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: This one may be jumping the gun, since we still know very little about the new gal; we don't even know quite what she looks like under all that gear. So I made something up. We'll see how accurate I end up being. Besides, this one seemed like a good opportunity to turn my usual Kerryfic formula on its head... (I mean it, folks, in some ways this one's almost the exact opposite of what I usually do!) Further note: my Spanish is iffy, so feel free to correct me on some of it. As usual, DON'T READ if you're offended by f/f slash, but I hope you'll enjoy this anyway!
SPOILERS: Very definite ones. Takes place almost immediately after "Partly Cloudy..."
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Scott J Welles

Part One...

Keys in the door. Shake off the umbrella. Hang up the coat. Check the mail. No, to hell with the mail; check it later. Pour a drink. Turn on the stereo. She did all these things, same as she'd done a hundred thousand times before, upon coming home. All preludes to sinking into her favorite chair, tired in body, mind and spirit, before debating between dinner and a bath, maybe some reading before bed.

None of that seemed right this time. She had every reason to be tired, wrung out and exhausted, after the death-defying feats, bone-soaking chills and heart-wrenching drama of the night. But...

The Mozart concerto wafting from her stereo speakers didn't feel right, either. Kerry clicked over to the next compact disc, then the next, but neither the New Age nor soft jazz did it either. With an impatient grunt, she got up, pulled all three, and stuck in the first hard rock disc that came to hand. Etheridge, 'Yes I Am'. She started it playing, random selection, perpetual replay, and cranked it up.

Her body rebelled when she tried to sit back and relax; something very weird was happening. She'd had plenty of experience coming home tired, sometimes pleasantly satisfied with a shift gone well, more often frustrated and pissed off at the antics and incompetence of the staff. Sometimes depressed and demoralized at the tragedies she witnessed. And once, just once, so lost and guilty that she'd been driven to seek comfort in the arms of a woman she was coming to love in spite of herself. This was not like any of those times.

It wasn't the first time her equilibrium had been thrown off by the job, by a long shot. But instead of being crushed inward, imploded by misery or horror, she felt like she was bursting outwards, her joints threatening to come apart from the pressure. And strangest of all...it felt great.

Kerry found herself singing along with the title track, something she did only in moments of giddy abandon. The last time she felt that good, she'd been on her way to dinner with a friend who ended up being far more than a friend. Looking forward to a night off the job. And now she was looking back on a job well done.

The woman and her baby both lived. (yes) The paramedics and her student all escaped without permanent injury. (yes!) She risked her own life, saved lives against all odds, and walked away unhurt. (Yes!) Took the worst of situations and achieved the best of all possible outcomes. (YES!) Averted disaster, defied mortality, and won her victory. (Ohhh, yes...)

She wanted to be up on her feet. She wanted to run. She wanted to jump. She wanted to climb to the top of the Sears Tower and scream out across the skyline, her roars of triumph echoing between the buildings and through the alleyways and vibrating down into the sewers.

"Yes," she said aloud, abandoning the song line, unable to contain herself any longer. "Yes!" Throwing her fists up in the air. "Yes, yes, YES, YES, YESSS...!!!"

The exultant whoop building in her throat was cut off by the abrupt pounding on her door. Who the hell could that be at this hour? Her house was pretty well insulated; only one neighbor was close enough to hear her music when it was turned up, and he was stone deaf. Still caught up in her adrenaline high, she jumped up, grabbing the crutch and double-timing it to the door, spoiling for a fight with whoever dared to interrupt her good mood. "WHAT?!" she snapped, throwing the door open.

Some Latino woman was standing there, dark, unruly hair dripping from rain. Water beading on the shoulders of her leather jacket, worn open over a desert-red shirt with pearly buttons and blue jeans tucked into worn cowboy boots. Her already intense expression hardened at the sight of Kerry. "There you are!" she exclaimed, pointing at the doctor.

Kerry caught sight of a bandage on the hand at the same time she recognized the voice. "Oh...it's you," she said, moderately surprised.

"I'm glad you're up," the cowgirl snarled, her fists balling, " 'cause I want to knock you down."

"You already have, remember?" Kerry retorted. "What are you doing here, anyway? Shouldn't you be with a hand surgeon?"

