't want anything to do with if you knew what they were like outside the club?"
"I don't, any more than she knows anything about me. Gail," she added, placing a delicate hand on Gail's cheek, "it doesn't matter to me who she is. I love the woman I know as Kara. I wouldn't want to know anything else if I thought it would change that. And I definitely don't want her to know me when I'm not being Dali."
"But what if you were two people who would really like each other if you saw each other for who you really are?"
Dali just looked in her eyes and didn't answer.
"You're afraid to take that chance, aren't you?"
She didn't nod or speak, but her face said Gail was right.
Gail suddenly found the whole thing terribly sad. It was ironic to think that Kara and Dali could have each other, or perhaps anyone else they both wanted, but only while hiding within the safety of their alter egos. They could do anything they wanted at Hallows' except be themselves, and they had to give it all up when they went home...
Suddenly, Kara's story about the monkey trap made perfect sense.
Dali's hands slid up under Gail's jacket again, the palms warm and smooth against her back. "Kara's hospitality extends for the night," she said. "You're welcome to stay, if you like. We have a second bedroom, and you can help yourself to anything here." She leaned closer, her breath tickling Gail's lips, and added, "Including me."
Gail hesitated, considering. Dali was a lovely, strikingly erotic young woman, and Gail did want her. But she was a creature of pure fantasy, and Gail couldn't help comparing her to the reality that Kara had displayed, which had touched her so deeply. Kara had all this, she realized, glamour, illusion, sex...everything except a human connection. And for lack of that, she felt empty.
"I'm sorry," Gail said. "Maybe another time, but right now...I think I've had enough." She'd had her fill of Hallows' for now, and yearned to go home and just be herself again.
Dali accepted the refusal with good grace, easing back. "I understand," she said, and Gail had the feeling she really did. "I hope we'll see you again sometime."
"Maybe you will," Gail said.
"If you press the button marked P, the elevator will take you to parking," Dali told her. "There's a car and driver there, and he'll take you wherever you'd like to go. Or, you can just use the front entrance, same as you came in."
"Okay, thanks. Good night."
Dali reached up to give her a sisterly kiss. "Good night, Gail."
Mr. Burton's labs were back, but the results weren't as clear as the student had hoped. "Is there an attending around?" she asked Lydia.
"I saw Dr. Greene by the desk a minute ago," Lydia replied.
Thanking the nurse, she headed in that direction, hoping to spot Mark Greene there. But instead, she saw the ER Chief herself, snapping angrily at Malik about a patient who hadn't been taken upstairs fast enough to suit her.
Malik turned away to obey the Chief's orders. "Watch yourself around her," he whispered in passing. "Possibly hung over, definitely cranky."
She thanked him, too, and approached the Chief with two different reasons for trepidation. "Excuse me, Dr. Weaver...?"
The Chief glanced at her. "What do you need, Abby?" she asked treating the student no differently than she ever did.
"Fifty-four year old male, suffering shooting pains through both legs, intermittent nausea, and I'm thinking Breckman's Syndrome." She handed the chart to her Chief. "Would you concur?"
Weaver scanned the chart briefly, but efficiently. "Looks like you're on the right track," she agreed, her voice losing some of its hard edge. She offered the chart back. "Good call."
"Thanks." The student took the chart, but Weaver didn't release it. Their fingers touched, and their eyes met.
Kara was right, Abby realized. Seeing her from two different perspectives had given her a clearer view of the woman inside. Like stereo vision supplying an added depth. If she looked at Kerry just right, she could now see the woman behind this mask, too. It was a very private, secret feeling, and it was one she treasured.
Kerry held onto the chart for only a moment, but the contact of their skin was charged with meaning. She mouthed the words 'thank you', and the eyes behind her glasses had a softness Abby had rarely seen.
She smiled, as if to say, my pleasure, and then the moment was over.
Kerry Weaver let go of the chart and turned back to her files, mask firmly in place, and scowled as she tried to read Dave Malucci's handwriting.
Abby Lockhart went back to check on her patient.
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