"Don't change the subject!" the cowgirl snapped. "You and I have unfinished business."

"Well, get inside while we finish it," Kerry sneered, waving her in. "It's cold with the door open."

The firefighter stalked past her with barely-concealed aggression. Kerry found her own hackles rising in response, but somehow even this unexpected confrontation couldn't entirely dim her euphoria. If Fireman Frannie or whatever her name was wanted a fight, Kerry'd gladly give her one and enjoy herself in the process.

Kerry watched while her visitor glanced around impatiently, moving to stand in the center of the room. "So what do you--?" she began.

"You had NO business playing hero in the middle of a fucking accident scene!" the cowgirl exploded, spinning to jab a finger in Kerry's direction.

Kerry blinked, feeling her own temper building. "I had every business there," she replied in a voice that anyone at County would have recognized as the danger sign. "I'm a doctor."

"You're a goddamn imbecile!" The cowgirl's face was twisted with anger, her teeth flashing as she spoke. "You ignored every rule of safety and jumped into a total clusterfuck, and then you dragged that dumb-ass rookie in with you!"

"Lay off him, he did all right," Kerry retorted. "And I didn't have any choice; that woman and her baby would have died if I hadn't--"

"You're fuckin' lucky you didn't get all four of you killed!" The cowgirl stepped closer, and Kerry backed up reflexively, bumping against the wall behind her. "What the fuck were you THINKing, jumping into that ambulance?!"

"Don't give me that," Kerry growled, her voice tightening warningly. "You couldn't get the situation under control, so I did what I had to do." This intrusive bitch was well within her personal comfort zone, and tonight she reeeeally wasn't in a 'turn-the-other-cheek' mood.

"Yeah? Let's see YOU try to keep things under control with some loose cannon who thinks she's a paratrooper jumping into a nest of live wires! 'Specially one who brought along her own personal lightning rod!" To Kerry's utter astonishment, the cowgirl grabbed the crutch away from her with her good hand and tossed it furiously into the hallway.

The intense, white-hot feeling flared up inside her, and she knew she was a hairsbreadth from completely losing control. With every last scrap of her iron will, she spoke softly and carefully. "You're playing with fire, girl," she said. "I'll give you the only warning you'll get: don't fuck with me tonight."

The cowgirl lunged forward, her uninjured hand slamming against the wall by Kerry's head as she leaned in. "Or what?" she challenged.

Kerry surprised herself by finding still one more scrap. "Last chance," she whispered, a knife's edge in her tone. "Get out of my house and out of my face...or we're going for it."

"You want a piece of me?" The cowgirl craned her neck forward, the tip of her nose bumping Kerry's. "Bring it on, hermana..."

Kerry lost it.

Just exploded.

She lashed out with both hands and her voice, throwing the firefighter back a step, then launching herself off the wall to collide with the other woman like a sumo wrestler, grappling and shoving. She might have won right then, if not for her weak leg; it gave out, allowing the cowgirl to recoup.

Kerry felt herself practically lifted off the floor, and then she was slammed back into the wall again, pinned against it by the other woman. She twisted and writhed, cursing in two or three different languages, fighting this woman who, momentarily at least, represented everyone who'd ever tried to put her down or hold her back. Having tested herself earlier tonight and succeeded, she wasn't rolling over and playing dead for anyone.

"Jesus, simmer down, Doc!" the cowgirl shouted in her face. With a two-handed grip, she might have held Kerry firmly, but working with only one hand -- she leaned her other forearm painfully against Kerry's other bicep -- it was harder.

With a furious twist, Kerry pulled one hand free and got a fistful of the leather jacket's collar, almost pulling her opponent off balance. She got her other arm free, hooking it around the cowgirl's neck even as she pressed her body against Kerry's, keeping Kerry pressed to the wall. Kerry's fingers twined through dark, damp hair, pulling the cowgirl's head back and eliciting a sharp grunt of protest. At the sight of the exposed throat, Kerry's animal instincts kicked into full gear, and she struck with her mouth, as though going for the jugular.

Her mouth filled with the salty-sweet taste of musky flesh, and her nostrils flooded with the cowgirl's rich scent, a mix of adrenaline, perspiration, and some sort of antibacterial soap. Biting and sucking at the woman's neck, Kerry felt her own chest constricted between the cowgirl's and the wall behind her back, her arms and legs hooking around the cowgirl's body, pulling her closer... And then there was a fleeting moment of realization when Kerry recognized that she wasn't feeling anger or hatred, but a very different kind of passion altogether.

The cowgirl was still straining against her, but not fighting anymore. She was swearing in Spanish, cursing Kerry and promising her all kinds of abuse and injury, but her words were habit; her husky voice and taut body indicated desires other than violence, perhaps more intense ones.

Kerry took the woman's face in her hands and pulled it towards hers. "Fuck y--" she began, before their mouths were crushed together. The kiss was fierce, all-consuming, as though they were lovers long-separated, reunited at last.

Kerry tugged again at the leather jacket, but this time the cowgirl cooperated, yanking it off her shoulders and arms, letting it fall away. She had to ease up from Kerry as she did so, and Kerry could have squirmed away, but she had no intention of doing so. She broke the kiss while her fingers flew to the cowgirl's shirt collar and ripped it open, the pearl buttons flying like bullets in all directions. She wore a white tank beneath it, but no bra, the breasts within small but as firm as the rest of her musculature. Kerry pushed the red shirt off and tugged the tank out of cowgirl's waistband, her fingers flying to unbuckle her belt and upzip the jeans, reaching inside, and...

"Wha...?" She felt something that she wouldn't expect to find on a woman. Was she really a woman after all...? Kerry's eyes flew to the cowgirl's, widening in surprise.

The cowgirl grinned fiercely at Kerry's expression, taking the opportunity to pull Kerry's shirt up over her head, pulling her closer again, filling Kerry's mouth with her hot tongue. Kerry sucked at it like an underwater oxygen tube, the loud rush of breath from her nostrils matching her visitor's. She clutched desperately at the cowgirl's shoulders, fingers digging into her slick, warm skin.

Their mouths pulled apart again. "You like that?" the cowgirl whispered huskily, before fastening her lips to Kerry's neck.

"Yes," she breathed, her voice failing her. "Oh, yes..."

Demanding lips found the hollow of her throat. "You want it?"

"I want you," Kerry blurted, pulling the cowgirl's head closer, her teeth and tongue finding her unexpected lover's ear. "Oh god, I want you..."

Strong, clever hands, one clumsier than the other, unfastened her bra, stripping it away, then the cowgirl's erect nipples, hard as thimbles, met her own through the thin tank top. She felt strong teeth digging at her neck, the bites verging on painful, but holding back just shy of the threshold. Kerry's voice gasped audibly with each exhalation as hungry kisses moved down her naked chest to her breast, sucking one nipple into the cowgirl's mouth. Teeth pinched her nipple, sparking a yelp from Kerry's throat, while the cowgirl's hands swiftly stripped off her pants and underwear. She stepped out of them, kicking her shoes off. Naked except for socks, Kerry pushed down on the muscular brown shoulders, urging the woman lower, down over her stomach, past her navel, to her pelvis, and then...

Kerry flung her head back and moaned deeply as that gifted tongue dove possessively into her wet cunt, claiming her body's most private treasure. She grunted and cried out, her body trembling convulsively, each subtle shake of the cowgirl's head, each lick and thrust, driving her faster toward an exquisite explosion. There was no question of making this last, though Kerry would normally want it to go on at great lengths; it just wasn't an option she had this time. She was as helpless before their mutual passion as before a hurricane. When she came, she was so utterly out of control that the very notion of 'control' became a completely abstract concept. All she was aware of was the incredible burst of pleasure, the sweet, invigorating rush of physical reward.

Still riding the high, she let out a long, slow sigh as the cowgirl slowly rose to her feet again, never more than half an inch between their bodies. The feel of the other's skin grazing hers thrilled Kerry no end.

The cowgirl -- Kerry felt she should know her name, somehow -- had somehow shed her boots and jeans while pleasuring Kerry; now she stripped off the tank, baring herself. Kerry caught only peripheral impressions of her nude body, though, her eyes glued to the face in front of her own. It wasn't a classically beautiful face, perhaps, but it was richly magnetic, fascinating and strong. Those jet-black eyes seemed bottomless, like tunnels into infinity.

Kerry had mere moments to contemplate the woman's face, or the taste of her breath, before the cowgirl took possession of her body again, pulling it against her own and kissing Kerry's mouth deeply. Their skin felt perfect together, arms, legs, breasts, stomachs, lips, all molding together in perfect harmony. Except... Between her legs, Kerry felt the unmistakable phallic presence that seemed so incongruous on a woman. She let one hand slide down the woman's smoothly muscled back to her rear, and her hand encountered a waistband of rubber or latex.

Artificial, of course, she realized. But while her curiosity was satisfied, the rest of her cried out for more.

Kerry felt strong, work-callused hands grip her ass, lifting her off her feet, and she trembled with new excitement, knowing instinctively what was coming next. Her lips left the cowgirl's, drawing in sharp breath as the tip of the 'penis' nuzzled at her entrance. Her labia parted naturally as the cowgirl eased her down onto the prosthetic, slow inch by slow inch. The feeling of being penetrated, her orifice filled by its natural counterpart -- or a reasonable facsimile -- was invigoratingly familiar. Sex with Kim being as wonderful as it was, she'd forgotten how much she enjoyed this part with men; she never entirely got used to it, and hoped she never would.

It dawned on Kerry, in a fluke moment of rationality, that the cowgirl shouldn't be supporting her weight with that injured hand. She wrapped her legs around the woman's waist, and her arms around her neck, trying to take some of the pressure off while still maintaining their mutual position.

Still leaning Kerry against the wall, the cowgirl smiled and made a small surge of her hips, pushing her 'penis' into Kerry still deeper and sending a pulse of glee through Kerry's body. "Chica loca," the woman half-whispered. "Brava, muy bonita, pero loca en la cabesa..."

Kerry's own tremulous moan of pleasure drowned out some of her words as the cowgirl slowly fucked her, showing no signs of being unable to hold her up. She caught certain other words in breathy Spanish... words for 'wild,' 'flame hair' (her best guess, anyway), 'reckless,' 'brave,' and, she thought, 'sexy'. Her own Spanish, learned from tapes in her spare time, and practiced only infrequently on the job, couldn't follow everything her sweet tormentor was saying, and it was driving her crazy trying to take it all in, while, ah...taking it all in.

Putting her face right up against the cowgirl's, staring straight into her eyes, Kerry bared her teeth and growled, "Toca la boca, y chingame..."

The mild flare of surprise in the woman's eyes quickly vanished as she rose to the challenge, flexing her hips and driving into Kerry harder, faster. Kerry cried out in response, her nails digging into her lover's shoulders as she held on tightly.

There was a brief sensation of falling, with accompanying moment of panic, but Kerry felt the cowgirl lift her away from the wall, guiding her body down to the floor without dropping her. Then she was on her back, the faux phallus still within her, the cowgirl's body covering her own, her feet kicking in the air. They kissed again as the marvelous copulation continued uninterrupted. God, this woman must have practiced a lot; she was as good as any man Kerry had been with...

Kerry raked her tongue across the roof of the woman's mouth, feeling the gliding, tingling sensation of the other tongue sliding beneath her own. Her own voice sent vibrations through both their jawbones as she moaned, again and again, in response to the friction of the prosthetic against her most sensitive spots. Her heart pounded heavily, blood ringing in her ears, as she knew that another orgasm loomed large in her future.

A particularly intense electric shiver ran through her, prelude to the enormous climax, and she tore her lips away, sucking air and crying out, a high, thin wail of primal joy. The cowgirl, only further encouraged, sat back on her haunches, supporting herself with hands on the floor by Kerry's head, and bucked her hips faster, thrusting Kerry into final approach.

Kerry turned her head to one side, her lips finding her lover's wrist and latching onto it, her own fingers locating the cowgirl's nipples, kneading and tugging at them. Her legs tightened about the woman's waist, clinging to her like a bucking bronco...

Consciousness and clear thought became unstable as her senses overloaded. She had an impression of convulsing, thrashing her head about, side to side, screaming words or names she didn't know she'd forgotten, clutching desperately at this woman (being amazed at herself for having sex on her own living room floor with a gender-bending stranger, for crying out loud...literally!) and then exploding into a dimension of ecstasy, completely disoriented, lost and tumbling, falling, falling, drifting...

Yes, she thought, unable to form any concepts more sophisticated. Oh, dear god, yes...

A warm, pliant weight settled over her body. Soft lips found her ear, the tip of a tongue probing, warm breath tickling...

Then there was darkness. Not cold or empty, but safe, warm, tranquil darkness...

Part Two...

Kerry awoke in her own bed, clean sheets sliding over her bare skin as she stretched. It was still dark, except for the light from the hallway.

As the drowsy blur focused into higher awareness, she wondered how she'd gotten here. The last thing she remembered was coming home after that intense, terrifying ordeal in the ambulance, with the rain and the electricity, and Gallant helping her perform a field-emergent C-section... And that firefighter who...

Oh, wait...

"You're up, huh?"

Kerry rolled over.

Leaning in the doorway, obviously having just entered the bedroom, the cowgirl wore nothing but her own shirt, red as the painted desert. It was buttoned only at the level of her groin, several buttons missing, and the long stretch of her sternum and belly was exposed. Her breasts were covered, but if she turned sharply, that might change. Below the shirttails, her long legs were bare. Her hair looked glossy and dark, as though just washed, and her skin held the kind of luster that comes only from physical and emotional satisfaction. The bandage still covered one hand, and steam rose from a coffee cup in the other. "Hope you don't mind," she said, lifting the cup, "but I made myself some after I got out of the shower. It's a bitch keeping the plastic bag on over the hand, though."

Kerry ran a hand through her own thatchy, unkempt hair. "Why didn't you see a surgeon about that?" she said, her voice rusty from sleep.

"I did," the firefighter replied. "He said it wasn't as bad as you thought, though I should come back in for follow-up treatments. In the meantime, he sewed it up and said I could go home."

"But instead you came here," Kerry mused. Then a thought struck her. "How'd you know where I lived?" she asked. If anyone at the hospital had given out her personal information, she'd tear them a new...

"Followed you," the cowgirl told her. "After I finished with the surgeon and changed into some clothes I keep in the rig, I spotted you driving off, and decided we needed to talk." She sipped the coffee. "Almost lost you on that last turn, though, and had to search the block for your car. Knocked on what looked like the right door, and got lucky."

"In more ways than one," Kerry purred. Slowly, a new realization sank in. "You were worried about me, weren't you?" she said. "That's why you were such a bitch."

"Takes one to know one," the cowgirl responded easily, returning her grin. She moved to sit on the foot of the bed, facing Kerry. One leg was curled beneath her, the other cocked, so she could rest her forearm on the upraised knee. And looking incredibly desirable in the process. "Want some?" she said.

Kerry blinked, taken aback by the directness of the question. Then she realized what she meant. "Oh, the coffee!" She giggled. "Sure."

"Didn't know how you take it," her visitor said, carefully handing it to her.

"I'm sure it's fine," Kerry said, leaning to take the cup, uncaring that the sheet fell away. The coffee was the same color as the cowgirl's skin. "It's perfect," she said appreciatively, taking a slow sip and watching the other woman over the rim.

They traded the cup back and forth until the coffee was gone, and then looked at each other contentedly, each only partly covered.

I love her looking at me, Kerry thought. After years of thinking of herself as basically cold and unattractive, Kim had made her feel warm and soft and tender. Kim had made her feel beautiful. But this woman -- Kerry could only think of her as 'the cowgirl' -- this unnamed woman made her feel...sexual.

"What are you thinking?" the cowgirl asked her at last.

Kerry felt a sudden awkwardness. "Actually," she admitted, "I'm kind of kicking myself..."

"For putting out so easily?"

"Easy?! You think that was easy?!" She grinned. "No, I mean...I can't remember your name." She felt the faintest tinge in her cheeks.

The cowgirl blinked, then laughed.

"What's so funny?"

"I, uh...I don't know yours, either." For the first time, the headstrong firefighter looked embarrassed. Her expression sent a blissful bolt through Kerry's heart, and they laughed together.

Wiping tears from her eyes and hugging her ribs, Kerry caught her breath and said, "I'm K--"

"No," the cowgirl said, holding up a hand and looking suddenly serious. "Don't tell me."

Surprised, Kerry looked at her quizzically. "Why not?"

The other woman looked into the distance for a moment, as though searching for the right words. "I kinda like it this way," she said. "I don't know you, I didn't plan this, it just happened."

Kerry sat back against her pillow, considering the thought.

"Right here, right now, this could be anything," the cowgirl added. "I could love you, or hate you, or maybe never see you again, and this would be a perfect memory. This right now, the moment, you know?"

"Aqui` y ahora?" Kerry murmured.

That brought a smile that lit up the cowgirl's face. "Si. Aqui` y ahora." She pulled something from the pocket of her shirt. "Here," she said, handing a small object to Kerry. "Souvenir."

She looked at it; a pearly button.

"Came off my shirt when you tore it off."

"I'm sorry," Kerry said. "I can sew it..."

"Uh-uh. It gave its life for a noble cause. I don't want to dishonor its sacrifice, do you?"

Kerry had to smile. "No, I don't either."

The cowgirl leaned her chin on her own knee. "Anything you do want, then?"

Long pause before Kerry replied. Then she pushed the bedsheets off herself. Modesty had always been part of her nature; even with Kim, she'd exposed herself sparingly, allowing herself to experience the feeling of vulnerability. But being naked in front of this woman didn't make her feel vulnerable. It made her feel powerful. "I want you to take that shirt off...and come here."

Without changing expression, the cowgirl slowly uncoiled from where she sat and prowled forward like a jaguar.

Kerry raised a foot playfully, toes touching the cowgirl's lips as though stopping her from speaking. The woman opened her lips, taking them softly into her mouth, teasing Kerry with the tip of her tongue. She kissed her way up the inside of Kerry's instep, ankle, calf, knee, thigh...

Opening herself once again, Kerry lay back and luxuriated as her mysterious lover slowly kissed, licked, and sucked at her sexual center, filling her with an incandescent glow that hummed softly throughout her body. Time slowed, contracted, became immaterial as she enjoyed the smooth, steady ascent to orgasm, then let it burst into being and overcome her. "Yes..." she sighed aloud again, settling back on the mattress.

The cowgirl's body covered hers again, and they kissed, slow and deep. Then Kerry felt the same probing at her vaginal lips...

"Wait," she said. "Not this time."

The cowgirl hesitated, uncertainty in her face.

"I want you as a woman," Kerry whispered, caressing her face. "Not a man."

All motion ceased as the cowgirl looked into her eyes, perhaps wondering if Kerry meant it, or if she could be safe with Kerry. "All right," she said softly at last. She sat up, reaching beneath the shirt, and slipped the flexible straps off her hips, removing the artificial appendage. Sat back to slide it off her legs, then set it aside.

Kerry took it, sitting up beside her, and placed it on the bed within arm's reach. She might have use for it later, but not now.

Unbuttoning the shirt, the cowgirl allowed Kerry the privilege of sliding it off her shoulders and discarding it. She faced Kerry, on her knees, for the first time fully naked, save for the bandaged hand. Not merely nude, but naked.

Kerry ran her eyes and hands lightly over the body in front of her, attention caught immediately by the white lines that traced through the brown skin. Scars, several of them. Visual record of the cowgirl's personal history. My god, Kerry thought, she's got more scars than I have...

The cowgirl held still, obviously a little nervous, as Kerry's finger followed them, one by one. This one was clearly a simple appendix scar, that one also looked surgical. But this looked like an injury, as did that one. And this one, here...knife wound. No mistaking that one, after all the similar scars she'd seen.

Kerry's eyes completed their tour of the woman's body, gliding slowly up to meet her eyes again. The cowgirl waited, patiently allowing Kerry to see her for what she was and where she'd been. It was an intimacy that belied the fierceness of their earlier coupling.

This woman was a warrior, Kerry thought intently. Strong and proud and brave. A soldier in the same war Kerry fought, but an advance scout. Beauty was a minor consideration to her, femininity an afterthought. But beautiful she was, in Kerry's view.

She slid her arms around the woman's ribs, up over her shoulder blades, and pulled the woman toward her, kissing the hollow of her shoulder, feeling the strong shoulders and breasts against her own, reveling in their combination of softness and solidity. Arms closed about her shoulders, warming her, as soft lips nuzzled in her hair. "Bonita...loca...brava..." the voice whispered again, between kisses.

Kerry bore her down to lie on her back, so Kerry could explore her body in greater detail from a more comfortable position. She kissed each scar, in turn, honoring the woman for her bravery and for the pain she'd suffered. Wishing to wipe away that pain, even as she knew the cowgirl wore her scars proudly. They were badges of pride to her, to be celebrated, not hidden. Not like Kerry's.

Kerry brought her mouth up to her face and kissed it, cheeks, chin, forehead, eyelids, and lips. Drawing a map on her own tingling lips. Committing to memory a face that had both cheered for the living and cried for the dead.

This woman is as much my reflection as Kim was, she thought suddenly. Kim reflected her feminine side, this woman her masculine. Kerry hadn't realized until now just how beautiful androgyny could be; far from being sexless, the cowgirl was a strikingly erotic blend of male and female qualities. Soft, yet strong. No less a woman for that strength, or for the way she played at being a man in bed, but a very different kind of woman. And, like Kim, she represented qualities to which Kerry aspired, and never felt she entirely lived up.

The cowgirl's carotid pulsed beneath Kerry's lips as she descended, tickling the tip of her tongue. She kissed the beating heart beneath her chest, then moved to flick her tongue over the erect nipple. It stood out, a deeper brown against the woman's skin, and Kerry took it into her mouth, sucking at it like an object of worship, loving the way the cowgirl's chest rose in response. Some part of her had never been able to shake the feeling that Kim had just been humoring her when she returned the blonde woman's physical attentions, uncertain she was capable of creating such honest pleasure in another woman. Now she knew Kim's responses had been very real.

"Lower," the cowgirl gasped. "Besame lower, please..."

Kerry obediently -- but slowly -- moved down the woman's body, thoroughly enjoying every inch, until she reached her sex. She'd seen hundreds of women naked (and men, for that matter) in her work, but only recently had she become fully aware of their allure. She felt it keenly now, as strong as any desire she'd felt for anyone.

The muscled legs parted at her softest touch, inviting her attentions, and Kerry entered her first with fingers, then with her tongue, questing, probing, searching, and ultimately finding. The cowgirl gasped, moaned, and sighed with approval.

Delicately separating the labia with her fingertips, Kerry found her clitoris, that perfect pearl of womanhood, and kissed it lightly. "Te deseo, mi amor," she whispered, further taxing her limited Spanish. She hoped she'd gotten the grammar right, but it probably didn't make much difference at the moment, anyway.

Bringing her mouth once more to the cowgirl's sex, she settled herself and began the long, slow process of making love to her. She'd enjoyed her share of quickies with Kim, and sometimes even the kind of desperate passion that she'd had with the cowgirl earlier, but this was what she loved most. Both giving and receiving. Every touch, every movement, silently declared that this wouldn't be rushed through, but savored. She inhaled the woman's exotic flavor, distinct and different from Kim's, no less fascinating, and slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly drove her deeper into realms of exquisite delirium.

She envisioned herself reciting an epic poem, an ode to the love of the moment, giving a spellbinding performance. This, too, was a manifestation of the power awakened inside her, the power both to stave off death and fight for another's life, and to enrich and celebrate that life. To exert both, so outstandingly, in one night made Kerry feel stronger and more dynamically vital than she'd felt in years.

The cowgirl's cries escalated, and her body writhed helplessly, surrendered to Kerry's will, and she spiraled into a climax that stunned Kerry with its immediacy. She drank in the burst of wetness, as though absorbing the woman's life into herself. Making love is an exchange at the primal level, she thought in passing. You give part of yourself, and take a piece of your lover in return. This, she thought, was a damn good trade.

Kerry hadn't noticed how tightly she was clutched between the cowgirl's legs until they relaxed, freeing her. The slight ache in her shoulders was well worth it, though. She kissed her way up the trembling body, her lips skating over the sheen of perspiration, her own body drinking in the warmth as it covered her lover's. The woman's skin was hot against her own. They sank into each other's arms, mouths finding each other on autopilot, and Kerry gave herself completely to the kiss. The occasional tremor in the body beneath hers thrilled Kerry, reminding her of just who had inspired those tremors. Not since she first went to bed with a man and discovered firsthand the pleasure of sex had she felt such a sense of triumph and satisfaction.

The cowgirl's hands roamed over her body, across her back, shoulders and buttocks, behind her head, fingers combing through her hair, while the woman's lips and tongue moved glisteningly against her own. I never want to stop kissing you, she thought. If she could collapse the universe to a small bubble around the two of them and make time stop, she'd have done so without hesitation. But time and space have their own agendas, unfortunately.

When at last her mouth eased free of the cowgirl's, they both seemed to wind to a halt, their mutual passion expended at last. They looked into each other's eyes, each inhaling the other's breath.

"Thank you for saving my life," Kerry whispered at last.

The cowgirl smiled. "That's right," she said. "I did, didn't I?"

Kerry nodded, her lips grazing the woman's.

The world seemed to rotate as the cowgirl rolled her onto her back. "Some would say that means you belong to me now."

Whatever reply Kerry might have made was lost as they kissed again.

Her memories beyond that point were less clear, though she was aware of another orgasm, the cowgirl's uninjured hand between her legs, then grayness clouding her vision...a faint voice whispering something that sounded like, "Aqui` y ahora...te amo, hermana loca..."

Then sleep...

Waking once again, this time to her alarm clock, she opened her eyes to daylight. Alone again.

She rolled to shut off the alarm, and as she did so, she found something on the bedside table. A slip of paper.

Pulling it closer, she read the simple note: 'Aqui` y ahora' followed by a lipstick kiss imprint, and something taped beneath it. The pearl button.

She looked at for a long time, then peeled the tape off and held the button tightly in her hand, gripping it so tightly that it would leave its imprint in her palm.

Rolling back again, staring at the ceiling, arms and legs spread-eagled, she took a deep, contented breath through her smile. Feeling the magic of the moment, free of concerns or expectations. "Aqui` y ahora, Weaver," she sighed to herself, loving the way it made her feel.

Grabbing the pillow and smothering her face with it, she finally let loose the whoop that had been building when the cowgirl interrupted her, now ripe with double the cause. She screamed it out into the pillow as loud as she could, her bed suddenly transformed into the world's highest mountaintop. Abandoning all pretense of poise, civility or sophistication, she unleashed her joy in one primal howl.

Her throat might be sore that afternoon, but sometimes a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do.

Walking into the emergency room, she managed a 'good morning' for the passing staff that was cheery without losing its authoritarian edge. If anyone wanted to intuit that she'd gotten royally laid last night, let 'em.

"Morning, Dr. Weaver," Frank replied. "Capt. Danneker's here, and he needs to talk to you."

"About last night?"

"I think s-- Oh, here he is." Frank nodded to the approaching fire captain.

Kerry turned to greet the stolid, balding man, noting that it was one of the few times she'd seen him out of full gear. "Morning, Captain. What can I do for you?"

"Dr. Weaver," he said, returning her handshake. "Just need to take care of some incident reports, if you don't mind."

"Of course."

"Nothing too fancy; the whole incident seems pretty straightforward, and you certainly come off looking well. Although," he added, looking at her sternly, "if you were one of my firefighters, and pulled a stunt like that, I'd kick your ass for it."

She snorted dismissively, unimpressed. She could sense the approval under his gruff tone. "You need my side of things for the record, I assume?"

"Right. Yours and Sandy's."

"Sandy's?" Kerry glanced at him curiously.

"Sandy Lopez," he clarified. "You met her last night, but I guess you didn't really get introduced properly. She's around here somewhere."

Ulp! Kerry's heart suddenly sprang into her throat.

"Yup, here she comes." Danneker nodded to the uniformed woman emerging from the nearest ladies' room. When she reached them and looked at Kerry, she froze. "Sandy Lopez, Dr. Kerry Weaver," Danneker introduced them.

Kerry cleared her throat. "Um, nice to meet you," she ventured. What was one supposed to say in a situation like this?

"You, too, Dr. Weaver," Lopez replied carefully, holding up a bandaged hand. "Excuse me not shaking hands..."

Oh boy, Kerry thought with a nervous, giddy thrill. This could get hazardous...

The End

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